Forced Migration and Global Politics

Author:   Alexander Betts
Publisher:   Willey Blackwell Publishers
Reviewer:   Andrew Mendy

Alexander Betts (2009); Forced Migration and Global Politics, eBook ISBN 978-1-4051-8032-0. (2009) Willey Blackwell Publishers. 223 pages.


The Book Forced Migration and Global Politics is an in-depth and groundbreaking scholarly study of Alexander Betts who is an astute Hedley Bull Research Fellow in International Relations at the University of Oxford and doubles as the Director of the MacArthur Foundation-funded Global Migration Governance Project. The book is published in 2009 and seeks to critically examine the notion of forced migration drawing from both theoretical and practical accounts and trends to understand and address the blight of forced migration. However, the book therefore attempts to close the gap between forced migration studies and International Relations. It thus integrates the literature on International Relations and the literature on forced migration and how these two phenomenon feed into each other. Primarily, it sheds light on how states and other actors respond to displacement and forced migration. The book spans 184 pages and is divided into eight interrelated chapters excluding the introduction, each of which addresses the phenomenon of forced migration and it intertwined relationship with International Relations and Global Politics. Both the breadth and the depth of the study into this complicated, ever-evolving and global-focused phenomenon are highlighted in the chapters. The book analyses and covers a variety of topics, including forced migration, refugees, security, sovereignty, globalisation, regionalism, global governance, and International Corporation. The chapters distinctively provide a critical theoretical and practical lens to some regional and international case studies, highlighting the causes of forced migration and intersections between the various lines of inquiry and the difficulties faced by both internally and externally displaced persons and the consequences from the Micro state level to the macro international level and vice- versa.  

In the “Introduction”, the author introduces a set of key concepts and debates within the broader discipline of International Relations and its relevance to forced migration while citing historical and contemporary case studies to integrate the theory with specific empirical examples. In addition, the author succinctly highlighted the different categories of forced migration which includes refugees, conflict-induced internal displacement, development-induced displacement,  and environmental displacement and the relationship between forced migration and global politics which argued in the chapter exist in three different levels: causes of forced migration, the consequences of forced migration and the responses to forced migration which unarguably lies at the heart of global politics . The author claims that politics is one of the primary causes of forced migration (p.11).  To him, mass human displacement is closely knitted with trends in the international system, geopolitics, and the global political economy. Notably, the author argues that trends at the International level may shape and influence the conditions of domestic politics in a faraway country that may lead to human displacement. Thus, to corroborate this assertion, the 1980s Western-inspired Structural Adjustment Policy in Africa an apt example in this context. The introduction of the Structural Adjustment Policy and its stringent economic conditions which derive its inspiration from the Washington Consensus have generated widespread discontent in Africa which led to a mass exodus of Africans to different parts of Europe. However, the causes of forced migration can also be studied from a domestic perspective but the focus is on the Global Level. Furthermore, the consequences of forced migration can be far-reaching. The author argues that events that happen at the Global level may have adverse consequences in domestic politics. For example, the 1884 Berlin Conference otherwise dubbed the so-called “Scramble and Partition of Africa” that have created arbitrary borders which many scholars have claimed to have political, social and economic consequences on the African Continent and has led to many wars of succession post-independence era. Lastly, the author also examines how states respond to forced migration from the notion of Responsibility to Protect (R2P) and the principle of non-refoulement.

In chapter one “International Relations Theories” the author aims to lay out the theoretical lenses through which International Relations theory can provide an understanding of the global politics of forced migration. The chapter first describes the major theories of international relations before suggesting how each of them may explain how states and other political actors behave in regard to forced migration. Thus, the author outlines different international relations theories which includes Neo-realism, liberalism, constructivism, feminism, and Marxism and then offer each theory’s views in relation to forced migration.

In chapter two “Sovereignty and the State System” the author argues that since seventeenth century, the idea of the nation-state has become a central feature in world politics. The notion of sovereignty as any integral feature of the modern nation-state derived its origin during the culmination of the Westphalia Treaty of 1648   The legitimacy of the state system has been supported by the concept of state sovereignty, which describes the legitimate exercise of power of the state over a given area of territory or a people. This chapter attempts to unpack the complex relationship between state sovereignty and forced migration. It provides an historical perspective that highlights the evolving and mutually constitutive relationship between them. The chapter begins by explaining the concept of state sovereignty in historical perspective. It then explains how sovereignty and statehood are dealt with by different theoretical perspectives in International Relations.

In chapter four “International Cooperation” the author claims that International Cooperation is necessary for overcoming the most serious negative consequences of forced migration. No one state acting in isolation is likely to be able or willing to address a large scale refugee or Internally Displaced Persons situation by itself. This chapter therefore provides the tools and concepts for understanding the conditions under which international cooperation takes place in relation to forced migration. It attempts to highlight the role that actors such as United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) can play in facilitating international cooperation. The chapter divides into three parts. Firstly, it explains the competing theoretical perspectives on international cooperation, drawn from neo-realism, liberal institutionalism, and constructivism. Secondly, it applies these to explore their relevance to forced migration by looking at burden-sharing in the global refugee regime. Thirdly, it explores two empirical case studies of successful international cooperation in the refugee regime – the Comprehensive Plan of Action on Indochinese Refugees (CPA) and the International Conference of Refugees in Central America (CIREFCA), both of 1989 – in order to assess the conditions under which international cooperation has taken place in the refugee regime (p. 80).

In chapter five “Global Governance” the author argue in the literature that in recent years the study of global governance have dominated the academic and development discourse and as well a major focus of International Relations. This chapter introduces the main debates and analytical tools within the study of global governance and demonstrates how they can be applied to the study of forced migration. Firstly, the chapter begins with an overview of global governance. It defines global governance, explains the genesis of the idea of “global governance,” and identifies some of the conceptual challenges inherent to analysing global governance. Secondly, it then outlines some of the main debates and conceptual tools in Global governance and their relevance to forced migration.

Chapter six “North-South Relations and the International Political Economy” therefore situates the study of forced migration in the broader context of International Political Economy and North–South relations. It addresses two main areas. Firstly, it outlines the main debates in the International Political Economy literature and highlights how they have been applied to develop a critical International Political Economy approach to the study of forced migration. Secondly, it explores the question of North–South cooperation and the different ways in which this approach has been applied to understand international cooperation in relation to forced migration.

In chapter Seven “Globalization” the author claims that state borders is increasingly eroding and time and space is becoming irrelevant in world politics due to Globalisation. Thus, the chapter examines the relationship between forced migration and globalization. It further extends to study the causes and consequences of globalisation. The spread of liberal values such as democracy is creating a cosmopolitan cultural and political framework within the Global society. It then studies the relationship between forced migration and globalisation through a case study of the so-called “asylum-migration nexus” (p.160).

Finally, in chapter eight “Regionalism” therefore attempts to explore the relationship between regionalism and forced migration. It divides into three parts. The first part sets out the main theories of regionalism derived from International Relations. It explains the varieties of regionalism and theories that have been developed to explain regional inter-state cooperation. The second part explains the relevance of regionalism for forced migration whereby nations-states within the same region collaborate through common legal framework, policy harmonization and dialogue towards tackling the menace of forced migration. 

The focal point of this scholarly literature is to critically examine the notion of forced migration from the context of global politics and international relations. The author uses global lens to underscore the relevance and role of states and non-state actors in addressing forced migration. However, one criticism of this book is that it has not been able to distinctively address the variant processes of forced migration based on historically pervasive cultural standards in relation to the notion of forced migration. Despite its pitfalls, the authors advanced relevant arguments and draws on diverse case studies to underscore his analysis. Not only would it serve as an important foundation for future research but will also be of practical use both to academicians, international development workers, diplomats and practitioners working in the field, and policymakers aiming to further explore and transform this crucial phenomenon called forced migration and global politics .


Andrew Mendy holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Political Science from the University of the Gambia and a Certificate in Migration Governance and Diaspora Engagement at Global Research Forum on Diaspora and Transnationalism. His area of Research and Academic interests lies in Comparative Politics, Human Rights, and Democratic Governance. While hoping to pursue his postgraduate studies, Andrew is currently working at GloCal Consulting Ltd and the same time doing a Research Internship at Global Research Forum on Diaspora and Transnationalism a think tank research firm in India. Email; [email protected]


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