Category: Other (page 1 of 2)

WPTPN: Trump and The End of Taken-For-Grantedness: When the Exception Becomes the Rule

This World Politics in a Time of Populist Nationalism (WPTPN) guest post is written by Antje Wiener, Professor of Political Science and Global Governance at the University of Hamburg, visiting fellow at the Lauterpacht Centre for International Law at Cambridge University (September – December 2016), and 2015-2017 holder of the “Opus Magnum Fellowship” funded by the Volkswagon Foundation. She is founding editor of the Cambridge University Press journal Global Constitutionalism: Democracy, Human Rights and the Rule of Law and her book Contestation and Constitution in Global Governance is scheduled for publication by Cambridge in 2018. An earlier version of this paper was presented at Hughes Hall, University of Cambridge Nov 25, 2016:

When struggling to come to terms with the result on the morning after the US 2016 elections, some tried to make sense of what they saw by describing the results as a “Black Swan Event”. On Jan 28 2016 Politico published an article titled “Trump the Black Swan Candidate” which noted that “(i)mmune to the standard laws of politics, Trump has continued to rise in the polls, replacing the manageable disorder of a presidential politics with his chaos.” On Nov 12 2016 Politico dubbed Trump “The Black Swan President”. Accordingly Trump “became the closest thing to a black swan event we’ve ever seen in American politics: Statistically unlikely, rationalized only in hindsight—and carrying an impact that could be off the known charts.”

Typically, such an event indicates something out of the ordinary, quite sensational, which we try to explain with reference to the exception of the rule. The reference to a black swan event conjures the eventual return to normalcy following disruption. Does this mean that despite the Trump election, all else remains ‘normal’? Can – and should – we therefore move on and wait for the exceptional event to pass and politics to return back to ‘normal’?

Continue reading

Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word

It’s the eternal quandary of thinking about the intersection of international politics and global health: where does Elton John fit in? We now have an answer. It’s where we try to understand issues of moral and legal responsibility of an international organization.

About a month ago, I wrote about cholera and global health. One of the reasons cholera is such a big issue is because of the ongoing outbreak in Haiti—the worst in recent history, and one that we can directly trace to the 2010 earthquake and Hurricane Matthew in October. Natural disasters can obviously disrupt the sanitation systems that keep cholera from spreading. Haiti’s cholera outbreak is different, though; the disease came to the country with UN peacekeepers from Nepal. The soldiers’ untreated waste went into open pools, where it easily leaked into important waterways and spread to a population already grappling with a lack of sanitation infrastructure.

Continue reading

WPTPN: Lessons from Turkey: Populist Nationalism and the Threat to Democracy

This World Politics in a Time of Populist Nationalism (WPTPN) guest post is written by Gizem Zencirci, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Providence College. Her research interests include political Islam, neoliberalism and social policy, and Middle East politics. 

The rise of the AK Party in Turkey and its consolidation of power is a case with generalizable lessons about the rise of populist nationalism elsewhere.

Continue reading

Call for Guest Posts: World Politics in a Time of Populist Nationalism

There are many reasons to be concerned about world politics. Over the coming weeks and months the Duck of Minerva will run a series of posts from regular contributors as well as guests on the state of the world and our possible futures. We will explore the implications of the rise of nationalist populism on international relations, international political economy, foreign policy, global institutions, and comparative political systems. Daniel Nexon has already posted on the need to buttress domestic and international institutions; other posts will follow in the coming days.

We invite academics working in these (or other related) substantive areas to contribute guest posts on these themes to the Duck. We hope to provide a forum where a wide set of scholarly viewpoints can be shared and discussed. These may be standalone posts or provide a “first draft” of arguments that are expounded upon in later articles or op-eds. There are no specific length requirements. We are interested in theoretical, empirical,  and conceptual posts, as well as those that view the contemporary environment through a comparative or historical lens. If interest warrants we will pursue opportunities for webcast discussions and/or podcasts, and future publication possibilities may be explored.

If you are interested in contributing please reach out to me directly via Twitter (@whinecough, my DMs are open), e-mail (wkwineco (at) indiana (d0t) edu), or in comments to this post (least preferred but I will periodically check). I will respond with a query regarding your proposed topic and timeframe.

Processing this Election

So this is ostensibly an academic blog, though there is something quite confessional and personal about the blog format. I suspect many readers of the Duck are experiencing what I’m feeling, which is profound heartache over the election results. I’ve been writing on Facebook and trying to grieve and process with others, but I’ve got to stop. Life has to go on, and other urgent writing and work require my attention.

Still, I thought I’d share some of those reflections here, for what it is worth. I’ve refrained from partisan blogging here, though was profoundly opposed to the kind of campaign Donald Trump ran and was open about it. My main objection was the lack of decency in his behavior and rhetoric and fear that tone set a poor example which others would emulate. There were plenty of policy differences to be sure, and I’m not naive about the rough and tumble of politics, but these transgressions I thought were disqualifying and would be apparent to all or enough people.

Here are my reflections in order of their appearance, which I suspect reflect stages of grief I guess. I’m in Texas and grew up here so my audience on Facebook (such that it is) is intended to be wider than fellow travelers on my side of the ideological spectrum. In any case, here they are, for what they are worth.

I fear that progress on issues I care about like climate change will see abrupt reversals, but beyond that, I worry that this Trump victory validates and encourages hateful people to come out of the woodwork, as some are already. I haven’t quite figured out how I intend to respond to all of this as a citizen, but this is a start. I see people donating to charitable causes, others have joined the protests, some are thinking about 2018. I’m not there yet.

ADDENDUM: I published a piece in Real Clear World on election day with collaborators about how the public is actually more supportive of international engagement than elites actually think they are. I’ve been trying to reconcile this with what happened.  Were our survey results wrong like the polls? We have to remember that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, and almost half the electorate didn’t turnout. So, what Americans think and voter turnout are two different things, though it speaks to whether some people care more than others to participate.

SECOND ADDENDUM 11/16: Looks like reports that this was a super low turnout election were wrong, just slightly down compared to 2012. So what follows are my initial reactions as preliminary data came in.

Continue reading

Analogies in War: Marine Mammal Systems and Autonomous Weapons

Last week I was able to host and facilitate a multi-stakeholder meeting of governments, industry and academia to discuss the notions of “meaningful human control” and “appropriate human judgment” as they pertain to the development, deployment and use of autonomous weapons systems (AWS).  These two concepts presently dominate discussion over whether to regulate or ban AWS, but neither concept is fully endorsed internationally, despite work from governments, academia and NGOs.  On one side many prefer the notion of “control,” and on the other “judgment.”

Yet what has become apparent from many of these discussions, my workshop included, is that there is a need for an appropriate analogy to help policy makers understand the complexities of autonomous systems and how humans may still exert control over them.   While some argue that there is no analogy to AWS, and that thinking in this manner is unhelpful, I disagree.  There is one unique example that can help us to understand the nuance of AWS, as well how meaningful human control places limits on their use: marine mammal systems .

Continue reading

Patient Zero and Global Health

With any luck, the myth of Patient Zero being responsible for HIV/AIDS in the US will finally be completely put to rest.

Gaétan Dugas may not be a household name for most, but he’s the man who has largely been blamed for HIV/AIDS in the United States. Dugas was a gay French-Canadian airline steward who worked for Air Canada in the 1970s and 1980s. Because his work involved a significant amount of travel and because of the number of his sexual contacts, a 1984 study linked him to some other early cases (though it could not necessarily prove a direct line of infection).

Continue reading

Ladies and Gentlemen, Your Candidates for WHO Director-General

When I walk down the street, I don’t see signs saying “Tedros for WHO” or “Vote Szócska.” The television and radio airwaves don’t have endless campaign commercials ending with the tagline, “I’m Flavia Bustreo, and I approve this message.” Sania Nishtar does not hold large public rallies in sports stadiums to bolster her candidacy. Neither David Nabarro nor Philippe Douste-Blazy do phonebanking.

These facts don’t distract from the fact that there is a vigorous and hotly-contested electoral race for the Director-General of the World Health Organization. Think of the current period as the primaries, with the general election campaign beginning when the WHO Executive Committee forwards the names of the three finalists to the World Health Assembly in February.

When WHO reformed its processes for selecting a new Director-General (which I detailed here), they set themselves up for a new and largely unprecedented experiment. For better or worse, most international organizations select their leaders through fairly opaque processes, and the public gets little glimpse into the decisionmaking process. Even when we have seen multiple candidates competing for the top office, such as the 2012 race for the presidency of the World Bank, the formal campaigns have tended to be brief.

WHO’s election process is different. It is openly contested. It features some of the same trappings of other political campaigns. It requires a degree of public engagement not usually seen in international organizations. The United Nations’ search for a new Secretary-General was supposed to be more transparent, but the process came to a surprising early conclusion when the 15 members of the Security Council announced their unanimous support for former Portuguese prime minister António Guterres.

So far, the WHO DG election does not show signs of ending early. Part of that may be because of the procedures WHO established for the election, but it also reflects the keen interest in the job. When the nomination period closed on 23 September, WHO announced that there were six candidates:

The final list of six surprised a number of observers. Tedros (as he prefers to be called), Douste-Blazy, and Nishtar were not surprises, as all three had essentially been campaigning for months prior to the official nomination period. Bustreo, Nabarro, and Szócska, though, were not among the names being bandied about.

The candidates themselves are an interesting mix. Despite the fact that WHO has been criticized for only having had DGs from Europe or Asia since 1973, only one candidate comes from outside those two regions. Two candidates—Tedros and Douste-Blazy—have served as their country’s Foreign Minister. Bustreo is the only candidate who is currently employed by WHO, but Nabarro headed up one of WHO’s post-Ebola reform panels and previously worked in the Director-General’s office. Nishtar would be the first Muslim to lead the organization if she were selected. Three of the candidates come from traditional donor states to WHO. All but Tedros are medical doctors, while Tedros holds a PhD in community health.

As part of the campaign process, the candidates are reaching out to the voters/member-states. Four of the candidates—Tedros, Douste-Blazy, Nabarro, and Nishtar—have specific campaign websites, and Bustreo and Szócska are active on Twitter. and all six responded to a candidate survey from The Lancet. The African Union announced its support for Tedros’ candidacy (and the value of having an African in the top job) earlier this year. Given that African states are the largest single bloc within WHO, that could give him an early advantage—assuming all AU member-states vote in unison.

All of the candidates appear to meet the basic requirements for the position, so which factors are likely to make a difference in the election? Let me call attention to three issues that are likely to play a big role in the deliberations. First, WHO’s budget is a mess. More than 80 percent of its outlays come from voluntary contributions pledged for specific programs. As a result, WHO has little control over how it spends most of its money, and it lacks the financial flexibility to allow it to respond to an emergency like Ebola. That said, member-states have been reluctant to give WHO more money without seeing proof of WHO’s efficacy. A successful candidate will need to show an ability to simultaneously get WHO the resources it needs to carry out its mission and convince member-states that it can use those funds efficiently and responsibly. There may also be opportunities to develop new financing structures, like UNITAID’s airline ticket levy. (Incidentally, Douste-Blazy has been the chair of UNITAID since 2006.)

Second, WHO needs to restore its international credibility. To a large degree, that is likely to mean that member-states are going to want to know specifics from the candidates about what sorts of reforms WHO will introduce to function better. WHO cannot do everything, so the question is what direction the different candidates would go in their understanding of the organization’s scope. That will also touch on how much autonomy WHO should have: is it there simply to do the member-states’ bidding, or should it have control over its own agenda?

Finally, WHO’s leader will need to show an ability to play politics. Outgoing DG Margaret Chan has been criticized for not being an effective diplomat, especially in contrast to someone like former WHO DG Gro Harlem Brundtland. Like it or not, global health is an inherently political field; a focus on solely on the technical aspects simply will not work in this environment. Indeed, Josh Busby, Karen Grépin, and I argued earlier this year that the next WHO DG specifically needs political experience.

In many ways, the WHO DG election could provide a template for international organizations looking to elect their leaders publicly and transparently. As such, it is all the more important to keep an eye on it—and to pick up some sweet campaign swag.

So You Want to Be the Next Director-General of the World Health Organization…

It should come as no surprise to anyone that a political scientist like me gets really excited about elections and campaigns, and we’re currently in the thick of a doozy of a campaign season. Candidates have splashy websites and brochures, and they regularly meet with voters to pitch their candidacies. Whoever wins will take over an organization whose standing in the world is up in the air—and the winner will have a big job restoring the organization’s place in the larger global landscape.

Of course, I’m talking about the campaign for the next Director-General of the World Health Organization. What else would I be describing?

Continue reading

Empathy, Envy and Justice: The Real Trouble for Algorithm Bias

Rousseau once remarked that “It is, therefore, very certain that compassion is a natural sentiment, which, by moderating the activity of self-esteem in each individual, contributes to the mutual preservation of the whole species” (Discourses on Inequality).  Indeed, it is compassion, and not “reason” that keeps this frail species progressing.   Yet, this ability to be compassionate, which is by its very nature an other-regarding ability, is (ironically) the different side to the same coin: comparison.  Comparison, or perhaps “reflection on certain relations” (e.g. small/big; hard/soft; fast/slow; scared/bold), also has the different and degenerative features of pride and envy.  These twin vices, for Rousseau, are the root of much of the evils in this world.  They are tempered by compassion, but they engender the greatest forms of inequality and injustice in this world.

Rousseau’s insights ought to ring true in our ears today, particularly as we attempt to create artificial intelligences to overtake or mediate many of our social relations.  Recent attention given to “algorithm bias,” where the algorithm for a given task draws from either biased assumptions or biased training data yielding discriminatory results, I would argue is working the problem of reducing bias from the wrong direction.  Many, the White House included, are presently paying much attention about how to eliminate algorithmic bias, or in some instance to solve the “value alignment problem,” thereby indirectly eliminating it.   Why does this matter?  Allow me a brief technological interlude on machine learning and AI to illustrate why eliminating this bias (a la Rousseau) is impossible.

Continue reading

Persuading Republicans to Dump Trump

I have one more Trump post I have to write. My first bemoaned how Trump could possibly be competitive in the presidential race and the second lambasted Trump’s positions on domestic and foreign policy. I have no illusions that I’m convincing anyone who isn’t already convinced he is a danger to the republic. However, should you read this and have friends in your orbit who are flirting with supporting Trump, here is some ammunition for your Facebook feed, dinner conversation, passenger pigeon, what have you.

Basically, my hunch is that people will listen to you because they know you, but they also might listen to you if they trust the information sources you rely on. Republicans might only listen to other Republicans so I’m going to pull together the most persuasive quotes from prominent Republicans who have said never Trump.

Continue reading

Trump on Policy: Consistently Self-Serving

In my last post, I lamented that Donald Trump is the presumptive GOP nominee, despite his outrageous series of slurs against different groups, his lies, and unscrupulous business practices. Before exploring what arguments might persuade Republicans and undecideds to vote against Trump, what other substantive objections are there to Trump?

Trump has policy stances and utterances, based on some gut check about what outrageous thing might rile a receptive audience and keep him in the news so that he doesn’t have to pay for TV ads. His style is based on improvisation and pandering, so he flip-flops as needed. It’s unclear that there is a core belief other than Trump will do or say what he thinks is necessary to benefit Trump. There are signs on foreign policy that he has a consistent take on the world which is America is a sucker and should stick it to the other guys. Continue reading

Emotionally Trumped

Is there such a thing as blogger’s block? I suppose there must be. I’ve found the whole Donald Trump saga to be emotionally exhausting. It’s hard to write more than 140 characters about this presidential race. How is it possible that he could or will be the nominee of a major party?

Which groups has he not offended?

This weekend it was the Jewish community’s turn after Trump retweeted an anti-Hillary picture that featured a six-sided star and a background of dollars. A news organization tracked down the origins of the image on a neo-Nazi thread on a message board.  This is not the first time. On Facebook, we debated whether it was incompetence or anti-Semitism. Probably both. Continue reading

Kill Webs: The Wicked Problem of Future Warfighting

The common understanding in military circles is that the more data one has, the more information one possess.  More information leads to better intelligence, and better intelligence produces greater situational awareness.  Sun Tzu rightly understood this cycle two millennia ago: “Intelligence is the essence in warfare—it is what the armies depend upon in their every move.” Of course, for him, intelligence could only come from people, not from various types of sensor data, such as radar signatures or ship’s pings.

Pursuing the data-information-intelligence chain is the intuition behind the newly espoused “Kill Web” concept.  Unfortunately, however, there is scant discussion about what the Kill Web actually is or entails.  We have glimpses of the technologies that will comprise it, such as integrating sensors and weapons systems, but we do not know how it will function or the scope of its vulnerabilities.

Continue reading

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?

Continue reading

The Question of Quantum

Tough as it is to follow Charli’s excellent post on terrorism, somebody has to do it and so I might as well. If this past ISA is any indication, quantum is a big deal. The panel on Alex Wendt’s new book linking quantum mechanics to the social sciences was standing room only (from what I hear, I could not be there). James Der Derian has Project Q at the University of Sydney. One of the papers I read as a discussant at ISA invoked the term superpositionality, much to my surprise. So, Newtonian World out, Quantum World in (not sure where Einstein fits).


This is all fascinating. Quantum mechanics has been around for a while, and for a while physicists have struggled to reconcile the strange subatomic world, characterized by phenomena like superpositionality (the state or location of a particle are probabilistic and exist in multiple states/conditions at the same time, and according to one interpretation only collapsed to a point upon observation), quantum tunneling (when a particle passes through a barrier without having to surmount it) and quantum entanglement (quantum states of two particles are linked such that changes in one are immediately reflected in the other, regardless of distance), with the macroscopic world we see, which is characterized by none of these things. Continue reading

Hostile Intent: Civilian Casualties and the Politics of Killing

Tackling Tough CallsThe expectation that civilians should be protected from the worst excesses of war is traditionally viewed as a moral or legal restraint, moderating the kind of violence that can be inflicted on the battlefield. But the shift towards counterinsurgency in Afghanistan and Iraq and its emphasis on population-centric warfare called for a radical rethink in how civilian casualties are framed. Rather than simply viewing them as the tragic but inevitable side-effect of military operations, civilian casualties were now seen as a ‘strategic setback’ that could jeopardise the overall success of campaign. In his 2011 tactical directive, Gen. John R. Allen stated that he was ‘absolutely committed to eliminating the tragic waste of human life amongst the law-abiding citizens of Afghanistan’, reminding soldiers that ‘every civilian casualty is a detriment to our interests’. Gen. Stanley McChrystal was equally adamant about the need to reduce civilian harm, insisting that coalition forces try to ‘avoid the trap of winning tactical victories – but suffering strategic defeats – by causing civilian casualties or excessive damage’.

Concerned about alienating the local population, the military introduced a number of measures to reduce the number of civilians killed, limiting its reliance on deadly airstrikes and controversial night raids whilst encouraging troops to exercise greater ‘tactical patience’ when dealing with locals. Data collected by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan suggests that these changes did have a positive impact on civilian harm, with deaths caused by pro-government forces falling from 828 in 2008 to 341 in 2013. As Neta Crawford argues in her recent book, ‘when the United States perceived the harm to civilians as posing a political-military problem, it attempted and succeeded in decreasing collateral damage deaths’ (see also). But a new report from the Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC) raises some important questions about the protection of civilians during this period, criticising the vague, unclear and imprecise language used to justify certain deaths (see also). In particular, it warns that conceptual flaws in the standing rules of engagement (SROE), combined with poor application in the field, resulted in ‘erroneous determinations of hostile intent’. To put it simply, civilians were killed and injured because soldiers mistook perfectly innocent behaviour as a threat to their safety.

Continue reading

Autonomous Weapons and Incentives for Oppression

Much of the present debate over autonomous weapons systems (AWS) focuses on their use in war. On one side, scholars argue that AWS will make war more inhumane (Asaro, 2012), that the decision to kill must be a human being’s choice (Sharkey, 2010), or that they will make war more likely because conflict will be less costly to wage with them (Sparrow, 2009). On the other side, scholars argue that AWS will make war more humane, as the weapons will be greater at upholding the principles of distinction and proportionality (Müller and Simpson, 2014), as well as providing greater force protection (Arkin, 2009). I would, however, like to look at different dimension: authoritarian regimes’ use of AWS for internal oppression and political survival.

Continue reading

Transforming Markets and Social Movements

Why do some transnational advocacy movements have more success transforming global markets than others? Can we look to look to differences in market structure for a preliminary account? Why were AIDS advocates able to achieve extended access to antiretroviral medications for millions of people while climate campaigners have struggled to achieve comparable gains?

This week, International Studies Quarterly published an early access and ungated version of my article with Ethan Kapstein where we examine how the structure of markets shaped the differential scope for climate and AIDS advocacy. (This is an extension of our 2013 book AIDS Drugs for All which had a broader focus on movement organization and agency.)

In brief, we argue that four factors of the industry opportunity structure facilitate market transformation: (1) the number of product markets, (2) the degree of global integration (3) market concentration and (4) the source of rents. In this post, I thought I’d walk through the logic we develop in the article and some of the issues that I think merit further research. (I developed some of these themes in my remarks at last fall’s APSA pre-conference workshop on markets and politics).  Continue reading

The Agency of Multilateral Organizations

This is a guest post from Tana Johnson, an Assistant Professor at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy. I had the pleasure of editing a reviews exchange on her important new book, Organizational Progeny. The exchange just came out in the latest issue of International Politics Reviews and features reviews from me (Josh), Tanisha Fazal, and Alexandru Grigorescu, as well as a response from Johnson herself. Ungated access here.  

I’ve recently returned from Geneva, home to scores of international intergovernmental organizations (IGOs). It’s an intriguing place: unlike New York, which is overrun by international politics for a just a few weeks each autumn,  in Geneva international politics play out on every corner, on every day. The city is a hub for international policymaking in health, trade, human rightslabor, and countless other issue areas. So, can the IGOs that operate there, and elsewhere, act independently of their members? Or are they simply robots, mechanically doing what states want? Continue reading

Older posts

© 2017 Duck of Minerva

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑