The United States needs support from other states to carry out global governance, particularly from rising powers such as China and Russia. Securing cooperation from China and Russia poses special problems, however, because neither state is part of the liberal Western community, ruling out appeals to common values and norms. Nevertheless, an alternative approach that is rooted in appreciation of China's and Russia's heightened status concerns may be viable. Since the end of the Cold War, Chinese and Russian foreign policy has been shaped by the goal of restoring both countries' great power status, which received major blows after China's Tiananmen Square repression and the Soviet Union's breakup and loss of empire. This desire for status can be explained by social identity theory, which argues that social groups strive for a distinctive, positive identity. Social identity theory provides a typology of strategies that states may use to enhance their relative status and suggests appropriate responses to status concerns of rising powers. Redirecting scholarly attention to status considerations and incentives could contribute to a diplomatic strategy for engaging rising powers.
With the end of the Cold War, we must wonder whether there were missed opportunities to regulate the arms race and global competition, which nearly bankrupted the United States and contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union. A missed opportunity for agreement is a situation where there was at least one alternative that the parties to a conflict preferred or would have preferred to nonagreement. Hard-core Realists argue that states compete for territory, arms, and influence because they have conflicting national interests. Soft-core Realists maintain that such conflicts are effects of international anarchy and uncertainty, and that states can cooperate contingent on reciprocity. I argue that states often fail to cooperate even when they have compatible preferences because policy-makers make incorrect inferences about the opponent's motives and intentions, a process that can be illuminated by social psychology. I present three alternative explanations of trust and distrust in international relations-rational choice, domestic structures, and social psychology. If policy-makers are prudent, they will assess the other's interests in observing an agreement as well as its reputation. Often, domestic political structures encourage leaders to promote distrust of an external enemy to legitimize their internal rule or foreign policy. Finally, distrust may lead policy-makers to dismiss the other side's cooperative signals or proposals. Distrust can be overcome by making a series of step-by-step agreements in which each side can test the other's good faith at limited cost, or through unilateral concessions as part of a consistent policy.
Since 2003, Russian foreign behavior has become much more assertive and volatile toward the West, often rejecting U.S. diplomatic initiatives and overreacting to perceived slights. This essay explains Russia’s new assertiveness using social psychological hypotheses on the relationship between power, status, and emotions. Denial of respect to a state is humiliating. When a state loses status, the emotions experienced depend on the perceived cause of this loss. When a state perceives that others are responsible for its loss, it shows anger. The belief that others have unjustly used their power to deny the state its appropriate position arouses vengefulness. If a state believes that its loss of status is due to its own failure to live up to expectations, the elites will express shame. Since the end of the Cold War, Russia has displayed anger at the U.S. unwillingness to grant it the status to which it believes it is entitled, especially during the 2008 Russo-Georgian War, and most recently Russia’s takeover of Crimea and the 2014 Ukrainian Crisis. We can also see elements of vengefulness in Russia’s reaction to recognition of Kosovo, U.S. missile defense plans, the Magnitsky act, and the Snowden affair.
Why did Soviet foreign policy change during 1985–1991 from viewing conflict between capitalism and socialism as inevitable to favoring cooperation between states in solving global problems? Neither materialist analyses nor ideational accounts explain why Gorbachev adopted the radical new thinking instead of more conventional reform alternatives. We argue that the new thinking offered a means to enhance Soviet status despite retrenchment and accommodation of the West. By promoting principles underlying a new world order, the Soviet Union could achieve greatness based on the exercise of soft power. This explanation draws on social identity theory, which maintains that people are motivated for their social group to have a distinctive, positive identity. Lower status groups may enhance their perceived standing by finding a new domain for comparison or reevaluating an undesirable trait.
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