Miniature Political Science Literature Review and Research Design

After last’s semester International Politics class, I posted my literature review on geographical position and post-Communism. In a similar manner, I now post my preliminary lit review and research design for Geopolitics and IGOs.

While the text won’t be too important to anyone, I know at least one student who learned about journal articles from my last bibliography of a political science literature review, so I have included that below.

The weakest part of the research design — I realized I didn’t correctly operationalize my variables as I was handing it on. While it was graded, it was only a preliminary draft, so take it with a grain of salt.

Handed in, the paper was 10 pages, six of which were works cited.

Preliminary Literature Review and Research Design

Mackinder said, “Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland; Who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island.” Spykman Geopolitics is full of dicta, but such statements are unscientific unless they can be tested. This study will use intergovernmental organization (IGO) membership to determine the formal political connections between states, and test whether either of the above two geopolitical statements hold up to scientific scrutiny.

Geopolitical questions have been hampered by normative accusations. Charges of imperialism abound (Semmel 1958, Kearns 1999). Likewise its supposed use to denigrate certain nationalities (Gilbert and Parker 1969). Or more generally, “geopolitical discourse” is accused of being “political from the very outset” (Otuathail 1998). The critics of geopolitics sometimes associate it with racism and eugenics (Tyner 1999).

Yet geopolitics helped make geography a science by focusing it on the geographical dimensions of political science (Unstead 1949). Specifically, geopolitics helped explain human affairs (Dawson 1987). The geopolitician Halford Mackinder described his goal as not “to predict a great future for this or that country, but to make a geographical formula into which you could fit any political balance.” (Hall 1955). Indeed, geopolitical analysis has survived changing constellations of great powers and technologies (Hooson 1962). Stable geopolitical concepts have emerged, even as geopolitical scientists disagree as to the exact nature of their relation (Harkavy 2001). Geography is a “conditioning factor” in many parts of politics (Spkyman 1938). The internal (Williams 1927) and external (Enterline 1998) nature of states are effected by geopolitical position, including in areas as serious as war (Midlarsky 1995).

A geopolitical explanation for international governmental organization building would not discredit, but would merely extend, existing explanations. Indeed, the “appearance of objectivity, rationality, and universality” [can underpin IGO’s] power and utility” (Picciotto 1999), so a function in one dimension for an IGO can underpin its function in another. For instance, take four major theories of integration: domestic politics, neofunctionalism, intergovernmentalism, and supranationalism (Corbey 1995). Domestic political perspectives range from claims that domestic politics leave open certain choices to arguing that nearly all foreign policy actions are reflections of internal politics (Lumsdaine 1996). Neo-functionalism “stresses the individual motives of actors,” which may accidentally lead to a “new central authority” because of a series of small steps (Haas 1970). Intergovernmentalism is similar, arguing that governments pursue their best interests, except that intergovernmentalism stresses the importance of treaties themselves while neo-functionalism holds that “treaty revisions invariable spark ‘spillovers’ that empower actors and generate policy dynamics that were unintended by the governments that signed them” (Garrett and Tsebelis 1996). Supranationalism may be summarized by saying that international organizations can themselves become “pro-integration, supranational entrepreneurs that stretch their authority as far as they can to further their own agendas” (Tsebelis and Garregt 2001).

Geopolitics does not refute any of these theories, but gives them flesh by allowing them to operate in a broader world. Private sector companies can push for, and get, their states to pursue geographic and geostrategic objectives (Hunter 2001). This can be indirect and aggregate (Pollack 1997), changing the nature of choices available to actors (Ruggie 1993) and thus are domestic political. Neofunctionalism clearly draws strength from geostrategic concerns, as one summary of neofunctionalism itself might be “the best way to reach peace is by establishing effective regional institutions” (Miller 2005). Intergovernmental, that is to say between state, politics often is informed by geostrategic views in the Caribbean (Griffith 1995), Central Asia (Khidirbekughli 2003), and Europe (Walters 2004). Likewise, one of the most powerful international governmental organizations, the European Union, is a supranational entity with strong geographic elements (Wood 2004).

It is possible that the enumeration strategy of this paper is misleading. The most powerful international organizations can sometimes have short life cycles (Dickenson 1920). The existence of international organizations can be deceptive, if it is not representative of some underlying regime (Haas 1983). Likewise, the number of international organizations has at times rapidly increased (Alger 1970), making analysis more difficult. In addition, it has often been difficult to even compile accurate lists of what international organizations exist, or of their membership (Wallace and Singer 1970). In short, this study may lack validity if membership in international organization is of questionable relevance to real power structures.

The thesis for this study is that states in the European Rimland are more likely to be in IGOs with states in the Heartland than with other states in the Rimland. The independent variable is the geostrategic nature of a state. For this study, geostrategic position is a categorical variable with two possible values: a state can be heartland, Rimland. States fitting neither value are outside the scope of this paper. Heartland is defined as those states who lay predominately east of the Elbe (Hooson 1962, Treivish 2005). For each, state there will be two dependent variables, both based on IGO membership. The first dependent variable will be the number of IGO-state relations if has with Rimland countries, the other will be the number of IGO-state relations it has with heartland countries.

This will be a quantitative study that uses information from the Yearbook of International Organizations, published by the Union of International Associations. The Yearbook has been used for intergovernmental organization membership questions (Barnett and Finnemore 2004, Willets 2001) before either directly (Onea and Russett 1999) or after modification (Shanks, Jacobsen, and Kaplan 1996). The Yearbook is publicly available for a fee (UIA 2006). It contains information on both IGOs created by governments and IGOs that are created by other IGOs.


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