Constructivism in the social sciences has known several ups and downs over the last decades. It was rather early successful in sociology but hotly contested in international relations. Oddly enough, just at the moments it made important inroads into the research agenda and also became accepted by the mainstream, the enthusiasm for it waned, and many constructivists—as did mainstream scholars—moved from the concerns of “grand theory” or even “meta-theory” toward “normal science,” or experimented with other (eclectic) approaches, of which the “turn to practice” is perhaps the latest manifestation.
In a way, constructivism was “successful” on the one hand by introducing norms, norm-dynamics, and diffusion; the role of new actors in world politics; and the changing role of institutions into the debates, while losing, on the other hand, much of its critical potential. The latter survived only on the fringes—and in Europe more than in the United States. The Copenhagen school, building on the speech act theory, engendered at least a principled discussion of security studies, even if its use of speech acts was too simplistic.
In the United States constructivism soon became “mainstreamed” by having its analysis of norms reduced to “variable research.” Similarly, while the “life cycle of norms” apparently inevitably led to norm cascades and “boomerangs,” “norm death,” strangely enough, never made the research agenda, despite the obvious empirical evidence (preventive strikes, unlawful combatants, drone strikes, extrajudicial killings etc.).
The elective affinity of constructivism and humanitarianism seemed to have transformed the former into the enlightenment project of “progress,” where a hidden (or not so hidden) teleology of history à la Kant tends to overwhelm the analysis and thus prevents a serious conceptual engagement with both law and (inter-) national politics. This bowdlerization of constructivism is further buttressed by the fact that none of the “leading” U.S. departments has a constructivist on board, ensuring thereby the narrowness of conceptual and methodological choices to which the future “professionals” are exposed. The engagement with concepts and language, which “first generation” constructivists introduced, is displaced again by “ideal theory” (both in terms of deductive reasoning based on “unrealistic” assumptions and in the “clarification” of abstract principles à la Rawls), or by the search for “algorithms” hidden in “big data.”
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics. Please check back later for the full article.
Most constructivist work in international relations has attempted to account for very general outcomes in the international system, most notably the well-known research of Alexander Wendt. Whether we live in a “Kantian” world or a “Hobbesian” one, for instance, is a socially constructed thing, in a sense, not flowing from some inevitable structure or theory of human nature. Nevertheless, some important constructivist work has focused on more specific foreign policy outcomes, research that is examined in depth. Constructivist analyses tend to focus on “how possible” questions rather than attempting to explain particular decisions, and this offers a useful addition or corrective to more traditional analyses of foreign policy. They also attempt to understand the general foreign policy orientations of states, often relying on notions of culture, role, and identity.
Such approaches have not yet fully matured into comprehensive approaches to foreign policy, in at least two senses. First of all, current constructivist approaches are somewhat limited by focusing on the social dimensions of foreign policy rather than on individual ones, being sociological rather than psychological in nature. This is sometimes not an issue, but it becomes a problem when variation between decision makers with the same social identity is the object of interest. Second, there have been relatively few attempts to turn constructivism into a normative theory. Arguably, in order to become a fully rounded theory (as opposed to a loose framework), constructivism needs a mechanism by which it can influence actual decision makers, very few of whom currently describe themselves in opinion polls as being constructivists, as opposed to realists or liberals.
Yet both of these problems can potentially be remedied. First, constructivist approaches may be combined with psychological approaches, which supplement their sociological focus. Both constructivism and the psychological approach to decision making are ideational in nature rather than material; in other words, they share the belief that what we think is “out there” is often more important than what actually is. Indeed, the psychological approach to foreign policy provided a major source of inspiration for the early constructivists. Second, constructivist approaches can offer policymakers prescriptive advice as to how they should or ought to behave. We will review the literature on understanding foreign policy outcomes and will then suggest the outlines of an applied constructivism that decision makers in government would find positively useful. There is Realpolitik and Idealpolitik, but can there be “Konstruktpolitik”? At least six principles might guide the development of normative constructivism. Chief amongst these is the axiom, “if you can’t change the physical, change the social.” Other principles include the effort to initiate “norm cascades,” the encouragement (or discouragement) of self-fulfilling beliefs and self-negating beliefs, acceptance of the role of agency and the conscious use of argument and language as tools of persuasion.
The Council of Ministers, officially known as the Council of the European Union (EU), is a single legal composition of national ministers who meet in policy-specific formations to negotiate and adopt EU policies and laws. The Council is more than just the ministers; they depend on an infrastructure of preparatory bodies and specialist working groups, as well as rotating and permanent leadership positions and an internal bureaucracy, the General Secretariat of the Council (GSC). Over time, the Council has undergone formal restructuring, such as sharing colegislative authority with the European Parliament (EP), now called the “ordinary legislative procedure” (OLP), and redesigning how majority voting works. The Council has also witnessed informal organizational change, especially in internal pecking-order dynamics and techniques to reach consensus-based outcomes.
EU Council research has documented formal and informal decision-making dynamics, especially related to voting and consensus practices, although there is no real agreement on how formal and informal rules interact to influence the context of negotiations. There is still a divergence of interpretation in how the Council actually works, such as whether consensus is a “culture” of mutual accommodation subject to group standards or is instead a façade of relative power. As an institution, the Council deliberately promotes clublike networks of like-minded national policy specialists and experts who meet in repeat, face-to-face interactions and make collective decisions in mostly nontransparent (in camera) settings of insulation from domestic audiences. However, in the post-Maastricht era of EU politics since the early 1990s, the way the Council works is also increasingly debated in terms of transparency, accountability, and legitimacy.
Richard Ned Lebow
Counterfactuals seek to alter some feature or event of the pass and by means of a chain of causal logic show how the present might, or would, be different. Counterfactual inquiry—or control of counterfactual situations—is essential to any causal claim. More importantly, counterfactual thought experiments are essential, to the construction of analytical frameworks. Policymakers routinely use then by to identify problems, work their way through problems, and select responses. Good foreign-policy analysis must accordingly engage and employ counterfactuals.
There are two generic types of counterfactuals: minimal-rewrite counterfactuals and miracle counterfactuals. They have relevance when formulating propositions and probing contingency and causation. There is also a set of protocols for using both kinds of counterfactuals toward these ends, and it illustrates the uses and protocols with historical examples. Policymakers invoke counterfactuals frequently, especially with regard to foreign policy, to both choose policies and defend them to key constituencies. They use counterfactuals in a haphazard and unscientific manner, and it is important to learn more about how they think about and employ counterfactuals to understand foreign policy.
Three successive parts are presented within this article, all intended to raise the visibility and show the utility of classical geopolitics as a deserving and separate international-relations model: (a) a common traditional definition, (b) relevant theories that correspond to that definition, and (c) applications of certain theories that will delve at some depth into three case studies (the Ukrainian shatterbelt, contemporary Turkish geopolitics, and a North American heartland).
The placement of states, regions, and resources, as affecting international relations and foreign policies, defines classical geopolitics. This definition emphasizes the application of spatially composed unbiased theories that should bring insight into foreign-affairs events and policies. Specifically, a “model” contains theories that correspond to its description. A “theory” is a simple sentence of probability, with “A” happening to likely affect “B.” Importantly, models are passive; they merely hold theories. In contrast, theories possess their own titles and perform actively when taken from such models.
Various methodological challenges are presented: (a) combining concepts with theories, (b) estimating probability for testing theories, (c) claiming the “scientific,” (d) accounting for determinism, (e) revealing a dynamic environment for geopolitics, (f) separating realism from geopolitics, and (g) drawing classical geopolitics away from the critical. Certain theories that are placed within the geopolitical model are examined next: (a) heartlands and rimlands, (b) land and sea power, (c) choke points and maritime lines of communication, (d) offshore balancing, (e) the Monroe doctrine, (f) balances of power, (g) checkerboards, (h) shatterbelts, (i) pan-regions, (j) influence spheres, (k) dependency, (l) buffer states, (m) organic borders, (n) imperial thesis, (o) borders/wars, (p) contagion, (q) irredentism, (r) demography, (s) fluvial laws, (t) petro-politics, and (u) catastrophic events in nature. Additional theories apply elsewhere in the article as well.
Of the three case studies, the Ukrainian shatterbelt represents the sole contemporary geopolitical configuration of this type, a regional conflict coupling with a strategic rivalry. Here, partisans of the civil war between the eastern and the western sectors of the country have joined with the Russians against the Europeans and Americans, respectively. Next, Turkey’s pivotal location has afforded it both advantages and disadvantages, a topic discussed at some length earlier in the article. Its “zero-problems” strategy of seeking positive relations with neighbors has now been forced to change tactics, reflective of new forces within and beyond the country. Finally, a North American heartland compares nicely to Halford Mackinder’s earlier Eurasia heartland thesis, with the American perhaps proving more stable, wealthy, and enduring, based in large part on its stronger geopolitical features.
Defining and Operationalizing Context Through a Structural Political Geography for International Relations
Colin Flint and Raymond J. Dezzani
A structural understanding of the contextualized behavior of states is introduced and operationalized. Context is a central theme of the discipline of geography and identifies context specific, rather than universal, social behavior. Social behavior is both defined by and creates contexts in a constant recursive interaction. Context is defined through a geographic perspective on world-systems analysis, and we focus on the behavior of states. States are central actors because, through territorial sovereignty, they are able to define key social relations and economic flows. The idea of context is developed in a way that extends the key International Relations (IR) concepts of milieu and opportunity and willingness.
The recursive interaction between agency and context is conceptualized in a relational way as maneuver, the process by which the aggregate behavior of elites define state-level choices and behaviors that are made by considering the contextual position relative to all other states in the capitalist world-economy. In turn, the decision by any one state changes the behavior of other states so that context and state-level decisions interact and are constantly in flux. The elements of context include the position of a state in the hierarchy of the capitalist world-economy as well as regional and local interstate relations, some of which may display path dependency.
The operationalization of maneuver requires an understanding of states as signaling and learning entities and a set of modeling techniques that identify: (1) the degree of change within the system as a whole—or the degree of stability in the number and identity of states within particular positions in the hierarchy of the capitalist world-economy; (2) the maneuver of particular states—or which states change position (or not) within the hierarchy; and (3) the explanatory power of variables measuring political and economic interstate relations in explaining the maneuver behavior of particular states.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics. Please check back later for the full article.
Scholarship on the relationship between domestic institutions and foreign policy is driven by the simple assumption that a state’s domestic political arrangement can explain important aspects of its foreign policy behavior. Democratic domestic institutions, in particular, are thought to be significant for explaining an important set of outcomes ranging from greater trade to the lack of war between mature democracies—the so-called Democratic Peace.
The study of the impact of democratic domestic institutions on foreign policy has developed along two broad lines. The first and most established approach is rooted in the basic distinction between democracies and non-democracies. In this view, democratic institutions—nearly universal franchise, regular and contested elections, et cetera—constrain leaders in a way that produces distinct democratic foreign policy patterns. Research shows, for example, that democracies cooperate with each other more often (and are also are more likely to uphold their commitments); face greater audience costs and thus make more effective threats; tend not to fight wars with each other (but do fight non-democracies quite frequently); and more often win the wars in which they are involved.
This approach has yielded a tremendous amount of research and insight into democratic foreign policy, but also suffers from several important critiques. One is that democracy tends to be correlated with a host of other variables, making it difficult to specify what exactly it is about democracy that explains certain foreign policy outcomes. A second and related critique is that this approach tends to treat democracy uniformly when in fact there is often great variation in democratic domestic institutions across cases.
In response to these challenges, a second approach has emerged in recent years that focuses on the differences among democracies and seeks to explain how this variation in turn creates variation in foreign policy behavior. Democracies differ in terms of their underlying institutional arrangements in a variety of ways, including whether they have presidential or parliamentary systems, proportional representation or single-member districts, strong or weak states, autonomous or constrained executives, and open or closed institutions to modulate the flow of information between leaders and citizens, among others. Even within a single democratic country, there can be a different set of institutional constraints depending on the given foreign policy instrument a leader seek to employ. Studying these variations and their impact on policy processes and outcomes provides great promise for further understanding the relationship between domestic democratic institutions and foreign policy.
Ömer Faruk Örsün, Reşat Bayer, and Michael Bernhard
Is democratization good for peace? The question of whether democratization results in violence has led to a spirited and productive debate in empirical conflict studies over the past two decades. The debate, sparked by Mansfield and Snyder’s foundational work, raised a challenge to the notion of a universal democratic peace and elicited numerous critical responses within the literature. One set of such responses has emphasized issues of replicability, mismatches between the research design and directionality of the proposed causal mechanism, the role of outliers, and model specification. In addition, two issues have not been discussed sufficiently in the existing literature. First, conceptually, is the issue of concept stretching, specifically the form Sartori labeled the “cat-dog” problem. While past criticisms were mainly about model specification, we debate whether Mansfield and Snyder’s findings can be seen as a product of concept misformation. Second, quantitatively, are conceptual and empirical issues that Mansfield and Snyder use to capture state strength in their most recent attempts to provide ongoing evidence for their theory. The most optimistic estimates show that even when democratization has a statistically significant association with war onset at lower levels of institutional strength, the effect is substantively insignificant.
Foreign direct investment (FDI) is a major component of globalization. Because of the important role it plays in economic growth and development, many scholars have directed their interest and knowledge to theoretical and/or empirical studies of the causes of FDI. There has been a rapidly growing body of literature that theorizes, hypothesizes, and empirically tests the determinants of FDI. There is no single theory of FDI; rather, various theories look at FDI from different angles and complement each other. Likewise, the empirical studies of FDI are incremental and experimental. The main theoretical approaches to FDI are presented, the empirical evidence gathered in the literature is introduced, and future research is discussed.
Alex Braithwaite and Sangmi Jeong
Diffusion with respect to international politics is commonly defined as the tendency for events or behaviors occurring in one spatial unit to influence the likelihood of similar events or behaviors occurring in another spatial unit. General definitions and mechanisms of diffusion that can be thought of as somewhat ubiquitous to the broader literature of diffusion in international politics tend to focus on processes of spillover or learning/emulation. These processes are common to the adoption and diffusion of policy innovations, the spread of democracy and democratic revolutions, and the contagion of civil and international conflicts. While the nomenclatures of these literatures often differ quite significantly, considerable overlap exists in terms of the primary conceptualizations of diffusion mechanisms. Most literatures appear to identify some combination of the following mechanisms: coercion and external pressure; constructivist norm cycles; social networks and linkages; geographic proximity and demonstration effects; learning and emulation. While the study of these phenomena and mechanisms has advanced significantly in recent years, some notable areas of future growth remain. First, differentiating between learning/emulation and spillover processes still presents considerable difficulty. Second, the role of “firewalls” in limiting diffusion processes is not well understood in either general or specific cases. Third, while understanding of social and geographic spaces is now rather nuanced, it remains unclear how best to theorize and model timing in diffusion processes.