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Baber Receives International Studies Association Book Prize

Published: May 2, 2011

Walter Baber, director of the Graduate Center for Public Policy and Administration at CSULB, was recognized in March with the 2011 International Studies Association International Ethics Book Prize.

Baber and his co-author, the University of Vermont’s Robert Bartlett, were honored at the ISA conference held in Montreal for their 2009 book, Global Democracy and Sustainable Jurisprudence: Deliberative Environmental Law from the MIT Press.

In announcing the award, the ISA’s Anthony Lang, Jr. wrote to Baber and Bartlett, “As the chair of the committee, I found your book to be an outstanding example of cross disciplinary normative theorizing. You do an excellent job of both addressing the ‘democracy gap’ in international law and also focusing on global environmental issues in an insightful and interesting way. I learned a great deal from it, and, in light of my own research on global constitutionalism, it was an excellent example of how to see an evolving global legal and political structure that is both ideal and yet grounded in current political realities.”

The ISA was founded in 1959 to pursue mutual scholarly interests in international studies. Representing 80 countries, ISA has more than 3,000 members worldwide. It is the premier interdisciplinary organization for those interested in international affairs.

Baber was gratified to receive the prize. “This book represents a discussion of the problems encountered in trying to develop international environmental law,” said Baber, a 1975 alum with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy, who joined the faculty in 2001. “There is a problem in developing international environmental law when you’re trying to craft a global policy with 200 individual nations to satisfy. They have very little sense of common interest. And there’s obviously no sovereign at the top giving them a sense of mutual obligation. How do you encourage the formation of effective environmental regulations? And how do you do it in democratic ways?

“The biggest problem with international relations is that, if there is any democratic content, it is a coincidence,” he added. “What you really have is 200 nations each of which represents its own populace as well as they can. There is little that can be done internationally if a nation does a poor job of representing their people. This book explores that set of problems.”

Global Democracy also takes on the absence of consensus about how the environment ought to be protected. “Should developed countries take on the lion’s share of the burden? Or should the burden be shared on a more-or-less per capita basis?” he asked. “That was the problem with the Kyoto Protocols. We don’t honestly know what the world’s population thinks about that. We know what the world’s nations say they think about it. Our research suggests that several of the nations involved are kidding themselves if they think their position in the global arena actually represented the views of their populations. This is what is often called ‘the democratic deficit’ in international politics.”

Baber was named the Fulbright Distinguished Chair of Environmental Policy at the Polytechnic Institute of Turin in 2009 and was invited to serve on the Italian Fulbright commission in 2010 as its only non-Italian. He received his M.A. and Ph.D. in political science from the University of North Carolina before earning his J.D. from the University of San Diego School of Law. He is admitted to the practice of law in California.

His other publications include Deliberative Environmental Politics: Democracy and Ecological Rationality from the MIT Press in 2005 (co-authored by Bartlett) and Organizing the Future: Matrix Models for the Post-Industrial Polity from the University of Alabama Press in 1983.

Baber Recieves International Studies Association International Ethics Book Prize

His research suggests that both the U.S. and European nations like Italy have sometimes misrepresented the ecological views of their populations. “The Italian government was much more supportive of the Kyoto Protocols than Italian citizens tend to be and the American government was much less supportive of the Protocols than our fellow citizens tend to be,” he said. “There may be some consensus that we could find if we overcome our preoccupation with the positions that nations adopt. At the bare minimum, we’re looking for a road map that describes the lay of the land. Where on these subjects are the people of different countries?”

The goal of Global Democracy is to assess how well individual nation/states are representing the considered opinions of their people. “Going forward, we might see an evolution of national positions on environmental protection,” he said. “We might hope that in the future there is the opportunity for international organizations to make progress on these subjects without waiting for individual nation-states to figure out where they stand. If you can show there is a fair degree of consensus across the globe on a particular subject, then international regulatory organizations could begin to develop that consensus into plans for transnational regulation and ultimately into elements of international treaties.”

Baber feels his prize helps to reinforce his classroom and scholarly identity. “I hope it will make my publisher happy to see my next manuscript,” he said. “It elevates my identity among international scholars in a way that can’t fail to be useful. It also enhances my direction of the Center for Public Policy as an element of the department’s increasing focus on the international scene.”

He thanked the university for its support. “It’s been really heartening,” he said. “The support extends to the accommodations that allowed me to accept my 2009 Fulbright which led to innumerable other opportunities for me. And when I needed to be away, my colleagues were tremendous about filling in for me in a variety of ways. It’s a little bit rare in academic departments to find nobody who feels badly about other people’s success. I consider myself to be very lucky in that way.”

–Richard Manly