Daniel Nexon


The Duck Civil War over Russia…

…has escalated. First, Jeff took his argument to Foreign Affairs.  Now I’ve retaliated—and brought in Alex Cooley in an attempt at establishing escalation dominance.

These interpretations dangerously misread contemporary geopolitics, however. Putin’s appearance of strength is, in reality, a function of Russia’s relatively weak international position. Russia lacks a global network of allies and partners and denounces the United States’ leadership. But Moscow cannot decisively influence the rules, institutions, and norms of the international order. By contrast, what many diagnose as U.S. weakness is a symptom of its exorbitant geostrategic privilege. Prudent foreign policy requires Washington to manage its extensive and heterogeneous security commitments and global relationships carefully. This makes Putin’s style of boldness not only less difficult to pursue but also often reckless—sacrificing longer-term position for short-term gain.

Go check it out (paywalled).


The First Democratic Debate: Clinton and Foreign Policy

My overall view of the first democratic debate of the 2016 nomination contest probably tracks with the consensus. I should disclose that I’ve contributed to the Sanders campaign and support it, even though my views on some issues are more conservative.

In brief, Clinton showed herself a capable and exceedingly well-prepared politician. I jokingly commented on social media that this encapsulates her biggest advantage and her biggest liability. But, to be honest, it really is much more of an asset than anything else. She’s extremely smart, experienced,  and skilled at politics. She is also surrounded by people with strong messaging skills—at least when it comes to focused activities, such as debates.

Sanders came across as he does in all other campaign settings: passionate, focused on the issues, and unwilling to go after his rivals in a deeply personal way. It reinforced suspicions among some that the rationale for his candidacy resides in a desire to push the eventual nominee—that is, Clinton—to the left on economic issues. That may have been his original intent, but he remains the only serious alternative to Clinton; my guess is that he takes the support that he’s generated very seriously.

Sanders’ performance, and the reaction it generated, likely come from his “unorthodox” debate preparation:

Sanders’ team sees the first Democratic debate as a chance to introduce a fairly niche candidate to a national audience. So his team intends to let him do what he’s been doing. Far from preparing lines to deploy against Clinton — let alone O’Malley, Lincoln Chafee or Jim Webb — Sanders plans to dish policy details, learned through a handful of briefings with experts brought in by his campaign.

At some point, the Sanders campaign is going to need to make a choice about whether to pivot to a more orthodox approach. Given that one of Sanders’ major asset is his genuine, rather than affected, authenticity, this presents something of a challenge.

I respect Webb a great deal, but I don’t think that tacking to the right on issues like Iran is either good politics or good policy. He’s out of step with the Democratic electorate, and he has no chance at winning the nomination. Chafee’s performance was poor, and does nothing to dispel the key question of his campaign: “why are you even running?”

O’Malley, on the other hand, was comparatively impressive. His attempts to outflank Clinton on the left—particularly on foreign policy—weren’t perfectly implemented, but they point in the direction of how to press these points. For example:

I believe that, as president, I would not be so quick to pull for a military tool. I believe that a no-fly zone in Syria, at this time, actually, Secretary, would be a mistake.

You have to enforce no-fly zones, and I believe, especially with the Russian air force in the air, it could lead to an escalation because of an accident that we would deeply regret.

I support President Obama. I think we have to play a long game, and I think, ultimately — you want to talk about blunders? I think [Putin’s] invasion of Syria will be seen as a blunder.

And this, unsurprisingly, is what I want to talk about. Two of Clinton’s answers on foreign policy troubled me. But for different reasons. Continue reading

Is Russia a Paper Tiger?

Jeff Stacey has a new piece at Foreign Affairs that is basically a re-skinned version of his post at the Duck of Minerva. It should come as little surprise that I don’t find either piece particularly persuasive.

Overall, I agree with Jeff’s basic assessment of Russian moves as destabilizing. In Syria, where Moscow seeks to save the Assad regime, Russian intervention in a country that the US and its allies are already mounting military operations carries with it significant risks. Also, as Jeff writes:

Indeed, Russia has been playing a dangerous cat-and-mouse game with allied planes and ships across Eurasia for many months now. Among other things, it has been both flying in the flight paths of Western commercial and military aircraft and using ships and submarines to intermittently sail into Western countries’ territorial waters. In addition, Russia has staged a series of large-scale military exercises just across the border of Poland and several Baltic states, and its intelligence service actually seized an Estonian agent during last year’s NATO Summit and held him for several days.

I see this ‘muscle flexing’ as a mixture of ham-handed coercive diplomacy and reversion to Cold War great-power repertoires. It would obviously be better for everyone if Moscow stopped, insofar as they increase the risk of military and diplomatic incidents. But, as I noted a few days ago, these efforts have generally backfiredContinue reading

Russia, Russia Burning Bright? (Spoiler: Not So Much)

Russia Comp GDP

GDP (PPP) for US, Russian Federation, and Major European Economies

The Russian Federation covers more territory than any other country. It has a large nuclear arsenal, skilled weapons designers, and the world’s fourth largest military budget—after the United States, China, and Saudi Arabia. But it maintains that budget—which comes it at roughly 12% of US military expenditures—by spending a larger percentage of its GDP on defense than does the United States, China, Britain, France, Japan, or Germany. Indeed, if the major European economies boosted defense spending to 3% of GDP—still short of Russia—they would each have larger military budgets.

Of course, military spending is a poor proxy for capabilities. Russia has a larger population than any other European state, along with a big army, extensive air-defense network, and other indicators of martial prowess. But it also has a smaller economy than the state of California, and still cannot indigenously produce much of the high-tech accruement of modern warfare. Moscow can certainly overwhelm many of its neighbors, but it isn’t a political-military juggernaut.

I consider such remarks necessary in light of the current freakout over Moscow’s intervention in Syria, including here at the Duck of Minerva.

Thankfully, a wave of cooler heads have started to push back against the hyperventilations of #resolvefairy acolytes. But the whole notion that Putin is a master strategist, and that whatever goes down in Syria is a result of his outmaneuvering the West in Ukraine, needs a reality check.

Let’s review. Continue reading

Against Policy Relevance: A Polemic


Over on my Facebook feed, there’s a good discussion going on about Adam Elkus’ “The Problem of Bridging the Gap.” Elkus’ post amounts to, quite deliberately, a medium-length polemic against “policy relevance.” That is, he aims to provoke.

For example, Elkus argues that:

It judges the value of academic inquiry from the perspective of whether or not it concords with the values, aims, preferences, and policy concerns and goals of a few powerful elites. Why, if anything, do we judge “policy relevance” by whether or not it helps governmentpolicy elites? Surely governmental elites, politicians, think-tankers, etc aren’t the only people who care about policy! The “policy relevance” model is simply a normatively unjustified statement that political scientists and social scientists in general ought to cater to the desires and whims of elite governmental policymakers.


It demands that academic inquiry ought to be formulated around the whims and desires of the people being studied. One does not see this demand outside of the political science policy relevance wars. No one asks psychologists whether experiments are “relevant” to lab rats because it would be absurd to base research around what the experimental subject wants. Psychologists also do not care whether or not the college students that are paid to populate their experiments find their research “relevant” or understandable. Nor do neuroscientists inquire about the preferences of neuronal populations or biologists the opinions of ant colonies. Yet political scientists ought to cater to a narrow set of policy elites that they (partly) study?

You should go read the whole thing. Continue reading

Academia isn’t Baseball


PTJ’s Essential Player Statistics

This is a guest post by both Nexon and Patrick Thaddeus Jackson. Standard disclaimers apply.

Cullen Hendrix’s guest post is a must read for anyone interested in citation metrics and international-relations scholarship. Among other things, Hendrix provides critical benchmark data for those interested in assessing performance using Google Scholar.

We love the post, but we worry about an issue that it raises. Hendrix opens with a powerful analogy: sabermetrics is to baseball as the h-index is to academia.  We can build better international-relations departments. With science! Continue reading

Debating Covert Intervention and the Democratic Peace

One reason that Patrick I stepped down as a permanent contributors to the Duck of Minerva was to develop ISQ Online as a forum for intellectual exchange surrounding International Studies Quarterly pieces.  I think readers of the Duck will find the exchanges there interesting, and so I’ll be using (abusing?) my ‘standing guest’ privileges to call attention to them.

ISQ recently published—on early view—a piece by Michael Poznansky entitled “Stasis or Decay? Reconciling Covert War and the Democratic Peace.” In the final round of review, two of the referees proved very enthusiastic but one still expressed significant reservations. So we offered him the opportunity to have ‘the debate’ in public by authoring a rejoinder. The result, Tarak Barkawi’s “Scientific Decay.”

ISQ Online offers us the opportunity to continue these sorts of exchanges. Hence, we now have a symposium, “An Extended Debate on the Utility of the Democratic Peace Thesis.” In it, Poznanski and Barkawi go another round.

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The Duck-Cat of Minerva

I want readers to know that I would never, ever link to a Buzzfeed video. Unless, of course, the video included footage of Ifrit. He receives about three seconds of fame — starting at about a minute in.

Are Germans Against Upholding NATO’s Article V Commitments?

A recent Pew poll says that they are.  According to Pew, “at least half of Germans, French and Italians say their country should not use military force to defend a NATO ally if attacked by Russia.” Indeed, the news is grim.  The public release informs us that, “Americans and Canadians are the only publics where more than half think their country should use military action if Russia attacks a fellow NATO member (56% and 53%, respectively). Germans (58%) are the most likely to say their country should not.

Clearly, Pew thinks this is a big deal. How do we know? They provided a one-click solution for anyone wanting to publicize the finding on Twitter: “Germans (58%) most likely to say their country should not defend NATO allies against Russian military conflict http://pewrsr.ch/Rus-Ukr2015”

That certainly sounds distressing. Is it true?

Unfortunately, we can’t tell. Because that’s not the question Pew asked.

NATO pew poll

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What We Really Need is a Slice of Humble Pie

This is a guest post by former Duck of Minerva blogger Daniel Nexon. The views that he expresses here should not be construed as representing those of the International Studies Association, International Studies Quarterly, or anyone with an ounce of sanity.

We now have a lot of different meta-narratives about alleged fraud in “When Contact Changes Minds: An Experiment in the Transmission of Support for Gay Equality.”  These reflect not only different dimensions of the story, but the different interests at stake.

One set concerns confirmation bias and the left-leaning orientations of a majority of political scientists. At First Things, for example. Matthew J. Franck contrasts the reception of the LaCour and Green study (positive) with that of Mark Regnerus’ finding of inferior outcomes for children of gay parents (negative). There’s some truth here.  Regnerus’ study was terminally flawed. LaCour and Green’s study derived, most likely, from fraudulent data. Still, one comported with widespread ideological  priors in the field, while the other did not. That surely shaped their differential reception. But so did the startling strength of the latter’s findings, as well as the way they cut against conventional wisdom on the determinants of successful persuasion.

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Yale Ferguson Award

[Note: This is a guest post by Daniel Nexon].

This is a call for nominations for the third annual Yale H. Ferguson Award, presented by the International Studies Association-Northeast. Information below the fold:

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Reporters and Foreign Affairs Analysis: Ukraine Edition

This is a guest post by former Duck of Minerva blogger Dan Nexon. It is cross-posted at his personal blog, Hylaean Flow.

One of the ongoing rationales for The Monkey Cage is that journalists do a poor job of covering US electoral politics. They focus on personality and style. They downplay the role of fundamentals, such as economic forces and the nature of the electoral system. The same is too often true in foreign-affairs reporting. Consider a recent piece by multi-award-winning reporter, Scott Wilson: “Ukraine crisis tests Obama’s foreign policy focus on diplomacy over military force.”

What is Wilson’s argument? A sample:

Now Ukraine has emerged as a test of Obama’s argument that, far from weakening American power, he has enhanced it through smarter diplomacy, stronger alliances and a realism untainted by the ideology that guided his predecessor….

“If you are effectively taking the stick option off the table, then what are you left with?” said Andrew C. Kuchins, who heads the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “I don’t think that Obama and his people really understand how others in the world are viewing his policies.”

And another:

The signal Obama has sent — popular among his domestic political base, unsettling at times to U.S. allies — has been one of deep reluctance to use the heavily burdened American military, even when doing so would meet the criteria he has laid out. He did so most notably in the aftermath of the U.S.-led intervention in Libya nearly three years ago.

But Obama’s rejection of U.S. military involvement in Syria’s civil war, in which 140,000 people have died since he first called on President Bashar al-Assad to step down, is the leading example of his second term. So, too, is the Pentagon budget proposal outlined this past week that would cut the size of the army to pre-2001 levels.

Let’s consider a bit of history.

  • In April of 2008, President George W. Bush pushed hard for a Membership Action Plan (MAP) for Georgia and Ukraine at the Bucharest NATO summit. Germany and France balked, for both self-interested and prescient reasons.
  • In August of 2008, Russia baited Georgia into invading South Ossetia. At the key principals meeting in Washington, no one was willing to risk war with Russia over Georgia.
  • In 2009, Yanukovich and his Party of Regions wrested power from the unruly and ineffectual Orange coalition that had ousted him in 2004. Yanukovich adopted a pro-Russian tilt. Although he was more than happy to leverage Moscow against Brussels, under no circumstances was he going to make a serious push to bring Ukraine into NATO.
  • While Georgia is a small country on the Russian Federation’s periphery; Ukraine is a large country of significant affective and geo-strategic significance to Russia.

See the problem? There’s no obvious counterfactual set of Obama policies that would better position the United States to handle Russia’s gambit in Ukraine. Continue reading

Theories Never Die

EJT_19_3_cover.inddEditor’s Note: This is a  guest post by Felix BerenskoetterIt is the 25th and final installment in our “End of IR Theory” companion symposium for the special issue of the European Journal of International Relations. SAGE has temporarily ungated all of the articles in that issue. tl;dr notice: ~1750 words.

Other entries in the symposium- may be reached via the “EJIR Special Issue Symposium” tag.

Having been invited to offer an ‘overall response’ to this special issue, I decided to take a look at how the contributors deal with the editors’ claim that we are witnessing the end of ‘IR Theory’. But let me preface this with an observation.

The EJIR editors’ decision to compile this special issue, taken at the 2011 ISA conference in Montreal, occurred parallel to the creation of the ISA Theory Section (in which I was closely involved). While this was not a consciously coordinated effort, neither was it a coincidence. Both initiatives were motivated by a similar concern, namely a sense that there were not enough substantial/creative theoretical discussions in two primary fora of IR discourse: in journals (the EJIR editor’s view) and at ISA conferences (my view). And yet, the observations spurring the two initiatives are slightly different. The EJIR editors saw a ‘retreat from theory’ in IR indicated by missing inter-theoretic debate and lack of theory development. My view was that there is quite a bit of theorizing going on, but that it is either happening in inward-looking cliques, or has difficulties making it onto the ISA program because it does not fit the outlook of existing sections. Accordingly, the two initiatives were framed in contrasting ways, namely as (i) debating stagnation, crisis and end (EJIR), and as (ii) supporting and bringing together new thinking (Theory Section).

One reason for this contrast lies, I think, in different conceptions of theory and theoretical debate. Whereas the EJIR brief refers to an end of great debates and paradigm wars, that is, a lack of debate between and development of ‘isms’, I see fruitful theoretical discussions taking place both inside and outside the isms, albeit not in terms of competition. Related, there is a generational factor. The EJIR editors are established professors and so were the contributors initially selected for the EJIR project; the panels at ISA and BISA did not include a single young scholar (I commented on this elsewhere). Continue reading

Not Aufklärers but Dilettantes: Reading Michael C. Williams’s “In the Beginning…”

EJT_19_3_cover.inddEditor’s Note: This is a  guest post by Daniel J. LevineIt is the 24th installment in our “End of IR Theory” companion symposium for the special issue of the European Journal of International Relations. SAGE has temporarily ungated all of the articles in that issue. This post refers to Michael C. Williams article (PDF). His post appeared earlier today. tl;dr notice: ~1730 words.

Other entries in the symposium–when available–may be reached via the “EJIR Special Issue Symposium” tag.

“In the Beginning” joins a growing literature – including my own Recovering International Relationsin which normative claims regarding the vocation of IR theory are tied to an historical account of its disciplinary emergence.*<name=”back2917″> If these arguments vary in their details, they share a common logical-rhetorical tactic. An account of the discipline’s beginnings is mobilized to critique present-day scholarly practices: to spur “reflection on where one is, and where one is going.”

On Williams’ account, a basic confusion regarding IR-realism’s relationship to liberalism characterizes “where we are.” The traditional ‘dueling paradigms’ approach to IR theory in which “realism and liberalism…develop as parallel tracks that rarely intersect substantively,” overlooks their deeper historical co-emergence. IR-realism, he argues, emerged to guide liberal societies and protect their freedoms amidst the growing challenges of postwar political life. That co-emergence, Williams suggests, has been forgotten, with “significant implications for how we think about the past and future development of the field.”

What Williams wants is international theory that is not merely open to normative concerns, but which is deeply imbued with them. Accordingly, it is not a reflection so much as it is a proposed regrounding. Williams wants us to think about IR differently because he wants IR to speak to political life differently: in the voice of Ira Katznelson’s post-war “political studies enlightenment,” which “combined the deduction of politics from norms with its extrapolation from facts, affiliating engaged social criticism with disinterested social science[.]” (p. 3)

Nothing wrong with that; but what practices of reflection are to keep his understanding of the field from becoming as “final and defining” as those he is attempting to critique? [p. xxxx] Rationalist scholars, too, often evince a sense of grounded vocation. Where they differ is on the account of social and political life upon which their analyses rely, and onto which their notions of ‘good’ theory bolt. [inter alia, see here, here, here, and here]. Nor are ‘historical’ narratives any more objectively or self-evidently cohesive than are ‘rationalist’ ones. If indeed – as Williams quotes Adorno and Horkheimer in his 2005 book – “all reification is a forgetting,” then what risks being reified and forgotten in his counter-narrative? (p. 128) Continue reading

The International Relations Enlightenment and the Ends of International Relations Theory

EJT_19_3_cover.inddEditor’s Note: This is a  guest post by Michael C. WilliamsIt is the 23rd installment in our “End of IR Theory” companion symposium for the special issue of the European Journal of International Relations. SAGE has temporarily ungated all of the articles in that issue. This post refers to Williams’ article (PDF). A response, authored by Daniel J. Levine, will appear at 10am Eastern.

Other entries in the symposium–when available–may be reached via the “EJIR Special Issue Symposium” tag.

Disciplinary history is too important to be left only to intellectual historians. It should concern anyone interested in international politics. “The tradition of all dead generations” may not weigh on the brains of today’s International Relations (IR) scholars with quite the fever of Marx’s nightmare, but it does continue to exert powerful and often unrecognized effects on contemporary thinking. The idea of an “end of IR theory” that animates the Special Issue of the EJIR provides an intriguing opportunity to open up this issue: to ask where the field is going by looking again at where it came from.

This story can be told in many ways. One of the most revealing is to take seriously Stanley Hoffmann’s famous claim that IR developed as a quintessentially “American” social science (PDF). Hoffmann was right, though for reasons and with implications quite different from those he advanced. In his eyes, these origins lay mainly in a concern with American hegemony and policy-oriented theory in the context of the Cold War. No one could doubt that these questions were important, yet in many ways IR’s origins and commitments are better located in a wider but generally unrecognized analytic and political sensibility that, in his brilliant study of Desolation and Enlightenment, Ira Katznelson has called the “political studies enlightenment” (note the small ‘e’).

Katznelson holds that diverse figures in post-war American social science including Dahl, Hofstaeder, Lasswell, Lindblom, Polanyi, and Arendt were united in the view that the desolation of the previous half century and its apparent refutation of Enlightenment promises of progress, peace, and the reign of reason. In response, they undertook systematic analyses of the limits of a century and a half of increasing rationalism within the liberal Enlightenment tradition. Yet they did so not to reject modernity or liberalism, but to save it. They held that understanding the calamities of the period required seeing them not as simple irrationality erupting inexplicably into the otherwise placid, progressive, world of reason, but as specifically modern, arising in important aspects from the Enlightenment itself, and representing key weaknesses within it, including its inability to engage the question of “radical evil” in modernity; the increasing dominance of technology, and technical rationality; the rise of “mass society” and mass politics, and the accompanying crisis of classical liberalism and its vision of democracy; and the rise of extreme nationalism and anti-liberal politics as an at least partial consequence of liberal modernity, not as its simple antithesis. The goal was to grasp these dynamics philosophically, historically, and sociologically, in order to understand how they might be countered in pursuit of suitably chastened but nonetheless recognizable Enlightenment values and principles.

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Memory Loss as Imperial Effect

EJT_19_3_cover.inddEditor’s Note: This is a  guest post by Naeem InayatullahIt is the 22nd installment in our “End of IR Theory” companion symposium for the special issue of the European Journal of International Relations. SAGE has temporarily ungated all of the articles in that issue. This post refers to Arlene B. Tickner‘s article (PDF). Her post appeared earlier today.

Other entries in the symposium–when available–may be reached via the “EJIR Special Issue Symposium” tag.

…the day might come when things would be recognized by their inscriptions but no one would remember their use.

The above passage in Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude speaks to an awareness of memory loss. José Arcadio Buendía realizes he is losing his ability to remember the names of ordinary things, like chairs, tables, and windows. Anticipating his loss, he moves around the house and labels each object. After some time, as his memory continues to dissolve, he takes note of the labels and recognizes his handwriting but cannot recall to what the labels refer.

Here is my effort at the opposite anecdote: imagine living in a house so comfortably that you could walk within it with eyes shut. Your body moves from room to room and around the furniture without having to see or remember anything. Neither moving nor seeing require a world outside.

These two stories can be linked via a process: Someone approaches the house, stands in your window and shouts, “Hey, look at what I have brought you. Perhaps you have need for it in your house.” We thank the stranger, import his wares, examine them for novelty, and decide to place them in our curios cabinet where they are protected from the dust. One day, the progeny of the original traveler returns and repeats, “Hey, look at what I have brought you. Perhaps you have some need for it.” We examine the wares and reply, “thanks but I have that already.” We recall seeing it before but not why we needed it. Or, if we needed it. “Never mind,” we say to ourselves, the important thing is to return to our routines.


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Core, periphery and (neo) imperalist IR

EJT_19_3_cover.inddEditor’s Note: This is a  guest post by Arlene B. TicknerIt is the 21st installment in our “End of IR Theory” companion symposium for the special issue of the European Journal of International Relations. SAGE has temporarily ungated all of the articles in that issue. This post refers to Tickner’s article (PDF). A response, authored by Naeem Inayatullah, will appear at 10am Eastern.

Other entries in the symposium–when available–may be reached via the “EJIR Special Issue Symposium” tag.
Terms such as core and periphery (or third world) are largely passé, and may even be conceptually and heuristically objectionable on the grounds that they are rooted in dichotomous language that reproduces power differentials between diverse actors and sites around the world.  However, core-periphery like logics similar to those described by world-system and dependency theory in the 1960s and 1970s are still operational in multiple spheres of (globalized) human activity, including knowledge building.   International Relations (IR) is no exception.  Despite its lip-service to pluralism, and growing attempts to decolonize and decenter it by incorporating non-Western and peripheral readings of the world, IR remains fairly resilient to change.   Why and how the field continues to exhibit and to recreate (neo) imperialist features has failed to engage both critical scholarship that underscores the power relations that play out in academia, and analysts of IR outside the West.  The purpose of my article is to begin to fill this void by exploring the core-periphery dynamics that characterize the field of International Relations.

In order to do this, I make use of general insights provided by science studies.   I find Bruno Latour´s work especially helpful because he approaches fields of scholarly inquiry as global networks that link distinct peripheries to “centres of calculation” in which data is created and processed, and theories are drafted.  In doing so, Latour maps the intellectual division of labor that characterizes scientific enterprises across the globe.   However, post-Kuhnian analyses such as his are less helpful for understanding how power accrued in the core translates into scientific (neo) imperialism, nor its effects upon knowledge-building in those sites that occupy the peripheral rungs of global disciplinary chains.  I argue that instead of agent-less sites upon which power is enforced, peripheral scientific communities make use of distinct ploys in order to place themselves vis-à-vis core-periphery structures.   In the case of International Relations, I identify several kinds of placing strategy that seem to stand out: “fitting in” (premised on acceptance of core domination and academic moves to gain recognition and position within existing core-periphery logics); “domination by invitation” (by which local state, academic or private sector elites conduct explicit campaigns to reinforce relations of domination with U.S. (or Western) bearers of knowledge in order to promote intellectual development); and “delinking” (which stakes out a position of difference outside of or in opposition to core IR).   The fact that I am a participant in this special issue of the European Journal of International Relations, “speaking” from (but hopefully not for) the periphery despite my American origins, suggests that I am at least partially a “fitter inner”. Continue reading

Symposium — Response to Christine Sylvester, “Experiencing the End of IR Theory/End of War”

EJT_19_3_cover.inddEditor’s Note: This is a  guest post by Lauren WilcoxIt is the 18th installment in our “End of IR Theory” companion symposium for the special issue of the European Journal of International Relations. SAGE has temporarily ungated all of the articles in that issue. This post refers to Christine Sylvester’s article (PDF). Her post appeared earlier today.

Other entries in the symposium–when available–may be reached via the “EJIR Special Issue Symposium” tag.

Sylvester productively draws out the implications of the current ‘camp’ structure of IR: on the one hand, the proliferation of ‘camps’ and communities within IR increases the opportunities for publication and advancement for those whose work does not conform to traditional disciplinary norms; on the other hand, the emergence of camps with their own journals, books series, ISA/BISA sections and common citations productive dialogue across and between camps is difficult if not impossible.

Sylvester also usefully points out that the camp system can end up with arrogant competitions within camps for dominance. Sylvester does well to highlight how comfortable camp IR can be for some people (and implicitly, how uncomfortable cross camp connections and dialogue can be, where one is forced to contend with those who do not necessarily share deeply held ontologies.  Even the camp structure of feminist IR can be problematic, with feminists in IR only citing other IR feminists, leaving behind the broader world of gender/sexuality studies and reproducing some of the problems of the sex/gender distinction and erasure of racial, geographic, ability, cultural and class differences.

The current ‘camp structure’ in IR seems to be an improvement over disciplinary hegemony in the way that a world of multiple sovereign states seems to be an improvement over an imperial structure, this world of camps seem to imply functional equality among camps. Similarly, understanding the structure of IR as ‘camps’ underestimates the power dynamics laden in the structure of IR. For example, ‘camps’ suggests a kind of conditional tolerance that conceals the darker politics of regulation and aversion that Wendy Brown warned about in Regulating Aversion. Continue reading

Symposium — War is Human

EJT_19_3_cover.inddEditor’s Note: This is a  guest post by Christine SylvesterIt is the 19th installment in our “End of IR Theory” companion symposium for the special issue of the European Journal of International Relations. SAGE has temporarily ungated all of the articles in that issue. This post refers to Sylvester’s article (PDF). A response, authored by Lauren Wilcox, will appear at 11am Eastern.

Other entries in the symposium–when available–may be reached via the “EJIR Special Issue Symposium” tag.

Other entries in the symposium–when available–may be reached via the “EJIR Special Issue Symposium” tag.

…War is human. People fight…in the years preceding our last two wars, thinking about defense undervalued the human as well as the political aspects of war.

So says H.R. McMaster, the intellectual army major general who led the American third armored cavalry regiment in Iraq in 2005 and 2006. Writing in the “Week in Review” section of the New York Times on July 21, 2013, he decries the revolution in military affairs that had the US fighting its recent wars with wishful thinking loaded onto distance computers, rather than with common sense and a common touch on the ground. It backfired: “we learned [that] American forces must cope with the political and human dynamics of war in complex, uncertain environments. Wars like those in Afghanistan and Iraq cannot be waged remotely.”

McMaster and I live in different worlds: I, for one, would not be keen on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq no matter how they were waged. Nonetheless, he and I are both convinced that war is human: humans plan, prepare, arm, assault, resist, hide, trade, and flee collective armed violence. War can certainly be understood in other terms, as it usually is in IR. It can be conceptualized as an element of system dynamics, as national or military/paramilitary operations of armed conflict, as changing strategy or changing weaponry, as a set of causes and correlates, as the military-industrial media-entertainment network and so on. Such “other ways” differ in many important respects, but each one abstracts war away from humans to what McMaster indicates are illusions, leaving war’s executioners bereft of important knowledge about the “social, economic and historical factors that constitute the human dimension of war.”

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Meta-theory and Practical Knowledge: Reflections on Reus-Smit’s ‘Beyond Meta-theory’

EJT_19_3_cover.inddEditor’s Note: This is a  guest post by Milja KurkiIt is the 18th installment in our “End of IR Theory” companion symposium for the special issue of the European Journal of International Relations. SAGE has temporarily ungated all of the articles in that issue. This post refers to Reus-Smit’s article (PDF). His post appeared earlier today.

Other entries in the symposium–when available–may be reached via the “EJIR Special Issue Symposium” tag.

Christian Reus-Smit’s latest intervention into the seemingly never-ending ‘meta-wars’ published in the long-awaited EJIR special issue on ‘end of theory’ demonstrates the thrust of his core argument superbly well: the debate on meta-theory is unlikely to go away, even as most bored empirical analysts keep demanding it does. Reus-Smit is right to argue that meta-theoretical debate is bound to continue to influence IR theory and debate, explicitly or implicitly, whatever the analytical eclecticists, or other activists for our ‘emancipation from meta-theory’, think. So deeply engrained are meta-theoretical questions and meta-theoretical thinking in IR scholarship that – thank goodness – it is quite unfeasible and unrealistic to seek to dislodge meta-theoretical concerns from the discipline. As Reus-Smit puts it: ‘we can stop talking about meta-theory…but we cannot escape it’.

Reus-Smit’s argument as to the durability of meta-theory and the persistent role of ‘hidden’ meta-theoretical principles in the work of key critics, such as Sil and Katzenstein, is convincing, if not highly original in that he, of course, joins by now rather a long list of defenders of meta-theorising. What is distinct about this contribution is his attempt to raise explicitly the normative-empirical knowledge divide and how it plays into the current treatments of meta-theory. He plausibly makes the claim that if practical knowledge is what we are after (as Sil and Katzenstein argue), then by Aristotle’s standards certainly, we should be opening our knowledge horizons to normative ways of ‘knowing’ and ‘judging’. The failure of current analytical eclecticism to reflect on its bias towards empirical knowledge leaves the normative aspect of ‘practical’ knowledge production unexplored. Reus-Smit calls for a more meta-theoretically self-reflective but also, as such, more ambitious form of eclecticism which can challenge the ‘grund epistemological assumption that admits only empirical-theoretical forms of inquiry and knowledge’.

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