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Conference Proceeding

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In foreign policy, role transition as a process of role change implies at least two roles (a state'ʹs old role and its new role) and a dynamic process of role location in which Ego’s role changes over time. If every role for Ego presumes a counter-role for Alter, a pattern of role transition for Ego implies as well a potential process of role transition for Alter. In order to model the process of role transition, a taxonomy of mutually exclusive and logically exhaustive roles and counter-roles is desirable, in order to identify and specify the possible combinations of old and new roles as patterns of role transition. Binary role theory provides a taxonomy that meets these criteria and is employed in this paper to model the process of role transition as a transition in Grand Strategy Orientations. The binary model is complete in a way that three-way (or multi-way) models cannot be. Several hypotheses about the role of domestic politics in foreign policy role transitions, however, suggest the conditions under which unstable triads may become provisionally stable. Application of the resulting model to selected episodes of role transition in triadic relations among China, the Soviet Union, the United States, Japan, and South Korea illustrates the model’s potential descriptive and explanatory power for analyzing strategic triads and the contours of a research program for understanding foreign policy change as a role transition process.


Prepared for presentation at the 2014 Annual Meeting of the International Studies Association, Toronto, Canada March 25-29, 2014.


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