Since the 1970s, financial crises have been a consistent feature of the international economy, warranting study by economists and political scientists alike. Economists have made great strides in their understanding of the dynamics of crises, with two potentially overlapping stories rising to the fore. Global crises appear to occur highly amid global imbalances—when some countries run large current account deficits and others, large surpluses. A second story emphasizes credit booms—financial institutions greatly extend access to credit, potentially leading to bubbles and subsequent crashes.
Global imbalances are, in part, the product of politically contested processes. Imbalances would be impossible if states did not choose to liberalize (or not to liberalize) their capital accounts. Global political structures—whether international institutions seeking to govern financial flows, or hierarchies reflecting an economic power structure among states—also influence the ability of the global system to resolve global imbalances. Indeed, economists themselves are increasingly finding evidence that the international economy is not a flat system, but a network where some states play larger roles than others.
Credit booms, too, and the regulatory structures that produce them, result from active choices by states. The expansion of the financial sector since the 1970s, however, took place amid a crucible of fire. Financial deregulation was the product of interest group knife-fights, states’ vying for position or adapting to technological change, and policy entrepreneurs’ seeking to enact their ideas.
The IPE (international political economy) literature, too, must pay attention to post-2008 developments in economic thought. As financial integration pushes countries to adopt the monetary policies of the money center, the much-discussed monetary trilemma increasingly resembles a dilemma. Whereas economists once thought of expanded access to credit as “financial development,” they increasingly lament the preponderance of “financialized” economies. While the experimentalist turn in political science heralded a great search for cute natural experiments, economists are increasingly turning to the distant past to understand phenomena that have not been seen for some time. Political scientists might benefit from returning to the same grand theory questions, this time armed with more rigorous empirical techniques, and extensive data collected by economic historians.
Eugénia da Conceição-Heldt and Patrick Mello
Whether in multilateral negotiations or bilateral meetings, government leaders regularly engage in “two-level games” played simultaneously at the domestic and the international level. From the two-level-games perspective, executives are “chief negotiators” involved in some form of international negotiations for which they ultimately need to gain domestic approval at the ratification stage. This ratification requirement provides the critical link between the international and domestic level, but it can be based on formal voting requirements or more informal ways of ratification, such as public approval ratings. With its focus on government leaders as “gatekeepers” and central actors in international negotiations, the two-level games perspective constitutes a distinct approach in foreign policy analysis and serves to reintegrate the subfields of comparative politics and international relations. While there are similarities to a liberal perspective, two-level games emphasize that executives hold a certain degree of autonomy in their decision making that cannot be purely derived from their constituencies. Unlike realism, however, the approach recognizes the importance of domestic veto players and institutional constraints. Since its inception in the late 1980s, a vast body of literature on two-level games has evolved including refinements of its theoretical foundation and applications in various policy areas. Against this background, this essay engages with key controversies in two-level games and foreign policy analysis throughout the last three decades. The discussion is organized along six debates concerning the levels of analysis, domestic political institutions, the interaction between the domestic and international levels, relevant actors, their interests and preferences, and the relationship between comparative politics and international relations.
Jeffrey S. Lantis
First-generation constructivist theories argue that international norms are constitutive and regulative—that they shape state behaviors and promote international cooperation. Theories focus on the life-cycle of international norms and probe their impact on cooperation across a range of issue areas. However, a new generation of scholarship has identified the potential for contestation and challenge in international norm development and maintenance. Critical constructivist theory recognizes powerful roles for agency and alternative definitions of norm parameters and compliance.
Norm contestation can occur in multiple ways. First, critical constructivists recognize the norm development process itself can involve significant struggles over the definitions and prescriptions of normative architectures. Second, state leaders sometimes challenge the definition and prescriptions that flow from established normative architectures, and they may engage in contestation over the validity or justification of the norm or application in international institutions. Third, some norms may not become internalized in standard ways at the state level due to alternative patterns of norm diffusion and localization. Fourth, norm strength also can be affected by the actions of rival advocacy coalitions in processes of contestation.
While contestation represents a vibrant research program today, critics charge that it suffers from significant limitations. No single theory of norm change or contestation has emerged as dominant in the first decade of research, and scholars are just beginning to grapple with whether greater attention should be devoted to contestation during norm development or localization/diffusion challenges. In addition, the concept of norm change raises an ontological debate about whether norms are static or dynamic in nature, and how best to study the cyclical development of norms (or norm change over time). A discussion of areas for further research and empirical testing of norm contestation theories is also presented.
Huiyun Feng and Kai He
Soft balancing is a conceptual product of one of the academic debates triggered by unipolarity in world politics. Examination of the soft balancing debate from 2005 to 2016 and critical evaluation of the progress and problems of the soft balancing research program suggest that the significance of the soft balancing debate does not lie in the answers offered by soft balancing scholars. Rather, its significance rests in the question that scholars pose for analysis under unipolarity—the underbalancing phenomenon—and the later endeavor to expand the soft balancing program beyond unipolarity. The future of the soft balancing program depends on continuous scholarly efforts to further clarify the concept of soft balancing, theorize a generalizable model of soft balancing across different cases, as well as demarcate the boundary of soft balancing theory from other research traditions.
Randolph M. Siverson and Bruce Bueno de Mesquita
The Selectorate Theory is based upon one simple, perhaps even commonplace assumption: Once in office, leaders want to remain in office. They have a variety of tools to enhance their longevity in office, but the theory hypothesizes the leader’s allocation of two types of goods will be paramount in their efforts. One good is private, meaning that it is enjoyed by those to whom it is allocated and not to others. Such goods would include money, jobs, opportunities for corruption, but their hallmark is that they are not shared. These goods may be given to one individual or to a group, but they are not shared outside those to whom they are given. The second type of good is public and is shared by all those in the state. These goods would include potable water, clean air, education, and, importantly, national defense. There is little unique about the Selectorate Theory’s understanding of these goods, as they approximate ideas from economics.
The importance and values of these two goods depend critically on the political institutions of the state. The Selectorate Theory identifies two political institutions of dominant importance: The Selectorate, from which it takes its name; and the Winning Coalition. The former consists of all those people who have a role in selecting the state’s leader. This group may be large, as in the electorate in democratic states, or small, as in the case of an extended family or a junta. In unusual circumstances it can even be a group outside the state, as when a foreign government either imposes or influences choices made inside the state. The winning coalition may be large, but not larger than the selectorate, or it may be as small as an extended family or a junta, groups that essentially constitute the selectorate.
Variations in these two institutions can have important consequences for how the state conducts its foreign policy. For example, leaders in states with small winning coalitions should be able to take greater risks in their policies because if these fail, they will be able to mobilize and distribute private goods to reinforce their position. If these goods are not readily available, it is possible to purge non-critical supporters and redistribute their goods to others.
These institutions are also important in identifying the kinds of issues over which states are more or less likely to enter into conflict. States with small winning coalitions are more likely to enter into disputes over things that can be redistributed to supporters, such as land or resources. Large winning coalitions will have little use for such goods, since the ratio of coalition size and goods to be distributed is likely to be exiguous.
The Selectorate Theory also provides a firm analysis of the foundations for the idea of the Democratic Peace, which has been generally either lacking or imprecise.
Despite its clarity, some interpretations of the Selectorate Theory have led to mistaken inferences about what it says. We discuss several of these and close with a consideration of the need for improvement in the measurement of key variables.
Mark J. C. Crescenzi and Bailee Donahue
Reputation as it applies to the arena of international relations is information adhering to a state or its leaders about behavioral or intentional characteristics relating to cooperation or conflict. The study of reputation in world politics has waxed and waned in recent decades, but is enjoying a renaissance both in terms of theoretical and empirical analysis. We review the origins of the study of reputation in world politics, as well as the post-Cold War context that contributed to reputation’s apparent demise. We then focus on the recent rediscovery of reputation through the development of new theoretical and empirical analyses. These works have overcome earlier challenges to the conceptualization and measurement of reputation to improve our understanding of how this phenomenon affects coordination, cooperation, and conflict among and between states in the international arena.
The observation that groups unify in the face of common threats is long-standing. At the level of the nation-state, this is called the “rally-'round-the-flag” phenomenon. In the case of the United States, the rally phenomenon is measured as a surge of public approval for the president when the nation is involved in an international crisis.
Two hypotheses have been offered for why this surge of support occurs: (1) patriotism, as individuals respond to a threat by identifying with an in-group, in this case the nation and its president; and (2) opinion leadership, as the information environment changes because opposition leaders fall silent or support the president during a crisis and a portion of the public follows those elite partisan cues.
Through three waves of scholarship, empirical evidence has cumulated about whether, when, why, and how much people rally in response to international crises (although much of the evidence is based on dynamics within the United States). The public’s reaction to a crisis is not automatic; sometimes public approval for the president goes up; other times the president’s approval ratings go down. A positive rally effect is associated with a variety of conditions, such as how prominently the event is reported, whether the White House actively frames the issue, the amount of criticism from opposition elites, and whether the country is at war or has recently concluded a war. The sizes of such rallies are variable, but on average, rallies in response to the deployment of force or international crises are small. Only wars (or other spectacular events like a large-scale terrorist attack) consistently provoke sizable rallies and these big events elicit an emotional reaction from citizens and a self-identification with the nation. Both hypotheses—patriotism and opinion leadership—are helpful in explaining why rallies occur and why they taper off over time.
The “diversionary theory of war” or the “diversionary use of force” is, for obvious reasons, a companion literature to the scholarship on rally effects. The logic is simple: if the public rallies around its leader in the face of external threats, then the possibility exists that politicians will intentionally create crises or deploy military forces or start wars to enhance their own political fortunes. Scholars have spent much effort trying to locate patterns of diversionary behavior by American presidents and other world leaders with inconsistent and inconclusive results.
But the cumulative findings from the rally-'round-the-flag scholarship show that leaders can’t expect much of a public rally from any but the most spectacular of international crises, such as full-scale war. These findings from the rally literature help to explain the lack of consistent empirical support for diversionary theory.
A large body of theoretical work posits that power shifts or expected power shifts cause war. Power transition theory, cyclic theories of war, preventive war arguments, and the bargaining model of war are discussed in this article. Indeed, shifting power is one of the most popular and venerable explanations for war. Its origins go at least as far back as Thucydides, who famously wrote, “What made war inevitable was the growth of Athenian power and the fear this caused in Sparta.” Two major points must be discussed. First, there is an impressive correlation between major power war and shifting power, a correlation consistent with the arguments of several systemic theories of war. Second, much of the empirical research examining power shifts and war suffers from endogeneity and model specification concerns. Regarding endogeneity, more effort should be placed on identifying valid instruments and conducting experiments. Regarding model specification, more attention needs to be paid to scope conditions. Shifting power is not expected to cause war in all contexts. Precisely defining the relevant contexts and modeling them empirically is necessary to evaluate the shifting power and war hypothesis.
Alex Mintz, Steven B. Redd, and Eldad Tal-Shir
Poliheuristic theory focuses on the why and how of decision-making. The primary argument is that decision-makers are sensitive to both cognitive and environmental constraints and are particularly likely to focus on the political consequences of their decisions. Decision-makers use a two-stage process en route to choice, wherein heuristic shortcuts are implemented in the first stage in an effort to reduce complexity and in the second stage a maximizing strategy on the remaining alternatives in the choice set. The theory focuses on five main information-processing characteristics: order-sensitive, nonholistic, and dimension-based searching and noncompensatory and satisficing decision rules. The theory has been tested using numerous case studies and statistical and experimental analyses. These studies have provided strong empirical support for this theory.
In 2013, the United States decided not to attack Syria, despite domestic and international pressure to do so. This case shows the importance of political constraints on President Obama’s calculus of decision, leading to the adoption of the chemical disarmament of Syria.
Benjamin E. Goldsmith
Historically one of the world’s most conflict-prone regions, since the Sino-Vietnamese war of 1979, East Asia has enjoyed a relative interstate peace. Implications of some of the relevant “East Asian peace” literature for theories of international relations need assessment. The central conclusion is that, contrary to often expressed dissatisfaction with the state of IR theory, it is possible to identify a core of theoretical knowledge that has considerable explanatory power for war and peace in East Asia, and is also based on general theory with considerable support across global regions. This diverges somewhat from the well-known argument of Lake in 2011: It is not the “-isms” that lead us astray, but how we use them. Unlike Lake, but consistent with Legro and Moravcsik (1999), it is argued that broad theoretical constructs are needed, and indeed useful ones exist, while mid-level or problem-focused analysis is no substitute for a theory-based research program. What is often lacking is an effort by empirical researchers to clearly and coherently tie their research design to theoretically important claims.
Empirical political science as a whole is becoming more sophisticated in its methods and capabilities for causal inference, and it is also becoming more relevant and useful for policy makers. We should devote as much attention to the theoretical contributions of our research. The article addresses the role of theory in IR, the ways that empirical analysis of East Asia (and other regions) can contribute to theory building and theory testing, the existing literature on East Asian peace, some informed speculation about how the potential for mid-term military conflict between the United States and China might be assessed, and thoughts about current and potential contributions to IR theory based on the study of the East Asian peace.
Theorizing in social science is hard, and any scholar’s dissatisfaction with existing theory should be heavily tempered with acknowledgment that s/he has not proposed a more powerful one. Regional analysis, and comparative regional analysis, can provide important potential gains by challenging current theory with hard tests. East Asia not only is a crucially important part of the world for the future of interstate peace, it also presents challenging and useful empirical puzzles for our theories.