What Russia Can Teach us About Change in International Relations

Prof. Andrej Krickovic and Prof. Yuval Weber’s article “What Russia Can Teach us About Change in International Relations” has just been published in International Studies Review as part of a special issue devoted to the 2017 International Study Association's conference’s theme: "Change in International Politics".

Although a general task of social science is to measure and predict change, International Relations (IR) paradigms and theories have been unable to keep up with the rapid pace and destabilizing effect of change in international politics. When addressing Russia, IR’s “change problem” becomes clearer: the world’s largest country is treated as an object struggling to adjust to changes rather than a protagonist introducing them into the system. Yet, twice within the last quarter century, Russia has acted as a catalyst for changes in international politics that few saw coming. The Soviet leadership’s decision to withdraw from the Cold War standoff and dismantle its empire in Eastern Europe was one of the most surprising events of the twentieth century. IR theories have struggled to account for these actions and failed to integrate Soviet/Russian behavior into their larger understanding of change. Most theories that deal with transformational change focus on the effects of larger social and economic forces. However, change is seldom a smooth, linear process. Individual agents catalyze changes produced by deeper historical forces. What is needed to understand Russian foreign policy decision making is an evolutionary theory of change that is able to integrate historical (root) causes of change with proximate and contingent ones. The paper treats Russia (in both its Soviet and present-day incarnations) seriously as an agent of transformational change. In both cases examined in this paper, larger historical root causes push the international system towards change, but Russia’s status aspirations and status dissatisfaction have been the proximate causes catalyzing change.