International Relations Theories

International Relations Theories – Discipline and Diversity
By Tim Dunne, Milja Kurki and Steve Smith
Oxford University Press – £30.99

[…] as I prepare the fourth edition of this book, the reasons for Russian actions in Crimea and Russia’s role in activities of Donetsk rebels continue to be discussed. How should Western states and their defence organizations interpret the ongoing conflict and how should they respond to it?

Tough question. Good question; which isn’t at all surprising, as in this best selling-text, International Relations Theories – Discipline and Diversity, Tim Dunnem, Milja Kurki and Steve Smith explore the full spectrum of theoretical perspectives and its many debates. A plethora of acute analysis that ranges from the historically dominant traditions of realism, liberalism and Marxism, right through to those of post-colonialism and green theory.

Indeed, these 320 pages (excluding a Guided Tour of Learning Features, a Guided Tour of the Online Resource Centre, Bibliography, Glossary and Index) and sixteen chapters that traverse such differing titles as ‘International Relations and Social Science,’ ‘Classical Realism,’ Structural Realism,’ ‘Critical Theory,’ ‘International Relations Theory and Globalization’ and the rather alluding title, ‘Still a Discipline After All; These Debates?,’ are, if nothing else, a socio-politico tour-de-force.

Apart from the above opening quote, just one aspect that backs this up is the unfortunate fact that we continue to live in a world where history cantankerously continues to repeat itself – which the three authors acknowledge throughout.

In relation to the Russian question, they continue: ”Various narratives exploring the motivations for and the conditioning factors leading to the conflict are put forward […]. One narrative postulates hostile expansionist intentions on the part of Putin-led Russia; others point to the fact that Russia’s role in the region should be read in light of a defensive strategy.”

Surely not?
Surely yes?
Surely the fact that ”Russia’s role in the region should be read in light of a defensive strategy,” would be reason enough to wholeheartedly substantiate this more than in-depth book’s mighty existence and publication alone?

But wait, there’s more – oodles of substantiation: ”This book is explicitly aimed at helping you think through […] questions concerning the causes of war and wider emerging questions in world politics […]. The fundamental problem in taking the views of actors at face value is that the world is rarely so simple that people can be completely aware of why they are acting in certain ways. Perhaps George W. Bush or Tony Blair, when deciding to go to war in Iraq, were looking for evidence of a clear and present danger to justify a feeling about what was ‘right.’ Perhaps those advocating decisive military action against Colonel Gaddafi genuinely thought their motivations were strictly humanitarian.”

Suffice to say, there are many aspects of this overtly compelling yet provocative book, that has a (slight) tendency to lean towards a rather large, political cat, being hurled amid an assortment of Orwellian induced pigeons.

Thus providing for dense deliberation.

For example, in the third chapter, ‘Structural Realism’ under the sub-heading ‘How much power is enough?,’ John J. Mearsheimer sheds interesting, perhaps detonatory light upon the balance of power: ”Offensive realists also take issue with the claim that the defender has a significant advantage over the attacker, and thus offence hardly ever pays. Indeed, the historical record shows that the side that initiates war wins more often than not.”

How about Germany in World War II?
Iraq in Kuwait?
America in Vietnam?

He continues: ”And while it may be difficult to gain hegemony, the USA did accomplish this feat in the western hemisphere during the nineteenth century. Also, imperial Germany came close to achieving hegemony in Europe during the First World War […]. While nationalism surely has the potential to make occupation a nasty undertaking, occupied states are sometimes relatively easy to govern, as was the case in France under the Nazis (1940-4). Moreover, a victorious state need not occupy a defeated state to gain an advantage over it. The victor might annex a slice of the defeated state’s territory, break it into two or more smaller states, or simply disarm it and prevent it from rearming.”

Hmm., the Nazi occupation of France was everything but ”relatively easy.” Admittedly, compared to the occupation of Russia, it undoubtedly was, but countless books are still being written about Vichy and the German occupation of France. Just one of the (many) reasons being: it wasn’t easy at all…

It might be easy to take mighty umbrage with such argument(s), but isn’t that what propels such books as these unto a plateau of considered (dis)satisfaction and political, if not Machiavellian debate?

There again, according to Professor Nicola Phillips of Sheffield University: ”There can be no better place to start for any student of International Relations than here. This remains the gold-standard textbook on IR theory, packed to bursting with knowledge, insight and fresh perspectives from a group of the most renowned scholars in IR. As an introduction to the endlessly fascinating world of IR theory it can’t be beaten.”

One further interesting aspect of the book is the (blue) colour coded section at the end of each chapter which not only asks questions – a new addition to this edition – but provides a Further Reading list and Notes; thus enabling the reader to fully home-in on certain sections of what is clearly an involved and intrinsically academic study.

Finally, also, new to this fourth edition is a chapter on post-colonialism by Shampa Biswas, along with updated chapters and case studies that reflect new developments in world politics.

In all, International Relations Theories is an in-depth, colossal read that usurps all kinds of argument, thesis and deliberation. In fact, the more one reads, the more one wants to investigate further – which might explain the Further Reading section towards the back of the book.

David Marx


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