- On the Boundaries: When International Relations, Comparative Politics, and Foreign Policy Meet by Howard Wiarda
On the Boundaries: When International Relations, Comparative Politics, and Foreign Policy Meet studies the interconnections between foreign policy, comparative politics, and international relations in our highly complex world. Howard Wiarda offers a detailed, compelling examination by juxtaposing traditional and contemporary challenges to the important sub-fields in political science. The author has posited two themes. The first is how these sub-fields have become more specialized and professionalized and the way they have impacted discourse in political science in university teaching and research arenas as well as in seminal writings. The second theme tries to address developments in these fields. While both comparative politics and international relations have become narrow in focus and are dominated by abstract theories and model-building, an effort has been made by the author to bring these fields into mainstream social science with emphasis on critical thinking and enlightened policy-making.
The book is divided into three parts. Part One begins with an introductory essay entitled, “What is Comparative Politics?” This chapter explains the genesis of comparative politics, its conceptual underpinnings and various approaches, and how one’s understanding of other nations and regions is enhanced by using the comparative approach. In Chapter Five, Wiarda examines and evaluates the main theories in the field, both new and old, such as developmentalism, dependency, state-society interface, political culture, the Marxist notion of state, world systems, institutionalism, rational choice theory, ecology, and sociology. He assesses the strengths and utilities of these approaches in understanding other societies. While there are inherent and plausible strengths in each of these “grand theories,” as the author has surmised, the fact remains that at a sub-systemic level there is greater variance than congruence.
Part Two of the book shifts directions from theory to specific regions and countries. Chapter Six explores the debate whether the European Union and NATO will continue to expand eastward, further toward Russia and other hold out states, and further southward toward the predominantly Islamic Middle East; and if so, what will be the look of the new world order. In Chapter Nine the author argues that in Latin America the element of corporatism is still being pursued as the countries in the [End Page 307] region are opting for transitions to a democratic path. In the process of replacing an authoritarian order with greater democratization, accommodative arrangements are being constructed, such as top-down democracy and state-regulated pressure and interest groups. As the author rightly argues, “the question is not, however, whether Latin America will now revert to full-scale authoritarianism (although several of the economically poorest and weakly institutionalized countries might), but whether it can blend, fuse, and engage the contradictory currents of democracy and the desire for strong, effective government; free associability and the control, co-optation, and corporatization of socioeconomic group life that swirl within each of the countries” (pp. 190-1). In Chapter Ten, the author showcases the non-western approaches to development. With changing times, many third world countries have tried to pursue their own, indigenous model of development and such countries have had to learn to live with the resultant fallout and consequences.
Part Three is more policy-oriented and delves into the domestic basis of U.S. foreign policy. Chapter Thirteen surveys Washington-based think tanks and what these influential institutions do, how they shape policy outcomes, what are their funding sources and ideological leanings, and how in some ways these think tanks have politicized analysis and replaced universities of higher learning as the main source of policy feedback and of new ideas.
Overall, Wiarda’s book is an excellent addition to the burgeoning literature on international relations discourse. By providing substantive examples through theorizations and presenting them in a conceptually sound manner along with analytical rigor, the author has made an invaluable contribution. The book is a must for students and scholars of foreign policy, comparative politics and international relations who will find the book to be...