Amidst the major transformation of the global system after the Cold War, the study of international relations has maintained a predominantly top-down orientation. This apex-centred focus comes out most clearly in the important debates concerning the demise of the Soviet Union and the hegemonic role of the United States of America (USA).1 The same perspective is also evident in the preoccupation in the international relations literature with specific aspects of the post-Cold War settlement, namely German reunification, USA-Japanese and USA-European economic and strategic relations, as well as the questions of leadership in the evolution of regionalism in Europe and the Asia-Pacific.2 Given the marked capacity of the major powers to affect events and structure, this mode of analysis rests on a solid foundation. The rationale of this book, however, is that there is a need to stretch the parameters of scholarly attention away from the restrictive confines of this dominant approach. At the core of this argument is the salience of looking at alternative sources of agency in order to more fully capture the evolving complexity in global affairs. While not suggesting that structural leadership by great powers is no longer the most important source of initiative in the international order of the 1990s, the introduction of a wider lens is deemed crucial if the processes of reform and change — especially those requiring considerable cooperation and collaboration — in a variety of issue areas on the international agenda for the 1990s are to be fully understood. Such a role may be performed by appropriately qualified secondary powers in an appreciably different way than in the past. While readily acknowledging that the term ‘middle powers’ is problematic both in terms of conceptual clarity and operational coherence, this category of countries does appear to have some accentuated space for diplomatic manoeuvre on a segmented basis in the post-Cold War era.
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