The following is a collection of foundational resources recommended by the Geopolitics and International Relations stream working group. These resources serve to prime readers to begin refining what it means to understand Geopolitics/International Relations through an ummatic lens. The list is subdivided into the categories of International Relations (Theory), the Modern Middle East, Central and Southeast Asia, The Liberal World Order and its Discontents, International Political Economy, and General Ummatic Politics. This list will be periodically updated with additional recommendations. 
If you would like to suggest an important work that should be included, or would like to contribute a note about such a work, we welcome you to contact us.

International Relations (Theory)

Butt, Ahsan. 2013. “Anarchy and Hierarchy in International Relations: Examining South America’s War-Prone Decade, 1932–41.” International Organization 67(3): 575-607.

Butt challenges the basic notion of realists that we live in an anarchic order. He argues that  anarchy is an outcome in some circumstances and not a pre-existing condition. The world operates in a hierarchy where hegemonic states influence subordinates. Anarchy implies everyone is free to do what they want, but that is not the case, states are constrained by hegemons. (Replication of Domestic Dynamics in International Order)

Hegemonic states: 1) provide public goods and services to the system, 2) provide some justice, or place importance on justice in the system, 3) such provisions provide peaceful relations between states under hegemony, 4) provide empirical support in Latin America. 

Hegemonic states use: 1) direct control, meaning implicit use of carrots to shape and influence outcomes and subordinate states fall in line, 2) indirect control, meaning hegemon structures the context of relations to incentivize cooperation. Subordinate states understand that their goals are most likely to be realized if they conform to the hegemon’s institutionalized expectations. 3) subtle control: whereby the hegemon consciously and unconsciously influences the ideas, ideologies, and identities of other states, subordinate states internalize the hegemon’s standards of legitimacy, and take these standards as norms.

Goddard. Stacy E. 2018. “Embedded Revisionism: Networks, Institutions, and Challenges to World Order.” International Organization 72(4): 763-797.

Under what conditions do revisionist states challenge the institutional world order? What, in essence, drives the intensity of revisionist behavior in world politics? Goddard argues that whether a revisionist state will challenge the world order will depend on its access to world institutions and brokerage outside of it.

Layne, Christopher. 1993. “The Unipolar Illusion: Why New Great Powers Will Rise.” International Security 17(4): 5-51.

Layne argues why the “unipolar moment” of the U.S. being the greatest power in the world following the collapse of the Soviet Union will not last long. He writes that the “unipolar moment” is just a geopolitical interlude that will give way to multipolarity between 2000-2010. He starts with a very simple premise, stating that the balance against hegemony and hegemons face systematic constraints by the international system.

Specifically, Layne argues that unipolar systems contain the seeds of their own demise because the hegemon’s unbalanced power creates an environment conducive to the emergence of new great powers. Layne also argues that the entry of new great powers into the international system erodes the hegemon’s relative power and, ultimately, its preeminence.

Layne predicts China will be a great power while Russia will rise with domestic limitations. Thus, unipolarity is only temporary, or an illusion.

Mearsheimer, John J. 1994. “The False Promise of International Institutions.” International Security 19(3): 5-49.

This article examines the claim that institutions push states away from war and promote peace; it assesses major IR theories that employ institutions as a core concept: liberal institutionalism, collective security, and critical theory.

His conclusion is that institutions have minimal influence on state behavior, and thus hold little promise for promoting stability in the post-Cold War world. The three theories on which the case for institutions is based are all flawed in their casal logic and have little support in the historical record. 

Mearsheimer, John J. 2001. The Tragedy of Great Power Politics. New York: WW Norton & Company.

Mearsheimer presents a neo-realist perspective of international relations which theorizes the behavior of great powers in the global arena. It seeks to answer the question of whether China can rise peacefully. Mearsheimer explains why the answer is no, that a rising China will seek to dominate Asia, while the United States will not tolerate competitors over global hegemony.

International Political Economy

Chang, Ha-Joon. 2002. Kicking Away the Ladder, Development Strategy in Historical Perspective. London: Routledge.

In this provocative analysis, Chang exposes how countries in the Global North “kick away the ladder” from developing countries attempting to join the economic elite. By analysing the developmental strategies of Europe and the United States, Chang highlights how popular economic prescriptions have little historical grounding. Instead, developed countries actively prevent developing states from adopting strategies they themselves used to progress, deeming them ‘bad policies’. Chang’s analysis rings true for numerous states in the Muslim-majority world, particularly those that adopted Washington Consensus-inspired policies recommended by the World Bank and IMF since the 1980s. It also provides a powerful critique of current international trade regulations that limit the ability of developing states to adopt protective measures for the sake of strengthening domestic industry. He concludes by responding to potential critiques of his analysis and condemns efforts to impose a fixed set of Anglo-American institutions on all countries. 

Friedman, Milton. 1976. Capitalism and Freedom. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press Ltd. 

One of the most prominent economic thinkers of the 20th century, Milton Friedman’s fundamental theoretical propositions that went on to underpin economic governance are best expressed by himself. Friedman argues that the ultimate pursuit of freedom and liberty, in his eyes the marker of a true civilisation, can be best achieved through a reliance on market forces free from government interference. Building on the ideas of Friedrich Hayek, he grounds economic freedom as a prerequisite to political liberty. Associated with the neoclassical and Chicago School of Economics, Friedman proceeds to evaluate numerous Keynesian-inspired policies, arguing for their long term. Credited as the driver behind Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher’s supply side economics, Friedman is relentless; from income inequality and the provision of social welfare to minimum wage laws and occupational licensees, he finds no area in which government provision is superior to the market. Although the laissez-faire economic discourse has been subject to much criticism from both economic and political perspectives, it still remains the cornerstone of conservative economic policy. Friedman’s thesis constitutes the perfect introduction to the economic rationale that underpins mainstream economic guidance today.

Harvey, David. 2005. A Brief History of Neoliberalism. London: Oxford University Press.

Harvey tells the political-economic story of neoliberalism: the doctrine of the sufficiency of market exchange in regulating national economies and its elevation to the dominant economic paradigm of the day. Expounding upon not just its theoretical roots but also contextualising it in the politics of the 1970s and 1980s, Harvey’s concise and historically grounded exposition is important given the significant overuse of the term ‘neoliberalism’ to describe all manifestations of late capitalist excess. Harvey avoids exaggerating neoliberalism as a political ideology, but nonetheless manages to capture the political dimension of the neoliberal project and the creative destruction of previous institutional arrangements it entailed. He adeptly highlights the challenges posed by neoliberalisation, from economic policy circles re-evaluating their global governance, to the growing social and political fallout in the West and the rest.

Rodrik, Dani. 2010. The Globalisation Paradox: Why Global Markets, States and Democracy Can’t Coexist. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Challenging the reigning wisdom on globalisation, Dani Rodrik makes a powerful case for a trilateral trade off between global markets, national sovereignty and democratic governance. Through surveying three centuries of economic history, he evaluates the successes and failures of past policies during the implementation of the gold standard, the Bretton Woods era and the “Washington Consensus” period. He then argues that the irresolvable political trilemma is such that globalisation, the nation state model and democracy can not exist in tandem; two will always be achieved at the expense of another. He critiques the idea that unlimited market reach leads to optimal outcomes and makes the case for a customisable globalisation led by nation states in order to preserve freedom and democracy. Rodrik’s work has numerous implications for Muslim-majority countries; he highlights the illusions upon which international economic and governance systems are based, and prompts questions as to how this can be redesigned. 

Polanyi, Karl. 2001. The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time. Boston: Beacon Press.

In this classic work of economic history written in 1944, Karl Polanyi makes the case that the self-regulating market was far from a natural state that human societies always occupied, and is not inherently more suitable. Instead, he argues, the separation of the economic and the political has paved the way for the market system to become the dominant organizational force in every aspect of society which constitutes a modern phenomenon. He additionally highlights the self contradiction of the market society, such that despite pushing government to the fringes, it ultimately needs the government to produce and maintain the social order. Polanyi is best known for his contribution to substantivism, highlighting how economic, social and political conditions are embedded into societies and civilisations. Particularly relevant to those interested in Islamic economics, Polanyi highlights how the dominant political economy system of today is far from rational or longstanding, and may in fact clash with more natural and efficient systems that human beings have used to economically organise. 

The Liberal World Order and its Discontents

Fukuyama, Francis. 2006. The End of History and the Last Man. New York: Simon and Schuster.

This is an essential text that in many ways provided the intellectual foundation to the universalist aspirations of the post-cold war west. Fukuyama was the man of the moment, extolling the virtues of liberal democracy and free market capitalism as not only another ideological doctrine but the product of a historical evolutionary clash that had rendered all other world views obsolete. His Hegalian analysis today looks rather presumptuous and superficial as the world resiles into great power competition and is split by competing versions of the good life. 

Ikenberry, G. John. 2011. Liberal Leviathan: The Origins, Crisis, and Transformation of the American World Order. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

John Ikenberry is the consummate liberal internationalist. This book looks at the motives, as he sees it, behind the liberal world order and why it remains resilient. Ikenberry melds together the Hobbesian ‘leviathan’, an altogether illiberal notion of centralised authority with liberal ideals, capturing what the idealists believe the United States set out to achieve after 1945 – make the world safe for democracy and liberalism through power projection. 

Kagan, Robert. 2018. The Jungle Grows Back: America and Our Imperiled World. New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.

Kagan deftly sets out the challenges faced by the United States, charting out what the world would look like without the ‘order’ of the past 70 years. Without a caretaker, a gardner, he argues the world would become an untrammeled jungle. His conclusion, without U.S. hegemony, other more malign actors would step in to power vacuums and great power conflict could make way for great power war. Certainly Kagan persuasively puts forward a case for U.S. power, but he is troubled by the urge within America to opt for normalcy. For Kagan, the U.S. remains a reluctant superpower and its undoing starts at home. 

Luce, Edward. 2017. The Retreat of Western Liberalism. New York: Grove Press.

Luce’s insightful book discusses how the very ideas that undergird the liberal international order are heavily contested across the world and within the very countries that forged this liberal consensus. He paints a very pessimistic picture of the rise of demagogues and populists and how liberal ideals are subject to stresses that may irreversibly change the international system. 

Mearsheimer, John J. 2018. The Great Delusion: Liberal Dreams and International Realities. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Mearsheimer masterfully deconstructs liberalism as a universalism and a basis for the liberal world order. He argues that the post-cold war strategy of spreading liberal ideals has failed, and the West needs to consider a foreign policy that dispenses with high-minded ideals. As American hegemony declines, Mearsheimer argues that the U.S. should not pursue liberal world hegemony, and instead adopt a more restrained, realist foreign policy. 

Rachman, Gideon. 2016. Easternisation: War and Peace in the Asian Century. New York: Random House. 

Rachman of the Financial Times articulates a clear and persuasive idea: that recent western exertions in the Middle East, the crises that grab the headlines and consume the energies of world leaders, will be seen in the arc of history as something of a sideshow – a secondary plotline that will ultimately be obscured by the rise of Asia and above all China. 

Central and Southeast Asia

Ahmad, Aisha, 2017. Jihad & Co: Black Markets and Islamist Power. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

One particularly fertile area for Islamic political or military movements has been in weak or crisis-ridden states, where Islamists have frequently filled in governance vacuums in league with civil society and particularly the merchant class. The Canadian professor Aisha Ahmad studies the marriage of Islamist militancy and the merchant class in Jihad & Co: Black Markets and Islamist Power, with a particular focus on the emergence of the Afghan Taliban emirate in the 1990s and the Somali Courts Union in the 2000s. In both cases, a fragmented and war-torn country was largely overrun by militias representing grassroots Islamic courts in league with the merchant class. Though some extensions of her thesis, such as to Syria, later in the book are questionable, it offers an important instruction in how non-state actors in the Muslim world can operate independently of top-down state structures.

Brown, Vahid, and Don Rassler. 2013. Fountainhead of Jihad: The Haqqani Nexus, 1973-2012. London: Hurst Publishers.

Partly because of relative international antipathy toward its Soviet opposition, the 1980s Afghan insurgency attained far greater international respectability and in turn fostered far more pan-Islamic links than have most Muslim insurgencies; this while the Afghan war itself has been characterized by local specifics. Few actors have shown the mixture of local pragmatism and international ambitions than have the Haqqani network, who are the subject of a comprehensive study by Brown and Rassler. Both before and after their amalgamation into the Taliban emirate, the Haqqanis were formidable actors in Islamist militancy, their career – with links as far flung as Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, and Pakistan – illustrating the interplay between fluctuating local dynamics and international politics from the Cold War to the period of American hegemony. The book is slightly but not overly hamstrung by its counterinsurgency policy focus, but it remains a valuable case study in how international politics can affect and be affected by the Muslim periphery.

Che Man, W.K. 1990. Muslim Separatism in Southeast Asia: The Moros of the Southern Philippines and the Malays of Southern Thailand. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Far too little-mentioned in pan-Islamic discourse is the state of Islam and its followers in Southeast Asia, whether such Muslim-majority states as Malaysia or minoritarian Muslims. The Thai-Malay opposition leader Abdul-Kadir Man supplies an admirably comprehensive survey of two notable Muslim insurgencies against non-Muslim governments: the Moro war in the Philippines and the Malay insurgency in his own native Thailand, both of whom consumed a considerable proportion of the 1970s and 1980s. Both regions saw the emergence of Muslim secessionism after earlier experiments with political participation had fallen through. Man pays particularly close attention to the sociopolitical background and makeup of the Muslim insurgents in tracing the history of the various groups involved, which ranged from princely endeavours by landed aristocrats to populist but politically personalist “Muslim socialists” to Islamists of the more familiar type. That both insurgencies eventually reached a rapprochement after Man’s work was published points to the fact that non-maximalist solutions can be found to even pressing political problems under certain circumstances.

Khalid, Adeeb. 2007. Islam after Communism: Religion and Politics in Central Asia. Berkeley, California: University of California Press.

The sprawling Islamic Northeast of Central Asia survived perhaps the longest suppression of the Islamic faith over the twentieth century under the Soviet Union; yet by the century’s end and the dissolution of that empire, Islamic practice and Muslim identity remain far more essential to Central Asia’s predominantly Muslim populace than its regimes would care to admit. Adeeb Khalid’s concise but clinical overview of this period, made at the height of a War on Terrorism whose anti-Islamist discourse was neatly appropriated by the same regimes, traces the trajectory of Muslims under Soviet rule as well as their perception and practice of Islam during this period. He correctly distinguishes between the much-bandied threat of Islamic fundamentalism and the variant trajectory of Muslim practice and politics in the dictatorial republics of Central Asia, showing how Muslims adapted to a number of circumstances that included militant persecution, state-enforced secularism, civil war, and dictatorship. He perhaps goes too far in his opposition to essentialist “Clash of Civilizations” conventional wisdom by arguing in the conclusion that Islam is purely what Muslims make of it in any circumstance; nonetheless, this is an important and thought-provoking study for any reader on Ummatic politics.

Last modified: November 15, 2021

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