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  • Author: Deborah Jordan Brooks, Stephen G. Brooks, Brian D. Greenhill, Mark L. Haas
  • Publication Date: 02-2019
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: International Security
  • Institution: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
  • Abstract: The world is experiencing a period of unprecedented demographic change. For the first time in human history, marked disparities in age structures exist across the globe. Around 40 percent of the world's population lives in countries with significant numbers of elderly citizens. In contrast, the majority of the world's people live in developing countries with very large numbers of young people as a proportion of the total population. Yet, demographically, most of the world's states with young populations are aging, and many are doing so quickly. This first-of-its kind systematic theoretical and empirical examination of how these demographic transitions influence the likelihood of interstate conflict shows that countries with a large number of young people as a proportion of the total population are the most prone to international conflict, whereas states with the oldest populations are the most peaceful. Although societal aging is likely to serve as a force for enhanced stability in most, and perhaps all, regions of the world over the long term, the road to a “demographic peace” is likely to be bumpy in many parts of the world in the short to medium term.
  • Topic: Demographics, War, International Security, Democracy, International Relations Theory
  • Political Geography: Russia, United States, Japan, China, Germany, Global Focus
  • Author: Dominic D.P. Johnson, Dominic Tierney
  • Publication Date: 02-2019
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: International Security
  • Institution: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
  • Abstract: A major puzzle in international relations is why states privilege negative over positive information. States tend to inflate threats, exhibit loss aversion, and learn more from failures than from successes. Rationalist accounts fail to explain this phenomenon, because systematically overweighting bad over good may in fact undermine state interests. New research in psychology, however, offers an explanation. The “negativity bias” has emerged as a fundamental principle of the human mind, in which people's response to positive and negative information is asymmetric. Negative factors have greater effects than positive factors across a wide range of psychological phenomena, including cognition, motivation, emotion, information processing, decision-making, learning, and memory. Put simply, bad is stronger than good. Scholars have long pointed to the role of positive biases, such as overconfidence, in causing war, but negative biases are actually more pervasive and may represent a core explanation for patterns of conflict. Positive and negative dispositions apply in different contexts. People privilege negative information about the external environment and other actors, but positive information about themselves. The coexistence of biases can increase the potential for conflict. Decisionmakers simultaneously exaggerate the severity of threats and exhibit overconfidence about their capacity to deal with them. Overall, the negativity bias is a potent force in human judgment and decisionmaking, with important implications for international relations theory and practice.
  • Topic: Political Theory, Emotions, International Relations Theory, Psychology
  • Political Geography: Global Focus
  • Author: Joseph M. Parent, Sebastian Rosato
  • Publication Date: 11-2015
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: International Security
  • Institution: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
  • Abstract: Does neorealism offer a convincing account of great power balancing behavior? Many scholars argue that it does not. This conclusion rests on a misunderstanding of neorealist theory and an erroneous reading of the evidence. Properly specified, neorealism holds that great powers place an overriding emphasis on the need for self-help. This means that they rely relentlessly both on arming and on imitating the successful military practices of their peers to ensure their security. At the same time, they rarely resort to alliances and treat them with skepticism. There is abundant historical evidence to support these claims. Since 1816, great powers have routinely achieved an effective balance in military capabilities with their relevant competitors and promptly copied the major military innovations of the period. Case studies show that these outcomes are the product of states' efforts to ensure security against increasingly capable rivals. Meanwhile, the diplomatic record yields almost no examples of firm peacetime balancing coalitions over the past 200 years. When alliances have formed, great powers have generally doubted the reliability of their allies and of their opponents' allies. Thus neorealism provides a solid foundation for explaining great power balancing behavior.
  • Topic: International Relations, Geopolitics, Grand Strategy, International Relations Theory
  • Political Geography: United States, Prussia, Global Focus
  • Author: Daniel Bessner, Nicolas Guilhot
  • Publication Date: 11-2015
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: International Security
  • Institution: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
  • Abstract: Neorealism is one of the most influential theories of international relations, and its first theorist, Kenneth Waltz, a giant of the discipline. But why did Waltz move from a rather traditional form of classical realist political theory in the 1950s to neorealism in the 1970s? A possible answer is that Waltz's Theory of International Politics was his attempt to reconceive classical realism in a liberal form. Classical realism paid a great deal of attention to decisionmaking and statesmanship, and concomitantly asserted a nostalgic, anti-liberal political ideology. Neorealism, by contrast, dismissed the issue of foreign policymaking and decisionmaking. This shift reflected Waltz's desire to reconcile his acceptance of classical realism's tenets with his political commitment to liberalism. To do so, Waltz incorporated cybernetics and systems theory into Theory of International Politics, which allowed him to develop a theory of international relations no longer burdened with the problem of decisionmaking.
  • Topic: International Relations, Diplomacy, War, Grand Strategy, International Relations Theory
  • Political Geography: United States, Global Focus