Category: Featured (page 1 of 129)

The Most Important Corpses: Eastern Front Edition

I was on twitter NATO symbol movingtalking with some folks about what Canada might promise at the Warsaw Summit, with the focus on who is going to provide the troops for the four battalions that will be based in the Baltics and Poland.  The conversation went into a bunch of directions, so I had an epiphany while shopping–it is not about proximity or folks who have ties to the Baltics–it is about whose corpses would have the greatest international political relevance.

 

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Selling Out to the Enemy of Open Access

Yesterday, news quickly spread that the Social Science Research Network was bought by Elsevier.  This quickly caused an uproar on twitter.  Why?  The SSRN was established to provide a place for social scientists to share their work in progress.  Elsevier is one of the most rapacious rent-seeking profitable publishers of academic journals.

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Whose Academy Is It Anyway?

Recently there has been a lot of talk about one of those issues academics (at least in the U.S.) obsess about: how to get tenure and the job security as well as license to (supposedly) speak truth to power that comes with it.

This round of conversations started when Stephen Walt gave some, rather generic, advice in his Foreign Policy piece “How to Get Tenure“. As a long-time professor at Harvard, Walt certainly has experience – but with a very particular kind of (highly privileged) institution and hence, while not wrong per se, his advice certainly is limited in a number of ways. One such limitation, that Walt’s  imaginary assistant professor on the tenure-track is supposedly gender-less (aka male), was subsequently picked up by Erica Chenoweth, Page Fortina, Sara Mitchell, Burcu Savun, Jessica Weeks and Kathleen Cunningham. Their piece “How to Get Tenure (If You’re a Woman)” has been widely discussed among women in Political Science/ IR (and beyond) in the past weeks. In the piece, Chenoweth et al. offer “seven peer reviewed strategies female faculty can use” – and there is some good  advice for those who want “to climb the academic ladder” (as is) here. What is more, they also note that other intersecting oppressions mean that “these issues also (and often more so) affect faculty of color and other underrepresented groups and are doubly difficult for women of color” (unfortunately they fall short of specifically addressing these issues).

There were many discussions on the facebook feed of the Women’s Caucus in International Studies (WCIS) and that of the Feminist Theory and Gender Studies (FTGS) section of ISA. Laura Sjoberg provides a useful summary of the gist of these conversations – that “Women Shouldn’t Need Different Guidelines for Achieving Tenure” – and you should really read them, as they also include a number of “Other Observations on Gendered Academe” and concrete suggestions as to what each of us might do, individually, to help out.  She ends her piece with the lament voiced by many – that the system, with its deep gender, race, class, heterosexist, and ableist bias (to name just a few axes of oppression), is essentially broken. Much of the advice given is only a way to get by; it rarely allows us to thrive if we cannot figure out a way to become “the ideal worker… someone who is always able to work” (Williams, 2001).

One question remains, however: Is the system really broken?

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Clash of the Doctrines

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Now that the U.S. presidential race has been whittled down effectively to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, and after Trump’s much anticipated foreign policy speech last week, we now have a Trump Doctrine, a new Clinton Doctrine—different from Bill Clinton’s pro humanitarian intervention doctrine—to contrast with the often misunderstood Obama Doctrine.

As foreign policy has begun to feature more prominently in the race for the White House, we can no longer beg the question as to which of these would better serve core U.S. national security interests, not to mention the interests of our closest allies—and especially not with the emergence of a new global security crisis seemingly every three months or so, and new ISIS affiliates popping up even more frequently.

Analyzing this trio of foreign policy doctrines, essentially the grand strategy adopted by each of America’s three most prominent political leaders, has been akin to peering through a glass darkly. Analysis has been all over the map, which is at least partially explained by the degree to which this triumvirate has not been particularly clear in laying out their core foreign policy principles. Misperception aside, however, the new Clinton Doctrine appears to stand above the President’s and far above the presumptive Republican nominee’s.

President Obama and his closest aides have long bristled about the phrase “the Obama Doctrine,” and only in his final year in office has he tacitly accepted the use of the term in the landmark Atlantic article by Jeffrey Goldberg with this very title (one of the rare occasions when the President has opined at length about his principles and actions abroad). In-between, analysis of the Obama Doctrine has varied widely.

Early on the Administration cast its over-arching strategic chessboard move as a “pivot to Asia”, meaning the U.S. intended to focus less on the transatlantic region and more intently on the Pacific Rim. European and Middle Eastern allies reacted negatively upon its declaration, and the phrase was rapidly recast as the “rebalance to Asia.” But it was a mistake, as the Chinese soon branded it “containment of China” due to the pivot’s military moves embedded in a wider set of diplomatic and economic moves. Continue reading

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

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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

Ben Rhodes, Part the Second: Or, Journalistic Interpolations are Not Evidence

For those of you not on Twitter.

(yes, I know the post is displaying parent tweets; WordPress is stripping the code to remove them)

The White House Pushes for its Policies, and Other Surprises from Ben Rhodes

It seems that everyone (at least on the political right) is in a tizzy about the “revelations” in David Samuels’ New York Times Magazine story on Ben Rhodes. For example, Lee Smith, at the Weekly Standard, headlines “Obama’s Foreign Policy Guru Boasts of How the Administration Lied to Sell the Iran Deal.” As I’ll explain below, that’s, at best, massive hyperbole.  But what we really learned is that Ben Rhodes has a massive ego—Thomas Ricks is less kind in his assessment. We also learned that Samuels—like any reporter—wants to break big stories. Put the two together, and you come away less, not better, informed.

Let’s start with one of the passages from the story that’s receiving a lot of attention—and that Smith partially blockquotes:

As Malley and representatives of the State Department, including Wendy Sherman and Secretary of State John Kerry, engaged in formal negotiations with the Iranians, to ratify details of a framework that had already been agreed upon, Rhodes’s war room did its work on Capitol Hill and with reporters. In the spring of last year, legions of arms-control experts began popping up at think tanks and on social media, and then became key sources for hundreds of often-clueless reporters. “We created an echo chamber,” he admitted, when I asked him to explain the onslaught of freshly minted experts cheerleading for the deal. “They were saying things that validated what we had given them to say.”

When I suggested that all this dark metafictional play seemed a bit removed from rational debate over America’s future role in the world, Rhodes nodded. “In the absence of rational discourse, we are going to discourse the [expletive] out of this,” he said. “We had test drives to know who was going to be able to carry our message effectively, and how to use outside groups like Ploughshares, the Iran Project and whomever else. So we knew the tactics that worked.” He is proud of the way he sold the Iran deal. “We drove them crazy,” he said of the deal’s opponents.

This is, more or less, a description of what every single White House does when seeking to pass a major, and controversial, initiative. They connect with allies, they disseminate talking points, they coordinate with like-minded policy and industry groups, and they feed those groups information. Administrations create multiple information channels to the press, the public, and elected officials.The Obama Administration did this for the Affordable Care Act. The Bush Administration did this for its massive tax cuts, for the Iraq War, and, unsuccessfully, in its efforts to privatize Social Security. 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

So, You Want to Be a Liberal Arts College Professor: Life in the Liberal Arts edition (Part I)

MIDDLEBURY, VT (August 31, 2010) - Students and Faculty meet to discuss the book "Tortilla Curtain" during the 2010 Orientation week, Middlebury College, Vermont. (Photo © 2010 Brett Simison)

MIDDLEBURY, VT (August 31, 2010) – Students and Faculty meet to discuss the book “Tortilla Curtain” during the 2010 Orientation week, Middlebury College, Vermont. (Photo © 2010 Brett Simison)

[Note: This is the first of two guest posts on life in the Liberal Arts Colleges from Sarah Stroup and Amy Yuen, both Associate Professors of Political Science, Middlebury College]

Job market season is fast approaching, but information about those jobs can be scarce. For those on the market, just starting a liberal arts job, or just curious, we offer a little insight from two women recently tenured at a liberal arts institution. Elaborating on prior Duck posts here and here, we first offer a snapshot of research in the liberal arts and later offer a few tips for job applicants. These reflections draw on own experiences as well as from email conversations with early- and mid-career faculty at eight other liberal arts colleges (thanks everybody!).

The stereotype of the liberal arts is one that is all teaching, no research. A number of us have had a very different experience.
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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.

 

Restoring Conventional Deterrence in Europe: How to Climb Out of the Joint Security Trap

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Russia is currently riding high on the geostrategic landscape, despite a trove of domestic economic woes that stem partly from Western sanctions. But Vladimir Putin has successfully wagged the dog and distracted Russians from this by illegally annexing Crimea by force, occupying eastern Ukraine with a proxy force upheld by Russia, and successfully keeping the Assad regime in force in Syria with a surprise intervention that has not only sent cruise missiles through an airspace with U.S. aircraft in it, but also wiped out the efforts on behalf of the anti-regime rebel forces by Western intelligence services on the ground.

Russia continues to be undeterred in its use of force, which was reinforced last week by a Russian fighter plane buzzing a U.S. reconnaissance aircraft within 50 feet and multiple Russian fighters buzzing a U.S. destroyer ship within 30 feet, both in the Baltic Sea. Russia is in fact so sufficiently undeterred at present that the Baltic members of NATO are once again in fear of direct Russian intervention. All of this comes as NATO members are getting prepared to hold a crucial summit in Warsaw—perhaps the most pivotal Alliance summit since the end of the Cold War.

Its number one task is straight forward: restoring conventional deterrence in Europe. NATO’s previous summit in Wales was supposed to accomplish this task, but it fell short in its attempt at providing sufficient reassurance to the East Central European members of the Alliance. NATO suspended its relationship with Russia, warned it, and through a series of small-scale maneuvers and exercises sought not only to reassure threatened members but also restore conventional deterrence with regard to Russian threats. It failed. This became clear even before NATO officials had departed from Wales, as Russian intelligence operatives kidnapped an Estonian intelligence operative in a successful attempt by Russia to thumb its nose at NATO.

NATO must compensate for this by beginning to restore deterrence and increase contributions from NATO members to the Alliance’s collective defense. Otherwise it risks a consequential slide into a two-tier alliance and a collection of allies that even in the face of a dramatic newfound series of threats from Russia cannot manage to climb out of the joint security trap they fell into over the past five years. Continue reading

8 Strategies For Men To Combat Gender Bias

This is a guest post by Kathleen Gallagher Cunningham (@kgcunnin), Associate Professor of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland.

Foreign Policy recently published our article on women and the tenure process in International Relations. The article centers on the challenges women face and offers some suggestions on how to manage them for pre-tenure women based on our experiences. We conclude the article, in part, with a call to allies (i.e. people who are not, or are no longer, affected by these biases or are in a position to address them).  Here, I offer 8 ways that such allies can do this:

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“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

Tweeted and Deleted by APSA: Gender and Race in the Academy

I’ve been wanting to write a Duck post about the experience of a woman with visible minority status in IR for quite some time now. I was waiting for the right moment.  So thanks to the American Political Science Association (APSA), the professional association for US-trained political scientists, the moment has come.

Yesterday morning, an email came from a friend with a screenshot.  The screenshot showed an attractive Asian woman in a frilly top who looks like she’s having a good time looking into the camera.  I was confused.  Then I read the blurb next to it: this was a promotion from PSNow, one of the official APSA dissemination bullhorns.  They were promoting my recent piece with Sarah Stroup in Perspectives on Politics on international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) and authority in global politics.  Instead of contacting us to request a photo, or choosing a stock photo that reflects the subject of our article, APSA decided to accompany this promotion with a photo of a random Asian woman.

I was stunned.

So it’s pretty obvious to me why this is offensive, but let me spell it out.

  • What does the Getty Image “Portrait of a young woman smiling” have to do with INGOs? Or authority?  Or politics?
  • What happened to my co-author?
  • What kind of search terms were being used to even generate such a photo that APSA found worthy of posting not just on PSNow, but tweeting?
  • Has all of my work on INGOs boiled down to some irrelevant stock image?
  • Is it that hard to Google “NGO” for images related to the work being advertised?
  • Yea, “all Asians look alike,” but REALLY?!

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Either DA-RT Works, or It Does Not

This is a guest post by Theo McLauchin (@TheoMcLauchlin), Assistant Professor of Political Science at the Université de Montréal

When is a norm not a norm? I ask this question when I read Colin Elman and Arthur Lupia’s vigorous defense of the Data Access & Research Transparency (DA-RT) initiative in APSA’s Comparative Politics section newsletter. I think Elman and Lupia try to have it both ways. Their piece argues, first, that journals need to adopt norms of openness. It then argues, in defense of DA-RT against a series of concerns that it will bring the editorial hammer down on many different forms of work, that DA-RT doesn’t change anything. Editors always could implement whatever policies they wanted to. But of course if the norms change, then the content of that editorial discretion – what decisions are actually made where the submission meets the desk – changes with it. Either DA-RT has an effect or it doesn’t; either the norms change or they don’t; either some articles become newly unpublishable at some journals or they don’t. If they don’t, then DA-RT cannot have the effect its creators hope for it.

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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

Gender, Rank and IR: Missing Role Models

Last week, I asked a question online that was asked of me and then I asked at the ISA two weeks ago:
Can you name women of color working in the US or Canada who do IR and are full professors?

At the ISA, folks could only name one or two.  On twitter and facebook and my blog since then, the total has increased to eleven:

·  Neta Crawford of Boston University.
·  Condoleeza Rice, who was a full prof at Stanford before becoming provost and then worst National Security Adviser.
·  Jacqueline Braveboy Wagner, City College of New York.
·  Reeta Tremblay of U of Victoria.
·  L.H.M Ling of the New School.
·  Katherine Moon of Wellesley.
·  Zehra Arat of U of Connecticut
·  Christine Chin of American U
·  Saadia Pekkanen of U of Washington
·  Nazli Choucri of MIT
·  Sheila Nair of Northern Arizona U.

Not great.  Sure, we could be missing a few, but this short list demonstrates the point that my friend was making: there are damn few role models/mentors in US/Canada IR for women who are not white.

One can quibble with the various modifiers/restrictions in the question:

  • what is IR?  I tended to exclude a few names of those who are experts on one country or an area and do not do foreign policy/international relations type questions.  I am sure we could get the list to be significantly longer if we included women who do one area of the world.  Indeed, some of the women above can be considered area studies people but have done some IR-ish stuff.  While the ISA is
    broadly inclusive so that it includes area studies people, the point of this exercise was about whether women who do IR might have mentors, not whether there are women who do IR or comparative.  Also, in the conversation I had with my friend, her concern was in part about the implicit and sometimes explicit expectations to be an expert in the area of the world her family comes from rather than being an expert on general IR stuff.  There is a tendency to push people of color to study stuff like an area of the world or race and ethnicity, whereas white people can be expected to study anything.
  • why US/Canada?  Well, the friend is in US/Canada North America and was pondering the availability of mentors.  There was no intent to diminish the contributions of women of color at schools in other parts of the world.   While the internet makes it possible to confer with people around the world, one is likely to meet up with people in the same region 
  • why women of color?  That was the way it was put to me.  We could use other ways to talk about race, such as visible minority (the Canadian way to refer to these kinds of identities), but I stuck with the term that was most inclusive.  And identity is always tricky: are Arab Americans people of color?  Traditionally, not so much.  Since 9/11?  Maybe.  I asked a full prof I know whether she was a person of color and she said she was not, but understood how some might see her fit that category.  Anyhow, I was not aiming at perfect coding, but at getting a general idea, and the paucity of names is suggestive.

A quick look at this reveals a few patterns: no Latinas, three African-Americans and then Asian-Americans making the majority of the list.  So, yeah, there are few role models for African-American women and none for Latinas who want to do IR.  There are few women of color that undergraduates, grad students and junior profs can look to and think “well, they made it so maybe I can, too.””

Most of the women listed are post-positivist, which could mean either that women who do such work are more likely to make it through the leaky pipeline, or there might be an affinity for a particular kind of IR by women of color, or maybe sampling bias as one of my key sources of names knew these people because their work speaks to each other.

One Canadian, several in the Northeast/New England area, a few from the West Coast, and nothing in between or down south.  So, if you want to meet your mentor, it means traveling for most folks.

How do we “fix” this?  How do we have more women full professors of color in IR?  Obviously, whatever barriers exist to promoting women and people of color need to be broken down.  I used to work at a university where there was an apparent barrier between associate and full, and that helped to perpetuate the gender imbalance.  Indeed, in Canada anyway, it seems like the process to become tenured is far easier than becoming Full even though the former means lifetime employment and the latter might mean a raise.  In the US?   I don’t know.  But there has been stuff written on the leaky pipeline, so we need to find the leaks and plug them, including discrimination in citation patterns and in listings on syllabi and differential service obligations (women end up doing more service, which may not help them get promoted).

A different friend of mine told me at the ISA that none of the female associates have received outside offers, and all of the male associate profs in her department have received such offers even though the women have better research scores.  How does that happen?  Such a perfect (and awful) correlation of gender and opportunities?  Getting outside offers is one way for people to get promoted faster, and it seems at least in that one case (more survey work required) one key tool to fast promotion has been denied.  So, perhaps one way to deal with this problem is to make sure that senior searches take seriously the full range of candidates and not just the first names that come to mind?

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

Building social science knowledge on public attitudes and autonomous weapons

This is a guest post from Michael C. Horowitz (@mchorowitz), Associate Professor of Political Science and Associate Director of Perry World House, University of Pennsylvania

Last week, Charli Carpenter published an important piece advancing the conversation about public attitudes, public conscience, and autonomous weapons. Her post critiqued my recent article in Research & Politics on public opinion and autonomous weapons. As a former Duck contributor, I am excited to return and further the dialogue (for a longer version of this post that contains more detailed responses to some other parts of Carpenter’s piece, go here).

Carpenter’s path-breaking survey on public opinion and autonomous weapons was the departure point for my Research & Politics article. She persuasively showed widespread public opposition to autonomous weapon systems (AWS), in principle. My research builds on hers, as I seek to find out how likely political frames would affect public opposition to autonomous weapons. Carpenter and I actually agree on a lot about public attitudes concerning autonomous weapons, and even about what my own research shows, though we have some disagreements about survey methodology.

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