What is (World Politics XIX-XXX) 9/11/2012 5:30:00 AM
What is World Politics and Why Do We Study It?
Begins with description of the Arab-Israeli conflict
o First skirmishes in 1921 due to influx of Jews in Palestine
o Ceasefire negotiated by rabbi Ben Zion Uziel
o Fighting renewed 8 years later
o 1948 state of Israel was created on that land and has seen
conflict with neighbouring Arab states and the now stateless
This anecdote illustrates what we study when we study world
politics. World politics—also called international relations—seeks to
understand how peoples and countries of the world get along.
Understanding the varied landscape of conflict and cooperation is
the task of those who study world politics.
Eleven Puzzles in Search of Explanations
This text is organized around the most compelling and pressing
puzzles in the study of world politics. Puzzles are observations
about the world that demand an explanation.
o Example: War. Given the enormous human and material costs
that wars impose on the countries that fight them, one might
wonder why countries do not settle their conflicts in other,
more reasonable ways.
o Difficulty of international cooperation to end genocides or to
protect the environment.
Puzzles of variation:
o Disparity of wealth, schooling, health
11 variations: o Given the human and material costs of military conflict, why
do countries sometimes wage war rather than resolving their
disputes through negotiations? (Chapter 3)
o What if there are actors within a country who see war as
beneficial and who expect to pay few or none of its costs? Do
countries fight wars to satisfy influential domestic interests?
o Why is it so hard for the international community to prevent
and punish acts of aggression among and within states?
o Why are trade barriers so common despite the universal
advice of economists? Why do trade policies vary so widely?
o Why is international finance so controversial? Why are
international financial institutions like the IMF so strong?
o Why do countries pursue different currency policies, from
dollarizing or joining the euro, to letting their currency’s value
float freely? (Chapter 8)
o Why are some countries rich and some countries poor?
o How could relatively small transnational groups, from
advocacy groups like Amnesty International to terrorist
networks like Al Qaeda, bring about policy change within and
among countries? (Chapter 10)
o Given that nearly everyone wants a cleaner and healthier
environment, why is it so hard to cooperate internationally to
protect the environment? (Chapter 11)
o Why do countries sometimes try to protect the human rights
of people outside their borders? In light of widespread
support for the principle of human rights, why has the
movement to protect those rights not been more successful?
o Why are some periods marked by extensive global conflict
while others experience robust efforts at cooperation? Which of these patterns will hold in the future? (Chapter 13)
Each chapter will show how one can build theories out of these
puzzles. A theory is a logically consistent set of statements that
explains a phenomenon of interest.
Theories also help us to describe, predict and prescribe
o Describe by indentifying which factors are important and
which are not.
o Predict by offering a sense of how the world works, how a
change in one factor will lead to changes in behaviour and
o Prescribe policy responses by identifying what has to be
changed in order to foster better outcomes.
Given that theories are simplified explanations of important factors
in highly complex phenomena, we aspire for probabilistic claims,
that is, arguments about the factors that increase or decrease the
likelihood that some outcome will occur. The Framework 9/11/2012 5:30:00 AM
The Framework: Interests, Interactions, and Institutions
No single theory adequately answers all of the puzzles previously
laid out. Instead, a framework—way of thinking about world politics
that will be useful in building theories—is used.
Three core concepts: interests, interactions and institutions.
o Interests: What actors want to achieve through political
action; their preference over the outcomes that might result
from political choices
o Interactions: The ways in which the choices of two or more
actors combine to produce political outcomes
o Institutions: A set of rules known and shared by the
community, that structure political interaction in particular
How to apply: Think about the relevant political actors. What
interests they have. Think about the choices or strategies available
to each actor and how those choices interact to produce outcomes
and how the strategic interaction influences what he might actually
do. Then think about what institutions, if any, might exist to govern
A theory emerges when we identify the specific interests,
interactions, and institutions that work together to account for the
events or pattern of events we hope to explain.
We focus on two broad types of interactions that arise, to one
degree or another in all aspects of politics: bargaining and
cooperation. Bargaining: describes situations in which two or more actors try to
divide something that both want.
Cooperation occurs when actors have common interests and need
to act in a coordinated way to achieve those interests. Levels of Analysis 9/11/2012 5:30:00 AM
Levels of Analysis
Three interconnected levels that are, by norm, equally weighed
o International Level, the representatives of states with
different interests interact with one another, sometimes in the
context of international institutions such as the UN or WTO
o Domestic Level, subnational actors with different interests—
politicians, bureaucrats, business and labor groups, voters—
interact within domestic institutions to determine the
country’s foreign policy choices
o Transnational level, groups whose members span borders,
multinational corporations, transnational advocacy networks,
terrorist organizations—pursue interests by trying to influence
both domestic and international politics. Integrating Insights 9/11/2012 5:30:00 AM
Integrating Insights from Realism, Liberalism and Constructivism
The previously mentioned flexible framework of world politics based on
interests, interactions and institutions is a departure from the way that world
politics is often organized. Many courses emphasize the contrast between
three schools of thought: