Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Top ten things that would-be diplomats should study.

Excellent list by Stephen M Walt.

Things to study if you are planning to understand foreign politics.....my highlights from the FP article. I would add that a year abroad is probably essential, preferably outside your own continent or language region. Eyeopening.

1. History. Trying to understand international affairs without knowing history is like trying to cook without knowing the difference between flour and flounder. 
2. Statistics. Most high schoolers have to learn a certain amount of math, but unless you're going into a technical field, a lot of it won't be directly relevant to a career in international affairs.  But statistics is part of the language of policy discourse.
3. Foreign LanguageIf you grew up outside the United States and are headed for college, you probably already speak more than one language. If you're an American, alas, you probably don't. 
4. Economics. Economists aren't the wizards they think they are (see under: 1929, 2007-08), but you can't understand world affairs these days if you don't have a basic grasp of the key principles of international trade and finance and some idea how the world economy actually works.
5. International Law. You might think that a realist like me would dismiss international law completely, but I took a course in the subject as an undergraduate and have always been grateful that I did. 
6. GeographyWe often hear that we live in "one world," but it's divided up into lots of regions, countries, areas, and physical configurations, and these variations matter a lot.   I don't know when or why we stopped teaching geography, but it is an important part of the world affairs tool kit. If you're still not convinced that geography matters , check out Robert Kaplan's new book. (ordered it!.JM)
7.  Get some culture. Education in international affairs tends toward the technocratic, as the previous items on this list suggest.
 8. Learn to communicate. Based on some of the graduate students I see, I'm not sure this is something most colleges teach anymore. But not matter what path you end up taking in life, being able to write clearly, quickly, and without enormous effort is a huge advantage.
While you're at it, hone your ability to speak effectively and persuasively. Regardless of what sort of career you pursue, being able to present your ideas orally will be very valuable. 
Formal training and activities like debate can enhance these abilities, but mostly they come from practice. Repetition also helps overcome stage fright, and being relaxed while you're speaking is easily worth 10 or 20 IQ points.
9. What about science?  Most of us had to take a lot of science in high school, and some of us continued to do so in college. Although in-depth knowledge of physics, chemistry, biology, computer science, etc., is not directly relevant to many aspects of international affairs, it is powerfully linked to a host of important political phenomena. How can one understand cyber-security, climate change, global pandemics, economic development, and a host of other issues without understanding the scientific knowledge that lies at their core?
10. Find your ethical foundation. Universities teach classes on ethics, but apart from favoring free speech and opposing academic fraud, they don't endorse any particular ethical stance.  So don't expect your college to teach you what is right or moral. Nonetheless, if you haven't figured these things out for yourself yet, college is a good time to get cracking on it. 

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