Contributions were received from Michele Comelli, Riccardo Cursi, Mirko Montuori and Giuseppe Paparella.
The global political system / Fulvio Attinà ; translated by Antoinette Groom ; translation consultant A.J.R. Groom. - Basingstoke and New York : Palgrave MacMillan, 2011. - xviii, 202 p. - (Palgrave studies in European Union politics). - ISBN 978-1-4039-9586-5 ; 978-1-4039-9587-2 (pbk)
The book introduces the key concepts used to explain the politics and policies of the global system. Departing from the 'structurationalist' approach, which combines structuralist theory with rationalist theory, and using evolutionary analysis to describe the structure of government institutions in the world system, Attinà attempts to explain the processes of institutional change that are taking place and their stages of development. As the author puts it, the aim of the book is to offer an alternative vision of the working mechanisms of international relations, disconnected from the macro-theoretical perspectives of liberalism and realism to explain more effectively current global political issues and the process of globalisation itself. Attinà criticises both the realist concept of hegemony and the liberal preferences for institutions, identifying instead what he calls "organisational institutions" as the basic element of the international system. In his view, such institutions "are created when a new international system is constituted by the victors of a global war that have the capacity to act at the world level and the resources for dealing with the system's fundamental problems" (xv). While this organisational role was played by the international concert of great powers in the past, it should now be assigned to the whole spectrum of principles, institutions, roles and procedures by which decisions on binding common rules and policies on environmental, migrational, security, human rights and health issues are made and implemented and to which states usually conform.
The EU is the case study adopted to provide a reference model for the implementation of an effective and functioning community of institutions. The author feels that this model, in which a number of different states have reorganised themselves to create a multistate system of stable, articulate and democratic governments, provides, for a number of reasons, the right answer to the challenges that characterise the global political agenda. In fact, from an economic- cultural perspective, "the European response to the challenges of globalization is … a choice and model for other states" (113). Due to its peculiar organisation between higher and lower levels of government, the EU is well suited to exist in a political context in which unclear "circumstances will produce the creation of multiple political identities", connected with the deterministic and inescapable "dissociation between nation (cultural community), state and government" (110).
The theoretical approach that characterises the book presents two major, intertwined weaknesses: on the one hand, it seems to pay too much attention to extrastate agents, such as international institutions, which are supposed to modify the policies of states; on the other hand, it seems to neglect the roles of other causal agents that are deeply involved in shaping the interests and positions of a state in the international realm, such as soft power, hard power and nationalism. The considerations regarding the prominent role of extra-state agents derive from a basic assumption that Attinà develops extensively in the book: the crisis of the nation state model. In fact, according to the author, this crisis is prompted by "a high level of permeability of borders, complex interdependence between the states … and the challenges of the new actors of global politics which are the private [political actors] and NGOs" (176).
Instead, power relationships between states and (within the narrow leeway of their reciprocal cooperation) the importance of relative gains achievable in the relationships between states should be taken into account to understand the structural limits of cooperation. Moreover, it should be pointed out that the European multistate system was created by a small group of culturally homogeneous and powerbalanced countries, which is currently fundamental in favouring and keeping the EU on a regular path.
Irrespective of these theoretical remarks, The Global Political System remains, without a doubt, a key component in the current debate on globalisation, offering a neo-liberal approach to the latest global challenges. (Giuseppe Paparella)
Mondo caos : politica internazionale e nuovi paradigmi scientifici / Roberto Menotti. - Roma ; Bari : Laterza, 2010. - 199 p. - (Saggi tascabili Laterza ; 339). - ISBN 978-88-420-9319-0
The world of today is characterised by a high level of complexity and it is increasingly difficult for the most popular International Relations (IR) theories to explain and forecast international phenomena. This growing uncertainty reveals the limits of traditional approaches. Moving from this critique, Roberto Menotti has tried to develop a new paradigm for IR scholars. In his latest book, Mondo Caos, he borrows some ideas from chaos theories.
The core of the problem, Menotti argues, is a methodological fallacy. Political scientists, in general, take inspiration from natural sciences and, in particular, from the Newtonian approach. As a consequence, they tend to be determinist. Yet, that approach is now considered obsolete by natural scientists. The greatest physicists of the 20th century, Albert Einstein and Werner Heisenberg, observed how events cannot be forecast, if not in probabilistic terms. In light of that, IR scholars should take into account the contributions of post-Einsteinian physics and evolutionary biology, as well as those of chaos theories. In other words, they need to understand that reality is characterised by chaos, randomness and non-linear processes.
After explaining his approach Menotti chooses a set of topics of international relevance for which, he claims, his methodology provides a better explanation. For each, he tries to answer the main questions arising in the scientific debate. As an example, the EU, according to Menotti, is not an adequate alternative to state sovereignty because it was conceived in an international milieu which no longer exists: it is inadequate due to the evolution of the international system. Conversely, globalisation will continue and will take different and ever more complex forms which we will not be able to forecast. This will happen because we are used to thinking in a linear way, while globalisation is characterised by fast and unstable exponential changes. Finally, as concerns the challenge of climate change, the most valuable solution in the long run is technological innovation, which is probably more easily achievable than global agreements as they require cultural evolution.
Menotti's approach is interesting and original, as it aims to challenge conventional thought in the analysis of international politics. However, the book leaves the reader with a sense of incompleteness. In the first chapters, the new theory is well illustrated and well rooted in a stimulating debate on scientific methodology. The second part, however, in which the theory is applied to international problems, loses its effectiveness and originality.
Some problems emerge. First of all, the theory is tested on a set of international issues, but Menotti does not identify the criteria for their selection and, therefore, the work could seem influenced by a selection bias. Secondly, as the author admits, the need for synthesis prevented him from discussing the traditional IR theories in depth. Thus, they are presented in a rather simplistic way and the fact that some of them have provided compelling explanations for international phenomena is almost ignored. The consequence is that many of the explanations proposed in the book do not contribute significantly to what has already been pointed out by other authors. Menotti argues that the lack of a consensus on the part of the scientific community on a single theory proves that traditional approaches are incapable of explaining the world. However, the presence of many theories does not imply that they are all fallacious.
In conclusion, Menotti's work is an interesting attempt to pave the way for a new research paradigm, but it does not succeed completely and deserves further research. (Riccardo Cursi, also in Italian)
United Nations reform and the new collective security / [edited by] Peter G. Danchin and Horst Fischer. - Cambridge [etc.] : Cambridge University Press, 2010. - xviii, 431 p. - (European Inter-University Centre for Human Rights and Democratisation ; 2). - ISBN 978-0-521-51543-6
At the end of the Cold War, the world was faced with the emergence of new global threats. Especially in the aftermath of the 11 September attacks, a general consensus arose on the need to tackle them with collective action. Nevertheless, the post-Cold War international community was divided by huge differences in power, resources and ideology, which resulted in different views on the institutional and legal frameworks in which to ascribe such actions. This led to the more general questions whether the traditional concept of collective security was still valid, and whether the United Nations architecture was still able to address emerging challenges to international peace and security. Danchin and Fischer critically examine this issue, focusing on the relationship between UnitedNations reform and the new concept of collective security.
The authors make a thorough, critical review of the current UN reform process by examining three crucial documents: the Report of the High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change of 2004, the Report of the Secretary-General - then Kofi Annan - of 2005 ("In larger freedom: towards development, security and human rights for all") and the less ambitious World Summit Outcome document of 2005. The book is a collection of 14 well-structured essays by international experts and scholars, divided into four chapters on specific, interdisciplinary sub-topics. The first is dedicated to legislative and political aspects, with a focus on Security Council reform. An original interpretation is given to the role of the Human Rights Council and the Peacebuilding Commission: the authors maintain that these organs should embody the new concept of collective security, linked more to the ideas of respect of human rights and democracy.
The second section deals with the issue of redefining threats. According to the authors, the latter should also include non-military threats such as environment-related risks, diseases and the misuse of technology. Another crucial aspect examined is threat prevention. Here, the UN Peacebuilding Commission's work is judged from two very different perspectives: from the first, it has failed to meet expectations and proved to be an "illusion", that can be saved only by drastic measures; from the second, the Commission's role is complex and results will only be seen in the long run. Another sensitive issue is the fight against terrorism: yet its effectiveness is limited by the lack of agreement on its definition, as well as the tendency of the Security Council to prevail over any counter-terrorism decision and practice to the detriment of the General Assembly. One essay is specifically dedicated to the linkage between international justice and collective security, and the complex relation between the two organs tasked with ensuring their effectiveness, namely the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the Security Council.
Future prospects are analysed in the last chapter, where readers can find fruitful recommendations. The example of the United Nations Organisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC) shows how the UN continues to tackle new threats, such as loss of the role of states in the international arena, with old instruments. No effective reform is possible without putting into practice the grand bargain foreseen by Kofi Annan in his report, that is greater shared responsibility of states, but also greater joint understanding of common threats. Finally, the crucial role of civil society and local communities is addressed. The suggested formula includes broader involvement of these actors in addressing the threats they face.
Overall, the book is informative and well worth reading. The topics chosen reflect an interdisciplinary approach that highlights the current challenges to the international community from both a theoretical and a result-oriented perspective. (Mirko Montuori)
Russian foreign policy : the return of great power politics / Jeffrey Mankoff. - Lanham [etc.] : Rowman & Littlefield, c2009. - xii, 359 p. - ISBN 978-0-7425- 5794-9 ; 978-0-7425-5795-6 (pbk)
The resurgence of Russia as a great power in the first decade of the 2000s has been the subject of many analyses, which have underlined the differences with respect to the Russia of the Yeltsin era, usually depicted as more Western-oriented. This difference however, has not been evident in foreign policy. The surge in Russian power resulting from above all, the spectacular increase in the price of oil and gas in the 2000s, has finally made it possible for the Russian elite to pursue a foreign policy course that was already outlined in the 1990s. What has actually changed is Russia's ability to achieve some of these goals. This is the argument of the very well-written book by Jeffrey Mankoff, adjunct fellow for Russia studies at CSIS. According to Mankoff, the current foreign policy approach has received the broad support of Russian policymakers for the last fifteen years or so. What Putin successfully achieved was to master the complex and only superficially homogeneous system of Russian bureaucratic politics by tapping into the wide-ranging consensus on "Russia's historic great power role". Beneath this consensus, however, there are very different ideas and ideologies, each of them embodied by a part of the elite and often in competition with each other: Russian nationalism, Eurasianism, Atlanticism and Centrism, which tries to compromise between Eurasianist and pro- Western forces. In addition, understanding Russian foreign policy would be impossible without duly acknowledging the prominent role played by what many Russian observers refer to as "Kremlin Inc.", the tight nexus between politics and economics. The result is that many well-connected stakeholders in Russian foreign policy think and act primarily to preserve their own lucrative fiefdoms and make them flourish.
After a lucid analysis of the main forces driving Russian foreign policy, the book turns to the relationship between Russia and some of the major global powers, namely the US, the EU and China. According to the author, the most important relationship is the one with the US. Indeed, Russia's foreign policy towards the former Cold War enemy is nothing less than the prism through which all Russian foreign policy is filtered. Moscow's relations with Washington have been characterised by a genuine attempt to cooperate effectively in a number of fields, above all the response to Islamic terrorism, particularly in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. However, Russia has not been ready to sacrifice its great power ambitions to this cooperation. Similarly, the US has been unable to resolve the tension between its distrust of the currently resurgent Russia and its hope to have it turn into a consistently reliable partner. Similarly, the relations between Moscow and Brussels have been characterised by unfulfilled expectations on both sides: on the one hand, the EU expected Russia to gradually become a country comparable to a Western liberal and free-market democracy, on the other Russia expected the EU to involve it more in the decision-making process of European security organisations.
The way in which the book combines rigorous and thorough research work, a clear-cut argumentation and structure and a very dense but accessible style makes it one of the best available on the subject. Consequently, it should be read by scholars of Russian foreign policy as well as all those interested in gaining a deeper understanding of the topic, all too often treated in a conventional or, worse, partisan way, either justifying or condemning Russia's foreign policy without explaining it. (Michele Comelli)