Growing dissatisfaction with the global status quo, combined with heightened assertiveness by China, Russia, and several middle powers reveals fissures in the so-called liberal international order and underscores the potential relevance of regional hierarchies in international affairs. Understanding what’s at stake in regional contests requires a grasp of the regional status quo (RSQ)—the prevailing rules and arrangements that shape and order interactions within a region or sphere. This chapter leverages the power transition theory (PTT) research tradition to begin to puzzle out how to conceptualize and measure status quo (dis)satisfaction at the regional level. It explores the notion of competing or overlapping orders within the international system and identifies challenges to operationalizing the status quo and status-quo (dis)satisfaction. Awareness of these difficulties will assist researchers in developing an agenda for collaborative conceptualization and measurement of the status quo within particular regional orders. As the chapter suggests, the research tradition associated with PTT offers helpful, if incomplete, foundations for developing empirical assessments of status-quo (dis)satisfaction in a variety of contexts. Addressing the question “Whose status quo is it, anyway?” opens doors for novel research likely to gain in policy relevance as regions gain in prominence in twenty-first-century international affairs.
- International order
- Status quo
- Revisionist states
The author thanks Douglas Lemke for generous comments on an earlier version presented at the 2022 annual meeting of the International Studies Association in Nashville, Tennessee. Håvard Hegre and Charles Wu also have provided helpful comments on related work. The chapter stems from remarks presented at the TransResearch Consortium’s 2019 summer meeting in Portland, Oregon. For their helpful comments on that occasion, the author is grateful to Gaspare Genna, Pat James, Jacek Kugler, Ronald Tammen, Birol Yeşilada, and other members of the TRC. Errors remain my own.
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As Lissner and Rapp-Hooper (2018, p. 14) note, dissatisfied illiberal powers might create so much pressure on the liberal international order that instead of merely fragmenting into competing spheres it may “drift toward an entropic state of disarray.” However, in the spirit of the present volume, this chapter begins from the premise that regional order will remain resilient, and perhaps will become stronger and more prominent, despite ongoing turmoil on the global level.
Indeed, its proponents continue to cultivate offshoots of the theory to analyze patterns of uneven growth and development, as well as patterns of competition and conflict in the international system and its subsystems. See for example Tammen and Kugler (2020). For earlier assessments of the PTT research program, see Lemke and Kugler (1996), DiCicco and Levy (1999, 2003), and Tammen (2008). In light of recent critiques of hegemonic stability theory (e.g., Gavris, 2021), which shares some common elements with PTT, it is worth noting that proponents of PTT generally avoid using “hegemony” as a term of art.
As Thompson (1973) argued in an article that prefigures hundreds of scholarly works on regions, a multiplicity of criteria may be used to define and conceptualize regional subsystems.
For a recent treatment of the construction of international orders to deliberately exclude, see Lascurettes (2020).
As DiCicco and Sanchez (2021) note, Tammen et al. (2018) provide a generous overview of measures of (dis)satisfaction that may be profitably supplemented with more critical discussions (see, e.g., Chan, 2004, 2020; Chan et al., 2019; Danilovic & Clare , 2007; DiCicco, 2018; DiCicco & Levy, 1999, 2003; Kang & Gibler, 2013; Sample, 2018).
Though see Geller and Vasquez (2004) for a more optimistic view.
In the spirit of Jervis’s (1978) discussion of offense, defense, and the security dilemma, it might be near-impossible to say what weapons buildups indicate with regard to intentions. But there is room here for qualitative research to help establish an empirical basis for assigning significance to the procurement, accumulation, testing, deployment, and use of certain weapons platforms in anticipation of potential war with specific adversaries.
“EU says it has serious concerns about Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act,” CNBC, November 7, 2022, https://www.cnbc.com/2022/11/07/us-inflation-reduction-act-eu-raises-concerns-risks-wto-dispute.html.
Lemke and Reed (1998) suggest an excellent response to this question. The issue is the appropriate reference point for evaluating the status quo (SQ). For example, consider a scenario in which a state experiences late development and growth. Its leaders might surmise that had the SQ been different, growth would have been faster or development more robust, thus leading the late-developing states to resent having been held back by an adverse SQ (Lemke & Reed, 1998, p. 512). An alternative also presents itself: rather than comparing where we are now compared with where we were earlier, governments might well be looking toward the future, and evaluating the SQ of the moment against the yardstick of an imagined SQ in which the country would receive greater benefits. Thus, the sticking point is not whether the past accumulation of power, wealth, and other benefits warrants satisfaction with the current SQ for having yielded these benefits, but rather whether the current SQ measures up to expectations of some (still hypothetical) future SQ that would presumably yield greater benefits.
Lake (2018) offers one explanation for conflict at the outer extremes of competing powers’ spheres of influence that emphasizes political-economic competition and the fear of exclusion.
In addition, recent treatments of the international history of the Cold War have centered great powers like the United Kingdom; for example, Lüthi (2020, p. 13) frames the U.K. as one of three great powers that dominated different parts of the world in the wake of World War II.
Consternation surrounding the common usage of the term “tributary system” is abundant; here, I follow Zhang Yongjin and Barry Buzan (2012) in adapting the expression to one more consistent with ideas of international order and international society known well to scholars in the English School of international relations theory.
Neumann (1994) asks a wonderfully provocative question of Buzan and other proponents of RSC theory: Whose region? Neumann argues that the process of defining and delineating any particular region is a political act, and in this sense “regions are spoken into existence; thus, lie where politicians want them to lie” (Neumann, 2001). The premise that political discourse is constitutive of region-ness allows Neumann (1994, p. 58) to analyze the process of “region-building” as one not unlike the construction of an “imagined community” (Anderson, 1983), but substituting region for nation.
See https://transresearchconsortium.com/ and https://scholar.google.com/citations?hl=en&user=kke121AAAAAJ for additional information.
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DiCicco, J. (2023). Whose Status Quo Is It, Anyway? Regions, Hierarchies, and Satisfaction. In: Thompson, W.R., Volgy, T.J. (eds) Turmoil and Order in Regional International Politics. Evidence-Based Approaches to Peace and Conflict Studies, vol 10. Springer, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-99-0557-7_2
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