Institute member Robert Jervis, Francis Gavin of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Diane Labrosse of McGill University, Tom Maddux of California State University, Northridge, George Fujii of the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Seth Offenbach of Bronx Community College comprise the editorial staff of the International Security Studies Forum.
Like much of academia, the security studies field has been slow to take full advantage of the possibilities for better and faster communication that current technologies permit. While everyone uses the internet for gathering information and running our journals, we have not done enough to use it to facilitate a healthy dialogue among the diverse scholars working in this area. The result is that many individuals remain somewhat isolated, fruitful arguments are not joined, and the pace of discussion and evaluation remains remarkably slow. The schedule of print scholarship means that academic dialogues resemble the old long-distance telephones that had significant delays, often muddling conversations. Thus, in early 2010 the International Security Studies Section (ISSS) of the International Studies Association, three of the leading journals in the field (International Security, Security Studies, and Journal of Strategic Studies) and relevant centers at many major universities launched an effort to increase the velocity of communication and lower the barriers to entry by establishing the International Security Studies Forum (ISSF).
The print format, although invaluable and here to stay, does not meet all of our needs. It limits communication in both its forms and its participants. There is no way to inject questions, comments, or ideas that can be expressed more briefly. Blogs have proliferated and while some of them discus the policy implications of academic research, none keep a focus on the most recent and promising development and arguments in the field. Scholars (including graduate students) outside of the major research universities and a few leading colleges tend to participate relatively little, partly because the barriers to entry are so high. Yet anyone who has visited less well-known institutions realizes how many faculty members there have much to say.
Furthermore, the time-lags are troublesome. It is frustrating to write a book and wait two years for the first scholarly reviews to appear. It is even worse to write an article and to see it used or criticized only five or six years later. Students are even more confused because they can tell even less about how arguments and claims are being judged since they lack access to informed colleagues and informal channels of communication.
Building on the model of the established counterpart in diplomatic history (H-Diplo, which has been in existence since 1993) and sharing its listserv, ISSF engages in four kinds of activities. First and most prominently, they assign and publish Roundtable book reviews. The advantages of this over the current print format epitomize why the enterprise was launched. In ISSF, important books receive reviews from between three and five scholars, thus allowing a wider range of opinions to be aired, and the author’s response is posted simultaneously along with an introduction by a major scholar. Reviewers are not restricted to the normal cramped format and their authors are able to discuss issues they choose at the length they think it appropriate. Members of the list are invited to comment on the book, the reviews, and the general issues that have been raised. Second, they review selected journal articles. Here they usually assign only one review, but seek multiple perspectives in cases of particular interest or contention. Article reviews, which are unique to lists like H-Diplo and ISSF, provide vital scholarly appraisals of published work that would otherwise pass without review, notice, or mention. Third, they organize discussions among scholars of issues that are germane to the field but are often not addressed in the print media. For example, in June 2010 ISSF published a roundtable discussion on the topic of “Politics and Objectivity in History and Political Science” and in June 2014 had a wide-ranging forum on “What We Talk About When We Talk about Nuclear Weapons.” These discussions attracted much interest and attention. Fourth, scholars are invited to post their own comments, questions, and ideas about security studies. For example, a book, article, or recent event might prompt ISSF to put out a query or an idea that was too brief to merit an article, but that is worthy of discussion. Institutions and conference organizers are invited to post announcements of forthcoming events that are open to the public or the scholarly community, thereby widening the range and number of participants at these events.