The Duck of Minerva

Stephen Walt on Valentines Day and IR

14 February 2009

This post on Foreign Policy Blog is not to be missed! First couple of paragraphs:

“Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. As a public service, I would like to remind FP readers of the important insights that international relations theory can provide for people in love.

To begin with, any romantic partnership is essentially an alliance, and alliances are a core concept on international relations. Alliances bring many benefits to the members (or else why would we form them?) but as we also know, they sometimes reflect irrational passions and inevitably limit each member’s autonomy. Many IR theorists believe that institutionalizing an alliance makes it more effective and enduring, but that’s also why making a relationship more formal is a significant step that needs to be carefully considered.

Of course, IR theorists have also warned that allies face the twin dangers of abandonment and entrapment: the more we fear that our partners might leave us in the lurch (abandonment), the more likely we are to let them drag us into obligations that we didn’t originally foresee (entrapment). When you find yourself gamely attending your partner’s high school reunion or traveling to your in-laws for Thanksgiving dinner every single year, you’ll know what I mean.”

It continues. Read the whole thing. Walt doesn’t go so far as to say it, but in my view this vindicates decades of feminist IR theory arguing that our understanding of the international system is largely a metaphor built on family and gender relations. Given that, however (and given the complexity of gender roles and relations that Walt nods to in his last few paragraphs) I was surprised to see his argument in favor of bipolarity used as a defense of traditional monogamous partnerships. Does anything in perhaps the post-realist IR canon provide a roadmap for heatlthy, stable, alternative forms of inter(person)al relations as well?

Food for thought. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Type rest of the post here