These are ironic times for a publication like Contemporary Security Policy. The number of academic journals devoted to any topic is proliferating at a breathtaking pace, but their influence is increasingly dubious. As even a casual academic reader knows only too well, political science journals in general and international security journals in particular are increasingly remote from the cutting edge. They tend to lag far behind events, playing a losing gaming of catch-up.
The days when editors simply picked the best submissions that tumbled in and rested confident of having done a good job are long over. Whether it is setting goals for policy or research, shaping the parameters of debate or framing the agenda of issues, the salience of academic journals has been overshadowed by other outlets for research and writing. Certainly this appears to be the case in international security; the most important debates occur elsewhere. Not even those traditional rivals, policy journals like Foreign Affairs or The American Prospect, can keep up; their contribution remains greater but increasingly intermittent too.
Rather than struggling to keep up with the tumult of events, many political scientists are turning to international relations theory. It is a refuge where they can compete comfortably. The unprecedented growth of theoretical research is a direct consequence; leading security studies into ever more sophisticated studies of cooperation vs. defection, rational choice vs. social construction, agent vs. structure. Fewer scholars risk the leap from theory to policy. Even more than C.P. Snow’s two cultures, contending approaches to international politics drift further apart.
For Contemporary Security Policy, a journal explicitly devoted to applying theoretically based research to policy problems, this division is the most important challenge we face. Momentum favors a deepening division. The center of policy-relevant debate has shifted from journals to the far more flexible environment of think tank reports, conferences, workshops and the internet. Free of the seemingly ponderous production schedules of the traditional peer reviewed publications, these provide a much more spontaneous outlet. The results often may be less reliable and rapidly perishable, but their breathtaking quantity leaves refereed journals far behind.
Similarly, the role of the ivory tower academic, omnisciently interpreting events witnessed primarily through the newspaper, has evaporated. Such detachment was possible during the forty years of the Cold War, if only because so little actually happened. With events moving at a glacial pace, academics could stay at the cutting edge of public policy simply by offering original interpretations. In the Twenty-First Century, though, academics are at a professional disadvantage. Non-governmental organizations both analyse and lead change, using their reports for direct leverage over governments, private firms and international institutions, as well as less formal actors like ethnic and religious communities. They are the hares in a world that emphasizes first place above all.
If academics tend to be intellectual tortoises, they would be foolish to imitate the celerity of the hares. It is better to emphasize their distinctive methodical strengths. Although debates over international peace and security now engage a far broader spectrum of voices, academic writers have clear advantages. Among the greatest are their unique freedom and detachment to articulate innovative approaches, and their aspiration to certitude, to the last word.
Based on academic rigor, the pages of Contemporary Security Policy rarely will be the place to turn for clues about future headlines. Instead, its pages should aspire to leave readers with a better understanding of today’s issues, and better equipped to evaluate tomorrow’s. Professional journals, like academics and analysts themselves, must adapt to their times, preserving essential values while addressing new needs.
Contemporary Security Policy is dedicated, above all, to overcoming the gap between the two cultures—academic and policy—of international security studies. While no single approach can explain everything, collectively they enlighten, stimulate and create new opportunities to advance inquiry. This journal gives academic writers a venue for addressing policy issues, while giving policy analysts a place to pursue the fundamental truths of their own enterprises. Rather than blurring the differences between these two approaches, we welcome the range of perspectives each offers.
The major job of this journal is giving social science and its practitioners a vehicle for engaging the most important debates on security policy. Our emphasis will continue to be on research at the nexus of theory and policy, emphasizing the ability of theoretically self-conscious argument to clarify political decision-making. We invite outstanding research on the complete spectrum of international security topics. The fundamental strength of the peer review process remains the foundation of academic progress and the touchstone of this journal.
As in the past, the journal will draw attention to major issues through special issues. Peer reviewed, they balance the need for spontaneity and incisiveness with the demand of academic rigor. Contemporary Security Policy also features symposia and special issues based on solicited articles designed to apply the best academic analysis to cutting-edge debates conducted previously beyond the purview of academic journals. Special issues and symposia replace anonymous review with a public arena where divergent views are brought together to debate the merit of a rising security concern. Readers with ideas or proposals for future symposia or an interest in editing special issues are invited to contact the co-editors of the journal.
To be sure, few readers will pick up Contemporary Security Policyfor pure entertainment. We hope, instead, that more will turn to it for engagement of issues and ideas that matter most. If readers come away from its pages with new insights for their own research, a clue to the emerging policy agenda, or a sense of how the messy pieces of reality actually fit together, we will have the satisfaction of a job well done.