In a departure from tradition in international relations, we recognize all actors and entities are embedded in three interconnected systems or contexts, namely, the human system and its physical and social properties, the natural system and its life supporting properties and, more recently, the constructed cyber system with its enabling potentials for all actors and entities worldwide.
The theory of lateral pressure, developed jointly with the late Robert C. North (Stanford University), has provided the theoretical direction for our research before and after the construction of the cyber domain—as well as an appreciation of our dependence on and development of the natural environment for security and basic survival. We proceed from the assumption that the basic premises of lateral pressure theory are generic for all forms of interaction, "real" and cyber, with all forms of impact on the natural environment and all other constructed contexts.
Lateral pressure refers to the propensity of states to expand behavior and exert leverage outside territorial boundaries (for non-state actors, lateral pressure is the propensity to extend power and influence in world politics and markets). To simplify, if unimpeded by internal or external conditions, lateral pressure leads to the expansion of external influence, consolidation of competing interests, and intersection of spheres of influence.
What follows is a brief note on the focal research initiatives. We begin with the most current research on the cyber domain, then "work backwards" to the foundations of theory and early empirical work.
- Cyberpolitics in International Relations
- Security Science & Policy Analytics
- Cyber Governance & Global Accord
- Dynamics of International Conflict
- Sustainability: Knowledge & Environment
Throughout, the theoretical direction focuses on the use and the development of lateral pressure theory—as noted in the THEORY segment of this website.
International Relations & Cyberspace
For international relations, the highest-order question is how and when these issues matter – and whether they will create escalating tensions, perceptions of threats, and/or rise to the level of "high politics" – and eventually, the antagonizing requisites that trigger hostilities, conflict, and violence. This logic and its impacts hold in the "real" domain, the built cyber domain, and in relation to the natural environment with its life supporting properties.
A major strength of the lateral pressure framework lies in its capacity to provide a causal logic for:
- linking the dynamics of (uneven) growth in a state's core features, in terms of people, technology, and resources,
- demonstrating empirically the relative strength of these variables in overall state capacity,
- shaping economic, institutional, and political factors,
- situating the role of "time" throughout, and creating defining conditions for policies and decisions in the "real" as well as cyber domain. However, the relationship between "real" and "cyber" is not self-evident.
For cyberspace, with the Internet at its current core, the "antagonizing" logic above still holds and there is little reason to think otherwise—unless evidence to the contrary is uncovered. The question for the cyber domain is this: in addition to the logic framed by lateral pressure theory, how does its specific character shape the forms of expansion, the intersections of influence, the actors empowered (or not) by its structure and the like.
The core challenge is how to reason about international relations within the built "virtual" artifact. It goes without saying that the burden of research and results to date emerged from investigations in the "real" domain. This is followed by what we have learned by exploring the social-environment connections. Only recently have we begun to explore international relations in the cyber domain.