We need better IR theories to explain Russia

Andrej Krickovic in a policy memo for [PONARS Eurasia] [1]:

Russia’s challenge has found its way to the top of Washington’s agenda. Yet, mainstream International Relations (IR) scholarship offers little guidance to leaders in the way of understanding Russia’s behavior or formulating policies to address it. As such, Russia not only represents a challenge to U.S. leadership and the liberal international order, but also to established IR theories, which have failed to recognize how Russia’s anxieties about declining status have pushed it toward a confrontational revisionist foreign policy. Though deeply committed to preserving Great Power status, Russia‘s revisionist aims are constrained as its leaders are well aware of the limits of their country’s power. For policymakers, the fundamental challenge lies not in containing Russia, but in encouraging it to bolster its status in peaceful and constructive ways.

I am not sure that the explanation of declining status is comprehensive enough to explain what is going on in the case of Russia. But Krickovic is spot on in his criticism of the traditional IR theories.

This touches on a bigger question which I think that IR theorists must address: There is something wrong with the standards for theories in IR scholarship. The quality is just not high enough to meet normal requirements within scholarly work in other branches of research. Despite their inability to adequately explain or predict development and their unsuitability to guide policy making, liberal and realist theories stick around with seeming perpetuity.

With regards to Russia, I would recommend Gerard Toal’s take. He also touches on the loss of great power status as an explanation but just as one element alongside several others.




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