Change and omission

Foreign Policy in a Transformed World. First edition
November 29, 2002

Readers picking up this volume might well assume that the "transformed world" of its title refers very specifically to the rupture of September 2001. The transformation in question, however, owes much more to 1991 - the time of the collapse of the USSR and concomitant ending of the cold war - than 2001. Whether because of tight publishing schedules or editorial refusal to be ruffled, the volume does no more than merely reference the attacks of September 11, concentrating instead on the altered context occasioned by the end of bipolarity and the hastening pace of globalisation.

The editors assert that these phenomena require an expanded understanding of the domain of foreign policy - an arena peopled with non-governmental organisations, interstate agencies, multinational corporations, and transnational social movements. Expressing dissatisfaction with conventional realist (and neo-realist) interpretive frameworks, they propose an enlarged repertoire of theoretical tools that could account for cooperation as well as conflict, and they are duly attentive to the overlapping contexts (international, regional, and domestic) from which foreign policy emerges.

But the authors' intentions are transformative only up to a point, and their distillation locks them into a rather familiar state-centrism. "Foreign policy is composed of the goals sought, values set, decisions made and actions taken by states, and national governments acting on their behalf, in the context of the external relations of national societies."

The definition begs as many questions as it might hope to answer: which relations, to what and to whom, are external?

Clearly, Mark Webber and Michael Smith are not in the business of radically calling into question the very foundations on which the sub-discipline of foreign policy analysis (FPA) is built, but presumably those seeking teaching resources are not looking for a fundamental critique of the field either.

The authors explicitly address themselves to students already versed in international relations, and world or comparative politics, but assume their volume will be adopted as an initial point of entry into FPA. The first four chapters deal broadly with the formulation and practice of foreign policy, while the bulk of the volume includes empirical case studies that strive for global comprehensiveness.

A series of regional cases duly deal with the Americas, the former Soviet Union, Europe, sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and East Asia. All chapters follow a common model, contrasting two distinct regional "players" to enable students to observe how both wider location and domestic specificities shape policy choices and outcomes.

Proposing that students begin by asking "who is doing what to whom?", the authors present rather limited answers that minimise the extent to which FPA can generate multiple, and much more provocative, responses.

Susan Carruthers is associate professor of history, Rutgers University, New Jersey, US.

Foreign Policy in a Transformed World. First edition

Editor - Mark Webber and Michael Smith
ISBN - 0 13 908757 5
Publisher - Prentice Hall
Price - £22.99
Pages - 366

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