American Foreign Environmental Policy and the Power of the State

By Stephen Hopgood | Go to book overview

1
American Foreign Environmental Policy and the Power of the State

Given that the state has been the foundational concept for theorizing about international relations it is remarkable that so little has actually been written about what this state might look like and how it might operate. 1 This reflects two separate factors: the centrality of the American historical experience to theories of international relations, and the belief that what is special about international politics is what happens outside, and between, sovereign states.

It has become a commonplace to argue that there is, in any meaningful sense, no state in the United States and to explain the absence of such a concept from much American social science as a result. 2 Yet this observation only refers to one meaning of 'the state', that which we might label institutional. This 'state', familiar to sociologists and comparativists alike, refers to 'a set of administrative, policing, and military organizations headed, and more or less well co-ordinated by, an executive authority'. 3 It does not exclude a much broader understanding which conceives of the state as territory (thus encompassing everything that lies within it). J. P. Nettl illustrates this distinction by referring to the difference between 'the British state' and ' Britain as a state'. 4 It also explains why the United States can be both a 'weak' and a 'strong' state: the American state is said to be weak; America as a state is conspicuously powerful.

The absence of an 'institutional' conception in most international relations theory has contrasted with other areas of political

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1
See Fred Halliday Rethinking International Relations ( London: Macmillan, 1994), ch. 4, for a good general introduction to this issue and Anthony Jarvis, "Societies, States and Geopolitics: Challenges from Historical Sociology", Review of International Studies, 15 ( 1989), 281-93.
2
See J. P. Nettl, "The State as a Conceptual Variable", World Politics, 20/4 ( 1968), 561, and Graham K. Wilson, Interest Groups ( Oxford: Blackwell, 1990), 134.
3
Theda Skocpol, States and Social Revolutions ( Cambridge:Cambridge University Press, 1979), 29.
4
Nettl, "The State as a Conceptual Variable", 564.

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