Briefly Noted

| March 2009
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The Security Dilemma: Fear, Cooperation and Trust in World Politics, Ken Booth and Nicholas J. Wheeler (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), 272 pp., $112 cloth, $38 paper.

At the start of their long-awaited study of the “security dilemma,” Ken Booth and Nicholas Wheeler—professors of international politics at Aberystwyth University—suggest that the subject of their book is a concept that gets to the very heart of their field of study. The security dilemma, they remind us, draws attention to two central realities of international politics, one material (weapons) and one psychological (the uncertainty that surrounds them). These realities, they write, “sustain the pervasiveness of fear, underlie the problems of cooperation, and check the problem of trust” (p. 1).

Corresponding to this insight, the main body of the book offers comprehensive and systematic considerations not only of the realist observation that insecurity can never be avoided in international politics, but also of the idea that insecurity can at least be ameliorated through institutions and norms, and the hope that global society might reinvent itself through the expansion of community.

The book is rare in its potential to reward readings by scholars and students and progressive practitioners of international politics. For theorists, The Security Dilemma assembles and disassembles all previous definitions of the concept, replacing them with a sophisticated “two-level strategic predicament” of interpretation and response. The book also adds a new attitudinal variable, “security dilemma sensibility,” which highlightsf the potentially ameliorative or transcending role of a neglected dimension in security dilemma theorizing: human agency. For the particular benefit of the international relations classroom, the book’s analysis includes many authoritative and readable tours through developments in the field, such as the theoretical disagreements and negotiations that generated theories of collective security, functionalism, and security communities, not to mention the evolution and final distillation of fatalist logic into offensive realism. And, for policymakers, Booth and Wheeler’s study offers their rebooted conception of the security dilemma as an urgent addition to our leadership tool kit in an era of uncertainty—”an idea whose time has come” (p. 265).

Globalization and the Race to the Bottom in Developing Countries: Who Really Gets Hurt? Nita Rudra (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 314 pp., $90 cloth, $30 paper.

Nita Rudra’s insightful study explores the effects of globalization on poverty and distribution in developing countries, with a focus on domestic welfare systems. Rudra challenges persistent commonplaces in the study of globalization, in particular the idea that looser restrictions on trade and capital generate a so-called race to the bottom, in which the poorer members of poorer societies are likeliest to suffer. While she acknowledges the existence of a race to the bottom, she argues that the globalization literature has misidentified its principal victims in the developing world. Contrary to the usual intuition, those who really get hurt are not the poor but the middle classes, who suffer through the steady erosion of their welfare privileges. The poor, meanwhile, whose suffering was often widely ignored by the welfare systems established during and after colonial rule, have comparatively less to lose.

For Rudra, the traditional application of the race to the bottom conception to developing countries has been a too-hasty jump from observations of the effects of globalization on OECD countries. The organized labor institutions that counterbalance the erosion of the welfare state in rich nations are absent elsewhere. At the same time, globalization affects developing countries unevenly. Rudra claims that those welfare systems that do exist in less developed countries are so diverse that globalization’s effects should be regarded as difficult to generalize. Case studies of India, Brazil, and Korea serve as the cornerstones for a typology of developing country distribution regimes. It is acknowledgment of these different types of welfare states that ultimately helps us to understand the of globalization on these societies.

With its application of sophisticated statistical methodologies, this book presents a complex argument that will inform further study of the relationship between economic globalization, development, and issues of distributive justice (domestic and global). Its significant conclusions about the sociology of globalization have wide-ranging implications for democratization and development strategies.

Poverty, Participation, and Democracy: A Global Perspective, Anirudh Krishna, ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 208 pp., $80 cloth, $24 paper.

This volume—the outcome of a group project at Duke University, headed by the political scientist and former development planner Anirudh Krishna—aims to upend the traditional proposition that economic inequality neatly explains patterns of political participation in the developing world, where, we have often been told, “Poor people make poor democrats” (p. 3). The group’s findings suggest that it is the lack of education, and not wealth, that stands among the most significant barriers to democratic participation. This empirically rich volume offers several powerful normative stories. One is that the enemy of democratic development is not the poor themselves—who, so runs the conventional wisdom, do not have the time to develop an interest in democracy, and may even be vulnerable to authoritarian appeals—but rather their general inability, under current circumstances, to learn how to become “discerning consumers” of political opportunities (p. 149). The project’s data strongly suggest that the poor often value democracy no less than their richer compatriots. “Those who wish to promote democracy,” writes Krishna (with John Booth) in a concluding compilation of prescriptions for researchers and policy-makers, “would wisely invest in promoting education” (Ibid.).

Distinct and distinguished in their regional diversity, three empirical chapters draw on survey data from 35,000 respondents in twenty-four countries in, respectively, sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America. The three studies are followed by an intervention by the eminent scholar of democracy, development, and income distribution Adam Przeworski, where he finesses their discussion of the parity between rich and poor in terms of political sensibilities and participation with a cautionary argument about the enduring relevance of economic inequality in explaining (and thus avoiding) democratic breakdown. “Democracy is the best hope that poor people have for improving their lives,” Przeworski concludes. “If democracy is fragile in some countries, it is because this hope has not been fulfilled” (p. 146).

Contagion and Chaos: Disease, Ecology, and National Security in the Era of Globalization, Andrew T. Price-Smith (Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 2009), 296 pp., $48 cloth, $24 paper.

This book is a compelling and distinctive extension of republican security theory—spearheaded by Daniel Deudney in Bounding Power (2007)—and a significant intervention into debates about environmental security and global health. Combining an appreciation of the importance of material-contextual factors—including, from the point of view of pathogens, the porosity of national borders and the irrelevance of traditional measures of “strategic significance”—with a sober assessment of human cognition and emotions, Price-Smith aims to develop and heighten our appreciation of the distinct and destabilizing political threats posed by disease.

Following a set of theoretical and historical chapters, case studies of influenza, HIV/AIDS, BSE (mad cow disease), and SARS (bird flu) give support to the claim that disease can have profound and multifaceted consequences for political systems. For instance, a chapter on the famous flu pandemic that overlapped with the closing years of the First World War points to evidence that the differential impact of the virus on the military and bureaucratic capabilities of the warring nations had a hand in the defeat of Germany and the collapse of Austria-Hungary. In the latter case, Austria’s singular pattern of exposure to the successive genetic variants of the pathogen left its people particularly vulnerable to the deadliest of the viral waves, which struck mere weeks before the empire itself was dissolved.

Contagion and Chaos rediscovers and weaves together insights about the capacity of the natural world to impinge on human affairs—something that was readily understood by the likes of Aristotle, Rousseau, and other early contributors to the republican tradition of thinking about security, but that has fallen out of favor among twenty-first century political scientists. But in making his case for bringing “health security” into the mainstream of security studies (p. 219), Price-Smith leaves to others the task of reinventing academic international relations in light of the rediscovery of such Aristotelian insights. In an age where the renewed threat of pandemic influenza demands the development of local and global response capacities to face down pathogenic threats, the call here is instead for an even more ambitious bridging of the epistemic divide between the natural and social sciences in order to properly realize and respond to our biological interdependence.

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Category: Briefly Noted, Issue 23.1

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