Towards better global studies 
Randeep Wadehra

International Relations in South Asia
Ed. Navnita Chadha Behera. Sage.
Pages: vii+342. Price not mentioned.

International Relations as an academic discipline often gets confused with Area Studies. The latter constitutes a multi-disciplinary approach to the study of a geographical, political or cultural region or group. The disciplines involved could range from: political science, history, geography, sociology, cultural studies, literature and languages, etc. 

In some countries, especially the USA, diasporas and emigration from the areas studied, too, form part of the Area Studies curriculum. Occasionally, gender and ethnic studies are also included although these are not part of Area Studies per se. On the other hand, International Studies involve building of conceptual models — based on different theories — in order to examine international relations. Each theory is reductive and essentialist to varying degrees, each relying on different sets of assumptions. The number and character of such assumptions determine the worth of a particular IR theory. For example, an essentialist theory like Realism is useful in enumerating causes of a historical action (for instance, why did the Bay of Pigs invasion fail?), but is of limited use in finding explanation(s) for a systemic change (like the end of Cold War) or predicting future events. 

In fact, a numerous IR theories that have been developed in the West can be divided into two main schools of thought — Positivist that focuses on state-level analysis and post-positivist/reflectivist that dwells upon enlarged ideas of security ranging from class to gender to post-colonial security. In fact the IR theory is a dynamic mix of variegated ideas and ideologies, viz., Marxism, Institutionalism and Constructivism etc. While positivist theories such as Liberalism, Constructivism and Realism are the most popular, the post-positivist theories have been gaining ground in academia outside the US.

Behera points out that International Relations is a relatively new discipline in South Asia although the Dhaka University had offered a masters programme as early as 1947-48; she avers that, presently, the Bangladesh government’s attitude towards the expansion of IR teaching is "apathetic while the private or non-governmental sectors are unconcerned about the development of the discipline`85" In India, she points out, the initial years saw Nehru dominating the foreign affairs to such an extent that, unlike economic affairs, the need to develop a vibrant intellectual-academic base in universities was not really felt for a long time. Even today, she points out, "an iron curtain divides the foreign policy bureaucracy and academia`85" not just in India but in every country in South Asia. Mostly IR studies have been relegated to the status of an additional paper in Humanities curricula in different universities. She goes on to detail the none-too-healthy academic and publishing scenario in the region. The scenario becomes all the more dismal when one looks at the western thought and analytical models dominating the discourse with even some original regional concepts (Nehru’s Panchsheel, for instance) hardly finding a mention in the mainstream IR theory.

In this collection one senses a strong desire among the scholars, hailing from various South Asian countries, to fashion alternative thought processes, if not theories, which would be more useful in understanding the contemporary scene in the region. Here the IR discourse takes into account both intra and inter-state conflict situations and security issues. The competing aspirations of different ethnic groups lead to violence that transcends international boundaries — Tamil Elam and Kashmir are cited prominently in this volume although other ethnic-religious spillovers like the Pakhtoon separatist movements, the Gorkhaland agitation, Khalistani terrorism and the non-ethnic Naxalite violence, too, are formidable challenges to the South Asian countries.

Another interesting paper questions the relevance of Westphalian states to the extant scenario. Is the European Union’s move towards post-Westphalian supra-national structure a template for resolving some of the current dilemmas facing the South Asian region? Perhaps not. True, we have a rather hazy outline of one in the form of SAARC, but the ethno-religious-cultural complexities in the region (further complicated by caste-based stratifications) cannot be managed by the EU model that is more suitable to the relatively uncomplicated European pluralism.

You will find this volume thought-provoking and enlightening.