This is an important book and should be read by jordanbetts

VIEWS: 9 PAGES: 4

									“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
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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
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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,
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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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