IR 334. Prospects for Peace in the 21st Century

Course Objective: This course‘s first objective is acquisition of skills for social science research designs. Class members will produce substantial research projects on questions of their choice that are relevant to prospects for peace in our world, or in some part of it, during the coming years or decades. More details are provided below and in a separate document that describes the assignment. Our second objective is substantive: What do we know about the prospects that the 21st century will be more peaceful (or less peaceful) than the ―terrible 20th― that saw the two World Wars, the Cold War and the threat of nuclear devastation, ethnic and ideological civil wars and genocides, and the rise of international terrorism. One encouraging feature of the ―terrible twentieth:‖ is that its second half turned out to be a ‗Long Peace.‘ Since August 14, 1945, no two major powers have gone to war with each other—a record for the modern states system. Can the ‗Long Peace‘ continue? The issues divide into two main themes. First, how much do we know about the causes of war and peace—what factors determined the ―terrible twentieth‖ and the ‗Long Peace?‘ While many questions remain unsettled, systematic study of the history of the last several centuries has yielded important insights and at least some generalizations that hold up fairly well across time and space— although, on balance, we still have more questions than answers. Second, how will the prospects for peace in the first half of the 21st century be affected by the two main changes that have occurred in the international security environment since the end of the Cold War? The first is that the United States has become a sole superpower with a greater strength advantage over others than any state has had for many centuries. This power asymmetry could improve prospects for peace by allowing the United States to suppress regional aggressors and promote democracy and human rights or, will American efforts to extend its global military and economic reach provoke counter-balancing and higher, not lower, international tensions? (Many trees have been killed by research on these issues, but there is much less resolved than there are open opportunities for you.) The other is that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have become a much more important force in world politics than a few decades ago. Some, such as humanitarian relief, human rights, and peace advocacy organizations, operate as forces for reducing violent conflict, or at least for ameliorating its consequences. Others, such as terrorists, have become much more capable of inflicting harm than they were and, sometimes, of preventing peaceful settlement of conflicts. Relatively little is known about the likely impact of these factors, but they can be studied using our knowledge of their impact so far and of analogous developments that have occurred before. (Here are many, many more opportunities for class research projects.)