- Why War?
- Why Cooperation?
- Do international organizations matter? If so, how?
- What explains the pattern of trade now/in the past/across countries?
- How does International Relations influence domestic politics/conflict?
Could I have come up with more? Sure. For instance: alliances. Walt published a major book a couple of decades ago on alliances, but the topic is not dead at all. Folks* have been writing on alliance duration and burden-sharing. For instance: rise and fall of great powers. Paul Kennedy did not end that debate, and the distribution of power in the system is a big question that gets continued attention. Is nuclear proliferation a big set of questions? Is it policy relevant? Yes.
So, the whole argument that we scholars do not do the grand stuff seems strange. And the argument is being made by a guy who made a business of doing that kind of stuff, serving as an editor of a book series (Cornell U Press, if I remember correctly) that does that stuff, and serving on the editorial board of journals that do that stuff.
Perhaps the problem is APSR--the flagship journal of the field and of the professional association? Well, APSR-envy is an old theme, but to say that it does not or has not published important big question kind of stuff is, well, silly. In a recent issue, a junior scholar published a piece on the role of indigenous folks in counterinsurgency. This counts as IR in part because the issue of civil war bridges IR and comparative politics. It also counts since counter-insurgency is a prominent form of external intervention (hence the IR-ish-ness), so factors and strategies that limit or affect COIN are fair game for IR scholars. And it is very, very policy relevant. So, we have a piece that is policy relevant, addresses the efficacy of international intervention (a very classic and big question), and also happens to get widely cited inside and outside the academic world.
In a relatively recent issue, a scholar asks why countries provide sensitive nuclear assistance. That is, why do countries facilitate nuclear proliferation?
Not every issue has a big IR question as each issue only has one to three IR articles since it is the publication of the American Poli Sci Assn and not just IR types. But I regularly assign APSR pieces and cite them for my stuff. APSR may have had some problems lately processing stuff, but the problem is not one of big questions. Is there a methods fetish? Perhaps but I don't really think it is as pronounced as it used to be.
Would I like to get something published in APSR? Sure. Is it the journal's fault that I have not done so yet? I have tried, but I can only think of two pieces I have written thus far that could have been contenders for the most competitive slots in the profession.** Perhaps in the future, as I have some big question stuff in the early stages, but I cannot really blame the journal.
Perhaps we can invoke the fundamental attribution error to consider the causes of Walt's criticisms. Or not.
* Disclaimer: I am working on my daughter's computer due to a re-infestation on my laptop so I am a bit more limited in my ability to summon citations and the like right now. Just scholar.google.com any of the topics I raise and you can find heaps of stuff.
** The first piece was published in Comparative Political Studies in 2002 on how institutions ameliorate or exacerbate ethnic conflict--a big question. The second was in International Studies Quarterly in 2008--whether government involvement in the economy is associated with more or less ethnic conflict. The rest of my work addresses interesting questions--I think so anyway--but not as broadly interesting to the general APSR consuming public.