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13 International Relations Buzzwords That Need to Get Taken to the Woodshed

Author: Richard N. Haass, President, Council on Foreign Relations
February 3, 2017


The renowned Prussian military historian and analyst Carl von Clausewitz is widely held to be the author of the phrase “the fog of war,” although what he actually wrote was: “War is the realm of uncertainty; three quarters of the factors on which action in war is based are wrapped in a fog of greater or lesser uncertainty.”

There was nothing foggy about Clausewitz’s prose, however, which remains a model of clarity. It is thus ironic that so many who speak and write about similar matters operate in a fog largely of their own making. There is little correlation between length and clarity; fog can permeate a tweet just as easily as a thesis. Many of the words and terms common to conversations and debates over foreign policy and international relations actually mean little; all too many obscure more than they illuminate. So in the cause of sharper thinking and better policy, here is my baker’s dozen of language we would do better without.

Global citizen: People frequently describe themselves as global citizens or call on others to be just that. Citizenship, however, is a national concept, one tied to sovereignty. There is no such thing as a global citizen, despite what the Davos set might profess or worse yet aspire to. More useful would be calls for people to be better informed about global affairs, something that has the potential to make them better citizens of their own country, which in turn could lead to better policy and might even make the world a better place.

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