Bridging the Gap promotes scholarly contributions to public debate and decision making on global challenges and U.S. foreign policy. BtG equips professors and doctoral students with the skills they need to produce influential policy-relevant research and theoretically grounded policy work. They also spearhead cutting-edge research on problems of concrete importance to governments, think tanks, international institutions, non-governmental organizations, and global firms. Within the academy, BtG is driving changes in university culture and processes designed to incentivize public and policy engagement.
This post comes from Steve Weber, Professor at the I-School and Department of Political Science and Director of the Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity at the University of California, Berkeley, and a co-director of the Bridging the Gap project.
It has become common in 2018 to hear that the United States and China are locking themselves into an Artificial Intelligence ‘arms race’. While global politics will certainly change in the machine learning era, the supposed ‘arms race’ between the US and China may turn out to be less interesting and relevant in this world than the relationships between the two machine learning superpowers and everyone else.
Which race will prove more relevant depends upon the long-term economic and security consequences of general purpose technologies, as well as the distinctive characteristics of the technologies that fall under the AI umbrella. (I prefer the term ‘machine learning’ because it carries fewer science-fiction connotations.) General purpose technologies are technologies that sweep across the economy and impact what is possible in many sectors, shaking up how companies and governments do what they do in the broadest sense. Steam locomotion is the obvious 19th century example. Machine learning is a 21st century general purpose technology because it can (and will) be applied in just about every economic production process you can imagine, from retail management to autonomous driving to drug discovery and beyond.
An even more important characteristic of machine learning as a technology is that it has strong first mover advantages and positive feedback loops. In simple terms, the better you are at machine learning at any given moment, the faster you are likely to improve relative to those ‘behind’ you. A firm that has excellent machine learning products (say, a great map application) will find that its products have greater success in the market. The more people who use the product, the more data are created for the firm to work with, which should lead to faster improvement in the underlying algorithms. In turn, that means the next iteration of the product will be even better. This positive feedback cycle can run on a very fast cadence, since data products can be updated far more frequently than any physical product (some are updated daily or even more frequently than that). All of this implies that the leader should speed away from competitors at an ever-accelerating pace. Michael Horowitz recently examined in the Texas National Security Review the potential military implications of such first-mover advantages in AI.
Readers of the Duck will be very familiar with Duck editor Josh Busby’s commentary on climate change and security, U.S. foreign policy, and a host of other topics. Earlier this year, Bridging the Gap (BTG) awarded Josh a Policy Engagement Fellowship (PEF). The purpose of this fellowship is to support efforts by scholars to connect their research on international issues to the policy community. Josh is using his PEF to write policy-oriented pieces and organize events with practitioners on the role of actors other than the U.S. federal government in combating climate change. This work builds on Josh’s prior research on various dimensions of climate change and is particularly timely as the United States under Donald Trump retreats from a leadership role – or even a constructive role – on this critical global challenge.
BTG recently asked Josh some questions about his overall research agenda, his climate change work, and engaging with policy communities and the public. In addition to the work highlighted below, keep an eye out for a forthcoming Atlantic Council report by Josh and Nigel Purvis on leadership in the climate regime, which will draw on a memo Josh wrote for a BTG workshop on public goods last fall.
BTG: Your work has examined issues ranging from climate change to global health to U.S. foreign policy. What’s motivated your choices of particular research topics?
JB: I was an anti-apartheid activist in high school and an environment and development campaigner in college so I’ve been drawn to big global issues since I was young. My first two books were on social movements and whether and how they could exercise influence on foreign policy. As an American, it was a natural fit for me to focus my energies on my home country. My goals were mostly normative. That is, these were big issues I cared about and wanted to write about in my scholarly work. Continue reading
Thispost comes from James Goldgeier, professor of international relations at American University, Visiting Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and a co-director of the Bridging the Gap project. You can follow him on Twitter @JimGoldgeier.
Earlier this month, we held our annual Bridging the Gap (BtG) International Policy Summer Institute (IPSI) for faculty and postdocs who want to be more publicly engaged and policy relevant. Scholars who want to pursue this type of work need to keep in mind a point Duke professor and BtG co-director Bruce Jentleson always makes: Faculty members, particularly those on the tenure-track, should view these efforts as “in addition to” not “instead of” their core academic research. Any professor who wants to bridge the gap successfully needs to develop the scholarly expertise that provides credibility among policy and public audiences.
One issue that we discuss at length in our programs is how to build networks among the Washington, D.C., policy community. Your job doesn’t have to be located in DC to do this, but you have to learn how to navigate the different think tank and policy communities if you want to extend your reach. (Parallel principles apply for scholars interested in building networks in their state and local communities.) Networking is a long-term endeavor that never ends if you want to remain actively engaged in the debates. Here are three of the key takeaways from nearly fifteen years of conversations with policy insiders and influencers during our BtG training programs. Continue reading
Earlier this week, Nikki Haley, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, announced the United States was leaving the UN’s Human Rights Council. Haley pointed to the body’s disproportionate focus on Israel and its inaction on human rights abusers. While some cheered this move due to problems with the council, others worried this would decrease America’s ability to fight human rights abuses. My research suggests both views are accurate. The UN Human Rights Council is flawed, and repressive states can use the body to deflect criticism of their record, particularly on religious repression. At the same time, the fact that they can do this suggests that the Council and its activities matter. America should try to help the council live up to its name, not write it off as a lost cause. Continue reading
This post in the Bridging the Gap series come from Sara Plana and Rachel Tecott, doctoral candidates in the Department of Political Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (Sara is also an alumna of BtG’s New Era Workshop.) They are the founders of the Future Strategy Forum and co-organized the Future of Force conference held in May 2018. Follow them on Twitter @saracplana and @racheltecott.
Last month, the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Kissinger Center at John Hopkins SAIS hosted a conference on the “Future of Force,” inaugurating a new series called the Future Strategy Forum. Like many DC conferences, the line-up featured a mix of preeminent academics, practitioners, and pracademics on discussion panels – but in this case, all of them were women. These experts discussed the implications of rising great and regional powers, non-state actors, and emerging technologies, and the approaches and challenges to crafting an integrated approach to US foreign policy. The final, keynote panel brought together women scholars (including us!) who have worked in both policymaking and academia, to investigate the academic-policy divide.
We left the day with much to think about, but four main themes struck us especially. Continue reading
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
Today’s post is from Bridging the GapCo-Director Jordan Tama, Associate Professor at American University’s School of International Service. He is working on a book tentatively entitled Bipartisanship in a Polarized Age: When Democrats and Republicans Cooperate on U.S. Foreign Policy.
Partisan polarization represents one of the dominant frames through which scholars and journalists see American politics today. Indeed, such polarization has increasedsignificantly in the United States since the 1970s. A number of studies have found that this trendspans domestic and foreignpolicy, though scholars have disagreedabouttheextent to which American divisions over foreign policy are growing. Congressional voting patterns also suggest that bipartisanship is moreprevalent on international than on domestic issues.
Scholars and journalists have given much less attention, though, to variation in types of bipartisanship. Analysts of American politics typicallyconceive of bipartisanship as a situation in which the two parties cooperate with each other or adopt the same position on a policy issue. Analysts of U.S. foreign policy often further associate bipartisanship with both parties in Congress supporting a position of the president – as in the adage, frequently invoked during wartime or when the president travels overseas, that politics stops “atthewater’sedge.” In either conception, bipartisanship is usually seen in binary terms: an issue is either characterized by bipartisanship or it is not. Conversely, writing about partisan polarization typically sees bipartisanship simply as the opposite of polarization.
These binary images overlook important distinctions in the alignments of elected officials across different issues, particularly on foreign policy. Continue reading
On one America First issue after another, the data show limited and declining support. On the general issue of maintaining alliances, 49% support compared to 38% who oppose. On NATO, 69% see it as essential to American security and 53% say it benefits the United States as well as the allies, while only 27% see it as mostly benefiting the allies. 59% agree there should be more burden sharing, but only 38% say the U.S. should make our security commitment contingent on that.
Some of these spreads are even greater than a year ago. The 69% support for NATO is up from 65% in 2016. On the general issue of maintaining alliances, the 47% support among Independents is higher than the 34% in 2016 and 26% in 2015, and the 43% among Republicans is up from 40% (2016) and 37% (2014).
This post comes to us from Rupal N. Mehta, Assistant Professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and an alumna of Bridging the Gap’s New Era Workshop and International Policy Summer Institute (Twitter @Rupal_N_Mehta); and Rachel Elizabeth Whitlark, Assistant Professor in the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at the Georgia Institute of Technology and a Bridging the Gap associate and alumna of the New Era Workshop (Twitter @RachelWhitlark).
In the coming days, President Trump is tasked with recertifying the Iran nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The Obama Administration brokered this landmark agreement between Iran and core members of the international community (the P-5 plus Germany) to limit Iran’s nuclear program. The 2015 Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act mandates the U.S. president with recertifying Iranian compliance with the JPCOA every 90 days.
This week marks the two-year anniversary of implementation day, and it is not at all clear what course of action Trump is going to take. In the past few weeks alone, we’ve heard rumors from in and around the administration about what action is forthcoming, including an eerie warning about “the calm before the storm.” Domestic and international sources have said that Iran is complying with the terms of the nuclear agreement and that the JCPOA should therefore be recertified. Conversely, foreign policy hawks and the President himself have argued for its unilateral rejection for reasons largely outside the scope of the JCPOA.
In what follows, we envision two possible worlds emerging from Trump’s decision point. In the first, Trump recertifies the JCPOA and the U.S. continues to uphold its end of the bargain. In the second, Trump decertifies and Congress re-imposes sanctions on Iran and effectively withdraws U.S. participation, thereby abrogating the deal. It’s worth thinking through the consequences of each of these worlds for international security, even as we will soon know which is most likely to transpire.
An original survey experiment I conducted just after the 2016 election shows Trump might actually benefit from working through the very institution he so frequently ridicules, particularly in galvanizing support for his policies among members of his own Republican Party.
This Bridging the Gap post is by BTG co-director Naazneen H. Barma, who also serves as Associate Professor of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School.
Hun Sen, the longtime leader of Cambodia, has used almost every tool in the authoritarian playbook to consolidate his grip on power over the past three decades. Things came to a head early this month when one of Cambodia’s two premier English-language newspapers, The Cambodia Daily, was forced closed after being blindsided by the government with a $6 billion tax bill that it couldn’t possibly pay. Rendering an extraordinary confluence of dictatorial strategies, the newspaper’s final issue on September 4, 2017, headlined with the news of the midnight arrest of the leader of the country’s only real opposition party.
The Cambodia Daily, although a relatively young newspaper—started in 1993 under the civil society opening facilitated by the United Nations—turns out to have been the training ground for a number of prominent commentators on the political scene in Southeast Asia and beyond. Moving tributes to the paper and its tenacious role in Cambodia’s nascent and now troubled democracy have poured in. Julia Wallace captured beautifully how the newspaper’s aspirations and fate have mirrored those of the country’s politics.
How did this happen in a nation that seemed one of the most promising harbingers of peace and liberal progress in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War? Sadly, the international community’s attempt at post-conflict peacebuilding in Cambodia is at least partly to blame. Continue reading
Take a moment to think back to college – or whenever you decided to pursue the path that has brought you here, reading about world politics and sundry related topics on the Duck of Minerva. What set you on this path? What made you want to devote years of your life to studying politics, perhaps even through formal graduate training? If you’re like us, you looked out and saw a puzzling and imperfect world, and you wanted to develop the tools to understand it more clearly. Perhaps, in the heady confidence of your youth, you even wanted to make it a better place.
As graduate students in political science at UC Berkeley in the early 2000s, we found ourselves hungry for opportunities to tie our studies to policymaking and the “real world.” Both of us had come to Berkeley from Washington, DC, and we wanted to find ways to connect to our old networks, as well as to parlay our research into new policy opportunities. In the first few years of our PhD studies, it wasn’t obvious that this would be possible.
Then two things happened.First, we discovered a group of like-minded students at Berkeley who, under the guidance of Steve Weber, would begin the work that has evolved into the Bridging the Gap project. And second, we found that there were many in the discipline who felt the same way – even if they couldn’t always tell their colleagues or advisors about it. One important marker of this community was the emergence of the Duck of Minerva in 2005, which introduced a new channel for conversation among others like ourselves.
We’re thrilled to join the Duck this fall as editors of a new “Bridging the Gap” channel. (Special thanks to Josh Busby for proposing this idea, and to the other editors for welcoming us aboard.) As Josh mentioned in his introductory post, Bridging the Gap (BTG) is an effort to build stronger connections between scholars and the policy world, both by providing professional development and networking opportunities, and by generating policy-relevant research. Continue reading