Diplomacy’s role in foreign policy is hampered by multiple understandings of what diplomacy is and does. A broad definition of diplomacy holds that it encompasses more than the promotion of peaceful international relations. Instead, it applies to the sum of those relations—peaceful, hostile, and everything in between. Thus, foreign relations—so long as they involve the interests, direction, and actions of a sovereign power—may be regarded as being synonymous with diplomatic relations, whereby foreign policy relates to the theory and practice of setting diplomatic priorities; planning for contingencies; advancing strategic, operational, and tactical diplomatic aims; and adjusting those aims to domestic and foreign constraints. This conception of diplomacy is functional: it emphasizes the roles of diplomats and recognizes that many other people perform these roles besides official envoys; and it illustrates that diplomatic settings—and the means, methods, and tools of diplomacy—undergo continuous change. The basic mediating purpose of diplomacy, however, has endured, as has much of its institutional apparatus—embassies, ambassadors, treaties, and so on. This is likely to remain the case so long as there are multiple polities in the world, all having to relate to one another.
Charles G. Ripley
Critical discourse analysis continues to remain a valuable method for understanding foreign policy. Situated in the broader interpretive methodological approach to the social sciences, it challenges the ontological and epistemological assumptions of more positivist methodologies by observing that the world is not pregiven, but socially constructed. In essence, we live in an intersubjective world where discourse serves as a powerful tool to set agendas, produce meaning, legitimize interests, and enforce power structures. Scholars devoted to discourse analysis enrich our understanding of foreign policy by highlighting the powerful role that discourse ultimately plays.
One useful way of understanding its value is through representational practices. Relying upon the study of discourse from a wide range of sources (politicians, policymakers, scholars, journalists, and film), this research program emphasizes discursive representations. Far from being neutral representations, the United States constructs a U.S.-centric view of the world based on its own images, identities, and interests, while marginalizing the voices and experiences of others. U.S. foreign policies are described as positive. Those of other countries, particularly U.S. so-called enemies, are negative.
Our knowledge of the world comes from these representational practices, which in turn has serious implications for foreign policy. Ultimately, discursive activities are used not only to frame and define foreign policy initiatives, but also sell such policies to the broader public. U.S. military interventions help illustrate this point. Interventions in Panama and Iraq become “Just Cause” and “Iraqi Freedom,” whereas interventions by, say, Russia are “acts of aggression.” Discourse often develops into binary oppositions that inform policy and create and sustain a dominant world position. Compared to the Global South, the United States is “developed” and “civilized,” while other nations are “underdeveloped” and “uncivilized.”
Discourse analysis is not limited to military intervention. Scholars have applied the approach to a broad array of foreign policy initiatives, ranging from foreign aid and diplomacy to international economics. Nor is the approach limited to the United States; it has evolved into a far-reaching research program that offers insight into the foreign policy of any state.
Discourse analysis stands in stark contrast to the more rationalist approaches, such as neorealism and neoliberal institutionalism. These approaches, related to scientific positivism, emphasize self-interest, rational actors, material factors, objectivity, and causal hypotheses. Academics related to this scholarly community have expressed dissatisfaction with discourse analysis. Most important, critics point out that there is an objective reality, and therefore, research has little relevancy for the real world. But scholars who focus on discourse concede that there is a reality; however, reality has no value until we attach meaning to it. The deadly attacks of September 11, 2001, happened, but they remain neutral until discursive activities (enemy, terrorism, Islamic fundamentalism, and so on) frame them and inform foreign policy. Consequently, such representations have real-world relevancies, justifying war and surveillance, among other courses of action. Critical discourse analysis, as a result, has significant value for understanding foreign policy in the past, present, and future.
Existing theories of international law are largely state-centric. While international cooperation can benefit all, states are often tempted to violate their promises in order to manage economic and political crises. States must accordingly balance enforcement against flexibility: legal institutions must provide enough enforcement that states comply most of the time yet also provide enough flexibility that states can violate during crises. Such a balance is possible when laws are crafted and enforced by unitary actors that will tolerate occasional violations by others in order to preserve their own right to occasionally violate.
However, the changing doctrine of sovereign immunity has dramatically transformed the actual practice of international law. Non-state actors and domestic courts play an increasingly important role in challenging state legal violations, generating a divergence between the theory and practice of contemporary international law. This divergence is apparent in many issue areas, including terrorism, human rights, sovereign debt, and foreign investment. This divergence suggests that political scientists and legal scholars must reconsider the limits of state-centric theories and examine the role of non-state actors and domestic courts.
Juliet Kaarbo and Cristian Cantir
Scholarship on domestic role contestation arose out of critiques of two frequent assumptions about the impact of national role conceptions (NRCs) on a state’s foreign policy: the assumption of elite consensus and the assumption of elite–public agreement on one or several NRCs. These critiques have been occasionally articulated since the entry of role theory into international relations literature, but they were systematized during a new wave of research on roles that started in the 2010s.
The domestic role contestation approach identifies the key domestic actors that hold NRCs and hypothesizes that roles connect to foreign policy behavior via the domestic political process. The degree of consensus along two dimensions—commonly defined as “horizontal” and “vertical” for the intra-elite and the elite–public nexus, respectively—can explain what roles are enacted or blocked. Empirical findings, though tentative, have corroborated the relevance of these arguments. Elites with significant institutional power—particularly in the executive–can often overcome impediments to enact preferred roles, although this ability often hinges on the lack of divisions in ruling institutions. Although less robust due to the absence of significant empirical research, role theory scholarship has also revealed that the public can, at times, constrain elites from enacting unpopular roles.
The literature on domestic role contestation has a number of limitations that can inform future research directions. First, there is still no comprehensive list of domestic actors that hold (and argue about) NRCs. Such a list can outline the diversity of social environments in which countries find themselves, generate insights into how they navigate their presence in each one, and lead to more detailed accounts of how the contestation process unfolds. Second, the literature is yet to provide a framework for incorporating the involvement of relevant external actors (commonly known as “alters”) in the domestic contestation process. The impediments here are partly practical—an eye to detailed domestic processes and external involvement can create an unwieldy narrative—but the effort to conceptualize this dimension is important in light of role theory’s major focus on the interaction between ego and alter. Third, role contestation scholarship needs stronger and clearer connections to traditional and critical international relations theories, as well as the study of contentious politics. Finally, methodological rigor and diversity should be a priority for the future development of this strand of role theory.
Do We Have Too Much Theory in International Relations or Do We Need Less? Waltz Was Wrong, Tetlock Was Right
Michael D. Ward
The field of international relations has developed the notion that world politics is made up of dyads, a thing that no one has actually ever seen. This notion is referred to as a theory by many scholars. Both the notion that world politics is dyadic as well as the idea that this is a theory need to be jettisoned from our scholarship. They have deleterious effects on what we can learn about the world.
Ecological Modernization and the Politics of Sustainable Development in the Global Palm Oil Industry
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics. Please check back later for the full article.
The global palm oil industry has been the target of vociferous criticism from various local and international commentators for its role in the Southeast Asian 2015 haze crisis, as well as for environmental degradation and social conflict in large parts of the global South. In the face of negative media attention and public criticisms, the industry has made explicit policy intentions to embrace more sustainable practices. This is demonstrated in the increased membership to the leading certification body, the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil, and the creation of the Sustainable Palm Oil Manifesto by five of the largest firms. The backdrop to the policy transformation is an emerging politics of sustainable development: a clear recognition of the need for the sustainable production of palm oil at international and national levels, while facing up to the localized political realities of economies reliant on the export of primary commodities. In light of the actual and intended changes in palm oil environmental governance, three related questions are raised and need to be addressed: First, to what extent is the global palm oil industry an example of so-called “ecological modernization,” whereby environmental problems are solvable within the context of existing institutions, power structures, and continued economic growth? Second, in countries that produce and consume palm oil, how are the politics of sustainable development shaping the emergence and adoption of sustainability discourses? Third, in terms of the heterogeneity of palm oil producers in the sectors and geographies in which they operate, how inclusive are current sustainability narratives and the specific mechanisms to support the transition towards the sustainable production of palm oil? The arguments made are supported by a review of corporate environmental governance, company policies, government reports, grey literature produced by non-state actors, and interviews with key industry personnel. In addition to a novel analysis of current sustainability trends in the global palm oil industry, the paper contributes to our understanding of the relevance and reach of critical social and political theories, such as the ecological modernization theory, in the context of the global South.
Economic sanctions are an attempt by states to coerce a change in the policy of another state by restricting their economic relationship with the latter. Between, roughly, the 1960s–1980s, the question dominating the study of sanctions was whether they are an effective tool of foreign policy. Since the 1990s, however, with the introduction of large-N datasets, scholars have turned to more systematic examinations of previously little explored questions, such as when and how sanctions work, when and why states employ sanctions, and why some sanctions last longer than others. Two dominant perspectives, one based on strategic logic and the other on domestic politics, have emerged, providing starkly different answers to these questions. A growing body of evidence lends support to both strategic and domestic politics perspectives, but also points to areas in which they fall short. To complement these shortcomings, a new direction for research is to unite these perspectives into a single theoretical framework.
Jessica Di Salvatore and Andrea Ruggeri
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics. Please check back later for the full article.
Peacekeeping has been one of the main conflict management tools used by the international community to restore or safeguard peace and security. Since 1948, UN peacekeeping has substantially evolved and adopted a more comprehensive approach to peace that goes beyond purely military concerns. Indeed, the promises of peacekeeping as an effective instrument of conflict reduction, as outlined in the 2000 Brahimi report, might explain to some extent the evolution toward multidimensional missions and the unprecedented number of blue helmets deployed in the last decade. As a consequence, these growing expectations of peacekeeping effectiveness have ushered in a new strand of research that empirically investigates whether and under what conditions UN peacekeeping works. The main goals of this article are (a) to discuss how the concept of “effectiveness” in empirical studies on peacekeeping has been conceptualized and operationalized; (b) to review and summarize the major theoretical contributions and empirical findings on the effectiveness of peacekeeping missions; (c) to provide descriptive and graphical representation of cumulative empirical knowledge on peacekeeping operation; and (d) to elaborate necessary and future empirical challenges for the study of effectiveness of peacekeeping operations.
Peacekeepers are mostly deployed in conflict or post-conflict environments where violence is either ongoing or lingering; violence is thus a priority for peace missions. Consequently, peacekeeping is deemed successful or effective according to whether it curbs conflict on several dimensions. Effective missions are responsible for decreasing the intensity of battle violence, protecting civilians, and containing conflict diffusion and recurrence in the post-war phase. Each mission, however, is deployed to different contexts and operates under different conditions that affect its ability to avoid conflict. Concerning mission features, peacekeeping success is more likely when large contingents are deployed under robust mandates—that is, they have the authorization to pro-actively tackle violence. The type of mission is also a predictor of success, with multidimensional peacekeeping ensuring more durable peace in the aftermath of civil wars. A mission’s type, size, and composition signal credible commitment and enable peacekeepers to halt violence while also guaranteeing the implementation of peace agreements. These advancements in our understanding of peacekeeping stem from the availability of new data on both conflict and peace operations at the national and sub-national level of analysis. Empirical results from observational studies have prompted a consensus on the conflict avoidance capacity of peacekeeping. This approach has been flanked recently by simulation-based forecasting, and by field experiments and surveys investigating local-level outcomes of peace missions.
Unsurprisingly, the focus on violence and conflict outcomes as indicators of success is debated. First, in dealing with violence, peacekeeping produces spill-over effect on other conflict-related outcomes that are largely neglected, such as refugee flows and resort to terrorist violence. Second, given the wide range of functions performed by UN peacekeepers, including electoral assistance, economic reconstruction, and state building, it is reasonable to expect that these aspects enter the definition of effectiveness. Third, and relatedly, we lack an assessment of short versus long-term implications of peacekeeping for the political, social, and economic development of host countries. While reducing infant mortality, inequality, and crime are not necessarily tasks for peacekeepers, it is no less important to study whether and how UN missions may have shaped the quality of peace in host countries.
Emerging powers are usually referred to as states whose increasing material capacities and status-seeking strategies may potentially have an impact on the international system and also affect the dominant position of the hegemonic powers therein. The rising of new powers is a recurrent phenomenon in international relations. When talking about emerging powers, scholars associate the words with the so-called BRICS states: Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. The emergence of BRICS, and especially of China, poses the question of whether the rising process is a peaceful one. Realism, institutionalism, and constructivism have all dealt with the possible systemic impacts of the BRICS states. BRICS nations seem to be reformist rather than disruptive, meaning that they are pushing for the better representation of their self-perceived new status in multilateral institutions rather than challenging the current system per se. In terms of foreign policy, BRICS states interact with well-established powers such as the United States and European ones—herein they display balancing or bandwagoning strategies, as they do also toward each other. Moreover, well-established powers either accommodate or contest the rising process and status claims of these emerging powers. However, BRICS states are also regional powers. Regional peers contest the rising processes of BRICS and particularly claims to global powerhood.
While BRICS can be seen as striving for the reform of multilateral institutions, the traditional view of BRICS as a homogenous force, comprising countries with similar interests, is sometimes misleading. Even though BRICS states have their own institution with a new bank, they also pursue different interests within traditional institutions. Therefore, the existing literature on BRICS is tilted toward systemic and institutional concerns. Although works taking into consideration the interplay between the domestic and international levels in foreign policy analysis do exist, they are not necessarily related to emerging processes and rarely go beyond foreign economic policy issues. People, leaders, and governmental institutions are decision makers or are part of the decision-making process in foreign policy, and thus they form perceptions and act according to how the rising process of the state is unfolding. An integration of the systemic, state, and personal levels captures the essence of the foreign policies of BRICS states in the context of rising and can take into consideration the ups and downs and stalemates of rising-process trajectories in international politics.
There are lots of ways that emotions have been studied in psychology and various ways that their use has been examined in the context of foreign policy. Perhaps one of the most useful ways to examine the influence of emotion on foreign policy is through the lens of risk and threat assessment. Some approaches to emotion tend to categorize emotions as valence-based, in terms of broad-based positivity or negativity. Certainly, elements of this kind of approach can be useful, particularly in terms of thinking about the ways in which political conservatives appear to have a negativity bias. However, an investigation of discrete emotions allows a more sophisticated and nuanced exploration of the effect of emotion on risk analysis and threat assessment, in particular the effect of fear, anger, and disgust on decision-making under conditions of risky threat. Genetic, as well as environmental, circumstances can influence individual variance in the experience and expression of such emotions, and any comprehensive approach to understanding the influence of emotion on decision-making should take all these factors into account.