Constructivism in the social sciences has known several ups and downs over the last decades. It was rather early successful in sociology but hotly contested in international relations. Oddly enough, just at the moments it made important inroads into the research agenda and also became accepted by the mainstream, the enthusiasm for it waned, and many constructivists—as did mainstream scholars—moved from the concerns of “grand theory” or even “meta-theory” toward “normal science,” or experimented with other (eclectic) approaches, of which the “turn to practice” is perhaps the latest manifestation.
In a way, constructivism was “successful” on the one hand by introducing norms, norm-dynamics, and diffusion; the role of new actors in world politics; and the changing role of institutions into the debates, while losing, on the other hand, much of its critical potential. The latter survived only on the fringes—and in Europe more than in the United States. The Copenhagen school, building on the speech act theory, engendered at least a principled discussion of security studies, even if its use of speech acts was too simplistic.
In the United States constructivism soon became “mainstreamed” by having its analysis of norms reduced to “variable research.” Similarly, while the “life cycle of norms” apparently inevitably led to norm cascades and “boomerangs,” “norm death,” strangely enough, never made the research agenda, despite the obvious empirical evidence (preventive strikes, unlawful combatants, drone strikes, extrajudicial killings etc.).
The elective affinity of constructivism and humanitarianism seemed to have transformed the former into the enlightenment project of “progress,” where a hidden (or not so hidden) teleology of history à la Kant tends to overwhelm the analysis and thus prevents a serious conceptual engagement with both law and (inter-) national politics. This bowdlerization of constructivism is further buttressed by the fact that none of the “leading” U.S. departments has a constructivist on board, ensuring thereby the narrowness of conceptual and methodological choices to which the future “professionals” are exposed. The engagement with concepts and language, which “first generation” constructivists introduced, is displaced again by “ideal theory” (both in terms of deductive reasoning based on “unrealistic” assumptions and in the “clarification” of abstract principles à la Rawls), or by the search for “algorithms” hidden in “big data.”
Richard Ned Lebow
Counterfactuals seek to alter some feature or event of the pass and by means of a chain of causal logic show how the present might, or would, be different. Counterfactual inquiry—or control of counterfactual situations—is essential to any causal claim. More importantly, counterfactual thought experiments are essential, to the construction of analytical frameworks. Policymakers routinely use then by to identify problems, work their way through problems, and select responses. Good foreign-policy analysis must accordingly engage and employ counterfactuals.
There are two generic types of counterfactuals: minimal-rewrite counterfactuals and miracle counterfactuals. They have relevance when formulating propositions and probing contingency and causation. There is also a set of protocols for using both kinds of counterfactuals toward these ends, and it illustrates the uses and protocols with historical examples. Policymakers invoke counterfactuals frequently, especially with regard to foreign policy, to both choose policies and defend them to key constituencies. They use counterfactuals in a haphazard and unscientific manner, and it is important to learn more about how they think about and employ counterfactuals to understand foreign policy.
Benno Teschke and Steffan Wyn-Jones
The problematic implications of the long absence of a dedicated encounter between Marxism and FPA (foreign policy analysis) are discussed. This absence has been marked by a series of different starting points and theoretical preferences between both intellectual projects. A paradigmatic turn for the incorporation of FPA and international politics into a revised Marxist research program is needed. Whereas FPA originated within a United States–centric Cold War context, growing out of the subfield of “comparative foreign policy,” which initially pursued a positivistic methodology, Marxism’s European theoretical legacy afforded neither international relations nor foreign policy analysis any systematic place since its inception in the 19th century. Recurring rapprochements were qualified successes due to Marxism’s tendency to relapse into structuralist versions of grand theorizing. While these could speak to general theories of international relations in the field of IR (international relations) from the late 20th century onward, FPA fell again and again through the cracks of this grand analytical register. Marxist FPA has only very recently been recognized as a serious research program, notably within the two traditions of neo-Gramscian international political economy (IPE) and Marxist historical sociology. With this move, Marxism has started to identify a problematique and produced a nascent literature that should bear fruit in the future.
Harris Mylonas and Kendrick Kuo
Nationalism continues to be an important ideology that informs the way state elites formulate and implement foreign policy. The relationship between nationalism and foreign policy is complex: there are many relevant levels of analysis and multiple causal pathways linking nationalism and foreign policy. Scholars have identified national masses, elite policymakers, and the nation-state itself as units of analysis. The causal mechanisms that relate nationalism and foreign policy have also been wide ranging: nationalism has been treated as an independent variable that drives foreign policy decision making but also as endogenous to international factors and a country’s foreign policy. Moreover, the causal relationship between nationalism and foreign policy has also been conceptualized as an interactive one.
This eclecticism is noticeable in the study of nationalism and war. The war proneness of nationalism may be a function of the type of nationalist ideology being used. The nation-state as a product of the ideology of nationalism may be inseparable from war making. And the international system, ordered upon nationalist principles of self-determination and popular rule, may endogenously produce political violence. More recently, the role of nationalist protests in interstate crisis diplomacy has become more salient, especially in post-Soviet and China studies. Are nationalist protests manufactured by the government, or are governments forced to adopt certain foreign policies because of public pressure? The conundrum about nationalism being endogenous or exogenous again rears its head.
Nationalism studies is an interdisciplinary field, but within political science interest in nationalism has largely been confined to comparative politics. International relations theory does incorporate nationalism as an important independent variable, but too often this is done in an ad hoc fashion. All in all, there has not been enough systematic theorizing about nationalism in foreign policy analysis.
Referendums are frequently used to ratify European Union (EU)–related propositions. Since 1972 there have been in total 46 EU-related referendums, excluding third-country referendums on EU-related matters. While referendums are constitutionally mandated in some countries in order to ratify new treaties, other referendums are held for either normative or for political reasons.
Referendums deal with topics that are less familiar to voters, where key issues typically do not map onto domestic political cleavages. This means that we should expect that campaigns and the information they provide about the issues and the positions of political actors might matter more in framing issues than in first-order national elections. While there is by no means a scholarly consensus, recent research has shown, for instance, that an issue that dominates media coverage can impact how voters evaluate a proposition.
Finally, what do we know about voter behavior? While referendums on EU affairs have been criticized as being decided by “second-order” factors such as government popularity, there is evidence that when a proposition matters for voters, voting behavior is more dominated by issue-voting. Recent research has drawn on advances in cognitive psychology to investigate the impact of attitude strength and personality characteristics for voter behavior.
Role theory first emerged as an approach to the study of foreign policy with the seminal work of Holsti, who argued that decision makers’ conceptions of their state’s role on the world stage influenced that state’s foreign policy behavior. Holsti’s approach was ahead of its time. The potential of role theory to contribute to the agent-structure debate has not always been appreciated. In fact, early research employing role theory often maintained a close connection to structural theories of international relations, especially among U.S.-based scholars.
In the last decade or so, there has been a renewed interest in role theory that differs from earlier work in that it more clearly connects with psychological approaches to foreign policy analysis. It also takes more seriously the domestic sources of role theory through inquiry into horizontal and vertical role contestation. Much of this new work intersects with constructivism, although it remains grounded in empiricism.
As foreign policy analysis increasingly seeks to understand the foreign policies of a broader array of states—including smaller states that face significant constraints on their ability to act in the international arena—role theory provides an attractive framework. Its focus on decision makers’ conceptions of their state’s role in international politics enhances the ability to make sense of the foreign policies of a wider array of states in the global arena. In essence, role theory allows foreign policy analysis to move beyond a U.S.-centric or global-north-centric field to become more broadly comparative.
We can distinguish between three moral approaches to war: pacifism, realism, and just war theory. There are various theoretical approaches to war within the just war tradition. One of the central disputes between these approaches concerns whether war is morally exceptional (as held by exceptionalists), or morally continuous with ordinary life (as held by reductive individualists). There are also significant debates concerning key substantive issues in the ethics of war, such as reductivist challenges to the thesis that combatants fighting an unjust war are the moral equals of those fighting a just war, and the challenge to reductivism that it undermines the principle of noncombatant immunity. There are also changing attitudes to wars of humanitarian intervention. One under-explored challenge to the permissibility of such wars lies in the better outcomes of alternative ways of alleviating suffering. The notion of unconventional warfare has also come to recent prominence, not least with respect to the moral status of human shields.