Only a few years ago, students believed that they would find themselves in a routine foreign policy process, where there were no opportunities to express themselves. Today, however, students, as in the 1940s, are again faced with the task of shaping a new world where the future of the world order will be determined, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Andrey Sushentsov.
Looking at the way international relations are taught in different countries, we can note differences in the national epistemology of knowledge about the world. Many states rely on their own foreign policy experience, while others “import” this experience, borrowing foreign policy assessments from the countries which lead their coalitions. Many discrepancies between the leading countries offering their solutions to world problems are rooted in this difference in worldviews.
The Russian approach to training diplomatic personnel and international relations students in general is based on the experience of Soviet diplomacy during and after the Second World War. In the mid-1940s, the leadership of the USSR realised the need to design the architecture of the post-war world order and, accordingly, prepare a new generation of diplomats to work in a changed international environment. Their tasks were to include laying the foundation of a new political order for the world, creating its institutional framework in the form of the UN, as well as establishing the format of interaction between the victorious states. At that moment, it was obvious that with the impending emancipation of new states in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, a large-scale expansion of the USSR's diplomatic corps was necessary, as well as the opening of new embassies.
Today we are seeing similar processes. Just 10 years ago, international relations graduates believed that they were graduating into an established, predictable world – in which all bilateral relations were fully established and all multilateral organisations were functioning.
Students believed that they would find themselves in a routine foreign policy process, where there were no opportunities to express themselves.
During the establishment of the national school of international relations, academic disciplines were evenly distributed between the East and the West within the framework of training regionalists. Intensive training in history, as well as rare Eastern and Western languages, disciplined students. It taught them to concentrate their attention on one subject and organise their time and space. After having obtained such a higher education, such a specialist was capable of rapid career growth. The Russian tradition of diplomatic training continues to emphasise fundamental historical training and language teaching, while in the West other approaches in this area are beginning to dominate.
Together with our colleagues, we are conducting a large research project on training programmes for diplomats and civil servants in the field of foreign policy in 20 leading countries throughout the world. As part of it, we are analysing the working curricula of the world’s leading universities and evaluating what emphasis prevails in the training. The analysis materials have allowed us to draw some preliminary conclusions – we observe that in European countries, the teaching of fundamental disciplines, which have always been the basis of the Russian tradition of training diplomats and international relations students, has sharply decreased. European universities are sharply reducing the teaching of national history, the history of international relations, and regional studies disciplines. They are being replaced by courses on communications, values, and project management, which replace the diplomat’s fundamental understanding of his country specialisation.
When training young specialists in the Russian tradition, considerable attention is also paid to methods of applied analysis, including digital tools that were previously unavailable: working with large volumes of open data and media materials. The challenge for modern researchers of international processes is the opposite of what it was 30 years ago: now information can be obtained in abundance; hence the need for analytical simplification and identification of essential data. The inexperience of young analysts often leads to disorientation in the information space, a deformation of the worldview when consuming “one-voice” sources. Therefore, significant attention should be paid to creating a balanced perception of information among international relations students.