Introduction to International Relations

Theory of International
Class 2: Three Theoretical
What is a theory?
• Simplification of reality
• Perspective – tells you where to look
• Statement about cause and effect
– Which variables go together? (correlation)
– Why does this regularity occur? (causal mechanism)
• Independent/explanatory variable = cause
• Dependent variable = effect/outcome
Why theories are necessary
• Too much information available to be able to
process it without guidance about what is relevant
or irrelevant
• No rational action without hypothesis about cause
and effect
What is a hypothesis?
• A hypothesis is a testable implication of a theory.
• Each theory generates many hypotheses.
• Evidence in favor of a hypothesis supports (but
does not prove) the theory.
• Evidence against a hypothesis requires modifying
or abandoning the theory.
– Theories should only be abandoned in favor of other
Acceptable Theories
• All theories must be falsifiable.
– How would you know if the theory were wrong?
• All theories must be logical.
– Internally coherent
– Conclusions follow from premises
Evaluating Theories
• Generalizability: applicability to many times, places,
and issues
Parsimony: simplicity; few independent variables
Empirical validity: accuracy of predictions
Leverage: wide scope of validity for relative parsimony
Fruitfulness: number of hypotheses it generates
Progression: whether it expands to new predictions or
degenerates by excessive modification
The Three Theories
• Realism
• Liberalism
• Constructivism
• Others
– Marxism
– Post-modernism and post-structuralism
• Classical Realism
– Thucydides
– Machiavelli
– Morgenthau
• Neo-realism
• Major Work: The History of the Peloponnesian
War, 431 BCE
• Explains war between Athens and Sparta, the two
poles of the Greek system
• Cause of war - the rising power of Athens and the
fear this caused in Sparta (distribution of power)
• Melian dialog – rejection of justice claims in
international politics
Nicolo Machiavelli
• Major Work: The Prince, 1513
• Written as diplomat advising ruler:
– Seize all the territory you can
– Maintain friendly relations with minor powers but keep
greater powers down
– Self-help is preferable to alliances
– Traditional morality can be abandoned for the state
Hans Morgenthau
Major Work: Politics Among Nations, 1949
“Objective laws” in political science
All actors seek to maximize their own power
Effective, unemotional policy requires evaluating
policy by its effect on power, not other moral
Critiques of Classical Realism
• Ignores important issues
• Inability to distinguish between prescription and
• Uses a constant to explain a variable
• Major Work: Kenneth Waltz, Theory of
International Politics, 1979
• Anarchy means that any state could be attacked at
any time.
• Therefore, security (the survival of the state) is
always at risk.
• Therefore, states must be concerned with power.
– Self-help is best
– Alliances to form a balance of power are second-best
• Common pressures produce “like units.”
– Specialization is dangerous.
– States learn to copy successful states (imitation) or are
eliminated from the system (evolution).
• Therefore, domestic politics are irrelevant.
The Security Dilemma
• Because attack is always possible, states build
defensive capabilities.
• Most defensive capabilities also enhance offensive
• Rivals can mistake defense for offensive threats.
• Rivals respond by building up their own defenses.
• States then feel threatened by rivals.
• Can escalate to war.
Debates among Realists
Some disagreement over ultimate goal of state
• Defensive neo-realists: states maximize security
(autonomy in their territory)
• Neo-classical realists: status quo states vs.
revisionist states
• Offensive neo-realists: all states maximize power
Critiques of Neo-Realism
• Ignores important issues
• Reifies the state
• Unable to account for persistence of unipolarity
Neo-liberal Institutionalism
The democratic peace
Immanuel Kant
• Major Work: Perpetual Peace, 1795
• Reason is key
• Peace requires:
– All states to be representative democracies
– International law (not world government)
– Free movement of people and free trade
• Response to World War I, a failure of balance of
power politics
• Decreasing incentives for war
– increasing costs of war
• New technologies (mustard gas & machine guns)
• Increasing economic interdependence
– mobilizing public opinion
• Resolution through international institutions
– League of Nations
Neo-liberal Institutionalism
• Adds micro-foundations to idealism
• States create international organizations to
further their own interests.
• Despite lack of coercive capabilities, international
institutions can
– Reduce transaction costs.
– Create multi-dimensional issue spaces to facilitate
– Monitor compliance.
– Encourage repeated interactions.
– Create norms (standards of behavior).
The Democratic Peace
• Liberal democracies have never fought a war
among themselves.
• Democracies do fight as many wars as
autocracies overall, but democracies only fight
autocracies, not each other.
– Autocracies sometimes fight other autocracies, even
among similar autocratic systems.
• Closest thing to a “law” in the study of IR.
Why the Democratic Peace?
• Information
– Democracies’ public debates reveal their true
intentions, thus avoiding the security dilemma.
• Institutions
– Elected leaders will lose office if they lose wars, so
they are more careful about initiation.
Peace, Trade, and IOs
• Some evidence (not quite as strong as democratic peace)
suggests that
– pairs of states that trade with each other more are less likely to
go to war with each other, because the trade they would lose out
on makes war too costly.
– states that have more common IO memberships are less likely to
go to war with each other, because they have non-violent means
to resolve their conflicts.
• Realists argue that this is backwards.
– States don’t become dependent on trade with states they might
fight with.
– States only join IOs with states that they already trust.
Critiques of Neo-liberalism
• Democratic peace is coincidence, not causation.
– Common Cold War interests, not democratic
institutions, explain peace.
• Overly optimistic (“All good things go together.”)
• States care about relative gains, not absolute
• Imposes a value system while pretending
The Rationalist Synthesis
Despite their debates, neo-realists and neo-liberals
have many points of agreement.
• Analysis begins with fixed actors and assumed,
fixed preferences.
• Each actor is trying to maximize its own payoff.
• The outcome depends on both actors’ actions.
Game Theory
• Game theory is a method for developing
rationalist theories that is adapted for both neorealist and neo-liberal assumptions.
• It represents the actors’ preferences
mathematically, over a simplified range of
• One of the most famous games is the prisoners’
The Prisoners’ Dilemma
Prisoner 2
Deny -2, -2
-10, -1
Prisoner 1
Confess -1, -10
-5, -5
Ways out of the Dilemma
• Third-party enforcement
• Iteration
– Possibility of future losses
– Tit-for-tat strategy
• Issue linkage and side payments
• Newest theory of IR
• Draws on sociology
– Max Weber
– Emile Durkheim
• Focuses on power of shared ideas
Logic of Appropriateness
• Rationalist theories follow “logic of consequences”:
– Actors strategically calculate costs and benefits
• Constructivism predicts behavior based on a “logic
of appropriateness”:
– Actors behave in accordance with their socially
constructed sense of self (identity)
• Can be hard to differentiate when identity dictates
logic of consequences
• Definition: Understanding of who self is in relation
to “other”
• Inherently social
• Identity creates interests
• Actors' behavior is guided by norms.
– Constitutive norms are standards of behavior that define
the identity of an actor.
• Sovereignty is a constitutive norm of statehood.
– Regulative norms are appropriate standards of behavior
for an actor with a given identity.
• Calling attention to gaps between espoused norms
and behavior can change an actor's behavior.
Transnational Advocacy
• Composed of NGOs in many states
• Try to enforce norms that influence state behavior
“Naming and shaming”
Persuading IOs to change their rules
Changing market incentives for MNCs (boycotts)
Using domestic politics to get powerful states to enforce
• Example:
– ending apartheid in South Africa
Critiques of Constructivism
• Not specific enough to be testable
• Not parsimonious
• Unclear what factors are cause and which are
Comparing the Theories:
Human Nature
• Realism: People are aggressive.
• Liberalism: People are acquisitive.
• Constructivism: People are shaped by their
Comparing the Theories:
Supporting Research
• Realism: history
• Liberalism: economics
• Constructivism: sociology
Comparing the Theories:
• Realism: The anarchic structure of the
international system dictates state behavior.
• Neo-liberalism: The anarchic structure of the
international system constrains state behavior.
• Constructivism: The anarchic structure of the
international system was created and is
perpetuated by the very states it constitutes.
Comparing the Theories:
Domestic Politics
• Realism: Domestic politics are unimportant.
States are rational, unitary actors.
• Neo-liberalism: Domestic politics determine
state attributes such as preferences and
credibility. The behavior of domestic actors is
funnelled through state hierarchy into a unitary,
though not always collectively rational, policy.
• Constructivism: Domestic politics are integrated
with global politics.
Comparing the Theories:
Non-state Actors
• Realism: Non-state actors are unimportant.
• Neo-liberalism: States are the most important
actors, but international organizations also
• Constructivism: States are the most important
actors, but international organizations and nongovernmental organizations also matter.
Comparing the Theories: Norms
• Realism: Norms are dangerous or unimportant.
• Neo-liberalism: Norms are efficient habits.
• Constructivism: Norms are part of actors’
identities that shape which actions are desirable
or even possible.
Comparing the Theories:
Key Questions
• Realism
– How can states best defend themselves?
– What kinds of international systems are most stable?
• Neo-liberalism
– How can states provide global public goods?
– How can states maximize their overall utility?
• Constructivism
– How do actors self-identify, and what action is
produced by that identity?
– How do identities and value systems change?
Comparing the Theories:
Systemic Change
• Realism: No fundamental change is possible.
• Neo-liberalism: International relations can be
incrementally improved. Gradual reform is
• Constructivism: The international system has
been radically transformed before, and it could
happen again (for good or for ill).
Lessons of 9/11
• Realism
– Need for vigilance
– Alliance choice dictated by system demands
• Neo-Liberalism
– Authoritarian states dangerous to democracies
– International cooperation valuable on police action to
stop terrorism
• Constructivism
– Non-state actors are consequential
– Ideologies not always rationalist
Case Study:
International Regime on Drugs
• Three Major UN Conventions:
– 1961 - The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs
– 1971 - The Convention on Psychotropic Substances
– 1988 - The UN Convention Against Illicit Traffic in
Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances
• Requires states to criminalize all non-medical
production & sale of marijuana, coca, opiates, etc.
• Each has at least 170 signatories.
• Question: Why such uniformity?
Realist Hypothesis
• Drugs are a security threat because they fund
terrorism and insurgency.
• Therefore, US as hegemon wants to stop drug
• Other great powers have similar interests, or can
flout treaty without consequences.
• Weak states must comply with great powers.
– US invasion of Panama in 1989 shows costs to small
states of defiance
Neo-liberal Hypothesis
• Domestic political actors want drugs banned.
• If any states allow drugs, the ban is weaker in all
other states.
• States created international institutions to monitor
compliance and share medical information.
Constructivist Hypothesis
• In late 19th century, religious activists mobilized in
the US and Britain against drugs.
• Missionaries, especially in China, acted as
transnational moral entrepreneurs to get
international ban.
• Little organized opposition because of perceived
association of drug use with politically marginal
Using Evidence to Test
• All three explanations seem plausible.
• What information could support or contradict?