Defining scientific progress in terms of the cumulation of knowledge, predictive power, and an “approach-to-consensus” regarding the best explanation when intellectual disputes arise, Fred Chernoff raises the critically important questions of why is there relatively little progress in the field of security studies as compared to the natural sciences, and why is there more progress in some areas of security studies than in others. He argues that one important answer to these questions is that scholars in security studies, unlike those in the natural sciences, use different philosophy of science criteria of evaluation and are rarely explicit about what those criteria are. Chernoff finds support for his argument in an empirical examination of how security studies scholars make judgments about the quality of competing explanations regarding three important research questions in the field—nuclear proliferation, balance of power and alliance formation, and the democratic peace. With respect to the latter, he argues that scholars have explicitly stated their criteria, reached agreement about the appropriate criteria, and moved towards consensus on the validity of a liberal explanation (though which particular liberal explanation is still contested). Chernoff includes a discussion of alternative explanations for the lack of scientific progress in security studies, including the fact that some scholars are answering different questions rather than providing different answers to the same question. He concludes with some useful reflections on the role of metatheory in international relations research programs.
Tag: international relations
Barry Buzan and George Lawson have produced a book of grand scope that examines the multiple ways modernity has influenced the world and our theories about it. What they call the ‘global transformation’ brought about a shift from a polycentric world to a core-periphery order centered on the West. In the process, according to the authors, regional systems of international relations were integrated into a global one. In effect, international relations theories and the discipline of international relations are products of the long nineteenth century. They further contend, and more controversially, that these theories, and the discipline more generally, have neglected this ‘global transformation.’
Over the last twenty years, interest in past thinkers and theories has grown, and the history of international thought has emerged to stand alongside the history of political thought. A series of studies of canonical thinkers, schools of thought, and key periods have appeared, advancing our knowledge of past international thought. At the same time, a debate has also occurred about the best approaches and methods for historians working in the area, which has shifted the focus away from grand narratives and epic histories towards more finely grained, nuanced, and theoretically informed accounts.
How political leaders and their intelligence agencies assess the long-term intentions of their adversaries in international politics, how their assessments change in response to changes in the adversary’s capabilities or behavior, and the extent to which political leaders rely on their intelligence agencies are old questions in the study of international relations. The assessment of long-term intentions is an extraordinarily difficult task, and the development of generalizable theory about the process is equally difficult. Keren Yarhi-Milo’s recent book, Knowing the Adversary: Leaders, Intelligence, and Assessment of Intentions in International Relations, is an enormously valuable contribution to our understanding of these questions. Unlike many studies of intelligence, it is well-grounded in international relations theory, and it effectively builds upon theories of social psychology, cognitive science, and organizational theory. Yarhi-Milo distinguishes herself from many other theorists by emphasizing that the assessment processes of political leaders may differ from those of state intelligence organizations, but at the same time she integrates both within a single overarching theoretical framework. Yarhi-Milo tests her theoretical arguments against leading alternative interpretations in three sets of important and revealing historical cases: British assessments of Germany’s intentions from 1934-1939; and U.S. assessments of Soviet intentions during the years leading to the collapse of détente (1976-1980) and during the end of the Cold War (1985-1988). Yarhi-Milo’s in-depth comparative studies utilize historical archives, published documents, and, for the U.S.-Soviet cases, interviews with key participants.
This year marks the bicentennial anniversary of the Congress of Vienna. From September of 1814 to June of 1815, over 200 representatives met in the Austrian capital to rebuild the foundations of European diplomacy, which lay in shambles after over twenty years of war. It was the great powers, the “Pentarchy” of Austria, Britain, France, Prussia, and Russia, who dictated the territorial and political agreements that formed the core of a European grand settlement. And more importantly, at Vienna these powers laid the groundwork for what Mark Jarrett calls “an audacious experiment in international cooperation” (205): a congress system, in which powers would engage in “habitual confidential and free intercourse between the Ministers of the Great Powers as a body” in hope that “many pretensions might be modified, asperities removed, and causes of irritation anticipated and met” (205).
The book produced by Alex Weisiger is a substantial contribution to rationalist theory in international relations. Weisiger investigates the effects of commitment problems in international bargaining on the conduct, duration, and destructiveness of wars. The book is among only a few works that closely analyze international history from the perspective of recent developments in the theory of international bargaining. Weisiger is superb at framing history as a series of mysteries, the answers to which he dramatically unravels. In addition to its contribution to research on international conflict, therefore, the book is immensely valuable as a teaching tool.
Theories of international relations in the grand sense are rare. Hans Morgenthau “purport[ed] to present a theory of international politics” in 1948. Raymond Aron’s Peace and War: A Theory of International Relations appeared in 1962. Kenneth Waltz presented his unmodified Theory of International Politics in 1979. It would be twenty years before Alexander Wendt countered with another article-less book title: Social Theory of International Politics.  A decade later, Richard Ned Lebow presents A Cultural Theory of International Relations, returning an indefinite article to his title along with a page-count rivaling only Aron’s tome. The modesty of the title, however, belies the book’s ambition. The reviewers praise the historic breadth of the book and welcome its focus on honor and social standing as explanatory factors. They differ on the value of grand theory. Richard W. Mansbach embraces Lebow’s project, both in its theoretical ambitions and its empirical insights. Patrick Finney is sympathetic to its culturalist core but more skeptical about the novelty and explanatory power of some of its claims. Geoffrey Roberts commends it as a grand historical narrative, but has doubts about the enterprise of grand theorizing in general. In the end, the merit of grand theory itself more than the specifics of Lebow’s offering divides Mansbach’s more favorable review from the more critical appraisals of Finney and Roberts.
Brian Rathbun asks an arresting question, and a fair one. Several years ago Jeffrey Legro and Andrew Moravcsik hurled down the gauntlet by asking “Is Anybody Still a Realist?” Their answer was: not really. If Legro and Moravcsik are correct that nearly every IR scholar today considers domestic factors causal in some fashion, then we must ask whether that makes everyone a liberal. And if the answer turns out affirmative, is that not a problem for liberalism? If we are all liberals now, then does liberalism have any meaning in IR research?