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).
“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
This introductory paper of the presidential issue examines IR theory's problems and prospects in understanding when and how change happens, especially peaceful transformations in world politics. The ISA 2017 Baltimore conference was aimed at taking an assessment of our understanding of change, its different manifestations as well as implications. The papers in this special issue deal with important questions on different markers and manifestations of change in world politics. The implications might range from epochal transformations to limited changes in the international system, especially within and between regions to incremental changes in how international treaties and global governance initiatives are promulgated, which in turn produce long-term and/or short-term changes in the architecture of world politics. It also addresses the following questions: How do different IR paradigms address change? What are their strengths and weaknesses? Can we understand change sequentially or cumulatively or combining their insights? How do material and ideational factors link together in generating change?