International Relations Theory and a Changing Middle East

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The latest edition of the Project on Middle East Political Science (POMEPS) Studies series, “International Relations Theory and a Changing Middle East” is a brilliant collection of essays from 15 leading scholars, including Gregory Gause, Curtis Ryan and Morten Valbjørn, on regional politics in the aftermath of the Arab Uprisins. It is available for download for free via the POMEPS website. In his introduction to the publication, Marc Lynch writes:

Some of the contributors seek to bridge levels of analysis, focusing on traditional forms of statecraft, alliances  and institutions. Sarah Bush and Etel Solingen examine the different forms of international pressure on the Middle East and the role that Western actors have played in blocking meaningful democratic change. Gregory Gause and Curtis Ryan highlight the ongoing centrality of regime survival concerns in shaping the foreign policies of Arab states, locating unusual new foreign policy gambits in the heightened or transformed sense of the threats to their rule. Erin Snider brings international political economy back into frame. Bassel Salloukh examines how the proliferation of weak and shattered states has changed the structural dynamics of the region’s politics. Matteo Legrenzi explores new forms of regionalism and the prospect for greater institutionalization of state cooperation.

Others focus on the importance of ideas. Ewan Stein explores the relationship between the regime legitimization formulas and their regional foreign policies, while Lawrence Rubin similarly looks closely at how the ideational security dilemma created for these regimes by the Islamic State. Helle Malmvig evocatively asks how sectarian identity politics can be taken seriously without giving in to the cynical manipulations of powerful elites. Zeynep Kaya considers the efforts of Kurds to achieve genuine sovereignty. Stephan Stetter incorporates social evolution theory and political communications to assess the extent to which 2011 represented genuine change in regional affairs.

A final set of authors, led by workshop co-host Morten Valbjørn, reverses the sights by using the Arab uprisings to challenge international relations as a discipline. Pinar Bilgin investigates the parochialism of IR theory, manifested in its difficulty to incorporate the ways in which non-dominant actors conceive of their own security concerns. Nora Fisher Onar pushes for the serious inclusion of feminist and critical scholarship and a broader engagement with the emergent literature of “global international relations.” This should not be seen simply as the metatheoretical prejudice of European and Turkey-based scholars: Their case for seriously incorporating human security and critical scholarship could hardly be more urgently relevant given the horrific and enduring human cost of the wars raging across Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen.

News, Notes & Links | 20.09.15


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Russia’s military build up in Syria includes surface-to-air missiles and combat aircraft with air-to-air capability, Secretary of State Kerry says.


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