Joseph Nye on Shifts on Smart Power

One of the leading scholars of IR theory is Joseph Nye, who teaches at Harvard University. He, along with co-author Robert Keohane, wrote one of the seminal works in IR theory–Power and Interdependence. Here is a short, but interesting TED talk in which Nye explains, amongst other things, the distinction between power transition and power diffusion, the “rise of China” and what “smart” power is.

Helpful series of videos explaining IR theory

If, like many beginning students of IR theory, you are stumped by some of the nuances of the various IR theories, there is a helpful set of videos in which IR experts try to explain the theories in everyday language. (H/t to a student of mine–sensnation–for alerting me to the existence of these videos.)

I’ve posted the video of Caleb Gallemore of The Ohio State University, who talks about constructivism. Among many other insights in this short video, Gallemore stresses that while realists take the existence of what they find in the world as a given–“all states want to increase their power”, “we must stop at a red light”–constructivists understand that the world is “socially constructed” and would ask questions such as these: “what are states?”, “why was red (and not some other colour) chosen as the `stop’ colour?”

Have a look at this, and other videos in this series:

Does the Acquisition of Nuclear Weapons Change States’ Behaviour?

Political scientist James Fearon has an interesting blog post on the political science blog, The Monkey Cage. In it, he asks, and then gives an answer to, the question “How do states act after they get nuclear weapons?” The issue, Fearon notes, is gaining increasing attention in the United States, given the alleged quest by Iran to develop nuclear weapons. The issue also resonates in Canada, with Stephen Harper recently affirming his fear of the Iranian regime acquiring nukes. From this CBC interview with Peter Mansbridge, Harper responds in the affirmative to Mansbridge’s characterization of an interview Harper had given a couple of weeks earlier on the issue of Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons:

…in your view, they [Iran’s regime] want nuclear weapons, and they would not be shy about using them.[see the exchange below]

In opposition to views like Harper’s are the views of what Fearon calls “proliferation optimists” such as the well-known realist Kenneth Waltz, who claims that contrary to our repeated expectations about the behaviour of post-nuclear states, the opposite has turned out to be true much more often than not. What does Fearon find empirically? First, he sets up what it is, specifically, that he is measuring:

The following graph shows, for each of the nine states that acquired nuclear capability at some time between 1945 and 2001, their yearly rate of militarized disputes in years when they didn’t have nukes, and the rate for years when they did.

Here is a graph of Fearon’s finding with his summary below:

China, France, India, Israel, Pakistan, and the UK all saw declines in their total militarized dispute involvement in the years after they got nuclear weapons.  A number of these are big declines.  USSR/Russia and South Africa have higher rates in their nuclear versus non-nuclear periods, though it should be kept in mind that for the USSR we only have four years in the sample with no nukes, just as the Cold War is starting.


My Intro to IR Class is full of Realists

Last Tuesday in POLI 1140, the students completed an class oil-market exercise in which pairs of students engaged in a strategic situation that required them to sell oil at specific prices. Many students were able to understand relatively quickly that the “Oil Game” was an example of the classic prisoner’s dilemma (PD). As Mingst and Arreguin-Toft note on page 78, the crucial point about the prisoner’s dilemma:

Neither prisoner knows how the other will respond; the cost of not confessing if the other confesses is extraordinarily high. So both will confess, leading to a less-than-optimal outcome for both.

From a theoretical perspective (and empirical tests have generally confirmed this) there will likely be very little cooperation in one-shot prisoner’s dilemma-type situations. Over repeated interaction, however, learning can contribute to higher levels of cooperation. With respect to IR theories, specifically, it is argued that realists are more likely to defect in PD situations as they are concerned with relative gains. Liberals, on the other hand, who value absolute gains more highly, are more likely to cooperate and create socially more optimal outcomes. What were the results in our class?

The graph above plots the level of cooperation across all six years (stages) of the exercise. There were seven groups and what the probabilities demonstrate is that in each year there was only one group for which the interaction was cooperative. In year 2, there was not a single instance of cooperation. Moreover, it was the same group that cooperated. Therefore, one of the groups cooperated 5 out of 6 years, while none of the other six groups cooperated a single time over the course of the sex years!! What a bunch of realists!!

If you were involved in this exercise, please let me know your reactions to what happened.

Sarah Palin should have taken PLSC250

Had one of my Introduction to International Relations students been taking questions from Charlie Gibson tonight, s/he would have been well prepared to answer his question regarding the “Bush Doctrine”.  As my students (still?) know, the “Bush Doctrine” was most clearly and forcefully enunciated in the 2002 National Security Strategy of the United States.  While there are three major components to the “Bush Doctrine”, the most important of which (at least the one that received the most attention and presented the most radical departure from the part-realist, part-liberal, bi-partisan, pre-9/11 US foreign policy framework was the idea of using preemptive military force, without the need for there to be an imminent threat.

Democratic critics have often charged Bush and his administration with claiming that Saddam Hussein posed an “imminent threat”, but I have yet to see any evidence that anyone speaking for the administration did so.  And it’s not a surprise, as the Bush Doctrine allows the use of force without imminent threat.  Maybe Governor Palin should bring some of those critics along with her to my class.  And if the Republican Party would like to hire a IR tutor for Governor Palin, they’ll find my rates more than reasonable.

Calvin and Hobbes and IR Theory

Which theory of IR immediately comes to mind upon reading this Calvin and Hobbes cartoon? Why? One of the more clever students in Intro to IR noticed that one of the character’s names gives us an obvious clue.


The answer is below the fold…

Continue reading “Calvin and Hobbes and IR Theory”

Mingst and Snyder–Chapter 3 Reading Questions

Morgenthau, Hans–“A Realist Theory of International Politics”
  • Does Morgenthau’s explanation of realist theory focus on any of the levels of analysis in particular? Explain.
  • Morgenthau writes “political realism is aware of the moral significance of political action. It is also aware of the ineluctable tension between the moral command and the requirements of successful political action.” What does he mean by this and why is this important for international relations?
  • How does Morgenthau define political power, and how is it used in internaitonal politics?

Continue reading “Mingst and Snyder–Chapter 3 Reading Questions”