Christopher David LaRoche


Research & Publications









Research overview:

I study international security and history, with special interests in nuclear security, international institutions, great power politics. My research is informed by political theory, my minor PhD field.

Dissertation & book project:

My dissertation, which I am currently converting into a book manuscript, examines how great powers collude and compete over world order. Using recently declassified archives and other primacy sources, I documented how great powers in the Concert and Cold War periods partitioned the world into exclusive zones of authority through what I refer to as 'geopolitical bargains.' These arrangements aimed to stabilize relations between great powers while granting them the freedom to intervene regionally. Consequently, global stability was achieved, but at the cost of enabling local violence. My dissertation then documents hows under conditions of unipolarity the United States and its allies sought to expand and revise these bargains in Europe and the Middle East. Now that the world is increasingly multipolar, a new set of geopolitical bargains may avert great power war by clarifying red lines and areas of preponderance — but at a potentially steep cost to the freedom of local regimes.

Stanton Foundation nuclear security project:

Managing the Atomic Order: nuclear rivalry and the geopolitics of arms control.
This two-year Stanton-funded project will examine the role of institutions and geopolitics in the nuclear escalation control and deterrence regimes of the 20th century, with an eye to the security architecture of the future.
More forthcoming August 2023.

Other research work:

Relational geopolitics: multipolarity, spheres of influence, and great power competition.
Drawing on my dissertation, this project investigates the role of geopolitics in great power competition. It reimagines "geopolitics" and argues for a constructivist interpretation — social or relational geopolitics — wherein geopolitical claims are recognized or rejected. A second part of this project examines the role of geopolitics in multipolar world orders, contrasting the Concert of Europe to today. This research has been presented at ISA, EISA, and ISA:NE. With Adam Pontius.

Psychological distance and international relations.
This project uses psychological distance, a concept developed in psychology and sociology, to critically investigate the microfoundations of international relations. Psychological distance redefines "distance" as subjective and multidimensional--we experience entities as temporally, physically, socially, and hypothetically distant. This differs from the linear, measurable conception used in international relations research. Supported by an EISA exploratory symposium, the project aims to introduce international relations to a psychological distance approach and sketch its value in explaining humanitarianism, nuclear weapons, climate change, migration, and technology. With Simon Frankel Pratt, Alena Drieschova, Benjamin Tallis, and Markus Kornprobst.

Reaction and world ordering.
This project builds on work published in International Theory and International Studies Quarterly on the intersection between theories of history and international relations. We investigate how dispositions towards history are used to mobilize and justify world historical visions, with a focus on reactionary contestations of liberal world order. With Joseph MacKay, Erin Jenne, and Lucas Dolan.

Rethinking structural international relations.
Building on our paper about Kenneth Waltz in the European Journal of International Relations, this project critically examines the role played by "material power" in justifying ideas-based constructivist and critical interventions. It argues that the material-ideas dichotomy as found in contemporary international relations and security studies is unsound, and cannot explain why supposedly materially powerful actors are routinely defeated by weaker ones. We also hope to explore creativity in international relations by examining instances where individuals shape structure. With Simon Frankel Pratt.

Recent policy and public-facing publications:

Russia's Nukes Are Probably Secure From Rogue Actors.
Foreign Policy, July 2023. With Kirill Shamiev.
We argue that Russia's nuclear command control means its nuclear arsenal is secure — but there's always a risk.

Ukraine Isn't Munich — or Vietnam or Berlin.
Foreign Policy, October 2022.
I argue that analogical reasoning, ubiquitous in foreign policy discussion and decision-making, often distorts more than it reveals.

Select peer-reviewed publications:

Why is there no reactionary international theory?
International Studies Quarterly, Vol. 62, No. 2 (June 2018): 234-244, with Joseph MacKay.

Why is there no reactionary international theory? International relations has long drawn on a range of traditions in political thought. However, no current, or even recent, major school of international-relations theory embraces reactionary doctrine. This is more surprising than some might assume. Reaction was once common in the field and is now increasingly common in world politics. In this note, we define reaction and show that no active and influential school of international-relations theory falls within its ideological domain. Nonetheless, reactionary ideas once deeply shaped the field. We identify two distinct kinds of reactionary international politics and illustrate them empirically. We argue that the current lack of reactionary international relations undermines the field's ability to make sense both of its own history and of reactionary practice. Finally, we offer some preliminary thoughts about why reactionary ideas hold little sway in contemporary international-relations theory.

Kenneth Waltz is not a neorealist (and why that matters).
European Journal of International Relations, Vol. 24, No. 1 (March 2018): 153-176, with Simon Frankel Pratt.

Faced with scepticism about the status of grand theory in International Relations, scholars are re-evaluating Kenneth Waltz's contribution to theoretical debates in the field. Readers of Waltz have variously recast his work as structural functionalist, scientific realist and classical realist in liberal clothing. We contribute to this re-evaluation by systematically assembling misreadings of Waltz that continue to occur across all of International Relations' schools — that his theory is positivist, rationalist and materialist — and offering a coherent synthesis of his main contributions to International Relations theory. By linking Theory of International Politics to both Man, the State, and War and Waltz's post-1979 clarifications, we show that Waltz offers International Relations scholars a coherent vision of the worth and method of grand theory construction that is uniquely 'international.'' In particular, we focus on Waltz's methodology of theory building and use of images, demonstrating these to be underappreciated but crucially important aspects of Waltz's work. We finish by proposing methodological, practical and pedagogical 'takeaways'; for International Relations scholars that emerge from our analysis.

The conduct of history in International Relations: rethinking philosophy of history in IR theory.

International Theory, Vol. 9, No. 2 (July 2017): 203-236, with Joseph MacKay.

IR scholars have made increasingly sophisticated use of historical analysis in the last two decades. To do so, they have appealed to theories or philosophies of history, tacitly or explicitly. However, the plurality of approaches to these theories has gone largely unsystematized. Nor have their implications been compared. Such historical–theoretic orientations concern the ‘problem of history’: the theoretical question of how to make the facts of the past coherently intelligible. We aim to make these assumptions explicit, and to contrast them systematically. In so doing, we show theories of history are necessary: IR-theoretic research unavoidably has tacit or overt historical–theoretic commitments. We locate the field’s current historical commitments in a typology, along two axes. Theories of history may be either familiar to the observer or unfamiliar. They may also be linear, having a long-term trajectory, nonlinear, lacking such directionality, or multilinear, proceeding along multiple trajectories. This comparative exercise both excavates the field’s sometimes-obscured commitments and shows some IR theorists unexpectedly share commitments, while others unexpectedly do not. We argue that better awareness of historical–theoretic reasoning, embedded in all IR uses and invocations of history, may encourage the discipline become more genuinely plural.

Research & Publications

Research overview

Dissertation summary

Other research