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Jacek Kugler — Putin & Power Transition Theory: China, Russia, and Ukraine

According to Power Transition Theory, as developed by Dr. Kugler, an even distribution of political, economic, and military capabilities between contending groups of states is likely to increase the probability of war; peace is preserved best when there is an imbalance of national capabilities between disadvantaged and advantaged nations; the aggressor will come from a small group of dissatisfied strong countries; and it is the weaker, rather than the stronger power that is most likely to be the aggressor.

Dr. Jacek Kugler is the Elisabeth Helm Rosecrans Professor of International Relations in the Department of Politics and Policy at Claremont Graduate University. Through extensive publications on the causes and consequences of war, he has forged a reputation for innovative formal modeling and empirical analysis. His path-breaking work on political performance provides for the first time a comprehensive political measure to compare and assess the capacity of governments to implement goals regardless of regime type or economic development.

Kugler received his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan and an M.A. and B.A. in political science from UCLA. He is the former president of the International Studies Association (ISA) and the past president of the Peace Science Society. He has served as the co-editor of International Interactions. He was a faculty member at Vanderbilt University and Boston University and a research scholar at Harvard University, as well as project director at the Center for Political Studies, University of Michigan. He was a visiting scholar at UCLA, the California Institute of Technology, and the Hatfield School of Policy. He has also consulted for UNAIDS, IMF, the State Department, and a number of U.S. governmental agencies and private businesses.

The work that Kugler has conducted has had big effect on the research in his fields. For instance, his work on nuclear deterrence questioned the deduction that large threats could induce stability and anticipated the now-recognized danger of nuclear proliferation to rogue and terrorist groups; his work on power transition explained the peaceful relations among major powers during the Cold War, anticipated stability after the collapse of the Soviet Union and forecast the upcoming Asian challenge; and his work on political demography disclosed that political factors play a leading role in the decline of fertility, explaining the unexpected decline in China’s population, and anticipated that most of the developed world would face declining populations.

Download Kugler’s Powerpoint slides.

Shermer and Kugler discuss

  • Power Transition Theory and how it applies to Putin and Russia today
  • What does it mean for a nation to have power?
  • “The Ukraine war is a result directly from refocusing U.S. policy to regional stability – largely in the Middle East and a lack of focus on global stability driven by a consistent Grand Strategy.”
  • “Power Transition (PTT) suggests that a rising, dissatisfied challenger that reaches parity may seek to use force to overturn existing international norms. Current challenges by China over Taiwan, the China Sea along with increasing disputes with Japan and South Korea and the invasion of Ukraine by Russia confirm these expectations that China along with Russia are dissatisfied contenders.” China yes, but Russia?
  • Is Russia a great power?
  • The relationship between a nation’s economic strength and its political power
  • Where China figures into the future of the new world order
  • What happens if Putin succeeds in Ukraine? What if he fails?
  • What should the U.S. should have done in response to the annexation of Crimea, intervention in Syria, the destruction of Georgia and Chechnya, the imprisonment and murder of Russian dissidents, etc.?
  • What should NATO do now or in the near future?
  • “The key to peace is to build and maintain a preponderant satisfied coalition that supports common norms.” How do we do this?
  • “Peace in the true sense requires overwhelming satisfaction of the global powers eventually spreading to all members of the international community opening the possibility of integration of large regional communities and eventually a global community.” How do we get from here to there?

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This episode is sponsored by Wondrium:

Wondrium (sponsor)

This episode was released on March 29, 2022.


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