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Middle Powers in International Relations

redchess

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This article was originally published by E-International Relations (E-IR) on 8 May 2017.

Realism’s theoretical dominance in International Relations (IR) – especially its focus on the power of superpowers and its state-centric view of international society – has been challenged by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the global transformations characterising the post-Cold War era. One of those transformations is the way in which “states neither great nor small” are gaining increased recognition amid the disruptive multi-polarity of the current global disorder. Scholars such as Martin Wight and Carsten Holbraad, whose earlier writings about middle powers were overlooked in mainstream IR, are now acknowledged for their scholarly prescience. Bringing middle powers back into mainstream IR theorising is obviously overdue. There are two problems in the theorising of middle powers in contemporary IR scholarship that obscure their positioning and potential in post-Cold War international politics: (1) its intellectual history has been neglected; (2) “middle power” itself is a vague concept.

The neglected intellectual history of middle powers

The ranking of states hierarchically (big, small, middle sized) is by no means a modern (or even post-modern) invention. In ancient China and classical Greece the organisation of political communities and their status relative to each other was of great interest to thinkers as diverse as the Chinese sage Mencius (?372-289 BCE or ?385-303 BCE), and the Athenian philosopher Socrates (469-399 BCE).

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Why Panama Matters

Image courtesy of Nicolas Raymond/Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

This article was originally published by Pacific Forum CSIS on 27 June 2017.

On June 13, Panama switched diplomatic recognition from the Republic of China on Taiwan (ROC or Taiwan) to the People’s Republic of China (PRC or China). Panama City and Beijing jointly announced that “the Government of the Republic of Panama recognizes that there is but one China in the world, that the Government of the PRC is the sole legal government representing the whole of China, and that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China’s territory.” Panama’s defection should serve as a “wakeup call” for the present administration in Taipei. To be sure, something needs to change.

After learning of the loss of one of Taiwan’s oldest friends, officials in Taipei – including President Tsai Ing-wen – lashed out at Panama for its shocking “betrayal.” Authorities also blasted the PRC for “oppressing” Taiwan. Senior officials even went so far as to threaten that the Tsai administration would consider all of its options while rethinking relations with the Chinese mainland. Paradoxically, anti-China pundits based in Taiwan (and elsewhere) put a different spin on the diplomatic defection. Some argued that the loss of Panama didn’t matter, while others claimed that Beijing had returned to the practice of “checkbook diplomacy” (bribing small countries to switch diplomatic relations). But these interpretations fall short.

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The Trump Effect on EU-China Relations

Courtesy of Oli Goldsmith. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

This article was originally published by the Elcano Royal Institute on 7 June 2017.

Theme

What are the implications of the Trump Administration’s security and trade policies on relations between China and Europe?

Summary

For the time being, Donald Trump’s decisions on defence and trade have not been so significant as to trigger a realignment of relations between the US, China and the EU. However, his term in office throws up opportunities for the strengthening of relations between the EU and China, especially if Europe decides to intensify its Common Security and Defence Policy and Beijing decides to take its process of economic reforms further and attain a greater level of reciprocity with Europe in terms of its trade and financial regulations.

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Peace and War in Sino-America: Forget the Headlines and Follow the Trendlines for a Better World

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This article was originally published by Harvard International Review on 2 May 2017.

Throughout the 2016 presidential election, then candidate Donald Trump blasted China for its protectionist trade policies, currency manipulation, and several other accusations. Indeed, these accusations were not limited to Trump as China bashing is simply standard fare for anyone seeking elected office on campaign trails. Much of Trump’s campaign was however met with derision. As the election process unfolded, the derision soon turned to snickers. As the election continued, the snickers turned downright somber while he sailed past his Republican opponents Jeff Bush, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and others who had been deemed more likely GOP nominees.

Among the intelligentsia, the mood has turned to alarm as now President Trump has set out to do exactly as he had promised during his “America First” campaign. To show his sincerity to the campaign promise of bringing jobs back to the United States, he kicked off his first day in the Oval Office by issuing an Executive Order cancelling American participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). It was President Barack Obama’s signature trade deal creating a free-trade zone with eleven other nations for approximately 40 percent of the world’s economy. Trump also threatened to impose a 45-percent tariff on Chinese goods if China does not “behave” accordingly.

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The Beginning(s) and End(s) of the International Order

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This article was originally published by E-International Relations on 22 May 2017.

These days, the pulse of the world’s political health is running fast. The general prognosis is terminal, the end of the international world order, as we know it. But determining what order we are on the verge of losing could do with more diagnosis, including tracking the symptoms of the disorder (and order) back to their beginnings. One of the useful roles that historians can play in this regard is to offer a longer view of what we have lost, or, at least, the international order that seems to be disappearing from view.  So bear with me as I offer a “Cook’s tour” of two centuries in search of the point where the end possibly began, in order to understand better the history of the aims—or “ends”—of international order itself.

1814?

European historians have long assumed that the early nineteenth century made “international” politics possible: In 1814, after decades of continental wars against French hegemony, a coalition led by Russia, including Sweden, Prussia, Austria, and Britain (as well as some smaller now non-existent sovereignties) emerged victorious and established what became known as the “Congress system.” At its most basic, this comprised negotiations through discussion—famously identified with the Congress of Vienna—and transnational cooperation in the interests of permanent peace. In the years that followed, ambassadorial conferences in London, and occasional conferences around the smaller towns of the European continent, became a method for managing territorial and ideological flashpoints.  Within a few years, the British foreign minister Lord Castlereagh confidently reported to his Prime Minister the practical value of this transformation of European politics:

how much solid good grows out of these Reunions, which sound so terrible at a distance. It realy [sic] appears to me to be a new discovery in the Science of European Government at once extinguishing the Cobwebs, with which Diplomacy obscures the Horizon – bringing the Whole bearing of the system into its true light, and giving to the Counsels of the great Powers the Efficiency and almost the simplicity of a Single State.[1]

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