A Theory of Contestation Space in International Regimes
40 Pages Posted: 10 Apr 2019
Date Written: March 27, 2019
In a time of uncertainty in the international order, scholars of international relations are directing increased attention to both systemic power transitions and contestation of global norms and institutions. Although similar real-world dynamics are motivating both of these scholarly trends, there has been little cross-pollination among scholars studying power at a systemic and structural level and those studying power at a normative and discursive level. This paper merges insights from these literatures to explain how states’ contestation of the normative components of the international order shapes global politics during times of power transition. It does so by introducing the theoretical concept of contestation space in international regimes. This concept modifies a basic rational choice bargaining model to depict how new equilibria regimes are formed under conditions of contestation over the principles, norms, rules, and decision-making procedures that compose international regimes. The theoretical concept of contestation space shows how ambiguity, omission, and contradiction in complex international agreements make room for contested understandings of bargaining outcomes. This contestation space facilitates the establishment of new equilibria in international regimes, but it can also act as a source of misperception and conflict during power transitions. This theory thus contributes to a burgeoning research program in the study of realpolitik that analyzes the broad range of instruments of power states employ and emphasizes the ways that hierarchy operates in international relations.
Keywords: international regimes, contestation, international law, bargaining, norms, realpolitik, power transition, international order, law of the sea, UNCLOS
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