Nov 19 2013

2012-13 MSc Dissertation Prizewinners announced

The International Relations Department is pleased to be able to announce the MSc dissertation prizewinners for the 2012-13 session:

MSc International Relations Philip Windsor Dissertation Prize

This was awarded to Jeongho Park for his dissertation entitled Investigating the Possibility of Humanitarian Engagement in North Korea for Regional Security: Focusing on the ‘(de-)Construction of Crisis’.

Click here to read a summary of Jeongho Park’s dissertation


MSc International Relations Research Martin Wight Dissertation Prize

This was awarded to Maya Swisa for her dissertation entitled Financial Burden-Sharing in the IAEA: An Empirical Test for Ikenberry’s Emerging International Order.

Click here to read a summary of Maya Swisa’s dissertation



MSc International Political Economy Susan Strange Dissertation Prize

This was awarded to Jörg Haas for his dissertation entitled The Political Sources of Current Account Imbalances. On the importance of media coverage and individual preferences in Australia and Germany.

Click here to read a summary of Jörg Haas’s dissertation



MSc International Relations Theory Fred Halliday Dissertation Prize

This was jointly awarded to Nadia Mellina for her dissertation entitled Brazil’s ambivalent political leadership in MERCOSUL: Hegemonic Stability Theory and regional ambitions and Robert Starrantino for his dissertation entitled Joint Operational Access Concept and Power Transition Theory: Some Implications for International Relations.

Click here to read a summary of Nadia Mellina’s dissertation

Click here to read a summary of Robert Starrantino’s dissertation


Summary of Jeongho Park’s dissertation Investigating the Possibility of Humanitarian Engagement in North Korea for Regional Security: Focusing on the ‘(de-)Construction of Crisis’

How does a crisis occur in regional security and can it be overcome? With regard to this question, this study pays attention to the divided Korean Peninsula which has been regarded as the only remaining Cold War residual with security tensions. In particular, this work sheds light on the possibility of a crisis in the Korean Peninsula caused by Non-Traditional Security threats (NTS) resulting from North Korean state failure which has been ignored due to the myth of traditional ‘Cold-War crisis’.

Above all, this study focuses conceptually on drawing out mechanisms of (de-)construction of crisis by state failure at the regional level. The crisis regarding NTS is constructed in a complex manner through securitisation in situations of physical and ontological insecurity. In other words, given a failing state’s physical insecurity is combined with its ontological problems, an ontological insecurity that damages a state’s ‘basic trust system’ is created, whereby the efforts to overcome the insecurity lead to securitisation. The securitisation accompanying emergency actions causes a reductive structure of crisis through amplification of tensions and even a creation of physical insecurity. These dynamics construct a network of crisis at not only the level of a state’s security but also at the regional level. Conversely, it can be argued that deconstruction of the crisis is implemented through removal and resolutions of the elements, that is, physical insecurity, ontological insecurity and securitisation.

This conceptual framework is applied to the Korean Peninsula, in particular, the North Korean NTS issues. This study examines past cases of crisis and the present possibility of construction of crisis in North Korea, and suggests the concept of humanitarian engagement as a vital method of deconstruction of crisis in the context of the Korean Peninsula. Specifically, in order to remove physical insecurity, humanitarian engagement firstly emphasises international and regional humanitarian aid and development assistance for improvement of human security as well as sustainable development of failing North Korea. Moreover, in order to resolve ontological insecurity, it prioritises the establishment not only of circumstances where different opinions among members of the region can be openly accepted on the basis of agonistic coexistence, but also norms and institutions to respect diversity and sustain ontological security. Finally, the processes of developing physical and ontological security facilitated by desecuritisation, that is, normalisation of a confrontation, contribute to the deconstruction of crisis.

In conclusion, through the North Korean case, this study looks at security study issues including the conceptual framework of the ‘(de-)construction of crisis’, the introduction of agonistic pluralism into international relations and security studies, and the political methods for coexistence and prosperity in East Asia beyond the dilemma between sovereignty and human rights.

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Summary of Maya Swisa’s dissertation Financial Burden-Sharing in the IAEA: An Empirical Test for Ikenberry’s Emerging International Order

John Ikenberry maintains that recent years have seen the growth of a liberal international order (LIO) characterized by increased multilateralism and international development. This LIO has the potential to flatten hierarchical inequalities between states as it advances global development and engages emerging powers in cooperative frameworks. This encompasses the idea that states operating in the existing international order have an interest in maintaining the system by taking on increased responsibility in providing certain public goods alongside the US.

Building off his claim, this study measures the extent to which emerging powers have increased support for LIO. My analysis takes on a two-part, mixed methods approach to understand more about multilateral cooperation as derived from Ikenberry’s LIO framework. First, I conduct a large-n quantitative analysis to examine a traditionally US-dominated organization, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and trace certain countries’ voluntary financial contributions to the agency (assuming these contributions represent mechanisms for increased support and responsibility within the LIO) from 1997-2012. My research aim is to understand states’ relative contribution patterns within this LIO framework and why certain states have increased their support in the past fifteen years.

From the large-n analysis, I pinpoint interesting shifts in China’s participation trends from 2001-2006. As such, the second part seeks to explain these shifts, both by testing the applicability of Ikenberry’s LIO as well as alternative “IO” perspectives from constructivist and realist camps. I use each approach as a framework for understanding China’s shift in relation to the Six-Party Talks (SPT). By examining primary and secondary accounts on China’s behaviour during the talks, I conclude that the ‘constructivist’ perspective on IO maintains the strongest explanation because of the importance that social interaction plays in shaping parties’ perceptions, identities and preferences toward multilateral participation. Ultimately, China sought to establish its identity as a peaceful rising power in the SPT. As it fortified that identity through negotiations and accepted a collective identity, it reinforced these identities through its increased financial support to the IAEA.

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Summary of Jörg Haas’s dissertation The Political Sources of Current Account Imbalances. On the importance of media coverage and individual preferences in Australia and Germany:

Current account imbalances and the question ‘Who adjusts?’ have long been a subject of interest for scholars of international political economy (IPE), who have written extensively about the domestic and international bargaining processes that begin once current account deficits have reached a certain magnitude. Curiously, the question ‘Why do imbalances arise at all?’ has received far less attention.

This paper argues that our understanding of global imbalances can profit from a thorough analysis of the role of individual preferences and the public discourse. I explore the importance of these factors by comparing Australia – a country that has been running deficits for decades – to Germany, whose surpluses have been the topic of heated debate.

In a first step, I identify differences in the media coverage of the current account using quantitative and qualitative newspaper analysis. I find that the German media interpret the current account as an indicator of a country’s economic performance and frame a surplus as an achievement. Conversely, Australian newspapers tend to report about deficits in a favorable context, namely high investment. These differences are likely to foster a sense of personal responsibility for the country’s competitiveness among Germans, while they encourage Australians to adopt an attitude of ‘benign neglect’.

In a second step, I show that data on individual consumption preferences are in line with these results. Australians prefer present consumption to future consumption, while Germans prefer the opposite. The difference between the countries is large and very stable over time, suggesting that it genuinely reflects an underlying difference in attitudes. These results support Obstfeld and Rogoff’s theoretically derived prediction that ‘impatient’ countries tend to run deficits, while ‘patient’ countries run surpluses.

The findings of this study may enhance the explanatory power of theories in the tradition of the Varieties of Capitalism approach. Germans’ favorable view of current account surpluses, competitiveness and saving explains why support for the institutions of the coordinated market economy – which guarantee international competitiveness, but also depress wages and consumption – is not limited to the exporting sector.

On a more general level, the results challenge the notion that research about the determinants of the current account balance is best left to economists, while scholars of international political economy concern themselves with the adjustment process and its ramifications. If current account imbalances are not only determined by economic and systemic factors, but also by popular attitudes, this suggests that the existing strategies aimed at reducing them need to be amended. Measures that bluntly force Germans to abandon their focus on competitiveness, and Australians to consume less, are likely to lead to resentment, not change.

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Summary of Nadia Mellina’s dissertation Brazil’s ambivalent political leadership in MERCOSUL: Hegemonic Stability Theory and regional ambitions

In his 2008 article Consensual Hegemony: Theorizing Brazil’s foreign policy after the Cold War, Sean W. Burges argues that the concept of consensual hegemony offers a more nuanced understanding of the leadership strategies of ‘a regionally predominant, but not dominant, state such as Brazil’ (65) as it foregrounds consent and the potential influence of ideational factors rather than coercion and military force. Positioned at the intersection of hegemonic stability theory, neo-Gramscian hegemonic theorising and new regionalism literature, consensual hegemony explicitly valorises the role of a leader and his/her followers in the creation and continuation of hegemonic leadership. I share Burges’ commitment to developing the concept of consensual hegemony as a way to further the theory of hegemonic stability beyond its current preoccupation with material power capabilities and reconnect it with elements of leadership explicit in the theory’s foundational texts. However, I argue that his is an incomplete and partly erroneous conceptualisation that remains hamstrung by its inability to position consensual hegemony within a wider ‘logic of networking’ (Hettne 2003: 27) – both theoretical and empirical.

My point here is not to devalue the concept of consensual hegemony or its potential contributions to the discipline of IR. Rather, I propose to use the conceptual space opened up by Burges to address and remedy the concept’s shortcomings by connecting it more explicitly to new regionalism theory. As an approach that defines regions as both territorial and ‘emergent, socially constituted phenomena’ (Jessop 2003: 183)  and whose ‘wide [theoretical] spectrum of partly overlapping and partly competing [perspectives]’ (Söderbaum 2003: 3) advocates disciplinary research beyond one-dimensional explanations and monolithic theorising, new regionalism theory sharpens consensual hegemony’s regional focus.

On a substantive level, I take as my case study Brazil’s political leadership within Mercosul (Mercosur in Spanish), the Southern Common Market, during the eight year presidency of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. As an era that saw the vision of Brazil as the regional leader for South America’s regional integration process firmly entrenched in Brazilian foreign policy (Brands 2011), the period between 2003 and 2011 illustrates how consensual hegemony applies to the Brazilian model and where the limits of ideational factors lie.

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Summary of Robert Starrantino’s dissertation Joint Operational Access Concept and Power Transition Theory: Some Implications for International Relations.

On 12 January 2012, the United States (US) Department of Defense (DoD) published the Joint Operational Access Concept (JOAC) in an effort to address emerging threats associated with the dynamism of international relations and security in the twenty-first century as it relates to the United States’ ability to promote its interests globally. Explicitly, such considerations fall well within the purview of DoD and other relevant government agencies as strictly defense considerations. However, the perception and conceptualization of shifting geostrategic dynamics speaks to a deeper sentiment embedded within JOAC and the US’s geo-political self-conceptualization, namely the problematization of the heretofore preponderance of political-military power wielded by the US, particularly in the post-Cold War world. While the assignation of such preponderance may have been and continue to be debatable, US self-perception is unequivocal and steadfast in assuming the duties and responsibilities associated with such dominance; nested in an “enduring requirement for force projection”.

JOAC serves as a more explicit enunciation of how the US conceptualizes the notion of national security and defense; expressing a far more expansive perception of national interest as one that encompasses the free flow of information, people, and goods; the global commons serving as the medium through which these are conveyed. As such, defense transcends traditional terrestrial considerations and assumes systemic variables within its remit; essentially, the maintenance of a way of life that is conceived as being contingent upon geo-strategic primacy, thereby ensuring the sustainment of these global systematic imperatives. In short, the US seeks geo-strategic primacy in order for it to exercise disproportionate influence in articulating and enforcing the ‘rules of the game’ that govern the international system.

The distillation of JOAC down to its philosophical assumptions about the nature of the international and the conduct of international politics is, I argue, commensurate with modern conceptualizations of power transition theory, specifically as it relates to its hegemonic conceptualizations of the international system and the way in which actor satisfaction within this hierarchic distribution of influence is the crucial variable in determining the probability of great power contestation. This work is an effort not only to elaborate upon the utility of power transition theory within the context of JOAC specifically, but also to compel a revivification of power transition theory as a particularly relevant and prescient theory of international relations more broadly.

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