International Relations Thematic Essay Questions

These are general thematic questions. These must be made more specific in order to be manageable in a 1500-word argumentative essay. This leaves room for your academic interest. The only requirement is that you remain within the general theme of the question such as, for example, the Cold War or Cold War Legacies. We have added some suggestions in what direction you could possibly modify the questions.

Tutorial 2

Lecture 2: Critical introduction to IR theory Lecture 3: Cold War and its Legacy Lecture 4: Nuclear Proliferation, Rogue States, and the Nuclear Crisis on the Korean Peninsula Lecture 5: Nationalism, State Formation, and the International Order Lecture 6: The Legacies of Decolonization and the Non-Aligned Movement

Question themes:

The “Not So” Cold War

The Cold War had a tremendous impact on International Relations. While it is called the Cold War, as there was no armed conflict between the two main protagonists, the United States and the Soviet Union, the war was not cold for the rest of world. Examine how the Cold War played a role in violent conflict in your region of focus.

For example: Your analysis can focus on proxy wars in your region of choice or how the local/regional powers used the superpower conflict to their own advantage and agenda. In either case, select a specific proxy war or specific power and carefully contextualize Cold War rhetoric in its specific local articulation.

Cold War legacies

The fall of the Soviet Union had an impact on global politics with repercussions on domestic and regional political relations all over the world. In many cases, the influence of the Soviets had already dwindled significantly and the collapse of the union merely meant the final blow for smaller communist movements. At the same time, the Cold War lines of division continue to inform political conflicts across the world. For your essay, study the local articulation of Cold War legacies by choosing a case study in your region of choice.

For example: Study a communist or socialist party; a non-governmental actor such as a student movement, or minority rights activists; or an individual such as a dissident intellectual or leftist celebrity. Explain how its (or his/her) development before and after the fall of the Soviet Union was informed by national or regional factors as much as by world events.

Tutorial 3

Lecture 7: Globalization and neoliberalism – origins, impacts, and

alternatives Lecture 8: War, Peace, and Intervention Lecture 9: Global politics and regional integration: The case of the European Union

Question themes: • Regionalism

Regionalism “is a process through which geographical regions become significant political and/or economic units, serving as the basis for cooperation and, possibly, identity. Regionalism takes different forms depending on whether the primary areas for cooperation are economic, security or political” (Heywood 2014, 506). Examples of regionalism are the European Union or the African Union. Processes of regionalism are not seen as unambiguous as evidenced by the Brexit. Analyse the impact of regionalism in your region of focus.

For example: Explain why regionalism has or has not led to political stability or economic growth. Compare and contrast regionalism between two countries focusing on economic development, security, and cooperation. Analyse the balance between shared and individual objectives.

(Humanitarian) intervention

It has been argued in International Relations that the end of the Cold War led to a rise in humanitarian intervention in the international political system. It is argued that humanitarian intervention “is carried out in pursuit of humanitarian rather than strategic objectives. However, the term is contested and deeply controversial, not least because by portraying an intervention as ‘humanitarian’, it is deemed to be legitimate and defensible” (Heywood 2014, 319). Critics have questioned whether any humanitarian intervention does not also serve the interests of the intervening actor based on the question why interventions occur in one state but not another, for example the Libya intervention versus the Syrian civil war. Discuss a case of humanitarian intervention from a critical perspective in a region of your choice.

For example: Why did XX (country, regional organization) intervene XX? What was the relationship between the intervention and certain international political objective(s)? What humanitarian consequences did the intervention have?

Rogue states / Nuclear Proliferation

The discovery of nuclear weapons represented an important change in the dynamics of international relations in part leading to the rise of superpowers and the Cold War. Nuclear proliferation remains an important issue in the international political system as evidenced by developments surrounding North Korea and Iran. This also connects to an (international) discourse on rogue states representing an existential threat to the world. Argue why or why not states seek to acquire nuclear weapons / WMD in your region of choice. This can be connected to discourse on Rogue states.

For example: Why does North Korea seek to acquire nuclear weapons? Why do states like Japan or Germany not seek to acquire nuclear weapons despite having the technological capabilities?

Tutorial 4

Lecture 10: Shifting Powers – The Decline of the West and the Rise of the Rest Lecture 11: Global Politics in an “Age of Terror” Lecture 12: Conclusion – Global Politics and the Environment

Question themes:

Sustainable Development/Global Governance

Sustainable development and environmental changes are global issues requiring a local, regional, and global response. Every day more and more effects of environmental change are becoming more visible through ecological disasters and catastrophic weather patterns. At the same time, there is  the Tragedy of the Commons: “Will shared resources always be misused or overused? Does  community ownership of land, forests and fisheries lead to inevitable ruin, and what does this imply  about modern environmental problems?” (Heywood 2014, 388). Simultaneously, the popular view is  that the world is moving to an increasing level of globalization resulting in an increasing level of interconnectedness between states. This can be seen as the result of economic and political neoliberalism. This leads to the perception that events in one locale will have an impact on another locale or even the global international system such as the 2008 financial crisis or the COVID-19 outbreak. At the same time, it could also be argued that the world is moving away from globalization as a result of this interconnectedness. Examine the dynamics between globalizing and deglobalizing forces in aspecific case study in your area of specialization.

For example: How can you evaluate the impact of the Paris Climate Agreement in your region of choice? You can also focus on a global or local alliance involved in the struggle against environmental destruction in your region of choice, or analyse a case study on the role and/or future of sustainable development in your region of choice. Examine the local effects of global institutions such as IMF’s Structural Adjustment Programmes, Fair Trade projects, UN peacekeeping missions or tribunals, UNESCO heritage preservation strategies. What were intended and unintended effects? How did local actors resist, benefit from or accommodate these projects?

Rise of new global/regional actors / order

It could be argued that the end of the Cold War briefly led to a unipolar instead of a bipolar world as the United States remained the sole superpower. However, the rise of China, the resurgence of Russia, and the rise of the BRICS has put this to the question. Furthermore, regional tensions are having an increasing impact in international relations as evidenced by regional tensions between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran. It could be argued that this also led to several ongoing proxy wars in contemporary time such as the proxy war in the Syrian civil war or the ongoing conflict on the Crimea. A proxy war is a conflict between two states or non-state actors where neither entity directly engages the other. This kind of conflict was prevalent during the Cold War. What do these developments mean in or for your region of choice? Or analyse a proxy war (contemporary or historical) in your region of choice.

For example: Select a case of a country with regional or global ambitions in your region of choice

(such as the China’s Economic Belt Initiative, Saudi Arabia’s “reforms”, Russia’s expansionism, Turkey’s regional ambitions) and examine the perception of, and response to, this development by a small neighbouring country. What is at stake for various actors in a specific proxy conflict?

Terrorism / non-state violence

In recent decades, terrorism has played an important role in international politics. Select a case of terrorism in your region of choice, in which either the terrorist group, or the state’s response (or both) involved international allies. Examine the different actors involved and motivations used to justify the use of violence.

For example: who or what is held responsible for terrorist acts and how do they justify their actions? Some terrorist groups could be considered legitimate liberation organizations, or state funded paramilitary organizations depending on context and perspective. Argue which label is justified in your case.

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