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Rising Powers and the Future of the International Order



In the early post-Cold War years, many experts predicted an end to the kind of great power rivalry and conflict that had more or less characterized the conduct of international relations over the preceding centuries. The collapse of the Soviet Union, the seeming triumph of liberal democracy and free-market economics, increasingly complex interdependence, a rising global civil society, the idea of a shared or common human fate: these things and more led most commentators to believe that we had entered a new, more cooperative era.

That sense of optimism has largely disappeared. As it already was back then, China is on the rise--but in many circles China is currently perceived more as a revisionist adversary that needs to be contained, than a notionally willing partner in a rules-based international order. Russia now seeks to disrupt that order by various means, with a view (according to many) to re-establishing itself in something like its former Soviet glory. At the same time, widespread populist movements, often coupled with increasingly strident nationalism, are now arguably in the ascendent, to the extent that previously unexamined assumptions about the virtues of globalization, multilateralism, and a liberal international order are now under serious question.

In this course, we will analyze these developments and their implications through an interpretivist lens, in which the emphasis is placed on critical analysis of texts and discourse, but also of existing datasets, and of emergent phenomena in the form of "facts on the ground."

Course objectives

Students who successfully complete the course will have a good understanding of:

  • the role, function, and challenges of an international order;

  • the broad implications of rising and declining powers within that order;

  • the complex interdependence of our globalized world as it relates to the architecture of the international system; and

  • the leading theories of international/global politics and what they tell us about systemic upheaval/change.


See 'MyTimetable' for actual schedule and locations.

Mode of instruction


Assessment method

Mix of essays/written work, and classroom participation

Reading list

NB: The following list may be supplemented with other readings, at lecturer's discretion.

Introductory Sessions

Nye, J. (2011). "What is Power in Global Affairs?" in Nye, J., The Future of Power (3-24). New York: Public Affairs/Perseus Books.

Jervis, R. (1978). Cooperation Under the Security Dilemma. World Politics, 30(2), 167-214 (from 167-186 is obligatory; the rest is optional).

Tang, S. (2010). The Social Evolution of International Politics: From Mearsheimer to Jervis. European Journal of International Relations, 16(1), 31-55.

The United States and the Liberal International Order

Mearsheimer, J. (2019). Bound to fail: the rise and fall of the liberal international order. International Security, 43(4), 7-50.

Lind, J. and Press, D.G. (2020). Reality Check: American Power in an Age of Constraints. Foreign Affairs, 99(2), 41-48.

Ikenberry, G.J. (2018). The end of the liberal international order? International Affairs, 94(1), 7-23.

Brooks, S.G., Ikenberry, G.J. and Wohlforth, W.C. (2012). Don't Come Home:, America: The Case Against Retrenchment. International Security, 37(3), 7-51.

The Rise of China

Brooks, S.G. and Wohlforth, W.C. (2015/16). The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers in the Twenty-first Century: China's Rise and the Fate of America's Global Position. International Security, 40(3), 7-53.

Fangyin, Z. (2016). Between Assertiveness and Self-Restraint: Understanding China's South China Sea Policy. International Affairs, 92(4), 869-890.

Buzan, B. (2010). China in International Society: Is 'Peaceful Rise' Possible? The Chinese Journal of International Politics, 3, 5-36.

Kirshner, J. (2010). The Tragedy of Offensive Realism: Classical Realism and the Rise of China. European Journal of International Relations, 18(1), 53-75.

Shambaugh, D. (2018). US-China Rivalry in Southeast Asia: Power Shift or Competitive Coexistence? International Security, 42(4), 85-127.

Russia as Returning Great Power?

McFaul, M. (2020). Putin, Putinism, and the Domestic Determinants of Russian Foreign Policy. International Security, 45(2), 95-139.

Mearsheimer, J. (2014). Why the Ukraine Crisis is the West's Fault: The Liberal Delusions that Provoked Putin. Foreign Affairs, 93(5), 77-89.

Neumann, I.B. (2016). Russia's Europe, 1991-2016: Inferiority to Superiority. International Affairs, 92(6), 1381-1399.

Wigell, M. and Vihma, A. Geopolitics Versus Geoeconomics: the Case of Russia's Geostrategy and its Effects on the EU. International Affairs, 92(3), 605-627.

Other Great Power Contenders

On India/Pakistan

On India/Pakistan

On Japan:
Green, M. (2014). Japan's Role in Asia: Searching for Certainty, in Shambaugh, D., and Yahuda, M. (eds.). International Relations of Asia, 2nd. ed., 197-222. Plymouth, UK: Rowman and Littlefield.

On Africa:
Mills, K. and Bloomfield, A. (2017). African Resistance to the International Criminal Court: Halting the Advance of the Anti-impunity Norm. Review of International Studies, 44(1), 101-127.

The Decline of Democracy and the Threat of Authoritarianism, Populism, and Illiberalism

Foa, R. and Mounk, Y. (2016). The Danger of Deconsolidation: The Democratic Disconnect. Journal of Democracy, 27(3), 5-17.

Foa, R. and Mounk, Y. (2017). The Signs of Deconsolidation. Journal of Democracy, 28(1), 5-15.

Colgan, J. D. and Keohane, R. (2017). The Liberal Order is Rigged: Fix it Now or Watch it Wither. Foreign Affairs, 96(3), 36-44.

Krasner, S.D. Learning to Live With Despots: The Limits of Democracy Promotion. Foreign Affairs, 99(2), 49-55.

Lachapelle, J., Levitsky, S., Way, L.A., and Casey, A.E. (2020). Social Revolution and Authoritarian Durability. World Politics, 72(4), 557-600.

Further Threats ... and Opportunities

Mabon, S. (2018). Muting the Trumpets of Sabotage: Saudi Arabia, the US and the Quest to Securitize Iran. British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, 45(5), 742-759.

Wendt, A. (2003). Why a World State is Inevitable. European Journal of International Relations, 9(4), 491-542.


See 'Practical Information' and/or 'Exchange'.