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Special relationships are durable and exclusive bilateral relations between autonomous polities that are based on mutual expectations of preferential treatment by its members and outsiders as well as regular entanglement of some (external) governance functions. The concept has become more prominent over the past three decades in part because of recent changes in international relations and foreign policy analysis theory (the constructivist and relational turn) and long-term shifts in the social structure of international relations, that is, decolonization, international criminal and humanitarian law, which have posed questions of solidarity, reconciliation, and responsibility of current and past special relationships.
The term special relationship has a long and diverse history. After World War II, it was used mainly to depict the Anglo-American security relationship as special. Today, well over 50 international relationships are deemed special. Despite this trend, no common theoretical framework has been developed to explain their emergence, variation, persistence and demise. Realism interprets special relationships as asymmetrical power relations, in which presupposed counterbalancing behavior does not occur because shared ideas or institutions mitigate autonomy concerns. Liberalism postulates that the special relatedness occurs when policy interdependence due to shared commercial interests or ideas allows deep cooperation and trust building. Social constructivism, in turn, assumes self-assertion but does not presuppose with or against whom the self, usually a polity, identifies itself. It follows that special relations may occur between dyads with positive identification (Germany-Israel after reconciliation) or negative identification, such as in the enduring rivalry between India and Pakistan.
As a relational term, special relationships do not sit easily with the first generation of foreign policy analysis focusing on decision making processes rather than the policies themselves. As a consequence, special relationships have been primarily conceptualized either as a tool of foreign policy or as one context factor influencing foreign policy choices. In relational theories, such as social constructivism, special relations, such as solidarity relations, are not causally independent from actors, as these relations also define the actors themselves.
Jeff Carter and Giacomo Chiozza
What choices do political leaders make in the international arena? And why? In what ways do the patterns of politics in the international arena shape the selection and prospects of leaders in power? These questions frame a thriving research agenda that has emerged over the last 20 years in political science and international relations. This agenda seeks to answer the fundamental questions of war and peace and cooperation and contestation from a perspective that focuses on leaders, leaders’ motivations, and leaders’ characteristics.
Two major approaches frame the analysis of leaders and foreign policy: the survival approach and the personal attribute approach. These two approaches are not mutually exclusive, but they are analytically distinct. The survival approach starts from the premise that leaders seek to remain in power. It then assesses the reciprocal relation between leaders’ quest to remain in power and their foreign policy choices. Specifically, research in the survival approach analyzes how leaders’ choices can be explained in light of the assumption that leaders seek power and how, in turn, leaders’ survival in power can be explained by their choices in the international arena. With the survival approach, leaders have agency but, in the end, they are exchangeable: they all seek power. The personal attribute approach, on the other hand, points to the many features that distinguish the personal profiles of leaders and seeks to provide a systematic explanation of how those features account for leaders’ foreign policy choices. In particular, research in the personal attribute area has explained leaders’ choices in terms of their orientation toward the use of force, their psychological traits and beliefs about the world, and their personal characteristics and background experiences.
The study of politics from the perspective of leaders integrates insights from the subfields of American politics, comparative politics, and international relations, and in so doing holds the promise to foster a productive and fruitful dialogue across the discipline of political science. Scholars who study politics from the perspective of leaders have generated a number of new theoretical developments, new typologies, new data collections, and new findings. Overall, the study of leaders and foreign policy has proved to be analytically fruitful, empirically rich, and politically relevant.
The understanding of the differences in what a state and nonstate actors are and do in the Global South is augmented if we historicize these categories. In particular, the category of the nonstate actor is best understood when contextualized in the project of the state in which such actors operate. Building on established critical approaches, it is necessary to interrogate the a priori assumption that distinctions that frame as exclusively distinct categories of state and nonstate actors hold blanket validity for understanding politics in the Global South.
A meaningful understanding of how an actor’s influence—regardless of category—is enhanced when placed in a context, and where analysis addresses strategies and actions and their effects. To this end, an actor is defined as an entity with two characteristics: it is able to develop preferences and goals, and it is able to mobilize individuals and material resources in their pursuit. Presenting the benefits of contextual analysis shows how a focus on actors’ “sovereign potentialities” (i.e., attributes such as control over territory, service provision, generation of markers of identity, and the international recognition that an actor has and through which it can impose change on its context and environment) allows for a clearer understanding of what constrains or enables actors qua actors.
One way to explain the analytical purchase of this argument is via a novel reading of Hezbollah and of Lebanon’s politics, which is the party’s anchoring context. This makes it possible to analyze the profound effects of Hezbollah’s actions in Lebanon and regionally through its alliance with Syria (and Iran), its appeal to a wider Arab audience, and its confrontation with Israel. Special attention is given to Hezbollah’s actions in Lebanon, its involvement in the 2012–2013 Qusayr battle in support of the Syrian government, and its decision-making during the 2006 Israel War. This discussion will highlight Hezbollah’s state-like and non-state-like sovereign potentialities, and the factors that limit or enable its strategies in different contexts.
The international arena has been plagued with violence committed by a variety of Nonstate Armed Groups (NAGs), including ethnic and religious insurgents, terrorists, and revolutionaries, which threaten not only the states they target but also the entire world’s stability and security. An intriguing observation related to armed groups is their ability to attract outside state supporters. Indeed, almost half of all groups that emerged in the post-World War II period received some form of backing from states including but not limited to funds, arms, and safe havens. In this respect, it is possible to draw parallels between interstate alliances and state–group alliances. The major International Relations theories—realism, liberalism, and constructivism—have significant insights to offer in explaining the origin and evolution of state–rebel group alliances. These insights are empirically tested using new data on outside state support of rebel groups that emerged in the post–1945 period. Two forms of alliances exist between states and groups: strategic or instrumental and principled or ideational. A strategic alliance occurs if a state supports a group fighting against its enemy or rival, so security-related concerns and common threat motivate a given alliance. An ideational or principled alliance occurs if a state supports an ideationally contiguous armed group with which it has ethnic, religious, and/or ideological ties. Whether there is a strategic or principled alliance between armed groups and their state supporters has implications for the onset, course and termination of non-state violence in world politics.
The empirical findings using large-N statistical analysis show that (1) states form alliances with rebel groups in both the absence and presence of interstate hostilities; (2) states form alliances with ideationally contiguous rebel groups, that is, groups that have common ethnic, religious, and ideological ties to states’ population and/or a group of people in its society; (3) democratic states do not ally with rebels, which fight against other democratic states; and (4) states, in general, are less likely to support rebels, which fight against ideationally contiguous states. Socialism emerges as a unifying ideology contributing to a high degree of solidarity both among states and between states and armed groups. The empirical findings imply that the perceived motivation of state supporters by armed groups; whether states support rebels due to strategic or ideational concerns, should have some influence on armed groups’ level of lethality, duration, and attitude toward civilians and governments they fight against. Only a fully developed research agenda offering empirically informed theoretical insights can address these questions by facilitating future venues of research on the origin and evolution of state–NAG alliances.
Andrew P. Owsiak
The steps-to-war theory maintains that war results from the issues under dispute and how states handle these issues. Its foundation rests on the territorial explanation of war, which argues that territorial issues are more conflict-prone than non-territorial ones because these issues constitute a salient security threat that realism recommends be addressed via power politics (i.e., the use of force, including alliance- and armament-building). When states employ power politics, however, the dispute festers, thereby causing recurring militarized conflict; creating feelings of threat, enmity, and competition (i.e., rivalry); producing counter-alliances and arms races; and generally building the more hostile, war-prone world that states originally sought to avoid. Each step taken—from a territorial dispute to rivalry (i.e., recurring militarized disputes) to alliance-building to armament building—therefore increases the probability that war will occur.
Existing empirical evidence supports the steps-to-war theory’s predictions in numerous ways. Tests of the entire theory, for example, demonstrate the dangerousness of territorial disputes, the tendency to manage territorial disputes via power politics, and that individual steps reinforce one another. Other bodies of research connect the individual steps directly to the likelihood that war will occur or highlight the connections between these individual steps—much as the theory predicts. Despite strong empirical support, however, much work remains to be done. Future research should consider the sequencing of the steps to war, investigate why the effects of certain steps vary across different epochs (e.g., alliances differ in their effects on war during the 18th and 19th centuries), identify the alternative paths to war, and study the paths to peace more explicitly—as obtaining peace may not be as simple as removing the known causes of war.
The concept of strategic culture has become widely used in the field of international relations, primarily in the context of efforts to explain the distinctive strategic behaviors of states through reference to their unique strategic properties. Despite this, a great deal of confusion remains regarding what strategic culture is, and how it may be used in the context of academic research. Two problems produce this confusion: much strategic culture literature continues to conflate culture-as-ideas with the behavior and artifacts through which those ideas become manifest, and strategic culture scholars have incorporated within their definitions of this concept overly narrow assumptions about where strategic culture may be said to exist.
To address these weaknesses in the literature, strategic culture is redefined as consisting of common ideas regarding strategy that exist across populations. This definition is narrower than many because it defines culture as common ideas rather than as ideas plus behavior (or as ideas plus artifacts). This matters not because it solves the methodological challenges faced by those who seek to study ideas, but because it forces us to confront these challenges directly in the context of efforts to understand the different ways that patterns of ideas may produce patterned behavior. This definition is also broader than many because it refuses to dismiss the possibility that common ideas related to strategic matters may exist across populations that are not bounded by the borders of existing countries. The rationale for such an approach is simply that one ought to look and see how common ideas are in fact distributed across populations, rather than assume that patterns will conform to taken-for-granted political units.
Jacqueline H. R. deMeritt
Repression is the act of subduing someone by institutional or physical force. Political violence is a particular form of repression involving the use of physical force to achieve political goals. Acts of repression and/or political violence often violate fundamental human rights, and are sometimes referred to as human rights abuse. Most systematic research into these forms of human rights abuse, particularly as perpetrated by governments, is built on assumptions of rationality: repression and political violence are strategic policies that governments employ in pursuit important political and/or military objectives. Since the defining concept of the state is its monopoly on the legitimate use of coercion, those objectives are generally related to quiescence and the quelling of popular dissent.
Empirical research has investigated the causes of repression and political violence, focusing generally on the conditions and incentives that make these strategies most likely. To a lesser extent, scholars have also investigated the consequences of human rights abuse. This work is intimately tied to extant work on causes, and highlights an important feedback loop between repressive governments and those who oppose them. Finally, researchers have investigated methods of limiting and/or preventing state repression and political violence. Some of these methods are primarily domestic in nature (e.g., regime type and institutional design) while others have a decidedly international bent (e.g., advocacy campaigns).
The historical evolution of the right to vote offers three observations. First, almost all groups have seen their voting rights challenged at some point in time, and almost all political movements have sought to exclude some other group from voting. Second, reforms towards suffrage extension are varied—from the direct introduction of universal (male) suffrage to a trickle down process of enfranchising a small group at a time. Third, the history of franchise extension is a history of expansions and contractions.
Much of the literature on the evolution of the right to vote builds on the following question: Why would a ruling elite decide to extend the suffrage to excluded groups who have different interests in the level of redistribution and the provision of public goods? Two competing theories dominate the debate: Bottom-up or demand theories emphasizing the role of revolutionary threats, and top-down or supply theories, explaining franchise extensions as the outcome of the strategic interactions of those in power and elites in the democratic opposition.
A second question addresses the choice of a particular path of franchise extension, asking what explains different strategies and, in particular, the role of their accompanying institutional reforms.
In contrast to the literature on the inclusion of the lower classes, women’s suffrage has been traditionally presented as the conquest of the suffragette movement. Current research, however, departs from this exceptionalism of female suffrage and shows certain consensus in explaining women’s suffrage as a political calculus, in which men willingly extend the franchise when they expect to benefit from it. Arguments differ though in the specific mechanisms that explain the political calculus.
Finally, the literature on compulsory voting addresses the estimations of its impact on turnout; whether it translates into more efficient campaigning, improved legitimacy, and better representativity; and ultimately its effects on policies.
Timothy R. Johnson
The U.S. Supreme Court is but one of three political institutions within the structure of the U.S. federal government. Within this system of separated powers it rules on the constitutionality of some of the nation’s most important legal and political issues. In making such decisions, the nation’s highest court may be considered the most powerful of the three branches of the U.S. federal government. Understanding this process will allow scholars, students of the Court, and Court watchers alike to gain a better understanding of the way in which the justices conduct their business and to come to terms with some of the most important legal and political decisions in our nation’s history. Combining a theoretical account of Supreme Court decision-making with an examination of its internal decision-making process illuminates this opaque institution.
Karl Magnus Johansson
Membership in the European Union (EU) entails adjustments or changes in national democracies. Sweden joined the EU in 1995, and EU membership has given rise to controversies in the public debate as well as in the academic community. Four main scholarly and related themes are addressed here.
First is the discursive construction of the question of democracy in relation to European integration. In an effort to legitimize membership in the public debate, the consequences in terms of sovereignty were summarized in the official Swedish discourse on EU membership as a loss in formal sovereignty but an increase in real sovereignty. The conclusions became known as the calculus of sovereignty. This conceptual innovation entailed a reinterpretation of popular sovereignty, as stipulated by the Swedish constitution, as well as of democracy, implying that efficiency or problem-solving capacity was emphasized more than procedural democracy. Increased economic and political interdependence had created a situation where independent political decisions were seen as ineffective.
Second is the controversy surrounding the question of influence and the extent to which Sweden is exerting influence in the EU. This issue came to the fore in connection with the euro referendum in 2003. While some argued that remaining outside the euro would come with a political price—marginalization—others emphasized the lack of evidence for such effects. To some extent, this remains a moot point, not least as a result of the expansion and importance of the euro zone.
Third is the question of whether or not there is political opposition, that is, conflict rather than consensus in EU affairs. Recent research claims that (allegedly almost nonexistent) previous research had underestimated the degree of political opposition or conflict, notably in parliament. Moreover, results suggest that there is variation in EU opposition across time and policy areas. However, the key question here should be whether or not there is effective opposition, making a difference to policy outcomes. Several reforms have been initiated to strengthen the involvement of the parliament in EU policymaking, but none has really sought to challenge the balance between parliamentary scrutiny and executive discretion.
Fourth is the state and different interpretations of either decentering or centering effects. Whereas some claim that fragmentation or decentralization is the central feature of the Europeanization of the Swedish state, other researchers submit that the predominant tendency is rather centralization, as the demands of EU decision making—not least EU summitry—on national policy coordination have been a principal driving factor in this process.
These are the main themes in the debate over the EU and EU membership in Sweden. Included here are a series of analytical narratives and counternarratives, as well as a discussion of important implications for the national democracy and for the distribution or redistribution of power among domestic political actors therein. In sum, any interpretation of modern-day politics must now take into account the significance of the EU, operating through Europeanizing impacts.