Why should we study International Relations today?

Two years ago, I posted this text:
“At the beginning of 2015, the world looks more confused than ever. So one would assume that we do need a lot of good specialists to bring a sense of clarity and transparency to what is happening in Global Politics. Alas, what we see is that a lot of people in most countries give up understanding the chaos, resigning in the face of too much complexity. This includes decision makers who are skeptical re. the interference of self-appointed specialists. Plus, media reporting on global affairs is about as simplistic as the reality is complicated.
So why should young people today start a career by studying International Relations/ Global Politics? What can they expect from such a degree? What can taxpayers expect from such an investment? And politicians from these experts? The postings you sent them, and the resulting debate was one of the most successful in the history of ‘Global Matters’.”

So let me repeat my question in a slightly modified form:

‘Global Politics’ both as a subject and a discipline, looks messy. There is less cooperation between governments and all kinds of actors, plus increased populism (U.S. elections, Brexit, Russia, the Philippines, referenda in the Netherlands and Italy, etc.). The world has not seen this degree of conflict with even slimmer prospects of problem solving, since after the Second World War.

Why should we, and how could we encourage young students to get into this field now?

– Prof. Klaus Segbers

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  1. Justas Paleckis 4 days ago

    Specialists of Global Politics are needed, especially when the world looks more confused than ever. I would like them to follow the wisdom of Seneca: “Do not rush to judge, hasten to understand”. For the twenty-first century it seems the opposite trend is gaining ground. More and more people tend to judge, blame or demand impossible when they themselves are incapable to comprehend and do not even try to understand. It can be said about everyone: beginning from the man on the street, journalists, political scientists, public figures, to parliamentarians and heads of states. It is too easy to divide into black and white or into the absolutely right ones and totally wrong ones. When at least a dozen deadly threats are hanging over our planet, specialists of Global Politics should focus, I believe, not only on the firefighting of international conflicts or how to block the arrival of populists. These threats are not only a nuclear war, not just terrorism or a terrorist with an atomic bomb in his hand. It is the destruction of nature and global warming as a result of insatiable consumption and profit craving. It is also the growing gap between the richest and the poorest people and countries, conflicts of civilizations and religions, and finally signs of dehumanization, human degradation, etc. Those threats can be realized and gradually eliminated only with the concentrated forces of mankind. But a journey of a thousand miles, as Chinese say, begins with a single step. It is an extremely important and challenging task for young people to go into this field now.

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  2. Dmitri Mitin 4 days ago

    It is unsurprising that the “post-factual” world of populist politicking, talk show punditry, and infortainment media offers limited opportunities for dispassionate expert analysis. But the recent political and media trends should not reduce the appeal of professionalized, theory-driven study of international politics. The value of such degrees is, at the very least, sticky; it may even appreciate, depending on the area of specialization. The conditions, generating demand for expertise in IR (beyond the academe), remain robust. For instance, the national security communities will continue to absorb the specialists with strong fundamentals in policy analysis. Developing such skills requires solid theoretical and methodological training. The more volatile or atypical the international developments become in the future, the greater will be the interest in the professionals, capable of making sense of the situation. Globalization is another persisting trend that creates applications for IR degrees across the national bureaucracies, but also in the local governments, NGO sector, and the corporate world

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  3. Shen Dingli 4 days ago

    With Brexit and Trump phenomena, global politics is increasingly complex. Traditional theories seem less powerful to predict and interpret such “Black Swans”. Then, what is the relevance to continue to study international relations? As I stated on January 27, 2015 here, all social science theories have been abstracted so they have ignored certain “less important” factors that would affect the outcome. Normally, such abstraction would not affect the analysis, as those secondary variables are truly less prominent. However, in reality, there is no single event in social science area that would fit perfectly to be predicted or explained by any single theory. At times secondary factors could not be ignored. For instance, when migration of labors within EU ever affects the employment of Britons inside Britain, and when visa. When the advantage of globalization has been well recognized, its disadvantage, primarily due to uneven distribution wealth within a country or system, tends to be less noticed. Then, such “less important” factors could generate Brexit and Trump phenomena.

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  1. Zoltan Eperjesi 2 days ago

    The topic is more newsworthy than ever; – of course, depending on how one looks at it. Nobody can deny that one has to deal now with relevant complexities such as system, game, decision and even time complexity; – these are only some examples. The main question is how the reduction of complexity works at present. IR can offer solid support and viable alternatives in this direction. My point is that IR offers a more comprehensive view on historical data and political ideologies too. International Relations are the outcome of historical change which means that in order to understand one, you must consider the other. It is increasingly important to not to be without feasible alternatives. This is especially true if think on the spread and quality of university education, because experts are coined in this highly sensible setting. Let’s take as example populism (left-wing, right-wing etc.) as crisis phenomena. Populism as harm movement or political program targets the common person, generally by typical contrast with another group or elites. More specifically, the main tool of populist leaders is the basic principle of foreign policy in ancient Rome: “divide et impera” (divide and rule). Populist leaders usually combine the basics of right-wing and left-wing elements by contrasting these with large political, financial or business interests but often also being antagonistically to established labor, democratic and socialist parties. Following this, the term populism can indicate both authoritarian or democratic organizations and actions. Populist movements are commonly critical of entrenched political representation or power and everything else that is able to influence the connection or communication between the people and their leaders or even the government. If one concerns the most democratic form of populism, it can be observed that this kind of movement seeks to protect the interest and to enlarge the influence of ordinary citizens, by radical reforms rather than revolutionary war. However, by taking its contemporary understanding, then populism is most frequently connected with an authoritarian form of politics. Following the notional meaning, it can be stated that populist politics rotates around a charismatic leader who claims to and appeals to represent the will of the people so as to strengthen his own status and power. If this person-centered form of politics occurs, most of the political parties have lost their weight (power erosion is in process) on the basis (electorate) and the occurred “power gap” is filled by more or less authoritarian leaders who are struggling to determinate the “right” direction of their movement. In this new context the elections mainly serve to confirm or reconfirm the leader’s authority rather than to incorporate the various allegiances of the voters. Moreover, people who are staying away from the elections also gain an importance as politically their nonparticipating attitude is calculable. In the United States the term was applied to the political program of the Populist Movement and this gave rise to the People’s or Populist Party (1892). Several of the party’s postulations were later implemented as resolutions, laws or even as constitutional amendments. Such an example is the progressive tax system. The populist demand for more “direct democracy” via referendums and popular actions also become a historical reality in several U.S. states. During the second half of the 20th century, populism came to be associated with the political program and style of Latin American leaders such as Hugo Chávez, Getúlio Vargas and Juan Perón. Ever since then, the word “populist” is most recently used as a pejorative term in order to to pass criticism on certain leaders for pandering to the public; – especially to people’s fascinations and collective fears. Depending on one’s understanding on populism, a populist economic strategy can therefore denote either a movement that searches to reallocate wealth in order to gain more popularity and legitimacy, without regard to the repercussions for the national economy such as inflation or debt; or a common platform that “patronizes“ the interest of the people and the country as a coherent unit. Some keywords in this political process are: protectionism, referenda, direct democracy by plebiscite, patriotism and various slogans (ex. xenophobic, anti-Semite, antifeminist etc.) The main focus in political rhetoric is on ambiguous or personally reinterpreted (distorted) remarks, catchwords, catchphrases and slogans in order to polarize, to divide and to create confusion. The populist strategy ever so often includes power legitimatory elements though every possible platforms (social media etc.), but the most applied principle is “divide and rule”. However, history teaches us that almost all regimes are aware of the power of this ancient intelligence. In the history of Europe one can think on terms as cultural nationalism, in the history of Latin America there is the advent of populism, not to mention fascism, where leaders praised the folk and pandered to populist anti-intellectualism. Furthermore, Nazi art criticism, for example, propagated the populist idea that the common man was the most suitable judge of art and that kind of art or literature, which did not appeal to popular taste, was condemned as decadent. This kind of contra selective thinking is very dangerous because one is just to one step to populist Nazi propaganda. The fact that Hitler was the “new man” who had “emerged from the depth of the people” is a classical evidence of extreme right-wing populist topic area. Unlike left-wing populism, fascist populism did not attribute workman’s’ severities to large landowners and to big business and did not support provisions such as protection of unions, the right to strike, progressive taxation, and higher pay for farm and industrial workers. Commonly it propagated the protection of the wealth of the upper classes, except that belonging to Jews. But even Soviet history and iconography offers several examples in populist directions. The Stakhanovite movement began during the Soviet second 5-year plan in 1935. It was a milestone that signalized a new stage of socialist competition. The movement became its name from Aleksei Grigorievich Stakhanov, who had mined 102 tons of coal in less than 6 hours on 31 August 1935. The mentioned amount exceeded 14 times his normal work quota (norm), but Stakhanovite followers would soon “break” his “milestone” record. One year later it was reported that Nikita Izotov had mined 640 tons of coal in a single shift (February 1, 1936). The Stakhanovite movement was led and supported by the Communist Party and very soon it was spreading over other sectors of the industry. The first All-Union Stakhanovite Conference took place at the Kremlin (November 14–17, 1935). Participants of the conference stressed the distinguished role of the Stakhanovite movement in the socialist re-construction of the national economy. The plenum of the Communist Party’s Central Committee specifically considered the aspects of transport systems and developing industry with the Stakhanovite movement in mind (December 1935). The resolution of the plenum declared: “The Stakhanovite movement means organizing labor in a new fashion, rationalizing technologic processes, correct division of labor, liberating qualified workers from secondary spadework, improving work place, providing rapid growth for labor productivity and securing significant increase of workers’ salaries”. Accordingly, the decisions of the plenum pointed out that the Soviets organized a large network of industrial training and offered particular courses for foremen of socialist labor. During the year of 1936 a number of technical and industrial conferences overworked the originally projected production capacities of different industries and suddenly increased their outputs. Simultaneously they also introduced Stakhanovite competitions within plants and factories, subdivided into periods of five days, ten days and 30 days. The directions of factories often created the Stakhanovite departments or brigades that permanently reached a higher collective output. Female Stakhanovites emerged more seldom than male ones, but some of all trade-union women were designated as “norm-breaking”. A preponderance of rural Stakhanovites was female: mostly working as fieldworkers, calf tenders or milkmaids. Those who opposed the Stakhanovite movement were labelled with the word “wrecker”. Soviet authorities propagated that the Stakhanovite movement had caused a significant increase in labor productivity. It was reported that during the first 5-year plan (1929–1932) industrial labor productivity increased by 41% and during the second 5-year plan (1933–1937) the official increase was by 82%. During World War II the Stakhanovites applied various methods to increase output, such as combining different professions and by working several machine-tools simultaneously. Stakhanovites organized the two-hundreders movement that meant 200% or more of quota in a single shift and the one-thousanders movement (1000% of the norm in a shift). The movement remained widespread after the war and also influenced the Soviet bloc countries. Simultaneously the press, literature and films propagated Stakhanov and other “model workers”, encouraging the others to imitate the heroic examples. The accomplishments of Stakhanovites served as main reasoning in support of continuously increasing high work quotas. The Stakhanovite movement was also used in the de-Stalinization era, but this time mainly in the opposite direction. As de-Stalinization sought to criticize any achievements made during Stalin’s régime: the movement was discredited as Stalinist propaganda tactic. Where workers get the best equipment and had most favorable conditions, the best results would be…

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  2. Zoltan Eperjesi 2 days ago

    achieved. Stakhanovitism was replaced after Stalin’s death (March 1953) with the brigades of socialist labor. Komsomolskaya Pravda argued (1988) that the largely publicized personal achievements of Stakhanov were lavish praise because he had used a number of helpers on support work, while the flow-rate was distributed only for him. However, according to the Soviet state media, Stakhanov’s propagandized approach had after all led to the increased industrial output by means of a more efficient organization of the work, including specialization and task sequencing. Now we are just one step from the “Soviet Man” and other notions as cult of personality and showmanship.

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  3. Zoltan Eperjesi 2 days ago

    In my former comments I was focusing on historical examples to catch the occurance of certain “popular” movements, which became strong parties and sooner or later state power was dominated by them. Examples of totalitarian regime strategies to gain control of the nation include: development of a nationalist party; targeting of specific religious or political populations; controlling reproduction of the population (either in hopes to increase or to decrease); increasing role of secret police forces; mandatory military sign up; criticism of state power is prohibited; censorship of free media and the emergence of an official media; party propaganda in media, government speeches and through education (indoctrination); rule through dissipating fear within society; employing only one ruling party; and having a dictatorship. There are certain paralelisms between the interwar period and today. Certain catchwords are: worldwide economic crisis, political and economic protectionism; the emergence of totalitarian dictatorships; and demagogy etc. The difference between authoritarian regimes and totalitarianism is important to note. While authoritarian regimes place all of the power into a single dictator or group, that power is only political. Within totalitarian regimes, the party elites are controlling nearly all aspects of the apparatus of state from economical to political to social and cultural spheres. Totalitarian regimes take control over private lives of residents, science, education, and art to the degree of paternalism based on a proper and idiosyncratic morality. The influence of the government is limitless. As we can see there is a narrow but easily exceedable boundary between authoritarian regimes and totalitarianism. The direction is given and this should be treated as an exclamation point of history. A question is arising: what is the role of history within IR? History does
    not belong to a single theoretical approach, thus, it is is not of importance just to historical
    sociologists in IR. Rather, it is one with wide-ranging ramifications for the discipline as a whole. But yet, history comes to the fore in plural modes rather than in singular form within IR. In line with this, one can state that history is, in several directions, the lowest common denominator of the multiplex paradigms within IR. Taking this approach as starting point in the discipline it becomes vital to define more precisely what one means by the role of history within IR. Given this maxim as a process, one understands that there is not only one but there are more different application possibilities of history within IR. Accordingly, the scholar’s option of a specific manner of history becomes creative of the internalized way in which one understands and approaches IR; – as much as, the other way round. Therefore, given that we are all historians now, all of us is differentiated not only by our choice of theoretical approaches, but also by our rezeption to select a particular historical method in order to catch cause-effect relationship or to give various explanations to certain events. In sum, beyond simple binaries such as “British vs. American IR” or “mainstream vs. non-mainstream
    theories” and “critical theory vs. problem-solving theory”, there is a many-faceted network of complex interactions, intermingled linkages, and item synergies, as well as certain strong differences, that interweave the various histories within IR. Disclosing the mentioned models of history in IR it delivers a heretofore shadowed organising size of the discipline. However, it is to point out that by applying such a method, this will inevitably complicate our conception of
    IR, overstepping the limitations given by antinomies of pure reason, which frequently coin the boundaries and edges of the discipline’s self-interpretation attempts. In aggregate form, consequently by discerning a more eclectic review of history witin IR makes possible to main directions: it allows for more constructive dialogue between IR scholars and facilitates the discipline to be re-invented much beyond some of its more dimming structures and binding elements. By doing this, the broadening of the mind is catched in a circle of continuous progression. Moreover, it becomes possible both to better understand and to potentially overstep some of the instant constrictions of the international faculty of imagination. The point is that all relevant historical puzzles and even universal history constructs its bigger picture from trans-regional issues where ultimately certain regional subdivisions generatet data material. Thus, it would be helpful for the future if national and local histories stay in dialog with IR and universal history in order to not to walk right into a trap of the past as sometimes the historical and mentality gaps between regions and regions were reaching critical dimensions. The two world conflagrations and the Cold War era are complex historical lessons in this direction. These arguments are clearly showing the importance of IR and history as academic disciplines. As motivation to study let me close with an old Chinese saying: “When the wind of change blows, some build walls and others build windmills.”

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