Charli Carpenter

charli.carpenter@gmail.com

Charli Carpenter is a Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. She is the author of 'Innocent Women and Children': Gender, Norms and the Protection of Civilians (Ashgate, 2006), Forgetting Children Born of War: Setting the Human Rights Agenda in Bosnia and Beyond (Columbia, 2010), and ‘Lost’ Causes: Agenda-Setting in Global Issue Networks and the Shaping of Human Security (Cornell, 2014). Her main research interests include national security ethics, the protection of civilians, the laws of war, global agenda-setting, gender and political violence, humanitarian affairs, the role of information technology in human security, and the gap between intentions and outcomes among advocates of human security.

We Have Studied the World. President Trump Should Too.

This is an open letter signed by US international affairs scholars to their fellow citizens. If you hold a PhD in international relations or an extant field and wish to add your name to the list, please tweet #StudytheWorld with your name and institutional affiliation or send this information in an email to ir.scholars.openletter@gmail.com.

Dear Fellow Americans,

Recently, President Trump tweeted that people should “Study the world!” to understand his foreign policy. As scholars of international relations, we have studied the world, and we are concerned that the actions of the President undermine rather than enhance America’s national security.

We agree it is important for any President to protect US citizens from extremist violence, ensure America is respected abroad, and prioritize American interests. But our knowledge of global affairs, based on history, scientific fact and experience, tells us that many of the policies Trump has undertaken thus far do not advance these goals. Instead, they have made Americans less safe.

First, the President presented his temporary travel ban on citizens of seven Muslim-majority nations (and all refugees) as a measure to protect the US homeland from terrorist attacks. Yet this move will make our country less safe, not more. First, the vast majority of terrorist attacks on US citizens come from “home-grown” terrorism and are carried out by non-Muslims: the ban does nothing to address this. Second, countering transnational terrorism requires transnational coordination, and this ban impedes our ability to coordinate with our allies abroad. Finally, studies show terrorists are strengthened when governments over-react: indiscriminate intolerance feeds radicalization by driving moderates into the arms of radicals. We are confident the travel ban will likely reinforce anti-American sentiment and strengthen terror networks while weakening US intelligence capacity.

Trump also indicates he wants America to be more respected by the world. But fear is not the same as respect. The President’s “go-it-alone” policy and disregard for international law and diplomatic relationships have confused and frightened those allies upon whose cooperation we rely to bolster our national security. Trump’s contradictory, ambiguous, and vague statements – about the U.S.’s commitment to NATO, arms control treaties, and friendly relations with Mexico, Australia, and other important partners – mean that foreign governments are now more likely to misperceive U.S. intentions. Unable to rely on us, our current friends might start looking for other allies – a situation that rival powers like Russia and China could easily exploit. This weakens our position in the global order.

The President has stated that he wishes to prioritize the home-front and reduce entangling commitments abroad. Yet America already spends only a tiny fraction of a fraction of our budget on foreign aid, and international economic cooperation benefits us far more than it costs. Global engagement has solved many other problems that threaten Americans, like stemming epidemics and closing the cancer-causing hole in the ozone layer. By contrast, periods of great power isolationism have led to global financial upheaval, instability, and war. When Americans ignore global economic, environmental, or social forces, they often entangle us in precisely the way Trump hopes to avoid.

Trump claims America should stay out of reckless wars. Yet several of his actions make war more likely, not less. Since the establishment of United Nations, the world has seen the lowest incidence of major war between states in centuries. On the other hand, research has shown nations that disregard the rights of women, minorities, political dissidents, and journalists are more likely to end up at war with their neighbors. By de-funding global organizations that keep the peace and weakening the domestic rule of law, Americans are far likelier to see catastrophic war at home during our children’s lifetimes.

We agree it is imperative that American citizens and leaders study the world and pay attention to facts, history, and scientific evidence. We have been heartened to see our fellow Americans – even many who voted for Trump – opposing these policies on fact-based grounds. New research shows that nonviolent resistance of this type works: when as few as 3.5% of a domestic population actively resist, it is possible to keep democracies strong and leaders in check. We strongly encourage our fellow citizens to hold our government accountable for creating evidence-based foreign policies that will promote rather than threaten America’s security.

This means pressing our leaders to avoid unnecessary wars and create the conditions for stability by supporting and improving institutions like the United Nations. We should encourage them to protect us by addressing extremist violence by all actors – including white supremacist terrorists, who have carried out a significant percentage of all attacks against Americans in recent decades. We should encourage leaders to study the world as the President enjoins, and consider the advice and knowledge of experts and scientists who understand global history, risk analysis, and national security processes. And, because history has shown it is in our national interest, we should urge the Trump administration to support global engagement where it is likely to reinforce our alliances, strengthen global institutions, and promote world peace.

Signed (in alphabetical order)

Deborah Avant, University of Denver
Gordon Adams, American University
Fiona Adamson, University of London
Rachel Anderson Paul, Western Washington University
Peter Andreas, Brown University
Bentley Allan, John Hopkins University
William Ayres, Wright State University
Michael Barnett, George Washington University
Taylor Benjamin-Britton, Lehigh University
Andrew Bennett, Georgetown University
Nora Bensahel, American University
Michele Betsill, Colorado State University
Phillipp Bleek, Middlebury Institute of International Studies
Mia Bloom, Georgia State University
Matthew Bolton, Pace University
Daniel Braaten, Texas Lutheran University
AC Budabin, University of Dayton
Joshua Busby, University of Texas-Austin
Sarah Bush, Temple University
Daniel Byman, Georgetown University
Ami Carpenter, University of San Diego
Charli Carpenter, University of Massachusetts-Amherst
Austin Carson, University of Chicago
Ralph Carter, Texas Christian University
Chuck Call, American University
Rosella Capella, Boston University
Daniel Chong, Rollins College
Erica Chenoweth, University of Denver
Jeff Colgan, Brown University
Patrick Cottrell, Linfield College
Mark Copelovitch, University of Wisconsin
Jesse Crane-Seeber, North Carolina State University
Timothy Crawford, Boston College
Renee De Nevers, Syracuse University
Thomas Doyle, Texas State University
Brent Durbin, Smith College
Daniel Drezner, Tufts University
Thomas Doyle II, Texas State University
Amy Eckert, Metropolitan State University
Ali Erol, American University
Tanisha Fazal, Notre Dame University
Laura Field, American University
Martha Finnemore, George Washington University
Page Fortna, Columbia University
Rosemary Kelanic, Williams College
Volker Franke, Kennesaw State University
Louis Furmaski, University of Central Oklahoma
Chip Gagnon, Ithaca College
Nick Garcia, Otterbein University
Stacie Goddard, Wellesley College
James Goldgeier, American University
Ryan Grauer, University of Pittsburgh
Ryan Griffiths, University of Sydney
Alan Gross, New York University
Tamar Gutner, American University
Maia Hallward, Kennesaw State University
Ron Krebs, University of Minnesota
Jarrod Hayes, Georgia Institute of Technology
Virginia Haufler, University of Maryland
Denise Horn, Simmons College
Natalie Hudson, University of Dayton
Glenn Hunter, Pennsylvania State University
Patrick Thaddeus Jackson, American University
Robert Jervis, Columbia University
Juliet Johnson, McGill University
Sean Kay, Ohio Wesleyan University
Margaret Keck, Johns Hopkins University
Khavita Khory, Mt. Holyoke College
Sarah Kreps, Cornell University
David Kinsella, Portland State University
Barbara Elias Klenner, Bowdoin College
Sarah Cleveland Knight, American University
Ari Kohen, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
James Lebovic, George Washington University
Ned Lebow, University of Minnesota
Daniel Levine, University of Alabama
Meredith Loken, University of Denver
Tom Long, University of Reading
Andrea Lopez,  International Studies Susquehanna University
Julia MacDonald, University of Denver
Paul MacDonald, Wellesley College
Joseph Mahoney, Seton Hall University
Daniel McIntosh, Slippery Rock University
Marijana Milkoreit, Purdue University
Katherine Millar, London School of Economics
Ronald Mitchell, University of Oregon
Alexander Montgomery, Reed College
Sara Bjerg Moller, Seton Hall University
Layne Mosley, UNC Chapel Hill
Will Moore, Arizona State University
Daniel Nexon, Georgetown University
Julie Norman, American University
Joel Oestreich, Drexel University
Joseph Parent, University of Notre Dame
Susan Peterson, College of William and Mary
MJ Peterson, University of Massachusetts-Amherst
Maggie Peters, University of California-LA
Evan Perkoski, University of Denver
Manuela Picq, Amherst College
Michael Pozansky, University of Pittsburgh
Susan Raines, Kennesaw State University
Andy Reiter, Mt. Holyoke College
Laura Reed, University of Massachusetts-Amherst
Hilde Restad, Bjorkes College
Maria Rost-Rublee, Monash University
Molly Ruhlman, Towson University
Heather Roff, Arizona State University
Joseph Roberts, Roger Williams University
Stephen Saideman, Carleton University
Thania Sanchez, Yale University
Wayne Sandholtz, University of Southern California
Brent Sasley, UT Arlington
Todd Sechser, University of Virginia
Cathy Schneider, American University
Ami Shah, Pacific Lutheran University
Jack Snyder, Columbia University
Jelena Subotic, Georgia State University
Megan Stewart, American University
Jennifer Sterling-Folker, University of Connectict
Sarah Stroup, Middlebury College
Michael Struett, North Carolina State University
Brian Taylor, Syracuse University
Peter Trumbore, Oakland University
Stephen Walt, Harvard University
Barbara Walter, University of California-San Diego
Jason Weidner, Universidad de Monterey
Jon Western, Mt. Holyoke College
Meredith Wilf, University of Pittsburgh
Robert Williams, Pepperdine University
Wendy Wong, University of Toronto
Amanda Wooden, Bucknell University
Brandon Valeriano, Niskanen Center

To sign this letter, tweet this link to @charlicarpenter #StudytheWorld with your name and institutional affiliation or send that information in an email to ir.scholars.openletter@gmail.com.

International Affairs Scholars Talk Back to Trump at #Duckies2017

Trump told us we should study the world.  IR scholars had something to say about that. Earlier I promised to turn some of these quips into a special blog post, which also happens to be my Ignite talk at this year’s Duckies’ Awards in Baltimore. Happy #ISA2017.

Trump Wants People to “Study the World!” IR Scholars Can Jump All over This.

Study the world!” brayed Trump on Twitter last week, in defense of his travel ban. Dan Drezner, who studies the world for a living, shot back:

“I have studied it, and I can tell you with some certainty that your words and actions have harmed US national security.”

On Facebook, I’ve seen friends and colleagues with PhDs in international relations post their own versions of Dan’s tweet:

Andrew Moravcsik: “I have studied the world, and people who say they are going to change history generally repeat it.”
Richard Price: “Those who seek power by dividing ultimately succumb to those who unite to oppose.”
Tanisha Faizal: “I have studied the world, and international norms don’t last forever. Proceed with caution.”
Deborah Avant: “I have studied the world, and extremism toward an external other often turns inward.”
Steve Saideman: “The international order has been good to the US. We shouldn’t break it.”
Peter Andreas: “Building walls and imposing bans is a good way to make enemies, not friends.”
Sarah Parkinson: “I have studied the world and learned that protest matters for visibility and solidarity.”
Joel Oestreich: “When countries want to do bad things, there’s nothing they like more than saying ‘see, the US does it too!’
Patrick Jackson: “Human identities are not facts, they are political strategies.”
Heather Roff: “I have studied the world, and learned that the failure to see people in other countries as fellow humans makes people do terrible things.”
Stephanie Carvin: “In America terrorists are usually homegrown, rarely immigrants and almost never refugees.”
Paul Musgrave: “I have studied the world and learned dramatic departures in US foreign policy have effects that can last for decades.”

As you can see, with these three little words Trump has handed IR scholars both a challenge and a natural rallying cry in the run-up to #ISA2017 and the March for Science on April 22. If IR scholars are good at anything, it’s studying the world, and if a President ever needed our advice from IR scholars, it’s this one who doesn’t seem to know nuclear weapons from climate change.

So today, I propose the following social media challenge to my fellow IR scholars: condense the most useful finding, fact, or causal truth YOU’VE learned by “studying the world” into a pithy remark of no more than 125 characters. Tweet it to @realDonaldTrump with the hashtag #StudytheWorld! Then go on Facebook and post it on your wall with this message:

IR Scholars #StudytheWorld! Facebook Contest: Duck of Minerva is crowd-sourcing pithy IR knowledge to share with Trump today. Leave a simple, policy-relevant causal truth or evidence-based claim about global politics on your wall with the hashtag #StudytheWorld! Tag three friends who are professors of global affairs or comparative politics and ask them to do the same. If you like, add a link to a book or study President Trump should read. The best replies will be featured in a special future post.

 

Congress is Trying to Remove Bannon from the National Security Council. Here’s Why It Matters.

While national security lawyers argue over whether Steve Bannon’s appointment to the National Security Council is legal or not, members of Congress are pushing back to close whatever statutory loophole even might render legal what is clearly a violation of long-standing national security norms.

In one of last week’s most under-reported stories in the major press, bills were introduced into both the House of Representatives and the US Senate this past week, each designed to clarify the composition of the NSC and Principals Committee, ensure Senate oversight over appointments, and, in the case of HR 804, “To Protect the National Security Council from Political Interference.” As of today, the House bill has 85 co-sponsors.

So far co-sponsors are all Democrats, but Congressional opposition to Bannon’s appointment is bi-partisan, with concern about the dangers of politicizing the NSC expressed on both sides of the aisle.  As of today, a MoveOn petition is collecting signatures for the Senate Bill, and the Senate Committee on Homeland Security is taking calls from Americans about Steve Bannon’s role on the NSC. People are taking notice.

Neither of these bills is simply about removing Bannon, however. Each aims to close what some observers perceive as a loophole not just for Trump but for future Presidents. Both would codify the role of the Director of National Intelligence and Joint Chiefs of Staff on the NSC. In this Administration that move, coupled with Bannon’s departure, could moderate the behavior of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, whose hard-line views against Islam and unwillingness to rule out torture or the killing of terrorists’ families have been criticized by human rights groups.

Passing such a bill will be a tall order even with bipartisan support in a Republican-held Congress. Even it if passes Trump would likely veto. Still,  long-shot efforts to pass legislation can become important sites for political agenda-setting. As scholars of legislative agenda-setting have found, even a “dead on arrival” bill that garners sufficient media coverage can educate the public about issues and institutions, and galvanize interest group support for wider issues and future elections.

In short, even fighting for a lost cause can have an important norm-setting effect. It elevates the importance of an issue in the public discourse. In this case, that issue is the principle that national security decisions be subject to expert input and insulated from domestic political maneuvering. And turning up the volume on those messages is useful not only for potentially changing policy but for communicating to third parties, including outside US borders, that Trump is not acting on the will of the people.

Does Bannon’s Appointment to the NSC/PC Require Senate Confirmation? Perhaps A Judge Should Decide.

Retired U.S. Navy Admiral Mike Mullen published an op-ed in today’s New York Times calling for the removal of Steve Bannon from the National Security Council Principals Committee, a position he apparently obtained without Trump being fully briefed.

According to Mullen:

“Having Mr. Bannon as a voting member of the Principals Committee will have a negative influence on what is supposed to be a candid, nonpartisan deliberation. I fear that it will have a chilling effect on deliberations and, potentially diminish the authority and prerogatives to which Senate-confirmed Cabinet officials are entitled. They, unlike Mr. Bannon, are accountable for the advice they give and the policies they execute.”

A point Mullen didn’t raise, and side-steps in this passage, is that Bannon’s presence on the NSC/PC without prior Senate confirmation is not only politically but legally controversial. As Fred Kaplan noted last week, citing an interview with Yale law scholar Eugene Fidell, according to Paragraph A(6) of the 1947 statute creating the NSC, appointment of members to the NSC beyond those stipulated in the statute requires confirmation by the United States Senate. This argument was made by Jonathan Alter in a tweet citing the 1947 statute echoed in a few places last week.

Other legal scholars aren’t sure this interpretation is correct.  Jordan Brunner, a National Security intern at Brookings, argued at Lawfare Blog that because Bannon was made a member of the Principals Committee, but only an invitee to the NSC itself, this circumvented the need for Senate Confirmation. In a back and forth with Kaplan on Twitter, Harvard law professor Jack Goldsmith tweeted: “Principals committee analytically separate from NSC, which is all that statute regulates.” This was also the expressed view of Harvard Law professor Lawrence Tribe last week, who tweeted the law “doesn’t require Senate confirmation to serve on the Principals Committee, which isn’t part of NSC as such.” Based on these arguments, and an interview with Tribe (but not Fidell), Snopes.com weighed in on January 31 to say the claim that Senate confirmation was needed for Bannon is “unproven.” This does not, of course, mean it could not be proven. But such a point of dispute among legal observers could only be settled by a court of law through a suit brought by a plaintiff with standing (in this case most likely someone associated with the US Senate).

As a non-lawyer who follows national security law, I’d like to see a a more nuanced consideration of whether the US Senate might have a case to make that its prerogative to provide advice and consent has been circumvented here. My reading of the 1947 NSC statute and other primary documents suggest to me that the PC’s relationship to the NSC is not as clear and unambiguous as suggested in these exchanges. So to the extent that Senate confirmation indeed hinges on that distinction, there might well be an interpretive basis for a confirmation hearing – or at least for judicial review to settle the matter.  Continue reading

Travel Ban Lifted in Early Victory for Non-Violent-Resistance to Trump

My colleague Erica Chenoweth has a great article in The Guardian today on the power of non-violent resistance:

Many people across the United States are despondent about the new president – and the threat to democracy his rise could represent. But they shouldn’t be. At no time in recorded history have people been more equipped to effectively resist injustice using civil resistance… Historical studies suggest that it takes 3.5% of a population engaged in sustained nonviolent resistance to topple brutal dictatorships. If that can be true in Chile under Gen Pinochet and Serbia under Milosevic, a few million Americans could prevent their elected government from adopting inhumane, unfair, destructive or oppressive policies.

Erica’s point was proven late yesterday when after weeks of non-violent resistance by citizens, academics, journalists, lawyers, civil society organizations, and the diplomatic and national security corps, a federal judge in Seattle  blocked the order, quickly reinstating the free movement of travelers. This is a heartening sign not only for tens of thousands of affected travelers, their families, and their colleagues/friends/co-workers, but also for American institutions, as it suggests that non-violent resistance has a real chance at blunting the damage the Trump administration can do to civil liberties.

Whether it will continue to work, however, depends on whether Americans can keep it up. The White House is already pushing back on this ruling, and, predictably, on the judge himself,  a pattern which can be interpreted as an attack on judiciary as an institution. As Chenoweth notes, 3.5% of the US population actively resisting means at least 11 million US citizens need to continuing to call their representatives, writing op-eds, pumping money into civil liberties organizations, defending science, defending the press, and engaging in informed, deliberative, non-violent dialogue with our fellow citizens.

Chenoweth goes on to provide a smorgasbord of fact-based information on how to do just that:

Today, those seeking knowledge about the theory and practice of civil resistance can find a wealth of information at their fingertips. In virtually any language, one can find training manuals, strategy-building tools, facilitation guides and documentation about successes and mistakes of past nonviolent campaigns.

Material is available in many formats, including graphic novels, e-classes, films and documentaries, scholarly books, novels, websites, research monographs, research inventories, and children’s books. And of course, the world is full of experienced activists with wisdom to share.

Scientists Will March on Washington on April, 22. International Relations Scholars Should Join Them.

As became clear earlier this week in the discussion around how academic associations should respond to Trump’s travel ban in organizing their annual meetings, President Trump’s policy does not only affect national and religious minorities; it does not only affect scientists from Muslim-majority countries. In the case of the travel ban, it is also an existential attack on scientific inquiry – inhibiting scholarly collaboration and exchange on which all scientists rely.  Excluding individuals from freedom to share scientific ideas based on their nationality or faith from is discriminatory and contrary to the US constitution and to human rights law, but it is also an impediment to science itself.

Indeed, a pillar of Trump’s vision appears to be his hostility to science.  Within days of taking office the Administration had issued gag orders and funding freezes for government science agencies and reversed science based policies.  An unrepentant plagiarist who believes evolution should not be taught in schools is close to being confirmed as Education Secretary. The situation is so bad that Dan Drezner  encourages political scientists to assume National Science Foundation grants will be on the chopping block in the next months. And he is probably right.

 

The good news: as with many other issues, the opposition response has been quick and swift, with a March for Science now being organized for Earth Day, April 22:

The March for Science is a celebration of our passion for science and a call to support and safeguard the scientific community. Recent policy changes have caused heightened worry among scientists, and the incredible and immediate outpouring of support has made clear that these concerns are also shared by hundreds of thousands of people around the world. Mischaracterization of science as a partisan issue, which has given policymakers permission to reject overwhelming evidence, is a critical and urgent matter. It is time for people who support scientific research and evidence-based policies to take a public stand and be counted.

Social scientists concerned with international relations have good reason to support, publicize and join this effort. Evidence-based foreign policy has never been more vital, and the authority of scientists and experts never more fragile in the “post-truth” era. Nuclear security and climate change adaptation depend on both physical and social science. Risk analysis is critical to a sensible approach to counter-terrorism and a measured response to media fixation on outlying events. Social scientists have a role to play in slowing or blunting policies based on fear, misinformation, propaganda or logical fallacy.

Of course there is scientific debate about the political significance of marches as a tool for influencing policy change.  Social scientists can and should be and are engaged in many other forms of activism, Weberian and civic at this time: holding the media accountable, writing Monkey-Cage style op-eds, running for office, using our connections and expert authority to visit our Senators in collective delegations, protecting our colleagues, working through our institutions to protect the scientific process and through our social media accounts to correct conspiracy theories, alternative facts and racist logical fallacies circulating in our networks.

Yet a Million-Scientist-March with an army of fact-loving citizens at our backs should be thought of as more than one among many efforts to communicate to the government. Mass marches are a signaling tactic for audiences within and beyond our borders, and a way to influence the national political narrative. Large crowds in the streets on April 22 will affirm to the world that particularly around pressing global issues not all Americans are willing to deal in “post-truth.” And the march will be a focusing event in a discursive effort to inoculate American citizenry against the idea that there exist “alternative facts.”

Earth Day is a moment to think in global terms about our planetary security. I hope scholars of international security will be front and center.

 

ISA Takes Strong Stand for Academic Freedom

In a letter released today, the International Studies Association has taken a strong stand against Trump’s Executive Order closing US borders to nationals of several Muslim-majority states:

As a scholarly organization, ISA has a professional obligation to promote and protect the values of academic freedom. As such, the ISA strongly condemns any action by any government which prevents the free movement of scholars engaged in research on international affairs, or any other scholarly discipline. Indeed, the charter of the Academic Freedom Committee of the ISA includes the following language: “The Committee will document such violations as: government revocation of academic degrees; demotion or dismissal; denial of a petition to emigrate, travel abroad or return to one’s country of origin; and arrest, arbitrary detention, disappearance, and extrajudicial killing.”

This order, which has already been challenged in Federal Courts, is an infringement upon the academic freedom of scholars from those countries who wish to travel to the United States to conduct research, collaborate with colleagues, and engage in conferences and conventions. It will cause serious disruption in the lives of scholars and students who, prior to the issuing of the order, had already undergone the complex and time-consuming process for obtaining the necessary papers for travel. It may also violate the constitutional rights of scholars and students who are in lawful permanent resident status. Finally, it constitutes a serious disruption of the business of our upcoming 2017 Annual Convention, in Baltimore.

According to the ISA, this stronger statement was percolating through the ISA governing process even before ISA members began reacting in support of such a statement.  Former ISA President Robert Keohane collected 150 signatures on a letter to the Association yesterday speaking out firmly in the name of academic freedom.  A separate open letter was circulated on the #ISA2017 twitter feed.

In addition to strongly condemning the EO, the ISA leadership encourages attendance at two impromptu roundtables at the Baltimore conference where academic freedom issues will be discussed further. ISA members as well as the concerned public may attend these roundtables, Wednesday, February 22, at 10:30am and Saturday, February 25, at 1:45pm.

Meanwhile, there is much debate on Twitter among IR scholars about what else the Association might appropriately do to support colleagues trapped outside US borders in the run-up to the Baltimore conference. Many have emphasized the importance of working with the hotel to ensure all meeting rooms, including those for business meetings, contain audio-visual equipment for Skyping in scholars from overseas. Another suggestion I’ve heard is that, besides reimbursing / waiving any penalties for those unable to travel to ISA2017, ISA might consider extending the same courtesy to those who choose to boycott the conference. As Mara Pillinger tweets, “Boycotters shouldn’t pay a professional price for acting on principles.”

I am sure many of you have additional ideas and hope you’ll share them here in comments, on the #ISA2017 twitter feed or by contacting the ISA Academic Freedom Committee at academic- freedom@isanet.org. ISA also particularly requests scholars affected by this EO contact the committee at this email address.

Generally, I am heartened by these developments – not only the strong and swift response from the leadership today, but also the outpouring of enthusiastic support yesterday from so many ISA members, on behalf of our colleagues in other nations. This is human rights and democracy at work. Personally, I am planning to attend the Convention at this point, and encourage those who can to come and join a conversation about the role of responsible scholarship and scholarly associations in the new political environment.

 

How Should the International Studies Association Protect Its International Members?

I have been waiting the for the past few days to see how the International Studies Association would respond to news of Trump’s Executive order banning entry into the US has for many travelers, including those from a number of Muslim countries – since this ban obviously affects numerous of our colleagues who are, like many of us, slated to travel to the International Studies Association Conference in Baltimore, Maryland, USA. Would the ISA issue a condemnation of this policy? I wondered. Would they offer support and reassurance to colleagues trapped outside US borders? Would they announce arrangements to Skype in scholars unable to appear in person? Would they consider relocating the conference to Canada or elsewhere abroad, if not this year then in future years?

So here is how the ISA leadership did respond, as of late yesterday. Astonishingly, the ISA  promises to do none of those obvious things. Instead, ISA simply promises not to penalize any international travelers affected by the ban, urges members not to boycott the conference, and informs us the ISA cannot take stands on political issues. As my co-blogger Steve bin Said points out this tepid response is not nearly adequate to the situation at hand and it is in fact an insult both to our comrades from targeted Muslim-majority countries or on green-cards, as well as to all of us who are taking political risks to speak out and resist these draconian and dangerous policies.

Below are four reasons why the International Studies Association should immediately issue a condemnation of President Trump’s Executive Order, fall on its sword to accommodate foreign scholars by any means possible, and pledge to move future conferences outside the United States so long as this ban is in effect (please add your own suggestions in comments). Continue reading

The Russian Threat and the Poverty of “Post-Truth”

The following is a guest post by Sidra Hamidi, a PhD Candidate in Political Science at Northwestern University, specializing in global nuclear politics and state identity. She has published previously in the Washington Post  and E-International Relations

In the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election to the highest office in the United States, many observers have heralded the beginning of an era of “post-truth” in which “facts” are under attack from “opinions” at best and “lies” at worst. Oxford Dictionary named “post-truth” its word of the year, and Ruth Marcus even referred to “post-truth” as a “practice,” citing Hannah Arendt’s 1967 essay, “Truth and Politics” to demonstrate the immediacy of the threat to facts.

The recent controversy over intelligence that Russia hacked the US election brings this notion of “post-truth” into further relief: the CIA, FBI, and NSA agree on the fact that Russia attempted to influence the US election while Trump continues to attack their authority and intelligence. Liberal commentators in particular imply that some facts are self-evident and that Trump and his supporters are simply wrong about how facts should inform the “truth,” often citing the Politifact statistic that more than 70 percent of Trump’s statements were “mostly false,” “false,” or “pants on fire.” Trump’s approach towards the Russia controversy is yet another instance that confirms liberal predictions of a post-truth era.

The battle lines seem to be drawn into “truth” and “post-truth” camps. But the very term “post-truth” should lead us to question what the pre-“post-truth” era looked like: was it one in which objective facts ruled the day and politics consisted of a reasoned consensus towards the truth? It is unrealistic to refer to a post-truth era precisely because it assumes that we can point to another era where objective facts won out in our politics. This assumption itself undermines the many truths of the disempowered and underprivileged factions of American society for whom truth has always been manipulable by economic and political elites. Continue reading

A (Un)Dead Letter?: Zombies, Feminist Theory and the IR Classroom

It’s always exciting to see articles on pop culture gracing the pages of mainstream political science journals. And it’s always good to see international relations scholars being encouraged to engage more deeply with questions of gender in the course of their teaching. This issue of PS: Political Science and Politics gives us both: an article by Rebecca Susan Evans, taking Daniel Drezner to task for excluding feminist theories of international politics from his 2011 Theory of International Politics and Zombies:

[Drezner’s] light-hearted use of popular culture appeals to students, who appreciate his concise and witty summaries. Yet Drezner dismisses feminist perspectives on international relations theory in a way that indicates he does not understand them. Consequently, students are trained without any knowledge of feminism and with the impression that they do not need feminism.

If we were living in 2011, I’d be the first to say it’s a fair argument.

There’s just one massive problem however: Drezner already fixed this mistake a full two years ago in TIPZ: Revived Edition (2014) which already does everything Evans is criticizing him for not doing. 

Indeed, both the revised product and the process of scholarly engagement behind it actually demonstrate best feminist-friendly practice by a conventional mainstream scholar, not the reverse!  Continue reading

Drones, Mansour and Policy Problems

This is a guest post by Tobias T. Gibson,  Associate Professor of Political Science and Security Studies at Westminster College, in Fulton, MO.

Late last month, a U.S. military “drone” killed Mullah Mansour, the leader of the Taliban. Because the drone was operated by the Department of Defense, the Obama administration was quick to claim the death of such an internationally contentious figure. Publicly, the administration commented that Mansour offered a “continuing, imminent threat” to United States soldiers in the region, and specifically targeted U.S. and allied soldiers. Killing Mansour, then, was about as non-controversial targeted killing as one can expect.

And yet, there is controversy. To see why, it might help to note that to date, the Obama Administration has yet to fully disclose the legal reasoning behind the decision to place an individual on the so-called “kill list,” nor fully explained the process by which a specific individual is targeted in a drone strike. Moreover, the legal justifications the US has given for the broader drone program have been rejected by many international experts. That said, it is not clear whether this strike met even the Obama Administration’s own stated standards.  Continue reading

Five “Don’ts” for Introducing a Female Speaker (And Why This Matters)

speaker2
This is a guest post by Janina Dill, Assistant Professor at the Department of International Relations at the London School of Economics and a Research Fellow at the Center for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict at the University of Oxford. Her research focuses on international law and ethics in international relations, specifically in war. She is the author of “Legitimate Targets? Social Construction, International Law and US Bombing.”

 
“She may be a small person, but she has big ideas,” states the panel chair by way of introducing one of the most impressive senior scholars in security studies. At a recent conference a more junior panelist’s contribution is prefaced with the chair’s observation: “It is hard to believe that such a fragile woman should be an expert in this topic!”

It is barely worth mentioning that achieving gender (or any sort of) equality in academia is anything but straightforward. The notion that every committee needs to have a woman increases the administrative burden on female faculty. The worthy quest that panels should not be all male risks casting suspicion over the scholarly contribution of the female speaker that did make it onto the stage. Of course, we should not therefore give up on promoting equality, but one may be forgiven for lending qualified support to measures that may or may not have perverse consequences.

By contrast, avoiding gender discrimination when introducing speakers/lecturers/panelists should be as easy as a wink.  Why then is the unequal treatment of women in just that situation about as likely as a flood of anxious student emails the week before an exam? Panel chairs often fail to paint the picture of a competent professional, instead lingering much longer than in the case of male speakers on the women’s physical attributes, age, country of upbringing, family situation etc. Even well-meaning, jovial endorsements of a women’s non-professional attributes – “how nice to see x, y, z in a discussion of such a serious topic” – can be distracting at best. At worst, such comments outright undermine the speaker.

speaker1So here are five don’ts when introducing a female speaker:

  1. Don’t mention her looks. That includes her stature. It doesn’t matter whether it is a compliment or not. Just don’t do it! Really, please don’t!
  2. Don’t mention her age or gender. It is quite possibly obvious and definitely irrelevant.
  3. Don’t mention other pieces of information that would be useless in determining whether listening to her will be more or less intellectually rewarding than scanning twitter for the latest celebrity feud. Those irrelevant pieces of information include, but are not limited to: where she grew up and how much you like that country, what profession her father had and how that may have sparked her interest in the topic, or that you think her alma mater has a great sports team. It distracts from her professional standing and you will almost certainly mention those things at the expense of passing on more relevant information to the audience, the kind that you will likely convey about the male speakers on the panel.
  4. Don’t use double standards. If you call every other speaker by their academic title it is probably a bad idea to leave out hers. If you call every other speaker by their first and last name (or just last name), you can safely assume that reducing her to her first name will sound odd.
  5. Don’t call her “Miss.” If she does not have an academic title the go-to alternative is obviously “Ms”. For “pertinence of information given the context” her marital status is in a category with her shoe size and her favorite Muppet.

So why is this important? Continue reading

Drones Kill More Civilians than Manned Aircraft Do. That’s Because of How We Use Them.


At Foreign Policy, CFR’s Micah Zenko has examined the best civilian casualty data available for both manned airstrikes and drone strikes between 2009-2015 and concluded, pretty damningly, that “Drones Kill More Civilians Than Pilots Do.”

According to the best publicly available evidence, drone strikes in non-battlefield settings — Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia — result in 35 times more civilian fatalities than airstrikes by manned weapons systems in conventional battlefields, such as Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan. There are sound arguments that can be made in favor of U.S. drone strikes, but their supposed precision should not be one of them.

As Zenko notes, this is an important corrective to the Obama Administration’s frequent claim that “drones are precise weapons.” But the article begs the question of how to explain this finding. And Zenko (or more likely the FP editors) make a few important mistakes here that, if attended, to, might lead to some potential answers to that “why” question. Continue reading

Bernie Sanders’ Foreign Policy is Neither Realist, Pacifist, nor Liberal. He’s a Foreign Policy Progressive.


I have a new article up this morning at Washington Post’s Monkey Cage,  responding to those who have previously tried to classify Bernie Sanders as a “pacifist” (Krauthammer who calls his view “part swords-into-plowshares utopianism, part get-thee-gone isolationism”) or alternatively as a “realist” (Katrina vanden Heuvel , likening Sanders’ to Obama vis a vis Clinton’s more hawkish liberal internationalism).  Many have argued he actually doesn’t have a foreign policy position.

I argue Sanders’ vision has been hard to understand and articulate because it defies conventional labels. And it’s hard to categorize because it combines elements of several foreign policy perspectives: a realist aversion to unnecessary wars, a liberal concern with human rights and diplomacy, and a constructivist emphasis on the pragmatic value of international morality and soft power, and a critical theorist’s rejection of arbitrary distinctions such as the domestic v. the international.

Yet far from being a purely academic exercise, this is a distinctive policy perspective best understood as “progressive”:

Sanders did not invent this vision. He is channeling an alternative viewpoint on foreign affairs articulated by many on the progressive left for decades and outlined in Foreign Affairs magazine last summer by members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. In the article, U.S. Democratic Sens. Chris Murphy (Conn.), Brian Schatz (Hawaii) and Martin Heinrich (N.M.) lay out concrete and specific policy proposals. These include increased funding for foreign aid; efforts to protect human rights and gender equality at home and abroad; renewed support for multilateral institutions; restrictions on the executive branch’s expanded power to wage war; and a strengthened socioeconomic base at home to more effectively project U.S. power.

I argue that by triangulating these positions, we can infer three distinct thematic pillars of “progressive foreign policy” thought that are particularly reflected in the Sanders campaign: evidence-based threat assessment, the dependence of American national security on human security for those beyond our borders (achieved by addressing root causes through non-kinetic means); and the impact of dynamics – militarism, corruption, environmental issues, economic inequality – that cut across borders and bridge the domestic with the global.  Read the whole thing here.

The math obviously favors Clinton for the  nomination, especially after her big win in yesterday’s primary. But if Sanders has done nothing else, its greatest legacy may ultimately be  the reshaping of Washington foreign policy discourse, and the opening of space  across the political spectrum to rethink the foundations of American and global security.

 

“Bernie Sanders Doesn’t Know ‘Enough’ About Foreign Policy”? Who Does, Really?

bernieOn April Fool’s Day, Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders did an interview with the New York Daily News, perceived by many to have been a botched performance.  Yesterday, the New York Daily News followed up with a piece entitled “Bernie Sanders Doesn’t Know Enough About Foreign Policy, Pros Say.”  (The ‘pros’ cited  were not some representative sample of beltway illuminatis but rather various Clinton foreign policy advisers who will reportedly be circulating a letter saying as much in the next days.) As an IR educator I’m delighted that foreign affairs is looming large in a national primary – for once! But this also raises fascinating questions about how we evaluate Presidential candidates.

The need to do more homework on foreign affairs is a fair critique of Sanders, even if you’re not a Clinton endorser. But then again, it’s a fair critique of anybody seeking national office. None of us “knows enough” about foreign policy, not even the experts. Heck, I’m a Full Professor of International Relations and still consider myself only a true expert in a few areas, where I constantly work, like any specialist, to stay caught up with a rapidly changing world. If I were running for Commander-in-Chief I would surround myself, as all the candidates including Sanders have, with formal and informal advisers,* with different expertise, on different intersecting issues, to help weigh multiple foreign policy options and formulate agendas.

So on balance, I think it’s amusing that Sanders is taking such heat from foreign policy “pros” on his lack of early policy detail, for two reasons. First, the New York Daily News itself got a lot of details wrong, both in the way it reported on Sanders’ critics and the way it asked questions in the original interview. Second, Sanders’ answers – even on Gaza – were more appropriate and discerning than has been widely acknowledged, precisely because they hinge not on details but on the clarity of his wider principles and vision.

And that’s not a surprise: at an early stage of a Presidential campaign few candidates have sorted out all the details of their future policies. As James Joyner points out, it is unreasonable to expect a commitment to too much nuance too early on from Presidential candidates, due to the nature of the US electoral process and political system. President Bartlett may have played well on TV, but a US President in real-life does not need to be a walking encyclopedia of facts. In fact, voters don’t much like a know-it-all.

What matters more – and what should matter for any candidate in my mind – is a consistent and appropriate overall vision, and (crucially) a willingness to seek out and listen to her/his advisers about how to execute.  Sanders consistently demonstrated both these qualities in his NYDN interview.  Overall, this moment tells us more about his foreign policy chops than critics admit: that Sanders thinks before he decides, is not afraid to ask for information he doesn’t have, and sees foreign policy through a consistent lens of his core principles: restraint, diplomacy and shared humanity. Continue reading

Speed Kills: Why we Need to Hit the Brakes on “Killer Robots”

 

This is a guest post by Juergen Altmann and Frank Sauer. Juergen Altmann is a Researcher and Lecturer at Technische Universität Dortmund, a specialist in military technology and preventive arms control and among the first scholars to study the military uses of nanotechnologyFrank Sauer is a Senior Research Fellow and Lecturer, Bundeswehr University Munich, a specialist in international security, and is the author of Atomic Anxiety: Deterrence, Taboo and the Non-Use of U.S. Nuclear Weapons.

Autonomous weapon systems: rarely has an issue gained the attention of the international arms control community as quickly as these so-called killer robots. “Once activated, they can select and engage targets without further intervention by a human operator“, according to the Pentagon. They are, judging from the skepticism prevalent in epistemic communities and public opinion alike, a controversial development.

Come next Monday, the United Nations in Geneva will begin its third informal experts meeting on this emerging arms technology. For the third year in a row, various technical, legal and ethical questions surrounding autonomous weapons will be discussed at the UN’s Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW): Where does autonomy begin, where does meaningful human control end? Can these systems function in compliance with international humanitarian law? Who is accountable if things go awry? Can “outsourcing” kill-decisions to machines be morally acceptable in the first place?

Depending on how CCW States Parties answer these questions, the still nascent social taboo that forbids the use of machines autonomously making kill-decisions might spawn a human security regime and be codified in a CCW protocol. In short, a ban might be in the cards for killer robots.

And in fact, there is an additional set of compelling reasons for preventive arms control that received comparably less attention so far (with notable exceptions, of course): the impact of killer robots on peace and stability.

Stability: not a Cold War relic

Stability became a key notion in Cold War international thought for two reasons. First, the arms race. Arms competition instability exists if the classic dynamic of one side deploying systems which lead adversaries to respond in kind and vice versa goes unchecked, with horizontal and vertical proliferation in tow. Crises were the second reason. Crisis instability exists if there are significant incentives to initiate an attack quickly. These can also arise when (conventional) war is already underway; hastening the escalation to higher levels of conflict, potentially even across the nuclear threshold due to a “use them or lose them”-situation.

The vicious cycle of an uncurbed arms race as well as the dangers of overboiling crises and deterrence failure – backed up by the accidental nuclear war scares caused by early-warning slipups and human error – provided cautionary tales and fueled the strive for stability via arms control during the Cold War, not only in the nuclear but also in the conventional realm with the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty. IR and arms control literature documents these lessons. They carry over to the dawning age of autonomous weapons.

Proliferation and arms race instability

Strictly speaking, autonomous weapons do not exist yet. They are not to be confused with automatic defense systems capable of “firing without a human in the loop”. These are stationary or fixed on ships or trailers and mostly fire at inanimate targets such as incoming munitions. More importantly, they just repeatedly perform pre-programmed actions and operate in a comparably structured and controlled environment.

Autonomous weapon systems, in contrast, would have their own means of propulsion and be able to operate without human control or supervision in dynamic, unstructured, open environments over an extended period of time, potentially learning and adapting their behavior on the go. The military advantages – compared to today’s remotely piloted systems – are obvious. Think future autonomous combat drone sent off to seek, identify, track and attack targets on its own, and you’re spot on. They are called killer robots for a reason.

The drone sector gives an indication of what to expect. Between 2001 and 2015, the number of countries with armed drones has increased from two to ten (add Hamas and Hezbollah to that), and at least 11 countries are currently developing them.

Meanwhile, everything points toward weapon autonomy as the next logical step. The US, with its newly stated third offset strategy explicitly embraces autonomy to achieve military-technological superiority and is consequently leading the way in the air, on the ground, on the sea and below it. And while the US is the only country to have introduced a doctrine for the deployment and use of autonomous weapon systems, claiming restraint, Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work just recently stated that the delegation of lethal authority will inexorably happen.

Absent an international ban, one would expect others to follow that lead. After all, who would allow a “killer robot gap”? Especially considering that implementing autonomy in already existing systems in a vibrant ecosystem of unmanned vehicles in various shapes and sizes is not the equivalent of starting a nuclear program from scratch – it’s a technical challenge, yes, but doable, particularly with significant portions of the hard- and software being dual-use. And we are not even considering technology export yet. In short, an unchecked robotics arms race is in the making – with weapons potentially proliferating to everyone, including oppressive regimes and non-state actors.

Crisis escalation and instability

Autonomous weapons are commonly projected as systems of systems operating in swarms. With that in mind, imagine a severe crisis, the swarms of adversaries operating in close proximity of each other. A coordinated attack of one could wipe out the other within missile flight time – that is seconds. The control software would have to react fast in order to use its weapons before they are lost. Sun glint in visual data misinterpreted as a rocket flame, sudden, unforeseen moves of the enemy swarm, a simple software bug could trigger an erroneous “counter”-attack. And while this could happen on a small scale at first, the sequence of events developing from two autonomous systems of systems interacting at rapid speed could never be trained nor tested nor, really, foreseen. The stock market provides cautionary tales of such unforeseeable algorithm interactions. Introducing algorithms in conflict bears an enormous risk of uncontrolled escalation from crisis to war.

In addition, swarms of autonomous weapons would generate new possibilities for disarming surprise attacks. Small, stealthy or extremely low-flying systems are difficult to detect, the absence of a remote-control radio link makes detection even harder. Russia already was not very amused when the idea of using stealthy drones for missile defense was floated in the US. It’s easy to see why. When nuclear weapons or strategic command-and-control systems are, or are perceived to be, put at risk by undetectable swarms that are hard to defend against, autonomous conventional capabilities end up causing instability at the strategic level.

Hitting the brakes

The case of autonomous weapon systems is not one of “we need them because they have them”. After all, no one has them – yet. We would be well-advised to keep it this way. Preventive arms control is prudent. Not only would it curb the looming arms race, a ban would prevent the excessive acceleration of battle that threatens to escape human understanding and the possibility of staying in control during crises. Sometimes humans make mistakes, and humans are slower than machines. But when things threaten to get out of hand, slow is good. That is why we need to hit the brakes now.

 

 

Friday Nerd Blogging: Does Cosplay at Conference Panels Render Pop-Culture Research Less Serious?

Star Wars
An argument broke out about this question after the “Star Wars and International Security” panel at ISA this month. A few people on Twitter and PSRM (or so rumors have it) say dressing up renders pop culture research more marginal than it already is. I suppose a TRIP survey could more conclusively answer the question about trends in the discipline.

Personally, I’d love to see that survey, since my new article in Perspectives is all about science fiction and global politics, so I have skin in the game of “taking pop culture research seriously.” In fact, perhaps we can conduct a natural experiment on this question by simply tracking citations / responses to this piece, which is the exact same piece I presented on the Star Wars panel while dressed as Princess Leia, and comparing them to my other work. If doubters are right, this will be one of my most marginalized papers ever and in fact will adversely affect my standing in the discipline (and perhaps the standing of pop culture research generally).

Ha! I doubt that will happen. I have no TRIP surveys under my belt, but my anecdotal experience says the opposite is true: dressing up to present pop culture research has no negative effect on people’s impression of pop culture research or researchers in IR. Rather, the ability to do so is an indicator of the reverse: pop culture scholarship has hit the IR mainstream.

Here’s what I’ve observed over the past several years of doing this: Continue reading

On The Terror and Feeding of Trolls: Or, Why I Aim to be an Equal-Opportunity Non-Reporter of DAESH-Inspired Terrorist Incidents

solidarityI was among those last week, after hearing about the events in Brussels, who tweeted or Facebooked in solidarity with Belgium… but also in solidarity with civilians killed in Ankara, Baghdad, Yemen, later that week Cote d’Ivoire and (as of yesterday) in Lahore, Pakistan. I took some flak for this on Twitter and in my personal email. Why can’t we just focus on Belgium on a week like this? some people ask? Don’t you care about this country and its allies? they say. I do, of course, but I also care about accuracy in my contributions to the media discourse, and about not helping the terrorists.

The problem with an over-focus on European victims of DAESH-inspired terrorism is that DAESH then looms larger as a threat to the West than it actually is to anyone. The attacks in Belgium weren’t Muslims against the West: they were DAESH against the world – as evidenced by the fact that DAESH targets more Muslims, and more people in Muslim majority countries, than Westerners. Victims of indiscriminate violence everywhere deserve our sympathy, solidarity and support – whether killed by suicide vests or aerial bombs.

But, does this mean we should be tweeting / posting about DAESH-sponsored attacks in Pakistan, Ankara, Baghdad, Grand Bassam, as often as we in the West post about Belgium? At first I think I was buying that, but after more thought actually I would say the opposite: we should tweet about Belgium, or attacks here in the West, about as often as we post/tweet about specific terror attacks in Pakistan, Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Cote d’Ivoire: That is, sparingly.

And the reason we should do this is so as not to feed the trolls. That is, the terrorists.

Terrorism is all about media attention. To work, terrorism must generate fear beyond its targets, and fear is amplified when it goes viral. And that viral media attention (including social media attention) makes terrorism look a lot more prevalent than it really is – as Nicholas Kristof reminds us – in the scheme of things. When we fill our feeds with a constant barrage of terror attack news – which will only be exponentially greater if we seek to be more inclusive – we highlight terrorist activity to the exclusion of far more important trends happening in the world.

That’s not a popular view. “Easy for you to say,” some people will write me, “Your town wasn’t just attacked.” So let me be clear: I have as much skin in the “protection from terrorists” game as anybody – because the aim of terrorists is not just to kill people but to terrorise those watching.

And I am terrified. I am mother to an elite soccer player who travels internationally. I just put him on a plane this weekend to a soccer tournament abroad, and he’ll be traveling again – to Europe – with his team in just a few weeks; then again, this summer; and constantly, really for the rest of his childhood. I think about my child all the time right now when I read stories of terror abroad. That the attacks in Belgium targeted airports did nothing to make me, as a mother, feel safe packing my child off unaccompanied on an international flight no matter where he’s headed.

But it was the news out of Baghdad this week that hit me the hardest: a suicide bomb killed 60 and wounded over 100 at the end of a soccer match, in a stadium, as trophies were being handed out. I can picture myself there. I can picture my son, receiving his trophy one minute and obliterated or worse the next. My heart aches for those families as surely as they ache for those who lost loved ones in Brussels. I cringe at the pointlessness of it all.

Am I afraid? Absolutely. I’m also angry. But instead of acting on those feelings, I choose to remind myself that they are both natural and overblown, and that giving in to them means DAESH wins.

What helps me do that is to keep my mind on the odds:

  • According to the US State Department, my son’s greatest risk of death when traveling abroad isn’t from terrorists, it’s by far from car accidents.
  • According to the Global Terrorist Database, my son’s greatest risk of death from terrorists in Europe, even in the age of DAESH, is down significantly from what it was in 1988.
  • According to the Economist (crunching Interpol numbers), my son’s greatest risk of death from terrorists in Europe doesn’t come from DAESH or any other so-called “jihadist” terrorist group, rather it comes from secular separatist terrorism.
  • BUT, according to Snopes.com, fact-checker of Internet memes, my son is still far likelier to be shot by a toddler here in the US – or crushed by furniture – than he is to be killed by a terrorist here, traveling in Europe to a soccer game, or anywhere else in the world. And that is what I remind my son when he watches the news. Terrorism is scary, but unlikely in any given place and time.

You know what probably does increase the risk of  DAESH-sponsored terrorism? Strengthening DAESH by over-reporting DAESH-inspired incidents, thus fanning the flames of terror. Continue reading

How (Not) to Measure the “Public Conscience”

A couple of years ago, Human Rights Watch launched a report arguing for a treaty ban on fully autonomous weapons, claiming military robots who target and kill human beings would violate international law. Among other arguments, the report Losing Humanity cited the Marten’s Clause of the Hague Convention, which encourages states to consider the “dictates of the public conscience” in determining whether as-yet-ungoverned activities were morally permissible among civilized nations.

Intrigued by this advocacy claim, I conducted a survey in 2013 to test whether public revulsion at the idea of “killer robots” was as widespread as Human Rights Watch claimed. I found that indeed a majority of Americans – include a majority of military personnel – oppose the idea of such weapons. And those who were “not sure” how they felt also leaned in favor of a precautionary principle.

In Research and Politics this month, Michael Horowitz presents new survey data purporting to prove that public opinion is not quite so “against” the idea of fully autonomous weapons as it first appeared. In his paper, “Public Opinion and the Killer Robot Debate,” he replicates a version of my earlier question but also adds a couple of experimental conditions, prompting users to assume that US troops will be protected from attack, and to assume that autonomous weapons would more effective than other alternatives in such a scenario. After priming the respondents in this way, Horowitz reports that in fact, “rather than being widespread, public opposition to autonomous weapons is contextual, as with nuclear weapons”: that is, respondents who were “primed” were somewhat less averse to killer robots. From this rather unsurprising finding, he then infers that the “public conscience” is less opposed to autonomous weapons than believed and therefore the Martens clause argument may not apply: “It is too early,” Horowitz pronounces, “to argue that AWS violate the public conscience provision of the Martens clause because of public opposition.”

I’m delighted to see folks taking replication seriously, and building on my earlier and very preliminary study.  But in my view Horowitz’ finding does not support his wider claim, for three reasons.  Continue reading

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