Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Rodger Payne: The Comedy of Great Power Politics

Next Wednesday in Chicago -- that's February 28, at 8:30 am -- at the Annual Meeting of the International Studies Association, I'll be presenting a paper called "The Comedy of Great Power Politics in the 21st Century." Warning: that's a pdf, which I posted on my rarely used University homepage. On the same panel, my friend Nayef Samhat is presenting "The 'Comedic Turn' and Critical International Relations Theory." If those titles sound strange to you, read my paper (and Nayef's once it is available) and pass along your comments. Better yet, come to the panel. If you are an IR theorist, you probably already guessed a little bit of what we are up to -- or at least what ideas we are challenging. After all, neorealist John Mearsheimer called his last book The Tragedy of Great Power Politics. Realist theorists of international relations are pessimists and embrace tragic narratives. Classically, the main character of a tragedy was a noble, the story was set in the "great hall" or on the battlefield, and the plot featured the downfall of the protagonist -- often his death. Realist theory is primarily about great powers, their story is set in the competitive "high politics" arena of the international system, and the plots are typically gloomy (featuring war, imperial overstretch, etc.) My paper argues that contemporary great power politics, by realist standards, seems more like a farce than a tragedy -- no balancing behavior, no great power war for decades, the US and China are major trading partners, NATO is thriving, weak and failed states are viewed as the major threats, etc.

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