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Chess Board and Web: A Book Review

Over the last half-century, the science of international relations experienced great developments, with its growth still ongoing.
June 2022
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Mohammadtaghi Hosseini

Over the last half-century, the science of international relations experienced great developments, with its growth still ongoing. As in many other fields, the researchers in this field try to explain their viewpoints and provide a more accurate understanding of the issues they study by using familiar patterns.

Enjoying the principle of sovereignty, governments are still the main actors on the stage of international relations. However, the modality of their acts has changed significantly. Over time, the number and the types of actors on the stage of international relations have increased. Now, this field is no longer exclusively dominated by governments. In addition to governments, many other actors, including organizations, unions, institutions, non-governmental actors, influential groups and even prominent individuals play significant roles on the scene of international relations. Therefore, constant revolutions have changed the methods of reflecting on the essence of the political world and also the essence of international orders and political activities.

The traditional view of international relations originated from the widespread didactics of the 17th  century, when the Peace of Westphalia defines a framework for the establishment of independent and equal countries, constructing the basis of international law, international politics, and international trade. This view mainly adheres to the patterns of a chess game. Imaging the scene of international relations as a chess board has many analytical advantage points. Analyzing the verdicts of powerful countries and understanding their reactions in an endless game with the aim of achieving strategic superiority provides the opportunity to predict future courses in international relations. Besides its application in security and military issues, this pattern is also applicable in economic and commercial negotiations. Analyzing the complexities of post-Cold War world politics, Joseph Nye assimilated this war into "a complex three-dimensional chess game." In the 1960s, Thomas Schelling, in his book named Strategy of Conflict which was written during one of the most dangerous phases of the Cold War, introduced his game theory to the students and researchers of international relations.

On this extended chessboard of international relations, a large number of national governments are involved in the game, each one trying to secure their national interests in a better way, employing their advantage points and potential abilities. However, the chess board paradigm, despite all the important advantages it has for the study of international relations, does not have the required clarifying potential for analyzing the many different conditions, events, actions, and reactions in this field. There are other outlooks, including the capillary network of human relations, that cannot be observed well enough from this point of view. The network paradigm does not necessarily address the distinct geographical maps that define the borderlines of independent political powers. Rather, we should pay attention to the map of relations, which shows us the density and intensity of the relations across borders.

There are many networks in today's world. These networks are found in all legal and non-legal contexts. The expansion of networks has changed many old-fashioned perceptions about the political maps and national legislations within the countries. Many tremendous changes have occurred since the mid-1990s when Manuel Castells proposed the emergence of the network society, the information revolution and the expansion of digital technology have created a completely different image of the world.

Although the governments continue to exercise power on the scene of international relations and are still identified as the main subject of international relations, in the networked world, there are other different actors, collaterally operating beside these governments. This issue adds to the complexities for the decision maker of foreign policies and international relations, highlighting their increasing need to upgrade their skills. Due to these changes, political decision-makers and diplomats are inevitably required to learn new skills.

The combination of the principles associated with chessboard and web can help foreign policy decision-makers and diplomats meet their national objectives in a better way. The chessboard and the web provide different options for diplomacy. These concepts extensively change the didactics in politics and international relations studies.

With its innovative method, this book draws on many remarkable arguments in this regard. Despite its conciseness, it aims to remark on the important points regarding chessboard and network. It provides great arguments concerning the functions and structures of networks. As an interdisciplinary text, this book employs different fields of knowledge to elaborate on many interrelated concepts. Studying this book is helpful for the students of international relations and the actors of foreign policies.

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