13 September 2002

9/11 – One year after
New challenges for transatlantic foreign policy-making
Third Transatlantic Editors’ Roundtable
13 September 2002
How to reach foreign policy-makers: challenges for foreign policy journals
‘International theory underpins and informs international practice, even if there is a
lengthy lag between the high-point of theories and their gradual absorption into
political debate. Once established as common sense, theories become incredibly
powerful since they delineate not simply what can be known but also what it is
sensible to talk about or suggest. Theories encompass more than just predictive and
explanatory powers; they also delimit our ethical and practical horizons’.
Steve Smith
‘Every practical man is the slave of a dead theorist’.
John Maynard Keynes
Two years ago International Affairs co-hosted a one-day conference at Chatham
House on ‘Theory and practice in international relations: the great divide?’. 1 The aim
was to explore the relationship between power (policy-making) and knowledge
(knowledge producers/academia) in international affairs, and the extent to which the
former is informed by the latter. The session on ‘New wars: dilemmas for
contemporary combat’ provoked most interest. This debate included discussion on the
ethical dimensions of contemporary combat, the changing nature of
warfare/weapons/targets, the different aims in engaging in war, and the involvement
of practitioners on the ground. The upshot was a general consensus among those
academics present that it was not the intellectuals’ role exclusively to advise
government (if they are to advise at all). Rather, their key role is to ask good questions
and to enquire what sorts of practices become dominant through different kinds of
theorizing about the world.
The conference held on 22 November 2000 was a cooperative effort between International Affairs,
The Cambridge Review of International Affairs and Survival.
Asking the good/right question, applying theory to the analysis of world affairs,
examining problems of world order and their resolution or otherwise, identifying
seminal changes, being objective and scholarly in approach, as well as being policyrelevant is what we at International Affairs aim to do. Articles on IR theory are given
a key place in the journal in the belief that understanding general patterns of
international relations can help practitioners to formulate sound policy. Acting as a
forum for debate around which policy-makers and academics can form a consensus of
opinion is a function of some foreign policy journals. But in our attempt to integrate
policy and research more effectively there is, perhaps, an uncomfortable straddling of
the policy and academic communities.
Naturally, we want policy-makers to read the journal. But I am under no illusion that
it is only the few who do. The other day in answer to my question, ‘Do ministers read
International Affairs?’, one of the Foreign Office’s new policy team members in the
renamed Directorate for Strategy and Innovation replied that he had seen a junior
minister asking a Department for comments on an article in Foreign Affairs. This is
not what I want to hear! However, in the UK those advising foreign policy
implementers are regularly provided with lists of articles and briefs deemed important
and International Affairs appears without fail on those lists. I believe I am right in
thinking that in contrast to the UK, some policy-makers in the US do read foreign
policy journalsone reason for this is that there is more cross-over between the roles
of academics and practitioners in the US. Strobe Talbott told us at the first Editors’
Roundtable2 meeting that Madeleine Albright, admittedly an exceptional case, was
most conscientious about reading articles relevant to current international issues (they
were almost exclusively US journals, and that is another problem for us Europeans).
The anecdotal evidence is that UK policy-makers do not take a great deal of direct
interest in the content of foreign policy journalsdomestic journals are another
matter. Paradoxically, however, this does not stop us from ensuring that senior
politicians are aware of particular thematic issues of the journal3or articles of special
significance to them. Whether or not International Affairs has had an impact on
foreign policy-making in Europe is a moot point. I suspect that to a limited extent it
may have, especially if we combine an issue of the journal focusing exclusively on
Europe, for instance, with a workshop or seminar that attracts politicians and civil
servants as well as academics4. Ideas may then, we hope, filter through to policy. A
meeting initiated by the Foreign Office later this month is another example of an
opportunity to explain to the new policy team the importance of the journal and the
research at Chatham House. But compared to those journals in continental Europe that
are attached to government-sponsored think tanks, we may be at a disadvantage when
it comes to influencing government policy.
Washington DC, July 1998.
For example, the most recent July 2002 issue on Africa or the October 2001 issue on European
In collaboration with Birmingham University and the RIIA European Programme, and sponsored by
the Foreign Office, International Affairs hosted three seminars on the future of NATO during Spring
2002. See International Affairs, October 2002 (forthcoming).
While International Affairs is gaining ground in the USthere has been a significant
increase in the number of unsolicited articles recently coming through the editorial
office from US academics and those working in research institutes, an indication
perhaps that European journals are being taken more seriously in the US it is
difficult to pin-point exactly to what extent US policy-makers are reading the journal.
Again, Strobe Talbott’s remark three years ago about US policy-makers focusing
primarily on American journals probably remains true today. But our overall
objective is to influence public debate rather than tailoring the journal’s contents to
policy-makers per se and risk getting the target level completely wrong.
International Affairs is not a house journal and it does not have a political agenda.
However, one of its main goals is to include a more innovative approach to the
discipline.5 In general, we try to steer clear of policy-makers contributing to the
journal. Experience has shown that the content tends to be bland, lacking in substance
and I think there are better and more constructive ways of maintaining contact with
the policy community, for example through the workshops and seminars I have
already mentioned. There is also the importance of maintaining the journal’s
independence to consider. A recent foray into cooperation with a government
department, which suggested Bono as an author, confirmed my suspicions! Policymakers have occasionally contributed, however Douglas Hurd, for example, when
he was UK Foreign Secretary.6
Immediately after the attacks on 11 September some journals, notably Survival,
scrapped their original plans in favour of issues entirely devoted to the events and
their aftermath. I decided against reacting immediately post-11 September, not only
for practical reasons, but also because I wanted to give potential authors time to
reflect on those dreadful events, on the underlying issues giving rise to them, and time
to consider whether the world had changed as a result or not. Our response took shape
in the April 2002 issue (published in March in time for the ISA), ‘New orders? New
norms?, leading with Joseph Nye's article, ‘The American national interest and global
public goods’. Other articles provided in-depth analysis of the state of international
order, international law and the ‘war against terrorism’, and the historical context of
the attacks on 11 September with regard to earlier patterns of Islamic revolt.7
There has been, understandably, an increase in coverage in most other foreign policy
journals of security issues, biological/chemical weapons proliferation, the Middle
East, the threat of terrorism etc. over the past two years, even before 11 September.
We have endeavoured to integrate policy and research more effectively and aim to
reshape traditional academic disciplines in the social sciences to encompass the
human and social issues of the twenty-first century.
More specifically, over the past year, European journals have tended to focus, and
International Affairs is indicative of this trend, on international ethics, international
law, the transatlantic relationship, European security, the importance of the defence
See Firoze Manji and Carl O’Coill, ‘The missionary position: NGOs and development in Africa’,
International Affairs 78: 3, July 2002.
See Douglas Hurd, ‘Developing the Common Foreign and Security Policy’, International Affairs 70:
3, July 1994.
International Affairs 78: 2, April 2002.
debate and the ICC. Perhaps this trend differentiates the focus of European journals
from those in the US. To quote Robert Cooper: in Europe ‘Raison d’état and the
amorality of Machiavelli’s theories of statecraft have been replaced by a moral
consciousness in international affairs.’8
The crisis over Iraq demonstrates that now is the time for UK/continental European
journals to be essential to policy-makers. Journals must promote a dialogue between
the US and Europe focusing on easing the tensions and misunderstandings that have
developed between the two since January 2002. Crises have a major impact on policymaking, but determining that impact is difficult. A statesman improvising decisionmaking in the middle of an emergency does not have the planners’ time or inclination
to deliberate on the merits of one theory against another.
Robert Cooper is director-general for external and politico-military affairs at the Council of the
European Union, and a former adviser to Tony Blair.