Date of Award

Spring 2005

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science & Geography


Graduate Program in International Studies

Committee Director

Simon Serfaty

Committee Member

Regina Karp

Committee Member

Chandra de Silva


International relations scholarship begins and ends with assumptions—about human nature; about human interaction; about starting points, relative information, and outcomes. Such assumptions are necessary to further the intellectual coherence and development of scholarly work. However, they restrict the applicability of scholarly research to those situations that parallel the work's underlying assumptions.

This work argues the body of international relations scholarship as a whole would benefit from the development of a pre-theory state, absent any assumptions about international relations, from which observers can identify those works of scholarship that are most effective in explaining perceptive states and the strategic decisions taken in light of them. Such a state of thinking acts as a proto-theory of international relations.

Proto-theory embraces the full realm of international relations scholarship, other fields, and any other area of human thought that provides insight into the manner in which strategic thinkers perceive themselves, their nations, and their situations. By expressing no initial preference for a particular model of decision-making or theory of international relations, it offers a means of transcending debates regarding the “correctness” of any particular view. Rather, proto-theory allows observers to focus on the explanatory power of any particular concept regarding the context under investigation.

This work tests the feasibility of a proto-theoretical approach to international relations by employing it in an examination of the United States' abandonment of its longstanding strategy of containment. It identifies the views prevalent in the United States prior to and at the time of its decision to alter its grand strategy in general and its approach to its competition with the Soviet Union in particular. It then compares the scholarly approaches most relevant to those views to determine if the behavioral indicators identified by them are accurate in their description of subsequent grand strategy.


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