restricted access Foreword
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The essays in this issue of the SAIS Review reflect on a broad range of topics and nations, but a common thread joins the apparent patchwork: each piece explores some aspect of the creation, modification or meaning of the identity of a particular state. The qualities and characteristics of a state are, without doubt, important in the context of both domestic and international politics and policy. So it seems strange that, when seeking to communicate in this Foreword what they sought to achieve in assembling this collection of essays, the Editors found it so difficult to find the right words. After all, readers ranging from the hard-nosed realist to the modern constructivist will agree on the importance of identity and perception in international relations (though often for different reasons). Perhaps the difficulty derives not from having to find words to explain the importance of the topic, but rather from trying to find some clear, settled definition of national identity that is valid both in the United States and abroad.

As this issue of the SAIS Review goes to press, the United States' most recent involvement in Iraq reaches the middle of its third year, with no clear end in sight. For some observers, this state of affairs represents a travesty and a tragedy, as both Americans and Iraqis die for ill-defined—yet expensive—reasons. For others, the continued military presence in Iraq begins to fulfill a U.S. responsibility to the world to do good and serves as a needed strategic bridgehead against the dual evils of terrorism and despotism. To the former, the war in Iraq represents wasted energies and a betrayal of U.S. interests. To the latter, it falls in line with the very idea of America.

The Iraq question thus transcends partisan politics, hitting at questions about the core of U.S. identity. An evolving nation both in the strict and the colloquial senses of the word, the United States continues to face the ongoing challenge of understanding its own identity and its place in the world—two conceptual matters with indubitable connections. Without the support of ethnic or religious homogeneity to fall back upon, the country must continue to examine, establish and re-establish its values while serving as the world's economic and martial leader. This is a stiff test under any circumstances, yet even more so while the country remains under the close scrutiny of a global community on the lookout for any sign of hypocrisy.

As the essays in this issue demonstrate, many other states, regions, and political entities face similar challenges. For example, one essay discusses the challenge for Taiwan in shifting from policies of reunification and Sinification to recreating itself as a democratic nation. Another essay focuses on the search in Northern Ireland for unifying symbols that are acceptable to both sides of its conflict. In each case, the country in question struggles not only with policy questions but also with essential questions of identity and definition. [End Page 1]

This issue takes these questions as its main theme and begins with two essays that focus on some of the theoretical concerns relating to national identity. It then proceeds with a set of essays on the influence of history on national identity, followed by a section on states that are currently facing the challenge of formulating a national identity. The fourth set of essays focuses on the role of national identity in countries' relationships with their neighbors. This issue also includes a striking photo essay on Thailand, an essay about U.S. non-proliferation strategy, this year's winner of the SAIS Review of International Affairs essay contest, and reviews of recent notable books.

Contrary to occasional suggestion, the state remains as alive as ever, and concerns over sovereignty and national independence regularly appear in discussion about the contemporary international system, in particular given the additional pressures of the global economy and uncertainties of the post-9/11 world. Indeed, for the past few years, nation-building has been a regular topic of discussion in the press and in policy circles, a subject that concerns not only security and political...