Peter Harris: Asian Security Article

A new article by Peter Harris is forthcoming in Asian Security: “Problems with Power-Transition Theory: Beyond the Vanishing Disparities Thesis.”

Abstract: What happens when established states and rising powers meet on the world stage? Is conflict inevitable, or can adroit foreign policies produce peaceful accommodation between jostling Great Powers? Traditional power-transition theory tends to predict conflictual outcomes of shifting power, but this finding does not square with either the historical record or public policy-maker’s own intuitions about how international politics works. In this article, I exegete a central weakness of extant power-transition theory—that is, its reliance on vanishing disparities in national power as an explanatory factor—in order to understand where the theory is failing and how best to proceed with a view to generating greater understanding of geopolitical shifts. Beginning from the starting point that social science theory should generate useful implications for ‘real world’ social and political actors, I argue that power-transition theory’s monocausal vanishing disparities thesis is problematic in three respects: practical, theoretical and empirical.