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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.
A major challenge for countries that emerge from civil war is the stabilization of the post-conflict order in a way that fighting does not break out again. Recent empirical and theoretical work on the resolution of civil wars and on the duration of peace strongly rely on the bargaining framework of war emphasizing information asymmetries and commitment problems as main reasons for why in some states civil wars recur repeatedly, whereas in other societies a conflict ends and a transition to a peaceful society is successful. The length of peace spells depends partly on information about the distribution of power that became available during the conflict, captured by the duration and intensity of the fighting as well as the type of conflict ending. Information problems are more relevant at earlier stages and with regard to the initiation of negotiations. In finding bargaining deals and securing their implementation, the conflict parties have to overcome commitment problems. The literature has investigated in more detail third-party security guarantees and power-sharing arrangements as mechanisms to get conflict parties to credibly commit to and adhere to a negotiated agreement. Recently, empirical research moved beyond the conclusion of peace agreements to the study of their implementation. Particular challenges for a peaceful order are the demobilization of ex-combatants, which is aggravated by time-inconsistency problems, the timing of elections, and the redistribution of economic resources. Finally, solutions become more difficult in multiparty conflicts and if the armed groups are fragmented.
The idea that states should provide a means-tested guaranteed minimum income for citizens who are unable to meet their basic needs is widely shared and has been a central component in the evolution of social citizenship rights in existing welfare states. However, an increasing number of activists and scholars defend the more radical option of establishing a universal basic income, that is, an unconditional income paid to all members of society on an individual basis without any means test or work requirement. Indeed, some political philosophers have argued that basic income is one of the most important reforms in the development of a just and democratic society, comparable to other milestones in the history of citizenship rights, such as universal suffrage or even the abolishment of slavery. Basic income or similar ideas, such as a basic capital or a negative income tax, have been advanced in many versions since the 18th century in different parts of the world and under a great variety of names. However, while these were previously often isolated and disconnected initiatives, basic income has more recently become the object of an increasingly cumulative research effort to shed light on the many aspects of this idea. It has also inspired policy developments and given rise to experiments and pilot projects in several countries.
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.
The role of candidates in shaping voting choice has generated much research—and at least as much controversy—since modern electoral behavior research began in the 1960s. Much of the controversy surrounds the personalization of politics and whether political systems—and especially parliamentary systems—are becoming more leader-oriented. Three fundamental changes in electoral behavior underpin the study of candidates and voting choice behavior: the declining impact of social structure on the vote; partisan dealignment, with voters drifting away from their traditional party attachments; and the decline in the mass memberships of political parties. Researchers argue that because of these changes, fostered by the growth of television, candidates have assumed a greater role in structuring the vote. While there is impressionistic evidence that leaders have become more important, empirical evidence of an underlying change in voter behavior is more difficult to identify. Accordingly, this essay focuses mainly on changes in the political context within which candidates operate, since we expect this to be the source of any change.
The design of political institutions shapes the level of attention that candidates receive, and that is especially the case with electoral systems. Electoral systems with fewer parties are more likely to focus voters’ attentions on candidates when compared to systems with larger numbers of parties. Weak party organizations coupled with partisan dealignment within the electorate can also alter the role and profile of candidates, although their impact is difficult to quantify. Changes in the mass media—and particularly the advent of television in the 1960s and the visual images on which it relies—are often viewed as the major cause of the personalization of politics. A new disruptive technology, the Internet, looks likely to stimulate additional political change for candidates and voting in the 21st century. Finally, what voters look for in their candidates appears to be stable both over time and cross-nationally and can be reduced to two overarching qualities: character and competence.
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.
Recent methodological work on systematic case selection techniques offers ways of choosing cases for in-depth analysis such that the probability of learning from the cases is enhanced. This research has undermined several long-standing ideas about case selection. In particular, random selection of cases, paired or grouped selection of cases for purposes of controlled comparison, typical cases, and extreme cases on the outcome variable all appear to be much less useful than their reputations have suggested. Instead, it appears that scholars gain the most in terms of making new discoveries about causal relationships when they study extreme cases on the causal variable or deviant cases.
Susan E. Scarrow
Party membership has long been an important channel for political participation in many countries. Strong membership organizations have helped parties win elections and stay connected with voters between elections, and membership opportunities have helped to mobilize some citizens who might otherwise have stayed out of politics. Yet in the last quarter-century, long-established political parties in parliamentary democracies have, with a few notable exceptions, experienced sharp enrollment declines, while newer parties have developed modest memberships at best. This has led many observers to question the continued viability of membership-based political parties.
However, that is not the whole story. While some signs point to the obsolescence of party membership, there are other indications that parties are trying to reinvent the form, whether as a passport to individual political empowerment or as a pathway to digital citizenship. Most strikingly, many parties are experimenting with new procedures that give members a direct say in important party decisions. In this sense, the paradoxical story of party membership in the early 21st century is one of numerical decline accompanied by a possible increase in political relevance.
Henrik Oscarsson and Lauri Rapeli
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics. Please check back later for the full article.
Political sophistication refers to the role of expertise and the use of information in the making of political judgments. Citizens in a democracy need political sophistication to make sense of politics and to hold office-holders accountable. Most of them do not seem to be as sophisticated as theory would expect, and political sophistication seems also to be very unevenly spread between individuals. The consequences for democratic governance continue to be a matter of much scholarly debate.
Although many researchers agree that sophistication among citizens tends to be low, many issues in the research field are deeply contested. First, several concepts such as awareness, sophistication, and knowledge are used more or less interchangeably in analyses of the political competence of citizens. It is unclear, however, whether the terminology conceals essential conceptual differences.
Secondly, the empirical strategy of using surveys to measure sophistication has been heavily criticized. For some, the survey is an unsuitable method, because it measures the respondents’ ability to produce correct answers under sub-optimal conditions rather than measuring what they actually know about politics. For others, the survey questions themselves are an inadequate measure of sophistication.
Third, it is not clear what the effects of citizens’ (lack of) political sophistication are on democratic governance. According to one group of scholars, the aggregated opinions and electoral choices of democratic publics would not look very different even if they were more sophisticated. The opponents of this “low-information rationality” theorem claim that increases in citizens’ sophistication would lead to substantial differences in democratic output. In other words, perceptions of the significance of sophistication for democracy deeply divide scholars working in the field.
There is less disagreement concerning the individual-level determinants of sophistication. Although being male, well-educated, and in a socially advantaged position still stand out as the strongest predictors of high sophistication, recent findings provide a more nuanced understanding of how sophistication is distributed among citizens.
In addition to many enduring disputes, some questions remain largely unanswered. Without cross-nationally standardized survey items, scholars have struggled to conduct comparative studies of political sophistication. The role of political institutions as facilitators of political sophistication is therefore to some extent uncertain. Whether and how sophistication changes over time is an equally important, but mostly unexplored question.