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Research for the Real World

International Interactions Policy Blog

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International Interactions is a peer-reviewed journal with direct relevance to a wide and interdisciplinary audience. Readers include political scientists, economists, historians, mathematicians, statisticians, anthropologists, sociologists, and other social science researchers with an interest in international relations, as well as informed professionals in business and government.

Launched in 2019, II's blog synthesizes scholarly findings for a practitioner audience. Each blog post describes the policy takeaways of a recent II article, in the authors' own words, for use by engaged policymakers who can apply this research to current issues and challenges. 

Read the most recent blog posts below. Previous posts are archived by topic: conflict, human rights, leadership, and political economy.


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The Ethnic Politics of Asylum | December 2020

Lamis Abdelaaty, Rivalry, ethnicity, and asylum admissions worldwide, International Interactions (2020). Free access until February 28, 2021 >>

In the US, asylum policies favor Cubans over Haitians. Jordanian borders were largely open to Syrians fleeing violence, but Palestinians were turned back. Rohingya refugees in India complain they are treated worse than other ethnic groups escaping Burma. Almost every country in the world hosts refugees – examples of bias, discrimination, and double standards abound.

In the era of globalized trade and investment, regulating migration is often portrayed as the last bastion of state sovereignty. But these instances show that countries do not always jealously guard their borders. While some forced migrants are shut out, others get a ‘free pass.’  Why do countries welcome some refugees and treat others poorly?  More specifically, why do countries accept some asylum applications and reject others?

The existing literature suggests that the assistance refugees receive is a reflection of countries’ wealth or compassion. Instead, I argue that states’ approaches to refugees are shaped by foreign policy and ethnic politics. Although previous work has hinted at these dynamics separately, I combine them into a two-part framework and identify the specific incentives that operate at international and domestic levels. Interstate rivalry and affinity with co-ethnics lead to generous asylum policies, while refugees from allied nations who lack common ethnic ties receive harsh treatment. Going beyond the existing empirical literature’s focus on the US and other Western countries, I find support for this theory, with statistical analyses showing that global asylum admissions are negatively correlated with the friendliness of interstate relations, and positively correlated with refugee ethnic affinity.

There were nearly 26 million refugees by the end of 2018, of which more than 6 million were stuck in protracted situations. At the time of writing, refugee crises in Myanmar, South Sudan, Syria, and elsewhere were ongoing. Exploring when and why the rights of these vulnerable populations are respected or abused has enormous normative and policy importance. Full article >>


A Rational Design Approach to IO Structures | November/December 2020

Doron Ella, Categorization in international organizations, International Interactions (2020). Free access until January 31, 2021 >>

This paper seeks to explain why some international organizations (IOs) officially categorize their member-states while others do not. Specifically, it explores what drives actors to incorporate and employ categorization mechanisms and why they vary among IOs. Consequently, it also examines the specific problems categorization mechanisms are intended to solve. Categorization is defined as a mechanism that classifies member-states into different groups within the IO, assigning them differentiated rights and/or obligations, and it can be considered an aspect of IOs’ membership structure. Here, I focus on categorization mechanisms that classify members according to various aspects of their material capabilities; grant differentiated degrees of control over the IO to certain category-groups; offer certain provisions of special treatment; grant certain groups additional or special obligations toward the IO; and usually incorporate flexibility provisions.

Building on theories of rational design, I argue that categorization is intended to provide a solution to cooperation problems in IOs and assist in preventing possible defections of participating member-states. I suggest three hypotheses. First, I hypothesize that categorization is more likely to be incorporated and employed in IOs with heterogeneous membership in terms of capabilities and/or preferences, since categorization regulates members’ cooperation by allowing them to comply according to their capabilities, making IOs more sustainable and politically viable for longer periods of time. Second, I hypothesize that categorization is more likely to be employed in IOs that deal with issues characterized by high levels of uncertainty, since members know they can initially cooperate within their designated category, and later, as international and domestic realties change, shift to other categories that better accommodate their evolving capabilities. And third, I hypothesize that categorization is more likely to be incorporated in IOs that require deep cooperation (and therefore are highly institutionalized), since such mechanisms allow states with high compliance costs to initially join the organization and be subsequently classified according to the readjustments they are currently capable of making. This also assists in maintaining cooperation within the institutional framework by lowering the defection incentives for less capable or wiling states.

To test these hypotheses, I created a new dataset on categorization, encompassing information on 156 IOs established between 1868 and 2015, and ranging across 12 issue-areas: trade, finance, security, the environment, human rights, politics, standardization, economic development, culture, education and training, science and technology, and Multilateral Development Banks. A multivariate logistic regression with robust standard errors is used to estimate the empirical relationships between the variables.

The empirical evidence provides support for all three hypotheses suggested in this paper, albeit with some reservations regarding the effects of preference heterogeneity. Indicators for capabilities heterogeneity, uncertainty, and depth of cooperation, when tested through various statistical models, all reach statistical significance and are influential in terms of both their coefficients and predicted probabilities. Structural control variables that address scope of membership and issue-scope, as well as the temporal variable that addresses year of establishment, have not proved to be significant to the decision to incorporate categorization. This is while the United States, as a major power deeply involved in the IOs’ establishing process, proved highly influential in the decision to incorporate categorization within IOs. The statistical analysis indicates that members’ heterogeneity, in terms of capabilities, has a considerable positive effect on the likelihood of incorporating categorization mechanisms in IOs. This seems to indicate, the establishing actors may consider categorization as a legitimate alternative to less palatable solutions, such as exclusion, for problems stemming from divergent power distributions.

The empirical analysis also reveals that IOs take uncertainty about the state of the world into consideration in deciding whether to incorporate categorization. Therefore, by clarifying current and future distribution of possible costs and benefits, categorization assists in reducing states’ uncertainties about the consequences of cooperation, and thereby lowers the incentives to defect from current cooperative agreements. Categorization, in this sense, ameliorates problems that stem from ever-changing international realities and uncontrollable externalities, and functions as a balanced maintenance mechanism.

I also provide empirical evidence for the hypothesis that posits that IOs requiring deep cooperation are more likely to include categorization mechanisms. Categorization, as such, assists in minimizing the compliance costs of less powerful participant states, raises their incentives to join and delegate power to IOs that are considered highly institutionalized, and at the same time lowers members’ incentives to defect by increasing payoffs for cooperation. Full article >>

Looking for more? Explore previous International Interactions blog posts by topic:

Conflict   Human Rights   Leadership   Political Economy