Most constructivist work in IR 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,” “Lockean,” or “Hobbesian” world, for instance, is in a sense a socially constructed thing rather than 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 here 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.
But 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 a focus on the social dimensions of foreign policy rather than 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 or where norms are in conflict with one another. Secondly, 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.
And yet both of these problems can potentially be remedied. Firstly, constructivist approaches may be combined with psychological approaches that 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 people 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. Secondly, constructivist approaches can offer policy makers prescriptive advice as to how they should or ought to behave. After reviewing the literature on understanding foreign policy outcomes, this article suggests the outlines of an applied constructivism that decision makers in government would find positively useful. There is a Realpolitik and an Idealpolitik, but can there be a “Konstruktpolitik”? At least six principles might guide the development of normative constructivism. Chief among 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.
More Americans than ever before believe that money in politics weakens our democracy. Public opinion polls show that the number of people who believe that the country is run by a few big interests looking after themselves rose to nearly 80% over the past 20 years. The belief that corporate interests drive public policy is not all that surprising when you consider the growth of lobbying in the United States. According to the Center for Responsive Government, from 1998 to 2016, the amount of money spent on lobbying the U.S. government grew from $1.45 billion to $3.12 billion with well over 10,000 lobbyists in Washington. With this all this money attempting to influence policy outcomes in Washington, it is no wonder that Americans are skeptical of the intentions of government officials.
However, political scientists have found a more mixed result when it comes to the actual influence of money on politics. One study asked if the amount of money spent on any given issue really influences policy outcomes. Other studies have shown some benefit to the private parties that lobby. Thus despite significant research on the topic, there is little agreement among political scientists on just how lobbying influences political actors or if lobbying directly impacts policy results.
When it comes to foreign policy, corporate lobbies are an ever-present influence in the crafting of government policies. Whether in the European Union or the United States or other countries around the world, corporate lobbies view representing their interests in a truly global fashion. While corporate interests are investing in shaping foreign policy in a variety of issues areas such as defense spending, arms sales, contractors on humanitarian missions, one area is particularly vulnerable to corporate influence—trade and finance. Research shows that U.S. trade politics is heavily influenced by the lobbying of business organizations and trade associations. In fact, the U.S. administration often relies on interested corporate parties to provide it with both the expertise that shapes the agreement itself and the political case for trade liberalization that shapes the public pro-trade campaign. In turn, corporate lobbying for trade agreements is a costly and involved process. For example, during the eight years of negotiations over the TransPacific Partnership Agreement, a regional trade agreement between the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim countries, corporations paid $2.6 billion dollars to lobbyists to influence the content of the agreement and to promote it to Congress and the American public. An overview of the literature on corporate lobbying and an examination of the case of U.S. trade shows a particular example of how corporate lobbying works to influence foreign policy.
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.
Despite the frequency with which the term is used in the English language, there is relatively little agreement as to what constitutes a “crisis” in the study of foreign policy and international relations. If there is no broad agreement on this, however, there is at least more consensus on what usually happens during one. Crises typically involve the centralization of power, are associated with a “narrowing” of options and the increased use of analytical shortcuts, and typically feature increased vertical communications and argumentation among advisers as well as increased pressure to attain comprehensive rationality. There is some doubt as to whether the effort to attain rationality will be successful in practice, of course, given the many cognitive psychological limitations that make it difficult for human beings to reach fully reasoned decisions. Crises may—somewhat ironically, perhaps—be good for leaders, because in the short-term they offer the chance to increase power capabilities. While it is difficult to predict crises in advance—indeed, one of the central features of crises is their very unpredictability—various techniques may help the decision making process once a foreign policy crisis has begun.
Foreign policy decision making has been and remains at the core of foreign policy analysis and its enduring contribution to international relations. The adoption of rationalist approaches to foreign policy decision making, predicated on an actor-specific analysis, paved the way for scholarship that sought to unpack the sources of foreign policy through a graduated assessment of differing levels of analysis. The diversity of inputs into the foreign policy process and, as depicted through a rationalist decision-making lens, the centrality of a search for utility and the impulse toward compensation in “trade-offs” between predisposed preferences, plays a critical role in enriching our understanding of how that process operates.
FPA scholars have devoted much of their work to pointing out the many flaws in rationalist depictions of the decision-making process, built on a set of unsustainable assumptions and with limited recognition of distortions underlined in studies drawn from literature on psychology, cognition, and the study of organizations. At the same time, proponents of rational choice have sought to recalibrate the rational approach to decision making to account for these critiques and, in so doing, build a more robust explanatory model of foreign policy.
Scholars have heatedly debated whether and how culture impacts and shapes a state’s foreign and security policy in particular as well as international relations (IR) in general. The cultural approach to the studies of foreign policy has experienced two major waves since the end of the Cold War. We saw a revival of cultural studies in national security and foreign policy with the rise of constructivism in international relations in the 1990s, while into the 2000s, the culture approach focused on terrorism and globalization. Despite its achievement, the cultural approach continues to face theoretical and methodological challenges in conceptualization, measurement, and generalizability. Therefore, the cultural approach to foreign policy needs to work on demarcating the boundary of “cultural variables,” focusing on mid-range theorizing and placing the cultural variables within a context.
Torbjørn L. Knutsen
Statesmen, salesmen, soldiers, and scholars have discussed international relations for hundreds of years—at least since sovereign states consolidated their presence along the North Atlantic rim. The Renaissance saw the rise of such discussions, triggered by gunpowder-based armies in Europe and discoveries of new lands in extra-European regions. The Reformation added arguments about the role of religion in interstate affairs—arguments echoed in peace treaties like those signed in Augsburg (1555) and Westphalia (1648). The Enlightenment brought more systematic efforts to explain the causes of war and the preconditions of peace. Two different arguments were drawn more sharply after the Wars of the Spanish Succession and the peace conference of Utrecht (1715): one argued that international order could be maintained by an equilibrium of power; another claimed that peace could be created through diplomatic cooperation and international law. Both arguments were elaborated during the Napoleonic Wars and informed the peace treaties signed at the Congress of Vienna (1814–1815).
In the wake of World War I, when the academic discipline of international relations (IR) was established—when scholarly institutions were sponsored for research and education about international issues—there existed a rich literature on the causes of war and the preconditions for international peace. It is argued here that this literature has not been managed particularly well. Few IR scholars have mined this literature systematically. New generations of IR scholars have been more preoccupied with current events than with recurrent patterns. They have been more busy with contemporary theories than with systematically arranging and assessing explanations from the past. If IR wants to become a social science, marked by progress and accumulation of knowledge, it is necessary to catalogue and manage its scholarly heritage in more systematic ways.
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.