Monday, November 10, 2008

Cottam/Fozouni, Holsti, Snyder and Peterson et al

The articles reviewed in this section are:

Cottam and Fozouni's Chapter 1: Return of Political Strategy
Holsti: Theories of International Relations and Foreign Policy
Snyder: One World, Many Theories
Peterson, et al: Teaching and Research Practices in International Relations

I. PART ONE: Analytical Summary

In the Snyder article, the main point is that while all three international relations traditions have some relevance to policy today, none of them are capable of explaining all of the changes occuring today (p. 61). Snyder states that instead of creating new theories, the theories have been changed to meet the new situations in the international world (p.53). He states that realists keep to the basic principles of realism, regardless of the changing situation, and that is the weakness of the realist tradition (p. 56). Liberalism, while accounting for the US tactic of spreading democracy, fails to take into account what occurs in emerging democracies (p.58). Constructivism, or Liberalism, emphasizes cultural values but fails to take into account how those values might change and the structures which would cause these to change (p.60). Snyder goes through all three traditions and points out that they all have relevance and weaknesses when assessing today’s international political environment.

Holsti’s main point is to understand how realism, and the critics and critiques of realism, will help us understand international relations in the post-Cold War era (p.56). Holsti states the five basic principles of realism: the central point is to study the conditions of war and peace, that the structure of the system is required to be understood, the focus on geography, rational behavior, and unitary actors (p. 36-37). He also states that there are crucial problems with realism and activities realism cannot explain (p.38). Holsti then posits that the theories of liberalism (p.43), world-system theories (p.45), and decision-making theories (p.47) all cover the aspects of international relations that realism cannot explain. Although the other theories can account for some of the weakness of realism, he states that we should not dismiss realism. Instead, because the possibility of war is always there, realism has relevance in the current world, regardless of its weaknesses (p. 58).

The Peterson et al article emphasized the responsiveness of academia to real world events in the post-Cold War era (p.10). This can clearly be seen in the responses they gather to questions 56 and 57 (p.38) where the experts were asked what area of the world has the greatest importance today and in 20 years. The answers clearly show a shift away from USSR/Eastern Europe towards Middle East/North Africa and Asia (p.38). The article also emphasizes that research changes more slowly than teaching (p.36).

Cottam and Fozouni emphasized that in the post-Cold War era, politics are removed from strategy in international relations theories, or a lack of political strategy (p.24). This is demonstrated by the applying the seven criteria for political strategy (p.28) to various theories, such as Keenan’s (p.34-35). Under this test, no current theory used to describe post-Cold War international relations meets the criteria for political strategy (pp. 34-36, 48-50, 56-59 [discussion of each theory and criteria for political strategy]). The lack of political strategy emphasizes a secondary point: that due to nuclear weapons, new theories need to be constructed to deal with the world that include the ability to take change into account (p.38).

II. PART TWO: Critical Evaluation

A common theme throughout all of these articles is the lack of a cohesive theory to explain international relations. The Holsti article claims that all the theories, when taken together can explain international relations (see above). However, this conglomeration of theories is unwieldy and leads to no cohesive analysis. By simply combining all the theories together, you are avoiding the prospect of creating a theory that would be analyze-able. Rather, you create a situation in which any change can be explained by a large conglomeration. This does not lead to a clear and simplified explanation of the world, which is one of the goals of a theory.

Then Snyder makes essentially the same claim, but in different words. Snyder claims that all theories have a role in international relations, although none of them can be used, individually, to explain the current international situation (see above). This also lacks the clarity that a single theory would provide. Rather than offering any solutions, Snyder simply states what each theory does well, and why that particular theory does not work on its own. He also fails to provide a solution.

This could be, in part, because of the lack of change in academia. The Peterson et al survey demonstrates that although academia recognizes change and responds to change within the classroom, it fails to recognize that same change in its research (see above). If academia was to recognize the change within its own research, it is possible that a new, comprehensive theory would emerge.

With a new emergent theory, it is possible that political strategy would return to international relations. Cottam and Fozouni's article states that no current theory can explain the post-Cold War world, in terms of political strategy. The claim is that theory has split from strategy, and lacks the ability to explain anything in the current world. This is due to the inability of any theory to be considered political strategy (see above). However, how valid are the criteria for political strategy? Must a theory fit all seven criteria in order to be relevant to explaining the current world? The authors do not state where the foundations of the seven criteria come from. The criteria are simply presented to the reader, and applied to the theories to support their point that no current theory meets the criteria. It is a somewhat circular argument.

So how can a theory be relevant to today’s world? The articles fail to explore what a coherent theory would look like, and instead focus on critiquing the theories that currently exist.

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