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.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics. Please check back later for the full article.
Integration with the European Union (EU) has been far less distressing for the three Baltic States than for numerous other accessing countries. Soon after regaining their independence, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania had a strong societal impetus to (re)join Western political, economic, and legal culture. The accession of the three states, however, had several distinctive features related to constitutional background and settings. This has been an influencing factor when the governments tried to solve collisions with the EU institutions.
In general, the endless and controversial issues regarding how to solve the problems with supranational power have never been dramatic when referring to the Baltic States, which leads to the assumption that the governments have often taken the obeying position, trying to avoid heretical approaches. Somewhat surprisingly, it brought a reverse effect. Respecting the supranational character of the governments’ mainstream policies, but denying the interpretative pluralism of European values and norms, they have been “overplayed” by other member states and the power institutions of the EU, which often acted more deliberatively and implemented European directives rather critically. Latest cases, such as the European Stabilization Mechanism, indicate the change in paradigm—the three Baltic States are more aware of the margin of appreciation and the actual borderlines of policy and decision making. There is a tendency to have more open and inclusive discussions to avoid discontent with the stakeholders of the countries’ societies. This may also be related to certain “taking offence,” of not being appreciated as successful states following the ultra-austerity doctrine during the economic crisis, and the increasing need for societal support when unpopular choices have to be enforced.
Today, there are more skills in finding allies and choosing the partners when trying to set up an EU-related agenda, for example, in relation to refugee quotas to the Member States. Still, the so-called “community method” has been a prevailing political doctrine, illustrated, for example, by the favorable approach to the Lisbon Treaty in its several stages.
One interesting factor is linked with the establishment of high-speed digital service in the European Union and digital divide. For example, the small Baltic state of Estonia introduced the flagship initiative of e-Governance (e-Residence). While not so influential in the past, Estonia may influence the future, with initiatives such as digital marketing and e-Citizenry. There are interesting discussions about whether the EU should allow the single, tiny state of Estonia to shine the light for other member states, or should they ignore the steps taken, to avoid even further the increasing digital divide in the European Union.
Another interesting aspect in the contemporary world is the (inter)relationship of Europe with Russia. Here, the Baltic States play a relevant role, being spokesmen against the interventions in Georgia and Ukraine, which created uneasy situations for the prudent European Union that was carefully framing foreign policy on the basis of (hardly achieved) consensus. By identifying themselves as a bridge between East and West, the Baltics have been active in Eastern Partnership and Development Aid initiatives.
Mark Schafer and Gary Smith
How do the beliefs of leaders affect foreign policy decision-making processes and outcomes? This question has been central to the study of foreign policy decision making (FPDM), yet it receives scant attention in the broader international relations literature. Although many controversies and debates surround the issue of specifically how political leaders’ beliefs affect foreign policy decisions and outcomes, there is one key assumption in this literature that is universally accepted: leaders matter. Individual leaders, their unique beliefs, and their distinctive cognitive limitations affect both the quality of the decision-making process and the direction of the foreign policy outcomes. The beliefs and images leaders hold act as powerful frames and limitations to incoming information. Despite the rich history of the field, scholars who study beliefs still have much more work to do to expand the generalizability of the qualitative findings in the literature. Scholars need more data, deriving from more sources, for more leaders, so that they can generate larger and more comprehensive datasets. Indeed, there is a great opportunity to expand this field of research and to paint a clearer picture of the decision-making process.
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.
Since the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, terrorism has gained increased prominence in both scholarship and the media. While international terrorist acts are quite visible and highly publicized, such attacks represent only one type of terrorism within the international system. In fact, a very large number of acts of terrorism take place within the context of civil wars. Given the great disparity in power in most civil wars, it is not surprising that we see terrorism as a tactic often used by insurgent groups who may have few resources at their disposal to fight a much stronger opponent.
There is a clear linkage between the concepts of terrorism and civil war, yet until recently scholars have largely approached civil war and terrorism separately. Recent literature has attempted to specifically map the intersection of terrorism and civil war, seeing to what extent the two overlap. As expected, the findings suggest that the civil war and terrorism are highly linked. Other scholars have endeavored to explain why rebel groups in some civil wars use terrorism, while others do not. Further research focuses on how governments respond to terrorism during civil war, or how the decisions of external actors to intervene in civil wars are affected by the use of terrorism by insurgent groups.
What is clear from these studies is that there is too little theorizing on the relationship between civil war and terrorism; while scholars are finally considering these concepts collectively, the full nature of their relationship is unexplored. Additional research is needed to better understand the various ways that terrorism and civil war overlap, interact, and mutually affect other important international and domestic political processes.
Kristian Skrede Gleditsch
Civil war is the dominant form of armed conflict in the contemporary international system, and most severe lethal armed conflicts in the post-Cold War era have been civil/intrastate rather than interstate. Still, it would be misleading to see these conflicts as purely domestic, as many contemporary civil wars such as Syria display clear transnational characteristics, including inspirations from events in other countries, links to actors in other countries, as well as international interventions. Moreover, civil wars often have important implications for other states, including security concerns and economic impacts. There is a need to focus on the growth and core findings in the literature on transnational dimensions of civil war, in particular on how factors outside a particular state can influence the risk of conflict within states as well as some of the central consequences of domestic conflict for other states or relations between states. This line of research has helped expand our understanding of both civil conflict and interstate war, and that a comparative focus on varieties conflict and attention to the possible transnational dimensions of civil war deserve a prominent role in future research.
Caroline A. Hartzell
Civil wars typically have been terminated by a variety of means, including military victories, negotiated settlements and ceasefires, and “draws.” Three very different historical trends in the means by which civil wars have ended can be identified for the post–World War II period. A number of explanations have been developed to account for those trends, some of which focus on international factors and others on national or actor-level variables. Efforts to explain why civil wars end as they do are considered important because one of the most contested issues among political scientists who study civil wars is how “best” to end a civil war if the goal is to achieve a stable peace. Several factors have contributed to this debate, among them conflicting results produced by various studies on this topic as well as different understandings of the concepts war termination, civil war resolution, peace-building, and stable peace.
Theory and evidence about causal mechanisms, at some point (probably) long ago, reached the carrying capacity for integration into knowledge through expression in words alone. Causal mechanisms, through the implementation of systemism in the discipline of international relations, need clarifying. Systemism is used to convey and analyze the contents of a primary source, Causes of War, by Jack Levy and William Thompson. Explaining war is the most long-standing empirical problem, in the sense of Laudan, in the field of international relations. (Laudan suggested, quite helpfully, a shift from empirical content to problem-solving ability for assessing theories with regard to scientific progress.) The diagrammatic approach from systemism is used to translate a narrative from Levy and Thompson into a series of figures that include causal mechanisms from respective areas of theorizing about the causes of war. The overall purpose of this exercise is to show how the approach from systemism possesses the potential to convey causal mechanisms in a way that facilitates scientific progress. All of this augurs well for a visual turn—toward approaches, such as systemism, that can help to more effectively assemble the massive amount of information now available into knowledge about international relations.
Systemism’s essence has been conveyed by its most long-standing exponent, Bunge: a commitment to building comprehensive theories. Systemism transcends reductionism and holism as the other available “coherent views” with respect to operation of a social system. Instead of theorizing at the level of the system (holism) or its components (reductionism), systemism allows for linkages operating at macro- and microlevels, along with back and forth between them. Systemism also includes inputs from, and outputs to, the environment. This comprehensive procedure facilitates the comparison of alternative visions regarding cause and effect. Thus systemism is an approach rather than a substantive theory. One of its distinguishing merits is a capacity to facilitate criticism and comparison of theories through their representation in diagrams that are constructed under a set of rules to convey causal mechanisms.
Climate change emerged in the late 20th century as a topic of global concern and thus a prominent foreign policy issue. Academic scholarship on the international community’s response to the environmental threat was not far behind. Scholars apply a number of theoretical constructs in their search to explain why states behave the way they do in their coordinated approaches to addressing climate-related activities. Of these, systemic theories such as realism, liberalism, and constructivism figure prominently. State-centric theories that consider changing power dynamics in the international system, the importance of evolving coalitions, as well as the role of hegemonic and leadership states, provide contending explanations. Nonstate actors, especially the climate regime itself which has received substantial attention, are similarly considered important variables affecting foreign policy. Constructivist arguments emphasizing the influence of ideas, norms, and identity have become increasingly common, especially as they relate to developmental disparities, “common but differential responsibilities,” and climate justice. While there has been less focus on the role of individual actors, domestic-level variables such as concerns for economic growth, reputation, and capacity to act, as well as multivariable explanations, continue to provide insight. In contrast to the diversity of explanations proposed, the young field is relatively homogeneous in terms of methodological approaches, with qualitative case studies or small-N analyses being most common. If history is a trustworthy guide, however, as on-the-ground, practical approaches to global climate governance evolve, so too will scholarly approaches to its study.
Coalition governments are observed frequently in parliamentary systems. Approximately 70% of all governments in postwar Europe have been one type of coalition or another. Israel has never been ruled by a single-party government in its history. Recently, majoritarian systems like Britain produced coalitions, taking many by surprise.
The prominence of coalitions in parliamentary democracies compels researchers to study them more closely. The Comparative Politics literature investigates, in particular, the dynamics of coalition formation and termination, as well as the domestic policy outputs of coalitions, especially compared to governments ruled by a single party.
Coalitions have generated interest on the International Relations front as well. One avenue of research transcends the “political party” as a building block and conceptualizes coalitions as a “decision unit” by focusing on the group of veto players in a regime’s foreign policy apparatus. Another line of scholarship, situated in the “Democratic Peace” framework, looks at coalitions as a domestic-institutional factor to observe their effects on the likelihood of international conflict.
Departing from the “Democratic Peace” tradition, more recent research in Foreign Policy Analysis rejuvenates the study of coalitions in international politics. This literature not only encourages theory development by scrutinizing why coalitions behave differently than single-parties in the international arena but also bridges the gap between International Relations and Comparative Politics. Emphasizing the organic relationship between domestic politics and foreign policy, foreign policy researchers dissect coalition governments to highlight the role political parties play on foreign policy formulation and implementation. This literature also illustrates the merits of methodological plurality in studying foreign policy. Using a combination of comparative case studies, process tracing, Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) and regression modeling, it sheds light not only on the broader trends that characterize coalition foreign policy but also on the causal mechanisms and contextual factors which often go unaccounted for in purely statistical analyses. The recent advances in role and image theories in Foreign Policy Analysis are expected to influence the study of coalitions and their foreign policies, offering an interpretivist take alongside this positivist trajectory.