Theoretical Notes I 06/04/2009 12:12:00
Understanding State Behaviour
•Late 1940’s, 50’s, 60’s – more advancement in social sciences – esp. in North
America. Attempts to formalize our understandings of the world in terms of theories
and paradigms to build upon and differentiate ideas.
•Preoccupation with study of international relations has been to answer one
fundamental question: what causes war?
oExplanations as a result: why we have war and what policies lead to it – so,
how can we try to alter these conditions and build international peace?
•Variety of understandings of what foreign policy is – D. Gerner: “Analyzing the
intentions, statements, and actions of an actor – often, but not always, a state –
directed toward the external world and the response of other actors to these
intentions, statements and actions.”
oTrying to understand the behaviour of states as well as the behaviour of state
actors – i.e. the PLO’s behaviour and how this affects state relations and IR
oFocus: how states behave, and, very importantly, (see Buzan) the behaviour
of states is connected among one another.
What determines the behaviour of states?
•Various theories by various thinkers
•Some: it’s the decisions of the state leaders that will shape the state’s behaviour
•Others: the emphasis should be on the kind of regime that a state follows – i.e.
theory of democratic peace
•Still others: economic characteristics of states govern their behaviour – i.e. capitalist
states will be out for self-interest over anything else
•What kinds of distributions of power exist among states is what shapes state
•Foreign policy analysis draws from international and domestic arenas to understand
LEVELS OF ANALYSIS
•Help organize our assumptions about actors
•Locate sources of explanations – location where we group our independent
variables – see Brawley
oMovers of the action – what we are trying to study
•In looking at the world, we see that any phenomenon is driven by a multiplicity of
variables. We seek to separate them so we can locate the actors
oShelves to organize independent variables
•In this course: focus is on two levels of analysis system, domestic
System level of analysis
•In IR, we discuss the world as being a system. We seek to define the system as the
largest conglomeration of interacting and interdependent units.
•Interdependence of units in a system also means that we need to think of how the
preferences of one actor will have implications of other actors. Example: what one
state is doing or wants to do will affect what other states can or want to do.
oThus: the units in a system can’t be too diverse from one another.
oThe world is mainly divided into interacting subsystems – the main focus of
the study of IR and foreign policy should be the existence of regional
interactions and how they influence the international system.
•Focus on geographic regions – Middle East subsystem for this course
oArab subsystem isn’t necessarily all of the Middle East, and it’s important to
make this distinction.
•Realism and its derivatives as most influential in IR
•Theories add a layer of complexity – assumptions tell us how we expect actors to
behave. In the case of realism: some variants discuss the influence of human nature
– but the more important one in the literature for Middle East Foreign Policy is
structural realism – how much power a state has will determine the behaviour of
oPosition in the distribution of power will influence how a state will act.
•Balance of power theory simple, intuitive concept that states seek a balance in
distribution of power. As long as there is balance of power, there is stability – and no
war. However, theorists disagree on what kind of balance of power will produce
stability – no agreement on which is most stable
•Realist theories inspired by system-level analysis focus on the distribution of power –
the most significant one being structural realism.
•Other theories look at the state as the most important actor, but different than realism
– i.e. Marxist ideas influencing the state, etc. – this kind of understanding also
reflects upon the understanding of relationships between states.
oThe world is divided among rich states, middle-level states (less space for
maneuver in the world; confined by states with more money), poorer states
(ranked at lower part of echelon; Marxists argue they’re the most exploited
states in the world)
Evaluating system-level theories
•Levels of analysis are nothing in and of themselves – we must evaluate theories
based on levels of analysis. How do they compare? What qualities do they have?
•Problem with theories: their accuracy – not much information about where state
preferences come from
•What kinds of limits do these theories have? See why two states react differently
to the same environment – i.e. Syria and Egypt from 1973 to present. Operating
under similar constraints (i.e. system is the same for both – bipolarity under Cold
War towards unipolarity in US supremacy)
oIt’s hard to give convincing answers as to why differences exist in states’
foreign policies. This is because explanations aren’t much when they don’t go
further than looking at distribution of power… we need different arguments
and theories to produce a more accurate argument.
•The state as a black box – misleading – it assumes similar preferences, which is
inaccurate. Therefore: realists are seen to be oversimplifying the world because
states vary in what they want from the world system.
oSo: some theorists seek to “unpack the black box” of the state and
understand why states behave the way they do – social processes within the
states that would help them better understand why states react differently to
the same stimuli.
What do we look at, then? What should we examine when we try to create theories based on
domestic level of analysis?
•Reactions of different parties within a state – variety of actors and driving forces – i.e.
oSome say the foreign policy of a state is actually an outcome of the
consensus among bureaucracy of a state
oOthers: individual perception of the world that a leader has will shape the
state’s foreign policy.
•Emphasis of the class: how regimes manage their societies and how this
management will either enable the regime to pursue the foreign policies it wants or to
constrain the foreign policies it wants.