On Deaf Ears? toward Better Informed Policy

Harvard International Review, Summer 2006 | Go to article overview

On Deaf Ears? toward Better Informed Policy


US President John E Kennedy was deeply influenced by historian Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August and applied its lessons about World War I to the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Did reading academic work help Kennedy forge a cautious policy that avoided nuclear war?

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Today, policymakers around the world champion democratization, believing that democracies do not go to war with each other. But are they aware of the scholarship of Edward Mansfield and Jack Snyder, who contend that emerging democracies are more likely to fight wars?

Realist theorists John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, among others, argued that war on Iraq was unnecessary. Yet the neoconservative doctrine that advocated war has its roots in the academy. Was the Iraq war the academy's product or its nightmare? Or both?

The influence of the academy on policymakers can range from negligible to transformative. But no matter how hard they try, academics are often left groping to guide the process from the outside. Policymakers seem free to make decisions, leaving the academy to watch and criticize. Is this the best relationship? What can the academy offer architects of policy? What should policymakers learn from the academy? This symposium seeks to understand the interactions between academics and policymakers as they craft foreign policy.

In doing so, we must be mindful of the divisions between the academy and policy, between theory and practice. Academics have 30 pages to make their argument while policymakers have only three. Policymakers must make decisions when they are partially aware of the factors at play, but academics may be hesitant to reach conclusions when they have twice the amount of information. These are the different worlds that academics and policymakers inhabit. With these realities in mind, the following authors offer perspectives on the influences the academy has on policymaking and what can be done to optimize the academy-policy relationship.

Michael Barnett and John Willinsky lead the symposium with theoretical views on the relationship between the academy and policymaking. Barnett, professor at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota, uses his personal experience in the US Mission to the United Nations to explain the differing worldviews of policymakers and academics. He highlights the quality of academic policy analysis and calls for policymakers to be more rigorous in their own. …

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