With the rise of China and the attempted resurgence of Russia, power transition has returned as a crucial issue in international relations. However, much of the international relations scholarship on power transitions deals with war as the main mechanism for shifts in the international order (Organski 1958; Organski and Kugler 1980; Gilpin 1981; Modelski 1987; Kennedy 1987; Mearsheimer, 2000; Allison, 2017). Barring rare exceptions (e.g., Doran 1971), power cycle and long cycle theories also view war as the chief instrument of change (Modelski and Thompson 1989). Other structural theories such as World System and Marxist-Leninist consider war and conflict as requisite for change (Lenin 1939; Hobson 1965; Wallerstein 1974).
Great power rivalries are once again at the forefront of international politics, although taking a different form than we witnessed during the Cold War. Following a period of nearly two decades of peace after the collapse of the Soviet Union, what we are witnessing today is a curious resurgence of great power competition in both old and new domains. This include competition in the world’s key regions. These interactions have generated changed dynamics in regional orders in recent years as rivalry becomes the dominant mode of interaction among great powers. Regional states have made use of the opportunities provided by the new great power rivalry to further their security and economic interests. How different are today’s rivalries from the Cold war era when the US-Soviet rivalry defined the contours of many regional conflicts? When the Cold War ended some regional conflicts were settled (e.g. Cambodia, Nicaragua, Southern Africa), while others persisted (Israel-Palestine, South Asia and the Korean Peninsula), showing that systemic forces are only one critical variable that determine conflict and cooperation in the regions. These variations need an assessment on their own merit now that we have the luxury of perspective on both Cold War rivalries and can perceive the contours us new ones. The current great power order is characterized by economically interdependent rising China, using economic, technological and military instruments to gain ascendency, and a declining Russia attempting to shape regional and global orders using the formidable military and diplomatic capacity Moscow retains. The US efforts to restrict China’s goal of achieving hegemony by 2050, especially through the Belt and Road Initiative, asymmetrical technological superiority and militarization of the South China Sea, are generating conflict, but of a different type than we saw during the Cold War. Is the scholarship on systemic/regional interactions, mainly developed during the Cold War era sufficient to understand the new dynamics? What does the past tell us of the present and the future? What new tools we need to explain patterns of regional orders and the impact of systemic rivalries on these orders and vice versa?
Organizers: Harold Trinkunas (Stanford University) and T.V. Paul (McGill University)
“The rise of the rest,” especially China, has triggered an inevitable transformation of the so-called liberal international order. Rising powers, like China and other BRICS countries, started to challenge and push for reform of existing institutions like the IMF or create new ones, such as the AIIB. The United States, under the Trump Administration, on the other hand, begun to retreat from the international institutions that it once led or created, such as the TPP, the Paris Climate Accord as well as the Iran nuclear deal. It is also currently attempting to dismantle the WTO and trade regime built around it. Challenging power transition theory that predicts military conflicts or the so-called “Thucydides trap” between the ruling hegemon and rising powers, we argue that despite attempts to scuttle, peaceful institutional competition and transformation are becoming central features of international order transition. Consequently, this project focuses on the sources, mechanisms, and processes of possible peaceful change of international institutions and by international institutions in the current and future international order. Leading scholars in the International Relations field will offer diverse theoretical and empirical perspectives on the mechanisms of peaceful change and international institutions, focusing both on theoretical innovation and bridging the gap between the theory and practice of power transition. A special journal issue and an edited volume are planned.
Organizer: Kai He, Griffith University