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.
Shannon Carcelli and Erik A. Gartzke
Deterrence theory is slowly beginning to emerge from a long sleep after the Cold War, and from its theoretical origins over half a century ago. New realities have led to a diversification of deterrence in practice, as well as to new avenues for its study and empirical analysis. Three major categories of changes in the international system—new actors, new means of warfare, and new contexts—have led to corresponding changes in the way that deterrence is theorized and studied. First, the field of deterrence has broadened to include nonstate and nonnuclear actors, which has challenged scholars with new types of theories and tests. Second, cyberthreats, terrorism, and diverse nuclear force structures have led scholars to consider means in new ways. Third, the likelihood of an international crisis has shifted as a result of physical, economic, and normative changes in the costs of crisis, which had led scholars to more closely address the crisis context itself. The assumptions of classical deterrence are breaking down, in research as well as in reality. However, more work needs to be done in understanding these international changes and building successful deterrence policy. A better understanding of new modes of deterrence will aid policymakers in managing today’s threats and in preventing future deterrence failures, even as it prompts the so-called virtuous cycle of new theory and additional empirical testing.
Joe D. Hagan
Diversionary explanations are a key FPA approach to understanding how domestic politics shape foreign policy and, in particular, the resort to force and risk of war, arguing that increasingly vulnerable leaders manipulate foreign policy in order to enhance their domestic political position. This literature has emerged in major ways since Levy’s early critique in which he noted wide disparity between the lack of theoretical rigor and empirical findings in political science research and the richness of qualitative research by historians offering compelling cases of diversionary wars such as the First World War. Nearly three decades later, however, this situation has significantly changed. A vibrant political science literature has emerged that provides significant empirical evidence based on, first, longitudinal studies of mostly the U.S. case and the presidential use of force since World War II (WWII); and, second, cross-national studies that capture variance in the diversionary resort to force across regime types (and subtypes) and different international contexts. In contrast, historical literature on the origins of World War I (WWI) has come to view the German case as more complex and has placed it into comparative perspective with the other four great powers. Historical research suggests that leaders in all five powers faced rising domestic opposition in the prewar decades; that they subsequently adopted new (yet varied) political strategies for containing opposition; and, at the brink of war, that diversionary and other political motivations played out in indirect and different ways. This article reviews these literatures and suggests that there has been some convergence of themes in the research of political scientists and historians. Consistent with FPA approaches, these literatures point to complex patterns of domestic oppositions across different institutional arenas, contingencies affecting the willingness and ability of leaders to resort to diversionary force, the role of agency stemming from leader beliefs about political stability and the consequences of risking war, and the importance of decision making dynamics in the ultimate resort to war.
Etel Solingen and Peter Gourevitch
The centrality of domestic coalitions serves as transmission belts between the domestic and international realms. Despite its long lineage in international and comparative political economy and its relevance to the understanding of contemporary responses to globalization, coalitional analysis has been typically neglected when explaining outcomes in international relations. The analytical framework adopted here builds on two “ideal-typical” coalitions—an “inward-nationalist” and an “outward-internationalist” model—each advancing competing models across industrialized and industrializing contexts alike. Several applications illustrate the breadth and scope of this framework, spacious enough to explain economic responses in Europe from the repeal of the Corn Laws to the 20th century; the security implications of economic responses leading to World War I; the impact of internationalization on regional orders in the industrializing world since 1945; the relationship between coalitional approaches to the global economy and nuclear weapons proliferation since 1970; and the relevance of coalitional divides to outcomes regarding Brexit, Donald Trump’s election, and beyond.
Coalitional analysis thus (a) offers important insights on wide-ranging empirical phenomena in comparative and international politics that institutional approaches alone fail to explain; (b) provides a unifying framework addressing trans-historical responses to globalization, nationalism, ethno-confessionalism, and their effects on interstate relations; (c) attends to political cleavages in political economy that intersect with security; (d) transcends dated level-of-analysis categories by linking subnational and global processes; (e) is flexible enough to accommodate wide variation in state–society relations and political institutionalization; (f) grounds politics in a dynamic framework able to explain both continuity and change; and (g) clarifies contradictory findings regarding interdependence and war by providing a mechanism explaining why, when, and how economic exchange with the world may or may not inhibit war.
Jessica L. P. Weeks and Cody Crunkilton
The question of how domestic institutions influence foreign policy decisions has a long history in the study of international relations. However, until recently most of this research has compared the foreign policies of democracies and autocracies, with little attention to the differences within autocracies. In recent years, a small but growing body of literature has examined constraints within autocracies, taking issue with the widespread image of authoritarian leaders as unconstrained and unaccountable. Although existing research on this topic is limited, it focuses on two general sources of constraint on authoritarian leaders: constraints imposed by regime insiders and constraints at the hands of the public.
In regimes with a powerful domestic audience, insiders often have both the will and the means to punish their leader for foreign policy failures. Consequently, such regimes sometimes behave quite similarly to democracies. In general, regimes with powerful selectorates or domestic audiences appear more likely to pursue peaceful security policies, to win the military conflicts they do enter, to lose office in the aftermath of defeat in war, to sign trade agreements, to adopt floating exchange rates, and to cooperate internationally, compared to regimes lacking such elite constraints. Scholars remain divided, however, about the extent to which the backgrounds of members of the domestic audience (e.g., whether they stem from a military or civilian ranks) matter.
Less research studies whether the public can constrain authoritarian leaders. However, research indicates that the public can sometimes exert constraints through elections or the threat of revolt, if to a lesser extent than regime insiders. For example, the threat of revolution can make leaders who fear violent removal less likely to make concessions to end a conflict. Furthermore, antiforeign protest can tie a regime’s hands, with both peaceful and violent consequences. In the economic realm, some research suggests that the threat of inequality-driven revolutions spurs autocrats to pursue free-trade agreements. Overall, the study of domestic constraints on foreign policy in authoritarian regimes is an emerging area of research, with numerous areas for future study.
Countries differ in size, socioeconomic development, and political regime. They also vary in their political institutionalization and societal structures, military and economic capabilities, and strategic cultures. In addition, public opinion, national role conceptions, decision making rules and belief systems, and personality traits of political leaders vary from one state to another. These differences directly affect both foreign policymaking process and foreign policy decisions. Whereas the extant literature on foreign policy analysis (FPA) lacks a grand theory as to how domestic factors influence foreign policy and under what conditions these factors become more important, a large body of work shows that a state’s foreign policy relies heavily on unit-level characteristics, and it is not completely shaped by systemic-structural constraints and opportunities based on distribution of power and military capabilities.
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.
Karen A. Rasler
There is an argument that nonviolent civil resistance or protest campaigns should be studied as dynamic and complex phenomenon, rather than a single case comprised of various attributes, such as size, scale, and scope, which are then compared with other cases. As protest campaigns have increased all over the world during the last few years, international relations scholars have begun to devote more time and resources to studying them systematically with new data projects and analytical tools and methods. In light of this emerging research program, one needs to understand that protest campaigns contain large-scale processes of political contention that evolve across time and space. Such evolutionary processes are the result of the interactive relationships among multiple governmental and nongovernmental actors. These interactions reflect “highly interdependent sets of actions and reactions” that generate causal mechanisms and intersect with other large-scale processes which can produce similar and dissimilar outcomes across different political contexts. An argument will be advanced that a “relational mechanisms-process” approach articulated by McAdam, Tarrow, and Tilly provides analytical leverage over such complexity. Most, international relations scholars, unlike social movement scholars, are not familiar with this approach. So, the effort herein is to not only make the case for a relational mechanisms-process approach but also to illustrate it with a partial analysis of the Egyptian uprising on January 25, 2011, which led to Mubarak’s resignation. The end result is a call for theoretical and empirical research that bridges two communities of scholars, one that is dominated by sociologists (social movement scholars) and the other that is dominated by political science (international relations political violence scholars).