“A Better Paradigm for Political Action” --Review of Harold H. Saunders. Politics Is about Relationship: A Blueprint for the Citizens’ Century by Louis Kriesberg This important book draws from and contributes to a wide range of literature relating to major political relations. It does not fit neatly into conventional domains of international relations theory or policy, but bears on many, including the conduct of foreign relations, civil- government relations, foreign policy, political theory, and conflict resolution. Harold Saunders presents a relational paradigm to better represent contemporary global realities than the “realist” paradigm of international affairs. His new paradigm is based on the following premise. “Politics, as presented in this book, is about relationships among significant clusters of citizens to solve problems in a cumulative, multilevel, and open-ended process of continuous interaction over time in whole bodies politic across permeable borders, either within or between communities or countries “(47). In the first part of this book, Saunders explicates each of the critical terms of the paradigm. Thus, relationship refers to a complex of five components: identity, interests, power, perceptions, and patterns of interaction, with each of these terms given a broad set of meanings. For example, power depends not only on the ability of one party to coerce another to yield to its will, but also on the nature of their relationship and how that can be changed as people interact in various ways. Interests, too, are broadly understood, to include those that arise from interdependence and are the basis for cooperation. In the second part of the book, Saunders examines five cases in which people have effectively engaged in activities consistent with the relational paradigm, not necessarily with awareness of the paradigm. He uses these very diverse cases to illustrate the concepts and 2 propositions of the relational paradigm and to demonstrate the effectiveness of acting in concert with it. First, Saunders traces the remarkable transformation in South Africa, giving attention to the changing relations among the peoples of South Africa and their recognition of shared identities and interdependence. For example, nonofficial organizations reached agreements and established institutions at the local and national level to safeguard the emerging peace. The interactions at many levels made possible the construction of a mutually satisfactory arrangement, constructed though extended negotiations. The chapter about peace building in Tajikistan, co-authored with Parviz Mullojanov, focuses on the work of Economic Development Committees (EDC), which were established in 2001. They are based on the experience of the Inter-Tajik Dialogue, which had sprung from the Dartmouth Conference, and whose sustained dialogues had helped resolve the civil war in Tajikistan. Three EDCs were initially formed, with diverse representation of citizens and government officials, and which developed their own projects. In another chapter, Saunders discusses a civic organization in West Virginia, the Center for Civic Life, which contributed to forming a statewide citizens network in the 1990s, aided by the work of the National Issues Forum (NIF) of the Kettering Foundation. The Center, in association with other organizations, helped establish citizen groups that meet regularly and apply critical thinking to issues that concern them. They are developing ways to transform the deliberation into actions. Saunders, in a chapter co-authored with Philip D. Stewart, examines Russian citizens’ deliberative forums that focused on the Russian–U.S. relationship; the forums were conducted in Russia in the 1990s with support from the Kettering Foundation. U.S. citizens in National Issues 3 Forums carried out the same kind of discussions and then Russians and Americans exchanged information about what they had learned. Saunders and Stewart report some of the resulting insights regarding their perceptions of themselves and of each other. Finally, Saunders examines instances of interactions between U.S. and Chinese government officials since the 1970s. He notes how in some instances, the relations were conducted in accord with elements of the paradigm and were relatively constructive. He also discusses interactions during the administrations of Bill Clinton and of George W. Bush, in which the U.S.-Chinese relationship might have avoided being damaged if the officials’ conduct were more in accord with the paradigm’s perspective. The book is based on wide reading, but most importantly, on Saunders’ extensive experience. He held major offices in his twenty-five years of service in the U.S. government, including member of the National Security Council and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs. Since leaving the government in 1981 he has engaged in many citizen initiatives and is Director of International Affairs at the Kettering Foundation. He has participated in varying degrees in the cases examined in the book, and conducted extensive interviews with participants in each case. His engagement in the cases is a source of insight and information about them. I believe that many of the interpretations and inferences throughout this book warrant more citizen and official applications. Also, the book contains an abundance of propositions and generalizations that are worth subjecting to greater empirical research. Saunders notes some of the intellectual sources and applied work of others that contributed to his formulation of the relational paradigm. More also needs to be done to relate his synthesis with the research and practice of other persons in relevant fields. For example, 4 social interaction is a core concept in sociology and the subject of much research. Also, many of the practices in the field of conflict resolution fit into or complement the paradigm in ways that can be usefully explicated, including problem solving workshops, track two endeavors, dialogue circles, and mediation. The increasing role of transnational non-state actors can also be usefully integrated with the paradigm; they include global and regional intergovernmental organizations, transnational business corporations, and international nongovernmental organizations. This book presents a comprehensive perspective, within which specific peace building efforts can be conceptualized. A single workshop cannot have great impact, but it is significant when viewed as part of a cumulative, multilevel relationship. The paradigm that Saunders offers gives needed attention to citizen engagement and to the overall relations between communities and countries; their significance is too often underestimated in traditional views of foreign affairs. The book is lucidly written and should be attractive to several audiences: academics, students, policy makers and the attentive public. In human affairs, a paradigm does not simply depict an external reality; insofar as it is believed to be true, it affects the conduct of the believers. Therefore, a change in the accepted paradigm may affect the external reality. The external reality, nevertheless, is not created by whatever a particular group of people believe, and if their beliefs are too discrepant from the external circumstances, acting on those beliefs will have unforeseen consequences. The beliefs of U.S. political leaders, particularly about U.S. military primacy, contributed to their decision to take the United States into war in Iraq in 2003 and conduct it as they did. But their beliefs proved to be badly mistaken. The paradigm developed in this book better fits the emerging globe. That will have constructive consequences, particularly if people believe that that is so, and act on those beliefs.
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