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Do International Relations Experts Exist?

Sina Odugbemi's picture

There is a lot happening in the world these days. It can truly be said that we live in interesting times. No wonder some are seeing the very end of the world. But one quotidian aspect of the nature of the times  -- revolutions raging, conflicts exploding, bombs going off in every direction -- is that the global media organs whose fare we all consume avidly call into their studios, or unto their pages or websites, certain persons known as  Experts in International Relations. For those so designated it is boom time.

It is clear that the idea behind what global media outfits are doing is an excellent one. With so much happening, it is useful to have the insights of those who know more than the rest of us to illuminate the issues, draw our attention to significant dimensions of ongoing events that we might otherwise miss, and, above all, tell us where all this is going. The role of mass-communicated expertise in helping to create informed public opinion is a crucial one, and one that still has tremendous potential in developing countries.

There is only one problem with the practice of calling in the experts to educate the rest of us: very few of these Experts in International Relations have anything useful to say. The ones who write columns for global newspapers like the Financial Times and the International Herald Tribune and so on, like to give you grand analysis of something called 'geopolitics'. And with pompous solemnity they like to say as often as they can that 'the tectonic plates of geopolitics are shifting', These plates seem to shift so much it is a miracle that we still have land to stand on! 

The ones that get invited to television studios come from a dizzying variety of schools or centers that always seem to have the word 'strategic' in their names. I had no idea so many centers of 'strategic studies' existed in different corners of the world. I wonder who is funding all these centers and schools.

In my experience, the insightful Experts in International Relations tend to have either of two characteristics. Some have been top level diplomats and have often worked in the region or country being discussed; above all, they often know the personalities involved in the newsworthy crisis. Others know  history, particularly the country specialists. A professor who has spent a lifetime studying Syria, for instance, is bound to be interesting when the subject is the crisis in Syria. 

But I suspect that there aren't too many people in these two categories; yet 24 hours global news media have to, as they say, feed the beast. I suspect they cannot afford to be choosy when it comes to the experts they invite, given how many crises they have to cover all at once these days.  And so we all  have to endure the yattering and blabbering of  boat-loads of 'Experts' in International Relations saying....well, nothing really.

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Comments

One is reminded of the "International Security Expert" who used to appear on CNN in London during the mid-2000s, who was actually a marketing consultant and Tory town councillor…

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