Marc Lynch

International Relations 2008

 95% of American scholars of international relations think that the U.S. in 2008 was less respected abroad compared to the past, and 75% think this is a major problem (2% say it is not a problem at all).  That’s one of the findings of the 2008 edition of an annual survey of 2,724 international relations ...

 95% of American scholars of international relations think that the U.S. in 2008 was less respected abroad compared to the past, and 75% think this is a major problem (2% say it is not a problem at all).  That’s one of the findings of the 2008 edition of an annual survey of 2,724 international relations scholars released today. The survey by Sue Peterson, Mike Tierney and three co-authors of IR scholars in ten countries also found that only 18% of American IR scholars admit to having supported the invasion of Iraq in 2003, 8% believe that the U.S. presence in Iraq improves American national security, and 70% support a timetable for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. 57% think that a redeployment from Iraq to Afghanistan will improve U.S. security.

 Most of the survey was not about such headline-grabbing current political issues, of course.  The annual survey is really designed to give a snapshot of the field —  methodology, analytical paradigms, area of study, job prospects, top programs, and so on. This annual survey has become a standard reference for evaluating the state of the field in International Relations. Here are some of the findings which struck me as interesting:

  • The most influential scholars of the last 20 years: Bob Keohane,
    Alex Wendt, Ken Waltz, John Mearsheimer, Jim Fearon, Joe Nye, Bob Jervis, Sam Huntington, Peter Katzenstein, and Robert Cox.  Hard to argue with this top 10 list. 
  • The most interesting scholars of the past 5 years:  Wendt, Mearsheimer, Fearon, my GWU colleague Martha Finnemore, Nye, Katzenstein, Mike Barnett, Foreign Policy’s own Steve Walt, John Ikenberry, and Barry Buzan. I confess that I find Mearsheimer at number 2 to be baffling: while he certainly belongs on the "last 20 years list",  I’m not aware of anything he’s done recently other than the Israel Lobby book co-authored with Walt, which wasn’t really an academic publication.  For that matter, as influential as he’s been, the only thing Alex Wendt has published in the last five years is "Sovereignty and the UFO" (yes, UFO means Unidentified Flying Objects).   
  • What scholar has had the most impact on U.S. foreign policy in the past 20 years?  Joseph Nye. The funny part about this is that I just spent an hour chatting with him at the airport last week, in part about the costs and benefits of international relations scholars getting involved with policy.  The rest of the top 5: Huntington, Mearsheimer, Henry Kissinger and Michael Doyle. Look out for my good friend, occasional Abu Aardvark contributor, and Obama foreign policy team colleague Colin Kahl to join that list someday. 
  • Williams College is the best undergraduate liberal arts program. My old school has produced the most IR scholars of any comparable program, I’m proud to say.  And it is the only liberal arts college to make the "best place to study IR as an undergraduate" list.  James McAllister and friends, take a bow. 
  • IR scholars have been learning languages.  Only 27% admit to speaking no languages besides English.  That’s still about 27% too high; I’d guess that this 27% would admit to speaking math. 
  • What’s the most useful to policymakers?  Area studies — 2.22 out of 3.  Least useful?  Formal models — 0.97 out of 3. Chew on that. 
  • What is the most important region of the world for the U.S. today? The Middle East ( 30%).  In 20 years?  China/East Asia (68%).  Study Chinese and not Arabic, kids…

There’s lots of other interesting tidbits for people to explore in this annual survey of the state of the IR field in 2008.  So enjoy!

UPDATE:  Drezner (also a Williams undergrad!) finds some other headlines in the results

fewer than half as many scholars (23 percent of respondents in 2008 compared to 48 percent in 2006) describing terrorism as one of the three most significant current foreign policy challenges facing the United States. Most surprisingly, while 50 percent of U.S. scholars in 2006 said that terrorism was one of the most important foreign policy issues the United States would face over the subsequent decade, in 2008 only 1 percent of respondents agreed. American faculty members are becoming more sanguine about the war in Iraq, as well: in 2006 76 percent said that the Iraq conflict was one of the three most important issues facing the country, but in 2008 only 35 percent of U.S. respondents concurred.


UPDATE 2:  My friend Alex Wendt writes in gentle reproach to point out that he has, in fact, published more than the UFO article since 2003, noting a couple of articles and an "(admittedly forthcoming) chapter I have arguing, again from a quantum perspective, that the international system is a hologram."  Noted.  I would also point out, in Alex’s defense, that he has spent the last few years slaving over the launch of a much-anticipated new journal, International Theory (with Duncan Snidal). 

While it’s all in fun, I do want to stress that I didn’t mean to criticize Wendt, who is a long-time friendly acquaintance and deservedly one of the most influential international relations theorists of the last 20 years (ditto for Mearsheimer), but rather to poke fun at the "most interesting work in the last 5 years" category.  As I said to Alex, he will no doubt revolutionize the field again with his next round of publications, at which point he will no doubt fall off the "last five years" charts and be replaced by Ken Waltz. 

Regarding the "last five years" category, Mike Tierney, one of the editors of the TRIP survey, writes to acknowledge that this question usually produces odd results because the field is so divided — even the top vote getters rarely get more than 10%.  In fact, he initially told me that he thought that a few years ago Hans Morgenthau (who died in 1980) had made the "last five years" list. Alas, that was too good to be true — though Morgenthau does rank as #18 in the "last twenty years" category in this year’s survey, 29 years after his death. 

Another reader writes in to challenge my praise for Williams by claiming that Dartmouth (ranked 8th in the survey) should also be considered a liberal arts college.  I don’t know… Dartmouth has a great program and some absolutely first-rate IR scholars, but should an Ivy League school really be included in the "liberal arts" category even if it is small and undergrad oriented?  I don’t know enough to say.  So, point duly noted. 

D’oh!  Missed Oberlin at #9 for undergrad degree.  That’s liberal arts for sure.  That beats Williams, tied at #13.  Clearly, Williams is on the decline since I left! 

… and a final Saturday morning update, to end the NESCAC wars once and for all:  "Williams college was #17 and Oberlin was #9 on the question "From What Institution did you receive your undergraduate degree."  Williams was tied for 13th with Cornell and MIT for "What are the five best colleges or universities for undergraduate students to study IR." Oberlin was nowhere on that list and neither were our competitors (Amherst, swarthmore, etc)  As for decline, in the 2006 version we were in sole possession of 18th place so we have moved up a few spots since you left. In fact, GW was #10 in the 2006 survey and now they are not listed so the case for causal significance is clear on both ends!"  At least I don’t have to wear purple anymore…

And that’s a wrap.. 

 Twitter: @abuaardvark

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