By Adagbo ONOJA
It cannot be out of place to worry about the quality and overarching direction of undergraduate and even graduate training in the discipline of International Relations (IRs) in Nigeria at a disturbing moment in the affairs of the country itself. Although there have been no comprehensive, credible ranking of academic departments in Nigerian universities lately as for anyone to say that a particular discipline is the most or least popular one, the claim can be made of the immense popularity of IRs among prospective undergraduates circulating in the social sciences. It must be so, or we cannot explain the recent phenomenon involving the reconstitution of the Department of History in many Nigerian universities into the Department of History and International Relations or Department of Political Science into the Department of Political Science and Diplomacy or whatever gives the department a connection to IRs. These moves surely speak to the value rating for a degree in IRs, whether it is called International Relations, International Studies, International Security, International Politics, International Affairs, International Governance, Global Governance or Geopolitics, each one emphasising one entry point or the other to comprehending the dynamics of world politics.
Students rush to read it, making departments of History and International Relations to brim with students to the envy of a department such as Political Science in most universities where History and IRs is offered as a degree programme. It is not clear why IRs is that seductive. One plausible explanation could be how IRs is the only sub-discipline of Political Science to have cornered for itself autonomous departments in two out of the five first generation Nigerian universities – the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife and Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. Public Administration which is the other sub sub-discipline in Political Science to have enjoyed such institutional status does not have the grandeur associated with IRs. The grandeur under reference refers to the grand, positive image of institutions connected with the practice of IRs in popular psychology in Nigeria. These includes the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, (NIIA), the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, (NIPSS) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In the case of the Ministry, the public curiosity about who becomes the Minister of Foreign Affairs whenever a new cabinet is to be constituted in Nigeria is taken as instructive.
Prospective students and their parents obviously assume that IRs offers a better chance of entering the international. It is possible it does but such an assumption does not reckon with the point that before the end of the Cold War, IRs was the most shallow academic discipline in the social sciences. It was actually barren, enhanced only by the entry of Marxism as a theory of IRs. Otherwise it had only Realism and Liberalism as its main theories at a time disciplines such as Literature, Linguistics, Anthropology, History or Psychology were galloping in theoretical sophistication and understanding of the world. It was only with the rise of constructivism, deconstruction, Post-Marxism, Postcolonialism and, recently, Decoloniality at the end of the Cold War that IRs is now one of the richest disciplines in the social sciences because of the diversity of lenses now covered. They span international political theory, linguistic philosophy, structuralism, Lacanian psychoanalysis, critical political economy, critical geopolitics and so on.
The puzzle, however, is why, in spite of the foregone, IRs is highly famished in Nigerian universities in relation to new developments in the discipline. Although course outlines are neither static not tell the radius of coverage which could depend more on a particular lecturer and, in very few circumstances, on the quality of the students in a class, it is still the most credible hint of what was touched upon. Could it be that the Nigerian academic establishment is not comfortable with the new developments in terms of the content of the discipline? Is it possible it is a problem of lack of the people whose training in IRs is that current? Might it have anything to do with an unwritten policy to save the students the pains and pleasures of learning everything in the discipline today? This is very plausible because there is the story of the Head of Department who once instructed against teaching students the theory part of the course on the ground that the students are too young to make sense of them all. While it is true that students enter the university now at very tender age, some barely 16, it is also true that making them grasp the issues is the acme of being a lecturer.
So, this paper is about showing how famished IRs is in Nigeria and the crisis it implies. Attention to the crisis is considered crucial because, for a country such as Nigeria, IRs is not just another discipline which students take for their Bachelors, Masters and Doctorate degrees so as to secure employment in diplomacy, multinational corporations, international organisations and research. More than that, it is a power resource as IRs is productive of international relations. IRs is so because IRs scholars are not involved in objective descriptions of the reality they study. Rather, they are involved in discourses with implications for practices in the field. As such, it is a site for scripting hegemony or national security as may be possible for each and every nation-state within subsisting configuration of global power.
IRs is thus at the heart of the politics of the social construction of the global space through the discursive practices by which nations reify or materialise themselves on a world scale. That makes the way it is taught and studied to be an important issue for a potential powerhouse, particularly in the context of the knowledge – power nexus in the materialisation of the nation in contemporary global order. It means the Nigerian government ought to be interested in what is broadly on offer in the researching and teaching of the discipline in Nigerian universities, which meta-theoretical edifice is dominant and which is not and similar questions. Every discipline is important but it is not all disciplines which studies predominantly statist practices of diplomacy, trade, intelligence or war making by which nation states reproduce themselves.
This piece, therefore, contributes to elucidating why investing in the ‘critical turn’ in IRs for a country such as Nigeria which has a unique problem of a volatile inter-subjective space is apt. IRs being the discipline with a very huge number of students can help the country with products who are above loading the discursive space, especially the media, with simplistic binaries promotional of hysteria, bitterness, mischief, mediocrity and misdirected aggression. And if the products are so well groomed, they can elevate practices in their post-university spheres, from the military to the police, the paramilitary institutions, culture, journalism, politics and business.
This piece begins with a recap of the ontological and epistemological skirmishes in the discipline immediately after the Cold War and the decentering of the old theories and methods in favour of newer ones, hoping that no one will attribute to Adagbo Onoja as saying that a theory can get old or expire. In the second section, it demonstrates the famished presence of the ‘critical turn’ in IRs in Nigerian universities in the context of the previous section. I did this by looking at the structure of the course units in the universities offering degree programme in IRs. Section three considers a number of remedial measures that can reverse the situation in the shortest possible time frame while the conclusion closes the conversation.
Publishing this piece in Intervention moves the platform further up towards its academic aspirational direction although publishing it here is also a concession to the argument that it makes the material available to those who might need it more as opposed to publishing it elsewhere. Readers would have to bear with the element of academic style of presentation as the piece is a product of works originally written as such but now updated and published in a space that is a cross between journalism and academia and in relation to a problem peculiar to IRs in Nigerian universities.
The Assault on (Neo) Realism in the Immediate Post-Cold War
The period after the Cold War has been one of ferment generally but more so in IRs. That ferment can be argued to have revolved around what Smith (1996:12) has called a massive attack on neorealism in the post-Cold War era. Neorealism has been the dominant way of studying IRs for so long. So, in the event of the ferment, it was the target. The attack on neorealism reflects the meta-theoretical convulsion within the discipline against its historical hegemony by rising theoretical currents that constitutes the ‘critical turn’.
Adherents such as Barry Buzan would credit Realism with successfully establishing indispensable relevance for its perspective as well as settling accounts with all other paradigms that contested it, (Buzan, 1996: 56, 58 & 59). That is from classical liberalism to neoliberal institutionalism, from Marxism to even post structuralism. Such a view draws attention not necessarily to the truth of the position as much as it does to the degree to which Realism has predominated as the way of thinking and doing IRs since the end of the Second World War. The Second World War is significant because, among others, the two main texts from which the Realist orthodoxy sprang up were published around this time. While Carr published his Twenty Years’ Crisis at the close of the First World War, Morgenthau published his Politics Among Nations immediately after the Second World War in 1946. This long period of barely challenged dominance speaks to the grip of Realism on the discipline since the paradigm arose as a “devastating rhetorical blow against ‘utopians”, (Carr, 1939, cited in Barnett & Duvall, 2005:40).
It is, however, not classical Realism but structural Realism or neorealism, a major departure within Realism, which has been hegemonic in IRs. Some scholars such as Hall, (2013) have argued persuasively that neorealism actually rescued the Realist paradigm from what he regards as the philosophical anthropology which underpinned classical Realism. That would appear a valid point given the grounds upon which Buzan erected his thesis of ‘the timeless wisdom of realism?’ That ground is not only its ability to revise and re-invent itself but also the indispensable relevance he claims for its perspective within contending paradigms. Buzan defends this assertion by pointing at how liberalism’s ‘Sovereignty at bay’ had to be abandoned; how the notion of force as a disappearing feature of international politics failed to be a sustainable claim and how co-operation under anarchy that neoliberal institutionalism promoted came to be a debate largely under Realist terms. Beyond Buzan’s thesis, there are neorealist voices such as John Mearsheimer, particularly in his insistence (2014) that China cannot rise peacefully.
It could be argued that it is only with scholars of neorealism such as Mearsheimer that neorealism retains what Stephen Walt, (2016) calls the little attention it still receives today in the United States of America. That is the situation that infuriated him to write a reflective piece lamenting the marginal presence of “a distinguished and well known approach to foreign policy”, (www.foreignpolicy.com/tracked/21/01/16) in public discourse. That view, however, attracted a reply in which Thomas Wright, (www.brookings/edu/tracked 21/01/16) pointed at what he calls academic Realism as the problem. But before Walt and Wright’s exchange, Zakaria, (1992) had asked whether Realism is not finished. Kenneth Waltz himself devoted considerable attention to replying critics of neorealism in a way that suggests the resistance of ‘normal science’ to new data as formulated by Kuhn, (2000; 1986). In this sense, Michael Williams got it right by saying that the frequency with which questions about the future of (neo) realism have been raised suggested “the breadth and sophistication of Realism’s crisis”, (2006: 1).
The above resume of the crisis of neorealism points to the dialectics of neorealism: the peak of its rise and dominance is also the peak of the sustained attack on it. This conclusion is drawn from the space of barely five years between when Kenneth Waltz’s Theory of International Politics emerged and when the classic of the critical attack on neorealism emerged in Ashley’s “The Poverty of Neorealism” in 1984. The attack has not ceased since then. The ‘critical turn’ invoked in the title of this paper speaks to the peak of the turn in the post-Cold War when it assumed the combined onslaught of Frankfurt School critical theory, neo-Marxism, critical political economy, poststructuralism, postcolonial theory, decoloniality and posthumanism. Although divergent in orientation, these contending theories are collectively lumped together under the term ‘critical turn’ because they all interrogated taken for granted meanings.
Neorealism in this sense has thus been a paradox. For a research programme which prides itself on scientificity, classical Realism presented a methodological problem for what was to emerge as neorealism. In Hans Morgenthau’s Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace, originally published in 1946, animus dominandi is a key category. Classical Realism rested on it in so far as the theory finds in human nature the central jump off point in analysing international politics. The selfishness and egotistical disposition of human nature, argues Morgenthau, precludes co-operation in any fundamental sense in inter-state relations in so far as human beings run states. Rather, these human qualities shape state behaviour in favour of selfishness and self-centred practices. The result is the primacy of lust for power, the necessity for Realpolitik and the amorality associated with that in an international political space lacking an overarching or central authority.
But a psychological variable such as animus dominandi cannot be demonstrated empirically. There would still be a major problem with the claim even if a constructivist criterion were used to reassess the metaphor as appears to be happening in the return to classical Realism, (Behr & Molly, 2013; Behr & Williams, 2016; Rösch, 2017). That return is though following a ‘Classical Realism Meets Critical Theory’ path, (Behr & Molly, 2013) rather than about repudiating the categorical separation between morality and legalism on the one hand and interest and power on the other hand. The primacy given to animus dominandi is compounded by the goodness, humanism and even emancipatory streaks in the action of human beings observable in international politics. Even as contested as the concepts of humanism and emancipation are, such cases of goodness contradict the claim of inherent vain gloriousness of the human mind. So, a hiatus between theory and the scientific subsisted in classical Realism.
It was this hiatus in the analysis of international politics that Kenneth Waltz’s Theory of International Politics in 1979 attacked and resolved to become generally regarded as a classic, (Molly, 2003; Brown, 2009; Hall, 2013). It has enjoyed the status of a master story in rupturing classical realism by shifting the independent variable in the explanation of international politics from the assumptions of ‘human nature’ to the structure of the international system itself. By this master story which the author himself described as a systemic analysis of the inter-state system, (Waltz, 1979: 19), the lack of any power standing over and above the self-constituted entities that make up the international system became privileged over and above human agency, whatever might be its nature. It marked a shift from philosophical anthropology to structuralist reasoning in that neorealism asserted a condition of anarchy flowing from the very structure of the international system in its lack of the Leviathan that could act as a force for order and stability against the ‘state of nature’ as in the domestic space.
Arising from the argument that “…unless a state is secure, it cannot be sure that it will survive and if it does not survive, it will not be able to fulfil any other goals favouring its citizens” (Taylor, 1978: 127), anarchy compels every state in the system to rely on self-help if it wants to survive as whatever level of cooperation there might be internationally does not challenge the reality of anarchy. Self-help privileges power measured in military capability to contain external aggression, thereby making great powers the players of special attention for neorealism as far as system stability is concerned, great powers being the ultimate markers in terms of possession of deterrent powers in their awesome military capability. Waltz’s classification gave the international system greater stability when it is bipolarity rather than when it is multipolarity or unipolarity, (2000: 6). One of the reasons for this is given in the thesis of “the stability of pairs”, (Waltz, 1979: 160).
Structural Realism or neorealism as in the above sketch remained appealing to Waltz, with him still arguing even after the Cold War that only a change of the international system rather than changes in the system could make structural realism obsolete, (2000: 5). And that there is a price to pay by any state that disregards power as the key variable in international politics. This is even as neorealism is not one but many voices, common to which is the structuralist narrative of the international system. If Kenneth Waltz were to wake up today and listen to new voices in the neorealist family, he would be pleasantly surprised about the many directions many falconers have extended the original message of the falcon.
Notwithstanding the diversity of the strands, neorealists are unified by the reading of the inter-state system in terms of anarchy and the cure for anarchy in the aggregation of power and balancing of power in perpetuity. This is the narrative that has attracted the critics of neorealism, particularly from the ‘critical turn’ that developed shortly before the end of the Cold War to taking the centre stage in IRs scholarship in the post-Cold War. As indicated earlier, although the ‘critical turn’ is not a homogenous research agenda, it is unified in its rejection of what Cox, (1981) calls the problem-solving attitude.
Waltz can thus be said to subscribe to what, again, Buzan would aptly call post structuralist realism, the label by which he says Ole Weaver, the University of Copenhagen theorist of Securitisation, has framed himself, (1996: 59). Having said that theoretical notions can only be invented rather than discovered, (1979: 5), Waltz could be said to transcend the neopositivist radius in favour of Jackson, (2011)’s point about Theory of International Politics being the work of an analyticist (as distinct from a neopositivist). Waltz whose work in question has circumscribed much of International Relations is thus not a neopositivist in the empiricist or Behaviouralist sense with no regards for “what goes on in actors’ head as the basis of knowledge claims”, (Smith, 1996: 32).
Smith, (1996), however, reminds us of how a rejection of the methodological aspect does not imply a rejection of the epistemological and ontological dimensions of positivism. In that case, the question to ask is whether analyticism is the anti-thesis of neo-positivism once a theorist is not entangled in data-led conclusion but in “singular causal analysis”, (Jackson, 2011: 115). Buzan does not think so in relation to Waltz’s work, given his statement that there is a commitment to positivism in (neo) realism, (1996: 54). His position is that the rejection of quantitative methodology by both Morgenthau and Waltz has not meant a rejection of the rationalist kernel in neorealism, citing conscious borrowing of that kernel as used in Economics. In his view, it has been such that firms in economic science becomes states in neorealist analysis, the anarchy of the market structure becomes anarchy in international politics while utility in micro economics becomes power in neorealism. Interestingly, Waltz himself used almost the same words as Buzan in revealing the origin of the kernel of his narrative of international politics in Economics, 15 years after Buzan’s own comparison. Ashley (1984: 228) is, therefore, right to infer that Waltz’s meta-theoretical edifice is positivist structuralism.
Critics point to positivism as not just giving IRS a method but a method that has determined what things could be studied because it has also determined “what kinds of things existed”, (Smith, 1996: 12). The implication is that criticisms of positivism are criticisms of neorealism. Such a view centralises Krause and Williams (2005: 40)’s leading question as to “how, from the so-called facts of self-regarding, autonomously constituted and sovereign states, do we get international anarchy?”. Tracing this to a caricature of Rousseau’s parable of the Stag hunt from which the authors believe Waltz derived his conception of the inter-state system in terms of anarchy, they argue that anarchy becomes an objective fact only because neorealism could not see any structure performing the role of the state vis-à-vis order as is in the domestic arrangement. Restricted to just what meets the eye, the neorealist lens could not factor in human sociality, inter-subjectivity or the possibility of consensus as foundations of international relations, (Ashley, 1984, cited). By implication, anarchy is a product of nothing other than an interpretation “grounded in a deeper set of claims about the autonomous nature of subjectivity and its relationship to sovereignty” (Krause & Williams, 1997: 41).
Krause and Williams have, therefore, questioned the origin of neorealism’s key conceptual category on the ground that the concept has no reality beyond Waltz’s gaze. They have also argued that neorealism’s claim to disciplinary authority in terms of the model of science capable of producing objective, timeless knowledge has been presented as self-evident and authoritative rather than articulated, (2007: 39). In pursuing this, Krause and Williams end up speaking to what they call the unspoken premises which enabled neorealism to make anarchy and power central or definitive categories in their analysis. That is the particularistic reading based on interpretation of the perceived absence of the international equivalent of the Leviathan as a contradiction and tantamount to anarchy rather than concepts yielded by the structure of international politics. This position echoes similar ones such as Ashley, (1984)’s point that the ‘state-as-actor’ in neorealism precedes and is exempt from science, an attack on neorealism’s claim to distancing itself from sentimental speculation. In fact, Ashley accuses neorealism of being a critique of the radical promises of classical Realism by abstracting power from it, developing selective interest in ‘expanding the reach of control’ and cobbling a theoretical perspective keen to experiment unconstrained rational power, amounting to rationalization of totalitarianism on a global scale, (1984: 228).
Beyond Krause and Williams or Ashley, others (Deudney, 2011; Buzan, 2008; Hobson, 2005; Weber, 2005; Kratochwil, 1993; Griffiths, 1992), buy into the questioning of the nexus between science and neorealism, in one form or the other, particularly the idea of the state as the ontological unit of analysis as well as the concept of anarchy. Notwithstanding his overall endorsement of (neo) realism, Buzan still quips that “much of neorealism can be read as a sophisticated form of fatalism”, (1996: 60). He hits at it for denying history because it reproduces the inter-state system in such a way that progress and time stand still, (1996: 53). To these must be added interventions such as Kratochwil’s who says that neorealism’s mission of searching for unchanging laws of international politics had shut down the kind of questions that could yield scientific knowledge, a proof of which he provides in the number of changes in international relations that were not following the neorealist explanatory schema, (1993: 63). What might we make of this agreement between Buzan from Realism; Kratochwil from critical constructivism; Krause and Williams from critical theory and Ashley from post structuralism on this point?
There is a sense in which the consensus points at a rupturing of neorealism’s scientific aspiration. Again, evidence from Ashley is critical. Arguing in tandem with the proposition that theory is always for someone and for some purpose and that social science cannot be expected to be neutral, Ashley ventures to suggest that neorealism is nothing but a strategic intellectual cover for the American State to wriggle out of a fiscal and legitimacy crisis incurred from performing the ‘system-manager’ role for global capitalism. For him, what neorealism did for international political analysis is the same as the “economistic” ideological legitimation of the state’s domestic performance”, hence his notion of neorealism as a crisis prompted redeployment from the domestic to the international, (1984: 264). Surprisingly, Ashley’s position is not contradicted but corroborated even by Realists such as Buzan who calls neorealism the counter-attack during an intellectual, economic and legitimacy crises involving the rise of contending perspectives such as interdependence, political economy and transnationalism, interrogating key issues in realist thinking such as the place of the state and of military power, (Buzan, 1996: 49). Buzan, in fact, employed the same language as Ashley in profiling the context of neorealism as defence of the centrality of the state, of great powers and the re-affirmation of “the primacy of American power in the international system”, (1996: 49).
The message in this is that, contrary to Waltz’s insistence that no state can discard the primacy of power without paying a price, (2000: 39), the power he had in mind is a product of blinkers, a theory for someone and some purpose. Deriding Realism for presenting itself as the producer of the ‘one true, legitimate knowledge about IRs’, Booth argues a tragedy in the study of IRs that an ideology could appropriate the school, calling Realism “a theory of the powerful, by the powerful and for the powerful” and becoming an “intellectual pass word into the corridors of power” (2005:6). Jervis, (1998), therefore, presents an interesting but misleading argument by asserting the normality of one school enriching another as an indicator of Political Science discipline functioning well. While one paradigm illuminating or clarifying issues regarding a research question in another paradigm or school must be very welcome, that is not the case when neorealism has to be assisted in explaining certain things, a situation which arises from what some have seen as brilliant but heroic, ideological move that brought it into being. That is to say that neorealism’s ideological character matters in that neorealism, though under no obligation to be emancipatory, tried to hide ideology under the cover of scientificity, the uncovering of which renders all other criticisms against it as valid.
Notwithstanding the above central position that all criticisms against neorealism have merit once its key concepts are products of particularistic reading conveyed under scientificity, there is still the need to take particular criticisms of it and see how it fits or contradict this standpoint. One such criticism is the discrepancy observed between neorealism’s image of international politics and the actual changes that occur in international politics. Although Waltz would say that theory and reality do not replicate each other, the theory-reality gaps in neorealism involve fundamental geopolitical changes that brought the Cold War to a close, for instance. Starting from Glasnost and Perestroika, the collapse of the Soviet Union itself and the subsequent unification of Germany, neorealism has had no categorical, predictive statement.
Even voices from within neorealism such as Jack Snyder’s go along with that of constructivists such as Kratochwil’s in arguing that neorealism has difficulty in explaining change. In Snyder’s case, he used the example of 9/11. While crediting (neo) realism for identifying persistence of conflict in the inter-state system, he equally argues that 9/11 undermined both balancing, Balance-of-Power, (BOP) and band wagoning, key neorealist principles by which stability is maintained in the international system. Snyder cannot see any such balancing by other states against the US in the 21st century unlike what happened when France, Russia and eventually Britain bonded together against Germany in the 20th century, (2004: 56). Schweller, (2004: 160) stands exactly on the same position, using the same example to say that there can be no law of nature in neorealism’s sense about balancing if the states within and without the Eurocentric domain where the balance of power doctrine was derived and largely tested are resisting its logic and practice.
The question might be asked whether Snyder took into consideration contrary perspectives on this. Some such as Legro & Moravcsik, (1999) protest that failure to predict does not unmake neorealism just as Donnelly, (2005) argues that it is not neorealism alone but every other IRs paradigm that is blameworthy on the failure to predict end of the Cold War. Similarly, Burchill & Linklater, (2005: 48) reminds us about how neorealism could comfortably claim never being a theory of change. The other side of the same point might be whether any such reservations can be compelling enough to exonerate or excuse neorealism’s failure to hint the collapse of the USSR. The centrality of great powers in neorealism’s analysis of IRs makes failure to offer such a hint regarding the crash of USSR a confirmation of a crisis of scientificity as well as of blinkers. Such a conclusion shares paternity with the observation, for instance, that “Realism simply fails to explain most of international relations”, (Burchill and Linklater, 2005: 53). Tracing this to Realism’s preference to explain “a small number of big and important things”, (Waltz, 1986: 329), the authors not only point at the normative character of the claim but also compares it to restricting Medicine, for example, to studying and treating only the considered leading causes of death. They correctly reject such a restriction, believing that there are “a large number of big and important things about which Realism is necessarily silent”.
The criticism appears to have anticipated the 9/11 terror attack on New York. The question would be how to analyse Al Qaeda if one follows neorealism, Al Qaeda not being a state actor but still an actor that could still levy a hurting attack on a great power, its pride and sense of statehood. How far might one stretch the argument that it was sovereign Afghanistan and not Al Qaeda that the US fought in the retaliation that followed? Similarly, new processes or actors in international politics such as multilateralism in IRs, (Kratochwil, 1993) or the rise and power of Non-Governmental Organisations, (NGOs) in global politics escape neorealist attention even when such new factors have shown clear areas of distinction from the state in theory and in practice. There is thus a confirmation of the point stressed by those such as Kratochwil (1993) who see changes in international politics following a completely different dynamics from that outlined by neorealism and its emphasis on timeless laws.
Neorealism has been implicated in the wars perceived to result from its narrative of international politics as an arena of power, conflict and force. The outcome is its complicity in creating a world that is not only not working for the majority of the people – the poor, the disinherited and the historically dispossessed but in the actual wars that result from the overvaluation of force or its inevitability. Interestingly, it is a Realist rather than, say, a constructivist who has provided a most sensitive summing up of this criticism. It is in Buzan’s rendition that once realists were not seen as objective observers, they stood accused of helping to reproduce the states, conflict and power politics or hierarchical structures and conflictual relations that they sanctify in theory, thereby helping to create self-fulfilling prophecies. “If people believe that power is the key to human relations, then they will tend to behave in ways that make it so”, creating a tension for Buzan “between the need to study what is and the danger of reproducing it by doing so”, a tension he argues to be beyond resolution, (1996: 54).
What emerges from this review so far is the fundamental discord between the ‘critical turn’ and neorealism, reflecting the epistemological divide between positivism and post-positivism The critics who are mostly post-positivists are showing in their criticism of neorealism that it has very little to do with merely describing the world objectively. Rather, it was an exercise in framing the world or constructing it. By the position of the critics, the concept of anarchy corresponds to no objective reality but a subjective interpretation of the world from the ideological and cultural standpoint of the scholars involved. Anarchy is a discourse of international relations, a very subjective process which is why the concept doesn’t mirror much of what is happening in the field of play in international politics. It could neither predict nor hint the collapse of a superpower just as it could not predict, much less explain, attack on a superpower by a non-state actor such as l-Qaeda, just to give two examples.
It is promotional of war because the deterrence that neorealism privileges implies war. States armed to the teeth are states primed for war, not peace. A hegemonic concept such as anarchy in the theory of neorealism is, therefore, implicated in not only promoting war but also in creating a world that is not working for the majority but mainly for arms merchants favoured by the practice of deterrence as a cure for anarchy. Theories, therefore, does not just speak, they also act. Theories create reality because they provide the terms by which the world might be acted upon. Above all, they are articulatory in essence.
Those who deny the status of a realistic lens to Realism could be said to have a point, judged against the background of the foregoing. If neorealism is a hindrance rather than help in the realisation or utilisation of that power resource, then it should be important to ask if a country such as Nigeria has taken note of that in the research and teaching of IRs in her universities. This takes us to the next section of this chapter in terms of the character of IRs in contemporary Nigeria.
International Relations in Nigeria Without the ‘Critical Turn’
Up to mid-2020, the number of universities in Nigeria stood around 200. It is impossible to be precise about this since the license for new universities is a continuous exercise. The existing figure comprises federal, state government and privately-owned universities, nearly all of which offer International Relations in one form or the other. Typically, the Bachelor’s degree in IRs or Political Science offers a Second-year student an introductory module, normally titled “Introduction to International Relations” or “Concepts in International Relations”. In some of the new universities, this is a First-year course unit. This is the case with Afe Babalola University where the program, International Relations and Diplomacy, offers four course units of two credits each in IRs in the First year. These are “Ancestors of the Contemporary International System”, “New States in World Politics”, Evolution of the Contemporary International System” and “Introduction to International Relations and Diplomacy 1 & 11”.
In the Third of the Four-year program, “Theories of International Relations” is common to most of the universities. In the fourth year, the typical IRs courses is “Nigerian Foreign Policy” and the hybrid course “Third World and Dependency”. In some universities such as Bayero University, Kano, this is called “Third World in International Politics”. It is hybrid in the sense that it benefits from traditional IRs and International Political Economy which relies a lot on Historical Materialism as distinct from neorealism.
Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife; Bayero University, Kano and Afe Babalola University provide a rather interesting case in the sense that, unlike most of the other universities where IRs is embedded in Political Science, they offer First Degree in the course. As already noted, Afe Babalola University, one of the new private universities, calls its own program International Relations and Diplomacy. Veritas University, Abuja which has ‘Diplomacy’ in the title of its BSc Political Science program, has such courses as “International Conflict and Security” in the Second year; “Institutions of Global Governance” and “Politics of International Economic Relations” in the Third year and, in the Fourth year, “Current Issues in International Relations”, “International Law and Organisations” and “Diplomatic Theory and Practice”.
It could thus be said that IRs is a massive academic site. IRs has more courses than even Methodology in the typical Bachelor of Science program in Political Science in the typical Nigerian university of today. It is not clear if this reflects consciousness of the constitutive role of knowledge in the power calculus of the nation in a world of states. However, quantity does not automatically translate to quality. That is, quality understood in terms of the role of IRs in relation to the role that knowledge plays in a nation’s foreign policy and what conception of geopolitics it depends. Seen from that perspective regarding the primacy of propositions, concepts and theories in global power politics, the question of what the theoretical perspectives, concepts and methods defining the unpacking of these IRs modules in Nigerian universities becomes crucial. There may be no secure grounds for knowledge claims but there is always a dominant paradigm at every point in time before it is superseded. So, what do we see when we look at the content of some of the courses?
The Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife is one of the two first generation universities that ever offered a standalone Bachelor’s degree in IRs. Its overview offers a sketchy outline as follows: the functioning, theory and history of the international system; the nature of the changing relations between states and non-state actors, unifying mechanisms such as the United Nations and the African Union and what it places as the highly uneven distribution of power, money, welfare and knowledge vis-a-vis how these constitute the foreign policy of states towards each other. While the outline suggests a comprehensive study of IRs, it does not tell us much about the theoretical approaches upon which this is rested. What it suggests is unproblematic stories of the international process. Story lines could be richly ideological but could also be unscholarly. As the course profiles were collected on the basis of what each university has already put out in terms of what it is offering, the question of trying to find out if the outline is all there is to it did not arise.
In the Department of Political Science of the same university where there is a Third-year course titled “Theories of “International Relations”, the outline deserves reproduction in its entirety. It says: The utility of theories and concepts in international relations; power; conflict and accommodation, systems theory, linkage politics, the theory of coalition and alliance models, games theory and simulation”. It is interesting that the department has so many modules in IRs. These include the Third-year module: Politics of International Economic Relations” and the three Fourth year modules: Theories of War and Strategies for Peace”; “International Law, Organisation and Administration” and “International Politics, States and the Media”. Notwithstanding the diversity of angles to IRs posed by these fascinating course titles, they are all very fragmentary grips on neorealism at best because concepts or practices such as power, conflict, coalition, alliance, game theory are all building blocks of neorealism in this context. The implication is that the Department has basically no IRs since there are about ten or so more theoretical homesteads about which nothing is mentioned.
Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria which is the other first-generation university that had a standalone sub-Department of IRs much earlier than the emergence of IRs as such a popular subject has a similarly restricted list of topics covered. Its list of themes stretch from Power, Conflict and Accommodation; Systems Theories; Linkage Politics; The Theory of Coalition and Alliances; Models, Games and Simulation. It is interesting how this outline is what one finds across the university system, including Ibadan whose is “Classical theory; theory of Imperialism; systems theories; linkage politics; the theory of coalition and alliances: models, games and simulation”. In the same manner, Afe Babalola University’s Third-year course titled “Theories of International Relations” promises to “examine origin of theoretical study of International Relations”, went on to identify what it calls the traditional, scientific and post-behavioural schools in International Relations which shall be interrogated. And this is then followed by “various theories of International Relations: systems theory, functional theory, decision making theory, simulation and games theory, etc as well as application and utility of these theories”. It is not different from OAU, Ile-Ife.
Bayero University, Kano which offers a BSc IRs has a Second year course titled “Introduction to International Relations” but that is the only course it has any mention of theories of International Relations among a vast ensemble of items ranging from “the scope of international relations; the major patterns and trends in twentieth century world politics; relations among nations; the instruments for promoting national and super-national interest; determination of national interests; control of international disputes”. It has quite a number of IRs related courses but nowhere in any of them is an outline of the theories being taught provided.
It is possible that when one looks at the detailed course outline in each of the universities, one would find a more systematic engagement with theories underpinning IRs. This is the case at the University of Ibadan, the oldest university in Nigeria and, arguably, the most established Department of Political Science. The detailed outline for its Third-year course “International Relations Theory” starts from a fairly elaborate conceptual bush clearing before climbing from Realism to Liberalism to Marxism; Structuralism; Critical Theory; Feminism; Social Constructivism and Green Theory. It is a very inviting module but from which International Political Theory, Poststructuralism, Postcolonialism, Geopolitics and Decoloniality are missing theoretical perspectives. It is very possible too that there could exist IRs academics in other Nigerian universities even ahead of the Ibadan radius. The Federal University, Lafia provides a good example in its graduate module “Theories of International Relations” in its MSc International Relations and Diplomacy’s explicit mention of “Postmodernist and post – Behaviouralist international relations theory; International relations theory and the end of the Cold War; Globalization and other paradigms for the 21st century” in its handbook. It is about the only of the brochures inspected which made explicit reference to a key hub of the ‘critical turn’ as well as explicit reference to the prediction crisis of IRs theories in relation to the dramatic end of the Cold War in the event of the implosion of the USSR.
The way university courses are laid out in the course or module outlines is not necessarily the way they are taught. The quality, sophistication or depth of the individual lecturers, the dominant academic tradition in a Department, Faculty and a particular university as well as the aggregate orientation of the students could also be definitive in this process. However, four features constrain excusing the course outlines encountered so far. Course outlines, as sketchy as they tend to be, always contain nuggets of the radius and direction of the subject/curriculum and their achievability. This is because a course outline gives us an idea of what is considered to be the key issues, concepts and overarching tradition of analysis foregrounding teaching and research. Cursory survey of course outlines of American, British, Australian and even South African universities not only in IRs but in other disciplines say much on the range of what is covered and the key underpinning theoretical perspectives.
There is the feature of the Benchmark Minimum Academic Standards for the Social Sciences component of the Undergraduate Programmes in Nigerian Universities. Produced by the National Universities Commission, (NUC) which is the system regulator, its IRS 310: Theories of International Relations”, (p. 105) defines the range in the following words: an examination of the following basic concepts and theories: Power, Conflict and Accommodation, Systems’ Theory; Linkage Politics; the Theory of Coalitions and Alliances; Games and Simulation”. This NUC outline of theories of IRs is what virtually all the universities have adopted and posted. Yet, it is not a systematic engagement with even neorealism, not to talk of liberalism, Marxism/structuralism, constructivism, poststructuralism, postcolonialism, geopolitics and so on.
There is the additional but even more interesting dimension whereby there is no manifestation of any differences between the minimum defined by the NUC and what the universities put on display. As such, the published structure of IRs courses in many of Nigeria’s departments and sub-departments of IRs provide enough evidence for a claim of a famished presence of the ‘critical turn’ when the course outlines are, collectively, situated in the current ferment in IRs. As noted earlier in this essay, that ferment has been tied to a massive attack on neorealism in the post-Cold War era.
What this survey then points to is the clear absence of all the various theoretical fields by which academics unpack the discipline today. A systematic listing of this does not appear anywhere with the possible exception of the University of Ibadan. Even there, the most current handbook on IRs modules is silent on many of the theoretical frameworks from the ‘critical turn’. Above all, all references to neorealism and liberalism are fragmentary rather than coherent outline of those two frameworks which are the commonest everywhere in the study of IRs. It is in that sense that a famished presence of the critical turn is claimed, with particular reference to what is sorely missing when we situate this in the current state of knowledge and as a power resource for national greatness.
As theory is constitutive of reality as pointed out in the relationship between neorealism and war in the above review, the famished presence of the ‘critical turn’ in IRs in Nigeria represents a major missing link in the national arsenal for Nigeria’s self-enactment on a global scale. It is denied the power that comes from knowledge and the practice engineered by such knowledge within current configuration of power global politics. By confining IRs to fragmentary elements of neorealism, the universities leave the realm of practice empty of theoretical edifice for comprehending the contemporary global arena. This is a source of harm to the materialisation of the nation in the age in which the ontological unit called the state is no longer that definitive of the contemporary international system.
What is to be Done?
There is thus an urgent case for the rehabilitation of IRs in Nigeria. That is, however, not achievable outside of a comprehensive rehabilitation of the university system because there is virtually no discipline that is not suffering dated content in Nigeria, with the possible exception of Literature. One may also exempt the very relevant graduate programme in Transnational Studies Prof Sola Olorunyomi and his colleagues are running at the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ibadan.
So, rebuilding the universities to the position where the system can guarantee the mandate of knowledge is the broad recommendation that makes sense. That is not an academic issue but a political project of national security dimension. What is thus at stake is the question of qualitative leadership, well organised political parties and credible elections that can produce leadership with sensitivity to the restoration of ‘the universe in the university’, apologies to Prof Niyi Osundare’s lecture of that title. As things are, none of these are in good supply in Nigeria today. Not only that, the university system has, in particular, been targeted by neoliberal globalisation and remains trapped in disciplinary neoliberalism. Still, there is no ruling out a magical turn in the country’s fortunes. It is within that speculative context that drawing attention to the theoretical lacuna in IRs in Nigeria in relation to Nigeria’s self-actualisation in global geopolitics has been undertaken.
If one must go beyond a broad to specific recommendations, then the first one should be the case for disbanding the National Universities Commission (NUC) at this point. Alternatively, it is so thoroughly shaken up as to realise what it is to be a regulator rather than a conveyor belt for the most deadly of anti-intellectual killer regimes and practices. At the least, it should be disinvested of any role in curriculum development. The NUC minimums are so hated by the students and conducted in so shoddy a manner in most of the universities that it is not a reason for NUC’s existence anymore were that to be reactivated.
The second specific recommendation should be calling for refocusing in what TetFund is already doing in terms of funding academics outside the country. Refocusing would mean not only the need to expand the number of beneficiaries of its funding but concentrating more on those pursuing Masters level degrees. This will mean that in another one year or so (since a Masters takes just nine months in most of Europe, for example), TetFund alone can inject a critical mass of theoretically charged enough resource persons into the university system as far as IRs is concerned, all of them up to date with the literature. Although the typical Masters programme is not an arena for the depth of grooming in methodology, a serious Masters student can get that in many ways in an established university ground.
Where should Tetfund send recipients of its funding? The US is still the largest political Science market in the world. In spite of the relative hegemony of positivism there, it is still the happening place but the continental philosophy tradition in Europe will serve Nigeria’s national interest better, given that we are still confronting questions of subjectivity, citizenship and the social. IRs is not like Engineering or Medicine which can be studied just anywhere.
The third specific recommendation one offers would be a recourse to some ‘Rapid results practices’ in terms of short term concept and methodology programmes for selected applicants in the country. It would also be funded by TetFund but implemented by an assortment of national institutions such as the OAU, Ile-Ife; ABU, Zaria and perhaps the NIIA. That is, these institutions will assemble resource persons whose stature in ontology and/or epistemology is testified to solely by publications, particularly from Nigerians in the Diaspora and who would then conduct the series. One has in mind the model used by the Kano based Centre for Research and Documentation (CRD) in her 1997 Damina School. It lasted a week and it was nothing less than a Masters degree. In case the entry point to that is lacking, Prof Jibrin Ibrahim, one of the masterminds behind the model is still very much around and must be willing to lead the way.
A departmental prospectus may not provide everything in terms of the theoretical strength and depth of any course in the university system, the identical nature of the content of the course outline for the “Theory of International Relations” module across Nigerian universities point to a famished presence of the ‘critical turn’ in that discipline. This is especially when compared to the radius covered in the criticism of neorealism in the post-Cold War as an ‘orrery of errors. Not only is the overarching concept of anarchy around which neorealism is built cracked and its constructedness exposed, the ontological primacy assigned the state in IRs has been questioned. Although characterising the post-Cold War world remains a work-in-progress, it has been demonstrated that Realism has blinkers.
As IRs in Nigeria is hardly more than fragmentary elements from a delegitimated paradigm as neorealism, concentration on it is the anti-thesis of the materialisation of the Nigerian nation and, therefore, a national security threat. In the era of ‘spaces of flow’, rebuilding IRs to incorporate the teaching of the ‘critical turn’ is a national imperative. That, however, must translate to a programme of rebuilding the universities, a programme the Nigerian power elite does not show much promise in the willingness and ability to accomplish.
But the future is so dynamic that we must still continue preparing the grounds for a greater Nigeria. Of this, the positioning of Nigeria through intellectual processing of the youth would be considered the most primary.
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