Status Immobility and Systemic Revisionism in Rising Great Powers
Ward, Steven Michael
Edelstein, David M
Rising states generally have incentives to pursue moderate, conciliatory foreign policies. Why, then, do they sometimes adopt grand strategic orientations that reject and challenge the set of rules, norms, and principles that constitute the normative basis of the status quo, thereby inviting opposition and the formation of countervailing alliances? In this dissertation, I argue that one prominent cause of shifts toward what I call grand strategic systemic revisionism is status immobility - the perception that boundaries between high and low status category groups are impermeable and that successful status competition is impossible.I first reconceptualize the concept of revisionism, arguing that extant definitions fail to account for important qualitative (as opposed to quantitative) differences between grand strategic orientations. I contend that satisfaction with the status quo varies along two dimensions. States may be satisfied or dissatisfied with the distribution of resources in a system (territory, wealth, or status); and they may be satisfied or dissatisfied with the set of rules, norms, and principles that in part constitute and legitimate the distribution of resources. Revisionist intentions with respect to the distribution of resources may be perfectly consistent with a rising state's strategic imperatives. Rejecting or seeking to revise the constitutive elements of the status quo, though, is not, since it fundamentally threatens the defenders of the status quo and hampers the rising state's ability to pursue policies oriented toward short-term reassurance.I then draw upon the reemerging literature on status competition in IR to argue that perceptions of status category boundary impermeability produce psychological and political effects that facilitate the influence of actors who advocate aggressive foreign policies at the expense of those who advocate moderation and conciliation. The remainder of the dissertation employs process tracing and a "crucial case" research design to show that status immobility theory explains shifts toward grand strategic systemic revisionism better than existing alternatives. I conclude by discussing the implications of my argument for both IR theory and contemporary US foreign policy, with particular attention to the importance of status claims for the trajectory of a rising China.
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