What issue could possibly trump a major recession and not one but two foreign wars? Our warming planet. According to the scholars in this year's survey, a U.S. commitment to take the lead on international climate treaties is long overdue. Although the election of President Obama -- who has described the global climate change threat as "a matter of urgency" -- promises movement on U.S. environmental policy, it might not be nearly high enough on Obama's to-do list for these experts. Not only do academics consider the environment to be the greatest threat we face today, they predict it will be an even more important foreign-policy challenge for the United States in 10 years.
There remains, however, a disconnect between these findings and the type of research that scholars are conducting at leading educational institutions in the United States. The dialogue in scholarly journals often gives the impression that the United States is still fighting the Cold War -- that threats to national security come largely from great powers and from states that have or seek nuclear weapons. Although 40 percent of the scholars who responded claim their primary or secondary research focus is on international security issues, only 7 percent of respondents focused on international environmental issues.
If They Had a Billion Dollars
What if President Obama allotted IR scholars a $1 billion budget to spend as they saw fit over the course of the next fiscal year?
Although 85 percent of academics report that the U.S. foreign-aid budget should expand overall, scholars also agree about where not to spend the money -- the military. Sixty-four percent of experts say that U.S. spending on defense should decline. Instead, when security and economic issues are taken off the table and scholars are given a three-way choice among foreign aid, global AIDS spending, and climate change, the majority of these academics would spend any windfall on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Who's at the Top of the Class?
Dramatic changes in the ranking of leading IR programs are rare. This year's findings provide no exception; the perennial powers stay on top.
For the top two seats in all three categories -- Ph.D., master's, and undergraduate programs -- Harvard and Princeton, Georgetown and Johns Hopkins, and Harvard and Princeton, respectively, maintained their slots. But that's not to say nothing changed: Stanford unseated Columbia's doctoral program and climbed to the No. 3 slot. In the undergraduate ranking, Yale took the No. 3 spot from Stanford.
With four of the top master's programs located within or just outside the U.S. capital, the hot spot to pursue the policy track remains inside the Washington Beltway. Those more interested in purely academic pursuits will want to tread the coastlines; the northeast corridor is home to five of the top 10 Ph.D. programs, and California has three of its own in the top 10.
The 2008 survey also asked scholars to identify the top Ph.D. programs in the world for studying international relations. When forced to think beyond the American academy, respondents produced a British invasion. For the first time, three schools from Britain made the list of top programs for students wanting to pursue an academic career in IR: the London School of Economics (12), Oxford University (13), and Cambridge University (20). Competitive eyes should keep a steady watch -- there may be more movement still to come from across the pond.
The Five International Relations Professors Named the Most Influential Answer:
What is the most dangerous and overlooked threat Obama neglects to his peril?
"The most dangerous, but relatively neglected security threat would be the 'dark side' implications of the rapid development and worldwide diffusion of biotechnology."
-- James Fearon, Stanford University
"There is the very real possibility that Mexico will implode on Obama's watch and become a failed state, which would surely cause serious problems north of the Rio Grande."
-- John Mearsheimer, University of Chicago
"The most dangerous overlooked threat that we neglect at our peril? Ourselves. The imperative must be not only that 'they' recognize 'us,' but that 'we' recognize 'them,' too."
-- Alexander Wendt, Ohio State University
"In the 1930s, economic crisis led to Nazism in Germany and militarism in Japan. We must not overlook the threat that global economic crisis could again have malign effects on world politics."
-- Robert Keohane, Princeton University
"Throughout history overwhelmingly strong states have abused their power. Getting the defense budget under control is President Obama's greatest, and I fear his least understood, challenge."
-- Kenneth N. Waltz, Columbia University