There is broad consensus that a theory of foreign policy based solely on international structure would be a ludicrous enterprise because it would be inapplicable, irrelevant, indeterminate, or inaccurate. Yet despite the central place of systemic theories in international relations, no one has ever offered a strictly structural theory of foreign policy. The literature is attacking or augmenting a phantom, and losing an opportunity to inform policymakers in the process. Without a purely structural theory of foreign policy, it is impossible to know what outcomes structure explains and how reliably it explains them. We argue that structural realism, the modern guise of balance of power theory, provides a logically cohesive, empirically powerful explanation of foreign policy. Relying on relative power and geography, we build a parsimonious theory that makes detailed and determinate predictions about the foreign policies of individual great powers over five-year time spans. We find that this theory elegantly explains fundamental patterns such as resource mobilization, military spending, organizational change, and diplomatic behavior.
Joseph M. Parent (BA Chicago, PhD Columbia) is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Miami. He is the author of Uniting States: Voluntary Union in World Politics (Oxford University Press 2011) and, with Joseph Uscinski, American Conspiracy Theories (Oxford University Press, forthcoming). His articles have been published in Foreign Affairs, International Security, and Political Science Quarterly. He has been a fellow at the Nobel Institute and received the University of Miami’s Distinguished Junior Faculty award.
Sebastian Rosato is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame. He is the author of Europe United: Power Politics and the Making of the European Community (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2011) and has published scholarly articles in several journals, including the American Political Science Review, International Security, and Perspectives on Politics. Professor Rosato has been a fellow at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame, the John M. Olin Institute for Strategic Studies, the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University, and the Nobel Institute. He received a B.A. (Honors) in History from Cambridge University, an M.Phil. in International Relations from Oxford University, and a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Chicago.