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This subject examines the causes of peace and war between the ‘great powers’ of the contemporary world. It begins with the realist claim that war is basic to international relations and the attendant argument that peace is merely the period of preparation between two wars. This claim is then examined and critically evaluated through a range of literatures – historical and theoretical – and in-depth case studies of great power rivalry of the recent past and today.
The analysis will be informed by a consideration of the nature of the international system – why and when it incentivises war and peace – and the internal character of the great powers themselves so as to understand better when and why they choose to fight. Does the quest for security by great powers render other states less secure? Can international law obviate the recurrence of war? Why, despite the evolution of complex international governance mechanisms, do liberal democracies still rely on military force to realise their objectives? Can hegemony be transferred from one state or group of state to another peacefully? Does the nature of autocracy in states such as China and Russia make war with non-autocratic states inevitable? Will rising powers – like China, Brazil and India – become more or less pacific? These questions and many others form our substantial focus.
Intended learning outcomes
Students who complete this subject should:
- Develop a critical understanding of the key issues, challenges, actors, and institutions associated with great power rivalry;
- Develop an understanding of the relationship between state/national character and the international system;
- Develop a critical understanding of the main theories of war and peace in international relations;
- Develop a critical understanding of the debates over why war and peace occur; how war might be stopped/averted and peace restored/maintained.
- Apply research skills and critical methods to a field of inquiry
- Develop persuasive arguments on a given topic
- Communicate oral and written arguments and ideas effectively
- Develop cross-cultural understanding
Last updated: 3 November 2022