Current Projects

Here you can find an overview of current research activities of the Chair of International Relations.

Diverting terror in its tracks: Behavioral experiments on moral judgments in battlefield trolley dilemmas

James W. Davis  & Rose McDermott  (Brown University)

Hypothetical trolley dilemmas are widely debated in moral philosophy. Judgments regarding the admissibility of sacrificing one life to save many depend on whether individuals apply principles derived from deontological or utilitarian ethics. The standard scenarios used to confront individuals with moral dilemmas, however, are unrealistic. Thus, many scholars question whether the insights they generate are useful for understanding how individuals think about moral decisions in real world settings. In response, behavioral researchers have begun to study trolley dilemmas in experimental and naturally occurring settings they believe to be more realistic or representative of situations likely to be confronted in everyday life (e.g. medical ethics or the design of autonomous vehicles). In this project, we extend the experimental study of trolley dilemmas to the field of international security by examining individuals’ moral judgments that occur in battlefield settings.


The Return of Great Power War?

The stability of the great power peace is at risk. Numerous trends are eroding each the pillars on which it rests. Because these processes are simultaneous and ongoing, they portend more than just erosion. Indeed, the possibility for catastrophic collapse is on the rise. This project identifies the conditions that gave rise to more than 70 years of great power peace and analyzes the forces that are eroding them with a view not only toward understanding current developments but also devising effective strategies to influence them.


The Macrofoundations of Behavioral and Rational Choice Assumptions in International Relations Theories

Behavioral IR is enjoying newfound popularity.  Nonetheless, attempts to integrate behavioral research into the larger project of IR theory have proven controversial. Many scholars treat behavioral findings as a trove of plausible ad hoc modifications to rational choice models, thereby lending credence to arguments that behavioral IR is merely residual, empirical, and hence not theoretical. Others limit their research to cataloguing outcomes consistent with the basic tenets of behavioral models. This project is devoted to answering the question of when rational choice or behavioral assumptions should guide efforts to build IR theory by examining the various conditions under which actors reason.


For more information on a specific project, please click on the project's title in the menu below. 

The Center for Security Economics and Technology (C SET) is an interdisciplinary think tank that conducts research and provides consultancy services for both government institutions and private companies - bridging the domains of security policy, economics and technology.

At the interface of the state, the economy, and the military, C SET provides a unique forum for excellence in interdisciplinary research, scientific consulting, and education. The center possess considerable expertise regarding economic aspects of security and defense. 


C SET was founded in 2007 as a cooperative endeavor between the Federal Department of Defense, Civil Protection and Sport (DDPS) and the University of St. Gallen’s Institute for Political Science (IPW-HSG) under the direction of Prof. James W. Davis. In the past, C SET has worked in close cooperation with other research institutes of the University of St. Gallen, including the Institute for Public Services and Tourism (IDT-HSG) and the Institute of Technology Management (TECTEM).  


For current research activities of C SET, please select from the project items in the upper right menu. 

The IPW-HSG conducts basic and applied research on energy and climate governance in Switzerland and the EU as well as on interactions between them.

Swiss Energy Governance

With respect to Switzerland, our research asks how the multi-level governance of the domestic energy transition can be made more effective. We examine how the federal, cantonal, and municipal levels interact, where conflicts arise between the three levels, and how these conflicts can be managed. The findings are also informative for other federal countries, such as Germany, Canada, and the US.


European Energy Governance

With respect to the European Union, we examine its relations with non-EU countries. We assess what roles non-members like Norway, Russia, Serbia, Turkey, the UK, and others play in governing energy in Europe. In addition, we consider power shifts and evolving strategies of EU institutions and EU member states like Germany in external energy policy. 


Interactions between Swiss and European Energy Governance

Based on the other two research areas, we investigate the energy relations between Switzerland and the EU. We explore what the strong physical interconnection of the Swiss and EU electricity systems means for the future bilateral relationship. Especially, we evaluate how power asymmetries could affect the implementation of the Swiss Energy Strategy 2050 and the EU Green Deal. 

How do Rising Power Identities and Interests Change Over Time? The case of India, 1980-2020

In this postdoctoral research project, Dr. Manali Kumar explores whether and how a state’s national identity and interests change as it becomes a rising power in the international system. The focus is on the case of India from 1980-2020 and involves constructing an original interpretivist dataset of its national interests, which is being funded by the University of St. Gallen. Head of the project is Dr. Manali Kumar, an international postdoctoral research fellow at IPW-HSG. She also studies the value of prudence in statecraft especially as an approach for decision making under uncertainty.

A project abstract is available here:

Rising Power Identities and Interests

The following Ph.D. projects are carried out and supervised at the Chair of International Relations/IPW-HSG.


  • Jana C. von Dessien: “The Framing of Legitimacy: A Longitudinal Study of the Legitimation Process of Drone Strikes in US Counterterrorism” (Supervisor: James W. Davis)