Whither the experts?

Posted on February 15, 2009. Filed under: Public Square |

Polaris, looking over the latest Teaching, Research and International Policy (TRIP)  survey of international relations academics, makes an interesting point,

The paucity of South Asia specialists also continues to amaze me, especially given that the region is home now to a significant developing economy in India, the only nuclear-armed majority Muslim country in Pakistan and the centre of the “war on terror” that is Afghanistan (not to mention Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal, each important in its own right). Overall and in the United States, South Asia specialists make up 2% of the field, and only in Australia and Singapore is it a more healthy 9%. In fact even the oft-overlooked Southeast Asia draws a larger number of specialists, with 3%.

This probably reflects the continued unhealthy obsession with the Middle East (Israel-Palestine, Iraq, Iran), the facility of doing research in Latin America – particularly for Americans – due to language and proximity, and the more understandable interest development in East Asia, given the rise of China, Japan’s future and the continuing stand-off on the Korean peninsula.

Despite the incredible importance of the region, at least as far as I see it, the actual availability of academics studying and helping build policy for South Asia is a measly 2%. Is it easier to understand why the Americans and the ‘West’ in general don’t always know what they’re getting into when trying to deal with Afghan-Pak-India?

If people thought the research prior the Iraqi invasion was the main reason that America did such a bad job of administering the country after the war, then what happens when the focus moves to Afghanistan-Pakistan, which most everybody agrees is (or should be) the real focus of the war on terrorism?

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One Response to “Whither the experts?”

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This post points out one of my most persistent fears when I think about American foreign policy. Why there is still so little focus on understanding these areas is beyond me.


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