Foreign Policy and Mixed Signals

Earlier this week, a particularly volatile fissure within the Trump Administration opened up. Nikki Haley, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, announced on Sunday that the Administration would be imposing fresh sanctions on Russia. However, the Administration quickly denied that this was true, stating—in fact—that her statement was based on “momentary confusion.” Haley struck back saying that she does not “get confused.” This is not the first issue of unclear signals (see my previous post about this here), but it holds significance for how we approach  signaling in foreign policy.

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What is Happening to the Non-Intervention Norm?

This is a guest post by Betcy Jose, Assistant Professor at University of Colorado-Denver and author of Norm Contestation: Insights into Non-Conformity with Armed Conflict Norms. Follow her on Twitter.

After the recent strikes in Syria, Germany’s Angela Merkel stated the intervention was, “necessary and appropriate, to ensure the effectiveness of the international ban of chemical weapons use and to warn the Syrian regime of further violations.”   UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres remarked,  “A lack of accountability emboldens those who would use such weapons by providing them with the reassurance of impunity.”   However, some members of the international community felt differently about the strikes.  Russia sponsored a UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution condemning the strikes as a violation of the non-intervention norm which was rejected.

Did the missile strikes violate the non-intervention norm?   Article 2(4) of the UN Charter essentially permits two exceptions to the non-intervention norm, considered norms in their own right: violations occurring with UNSC approval and for self-defense.  None of the participating states made a self-defense argument. Neither did the intervention receive UNSC authorization. Thus, one could conclude that the intervention was inconsistent with the non-intervention norm and its exceptions.  So what then are we to make of statements like Merkel’s or the rejection of the above UNSC resolution?

Norms scholars would tell us that acceptance of norm violations or silence to them suggests weakening norms.  And if the violation engenders approval, it may also set the stage for new norm emergence. Support for the strikes suggests shifts in intersubjective agreement, shared and accepted understandings of the appropriate ways actors ought to behave.  The endorsements above suggest some in the international community may be willing to loosen their commitment to the UNSC normative exception under specific circumstances.  And in doing so, they may weaken it and the non-intervention norm, enabling new avenues for permissibly violating state sovereignty. Continue reading

Social Media is Bad For Your Career? Maybe Not, a 2018 Ignite Talk

Today, there was a twitter conversation about whether doing public engagement, especially blogging and twitter, are penalized or not.  The timing is good since my Ignite talk at the Duckies was very much on this stuff.  So, I thought I would share what I presented at the Online Media Caucus reception at the annual meeting of the ISA in San Francisco.

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Cabinet Reshuffling and the Patrimonial Presidency: Lessons from Tunisia

This post marks the return of the Bridging the Gap channel at the Duck after a short hiatus. It comes from Gregory White, Professor of Government at Smith College, who will be attending our International Policy Summer Institute this June.  

How can we understand the Trump administration’s ongoing reshuffles of top tier staff and cabinet officials? Recent changes at the State Department, the National Security Council, the White House Communications Office, Veterans Affairs, and the National Economic Council – and that’s just the last several weeks – are unprecedented in US politics. Some people have been brought down by scandal or near scandal, with others dismissed for no clear reason.

Scholars have sought to understand this turnover as the result of a preference of loyalty over experience, the insurgent nature of the campaign (with inexperienced or no staff), or the chaos of Trump’s policy whims. I propose a different lens for thinking creatively and comparatively about Trump’s behavior as a way of understanding its potential implications.

Throughout all of the cabinet and staff reshuffling I have often thought of Tunisia – in particular its post-independence presidents Habib Bourguiba and Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. One might think that comparing the United States to Tunisia is like comparing an apple to a steak – or even an apple to a stop sign. It is hard to think of two countries with more dissimilar political histories and systems. But constant cabinet and staff turnover and (re-)cycling characterized Bourguiba and his successor Ben Ali’s governments, and it had and continues to have profound implications for the North African country.  Continue reading

A Jacksonian Moment in U.S. Foreign Policy: Will it Last?

I had the good fortune during my brief appearance at ISA to take part in a roundtable on “Jacksonianism” in U.S. foreign policy. Organized by Jon Caverley, the roundtable sought to assess whether the Trump presidency represents a new equilibrium in which a Jacksonian foreign policy orientation has if not pride of place a more vaunted position than it once had.

“Jacksonian” is the term Walter Russell Mead coined in his 2002 book Special Providence to reflect a foreign policy tradition that was inward looking, shunned international engagement, but prepared to aggressively defend US national security if the country was threatened. Jacksonians had largely been a rump faction in American political life, periodically emerging as a more potent force during occasional bouts of populist sentiment.

My remarks reflect my sense of the significance of the Trump phenomenon for foreign policy. I’m currently reading How Democracies Die, and I am not sure what worries me more, President Trump’s aggressive gamble to coerce Kim Jong Un to denuclearize or Trump’s steady effort to weaken the rule of law and democratic institutions here at home. Continue reading

A Global Response to Climate Change: In, through, and for Cities?

This is a guest post from Sander Chan[1], David Gordon[2], Emma Lecavalier[3], Craig Johnson[4], Angel Hsu[5], Fee Stehle[6], Thomas Hickmann[7], Jennifer Bansard[8], Paty Romero-Lankao[9]

Cities have been wildly successful over recent years in positioning themselves at the center of the global conversation on climate change. For example, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently convened the Cities & Climate Change Conference (CitiesIPCC) in Edmonton, Alberta. The conference — hosted by a city that once advertised itself as Canada’s oil capital — brought together a diverse constellation of academics, practitioners, and policy-makers to shape a forward-looking research agenda centered around sustainable transformation to meeting global climate goals in, by, and through cities.

Recognizing the pivotal role cities have come to play in global climate politics, where they were almost invisible until the early 2000’s, we strongly support the aim of CitiesIPCCC to set a transformative research agenda on cities and climate change. However, we want to call attention that current approaches are likely to fall short and have limited value in responding to fundamental questions of social context and urban capacity.

In response, we argue for research that looks holistically at the global engagement of cities, the local context in which transformation takes place, and the institutional and political contexts in which cities are embedded. Continue reading

Why Trump Won

In the academic community, the equivalent to ‘pics or it didn’t happen’ is ‘peer-review or it doesn’t count’. That’s why I decided to wait until I get some validation on the hypothesis about the Trump win that I was working on. The full paper is coming out in International Relations journal and this a (relatively) short teaser. Don’t worry, there is a Russian angle, just probably not the one you would expect.

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What’s in a Syllabus? A New Dataset of Graduate School Readings in Political Science

This is a guest post by  Heidi Hardt (University of California, Irvine) and Amy Erica Smith (Iowa State University)

Syllabi and comprehensive exam reading lists are often graduate students’ first major exposure to political science. In the field of IR, they tell students what scholarship matters for the field and – by omission – what doesn’t matter quite as much. What students read as graduate students likely influences some of what they cite later in their academic careers. What then exactly is in these important documents?

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Are the Kids Alright? The March for Our Lives as a Social Movement

Tom Nichols, he of Death of Expertise fame, raised a few hackles over the weekend when he said marches really hadn’t achieved anything since the Civil Rights Movement.

He’s not a fan of kids being coopted by adults for the adults’ pet causes, which evades the question of the agency of Parkland survivors and other young people to galvanize and lead a national movement. Social movement scholars, including me, took to Twitter to challenge Nichols’ assertion that marches and movements had not achieved much since the 1960s. Based on my work on transnational advocacy movements, I chided him in a Tweet thread:

The 1999 G-8 summit in Cologne, Germany where the Jubilee 2000 campaign ringed the summit in their successful effort to get the IMF, World Bank, and major donors to write off developing country debt relief. I noted the 2000 International AIDS Conference held in Durban, South Africa, where the Treatment Action Campaign along with international supporters helped galvanize support for AIDS treatment access that culminated in the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria and helped usher in an era of low-cost generic AIDS drugs.  Other examples came to mind, ACTUP and AIDS campaigners in the 1980s who challenged the medical establishment to fasttrack AIDS drugs in the developed word, the campaigns and marches to end apartheid, the Solidarity protest movement in Poland, among others.

Readers on Twitter asked what lessons does social movement theory have for the March for Our Lives march and wider gun safety movement. Here is my quick take from my work, which is more based on transnational advocacy movements rather than strictly the U.S. experience. Continue reading

Reactionary World Politics

This is a guest post from Joseph MacKay,  a Research Fellow in the Department of International Relations at Australian National University, and Christopher David LaRoche, a PhD candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of Toronto.

Growing nationalist and populist parties and movements across the developed West and elsewhere are prone to a common nostalgic rhetoric: the political consensus of recent decades has eroded national boundaries, traditions, and identities. The past, they argue, was better than the present. And what is most needful now is a return to that ideal past in the name of a future that, like the past, can be “great again.”

Although its details and implications vary, this narrative draws on the long history of reactionary thought. Reaction is an attitude toward social and political life marked by political, sometimes militant nostalgia. Like liberal progressivism or Marxian radicalism, reaction amounts to a politicized position on how history works, over the long haul. When William F. Buckley declared that National Review would “stand athwart history yelling stop,” he marked himself as a reactionary.

IR theory, we argue, has few tools for identifying and assessing reactionary politics. Why has IR theory traditionally spent so little time thinking about it? In a new Theory Note (now ungated!) at International Studies Quarterly, we explore the lack of reactionary thought in international relations, and its implications for how IR thinks about reactionary world politics. We write not as reactionaries ourselves, but because we are concerned this inattention may have ill-prepared the field for our current political moment. This post summarizes the project, and considers its implications for the field. Continue reading

Does the U.S. Have a North Korea Strategy?

A Presidential summit in May is not a high risk / high reward scenario. It is Russian roulette.

Last November the media poked fun when inclement weather kept Trump from getting his opportunity to stare down the enemy at the demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating North and South Korea. While Trump was reportedly frustrated with being denied this photo-op, it is regrettable for us all that he never made it. Despite the pageantry that comes with these visits, I know from experience that there is something visceral about standing at the world’s most heavily militarized border. There is a certain tension that cannot be faked. And for a moment, you cannot help but think of the consequences if this precarious peace was broken. While no one can claim to know what Trump is thinking at any given moment, I would like to believe that such an experience would inform his decision to either stare down or embrace North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un in a possible meeting between the two leaders.

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Academic (S)mothering 

As a new mother of a baby boy I am enjoying a slightly different kind of golden shower than Donald Trump. So, between the 3 AM feeding and 4 AM diaper change I was scrolling through Twitter and stumbled on news about the Stanford white sausage fest that somehow qualified as a conference on applied history. Niall Ferguson managed to organize a conference and not feature a single woman or person of color. Let me walk you through some thoughts about why there aren’t more women in (political) science.

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Fear-Mongering about U.S. Power

This is a guest post from Clifford Bob, Professor and Chair of Political Science at Duquesne University. 

A free press is a major check on shoddy government policies and bad ideas, but if journalists refuse to think critically about government pronouncements, that civic function fails. Worse yet, if the media magnifies and exaggerates official errors, a veneer of objectivity is cast onto poor quality or biased government information.

We have learned this lesson many times in U.S. history, notably in the lead-up to the Iraq War. Robert Wright’s excellent Intercept article of last week makes this point regarding current New York Times’ reporting about Iran. Similar “media-abetted perceptual distortion” has been occurring with respect to Russia and especially “Russiagate,” as Wright suggests. A case in point is an article in Friday’s Times which included this scary headline near the top of its website: “Russia Could Have Switched Off U.S. Power, Officials Say.” The article itself is titled, “Cyberattacks Put Russian Fingers on the Switch at Power Plants, U.S. Says,” and in the print edition, the title of the frontpage article was “U.S. Says Hacks Left Russia Able to Shut Utilities.” Continue reading

The State of the Field in Climate and Security

After nearly fifteen years of study, what do we know about the relationship between climate change and security? I recently attended a Woodrow Wilson Center event organized by the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) on the state of the field. Along with Geoff Dabelko, Halvard Buhaug, and Sherri Goodman, I offered my take on the field (the video is embedded below).

In this blog post, I wanted to focus on five different causal pathways that I think represent the frontier of research on the study of climate and conflict, which include agricultural production and food prices, economic growth, migration, disasters, and international and domestic institutions. The study of climate and conflict is a narrower view on the broader field of climate and security, but it is the one that academics have focused most of their energy on.

In most of these accounts, climate hazards or variability affect the likelihood of conflict either through the effects on livelihoods, state capacity, and/or inter-group tensions. In some accounts, extreme weather or variability lowers the rewards to agriculture and/or other livelihoods and makes rebellion or violence more attractive.  These same processes can also deprive states of tax revenue and undermine their capacity to suppress violence and provide public goods. They can also exacerbate tensions between groups.

Whether climate changes and variability contribute to the increased likelihood of conflict has been the dominant focus of this literature, though I myself have a broader view of what constitutes security.  Continue reading

BPM (Beats Per Minute), AIDS Politics in France, and the Lessons for Resistance Today

This is a guest post by Michael Bosia, Associate Professor of Political Science at St. Michael’s College in Colchester, Vermont. You can find him on Twitter at @VTPoliticsProf.

In December 2001 – less than two months after the al-Qaeda attack on the World Trade Center and not even a month from the day US and UK forces invaded Afghanistan – I was with Act Up Paris as activists carried a banner emblazoned “AIDS: The Other War” to lead their annual World AIDS Day march.  Behind the banner, marchers raised signs reminding that more people were dying from complications of HIV every day than were killed on 9/11 in lower Manhattan: “SIDA: 10,000 morts par jour” (AIDS: 10,000 Dead Each Day”).  It was not the first time war as metaphor had colored the activist group’s rhetoric; in fact, their response to 9/11 is emblematic of how they combine as truth-telling both careful analysis and bodily provocation, often so unsettling, when confronting powerful elites and emboldened populists.  While the portrait of Act Up in the United States has been presented in the 2012 documentary and 2016 book How to Survive a Plague, the stories of Act Up Paris and the challenges French activists faced are largely unknown to the English-speaking public, but that is corrected now that “120 Battements par Minute” (“BPM (Beats Per Minute)” in English) is available to stream in the U.S.  This month named the César Best Picture and awarded the Grand Prix at Cannes last year, the fictionalized account depicts the early years of Act Up Paris.

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Pinker’s Enlightenment and Liberal World Order

“There is not one civilized nation in the world that ought to rejoice in seeing India escape from the hands of Europe in order to fall back into a state of anarchy and barbarism worse than before the conquest.” ~Alexis de Tocqueville, in correspondence with William Nassau Senior in 1857, regarding the Sepoy Rebellion in India.

Psychologist Steven Pinker’s new book, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, has caused quite a stir. The book itself provides the reader with an optimistic narrative about how the contemporary period is the best time to be a human; we have never lived in a safer, more joyful, period of human history. As in his monstrous prequel, The Better Angels of Our Nature, Pinker provides statistics and data as a way of demonstrating this fact, and draws a causal historical connection about the rise of Enlightenment-era ideas–especially ideas regarding science and the decline of religious beliefs–and our moment of “bliss.”

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Remembering Lee Ann Fujii, a Friend and a Fighter

This is a guest post from Erin Tolley an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Toronto.

Professor Lee Ann Fujii passed away unexpectedly in Seattle on March 2, 2018. This loss is personal because it has robbed me of a brilliant friend and colleague, but it is also public because of all that Lee Ann contributed to the discipline and to her scholarly community.

Lee Ann was an expert on race, ethnicity, and political violence. Her first book, Killing Neighbors: Webs of Violence in Rwanda, focuses on the social context of the Rwandan genocide. She shows the importance of individuals and interactions, a thread woven throughout all her work. The book is a painstaking compilation of insights from interviews with non-elites. Lee Ann focused not on the planners of the genocide, but instead on the joiners. This was consistent with Lee Ann’s rejection of hierarchy and the cult of prestige. Killing Neighbors shows that those who engaged in the Rwandan genocide were not always motivated by hate. Rather, they were often recruited by local politicians with whom they had personal relationships, and they participated in the genocide because they feared the consequences of not doing so. As Lee Ann points out, however, once these joiners were engaged in the conflict, that involvement became a key part of their identity and contributed to their ongoing participation. Continue reading

International Organizations and the Trump Administration’s New Budget Proposal

This is a guest post from Tana Johnson, an Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Political Science at Duke University. She is the author of Organizational Progeny: Why Governments Are Losing Control over the Proliferating Structures of Global Governance (now available in paperback, Oxford University Press). Van Nguyen is an undergraduate at Duke University, majoring in Public Policy and Political Science. She is completing a senior honors thesis on inter-governmental institutions and immigrant integration.

Within its first year in power, the Trump administration has transformed the U.S.’s position toward several international agreements: it has exited negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), signaled its intent to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, and promised to revamp the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Full-fledged international organizations, like the United Nations or NATO, are numerous and costly – so, will they be next? If budgets are reflections of values, then the Trump administration’s new budget proposal provides clues. Here’s what you need to know. Continue reading

Do Populists Kill Democracy? A Sympathetic Extension of Levitsky and Ziblatt

This is a guest post by Lucas Dolan, a PhD Student at American University’s School of International Service. His research deals with the transnational coalition-building of right-wing populist movements. For further information, see his website, or find him on Twitter (@mrldolan).

Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt (L&Z) have accomplished something impressive. Their new book How Democracies Die (HDD) is a relatively condensed volume that—while clearly written for a popular audience—is also likely to become required reading for scholars interested in authoritarianism and democratic backsliding.  Indeed, my institution’s chapter of the 24 university “Democratic Erosion” consortium assigned the book even before it was released. It is a rare scholarly work that has generated substantial discussion in both the scholarly and policymaking communities immediately upon publication. The book draws from the authors’ extensive research on de-democratization in Latin America and Eastern Europe (as well as some instructive episodes of American history) to identify processes of democratic erosion and derive lessons for resisting such processes. These historical and comparative chapters are then used as benchmarks for evaluating the threat to democracy posed by President Donald Trump. Puzzlingly, the book omits a meaningful discussion of the role of populism in democratic erosion—despite one of the author’s influential work on that topic. In this review, I attempt to reconstruct how deeper engagement with populism might have fit with the book’s core contentions. I conclude that Levitsky’s own mobilization approach to populism lacks cohesion with HDD and that Jan-Werner Müller’s ideational understanding of populism interfaces more naturally with the mechanisms of democratic decline proposed by L&Z.

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International Women’s Day: political crisis as windows of opportunity

As we prepare to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8th, Spanish women are getting their banners, pickets and hashtags – #yoparo (#Istop) – ready for a feminist general strike. The strike’s motto is “If we stop, the world stops” and it calls for all women to stop all professional activities during the day, all household chores and to restrain from buying anything and spending any money at all. There will also be marches at the end of the day in Spain’s main cities. The women associations who are organising the industrial action indicate that the strike is motivated by the fact that women are still doing the biggest chunk of unpaid labour, are for their most part in precarious jobs, and are paid less for the same job (from 14 to 30% less) in Spain, the glass ceiling and the ubiquitous sexual harassment. They also demand the government to put in place more and better measures for the eradication of sexual and gender-based violence. Strikers also demand public authorities to pass laws that help combat sexism in advertisement and to develop educational programs that teach children about equality and respect.   Continue reading

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