Archive for IR Theories

Competing Visions for U.S. Grand Strategy

What are the competing visions for a U.S. grand strategy, their objectives, premises and preferred instruments?

U.S. Grand Strategy

U.S. Grand Strategy

Robert J. Art lays out eight possible grand strategies for consideration: Dominion, Global Collective Security; Regional Collective Security; Cooperative Security; Containment; Isolationism; Offshore Balancing; and, Selective Engagement (2003, 82). These strategies are derived from national interests. I will tackle each strategy one-by-one and describe their objectives, premises and preferred instruments.

Dominion – The objective of dominion is imperial world dominance in that America acquires as much power for itself as it can, primarily through the instruments of military force and capabilities, and attempts to refashion the world in its image (Art 2003, 87-88). Art adds another view, Primacy, which is merely “superior influence” rather than total domination (2003, 90).

Christopher Layne essentially calls dominion and primacy by the term of “Preponderance,” and adds that the strategy seeks a “U.S.-led world order based on preeminent U.S. political, military and economic power, and on American values” (1997, 101). Layne explains that practicing extended deterrence and maximizing economic interdependence deal with threats to that order and will prevent the rise of a rival power (1997, 101). Read more

Ecuador and China: BFFs and Champions of the 21st Century Socialist Agenda

© Kapok Tree Diplomacy. Feb 2013. All rights reserved. Jeff Dwiggins.   FREE CONTENT

Ecuador and China: BFFs and Champions of the 21st Century Socialist Agenda

Ecuador ChinaEcuador is a beautiful country with a rich and diverse culture, geography and history. My wife is from Ecuador, and I can’t say enough about the friendliness and generosity of her family and many others that I’ve met from Ecuador.  My hope is to someday visit the country, God willing, and take in all the sights, sounds, smells and experiences that up until now, I have only experienced through the anecdotal, photographic and video evidence.

However, I feel that my timetable and window for visiting the country is rapidly closing. If things continue in their current economic and political direction under President Correa, there may not be any socio-political stability left, not to mention the inevitable deterioration of the economy that always accompanies centrally-managed socialist states. See Cuba and Russia for good examples.  Moreover, I may have to learn Chinese in addition to Spanish to get around the country. So what exactly is going on in Ecuador? Didn’t Rafael Correa make everything better?

President Correa’s Vision

Leftist President Rafael Correa of Ecuador easily won a second term as president of Ecuador on February 16th with 56% of the vote compared to the 23% of his closest competitor, Guillermo Lasso, a banker from Guayaquil.[1]  Now President Correa will be able to continue his radical socialist agenda for another four years in Ecuador, especially if his party strengthens their hold on the Assembly. Not everyone in Ecuador is happy about that.

“There is a lot of apprehension that if he wins the Assembly, there will be a greater concentration of power,” said José Hernández, an editor of Hoy, a Quito daily newspaper. “He will try to flatten everyone who is in his way. He will try to dominate more because that’s his personality, and that’s what he wants to do.”[2] So just who is Rafael Correa? Read more

Is International Relations a Science?

(C) Kapok Tree Diplomacy. 2010. All rights reserved. Jeff Dwiggins, author

Is international relations (IR) a science? Well, I guess it depends on what science we’re talking about – physical, biological, social, economic, political?  When I hear the term “science” I still tend to think of what I’m most familiar with, and that is the scientific method used by the natural sciences. Russett and Starr attempt to modify the social science of IR to follow the scientific method using some general general steps  (2004). I would tweak those steps as follows along the natural science format: pose the question, observe, research and analyze, form hypothesis, experiment, gather more data, analyze results, interpret results, form conclusion, retest (“Steps of the Scientific Method”, n.d.).

Can we apply this same scientific method to international relations? Yes, but obtaining the level of accuracy in international relations typically required in biology or physics is not really possible. Human behavior is not as predictable as universal laws and the uniformity of nature. The current rend in IR is to try and make it as predictable as possible by crunching numbers and trying to explain every outcome through quantitative analysis. But state and non-state actors do not always act rationally, nor do they always operate with perfect information and single-minded purpose. “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9).

Russett and Starr talk about science being about “comparison, contingency and probability” (p.19) in order to “define, label and classify” (p. 19). They point out that the analysis should be done in a systematic way in order to make theoretical “generalizations” (p. 20). They do admit the role that assumptions (p. 22), values (p. 26) and uncertainty (p. 19) can play in the overall scientific process as it relates to international relations. That’s good. Here’s a few reasons why.

The facts do not always speak for themselves. In tackling the controversy and diverse theories over the assassination of JFK, the late Christian theologian Greg Bahnsen brilliantly points out that, “What a person will take to be a “fact” and how that fact is interpreted and related to other beliefs is not determined alone by the perceptions or observations (or observation-reports) which a person has. His thinking will be guided by various assumptions or controlling presuppositions” (1992).

What one takes to be factual, as well as the interpretation of accepted facts, will be governed by his underlying philosophy of fact – that is by his “pervasive, basic, value-oriented, possibility determining, probability-rating, sometimes religiously motivated presuppositions” (Bahnsen).

The science of international relations is viewed through the value-oriented assumptions of the person doing the analysis. That frame of reference or lens may be realist, liberal, Marxist, constructionist or some combination thereof. It doesn’t mean the conclusions aren’t scientific to some extent, but we do have to be realistic about their precision and highly scrutinize the underlying values and assumptions that went into the observation and research of pertinent facts in the first place.

If our standard is that international relations (IR) must be able to be categorized, defined, labeled and classified, and that the scientific method may be usefully applied to it, then I would agree that it may share some qualities with the scientific method, though not on the same level as the natural sciences.  Thus, IR is not an exact science despite the claims of many social scientists and academics who try to convince us otherwise.


Beyond Anarchy: How Wendt’s Social Constructivism and Cox’s Historical Materialism Redefine the International System and State Identities While Explaining Structural Transformation

Jeff Dwiggins – Kapok Tree Diplomacy – Feb. 2010 – All rights reserved.Jeff in Singapore


The dominant and mainstream theories of world politics explain both changes to the international system and the unique identities, interests and actions of its actors in context to the conditions of anarchy, rationality, the system’s particular structure, and the material capabilities or preferences of its actors. While realists, neorealists, liberals and neoliberals have their differences, they all explain structural transformation and state identity without appealing to social forces or domestic politics in a significant way.

Alexander Wendt’s theory of “social constructivism” and Robert Cox’s “historical materialism” provide alternative perspectives that assign greater importance to social forces which address the fundamental structure of the international system and their potential to shape the identities, interests and actions of actors.

How do these alternative theories redefine the international system and state identities and explain structural transformation? This essay will answer that question by analyzing the views of Wendt and Cox in detail, explaining how they differ from realist, neorealist and neoliberal views, and determining whether or not they improve upon those theories.  I will begin with Wendt’s theory of social constructivism. Read more

The Limitations of Classical Realism

“The Limitations of Classical Realism” by Kapok Tree Diplomacy

To what extent has neo-realism addressed the limitations of classical realism, if there be any, and overcome them or not? The following analytical essay shall engage this question by exploring each theory’s core assumptions and then review the effect of these assumptions on key areas of understanding international relations to include philosophical perspective, definitions of power and security, the role of anarchy and rationality, the distribution of capabilities and balance of power, and a definition of the international system.

The essay will conclude by bringing both theories’ assumptions to bear upon the current crisis between the United States and Iran. Given the assumptions, I will draw conclusions as to which theory most accurately ascertains the situation and which is more likely to predict the outcome.

The Extent That Theories of Cooperation Harmonize With Reality in Contemporary International Relations

January 30, 2010 – Jeffrey R. Dwiggins, Copyright, Kapok Tree Diplomacy –


The Extent That Theories of Cooperation Harmonize With Reality in Contemporary International Relations

International relations theorists have presented distinctly different views on both the prospects for cooperation among states and the environmental and structural constraints impeding it for decades. This essay will explain and analyze the main views put forth in Robert Keohane‘s Regime and Complex Interdependency Theory, Bruce Russett’s Democratic Peace Theory, David Held’s democratization of global politics, and conclude with Robert Jervis’s ideas on the effectiveness of creating institutions to increase cooperation.

The views of Jervis will bring us full circle with realist and neo-realist views of cooperation. Throughout the essay, I will assess to what extent the arguments of these theorists are convincing. Do these theories of cooperation harmonize with reality in contemporary international relations? The following essay will explain how and why they do, and in other cases how and why they do not.

Theories of Cooperation

Keohane – Regimes and Complex Interdependency Theory.  Keohane defines cooperation as occurring when “actors adjust their behavior to the actual or anticipated preferences of others, through a process of policy coordination” (“Cooperation” 491).  The definition leaves some room for why actors would adjust their behavior at all.  Keohane implies that the answer is found in mutual interests that are of equal importance (“Cooperation” 490). When such mutual interests are present, actors will want to bargain and negotiate as opposed to the manipulation and coercion that prevail under divergent interests and lead to strife. Read more

Applying Domestic-Level Variables in Context to Relative Gains, Reciprocity and Anarchic Concepts to Examine Institutional Cooperation in the Middle East

In my initial studies of international relations and world politics through the mainstream theoretic lenses, the idea that “liberal” institutions operating within the anarchic structure of the international system can facilitate cooperation and reduce the likelihood of conflict has deeply intrigued me.  The increasing societal interconnectedness brought about by globalization personalizes the hope that such institutions may offer potential to make the world a safer place. While neorealism and neoliberalism disagree to some extent on the causes and likelihood of cooperation, combining essential components of these theories may prove invaluable to understanding the viability of institutional cooperation. However, neither view seems to fully account for the impact of domestic variables on international outcomes.

Joseph Grieco’s concept of “relative gains” and Robert Keohane’s “principle of reciprocity” in particular have significantly furthered our understanding of the causes and conditions for durable cooperation among states.  Might these tools be inherently flexible enough to incorporate domestic variables, thus loosening anarchic assumptions and opening the door for enhanced cooperation through institutions? Moreover, can the inclusion of domestic variables in context to these tools explain subpar cooperation in the Middle East?

The essay’s first section will offer a brief explanation of the Middle Eastern context in which these theoretical tools will be examined. This politically and religiously fragmented  region is marked by huge disparities between wealth and poverty, Sunnis and Shias, and common nationality and sectarian strife. It all makes the Middle East (ME) an outstanding area to examine the impact of domestic-level variables (DLVs).  In the second section I will lay out a summary of the reciprocity and relative gains concepts and make a general assessment of their ability to explain ME conflicts and lack of regional, institutional cooperation.

In the third section, I will apply DLVs as part of reciprocity and relative gains concepts to analyze the unique intergovernmental organization of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Companies (OPEC) within the double security dilemma of competing state and domestic interests. In the fourth section I’ll review the anarchic environment and role of process as specific variables and causal determinants of state interests and outcomes within a structural view of the state that incorporates a simultaneous, dual security analysis,  and shift the focus from  reciprocity and relative gains to the theoretical perspectives of neorealism and neoliberalism from which they’re derived.

In the essay’s fifth and final section, I will present some ideas on moving forward towards greater stability and equitable prosperity in the ME through the promotion of a few specific ideas to include a greater role for capitalism, education, job creation and religious tolerance. Additionally, the application of “soft power” and “contextual intelligence” will be reviewed as potential strategies that utilize DLVs to shape interests and preferences, thereby influencing outcomes. {20 pages double-spaced + 18 references}

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