Review: A Student's Guide to International Relations


Angelo Codevilla teaches as one having authority. The new book by the former Foreign Service officer and professor emeritus of international relations at Boston University, A Student's Guide to International Relations (ISI Books, 2010), delivers the same kind of wisdom and brilliant analysis that filled his earlier books, War: Ends and Means and The Character of Nations.

Codevilla first takes the reader through the three contemporary American perspectives on international relations: liberal internationalism, neoconservatism, and realism. He writes that all three commit the classic blunder of discounting culture and assuming that all human beings think alike: "Those who conflate America's interests with mankind's" are simply wrong, adding that America is one country; it is not the world. Codevilla recommends a return to "the Founders' view that American statesmen must act exclusively in the American people's interests . . . and that America must ask no more of foreign nations than it is willing and able to enforce by war."

The next section is a whirlwind ride through world geography, culture, and politics. Codevilla explains Asia, Africa, Europe, Australia, and the Americas in just 40 pages. Along the way he recommends further reading. He then briefly explains the tools of statecraft, explaining how diplomacy, war, subversion, and other tools can only be used in the service of defined goals. Too often in modern America, these tools have taken the place of goals, with disastrous results.

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Twenty pages on contemporary geopolitics, including discussions of Japan's probable fate and Europe's future, conclude the work.

Codevilla successfully introduces the international system in a mere 92 pages. This work is ideal for those who have 90 minutes and need a set of conceptual tools for analyzing foreign policy. Even if you don't think you need such tools, Codevilla will convince you that you do.

Caleb Nelson
Caleb Nelson

Caleb is the pastor of Harvest Reformed Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Gillette, Wyoming.


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