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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2000, Vol. 3 No. 2 .

The Interregnum: Controversies in World Politics 1989-1999
Michael Cox, Ken Booth and Tim Dunne (eds.)

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2000
303 pp. Pb.: 15.95; ISBN 0-521-78509-x.

This volume brings together many of the great and good in international relations and related fields to explore the meaning of the post-Cold War decade. It is an authoritative collection, based on a special issue of the Review of International Studies, representing currents in and around contemporary IR. Postmodernists, globalists and feminists might claim that their voices in recent debates are excluded, but it is hard to think of one place where other major viewpoints in (chiefly British) IR have been gathered together to stronger effect.

Many contributors agree that, as the editors say, profound transformations are taking place in world politics. Readers will gain real insights into these changes of the last decade from all the chapters. Possibly because, however, the contributors are mostly senior members of their respective professions, they are, to my mind, often insufficiently bold in characterising emergent, turn-of-the-century world political structures. In some chapters, too much energy is devoted to showing how some things have not changed as much as some people think.

Is there even an interregnum? Not all the contributors agree with this idea; indeed Bruce Cumings is given the last word in an engaging piece that argues for a view of 1989 as marking the middle, not the end, of 'the American century'. This conclusion is anticipated by Rosemary Foot's and Andrew Walter's argument that the Pacific Century has not yet arrived. However, these apparently plausible judgements understate the challenge that the turbulence of the last decade has posed (and especially under a George W Bush presidency could pose more sharply) to the dominant national centre. But these views are not challenged by a convincing exposition of an alternative conception, to underpin the loose 'interregnum' label.

Much interesting material is collected in regionally based chapters that don't allow us easily to get a handle on the world picture. In these chapters, moreover, wars don't get much of a look in. The Balkans don't play a large part in William Wallace's account of Europe. Unstable Asian great-power rivalries and local wars, which could make a Pacific Century, if it came, anything but pacific, are hardly a main theme for Foot and Walter. Caroline Thomas writes about the Third World without mentioning Africa's wars. The Middle East is one region not covered.

Issues of war and peace are represented patchily by, inter alia, Cumings' wise reflections on the military bases of American liberalism, a brief discussion of the 'new interventionism' by Geoffrey Hawthorn, and mentions of Kosovo across the chapters. But Rwanda and genocide are not in the index. The sole full-length discussion of war comes from the 'neoclassical realist', Colin Gray, resuming some of the arguments of his Modern Strategy (OUP 1998). The title 'Clausewitz rules OK' says it all. In a knockabout essay Gray scores some easy but not always fair points off those whom he sees as liberal fantasists, but give us a complacent, one-sided view of Clausewitz's relevance. The troubles of victims in today's wars, to which strategy is at best a partial answer, are not represented here.

Perspectives from political-economic, institutional and normative theories mostly crowd out serious analysis of the often-violent political struggles that are doing much to shape our world. The limited concern with wars is not just a partial neglect of local protagonists and victims; it underplays key dynamics in world politics, which are also catalysts for transformation in the Western core. As a member of the Review's editorial board, I hope that this balance will change in future volumes that we commission.

Martin Shaw, University of Sussex

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