Research projects

From Sphere of Influence to Sphere of Dominance: Understanding the Russia-Ukraine War through International Hierarchies

This project combines the concept of sphere of influence with the literature on international hierarchies to shed a new light on the structural causes of the Russia-Ukraine War. A sphere of influence is a great power-dominated type of international hierarchy in which actors are organized into vertical relations of super- and subordination. The superordinate provides subordinates with security, economic and/or ideological “systemic services.” In exchange, subordinates align to the superordinate’s preferences at the expense of their relationships with other great powers. I argue that a subordinate attempts to leave a sphere of influence when (1) the superordinate’s systemic services do not keep pace with the evolving interests of the subordinate and (2) the existence of an alternative sphere of influence offers the prospect of better services. The superordinate may react violently if it expects its national security to be jeopardized, either because the subordinate is geostrategically important or for fear that other subordinates could emulate. Trying to retain the subordinate under its yoke, the superordinate strives to transform the consent-based sphere of influence into a coercion-based sphere of dominance. Beyond the Russia-Ukraine War, this argument points out the inherent instability along the fault lines that separate contiguous spheres of influence.

Why is China’s Foreign Policy Self-Defeating? When Ontological Security imperils National Security

This research project looks at Beijing’s growingly assertive behavior and explores its causes. New is the increasing simultaneity of Chinese provocative actions. If China had previously worked to lower resulting tensions in order to avoid struggles on different fronts, it has recently put less emphasis on mitigation measures. Worse, Beijing is often doubling down on initial provocations, resulting in protracted rivalries. The ongoing institutionalization of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), made of Australia, India, Japan and the United States, the conclusion of the technology-sharing agreement Aukus between the latter, Australia and the United Kingdom, the rising number of European countries devising Indo-Pacific strategies and regional players’ unilateral military buildups are all instances of counteractions to recent trends in Chinese foreign policy. This begs the questions: Why is China seemingly acting as if self-encirclement was the ultimate objective? Why does Beijing persist in what appears a self-defeating foreign policy, unable to adapt to a changing international environment?