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Middle Powers in International Relations

redchess

Courtesy of fdecomite/Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

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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Middle Powers in International Relations

redchess

Courtesy of fdecomite/Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

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).

» More

It´s going to be a Bumpy Ride: The US-led World Order is Tipping Further into Decline

Post Apocalyptic Vision

Courtesy Mary Anne Enriquez/Flickr. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

This article was originally published by the Lowy Institute on 21 November 2016.

As the Trump juggernaut rolled across the US on election day, turning the political map red, anxious foreign leaders began to contemplate a new world order of a kind few had envisaged.

Could it be that Donald Trump, the quintessential change agent, would administer the last rites to Pax Americana, the US-led rules-based Western order that had prevailed since 1945, thereby achiev­ing what China, Russia and legions of anti-American jihadists had failed to bring about?

German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen believes Donald Trump’s shock win signals the end of Pax Americana. Many others agree, among them former Australian foreign minister Bob Carr, who sees the failure of Barack Obama’s signature Trans-Pacific Partnership as ‘symbolic of the dismantling of the post-World War II order in which the US had sought a global leadership role’.

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A Reply to Mearsheimer

‘I want magic no realism’ on the street, courtesy Barnaby_S/flickr

Realism is divided into defensive and offensive realism. Defensive realists, such as Kenneth Waltz, claim that states pursue only as much power as the states around them have. They don’t want to dominate the international system but merely to be able to survive. Offensive realism, proposed by John Mearsheimer, challenges this perspective and maintains that states want to dominate the international system, at least to the point of becoming a regional hegemon. This is because, if they dominate, they will be secure from threats, as no other state will dare to challenge the hegemon. Defensive realists caution against this view, arguing that hegemony gives rise to balancing. Other states will do all they can to hold the hegemon in check. Power, in other words, creates counter-power. The international system strives for equilibrium. » More

The Big Question

Boys protest on the street in Honduras

This article was originally published by the World Policy Institute in its World Policy Journal in the Winter 2015/16 Issue.

What are the challenges determining your country’s position within Latin America?

The balance of power in Latin America is shifting. Large, recently thriving countries like Brazil are struggling, hampered by domestic scandals. The economies of oil-dependent countries like Venezuela and Ecuador are stagnant, while other nations, such as Chile and Mexico, seem poised for growth. Amid this turbulence, countries are striving to reposition themselves. World Policy Journal consulted a panel of experts to help understand what issues are defining their countries’ changing roles in the region.

ARGENTINA: NARCO STATE

MARIANO TURZI

The most pressing problem Latin America faces today is narcotrafficking. As Pope Francis mentioned in his U.N. speech in September, narcotrafficking is accompanied by human trafficking, money laundering, the arms trade, child exploitation, and other forms of corruption. This trade increases violence, with Latin America’s poorest people caught in the middle as the state tries to eliminate drug rings or stop rivalries between cartels.

Moreover, the narco state destroys economies. Illegal networks arise, concentrating on trafficking in substances, arms, and persons. But then they “diversify” into general smuggling and kidnapping. Narco-economies generate enclaves that displace other productive endeavors. Financial and human capital are chased away by the prospect of escalating violence.

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