In my role as CIPS Blog editor, I’m happy to present what is probably not the first, and likely won’t be the last, ‘best-reads’ list that you’ll be seeing this year. However, it does have the virtue of being distinctive in two respects. First, we’ve asked six of our CIPS featured bloggers to nominate not the best new publications of 2011, but whatever reading in the field of International Affairs that impressed them most in the past year. And second, since our bloggers are—surprise!—academics, we’ve asked them to identify a specifically academic book in their field of expertise that impressed them most this year, as well as (if they wish) a non-academic book or article of general interest in the IA field.
Here, then, are the IA readings that most impressed our CIPS bloggers in 2011. The first response each blogger gives indicates an academic/specialist publication, while the second is a non-academic/generalist one.
- Richard Ponzio’s Democratic Peacebuilding: Aiding Afghanistan and Other Fragile States (Oxford, 2011). This is a carefully-researched and well-written book that examines the evolution of international peacebuilding since the cold war, identifying the factors that limit the ability of international actors to institutionalize democratic authority and the rule of law in war-shattered societies, and suggesting ways in which those factors can be transcended. A lot has already been written about the problems and dilemmas of peacebuilding—including prominent works by members of GSPIA. Yet, by drawing on in-depth studies of the efforts to create peace in Afghanistan and elsewhere, and by developing a systematic account of the need for—and challenges associated with efforts to institutionalize—democratic legal authority, Ponzio manages to make a significant contribution to an already rich field.
- Mark Malloch-Brown’s The Unfinished Global Revolution: The Pursuit of a New International Politics (Penguin, 2011). The former United Nations deputy secretary general diagnoses the central global predicament of the twenty-first century: as we have become more integrated, we have also become less governed. National governments are no longer equipped to address complex global issues, from climate change to poverty, and international organizations have not yet been empowered to step into the breach. Malloch-Brown argues that in order to effectively address these challenges, we need a new ‘global social contract’. Ironically, however, the book’s account of three decades of laboring within the halls of bureaucracies suggests that such a global contract may be very difficult to achieve. While readers may not be persuaded by Malloch-Brown’s prescriptions, they are bound to be fascinated by the account of the contemporary challenges of global governance provided in this book, which is part autobiography and part political treatise.
- Richard Ned Lebow’s Why Nations Fight (Cambridge, 2010) brings status and prestige back to the fore in the study of conflict and international relations.
- Murray Brewster’s The Savage War (Wiley, 2011) provides a good summary of Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan.
- Matthew Hoffmann’s Climate Governance at the Crossroads: Experimenting with a Global Response after Kyoto (Oxford, 2011) goes way beyond the usual criticisms of the UN process concerning climate change in exploring how a huge range of actors are developing novel governance initiatives to respond to climate change. It shows the potential of these ‘governance experiments’ both in terms of moving forward on climate change and with respect to the ever-increasing complexity of emerging patterns of global governance.
- Samuel Moyne’s The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History (Harvard, 2010) is an impressive work of intellectual history. Moyne convincingly demonstrates that—contrary to much current thinking—the ‘idea’ of human rights, understood properly as a borderless claim to equal moral worth and protection, is of very recent vintage. More surprisingly, he shows too that the popularity of the idea only really grew in the 1970’s, once the promise of other projects for global justice, including international socialism, had manifestly failed. One is left with a profound sense of the contingency of the human rights project, i.e. that the current triumphant position it holds is by no means assured for the future.
- Anthony Beevor’s D-Day: The Battle for Normandy (Viking, 2009), although published two years back, only recently emerged at the top of my pile. As with his previous accounts of the battles of Stalingrad and Berlin, it’s a brilliant piece of work. Best of all, in my view, is that it provides an honest account of a subject that, in the western world, at least in recent years, is too often dealt with by books that are more mythology than history. Beevor shows how petty rivalries among Allied commanders, incompetent Allied leadership and, too often, poorly trained and unruly troops, outfought by the Germans, led to weeks of brutal stalemate once the beaches had been taken, at an enormous cost to the troops, but above all to the French civilians. Much more Kelly’s Heroes than Band of Brothers.
- Frank Ledwidge’s Losing Small Wars: British Military Failure in Iraq and Afghanistan (Yale, 2011) is a hard-hitting indictment of the incompetence of the British Army in Iraq and Afghanistan. A welcome reminder of the limitations of military power.
- Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature (Penguin, 2011) is very long (nearly 800 pages), but its central thesis—that mankind is becoming less violent—is surely correct.
- Dafydd Fell’s Government and Politics in Taiwan (Routledge, 2011) shows that we cannot understand cross-strait relations without a full understanding of domestic politics in Taiwan.
- Hillary Clinton, “America’s Pacific Century,” Foreign Policy, 2011. I hope that this is also a wake-up call to Canada. We must also dedicate more resources to our relations with East Asia and India.