Explaining Reluctance in International Politics: Rising Powers and Crisis Management

Prof. Dr. Sandra Destradi
2014 - 2017
Jean Monnet Fellowship, Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, European University Institute



Research Questions
The project asks why rising powers are often reluctant in their regional policies and in the provision of global public goods and what the consequences of their reluctance are. To this end, the project compares India and Germany, which have unequivocally emerged as the regional powers in South Asia and Europe, respectively, and can also be considered rising powers in global politics. Despite radically diverging regional context conditions – with Europe being the most integrated and South Asia the arguably less integrated region in the world – these two countries have displayed a strikingly similar reluctance to make use of their predominance in terms of power capabilities to emerge as leading actors within their regions and to shape regional governance mechanisms. The project focuses, first, on the conceptualisation of reluctance and links it with theoretical discussions on leadership and hegemony in International Relations. It then develops a range of hypotheses on the causes for reluctance and tests them for selected cases of crisis management on the part of India and Germany. Finally, it will discuss the impact of rising powers‘ reluctance on regional and/or global governance.

Contribution to International Research
The project contributes to the ongoing research on rising powers in world politics. By focusing on cases of crisis management, it connects the fields of International Relations and Security Studies / Peace and Conflict Studies.

Research Design and Methods
The project is conceptualised as an intra- and cross-regional qualitative comparison of cases of conflict management in South Asia and Europe. In order to test the hypotheses on the explanations for reluctance, the project will apply a range of qualitative methods. For the analysis of ideational factors and foreign-policy makers’ perceptions, a qualitative content analysis of official documents will be carried out, complemented by an assessment of primary and secondary sources. The results of the analysis will be triangulated with semi-structured expert interviews with policy makers in the relevant ministries and with local observers.

Preliminary Results
In a first step, the project developed a conceptualisation of reluctance by identifying the concept's semantic field and discussing how reluctance relates to the similar but distinct notions of exceptionalism, isolationism, under-aggression, and under-balancing (concept reconstruction); on that basis, two constitutive dimensions of reluctance were identified: hesitation and recalcitrance (concept building). A preliminary analysis of Germany’s recent approach to crisis management in Europe and the European neighbourhood in the cases of the Eurozone crisis (2009-15), Libya (2011), and Ukraine (2014-15) reveals that Germany was initially reluctant (i.e., hesitant and recalcitrant vis-à-vis the demands articulated by others). Over time, however, reluctance gradually declined in the fields of economic/financial policy as well as security. Among possible explanations for reluctance, the challenge of dealing with competing expectations articulated by global, regional, and domestic actors stands out.