There is a recurring frustration among observers of the Trump administration that commentary easily becomes distracted. Stories about the Trump family’s everyday nepotism and corruption may be important in the context of a so-called ‘normal’ presidency, but these are small marbles when compared to the administration’s catastrophic performance at Helsinki or the odious policy of child separation. For many IR scholars the message is clear: don’t focus on Ivanka’s clothing line, focus on what matters.
But what if stories like the decline of Ivanka’s clothing brand matter more than we think? In isolation, these kinds of stories appear as inconsequential distractions. Taken together, they form a broader genre of reporting focused on the rising personal costs of serving under Trump. This genre of reporting is important because it points to two crucial political processes occurring around the Trump administration right at this moment: backlash and stigmatization. I want to suggest that scholars should not only think about how these processes are significant features of contemporary politics, but how they can inform how we think about restraint in the age of Trump. Continue reading
This post comes from Steve Weber, Professor at the I-School and Department of Political Science and Director of the Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity at the University of California, Berkeley, and a co-director of the Bridging the Gap project.
It has become common in 2018 to hear that the United States and China are locking themselves into an Artificial Intelligence ‘arms race’. While global politics will certainly change in the machine learning era, the supposed ‘arms race’ between the US and China may turn out to be less interesting and relevant in this world than the relationships between the two machine learning superpowers and everyone else.
Which race will prove more relevant depends upon the long-term economic and security consequences of general purpose technologies, as well as the distinctive characteristics of the technologies that fall under the AI umbrella. (I prefer the term ‘machine learning’ because it carries fewer science-fiction connotations.) General purpose technologies are technologies that sweep across the economy and impact what is possible in many sectors, shaking up how companies and governments do what they do in the broadest sense. Steam locomotion is the obvious 19th century example. Machine learning is a 21st century general purpose technology because it can (and will) be applied in just about every economic production process you can imagine, from retail management to autonomous driving to drug discovery and beyond.
An even more important characteristic of machine learning as a technology is that it has strong first mover advantages and positive feedback loops. In simple terms, the better you are at machine learning at any given moment, the faster you are likely to improve relative to those ‘behind’ you. A firm that has excellent machine learning products (say, a great map application) will find that its products have greater success in the market. The more people who use the product, the more data are created for the firm to work with, which should lead to faster improvement in the underlying algorithms. In turn, that means the next iteration of the product will be even better. This positive feedback cycle can run on a very fast cadence, since data products can be updated far more frequently than any physical product (some are updated daily or even more frequently than that). All of this implies that the leader should speed away from competitors at an ever-accelerating pace. Michael Horowitz recently examined in the Texas National Security Review the potential military implications of such first-mover advantages in AI.
This post in the Bridging the Gap series come from Sara Plana and Rachel Tecott, doctoral candidates in the Department of Political Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (Sara is also an alumna of BtG’s New Era Workshop.) They are the founders of the Future Strategy Forum and co-organized the Future of Force conference held in May 2018. Follow them on Twitter @saracplana and @racheltecott.
Last month, the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Kissinger Center at John Hopkins SAIS hosted a conference on the “Future of Force,” inaugurating a new series called the Future Strategy Forum. Like many DC conferences, the line-up featured a mix of preeminent academics, practitioners, and pracademics on discussion panels – but in this case, all of them were women. These experts discussed the implications of rising great and regional powers, non-state actors, and emerging technologies, and the approaches and challenges to crafting an integrated approach to US foreign policy. The final, keynote panel brought together women scholars (including us!) who have worked in both policymaking and academia, to investigate the academic-policy divide.
We left the day with much to think about, but four main themes struck us especially. Continue reading
In March, I argued that the connections between climate change and security are complex, contingent, and not fully understood. Most of the academic literature has firmly focused on conflict onset with the broader security consequences largely understudied . For policy audiences, the nuance can be frustrating. It is difficult to know what to do with such complexity, other than talk broadly of climate change as a “threat multiplier.”
However, the policy community does not have the luxury of waiting for academics to reach some consensus on climate-conflict links that might never materialize. What’s more, they have other preoccupations other than conflict to worry about such as humanitarian emergencies, interstate jockeying over hydrocarbons freed up by melting Arctic ice, and people on the move for many reasons, climate among them. How can climate security academics who aspire for policy relevance seek to orient their work without compromising academic rigor?
This is the question I sought to address in remarks at a recent conference organized by the Peace Research Institute of Oslo (PRIO), which accompanied the public event at the Wilson Center I blogged about several weeks ago. Here are my thoughts on bridging the policy-academic divide on climate and security, which represents a distillation of the wider theme I explored in the latest issue of the Texas National Security Review. Continue reading
Earlier this week, a particularly volatile fissure within the Trump Administration opened up. Nikki Haley, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, announced on Sunday that the Administration would be imposing fresh sanctions on Russia. However, the Administration quickly denied that this was true, stating—in fact—that her statement was based on “momentary confusion.” Haley struck back saying that she does not “get confused.” This is not the first issue of unclear signals (see my previous post about this here), but it holds significance for how we approach signaling in foreign policy.
This is a guest post from Joseph MacKay, a Research Fellow in the Department of International Relations at Australian National University, and Christopher David LaRoche, a PhD candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of Toronto.
Growing nationalist and populist parties and movements across the developed West and elsewhere are prone to a common nostalgic rhetoric: the political consensus of recent decades has eroded national boundaries, traditions, and identities. The past, they argue, was better than the present. And what is most needful now is a return to that ideal past in the name of a future that, like the past, can be “great again.”
Although its details and implications vary, this narrative draws on the long history of reactionary thought. Reaction is an attitude toward social and political life marked by political, sometimes militant nostalgia. Like liberal progressivism or Marxian radicalism, reaction amounts to a politicized position on how history works, over the long haul. When William F. Buckley declared that National Review would “stand athwart history yelling stop,” he marked himself as a reactionary.
IR theory, we argue, has few tools for identifying and assessing reactionary politics. Why has IR theory traditionally spent so little time thinking about it? In a new Theory Note (now ungated!) at International Studies Quarterly, we explore the lack of reactionary thought in international relations, and its implications for how IR thinks about reactionary world politics. We write not as reactionaries ourselves, but because we are concerned this inattention may have ill-prepared the field for our current political moment. This post summarizes the project, and considers its implications for the field. Continue reading
A Presidential summit in May is not a high risk / high reward scenario. It is Russian roulette.
Last November the media poked fun when inclement weather kept Trump from getting his opportunity to stare down the enemy at the demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating North and South Korea. While Trump was reportedly frustrated with being denied this photo-op, it is regrettable for us all that he never made it. Despite the pageantry that comes with these visits, I know from experience that there is something visceral about standing at the world’s most heavily militarized border. There is a certain tension that cannot be faked. And for a moment, you cannot help but think of the consequences if this precarious peace was broken. While no one can claim to know what Trump is thinking at any given moment, I would like to believe that such an experience would inform his decision to either stare down or embrace North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un in a possible meeting between the two leaders.
After nearly fifteen years of study, what do we know about the relationship between climate change and security? I recently attended a Woodrow Wilson Center event organized by the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) on the state of the field. Along with Geoff Dabelko, Halvard Buhaug, and Sherri Goodman, I offered my take on the field (the video is embedded below).
In this blog post, I wanted to focus on five different causal pathways that I think represent the frontier of research on the study of climate and conflict, which include agricultural production and food prices, economic growth, migration, disasters, and international and domestic institutions. The study of climate and conflict is a narrower view on the broader field of climate and security, but it is the one that academics have focused most of their energy on.
In most of these accounts, climate hazards or variability affect the likelihood of conflict either through the effects on livelihoods, state capacity, and/or inter-group tensions. In some accounts, extreme weather or variability lowers the rewards to agriculture and/or other livelihoods and makes rebellion or violence more attractive. These same processes can also deprive states of tax revenue and undermine their capacity to suppress violence and provide public goods. They can also exacerbate tensions between groups.
Whether climate changes and variability contribute to the increased likelihood of conflict has been the dominant focus of this literature, though I myself have a broader view of what constitutes security. Continue reading
“There is not one civilized nation in the world that ought to rejoice in seeing India escape from the hands of Europe in order to fall back into a state of anarchy and barbarism worse than before the conquest.” ~Alexis de Tocqueville, in correspondence with William Nassau Senior in 1857, regarding the Sepoy Rebellion in India.
Psychologist Steven Pinker’s new book, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, has caused quite a stir. The book itself provides the reader with an optimistic narrative about how the contemporary period is the best time to be a human; we have never lived in a safer, more joyful, period of human history. As in his monstrous prequel, The Better Angels of Our Nature, Pinker provides statistics and data as a way of demonstrating this fact, and draws a causal historical connection about the rise of Enlightenment-era ideas–especially ideas regarding science and the decline of religious beliefs–and our moment of “bliss.”
This is a guest post by Betcy Jose, Assistant Professor of Political Science at University of Colorado-Denver
“This is a really good school, and now it’s like a war zone.” This is how one parent reacted when picking up his son from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL after a shooter murdered 17 students and staff. It is a description often used in the aftermath of mass shootings. At first blush, it seems a remarkable comparison to make, especially given that the United States is not embroiled in anything resembling a traditional armed conflict within its borders. The International Committee for the Red Cross, the international community’s expert on war and war law, states only two types of armed conflicts exist in international law. One is an international armed conflict that includes “all cases of declared war or of any other armed conflict which may arise between two or more of the High Contracting Parties, even if the state of war is not recognized by one of them.” The other is a non-international armed conflict, one that involves, “protracted armed confrontations [reaching a minimal level of intensity]… between governmental armed forces and the forces of one or more [minimally organized] armed groups, or between such groups arising on the territory of a State…” Even with tragically high rates of mass shootings in the United States, the kind of violence it experiences domestically would not legally qualify as a state of war.
But what about from the point of view of the victims of gun violence? Do their experiences, particularly those of victims of mass shootings, resemble in any way the experiences of civilians in legally recognized war zones? Here, the answer may be surprising if we focus on at least two issues related to gun-violence victims and war-affected civilians: the violence and harms they experience and their efforts to protect themselves from those harms and violence. Continue reading
Katie Couric, in a tweet last month about the Olympics , wrote: “I do think the Olympics is unique in that it transcends politics.” This view is pervasive in Couric’s formulation, but takes on a subtler tone in the argument that the Olympics is political only in circumstances of the “exceptional.” For example, writing for the Atlanticin 2012, Armin Rosen constructs a narrative of Olympic politics within the context of Cold War rivalries. For Rosen, the Olympics was not always apolitical: “the Olympics were once a particularly bright flashpoint in one of the Cold War era’s tensest geopolitical dramas.” This drama was the boycott of the games by twenty-eight African countries in protest of the New Zealand rugby team’s violation of the international athletic embargo on apartheid South Africa.
These takes on the Olympics are misguided on two fronts. First, it obscures the long political history of the Olympics. The idea of the “sacred truce”—a putting aside of politics during Olympic games for the purposes of friendly and fair athletic competition—is a myth. Second, this misunderstanding of the Olympic games is hazardous. It is more proof of what Carl Schmitt criticized as the death of the political: the increasing depoliticization of inherently political processes.
I suggest that a consideration of the Olympics as a political event, with political aims, cannot only help us understand the way that the Olympics functions as a site of international relations, but should also—from a normative angle—allow us to more broadly rethink exercise, fitness, and sport as a public activity. Following Arendt, this lack of understanding of things like sport-as-politics is indicative of a world where society has failed people; it “has lost its power to gather them together.”
Ahead of the 2018 Winter Olympics, the media has become fascinated with a common narrative that the erstwhile “bitter enemies,” North and South Korea, will march under one flag. The identity and political relations of the Koreas are more complicated than the “enemy” rhetoric conveys. Emblematic of this complexity are the families that are separated by the border, with living siblings that pre-date the division of the peninsula. The current thaw in inter-Korean relations is rooted in the late 1990’s “Sunshine Policy” of the former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung. Yet, the question remains as to whether direct engagement between North and South Korea has the possibility to fundamentally alter the political situation on the Korean Peninsula.
Umberto Eco, writing about an “Ur-Fascism” in the New York Review of Books in 1995, quoted Eugène Ionesco, who said “only words count; the rest is mere chattering.” Donald Trump was certainly not at a loss for words in Tuesday night’s State of the Union speech. He gave us plenty of words. Beautiful words. The best words. Words that would have likely worried Eco.
This is not a post about Trump-as-fascist. We have read plenty of those takes, many of which tend to fear-monger as much as the administration does. However, Eco’s understanding of the idea of an “Ur-Fascism” gives us a means of understanding the way the Trump administration talks about security politics—it can contextualize the contours of the discourse. While Trump is not a Mussolini or a Hitler, there is a commonality in the functions of language in how Trump talks about security.
Because of space, I cannot offer a full discourse analysis of the speech, but I will highlight the connection between the rhetoric and Eco’s understanding of an “Eternal Fascism” using text from the speech, in order to point to commonalities—especially in the way Trump constructs security issues in the speech. I will focus on six of Eco’s 14 defining features for the sake of space.
What a time to be alive. By some accounts, we are witnessing a power transition between the United States and China, with the United States voluntarily relinquishing its claim of global leadership despite having a sizable advantage in hard power over all of its rivals.
Evan Osnos, who spent many years in China writing for the New Yorker, has a provocative piece that sums up his view of Trump’s foreign policy one year in, “Making China Great Again.”
The Chinese, he writes, have a clear-eyed assessment of what the Trump administration has become:
After the summit, the Pangoal Institution, a Beijing think tank, published an analysis of the Trump Administration, describing it as a den of warring “cliques,” the most influential of which was the “Trump family clan.” The Trump clan appears to “directly influence final decisions” on business and diplomacy in a way that “has rarely been seen in the political history of the United States,” the analyst wrote. He summed it up using an obscure phrase from feudal China: jiatianxia—“to treat the state as your possession.”
The Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership gives China an opportunity to define trade rules in the Asia Pacific. The intended withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement allows China to reap diplomatic kudos by staying in. These moves among others are gifting China an opening to exercise greater influence than ever before. Continue reading
Any woman would tell you that. What matters is what you do with it and whether you know how to use it. Whatever Brobdingnagian thing you’ve got going on there, it’s way more important to have a game plan and understand the sweet spots you need to target. Otherwise, both parties may come away less than satisfied from the encounter.
I am talking, of course, about the nuclear arsenal size and the ever-lasting dick-measuring contest that is international politics. After the ridiculous Trump tweet that Kim John Un’s nuclear button is smaller and less powerful than that of #45, IR Twitter was quick to point out Carol Cohn’s seminal “Sex and Death in the Rational World of Defense Intellectuals” article that discussed exactly that. That the world of arms race is essentially a world of phallic worship and missile envy, replete with “penetration aids”, “thrust capabilities” and “vertical erector launchers”. Who knew that a presidential candidate who mentions the size of his penis during a primary debate would actually bring it up during an international nuclear stand-off?!
Another piece that comes to (my) mind is the book by Stephen Ducat “The Wimp Factor: Gender Gaps, Holy Wars, and the Politics of Anxious Masculinity”. As he observed, the ‘wimp factor’, i.e., the possibility of coming off as too feminine in politics is a major fear in many cultures, spanning from ancient Greece to modern United States. In a culture with a generalized ethos that equates penetration with domination, political hierarchy is often built along the same lines that glorifies ‘real men’ ‘with balls’ hence denigrating femininity and non-cis-gendered males and females. The wimp factor is especially relevant for global politics built on notions of hierarchy, and is often expressed in terms of gender, which favors the male, dominant position.
2017 was not a great year for international politics. The sentence I heard the most during conferences and other academic gatherings was that “the global order is in crisis.” Granted. It all started in 2016 with the victory of Trump, Brexit and the No to the Peace Agreement in Colombia. Nationalist ideologies have nothing but grown in 2017, when the victories of Marine Le Pen in France and of Geert Wilders in the Netherlands all of a sudden seemed plausible. Luckily, they did not materialise. We also had auto-proclaimed nations that demanded independence, such as Catalonia or Kurdistan. To top it all, the far right did win elections in Hungary, Austria and the Czech Republic. This nationalist move is having consequences across the world. In the Libyan costs migrants are being sold as slaves by smugglers or are locked up in hangars with no access to the most basic needs, after the European Union’s enactment of its policy of helping Libyan authorities intercept people trying to cross the Mediterranean and return them to prison. Continue reading
On Saturday, the New York Times ran an investigative story that revealed a few significant facts about the US’s programs to study UFOs. There were some interesting findings in the article (and citations/paraphrases below are from the article, which can be found here):
A 22 million dollar program called “Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification” was operated at DoD from 2007 to 2012—and, in fact, the program continues today without an official budget.
The program produced documentary evidence of spacecraft hovering with no sign of propulsion.
A contracted company, Bigelow Aerospace, was given large sums of money to help operate this program, which included the maintenance of a storage facility in Las Vegas for unidentified metal alloys related to UFO events.
A Pentagon briefing summary from 2009 stated that “what was once considered science fiction is now scientific fact,” and argued that the US government would have great difficulty in securing itself against some of the technology the program had discovered.
This is a guest post from Rebecca Gibbons, a Visiting Assistant Professor at Bowdoin College.
On Sunday, December 10, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) will accept the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize for calling attention to the “catastrophic humanitarian consequences” of nuclear use and for promoting the recently adopted Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
This movement grew out of great frustration with a lack of progress on nuclear disarmament through traditional channels such as the 1970 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) or the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament. After nuclear weapons possessors in the NPT failed in 2005 to re-commit to disarmament promises they had agreed to previously, a leader from the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War—itself a Nobel Peace Prize winner—sought to found a new umbrella organization devoted to developing a convention against nuclear weapons. He envisioned an international campaign that would operate similar to the one that had banned landmines and suggested calling this new organization the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons with the acronym ICAN. ICAN began in Australia in 2006 and was launched internationally in 2007. In a decade’s time, this group succeeded in pushing forward a multilateral treaty banning nuclear weapons and winning a Nobel Peace Prize. In my research on ICAN, I have identified five reasons for this movement’s success in achieving a nuclear prohibition treaty earlier this year. Continue reading
This is a guest post from Simon Cotton, Australian National University, where he is a Visitor in Philosophy, and the University of New South Wales, Canberra, where he teaches in Humanities and Social Sciences.
Much of the commentary on Oona Hathaway and Scott Shapiro’s recent book, The Internationalists, including at Duck of Minerva, has focused on the empirical basis for their controversial thesis. Hathaway and Shapiro do not just claim that much of the decline in major interstate war that we have seen since the Second World War is down to mere reformulation of black-letter law, but that the 1928 Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928, which appeared an embarrassment in its immediate aftermath, was pivotal to this transformation.
It is unsurprising, then, that political scientists have taken issue with their claim. In contrast, The Internationalists’ philosophical presuppositionshave attracted less attention. This is a pity, because this work represents an invaluable opportunity to demonstrate the practical relevance of philosophy of law, an area that hard-headed social scientists are apt to dismiss. Continue reading
Quick takes on the recent escalation of the North Korea nuclear crisis have highlighted how administration strategy has the potential for a negative effect on the outcomes of the conflict (see: here for example). However, I’d like to work through the role that social media—as a primary mechanism the administration has used to signal intentions—plays in the escalation/de-escalation of a nuclear crisis like this one.
I argue that Trump’s tweets are not only bad optics and potentially inflammatory, but that if we return to thinking about classic deterrence theory, it has the potential of failing to deter war. A scary possibility, especially considering that some have argued North Korea may have rational incentives to use nuclear weapons first.