The peace process in Northern Ireland is associated with the signing of the Good Friday or Belfast Agreement, the arduous and lengthy implementation of this Agreement, and the continuing sectarianism in Northern Ireland. Despite the numerous and various studies about this case, no collection of scholarly analysis to date has attempted to assess a wide variety of theories prominent in International Relations (IR) that relate directly to the conflict in Northern Ireland, the peace process, and the challenges to consolidating peace after an agreement. IR scholars have recently written about and debated issues related to paradigms, border settlement and peace, the need to provide security and disarm combatants, the role of agents and ideas, gender and security, transnational movements and actors, the role of religions and religious institutions, the role of regional international organizations, private sector promotion of peace processes, economic aid and peacebuilding, the emergence of complex cooperation even in the world of egoists, and the need for reconciliation in conflict torn societies. How do the theories associated with these issues apply in the context of Northern Ireland’s peace process? Theories of International Relations and Northern Ireland explores primarily middle-range theories of International Relations and examines these theories in the context of the important case of Northern Ireland.
There is a long history of case study research in the field of International Relations. This introductory chapter summarizes the benefits that derive from case study research and summarizes the insight and analysis that come from the chapters in the edited collection. Case study research is an attempt to develop theory or seek an answer to an apparent anomaly by the intensive study of a single case or group of cases. The principal advantage of this methodology is it is particularly good at exploring causal mechanisms. While some sight the problem of external validity when focusing on a single case study, the researchers in this volume are careful not to over-generalize from the single case. The chapters in this volume explain various aspects of the Northern Ireland peace process and further our understanding of various theories of International Relations related to conflict resolution and peacebuilding.
The eleventh chapter assesses the utility of cooperation theory to explain the peace process in Northern Ireland. This theory stresses the interconnectedness of leaders’ decision-making and the complexity associated with the emergence of cooperation. This theoretical approach stresses the possibility of actors learning to cooperate with others who have differing or competing interests, thus, emphasizing adaptive rather than rational policy-making. Negotiators representing different states and groups in Northern Ireland came to their decisions and policy choices based on the expected reaction of others. The complexity of this interaction came to be appreciated by the actors themselves. While historically cooperation theory explained state behaviour, the cooperation that led to the signing and implementation of the Agreement required a pattern of coordinated cooperation among numerous actors, including historic rivals.
Northern Ireland and International Relations theory
Timothy J. White
The concluding chapter summarizes the major points of the chapters and identify some common themes that emerge from the analysis provided by the contributors. This chapter explains how International Relations theory is furthered by the attempt to apply the case study method to explore the causal mechanisms associated with different theories. While the Northern Ireland case confounds the theoretical predictions of multi-lateral governance and the literature on decommissioning, certain theoretical approaches, especially those emanating from constructivism, proved useful in explaining the arrival of a peace settlement in Northern Ireland. Constructivism has the advantage of allowing the researcher to focus on the unique characteristics of the actors involved and the ideas and ideologies they devised and employed to pursue their interests, including peace.