This book by Al-Rodhan follows in the footsteps of his other books, such as emotional amoral egoism, in which the author presents a new framework by which to analyze current world politics and how countries and individuals interact. The main aim of the author in this book is to present his theory of Symbiotic Realism as an improvement on traditional realism theory and as a means to better understand international relations with the hope that this new theory can be used to improve international relations towards a more peaceful co-existence between states.
Symbiotic realism improves and differs from traditional realism by including normative aspects and focus on several players, which when properly analyzed, can create a more complete understanding of international relations. The core summary is on page 67, in which the author lists the main actors in international relations, ranging from women and environment to natural resources. The list also includes information technology as well as the more traditional players of individuals, states, international organizations and large collective entities. The author spends significant time exploring why he includes players on this list, some explanations are obvious. States will of course affect international relations and has traditional been held so by realism. More unusual is the importance of natural resources that the author eloquently explains with examples ranging from the importance of the few remaining oil reserves as well as the increasing role of access to clean water. It may be not unexpected that future wars will deal with access to such clean water.
Similar to the explanation of why items are considered actors in international relations, the author then proceeds to explain the dynamic and relationship between these actors in a subsequent chapter. Again, I will focus on how the author classifies the dynamic natural resources since the war in Iraq has brought more prominence to resources as a potential source of conflict. Not unexpected, when seen under this aspect, the author focuses on natural resources as possibly being scarce and then leading to conflict, but he also addresses the believe by some that such limitations can be overcome by developing substitute sources of energy (if oil is the natural resource in question). The author cites researchers that argue that the increasing number of resources being scarce and the complex interaction between these resources makes it now increasingly difficult to develop substitutes.
The final part of the book deals with the governance structure that would be required to accommodate humans according to symbiotic realism and reduce the likelihood of conflict. Again, this is a theme that is touched upon in other books by the author - how can international conflict be reduced. By analyzing the best governance structure for each actor in international relations, the authors argues that conflict may be less likely.
The book is an interesting read for anyone seeking to understand the possible causes of conflict and seeks to understand what approaches may be possible to reduce such conflict. One concern I have with the theory of the author is the complexity of the theory proposed. While it is true that in the age of globalization states and individuals tend to the connected in more complex ways and more closely than every before, the speed of communications and the quick reaction time needed may make it also more difficult to keep up with developments at an international level. While the theory of symbiotic realism can explain why conflicts arise and what could have been done to avoid them, maybe the way to go is to reduce the complexity at some level in international relations. Forming overarching governance bodies such as the EU parliament will reduce conflict on a continent that was in prior centuries the location of many wars, something that a shared governance body such as the EU parliament makes less likely. While the author mentions the role of the UN, it may be the relatively small power of the UN compared to state governments that needs to be addressed.