Much of the debate in international relations (IR) theory in the past decades has concerned epistemological matters and the possibility of empirical research in the field. Most of this debate happened either within the United States or between Americans and Europeans, translating the general trend of keeping the theoretical core of the discipline centered around its geographical (developed) core. Brazilian international relations provides an additional peripheral view to IR theory (IRT). It is worth analyzing how theory has been used in Brazilian teaching and research, with the aim of understanding how Brazilian academics have used different theoretical approaches to understand their objects of study. With this objective, it is important to look into teaching syllabi, PhD dissertations, and articles published in academic journals in the field of international relations. There are considerable differences between teaching and research in Brazil, with the first following traditional American textbook standards. Research, however, shows considerably different theoretical and methodological bases.
Role theory as an empirical theory of international relations has an underlying logical structure with the ability to generate different models of cooperation and conflict in world politics at multiple levels of analysis: system-oriented models of incentives and role constraints; actor-centered models of role conceptions and expectations; action-focused models of cues and role enactment. The emphasis at each of these levels of analysis is on strategic interaction, which makes role theory a theory of international relations between ego and alter as well as a theory of their respective foreign policy decisions.The logical and empirical applications of role theory's models to world politics have morphed from metaphor and analogy into formal models of prediction and explanation that meet the criteria of testability associated with an empirical theory of international relations. These criteria include the logical rules of deductive inference and the correspondence rules of empirical falsifiability associated with the systematic comparison of empirical cases.The pattern of migration and evolution of role resembles the earlier pattern of importing game as a metaphor and introducing the logical structure of game theory into the field of international relations. Binary role theory employs the concepts of role theory and a set of game theory models to analyze conflict and cooperation in world politics. The role metaphor and the concepts of binary role theory provide a substantive "theory of payoffs" for game theory. The latter's formal models help transform the logical structure of role theory from a metaphor or analogy to a logically coherent and empirically testable theory of international relations.
Balancing theory with evidence, in which we form and adjust our theories at least in part based on their performance, might seem to be a part of any social scientific enterprise. However, there are powerful epistemological tendencies, particularly in the field of international relations (IR), which lead many researchers in other directions. One is somewhat unique to IR—the role played historically by paradigms in the field. At their worst, paradigms put theory before evidence. They offer a set of core assumptions about the nature of international politics and lead their adherents to cherry pick evidence to support them. The other we find in many other social sciences besides political science and international relations—a commitment to deductive theorizing, particularly by practitioners of rational choice. Based on an instrumentalist epistemological position, deductive theory derives hypotheses from a set of assumptions that remain untested, and aims at uncovering general patterns of human behavior that are as generalizable as possible. This type of research, which rests on an instrumentalist epistemological approach, finds itself unable to follow the evidence because it is uninterested in testing its own assumptions with empirical data. When these assumptions prove faulty, it generates bad theory because its foundation is rotten.International relations theorists have squabbled for decades over basic epistemological positions, with each side favoring a particular school in the philosophy of science that justifies their preferred approach to research. As Monteiro and Ruby have nicely argued in 2009, these disagreements cannot be resolved through argument, as each epistemological approach rests on its own set of assumptions that cannot be tested. While they are correct to argue that IR pick and choose their epistemology based on the kind of research they like to do, the viability of epistemological choices is to some degree subject to empirical testing.
Uncertainty is pervasive in international politics. This uncertainty can have many sources. Each source has different origins and implications for the likelihood of conflict. Existing theories focus on three sources: (1) uncertainty due to asymmetric information about adversary traits that affect war payoffs, (2) uncertainty about adversary intentions, and (3) fundamental uncertainty about conflict-relevant processes. Scholarship details the implications of each type of uncertainty for war and peace as well as the prospects for reducing the uncertainty. While theoretical work is quite rich, empirical studies generally lag behind due to measurement challenges and difficulties in specifying clear, testable implications. Nonetheless, using novel proxies for different forms of uncertainty has generated notable progress.
The literature on international hierarchy is emerging as a progressive research program. This new theory of international relations is generating novel propositions that are being empirically confirmed. Some propositions, like the hierarchical peace, provide new explanations for previously identified phenomena. Other propositions on defense spending, crisis joining,e trade, and civil wars and repression establish new empirical relationships that—if they are not actually inconsistent with existing theories—were not previously identified. If the measure of progress is the uncovering of new facts, the new hierarchy studies are clearly moving in the right direction. Further progress requires more and better measures of hierarchy and continued testing of propositions derived from the theory.
Analysis of the use of prospect theory since the mid-1980s identifies significant impact on research on important puzzles in international security and international political economy. Research since the mid-1990s has identified the scope conditions of framing effects, loss aversion, and patterns of probability estimation on international behavior. New research using multiple methods has strengthened the validity of findings on the impact of framing effects and loss aversion under different conditions. Future research opportunities for psychological explanations of international behavior are identified.
The current practice of conceiving and examining international relations within the dogma of the existing dominant paradigm in international relations unnecessarily truncates our understanding of how historical factors influence current events and restricts our ability to generate flexible and creative hypotheses to predict, and perhaps more successfully intervene in, future events. In many ways, these constraints result, at least in part, from the temporal, strategic, and behavioral isolation embedded in these models, which limit our ability to understand, integrate, and address how states deal with one another comprehensively. Substantial theoretical and empirical purchase can be gained through the application of an integrated explanatory rubric of evolutionary modeling, invoking the central concepts of variation, selection, and retention. Models derived from evolutionary psychology, applied not only to human cognitive architecture, but also to the interaction of these psychological dynamics with environmental factors including institutions, provides a richly generative framework from which to derive meaningful and novel hypotheses about politics in general and international relations in particular. It also allows for a progressive and cumulative research agenda that can build a more comprehensive and descriptively accurate foundation for understanding the nature of interaction between people and societies as well as between states themselves. Such an approach provides a useful framework for understanding the dynamic and interactive nature of international relations, sheds light on existing limitations as well as empirical findings, and facilitates insight into areas not yet explored.
The symbolic politics theory of ethnic war starts from the insight that most political behavior is not rational but intuitive, driven by "symbolic predispositions" such as ideological beliefs, normative values, and prejudice. The way leaders lead is by using rhetoric not to appeal rationally to followers' interests but to appeal emotionally to their symbolic predispositions.According to symbolic politics theory, the path to ethnic conflict begins with group narratives that are hostile to another group. These narratives help to generate hostile and prejudiced symbolic predispositions. If group members perceive a social threat, such as to their group identity or status, they become more likely to join mass movements agitating for a politics of redistribution—discriminating in favor of their own group at the expense of rival groups. If people feel physically threatened, they become more likely to support a politics of protection leading to violent ethnic conflict. These popular attitudes and moods are turned into social movements or military mobilization if aggressive leaders emerge, framing political issues in terms of these threats, and if those leaders are both credible and supported by effective organizations. A series of case studies has demonstrated that this process—from narratives to prejudice and threat perceptions, harnessed by leadership and organization—is what occurred in ten ethnic civil wars, including the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Israel-Palestine, and the Philippines. The theory also explains less violent cases such as Gandhi's nationalist movement in India.This theory is hypothesized to apply to international war, as the politics of national identity is similar to the politics of ethnic identity. The theory also suggests a way of reconciling realist, liberal, and constructivist accounts of international relations through political psychology and a scientific realist ontology.
Game theory is a set of mathematical tools used to analyze the strategic interaction between decision makers. Proponents of game theory have offered different perspectives about its potential benefits in the study of politics: It is a rigorous apparatus that can offer a solid foundation for the scientific enterprise; it offers predictions that could be tested with statistical analysis; it can account for the essence of unique cases and could be tested with qualitative evidence. Critics of game theory, in political science and international security specifically, argued in the 1990s that it had generated few empirical insights. Two decades later, game-theoretic approaches to international security remain a robust research program, but their prevalence remains limited. It is important to evaluate the potential benefits of game theory and the contributions that it has made to international security, so as to devise appropriate strategies to maximize its empirical purchase. The controlled comparison approach, using qualitative evidence on a medium number of cases, appears especially promising.
Social identity theory (SIT) from social psychology provides a means to explore the influence of identity and status concerns on foreign policy. The theory argues that groups are motivated to achieve a positively distinctive identity. Groups compare themselves to a similar but slightly higher reference group. Inferiority on important dimensions may lead to the adoption of an identity management strategy: social mobility (emulating the higher-status group to gain admission), social competition (striving to equal or surpass the dominant group), or social creativity (revaluing an ostensibly negative characteristic as positive or identifying an alternative dimension on which the group is superior).Applied to international relations, states may pursue social mobility by emulating the values and practices of higher-status states in order to be admitted to a higher standing, much as Eastern Europe did in seeking admission into the European Union after the end of the Cold War. If elite groups are impermeable to new members, and the status hierarchy is perceived to be unstable or illegitimate, aspiring powers may engage in social competition, which usually entails territorial conquest and military displays. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union sought to catch up with and surpass the capitalist states. If elite clubs are not permeable, but the status hierarchy is stable, states may seek status through social creativity—either reframing a negative trait as positive or seeking preeminence in a domain apart from geopolitical competition. Social creativity may entail creating new international institutions, promoting new norms, or engaging in major diplomatic initiatives in order to increase the state's prestige.Research applying SIT to international relations has addressed the question of whether anarchy necessarily leads to conflict between states, the diffusion of values, the selection of an identity discourse on the domestic level, and state efforts at moral leadership.Critics have charged that SIT does not clearly predict which identity management strategy will be chosen in a given situation. From a realist perspective, the selection of a strategy for enhancing a state's status is constrained by geographic position, size, and natural endowments. But this argument does not take into consideration the availability of social mobility and social creativity as ways to achieve status that do not depend on relative military power.
The international arena has been plagued with violence committed by a variety of Nonstate Armed Groups (NAGs), including ethnic and religious insurgents, terrorists, and revolutionaries, which threaten not only the states they target but also the entire world's stability and security. An intriguing observation related to armed groups is their ability to attract outside state supporters. Indeed, almost half of all groups that emerged in the post-World War II period received some form of backing from states including but not limited to funds, arms, and safe havens. In this respect, it is possible to draw parallels between interstate alliances and state–group alliances. The major International Relations theories—realism, liberalism, and constructivism—have significant insights to offer in explaining the origin and evolution of state–rebel group alliances. These insights are empirically tested using new data on outside state support of rebel groups that emerged in the post–1945 period. Two forms of alliances exist between states and groups: strategic or instrumental and principled or ideational. A strategic alliance occurs if a state supports a group fighting against its enemy or rival, so security-related concerns and common threat motivate a given alliance. An ideational or principled alliance occurs if a state supports an ideationally contiguous armed group with which it has ethnic, religious, and/or ideological ties. Whether there is a strategic or principled alliance between armed groups and their state supporters has implications for the onset, course and termination of non-state violence in world politics.The empirical findings using large-N statistical analysis show that (1) states form alliances with rebel groups in both the absence and presence of interstate hostilities; (2) states form alliances with ideationally contiguous rebel groups, that is, groups that have common ethnic, religious, and ideological ties to states' population and/or a group of people in its society; (3) democratic states do not ally with rebels, which fight against other democratic states; and (4) states, in general, are less likely to support rebels, which fight against ideationally contiguous states. Socialism emerges as a unifying ideology contributing to a high degree of solidarity both among states and between states and armed groups. The empirical findings imply that the perceived motivation of state supporters by armed groups; whether states support rebels due to strategic or ideational concerns, should have some influence on armed groups' level of lethality, duration, and attitude toward civilians and governments they fight against. Only a fully developed research agenda offering empirically informed theoretical insights can address these questions by facilitating future venues of research on the origin and evolution of state–NAG alliances.
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.
In Latin America international affairs are currently being considered from a perspective that doesn't use theoretical instruments from other academic fields, whether from American, English, French, or other schools. Our aim is to emphasize recent contributions to the discipline, specifically Latin American ones. The spirit behind this line of analysis is to approach the study of international relations from the perspective of the region itself, because the goals and interests of its countries within the framework of world politics are not a struggle for power. This effort doesn't seek to disrespect or ignore the importance of American theorizing. This compilation contains an elaboration of concepts that do not have any theoretical pretension of universality. Its only goal is to help understand how Latin American countries react to the contemporary dynamics of international affairs.
Since the inception of air power as a technological innovation, both scholars and military practitioners have given much thought to the use of aircraft during conflict settings and how it might influence both outcomes and the way states fight. Air power can greatly expand the targets that are available to an attacker, making it so that it is not necessary to get through the opponent's military defenses in order to target their population centers or other centers of gravity. At the same time, air power can reduce the costs of the attacker, allowing them to potentially achieve their coercive aims without necessarily incurring the costs, both financial and in terms of casualties, that a ground invasion can entail.Though the writing on air power from the theoretical and military strategic perspectives is vast and informative, there is also a relatively new research agenda focused on empirical work on air power within the field of international relations. This work has expanded in the last 20 years but still has much room for growth. Traditionally, air power has been thought of as a tool used by major powers, the states with the largest militaries and also the most economic resources. Work on air power has found that particularly major powers that are sensitive to incurring costs through military interventions, such as democratic powers, are prone to using air power. The reason for this is that these states perceive air power as a low-cost and low-commitment way to engage in international coercion. More recent work on air power supports some of these expectations, but challenges others.As scholars collect new data on coercive episodes of aerial bombing, evidence shows that air power is also used by powerful autocracies, and that as technologies develop, minor powers may also become involved in the use of coercive air power, particularly when it comes to the use of remotely piloted aircraft (drones). New research has also engaged the question of how different aerial strategies can affect the duration and outcomes of aerial campaigns. Recent work moves beyond traditional distinctions between punishment and denial strategies and considers cases in which mixed strategies are used, as well as distinguishing between how discriminate the cases of bombing either civilian or military targets are. In addition, new research shows that the use of air power during intrastate conflict and against non-state actors such as insurgent groups or terrorist organizations is prevalent and a topic that should be studied by political scientists.