Nearly everything a state does has distributional consequences, including grand strategy. Societal groups with different stakes in the international economy and defense spending often have conflicting strategic priorities, and these groups pursue their parochial interests by supporting the nomination and election of like-minded politicians. Thus, grand strategy is a product of political economy. An overview of American foreign policy over the last several decades illustrates this logic. In the 1980s, the Democratic and Republican coalitions had conflicting interests over the international economy, so the two parties diverged on grand strategy. The recovery of the Rust Belt in the 1990s and 2000s, however, brought increasing convergence. Political discourse over foreign policy was fiercely partisan, but, with the notable exception of George W. Bush’s decision to go to war in Iraq in 2003, the two parties shared essentially the same view of America’s role in the world. The disastrous outcome in Iraq led the Bush administration back to the middle ground in its second term, and Obama followed the same course. In contrast, the election of Donald Trump augurs change. Trump’s electoral coalition consists of a different balance of interests in the international economy than that of past Republican presidents, so he is likely to pursue different strategic priorities.
Randall L. Schweller
The balance of power—a notoriously slippery, murky, and protean term, endlessly debated and variously defined—is the core theory of international politics within the realist perspective. A “balance of power” system is one in which the power held and exercised by states within the system is checked and balanced by the power of others. Thus, as a nation’s power grows to the point that it menaces other powerful states, a counter-balancing coalition emerges to restrain the rising power, such that any bid for world hegemony will be self-defeating. The minimum requirements for a balance of power system include the existence of at least two or more actors of roughly equal strength, states seeking to survive and preserve their autonomy, alliance flexibility, and the ability to resort to war if need be.
At its essence, balance of power is a type of international order. Theorists disagree, however, about the normal operation of the balance of power. Structural realists describe an “automatic version” of the theory, whereby system balance is a spontaneously generated, self-regulating, and entirely unintended outcome of states pursuing their narrow self-interests. Earlier versions of balance of power were more consistent with a “semi-automatic” version of the theory, which requires a “balancer” state throwing its weight on one side of the scale or the other, depending on which is lighter, to regulate the system. The British School’s discussion of balance of power depicts a “manually operated” system, wherein the process of equilibrium is a function of human contrivance, with emphasis on the skill of diplomats and statesmen, a sense of community of nations, of shared responsibility, and a desire and need to preserve the balance of power system.
As one would expect of a theory that made its appearance in the mid-16th century, balance of power is not without its critics. Liberals claim that globalization, democratic peace, and international institutions have fundamentally transformed international relations, moving it out of the realm of power politics. Constructivists claim that balance of power theory’s focus on material forces misses the central role played by ideational factors such as norms and identities in the construction of threats and alliances. Realists, themselves, wonder why no global balance of power has materialized since the end of the Cold War.
Capitalist peace theory (CPT) has gained considerable attention in international relations theory and the conflict literature. Its proponents maintain that a capitalist organization of an economy pacifies states internally and externally. They portray CPT either as a complement or as a substitute to other liberal explanations such as the democratic peace thesis. They, however, disagree about the facet of capitalism that is supposed to reduce the risk of political violence. Key contributions have identified three main drivers of the capitalist peace phenomenon: the fiscal constraints that a laissez-faire regimen puts on potentially aggressive governments, the mollifying norms that a capitalist organization creates; and the increased ability of capitalist governments to signal their intentions effectively in a confrontation with an adversary. Defining capitalism narrowly through the freedom entrepreneurs enjoy domestically, this article evaluates the key causal mechanisms and empirical evidence that have been advanced in support of these competing claims. The article argues that CPT needs to be based on a narrow definition of capitalism and that it should scrutinize motives and constraints of the main actors more deeply. Future contributions to the CPT literature should also pay close attention to classic theories of capitalism, which all considered individual risk taking and the dramatic changes between booms and busts to be key constitutive features of this form of economic governance. Finally, empirical tests of the proposed causal mechanism should rely on data sets in which capitalists appear as actors and not as “structures.” If the literature takes these objections seriously, CPT could establish itself as central theory of peace and war in two respects. First, it could serve as an antidote to the theory of imperialism and other “critical” approaches that see in capitalism a source of conflict rather than of peace. Second, it could become an important complement to commercial liberalism that stresses the external openness rather than the internal freedoms as an economic cause of peace and that particularly sees trade and foreign direct investment as pacifying forces.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics. Please check back later for the full article.
The “Euro-crisis” poses a fundamental challenge to the European integration process not only in economic but most of all in political terms. It is far less clear, however, to what extent the crisis is also a problem for the EU’s international standing and role. So far, no consensus has emerged among academics and policymakers on whether and how the financial and debt crisis has had an impact on the EU’s foreign policy.
Roughly speaking, three different perspectives can be distinguished in the debate: One perspective stresses that, under the impression of the crisis, foreign policy has increasingly become an instrument of economic power-politics. The term “geo-economics” captures the idea whereby economic policies have turned from more positive interdependence—where cooperation is mutually beneficial—to an area of conflict and competition for market access, financial investments, and natural resources. The second perspective emphasizes that EU foreign policy is determined mainly by structural and long-term developments that are not directly related to the crisis. Accordingly, deficits and shortcomings in the EU’s external relations are due to well-known and well-analyzed factors such as the lack of coherence in EU policies, the missing consensus among member states on many foreign policy issues, as well as the economic decline of Europe and the West in relation to the “rising powers.” At a maximum, the financial and debt crisis has to some extent reinforced some of these long-standing developments. Third, some analysts and politicians negate any significant impact of the crisis on EU foreign policy.
It seems likely that the crisis led to an erosion of the financial and budgetary basis of foreign policy—even if it was more pronounced on the national than the European level. It also accelerated a trend toward the economization of political priorities resulting—among other things—in deepening conflicts among EU member states. These developments have in turn eroded both the effectiveness and the soft power of the EU’s foreign policy. The crisis therefore not only places a strain on the European integration process but also presents a central challenge for the EU as an international actor.
Since the 1970s, financial crises have been a consistent feature of the international economy, warranting study by economists and political scientists alike. Economists have made great strides in their understanding of the dynamics of crises, with two potentially overlapping stories rising to the fore. Global crises appear to occur highly amid global imbalances—when some countries run large current account deficits and others, large surpluses. A second story emphasizes credit booms—financial institutions greatly extend access to credit, potentially leading to bubbles and subsequent crashes.
Global imbalances are, in part, the product of politically contested processes. Imbalances would be impossible if states did not choose to liberalize (or not to liberalize) their capital accounts. Global political structures—whether international institutions seeking to govern financial flows, or hierarchies reflecting an economic power structure among states—also influence the ability of the global system to resolve global imbalances. Indeed, economists themselves are increasingly finding evidence that the international economy is not a flat system, but a network where some states play larger roles than others.
Credit booms, too, and the regulatory structures that produce them, result from active choices by states. The expansion of the financial sector since the 1970s, however, took place amid a crucible of fire. Financial deregulation was the product of interest group knife-fights, states’ vying for position or adapting to technological change, and policy entrepreneurs’ seeking to enact their ideas.
The IPE (international political economy) literature, too, must pay attention to post-2008 developments in economic thought. As financial integration pushes countries to adopt the monetary policies of the money center, the much-discussed monetary trilemma increasingly resembles a dilemma. Whereas economists once thought of expanded access to credit as “financial development,” they increasingly lament the preponderance of “financialized” economies. While the experimentalist turn in political science heralded a great search for cute natural experiments, economists are increasingly turning to the distant past to understand phenomena that have not been seen for some time. Political scientists might benefit from returning to the same grand theory questions, this time armed with more rigorous empirical techniques, and extensive data collected by economic historians.