Jon Western has spent the last fifteen years teaching IR in liberal arts colleges at Mount Holyoke College and the Five Colleges in western Massachusetts. He has an eclectic range of intellectual interests but often writes on international security, U.S. foreign policy, military intervention, and human rights. He occasionally shares his thoughts about professional life in liberal arts colleges. In his spare time he coaches middle school soccer, mentors the local high school robotics team, skis, and sails.

Announcing the 2014 Blogging Awards and Reception at ISA


Duck of Minerva is pleased to announce the second annual Online Achievement in International Studies (OAIS) Blogging Awards — better known as the Duckie Awards — and the second annual International Studies Blogging Reception at ISA in Toronto.

We are asking Duck readers to submit nominations for the awards and later to vote for the three finalists in each category. Last year’s winners have generously agreed to judge the finalists and select the 2014 winners.

Once again, we are thrilled that with the support of SAGE and the efforts of SAGE editor David Mainwaring and the Sage staff, we will be hosting an IR Blogging Reception at the 2014 International Studies Association Annual Convention in Toronto.   The reception is scheduled for the night of Thursday, March 27, 2014.   Charli is again coordinating the program for the Awards ceremony and we’ll have details on the program soon.

At this point, we need Duck readers to submit nominations — we’ll ask you all to vote on the finalists in January. Here are the rules and nomination and judging procedures for the 2014 awards: Continue reading

Mixing Scholarly with Blogging Identities

[Note:  This is a guest post from Mira Sucharov and Brent E. Sasley.  Mira Sucharov is Associate Professor of Political Science at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. She blogs at and at Open Zion. Follow her on Twitter.  Brent Sasley is Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Texas at Arlington. He blogs at Mideast Matrix. Follow him on Twitter.]

Changes to our technology and to our scholarly norms present new challenges to scholars who engage in the public sphere. More and more academics in Political Science, and especially International Relations, are blogging, tweeting, and writing for online magazines like Foreign Policy, Foreign Affairs, and The National Interest, while many with specialization in a specific region or issue-area contribute to region- or issue-specific media.

There is a small but expanding literature on how these changes do and should affect the scholarly enterprise. Often hidden beneath such discussions is how all this affects the scholar herself. There is an inherent assumption that scholars are just that—dispassionate analysts who can look at a set of evidence and draw objective conclusions from it. Continue reading

Get Ready to Rumble….. NSA vs. State

OK, so it’s not exactly Ali vs. Frazier, but NSA and the State Department are not happy with each other. From this morning’s Cable at Foreign Policy, Yochi Dreazen reports:

Secretary of State John Kerry touched off the furor when he said some of the NSA’s overseas surveillance efforts — which also included tapping into tens of millions of calls in France and Spain — had been carried out without the Obama administration’s knowledge or explicit approval. The remarks highlighted what appears to the White House’s emerging strategy for dealing with widespread public fury over the programs: blame it on the NSA. Continue reading

Why the US Spies on Its Allies


The Guardian article this week that disclosed the story of U.S. eavesdropping on the leaders of several US allies said that the surveillance  produced “little reportable intelligence.”  This isn’t really a surprise — I can’t really imagine that listening to German Chancellor Merkel’s phone conversations are going to give US analysts and policymakers a whole lot more than they get from open source and normal diplomatic channels. So why does the US do it?  The cheap answer to this question is that it comes from that sinister NSA organization. From this morning’s NYTimes:

In Washington, the reaction has set off a debate over whether it is time to put the brakes on the N.S.A., whose capabilities, Mr. Obama has hinted, have expanded faster than its judgment. There are now two groups looking at the N.S.A.’s activities: one inside the National Security Council, another with outside advisers. The president all but told Ms. Merkel that “we don’t have the balance right,” according to one official.

“Sure, everyone does it, but that’s been an N.S.A. excuse for too long,” one former senior official who talks to Mr. Obama often on intelligence matters said Friday. “Obama has said, publicly and privately, that just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should do it. But everyone has moved too slowly in moving that from a slogan to a policy.”

But, is there something more here? Why does the US eavesdrop on its allies?  The problem here isn’t simply the NSA run amok and NSA “excuses.”   Continue reading

Advancing Global Environmental Governance

93552865-environmental-pollution[Note: This is a guest post by Peter M. Haas of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst]

Transboundary and global environmental threats require collection action.  Concretely, this means developing forms of governance that apply common rules, norms and decision making procedures.  Ideally, such governance should be resilient in the sense that it is able to persist over time and respond quickly and accurately to new threats.

Yet the record of international environmental governance is mixed, at best. According to a recent UNEP overview of global environmental governance, some regimes have effectively addressed the problems at hand, many haven’t, and we still don’t know about the effectiveness of a surprisingly large number of regimes. 

A recent collective project on international environmental governance (here and here) raises the questions of what configurations of actors can constructively promote better environmental management.

This post reports on some of the findings. Continue reading

Duck Forum on Teaching US Foreign Policy #4

[Note:  This is a guest post by Jerel A.Rosati of the University of South Carolina and James M. Scott of Texas Christian University.  It is the final installment in our forum on Teaching US Foreign Policy.  You can follow more of the conversation at #TeachForPol.]

Teaching US Foreign Policy with The Politics of United States Foreign Policy (6th ed, Cengage: 2014). By Jerel A. Rosati and James M. Scott

Using The Politics of United States Foreign Policy, we engage our students to consider the players, processes, and politics that drive U.S. decisions and involvement in the global political system. Our emphasis on the “politics” of U.S. foreign policy leads us to focus our efforts, on examining and explaining the struggle that occurs to define problems, formulate options, choose policies, and implement them in the context of a highly political process. In this endeavor, we emphasize that a variety of players play a role, and that the struggle over competing values, purposes, meanings, and interests is never far from the surface for both national security and foreign economic policy. Continue reading

Duck Forum on Teaching US Foreign Policy #3


[Note:  This is a guest post by James M. McCormick of Iowa State University and is the third post on the Duck Forum on Teaching US Foreign Policy]

“Teaching American Foreign Policy in the 21st Century” by James M. McCormick, Iowa State University 

In teaching the American foreign policy making course over the past several decades, I have always had three major goals.  First, I want students to become familiar with the values and beliefs that have influenced and shaped American foreign policy from its beginning to the present, albeit with a particular emphasis since World War II.  Second, I expect students to identify and analyze the principal governmental and non-governmental actors that shape America’s foreign policy choices, and how the role of those actors has changed over time.  Third, I expect students to develop a sufficient conceptual framework so that they are prepared to analyze the role and issues facing the United States in the future.  In essence, I adopt a “continuous learner” model toward teaching the course, since my ultimate aim is to equip students with sufficient information and analytic tools to assess future foreign policy questions, long after the class is finished. Continue reading

What Makes a Great Scholar?

I attended a celebration of the life of Kenneth Waltz held at Columbia University last weekend. The service was organized and hosted by Robert Jervis, Robert Art, and Richard Betts and included sixteen speakers — family members, scholars, and former students who gave wonderful tributes based on their own personal reflections on his life, research, and teaching.

It was clear that Waltz was gifted intellectually. His book Man, the State, and War was written in just over a year in 1959 and transformed the field. But this was only the start, he made major intellectual contributions in each of the next five decades — remarkable staying power for a scholar. Yet, as Jervis pointed out, Waltz was not really that prolific — only three solo authored books and the two major books (Man, the State and War and Theory of International Politics) were rather short. As one speaker noted, he wrote slowly and with few words, but because his did so, his words will last for a very long time.

In listening to the tributes, I jotted down notes on what people thought might have given Waltz the insights to make such a contribution to IR — and wondered more broadly, what makes a great scholar, one with the insights to transform and keep pressing the field for decades?

Here are a few thoughts from the tributes: Continue reading

Duck Forum on Teaching US Foreign Policy #2


[Note:  This is a guest post by Steven W. Hook from Kent State University and is the second post on the Duck Forum on Teaching US Foreign Policy]

“Teaching U.S. Foreign Policy in an Age of Uncertainty,” by Steven W. Hook (Kent State University)

Students of U.S. foreign policy face a unique intellectual challenge: to understand state policy making at the intersection of domestic and global governance. Their instructors, who face the same task, need to integrate the two domains in their lectures and assignments. Along the way, they confront the added burdens of making some sense of the heightened turbulence of recent world politics while also grappling with paradigmatic shifts in the field of international relations that have led some scholars to declare “the end of IR theory.” Teaching U.S. foreign policy today is more complex, but also more compelling, than ever.

My approach to U.S. foreign policy is founded upon a normative claim that citizens should be informed and engaged in public affairs, especially global politics. Continue reading

Duck Forum on Teaching US Foreign Policy

replace-a-us-passport-main_FullDuck of Minerva is pleased to announce the start of a four-part series of posts on teaching US Foreign Policy.  The forum includes contributions from the authors of major undergraduate textbooks on U.S. foreign policy:  Bruce Jentleson (Duke University), Steven Hook  (Kent State), Jim McCormick (Iowa State), and James Scott (Texas Christian) and Jerel Rosati (University of South Carolina).

Bruce Jentleson initiated and coordinated the forum — as you can see below he has also set up a Twitter hashtag #TeachForPol to continue this discussion.  In setting up the forum, Continue reading

Duck Forum on Teaching US Foreign Policy #1

replace-a-us-passport-main_Full[Note:  This is a guest post by Bruce Jentleson from Duke University.  It is the first in a four-part forum on teaching US Foreign Policy.]

Six Concepts in Teaching American Foreign Policy by Bruce Jentleson

As the Cold War went on, among scholars and teachers of American foreign policy there was some settling in to a sense that we knew the questions – containment? nuclear deterrence? Bretton Woods stability? —- and were mostly debating the answers. Since the end of the Cold War there’s been renewed debate over what the questions themselves are. While this bears broadly on IR, it has been especially true for American foreign policy – making the subject as intellectually invigorating as it has been policy challenging.

This was the context in which I wrote the first edition of my American Foreign Policy: The Dynamics of Choice in the 21st Century (W.W. Norton, 5th edition 2013). The intent has been to serve courses which are more focused on U.S. foreign policy than Intro to IR ones, and broader than ones with regional foci. While the world is not as US-centric as it used to be, how the US handles its 21st century transition has been having and will continue to have broad impact on the rest of IR. And while courses like US-China relations and US-Middle East delve into depth on particular areas, general survey AFP courses provide broad context and framework.

I characterize my AFP teaching approach in six respects: Continue reading

Friday Morning Linkage


  • Human Rights Watch has a new report on the killing of 190 civilians in early August by members of five Islamist rebel groups:  Ahrar al-Sham, Islamic State of Iraq and Sham,  Jabhat al-Nusra,  Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar, Suquor al-Izz
  • Congratulations to Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons on the Nobel Peace Prize.  They won’t have much time to celebrate given a mid-2014 timeline to destroy all of Syria’s chemical weapons capabilities.  Here’s a link to this week’s OPCW press conference on the latest from Syria with Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü and members of the Syria Advance Team.
  • Conditions for Syria’s refugees in Jordan and Lebanon are deteriorating — UNHCR estimates that there will be more than 5 million refugees by the end of 2014; UNICEF reports that children are facing early marriage, child labor, and domestic violence; food aid has been reduced in Lebanon.
  • With all of the focus on the Westgate attack in Nairobi, Kenya faces a large, neglected challenge.  According to the NGO Maisha e.v, one of every three women in Kenya has experienced gender-based violence — a far higher percentage than the 1 in 10 worldwide.
  • The situation between Sudan and South Sudan is deteriorating. Jerome Tubiana provides excellent perspective from the borderlands between the two countries.
  • Malawi President Joyce Banda dissolved her entire 25 member cabinet amid a massive corruption scandal.  Kim Dionne at haba na haba sets the context and challenges in the run-up to next May’s elections.


  • A view of Mogadishu — Tristan McConnel narrates a phenomenal slide show of Pete Muller’s photographs from a recent trip to the city.

Continue reading

ICC Victory over Immunity in Recent Clash with al-Bashir

[Note:  This is a guest post by Andrew G. Reiter, Assistant Professor of Politics at Mount Holyoke College]

In 2009, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir on charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Darfur and expanded those charges to include genocide in 2010.  Yet al-Bashir recently claimed immunity as a head of state and requested a visa from the United States to travel freely to New York to participate in the UN General Assembly and return safely to the comfort of his palace in Khartoum.  In a “Marbury v. Madison” moment for the ICC, the battle between immunity and the reach of international criminal law was in the hands of the US.  A strong position by the US that it could not guarantee al-Bashir would not be arrested forced him to cancel his trip; a move that significantly advances international justice and helps the ICC come of age. Continue reading

ISA Working Groups

Registration is now open for the two ISA Working Groups scheduled for ISA Toronto.

I am coordinating one of them with my colleague Kavita Khory on Global Trends in War, Conflict and Political Violence.  The Working Group is sponsored by the International Security Studies Section.  Here’s a brief description:

The year 2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I. Over the past century, we have witnessed episodes of extreme interstate and intrastate violence as well as a more recent period of relative stability. This working group will bring together a group of scholars from a diverse set of theoretical, methodological, and geographical approaches to look at the broad trends in interstate war, intrastate war, and political violence over the past century, where we are today, and what the future trends might look like.

Included in the list of speakers is Debra Avant, Bruce Jentleson, Neta Crawford, Nils Petter Gleditsch, Pamela Aall, John Mueller, Lise Howard, and Joshua Goldstein.

The other Working Group titled Forecasting International Events is organized by Curtis S. Signorino and Jeffrey Arnold and is sponsored by The Scientific Study of International Processes Section.  Here’s the description:

Interest has been rapidly growing in forecasting international events. This growing interest is part of a wider societal interest in predictive analytics, itself driven by the ‘big data’ revolution. While the questions of interest in international relations are complex and fundamentally difficult to predict, international relations researchers now have dramatically more data and computational power than at any time in the past, and this ability is growing exponentially. Given these dramatic changes in the technology available to researchers, we propose bringing together leading international relations scholars with a wide variety of interests and a wide variety of methodological approaches but with a common interest in prediction.

If you are interested, the application process for both Working Groups is open until 12:00pm PST this Friday, October 4 at the ISA designated website.  More details and the schedules are listed there as well.  Continue reading

Friday Morning Linkage


A little late Friday morning reading:


  • Canada’s prized Pearson Centre for Peacekeeping is closing its doors.  From Kevin McGarr, President and CEO of the Pearson Centre: “It is with sadness that I announce that the Pearson Centre is in the process of closing its operations. Details of the closure are being finalized and will be shared in due course. The Pearson Centre is fully committed to meeting its current obligations and we will be contacting clients and partners in the coming days to discuss specific projects and activities.”

Continue reading

Research Primer for Religion and IR

Michael Desch and Daniel Philpott at Notre Dame have concluded their two-year Mellon funded working group on religion and IR and published their final report titled Religion and International Relations: A Primer for Research.  Desch, in his introduction (titled: “The Coming Reformation of Religion in International Affairs? The Demise of the Secularization Thesis and the Rise of New Thinking About Religion”), starts with a puzzle expressed by working group participant Timothy Shah: “religion has become one of the most influential factors in world affairs in the last generation but remains one of the least examined factors in the professional study and practice of world affairs.”

Why is this? In addressing this question, the working group focused on three broad set of questions: What is religion and how should we study it in international relations? How can religion broaden our understanding of international relations? and, what should be the core of the future research agenda for religion and international relations?
Continue reading

Friday Morning Linkage




  • Here’s another cool data visualization site — this one on global migration patterns.
  • Malcolm Gladwell looks at some interesting data on relative student performance across colleges and universities in STEM fields and concludes that students shouldn’t go to the top college they get into.

Continue reading

Analytic Eclecticism, Phantom Confrontations, and Dialogue: On Reus-Smit´s “Beyond Metatheory?”

[Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Guzman Castro of the University of Pennsylvania. This post refers to an article and post in the European Journal of International Relations-Duck of Minerva symposium on “The End of International Relations Theory?”by Christian Reus-Smit and the corresponding post by Milja Kurki.]

Christian Reus-Smit’s and Milja Kurki’s interventions in the EJIR symposium are part of a laudable mission to defend meta-theory from the “activists for our emancipation from meta-theory.” The “activists” in this case turn out to be the duo of Sil and Katzenstein in their formulation of “analytic eclecticism” (AE). Although enemies of meta-theory do exist in political science, some in the form of scholars who do not even bother to engage the debate, AE is hardly one of them. Moreover, in trying to advance his own vision of a “practical knowledge” that encompasses empirical and normative components, Reus-Smit unnecessarily and unfairly sets AE up as a convenient foil, ignoring its central mission and misreading its treatment of metatheory. As a result, Reus-Smit ends up engaging in a phantom debate in order to reach a conclusion that, I believe, does not contradict the basic tenets of AE. In the process, he misses an opportunity for a more productive dialogue and, paradoxically, ends up unintentionally strengthening the rationale Sil and Katzenstein provide in their support for AE: the importance of maintaining open boundaries for more useful communication and collaboration. Continue reading

Friday Afternoon Linkage

It’s late Friday afternoon — here are a few things worth reading:


Continue reading

Obama’s Dienbienphu Moment?


We have a pretty good literature on how presidents use and manipulate their information and propaganda advantages to move public opinion toward their positions on the use of force.  Both bottom –up, rational public arguments and top-down elite cueing models look at the institutional advantages of the presidency such as the bully pulpit, privileged access to information transmitted though classified intelligence and diplomatic channels, forging special access to the media, and the benefit of a history of Congressional and public deference to presidential leadership.

But, when and under what conditions does public opinion constrain presidential decision making on war and intervention? Continue reading

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