The papers composing this volume have been chosen from a number, written in recent years, by a group of scholars and others with an official or professional interest in the theoretical aspects of international politics.
The circle for which the papers were written had its origin in the enterprise and liberality of the Rockefeller Foundation. In 1954 two representatives of the Foundation, Mr Dean Rusk and Dr Kenneth W. Thompson, convened a committee of Americans who were interested in theoretical questions about international relations. They included publicists, university professors, and former members of the policy planning staff of the State Department. They met principally at Columbia University, and their discussions led to publication. The success of the American group prompted Dr Thompson to suggest that there should be a similar committee in England. In 1958 the editors of the present volume acted upon the proposal, and invited colleagues who shared their interest in the theory of international politics to a preliminary talk. It was the beginning of regular weekend meetings, three times a year, in Peterhouse, Cambridge, under the chairmanship of the Master. Besides the contributors to this volume, Sir William Armstrong, Donald McLachlan, Adam Watson and Desmond Wilhams have been members. On one occasion, Kenneth Thompson was able to come to a meeting; on another occasion Sir Pierson Dixon was a guest.
The Rockefeller Foundation gave the group the name of the British Committee on the Theory of International Politics. 'The theory of international politics' is a phrase without wide currency or clear meaning in this country. The group took it to cover enquiry into the nature of the international states-system, the assumptions and ideas of diplomacy, the principles of foreign policy, the ethics of international relations and war. This is a region that still calls for new approaches and for academic treatment. It marches with the domains of the political theorist, the international lawyer, the diplomatic historian, the student of international relations, and the strategic analyst. With each of these it blends, but it is something different from all of them. The committee have not had the intention of undertaking the kind of discussions promoted by Chatham House or the Institute for Strategic Studies, and believe that no other body in England has made the theoretical aspects of international politics its central concern.
It soon became clear to the members of the British committee that within this ill-defined field they had different interests from their American colleagues. The connoisseur of national styles may notice the contrasts. The British have probably been more concerned with the historical than the contemporary, with the normative than the scientific, with the philosophical than the methodological, with principles than policy. But the discussions of the American committee were themselves in some respects traditional compared with the flourishing contemporary school of American and Australian international theory and systems analysis. Here the British committee have been conscious of the antithesis to their own approach. Some of their papers examining the differences between them may form the basis of a second volume which is in contemplation. Meanwhile, attention may be drawn to some of the characteristics of the present collection. These were not designed beforehand, but emerged by common consent as the discussions proceeded.