Plir 4500: power transitions and us-china relations academic Year: Spring 2013

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Academic Year: Spring 2013

Class Meetings: Gibson 241, Tuesdays, 6:00 – 8:30 pm

Instructor: Brandon K. Yoder

Office: Gibson Hall, S165

Office Hours: by appointment; availability unrestricted


Phone: 434-982-6212


This course examines the theoretical effects of power transitions on international conflict, and applies these general findings to the contemporary rise of China in order to understand how amiable and cooperative US-China relations can be maintained. While international relations theory and history both suggest that power transitions increase the likelihood of conflict, particularly war, there are cases and conditions in which power transitions have occurred peacefully, and cooperation between rising and declining states has been sustained. Which of these general outcomes is likely to characterize US-China relations as China catches up to the US? What foreign policies should each country adopt in order to maximize cooperation while also protecting its interests? To answer these questions, we must understand the factors that cause conflict and cooperation, the effect of power transitions on these factors, and the unique characteristics of China and the context in which its rise is taking place. To that end, the course intertwines theoretical concepts with scholarly discussion of real-world US-China relations, and draws on historical analogies that inform both theory and practice. Although only basic background in international relations is required, any more advanced knowledge of international relations theory or modern world history should prove useful.


The course is structured as a collaborative effort to devise a policy brief for US strategy toward China. Each session will consist of a lecture portion that presents and elaborates on the content of the assigned readings, and a Socratic discussion of the causal processes and evidence being examined. Lecture and discussion will be punctuated by small-group activities that allow students to interactively develop their understandings of the course material, and “tutorials” that provide tools for constructing term papers.

The course proceeds in three sections. The first section defines power transitions, lays out their causes and potential effects, and examines the implications of China’s rise for US-China relations. It then considers the strategies available to the US and other hegemonic states for responding to decline and the tradeoffs that these entail. In Section II, we examine the general causes of international conflict and cooperation in the theoretical literature on international relations, and examine how these theoretical dynamics apply to US-China relations.

Finally, in Section III we will consider how power transitions exacerbate the propensity for conflict, and what foreign policies states can adopt to overcome these pernicious effects of power transitions. We will then evaluate the applicability of each causal logic in contemporary US-China relations. Our goal by the end of the course is to have established a framework for making policy prescriptions to policy-makers in the US and China about how to manage the difficulties engendered by the current changes in the international distribution of power.


The course readings have been carefully selected to be accessible and not overly demanding either in content or in length. Daily reading assignments are a manageable 60-90 pages per day, taken from 4-6 separate articles or book chapters. You should expect to spend about 7-8 hours per week preparing for this class, not including the written assignments. This time includes reading the assigned pages, but also includes thinking critically about the arguments, diagramming them (see below), relating them to each other, and formulating your own contributions and questions for the upcoming class.

The fundamental expectation of the course is that students will have carefully read all of the material assigned for a particular class, and to come to that class ready to participate actively in discussion. Because preparation outside of class and interaction during class meetings is so essential to learning and internalizing this type of material, participation is worth 20% of the total grade.

  • Response Questions

Each week, the professor will email discussion questions for the next week’s class. Prior to the start of that class, students must turn in responses to each question, of approximately one and no more than two pages. These responses may take any form you wish (e.g. prose, diagrams, bullet points), as long as they are intelligible to another reader. Responses may be submitted as the text of an email, as an email attachment, or as hard copies, which can be slipped under the professor’s office door. Your grade on the responses will be calculated as the percentage that you have submitted (easy A!), and is worth half of your participation grade (10% of your overall grade).

  • In-Class Contributions

The remainder of your participation grade is based on your contributions to in-class discussions. To get an A, you must demonstrate having done the readings and thought about how they relate to the lectures and previous concepts from the course. Your participation grade is based more on the quality of what you say than the quantity. High quality contributions are thoughtful, considered comments that stimulate discussion and responses from classmates, relate directly to the readings, and that demonstrate an understanding of the arguments being made.

To thoroughly prepare for class, you are expected to construct causal diagrams of the arguments contained in the assigned readings. Our modus operandi in each class will be to collectively construct a causal diagram of the arguments in the readings. The diagrams you prepare in advance will therefore provide you with concise and comprehensive notes that you can readily access for in-class participation, as well as to prepare for exams. The following reading techniques will prove useful to you in completing the readings more quickly and thoroughly.

  1. PRINT THE READINGS AND INTERACT WITH THEM. Do not read from the computer screen. Underline, circle, highlight, write in the margins, draw diagrams and arrows, and bring the annotated copy to class.

  1. READ SYSTEMATICALLY. Reading academic work is not the same as reading recreationally. Using the following procedure will make the arguments of each reading clearer and less time-consuming:

    1. For each argument, identify the dependent variable, or the outcome to be explained and the independent variable(s), or the most basic causes of the outcome.

    2. Identify the causal process by which the author explains how the IV(s) cause the DV. These intervening steps are the causal mechanism, and will be the focus of our class discussions. If the mechanism is implausible or does not exist, the theory is likely invalid.

    3. Once you have established the author’s full causal argument, evaluate the empirical evidence that the author marshals in support of the argument. Is the evidence convincing? Is it truly consistent with the causal mechanisms? Does the author consider alternative explanations and find evidence that rejects them while supporting her own argument?

  1. TAKE NOTES on each reading not in excess of one page, including your causal diagram, and come to class with questions and/or critiques of that week’s readings to ensure your ability to participate.


There are three requirements for the class beyond participation. The first is an in-class, short-answer quiz, which is worth 10% of the total grade. The second requirement is two 1200-word policy papers, one due at the midpoint of the term and the other due at the end. These papers are designed to allow the student to evaluate US-China relations using the theories and evidence from the course. In this paper students are not expected to utilize outside empirical sources, or to come up with new theories. Rather they should draw on existing theories to elucidate the causal processes by which their policy recommendations will alleviate the conflict-inducing problems promoted by power transitions. Students will have opportunities during class to discuss their paper topics and the structure of their arguments with the instructor and their peers. The first paper will be worth 15% of the overall grade, and the second 25%. The final 30% of the grade is a cumulative in-class exam, which will consist of essay questions. Exams and papers will be graded carefully and fairly: I endeavor to make assignments anonymous, employ standardized criteria, and scale grades on a normal curve so as to eliminate the possibility of unconscious bias.

You do not have to buy any books for this course! All readings will be posted on Collab. Please print the readings and bring them to class.


Section I – Concepts of Power Transitions and the US-China Context

I) 1/15: Power transitions: definitions and importance for US-China relations

  • Robert Gilpin, War and Change in World Politics, pp. 9-15, 42-43, 93-96, 192-202

  • Jack Levy, “Power Transitions Theory and the Rise of China” in Robert Ross and Zhu Feng, eds, China’s Ascent: Power, Security and the Future of International Relations (2006), pp. 11-20, 25-27, 30-33.

  • Aaron Friedberg, The Weary Titan, pp. 12-17, 288-291.

  • Steve Chan, China, the US, and the Power-Transition Theory, Ch 2 (SKIM).


  • Ronald Tammen, et al, Power Transitions, pp. 15-24.

II) 1/22: Causes of power transitions and indicators of China’s rise

  • Gilpin, War and Change, pp. 67-70, 106-107, 146-148, 156-157, 168-169, 175-179, 185.

  • Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, pp. xv-xvi, xxi-xxiv, middle 525-526, bottom 531-535.

  • Art Stein: “The Hegemon’s Dilemma” IO 38 (1984), pp. 355-360, 383-386, SKIM 364-373.

  • Michael Swaine: America’s Challenge, pp. 2-11.

  • William Keller and Thomas Rawski, eds., China’s Rise and the Balance of Influence in Asia, pp. 9-13.

  • Michael Beckley, "China’s Century? Why America’s Edge Will Endure," International Security, Vol. 36, No. 3 (Winter 2011/12), pp. 41-55, 58-63.

  • Eric Voeten, “Is China Really Not Catching Up?” 2012 ms.


  • Charles Kupchan, “Empire, Military Power, and Economic Decline” IS, 13:4 (Spring, 1989), pp. 36-53.

  • Steve Chan, China, the US, and the Power-Transition Theory, Ch 1.

III) 1/29: Hegemony and the US-led international order

  • Gilpin, War and Change, pages 25-26, 28-39, 50-55, 144-145.

  • Randall Schweller and David Priess, “A Tale of Two Realisms: Expanding the Institutions Debate” Mershon Int’l Studies Review, 41:1, May 1997, pp. 10-18.

  • Michael Swaine: America’s Challenge, pp. 22-24.

  • Daniel Deudney and G. John Ikenberry, “The Nature of the Liberal International Order” Rev Int’l Studies 25:2 (April, 1999), pp. 184-187, 189-192.

  • G. John Ikenberry, “The Rise of China and the Future of the West: Can the Liberal System Survive?” Foreign Affairs, January/February 2008, pp. 1-3.

  • Ikenberry, “American Hegemony and the East Asian Order” Australian Journal of International Affairs, 58:3, September 2004, pp. 353–362.


  • Kyle Lascurrettes, Orders of Exclusion

  • Lake, 2009

  • Ikenberry, “The Future of the Liberal World Order” Foreign Affairs, May/June 2011.

  • Schweller, “Problem of International Order Revisited” IS, Vol. 26, No. 1, Summer 2001, pp. 161-186.

  • Rosemary Foot and Andrew Walter, China, the United States, and Global Order, pp. 15-21.

IV) 2/5: Variation in the compatibility of states’ preferences

  • Gilpin, War and Change, pp. 18-25, 94-95.

  • Andrew Moravcsik, “Taking Preferences Seriously: A Liberal Theory of International Politics” IO 51, 1997, pp. 513, 518-521, 525-533.

  • Peter Gourevitch, Politics in Hard Times, pages 53-64, 24-28.

  • Randall Schweller, “Domestic Structure and Preventive War: Are Democracies More Pacific?” WP 44:2 (Jan. 1992), pp. 235-248.

  • Samuel Huntington, “The Clash of Civilizations?” Foreign Affairs (Summer, 1993), pp. 22-28, 39-45, 48-49.


  • Peter Katzenstein, ed., The Culture of National Security

  • Mark L. Haas, Ideological Origins of Great Power Politics

  • Steve Chan, China, the US, & the Power-Transition Theory, Ch 6.

  • Steven Rock, Peace Breaks Out

  • Schweller, “Bandwagoning for Profit: Brining the Revisionist State Back In” IS 19:1 (Summer 1994), pp. 85-88, 92-95, 99-107.

  • Mastanduno, “Preserving the Unipolar Moment” IS 21:4 (Spring 1997), pp. 59-65.

V) 2/12: China’s domestic politics and potential divergence in US and Chinese preferences

  • Michael Swaine: America’s Challenge, pp. 32-34, 42-45, 345-347.

  • Elizabeth Economy, “The Game Changer: Coping With China’s Foreign Policy Revolution” Foreign Affairs, November/December, 2010.

  • Gregory Chin and Ramesh Thakur, “Will China Change the Rules of Global Order?” Washington Quarterly 33:4 (2010), pp. 119-138.

  • Susan Shirk, China: Fragile Superpower, pp.6-12, 35-44, 52-55, 66-69.

  • Goldstein, “Parsing China’s Rise” in Ross and Zhu, eds, China’s Ascent (2008), pp. 78-84.

  • Stewart Patrick, “Irresponsible Stakeholders?” Foreign Affairs, November/December, 2010.

  • Adrian Woolridge, “The Visible Hand: Special Report on State Capitalism,” The Economist, January 21, 2012, pp. 4-5, 6, 9, 15-18.


  • Deng Yong. 2008. China's Struggle for Status: The Realignment of International Relations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 2-3, 8-10, 54, 60-68.

  • Ian Bremmer, “State Capitalism Comes of Age” Foreign Affairs, May/June, 2009.

  • Tessman, Brock and Wojtek Wolfe. 2011. Great Powers and Strategic Hedging: The Case of Chinese Energy Security Strategy. International Studies Review 13 (2): 214-216, 219-220, 223-227.

  • Schweller, Randall L. and Pu Xiaoyu. 2011. After Unipolarity: China's Visions of International Order in an Era of U.S. Decline. International Security.36(1): 41–72.

  • Ross, Robert. 2009. China's Naval Nationalism: Sources, Prospects, and the U.S. Response. International Security 34 (24): 75-81.

  • Etel Solingen, “Economic and Political Liberalization in China: Implications for US-China Relations” in Richard Rosecrance and Gu Guoliang, eds, Power and Restraint, 2009.

VI) 2/19: Potential foreign policy responses to relative decline

  • Robert Gilpin, War and Change in World Politics, pp. 186-194.

  • Michael Mastanduno, “Preserving the Unipolar Moment” IS 21:4 (Spring 1997), pp. 52-56, 59-63, 66-72.

  • Joseph Nye, Bound to Lead, pp. 231-237 (SKIM), 238-261.

  • Aaron Friedberg, The Weary Titan, pp. 292-303.

VII) 2/26: US foreign policy debate: “engagement” or “containment” of China?

  • Swaine, America’s Challenge, pp. 29-31, 338-340, 347-355.

  • Bates Gill, 2007. Rising Star: China's New Security Diplomacy. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, pages 170-181.

  • Thomas Christensen, “Fostering Stability or Creating a Monster? The Rise of China and US Policy Toward East Asia” IS, 31:1, (Summer 2006), pages 81-84, 88-93, 101-104, 116-126.

  • Evan Medeiros, 2009. China's International Behavior: Activism, Opportunism, and Diversification. Santa Monica, CA: RAND, pages 220-224.

  • Christopher Layne, 2008. China's Challenge to US Hegemony. Current History 107 (705): 13-18.

  • Jeffrey Legro, “What China Will Want: The Future Intentions of a Rising Power” Perspectives on Politics 5 (2007), pages 515-516, 520-522, 527-528.


  • Sutter, Robert G. 2006. China's Rise: Implications for US Leadership in Asia. Washington, DC: East-West Center.

  • Zhao, Suisheng. 2008. China-US Relations Transformed: Perceptions and Strategic Interactions. New York: Routledge

  • Yoder, “China’s Preferences for the International Order and US Foreign Policy,” pp. 21-27.

Section II – Theories of Interstate Conflict & US-China Relations

The security dilemma and international conflict

  • Robert Jervis, “Cooperation Under the Security Dilemma” WP, 1978, pp. 167-171, 179-183.

  • Frieden, Lake and Schultz, “Why Are There Wars?” pp. 83-85, 90-92, 94-99, 105-109, 118-119.

  • John Mearsheimer, “The False Promise of International Institutions” IS, 19:3 (Winter, 1994-1995), pp. 9-21.

  • Andrew Kydd, Trust and Mistrust in International Relations, 2005, pp. 6-12


  • James Fearon, “Rationalist Explanations for War” IO, 1995, pp. 379-381, 383, 390-393, 395-400, 404-409.

  • Robert Jervis, Perception and Misperception in International Politics, 1976

  • Charles Glaser, The Security Dilemma Revisited” WP, 1997.

  • John Vasquez, “When Are Power Transitions Dangerous? An Appraisal and Reformulation of Power Transitions Theory,” in Lemke and Kugler, eds., Parity and War.

  • Schweller, “Neorealism’s Status Quo Bias: What Security Dilemma?” SS, 1996.

3/12: No Class – Spring Break
IX) 3/19: Power transitions and the security dilemma

  • Jack Levy, “Declining Power and the Preventive Motivation for War” WP 40:1 (October, 1987), pp. 82-88, 95-100, 105-107.

  • Mearsheimer, Tragedy of Great Power Politics, 2001, pp. 1-4, 32-36.

  • Copeland, Origins of Major War, pp. 4-6, 15-20.

  • Kydd, 2005, pp. 202-204.

  • Glaser, 2011, pp. 108-112.

  • Tammen, et al, 2000, pp. 21-28.

X) 3/26: The security dilemma and uncertainty in US-China relations

  • Michael Swaine: America’s Challenge, pp. 45-50, 341-347, 367-371.

  • Avery Goldstein, Rising to the Challenge: China's Grand Strategy and International Security. (Stanford, 2005), pp. 8-13, 81-85, 204-216.

  • John Mearsheimer, "The Gathering Storm: China’s Challenge to US Power in Asia," Chinese Journal of International Politics, Vol. 3, No. 4 (Winter 2010), pp. 382, 387, 389.

  • Thomas Christensen, “China, the US-Japan Alliance, and the Security Dilemma in East Asia” in Ikenberry and Mastanduno, eds, IR and the Asia-Pacific, 2003, pp. 49-52, 69-80.

  • Aaron Friedberg, “The Future of US-China Relations: Is Conflict Inevitable?” IS 30:2 (Fall 2005), pp. 12-23, 34-36.


  • Brandon Yoder: “Reconceptualizing US-China Relations”

  • Thomas Christensen, "Posing Problems Without Catching Up: China’s Rise and Challenges for U.S. Security Policy," International Security, Vol. 25, No. 4 (Spring 2001), pp. 8-10, 14-20, 34-38.

Section III – Power Transitions and International Conflict

- Policy Brief #1 Due SUNDAY, 3/31, 11:59 pm -

XI) 4/2: Factors that mitigate the security dilemma: norms, institutions and interdependence

  • Robert Keohane, After Hegemony, Ch. 5?

  • Krasner, 1982.

  • G. John Ikenberry, “Institutions, Strategic Restraint, and the Persistence of the American Postwar Order” IS Vol. 23, No. 3 (Winter, 1998-1999), pp. 43, 50-62, 67-71.

  • Jack Levy, “Economic Interdependence, Opportunity Costs, and Peace” in Mansfield and Pollins, eds, Economic interdependence and International Conflict (2003), pp. 127-131.

  • Alastair Iain Johnston, “Socialization in International Institutions: The ASEAN Way and International Relations Theory” in Ikenberry and Mastanduno, eds, IR and the Asia-Pacific, 2003, pp. 107-117.


  • Robert Keohane and Lisa Martin, “The Promise of Institutionalist Theory” IS 20:1 (1995), pp. 39-51.

  • Martin and Simmons, IO, 1998.

XII) 4/9: Mitigating factors in US-China relations

  • Fravel, M. Taylor. 2010. International Relations Theory and China’s Rise: Assessing China’s Potential for Territorial Expansion. International Studies Review 12 (4): 505-507, 510-518, 525-526.

  • Aaron Friedberg, “The Future of US-China Relations: Is Conflict Inevitable?” IS 30:2 (Fall 2005), pp. 7-16, 29-45.

  • Kent, Ann. 2002. China's International Socialization: The Role of International Organizations. Global Governance 8 (3): pp. 343-344, 348-352, 354-359.

  • Papayoanou, Paul A. and Scott L. Kastner. 1999. Sleeping with the (Potential) Enemy: Assessing the U.S. Policy of Engagement with China. Security Studies 9 (1-2): 161-163, 172-182, 185-187.

  • Daniel Drezner, “Bad Debts” IS, 2009, pp. 7-10, 18-23, 42-45.

  • Ian Bremmer, “China vs. America,” Prospect, 169, March 22, 2010.


  • Deng Yong and Thomas G. Moore. 2004. China Views Globalization: Toward a New Great Power Politics? The Washington Quarterly 27 (3): 115-136

  • Medeiros, Evan S. 2009. China's International Behavior: Activism, Opportunism, and Diversification. Santa Monica, CA: RAND pp. xx-xxiii, 1-3, 19-21, 26-36.

  • Nicholas Lardy, "China in the World Economy: Opportunity or Threat?" in C. Fred Bergsten, Bates Gill, Nicholas Lardy, and Derek Mitchell, eds., The Balance Sheet: What the World Needs to Know Now About the Emerging Superpower (New York: Perseus Books, 2006).

  • Dale Copeland, “Economic Interdependence and the Future of US-China Relations” in Ikenberry and Mastanduno, eds, IR and the Asia-Pacific (2003), pp. 323-324, 334-343.

XIII) 4/16: Power transitions and barriers to interstate signaling

  • Fearon, “Signaling Foreign Policy Interests: Tying Hands vs. Sinking Costs” JCR 41:1 (Februrary 1997), pp. 68-70.

  • Andrew Kydd, “Sheep in Sheep’s Clothing” SS 7:1 (1997), pp. 114-117, 139-147.

  • Charles Glaser, “Realists as Optimists” IS 19:3 (Winter 1994-95), pp. 57-60, 67-70.

  • Copeland, Origins of Major War, pp. 23-27, 37-39, 238-244.

  • David Edelstein, “Managing Uncertainty: Beliefs About Intentions and the Rise of Great Powers” SS, 12:1 (Autumn 2002), pp. 1-6, 9-17, 38-40.


  • Evan Montgomery, “Breaking out of the Security Dilemma: Realism, Reassurance, and the Problem of Uncertainty” IS 31:2 (Fall 2006), pp. 151-163.

  • Morrow and Kim, “When do Power Shifts Lead to War?”

  • Robert Powell, In the Shadow of Power, Chapter 4.

  • Brandon Yoder, “Power and Preferences: Signaling Future Intentions Under Dynamic Conditions” (2011), pp. 1-6, 19-22.

  • Steve Chan, “Can’t get no Satisfaction? Recognition of Revisionist States” Int Relat Asia Pac 4:2 (2004), pp. 207-238

XIV) 4/23: Inferring China’s intentions from foreign policy behavior

  • Alastair Iain Johnston, “Is China a Status Quo Power?” IS 27:4 (Spring, 2003), pp. 5-6, 12-25, 38-49.

  • David Shambaugh, “China Engages Asia: Reshaping the Regional Order," International Security, Vol. 29, No. 3 (Winter 2004/2005), pages 64-66, 71-93 (SKIM 78-83).

  • Nicholas Khoo and Michael L.R. Smith, “China Engages Asia? Caveat Lector” IS 30:1 (Summer 2005), pp. 196-205.

  • David Kang: China Rising, pp. 71-85, 87-90, 102-103.

  • Robert Sutter, "China’s Regional Strategy and Why It May Not Be Good for America," in David Shambaugh, ed., Power Shift: China and Asias New Dynamics (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006), pp. 289-300.

  • Goldstein, Avery. 2005. Rising to the Challenge: China's Grand Strategy and International Security. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press, pp. 118-135, 197-203, 212-219.


  • Kang, David C. 2005. Why China's Rise Will Be Peaceful: Hierarchy and Stability in the East Asian Region. Perspectives on Politics 3(3): 551-554.

  • Kastner, Scott L. and Phillip C. Saunders. 2011. Is China a Status Quo or Revisionist State? Leadership Travel as an Empirical Indicator of Foreign Policy Priorities. International Studies Quarterly pp. 1-4, 13-14.

  • William Keller and Thomas Rawski, eds., China’s Rise and the Balance of Influence in Asia, pp. 5-13, 193-207.

  • Avery Goldstein, “Rising to the Challenge: China’s Grand Strategy and International Security” in Ikenberry and Mastanduno, eds, IR and the Asia-Pacific, 2003, pp. 57-63, 72-86.

  • Swaine, America’s Challenge, pp. 45-51, 342-347.

  • Yoder, “China’s Preferences for the International Order and US Foreign Policy” pp. 10-21.

XV) 4/30: Debate: what should US foreign policy toward China be?

  • National Bureau of Asian Research, “Turing to the Pacific: US Strategic Rebalancing Toward Asia” Asia Policy 14 (July 2012), pp. 22-25, 31-35, 40-44.

  • Medeiros, Evan S. 2009. China's International Behavior: Activism, Opportunism, and Diversification. Santa Monica, CA: RAND pages TBA, 1-3, 201-206, 213-220.

  • Edward Carr, “Friend or Foe? A Special Report of China’s Place in the World” The Economist, December 4, 2010.

  • James Miles, “A Wary Respect: A Special Report on China and America” The Economist, October 22, 2009.


  • Ikenberry and Mastanduno, eds, IR and the Asia-Pacific (2003), pp. 430-435.

  • Robert Samuelson, “The Makings of a Trade War With China” Newsweek, September 27, 2010; and “As G20 Summit Nears, China Unlikely to Budge on Currency” Newsweek, November 8, 2010.

  • Thomas Christensen, “The Advantages of an Assertive China” Foreign Affairs, March/April 2011, pp. 54-67.

* (Instead of causal diagrams of these readings, diagram your own arguments about the effects of your two most-favored US foreign policy strategies).


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