Nye Joseph Bridging the Gap Between Theory and Policy

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<ul><li><p>Bridging the Gap between Theory and PolicyAuthor(s): Joseph S. Nye, Jr.Source: Political Psychology, Vol. 29, No. 4, The Enduring Legacy of Alexander L. George: ASymposium (Aug., 2008), pp. 593-603Published by: International Society of Political PsychologyStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20447146 .Accessed: 06/02/2014 15:00</p><p>Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms &amp; Conditions of Use, available at .http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp</p><p> .</p><p>JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.</p><p> .</p><p>International Society of Political Psychology is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extendaccess to Political Psychology.</p><p>http://www.jstor.org </p><p>This content downloaded from on Thu, 6 Feb 2014 15:00:45 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p></li><li><p>Political Psychology, Vol. 29, No. 4, 2008 </p><p>Bridging the Gap between Theory and Policy </p><p>Joseph S. Nye, Jr. Harvard University </p><p>Two decades ago, Alexander George observed a growing gap between academic theorists and practitioners in the formulation offoreign policy. The significance of the gap has been debated, but trends in the academy, society, and government suggest it is likely to grow. </p><p>KEY WORDS: theory, practice, foreign policy, power, in and outers, universities, think tanks, research </p><p>In Bridging the Gap: Theory and Practice in Foreign Policy, Alex George outlined various dimensions of wisdom in policymaking. He himself was the embodiment of such wisdom. When I served in government, I often remembered his cautionary words against premature closure of minds, uncertain evidence, and multiple advocacy. And in my scholarly work, I had frequent cause to refer to his writing. He was a major participant and influence on the Harvard Project on Avoiding Nuclear War that produced several volumes in the 1980s. I learned greatly from him. Alex exemplified the thoughtful and careful scholar who was nonetheless concerned that his work help produce better policy. </p><p>Alex was also realistic about the relationship between theory and practice. As he said about why his title referred to "bridging" rather than "eliminating" the gap, "the choice of words is deliberate and of considerable importance." He often referred to "generic" knowledge rather than theory. As he wrote, "scholars may not be in a good position to advise policymakers how best to deal with a specific instance of a general problem that requires urgent and timely action," but "they can often provide a useful, broader discussion of how to think about and understand that general problem.. ." (George, 1993, pp. xix, xxiv). Alex was realistic in his aspirations, but also optimistic that scholars could make a difference. In the decade and a half since he wrote, however, there has been concern that the gap between academic theory and foreign policy practice has been growing. </p><p>593 0162-895X C 2008 International Society of Political Psychology </p><p>Published by Blackwell Publishing. Inc., 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford, OX4 2DQ, and PO Box 378 Carlton South, 3053 Victoria Australia </p><p>This content downloaded from on Thu, 6 Feb 2014 15:00:45 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p></li><li><p>594 Nye </p><p>Of course, the gap is not new. As Alex noted, mentioning theory has long been a sure way to make policy makers' eyes glaze over. Paul Nitze, a relatively intellectual policy maker, once observed that "most of what has been written and taught under the heading of 'political science' by Americans since World War II has been contrary to experience and to common sense. It has also been of limited value, if not counterproductive, as a guide to the actual conduct of policy" (1993, p. 3). And the situation is no better in other countries, where the gap is often greater. A number of observers have noted a growing gulf between theorists and practitioners. Joseph Lepgold and Miroslav Nincic argue that "the professional gap between academics and practitioners has widened in recent years. Many scholars no longer try to reach beyond the Ivory Tower, and officials seem increasingly content to ignore it" (2001, p. 3). Or as Bruce Jentleson reports, "the problem is not just the gap between theory and policy but its chasmlike widening in recent years" (2002, p. 169). </p><p>The United States has a tradition of political appointments that is amenable to "in and out" circulation between government and academia. While a number of important American scholars such as Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski have entered high-level foreign policy positions in the past, that path has tended to become a one-way street. Not many top-ranked scholars are currently going into government, and even fewer return to contribute to academic theory. Of the 25 most influential scholars listed by Foreign Policy, only four have held top-level policy positions, two in the U.S. government and two in the United Nations (Peterson, Tierney, &amp; Maliniak, 2005, p. 62). Another two held staff jobs in government, but the vast majority did not have direct policy experience. </p><p>At the same time, as Alex pointed out, the problem may be better at lower levels. "Since so many individuals who serve as policy specialists and in staff roles in government have previously studied international relations in academic centers, they can and do serve as informal intellectual brokers between the two cultures" (George, 1993, p. 17). But there is still a concern about how they and other students are taught in the universities. As a recent survey of course syllabi on American foreign policy concluded, "the courses under review reveal a quite surprising degree of distance between the subfield of American foreign policy and the theoretical debates and issues that have dominated recent research and teaching within international relations" (Hurrell, 2004, p. 101). </p><p>Is the Gap Good? </p><p>Some academics celebrate the appropriateness of the gap. After all, academic theorists and policy makers fill different roles in society. A British scholar, Chris topher Hill, has argued that if scholars seek "policy relevance, even if only to justify our existence in the eyes of society at large, the more difficult it becomes to maintain intellectual integrity" (Hill, 1994, p. 16). Alex George acknowledged and respected "the reluctance of some scholars, particularly when they disagree with the government's foreign policies, to serve as 'technicians' for the state by </p><p>This content downloaded from on Thu, 6 Feb 2014 15:00:45 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p></li><li><p>Bridging the Gap 595 </p><p>providing specialized knowledge that may be 'misused.' Such scholars prefer the roles of critic and 'unattached' intellectual" (George, 1993, p. 4). The tensions between description and prescription are dealt with in an interesting companion essay in this volume by Robert Jervis. </p><p>As Machiavelli discovered four centuries ago, it is risky to try to speak truth to power when you are in the midst of the struggle for power. Not only is there a danger of analysts trimming their political sails to accommodate prevailing political winds, but there is a more subtle risk that the search for short-term relevance will lead theorists to forgo levels of abstraction and elegance that may sometimes be essential to academic progress. From this perspective, the isolation of the ivory tower serves as a buffer against these temptations and encourages a useful division of labor. Academic theorists should not confuse their roles with those of political activists or even employees of think tanks who have a more direct relationship to power. Thus many academic departments pride themselves on eschewing an interest in policy and promote young people by narrow profes sional standards. </p><p>Some academics criticize this narrow professional orientation and engage in politics or policy advocacy, but they argue that the role of academics and univer sities is to use their independence to criticize the power structure, not support it. </p><p>Whether through political activism or through the development of "post-positivist" critical theory, they believe that theorists should criticize the powerful, no matter how little relevance their theory appears to have in the eyes of policy makers or how little it conforms to the central professional standards of the discipline. </p><p>There is much to be said for the view that universities are unique institutions, but the imagined trade-off between corruption and relevance need not be so acute. An intermediate position on the appropriateness issue is what I call the "balanced portfolio" approach. When I served as dean of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, I tried to maintain a faculty on which some members had govern ment experience while others were purely academic. The latter ensured rigor and the former brought relevance, and the combination meant that the institution filled a different role on the research spectrum than either a Washington think tank or a typical academic department. But the portfolio analogy works best when there are a number of people who have occupied both positions in the division of labor at different times and are able to act as bridges. As the above cited evidence suggests, however, "in and outers" who contribute to both practice and theory are increas ingly rare. </p><p>The key to the success of such a faculty mix is the ability and willingness of members to interact and communicate with each other. This is easier in a profes sional school than in a purely academic department. But even in the latter case, theorists and practice-oriented scholars can communicate if they are interested in policy problems. The communication gap does not belong solely to international relations or foreign policy. A survey of articles published over the lifetime of the </p><p>American Political Science Review found that about one in five dealt with policy </p><p>This content downloaded from on Thu, 6 Feb 2014 15:00:45 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p></li><li><p>596 Nye </p><p>prescription or criticism in the first half of the century, while only a handful did so after 1967. As journal editor Lee Sigelman observed, "if 'speaking truth to power' and contributing directly to public dialogue about the merits and demerits of various courses of action were still numbered among the functions of the profes sion, one would not have know it from leafing through its leading journal" (2006, pp. 463-478). Bruce Jentleson has summarized this middle position, "it is not that all intellectuals must do stints in government, or even make policy relevance a priority for their research and scholarship. But the reverse is too true: as a disci pline we place too little value on these kinds of hands-on experiences and this kind of scholarship, to our own detriment as scholars and teachers-and as a discipline" (2002, p. 130). If the gap becomes too large, something is lost for both sides. </p><p>In the past, academics have made useful contributions to policy, either directly or at arms length. A few decades ago, academics like Arnold Wolfers, Carl Friedrich, McGeorge Bundy, Thomas Schelling, and others felt it proper to be engaged with the policy process. Some academic ideas have been quite significant in framing policy. Through a combination of writing and consulting, Schelling, Bernard Brodie, Albert Wohlstetter, William Kaufmann, and others developed and refined theories of nuclear strategy and arms control that were widely used by practitioners in the Cold War. (In Bridging the Gap, Alex cites the impact of Brodie, Kauffmann, and Herman Kahn.) More recently, Michael Doyle, Rudolph Rummel, Bruce Russett, and others helped to update Kant's theory of the demo cratic peace ("liberal democracies tend not to fight each other"), and it has entered into popular political discourse and policy (Siverson, 2000, pp. 59-64). </p><p>In addition to such large ideas, academics have provided many middle-level theories and generalizations that are based upon specific functional or regional knowledge and have proved useful to policy makers (Lieberthal, 2006, pp. 7-15). Theories about deterrence, balance of terror, interdependence, and bipolarity have helped shape the vocabulary that policy makers depend upon. As Alex put it, "scholars also perform a useful, indeed a necessary, task by developing better concepts and conceptual frameworks, which should assist policymakers in orienting themselves to the phenomena and the problems with which they must deal" (George, 1993, p. xxiv). Historical analogies are a frequent form of ideas used by policy makers, often in a crude and misleading way. Academics can help to discipline the use and misuse of such analogies (Neustadt &amp; May, 1986, pp. 34-58). </p><p>Academics can also help the public and policy makers by framing, mapping, and raising questions even when they do not provide answers. As Ernest J. Wilson III argues, "by mapping I mean the identification and explication of the defining dimensions of a new problem, its constituent elements, and its general contours and boundaries" (Wilson, 2000, p. 122). Framing a question is often as important to policy as providing answers. At the end of the Cold War, two of the most influential "mapping" ideas-Francis Fukuyama's idea that class based ideologi cally driven history had come to an end, and Samuel Huntington's idea of clashes based on cultures and civilizations-were examples of influential academic ideas. </p><p>This content downloaded from on Thu, 6 Feb 2014 15:00:45 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p></li><li><p>Bridging the Gap 597 </p><p>From a normative perspective, this record can be used to bolster the argument that academics, as citizens, have an obligation to help to improve policy ideas </p><p>when they can. Moreover, such engagement in the policy debates can enhance and enrich academic work, and thus the ability of academics to teach the next genera tion. As Ambassador David D. Newsom has written, "the growing withdrawal of university scholars behind curtains of theory and modeling would not have wider significance if this trend did not raise questions regarding the preparation of new generations and the future influence of the academic community on public and official perceptions of international issues and events. Teachers plant seeds that shape the thinking of each new generation; this is probably the academic world's </p><p>most lasting contribution" (1995-96, p. 52). Alternatively, one can argue that while the gap between theory and policy has </p><p>grown in recent decades and may have costs for policy, the growing gap has produced better political theory, and that is more important than whether it is relevan...</p></li></ul>