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The topic of populism in foreign policy is receiving growing attention in academic and public discourse as populist parties and movements proliferate around the world. Yet foreign policy analysis (FPA) scholars interested in the role of populism in foreign policy have to deal with a concept that is notoriously slippery and contested.
The existing literature on populism and foreign policy has already offered interesting insights. Focused primarily on Europe, it usually applies the conceptualization of populism as a thin-centered ideology that attaches to thicker ideological traditions and reformulates them in terms of the elite-people divide. Following this conceptualization (that is today the dominant framework for the comparative analysis of populism, particularly in Europe), this literature argues that populist parties of the right have foreign policy positions that reflect their nativism, opposition to immigration, focus on national sovereignty, and rejection of economic and cultural globalization. Populist parties of the left on the other hand reject in their foreign policy positions neo-liberalism and open markets. Together, European populist parties of all persuasions are Eurosceptic, anti-American, and usually pro-Putin’s Russia.
Highlighted are the breadth of critical and discursive approaches on populism that scholars of populism and foreign policy can use, particularly because they have been applied successfully to cases outside of Europe, where populists have long held political power and have influenced foreign policy in practice. Such conceptualizations commonly view populism as a reaction to crises of political representation engendered by dislocations caused by globalization and other shifts in international politics. These dislocations will take different forms, but populism in the West and populism in the Global South can be seen, despite more specific differences of outlook, at the very least as a specific type of reaction to concurrent political and economic crises in a rapidly denationalized and deterritorialized world. In this context, most populist foreign policies reflect a preoccupation with popular sovereignty and unmediated projection of popular demands and national interests outside of established processes of global governance. Populists will also tend to perceive and analyze foreign policy issues through the lens of the elite-underdog opposition.
Populism is commonly associated or conflated with nationalism (especially in the case of the European radical right) and isolationism, but in practice this does not always have to be the case. The “people” for whom populists speak in international affairs can very well transcend national borders, as evidenced, for example, in the foreign policies of Hugo Chavez and Mahmud Ahmadinejad, who aimed to represent transnational constituencies like the Global South, the Islamic world, the world poor, etc. And while populists generally eschew commitments to broader milieu goals of the international system, they can still engage with foreign affairs if they see immediate material benefits. The same goes for trade: populists (particularly in the United States) are seen usually as ideological protectionists, but most often they do not mind striking trade deals if these favor their interests (see, e.g., Donald Trump’s discourse on this issue).
In terms of theoretical and methodological advancements, foreign policy scholars interested in populism are urged to embrace the large variety of conceptual approaches on populism (ideological, critical, discursive) and to build on the growing literature on cross-regional comparison of populist politics, something particularly pertinent in a world characterized by the presence and prominence of populism in almost all world regions.
Power is a crucial concept for international relations scholars. Of particular importance for those interested in understanding foreign policy is knowing how power manifests as national capabilities. Understanding the relationship between power and capabilities allows for comparison and contrast of the various foreign policy tools leaders have at their disposal as they attempt to achieve their goals. Despite the importance of power, scholars still debate the best means for conceptualizing and operationalizing the concept. The all-encompassing nature of power makes it difficult to focus on a single characteristic. This article focuses on three main aspects of power: military, economic, and soft power. Each section gives an overview into the current state of research into the various aspects of power. The discussion on military power emphasizes operationalizing military might and issues with innovation. The section on economics focuses on economics as a source of power and a tool for coercion. Finally, the last section focuses on noncoercive aspects of power, better known as soft power. The article ends with some suggestions for future research.
Anthony J. S. Craig and Brandon Valeriano
Technology has been given relatively scant attention in empirical international relations scholarship, despite its obvious importance to issues of military power and global security. Much progress is yet to be made into developing a fuller and more precise understanding of the interaction between technology and international relations. Synthesizing existing research will provide a clearer picture of the state of the field with regards to conceptualizing technology, the proliferation of technology, the technological component of national power, the impact of technology on international relations, the information and communication technology revolution and cyber security, and technology in international digital politics. This synthesis highlights key questions regarding what empirical research has to engage with and provides the first step toward addressing these issues.
Michael Masterson and Jessica L. P. Weeks
What do we know about the causes and outcomes of international military conflict? Decades of research from different theoretical traditions have explored the outbreak and conclusion of international conflict from a variety of angles. Broadly speaking, scholarship about international conflict has tended to orbit around three core concepts: power, institutions, and the source of the interstate dispute. The question that remains is how well verified are the most important theories? Three influential theories seek to predict patterns of international conflict: power transition theory, which argues that shifts in power increase the likelihood of war; selectorate theory, which predicts that states that have large winning coalitions are more selective about war; and theories about issue indivisibility and war, which predict that issues that states view as impossible to divide—such as a national homeland—are more likely to lead to conflict. Each of these theories produces specific predictions, allowing an assessment of how well the evidence supports the theories’ main conjectures.
Central to understanding the causes of conflict is whether empirical work has tested these three theories using well-validated measures; whether a variety of scholars have tested the core propositions of the theory; and whether scholars have found evidence of the causal mechanisms proposed by each theory. Although each theory has garnered some support, they all fall short on one or more of these criteria. In particular, more work is needed in both measurement and evidence of causal mechanisms before scholars can be confident of the theories’ explanatory power.
A large body of theoretical work posits that power shifts or expected power shifts cause war. Power transition theory, cyclic theories of war, preventive war arguments, and the bargaining model of war are discussed in this article. Indeed, shifting power is one of the most popular and venerable explanations for war. Its origins go at least as far back as Thucydides, who famously wrote, “What made war inevitable was the growth of Athenian power and the fear this caused in Sparta.” Two major points must be discussed. First, there is an impressive correlation between major power war and shifting power, a correlation consistent with the arguments of several systemic theories of war. Second, much of the empirical research examining power shifts and war suffers from endogeneity and model specification concerns. Regarding endogeneity, more effort should be placed on identifying valid instruments and conducting experiments. Regarding model specification, more attention needs to be paid to scope conditions. Shifting power is not expected to cause war in all contexts. Precisely defining the relevant contexts and modeling them empirically is necessary to evaluate the shifting power and war hypothesis.
The idea of power transition, or power shift, has recently been much in vogue in scholarly, policy, and even popular discourse. It has, for example, motivated a resurgent interest in the power-transition theory and the danger of the so-called Thucydides trap. China’s recent rise has especially motivated an interest in these topics, engendering concerns about whether this development means that China is on a collision course with the United States. These concerns stem from the proposition that the danger of a system-destabilizing war increases when a rising power catches up to a declining hegemon and challenges the latter’s preeminent position in the international system. Thucydides’s famous remark about the origin of the Peloponnesian War, claiming that “it was the rise of Athens and the fear that this inspired in Sparta that made war inevitable” in ancient Greece, has frequently been invoked to support this view. Whereas power shift is a generic term referring to any change in the balance of capabilities between two or more states, power transition is a more specific concept pointing to a reversal of positions whereby a rising latecomer overtakes a previous dominant power in the international system (or at least when this latecomer approaches power parity with the dominant power). Power-transition theory presents a contemporary version of Thucydides’s explanation of the Peloponnesian War. It calls attention to the changing power relationships among the world’s major states and provides a seemingly cogent framework to understand the dynamics that can produce war between these states and their respective allies.
A careful reader will immediately find the preceding paragraph unsatisfactory as it contains several important ambiguities. For instance, what do we mean by “major states” or “great powers,” and what do we have in mind when we refer to changes in their relative “power”? Also, does the power-transition theory claim that war is likely to break out when there is a change in the identity of the world’s most powerful country? Or does it also say that war is likely to occur even in the absence of a late-rising state overtaking, and therefore displacing, an incumbent hegemon? If so, how closely does the late-rising state have to match the incumbent’s power capabilities before the power-transition theory predicts a war between them? Would the latecomer have to reach at least 80%, 90%, or even 95% of the incumbent’s power before an approximate parity between the two is achieved? Does the power-transition theory pertain only to the relationship between the world’s two most powerful states, or does it apply to other states? And if power transition is a necessary but insufficient condition for war, what are the other pertinent variables and their interaction effects with power shifts? Finally, what do we mean by war or systemic war? The answers to these questions are not self-evident. How they are dealt with—or not—is in itself suggestive of the power relations in the world being studied by scholars and these scholars’ positions in this world and their relations to it.
Jonathan M. Dicicco
Power transition theory and Graham Allison’s Thucydides’ Trap Project are discussed in tandem with two complementary aims: to highlight theoretical and empirical contributions of the power transition research program, and to provide critical perspective on the Thucydides’ Trap Project. Conventional-wisdom approaches of this sort are distinguished from power transition theory, the empirical international relations theory proposed by A. F. K. Organski and further articulated and tested by generations of scholars. The theory’s central elements—national power, stages of power transition, shifts in the distribution of power, international order and the status quo—are identified and discussed, with a focus on key variables used to explain war and peace among contending states. A comparative, critical examination of the Thucydides’ Trap Project is used as a lens for spotlighting key empirical contributions of the power transition theory research tradition and the value of adhering to norms of scientific rigor. Opportunities for further growth and development are noted, with special attention afforded to essential features of the power transition theory research program, including the study of (1) the timing and initiation of war; (2) rising powers’ dissatisfaction with the status quo, and a possible distinction between dissatisfaction and revisionism; and (3) reducing the risk of violent, revisionist challenges.
Indra de Soysa
The idea that civil war has to be feasible to occur, and that feasibility is largely a function of the availability of lootable income has gained wide acceptance in the specialized literature on civil war. A parallel debate exists on whether or not liberal, capitalist economies produce a lower risk of domestic conflict. A micro logic for why capitalist economies are less likely to break down in armed conflict is offered to bridge these two literatures. It argues that autarchic economic policies often associated with predatory states drive investment in the shadows for capturing rents from market-constraining policies. The survivability of groups is based on infrastructures of violence and escape rather than simply the availability of lootable income. Free-market economies are far less likely to generate investment in this form of rebellion-specific capital that ultimately facilitates an open challenge of predatory states. Such a view of conflict is able to reconcile why internal conflicts last long, how narratives of greed and grievance coexist in conflict zones, why dominant state forces fail to stamp out insurgency, and why autarchic states are highly militarized. Any theory focused on grabbing to explain the onset of conflict should endogenize the causes of survivability, which ultimately determines how many battle deaths get generated to meet the threshold for becoming a civil war.
Prioritarianism is a principle of distributive justice. Roughly, it states that we should give priority to the worse off in the distribution of advantages. This principle has received a great deal of attention in political theory since Derek Parfit first introduced the distinction between egalitarianism and prioritarianism in his Lindley Lecture, published in 1991. In the present article, prioritarianism is defined in terms of a number of structural features of the principle. These structural features are also used to distinguish between this principle and other distributive principles such as utilitarianism, egalitarianism, and leximin. Prioritarianism is mostly discussed as an axiological principle that orders outcomes with respect to their (moral) value, but it is also clarified how it can be incorporated in a criterion of right actions, choices, or policies. Furthermore, different aspects of the principle that need to be further specified to arrive at a full-fledged distributive theory are discussed, including the weights that give priority to the worse off, currency (what kind of advantages should be distributed), temporal unit (the temporal span in which one has to be worse off in order to be entitled to priority), scope (whether the principle applies globally or only domestically, and whether, for example, future generations and non-human animals are covered by the principle), and risk. For each aspect, different possible views are distinguished and discussed. Finally, it is discussed how prioritarianism may be justified, for example, by outlining and discussing the argument that, unlike certain other distribution-sensitive principles such as egalitarianism, prioritarianism is not vulnerable to the so-called “leveling down objection.”