Introduction to International Relations

POL S 203 – Introduction to International Relations (Winter 2021)
Written Assignment #1: Explaining a War (or Almost War)
Due Date: The paper is worth 25% of the course grade. Papers must be submitted online through
(go to the
appropriate Module or the “Assignments” section of the website to submit and print a confirmation of
your submission for your records). Submission will entail uploading an electronic copy of your paper
(only the following file formats will be accepted – .doc, .docx, .pdf, .rtf). All papers turned in after this
time will be considered late. See the syllabus for details on late policies.
The second unit of the course (international security) focuses on explaining why states choose to go to
war or avoid fighting. Your assignment is to write a short paper that explains an actual or potential
conflict (a “case”) that could have, might, or did lead to war between at least two states.
To write a successful paper, you must do several things:
• Clearly identify the case that could have, did, or might lead to war (keep this brief).
• Use one of the explanations discussed in this class, and make an argument for how it
explains the outcome (either war or not war).
• Provide a possible counterargument, such as by addressing shortcomings in the framework
you have presented with respect to the case you have chosen; and/or illustrating how another
explanation might help us better understand the case.
This paper will be easier to write if you pick a specific event (for instance, it will be easier to write a
strong paper about “Nazi Germany’s decision to invade Poland in 1939” than about “the start of World
War II” in its entirety).
Explanations you could use include (among others):
Incomplete Information Commitment Problems Diversionary War
Conflicts you could pick (you can choose others – this is only meant to help get you started):
US/Iran tension in early 2020 2003 Iraq War 2020 Armenia/Azerbaijan War
1991 Gulf War 2008 Russia/Georgia War Tension over Kashmir
US/China 2018/2019 trade war 1992-95 Bosnian War 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis
North Korea nuclear program
In crafting your paper, make sure to keep in mind each of the following:
• You do not need to read additional academic articles or books to write this paper, but you should
refer back to the textbook, assigned readings, and/or lecture. You may find it useful to look at
additional resources about the case to make sure you understand the general background to the
case and how it maps onto the explanation you are presenting. However, this means you should
not simply recycle wholesale an existing argument from someone else (expert or otherwise).
What we are looking for is for you to be able to use course and/or any other relevant materials
to develop an argument, and systematically evaluate both its strengths and weaknesses.
• Referring to specific concepts, events, and actors in making your points will improve your
paper, while vagueness, ambiguity, and unsubstantiated arguments will be treated accordingly.
• Make sure to justify your argument. Consider why a skeptical (though persuadable) reader
should believe your argument. In particular, think about why the event happened at the
particular time and place it did (rather than earlier, later, or not at all; or someplace else). In
supporting your points, you should make sure to cite specific authors where appropriate (see
section on Citations/Sources below for further guidance).
• Make sure to also consider likely shortcomings or critiques of your argument, and consider
likely counterarguments.
• This is not a collaborative assignment – you are expected to research and write your paper
independently with no discussion with others (other than in consultation with your TA,
instructor, or writing centers on campus).
General Instructions:
Length and Formatting
Papers should be 3-4 double-spaced pages in length. This total is for pages of text and does not include
such elements as a title page, list of sources cited, as well as any optional appendices, tables, graphs,
maps, etc. Papers should be typed, double-spaced, with 1-inch margins on all sides, and use 12-point
Times New Roman font.
Failure to comply with the page requirements (whether too short, too long, or only meeting the
requirements by manipulating fonts, margins or other formatting) will be penalized by at least 10% of
the paper grade. Each paper must include the student’s name, TA’s name, course and section number,
and date on the first page of the paper, the main text of the paper, and a list of works cited. Each page,
except for the title page, must be clearly numbered.
Each assignment is to be well-written, and proofread for grammar, style, and clarity. Refer to the
syllabus for a discussion of general expectations for written assignments in this course. Please look at
the rubric sheet attached below to understand critical elements of a successful paper.
Make sure to address all components of the prompt.
Paper should primarily draw on course readings and material. To reiterate, the emphasis should be on
applying readings and material in a rigorous manner and addressing all components of the prompt for
the assignment.
Citations should be in-text parenthetical references (e.g. Author Year: pg#). The citation should include
the last name of the author(s), year, and the relevant page numbers for the reference. If there are three
or more authors for the work, only the first author is listed followed by the term “et al.” You are free to
use any particular citation style so long as you are consistent in its use. A few examples are included
below. Other examples can be found in the course readings. If you are referencing a website, list the
title, author, date you accessed it, date of posting, and the full URL. If you have any questions, please
consult the Political Science/JSIS/LSJ/GWSS Writing Center (virtual consultations available at, or come see your TA or the instructor during office hours.
A complete list of works cited should be included on a separate page at the end of your essay. Failure to
properly cite material, regardless of its source, will result in up to a 100% deduction from your paper
grade and failure for the course. Please be aware that all submissions will be run through SimCheck,
which is a web-based system for detecting plagiarism. For further details on academic honesty, consult
the syllabus.
Citation Examples:
Huntington (1993: 159) argues that cultural factors are becoming more important than ideological or
economic factors in explaining conflict in the post-Cold War era.
In the post-Cold War era, cultural factors are becoming more important than ideological or economic
factors in explaining conflict (Huntington 1993: 159).
Final Words
This assignment has a great deal of choice, so it is best to pick a topic that you know something about
and that interests you. Although the assignment is only of modest length, it bears emphasizing that the
requirements and expectations are nonetheless quite stringent; this means papers should not be
researched or written hastily in an extremely short period of time, or at the last minute. It is highly
recommended that you talk to your TA sooner rather than later if you have questions, especially if you
are using an explanation or case not listed above.
Paper Assessments Combine the Following Elements:
Element A range B range C Range D/F range
of course
understanding of
course concepts
-Deft application
to specific event
understanding of
limits of the
concept or
through a robust
understanding of
course concepts
-Able to apply
concept to
specific event
-Makes original
but does not
understanding of
the limitations of
the concept
understanding of
course concepts
-Struggles to
connect concept
to event
-Paper may be
missing a
-Paper does not
show an
understanding of
course concepts
-No connection
concepts and
Organization and
-Paper has a clear
and original
structure with an
introduction with
a thesis and a
-Natural flow
from paragraph
to paragraph
-Paper has a clear
structure with an
introduction with
a thesis and a
-Flow of paper
may be choppy in
-Paper has an
argument, but it
is hard for the
reader to find
-Paper may be
missing a thesis
or a conclusion
-Paper does not
have logical
transitions or
-Paper lacks an
-Paper lacks
organization or
Writing and
-Sentences are
clear and wellconstructed
-Paper is close to
error free
-Writing is
powerful, clear,
or creative
-The majority of
sentences are
clear and wellconstructed
-Paper has a
handful of
grammar and
spelling errors
-Many sentences
are difficult to
-Paper is full of
spelling and
grammar errors
-Weak sentence
construction and
grammar and
spelling errors
interfere with
ability to
understand paper
Citations -Outside sources
are consistently
cited using
proper format
Chicago, or other
is fine, just stick
to one)
-Outside sources
are reliable
-At least 3
-Outside sources
are consistently
cited using
proper format
Chicago, or other
is fine, just stick
to one)
-Outside sources
are reliable
-At least 2
-Outside sources
are cited but not
using a proper
format (for
instance, just
-Sources may not
be reliable
-At least 1 source
-No sources used

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