In This Review

The Limits of Culture: Islam and Foreign Policy
The Limits of Culture: Islam and Foreign Policy
Edited by Brenda Shaffer
MIT Press, 2006, 352 pp

Does a state's culture significantly shape its foreign policy? Would a Muslim state act differently in international relations from other states? Or can the foreign policies of a state, Muslim or otherwise, be adequately explained by perceived material interests? This book, the fruit of a two-year group research project involving 11 different scholars, addresses the larger question of the role of culture in foreign policy by considering the Muslim states bordering the Caspian Sea. After three chapters of a general and theoretical nature, it studies seriatim the several Central Asian "Stans," plus Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan under Taliban rule. The contributors' findings downgrade Islamic culture and give greater scope to "raison d'état". Iran, for example, has favored Christian Armenia over Muslim Azerbaijan and muted its support for Muslim Chechens in order to further good relations with Russia. Pakistan's foreign policy is seen as more pragmatic than Islamic. As for the post-Soviet states of Central Asia, often dubbed "Islamic Republics" by outsiders, they have not declared Islam their state religion, and their foreign policies are best explained in realist balance-of-power terms (plus, in some cases, in terms of resistance to Islamist forces within the state). Two other chapters address U.S. perceptions of and actions toward these diverse Muslim states, with similar findings about the relative role of culture vis-à-vis perceived national interest in shaping foreign policies.