Category: US Foreign Policy (page 1 of 6)

Pinker’s Enlightenment and Liberal World Order

“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.”

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International Organizations and the Trump Administration’s New Budget Proposal

This is a guest post from Tana Johnson, an Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Political Science at Duke University. She is the author of Organizational Progeny: Why Governments Are Losing Control over the Proliferating Structures of Global Governance (now available in paperback, Oxford University Press). Van Nguyen is an undergraduate at Duke University, majoring in Public Policy and Political Science. She is completing a senior honors thesis on inter-governmental institutions and immigrant integration.

Within its first year in power, the Trump administration has transformed the U.S.’s position toward several international agreements: it has exited negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), signaled its intent to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, and promised to revamp the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Full-fledged international organizations, like the United Nations or NATO, are numerous and costly – so, will they be next? If budgets are reflections of values, then the Trump administration’s new budget proposal provides clues. Here’s what you need to know. Continue reading

Broken IR? It is worse than Walt lets on

As Josh has already noted,  grandee of IR Stephen Walt published a condemnation of US professional schools of IR, calling them broken and claiming that while there is superficial innovation the ‘rot runs deep’. After noting that we should expect US foreign policy (fopo) to be better than it is in the hands of foreign policy professionals—many of whom receive graduate education in institutions like Walt’s Kennedy School of Government at Harvard—Walt concludes that the schools of IR must share some of the blame . After this fairly breezy assessment, Walt goes on to outline five ways the ‘experience’ of graduate education in IR can be improved: Continue reading

Are IR Schools Broken? Nah.

IR program rankings are out in Foreign Policy. Discuss.

Steve Walt has a provocative column in the same issue that I’m sure he didn’t title that suggests “America’s IR Schools Are Broken.” The argument isn’t strictly the familiar one from him about methods but that scholars seeking influence in policy circles have rallied around conformist consensus positions:

But perhaps the biggest limitation in today’s schools of international affairs — at least here in the United States — is their tendency to reinforce the stale bipartisan consensus behind “liberal hegemony” and the necessity for “U.S. leadership…”

Instead of doing what academic institutions are ideally suited for — that is, taking an independent, critical look at contemporary issues and trying to figure out what is working, what is failing, and how we could do better — the desire to be closely tied to the policy world inevitably tempts most schools of international affairs to gravitate toward a familiar mainstream consensus.

I have a series of tweets that I’ve embedded below that are in the same vein of Frank Gavin and Jim Steinberg’s podcast with War on the Rocks in defense of the Blob (Gavin is also in this issue of Foreign Policy with a piece that bemoans past ways of teaching international relations but with more optimism about the future).

In my thread below, I make the argument that conformity in US foreign policy is hardly the fault of IR programs where there is considerable disquiet about US foreign policy adventurism of late but also a recognition that the liberal order is worth defending. Continue reading

The Myth of the Sacred Truce

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 Atlantic in 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.”

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“Steel in America’s Spine”: The State of the Union, Security, Discourse

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.

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The Return of Geopolitics

Geopolitics has returned with a vengeance. The end of the Cold War wrought a moment in which there was no credible alternative to liberal democratic capitalism. Russia was seemingly fatally weakened, and China was not yet the economic powerhouse it would become.

By the late 2000’s, Russia, with power and resources concentrated  in the hands of Vladimir Putin, was newly assertive in its near abroad and attempted to restore its authority over Georgia and Ukraine. It would seek influence over events further afield by supporting the Assad regime in Syria and through vigorous efforts to destabilize elections in the United States and elsewhere.

For its part, China finally asserted suspected regional ambitions and began robust efforts to build physical infrastructure on contested islands in the South China Sea. Together,these moves suggested a return of great power politics and that the play for global convergence to liberal democratic capitalism had not succeeded. With China, there was now a plausible competitor in authoritarian capitalism.

This is the scene captured in Tom Wright’s important 2017 bookAll Measures Short of War. Wright, now of the Brookings Institution, attempts to explain why American policymakers embraced and failed with convergence and what to do about it.

In a reviews exchange in the journal International Politics Reviews, Kori Schake, Chris Preble, and Nuno Monteiro weigh in on Wright’s book. Wright responds in turn. It’s a terrific exchange. Here are the key take-aways, but give them a read yourself. (BTW, I’m an associate editor at IPR so if you have a book and would like to be part of an exchange, let me know). Continue reading

Turning the Lights Out on American Leadership

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

Size Doesn’t Matter

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.

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Look What You Made Me Do

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the sovereignest of them all? Asked no head of state — ever. And yet, the Russian Parliament is in the process of devising a document, which assesses levels of sovereignty among the G20, and devises punishments for countries or individuals who infringe on state sovereignty. I have to admit, it fits well with the ISQ’s new online symposium on International Systems in World History. Hierarchy, international system, definition of state, coercion – it’s all there! Russian Parliament does not reflect on the Eurocentrism of their concepts though…

The Interim Commission of the Federation Council for the Protection of State Sovereignty has prepared a plan for an annual report on interference in Russia’s internal affairs (securitization alert!). Apparently, the West is stimulating interethnic and interreligious protests in Russia by way of turning the Russian youth “into an instrument of loosening up of national political systems, implementing scenarios of  “color revolutions”, coups d’état, and social destabilisation.” So, if we track the empirical application of Butcher and Griffiths’ article,  there is in fact a clear delineation between domestic and foreign politics. The foreign part comes in with the “monitoring of the interference of foreign states and international organizations in the political, economic, cultural and humanitarian spheres of activity in Russia”. Especially worrisome for Russian lawmakers is the expected interference with Russia’s presidential election in spring 2018. See, Russia does care about election meddling! Just not the American one.

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Philosophy of Law and the Decline of War

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 presuppositions have 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

Trump and Nuclear Deterrence: Dancing on the Edge of a Cliff

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.

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The emperor has no clothes moment for realism

Earlier this month the Washington Post ran a piece detailing increased efforts by Charles Koch’s eponymous foundation (hereafter CKF) to fund foreign policy programs in the United States (h/t to Josh for posting to Twitter). Notwithstanding one’s perspective on the Koch brothers’ politics, increased money for academia is a good thing, right? And all the CKF wants is to “ask questions about America’s proper role in the world and how we move forward”…to ‘broaden the debate’ about US foreign policy. All noble aims, and so I am sure the CKF is distributing money to institutions large and small to give faculty opportunities to take students on study abroad programs, bring in policymakers and thinkers to foster discussion, and other mechanisms to provoke reflection and debate.

Except, by all appearances, the CKF is not doing these things. Continue reading

The Water’s Edge is Muddier Than You Think

Today’s post is from Bridging the Gap Co-Director Jordan Tama, Associate Professor at American University’s School of International Service. He is working on a book tentatively entitled Bipartisanship in a Polarized Age: When Democrats and Republicans Cooperate on U.S. Foreign Policy.

Partisan polarization represents one of the dominant frames through which scholars and journalists see American politics today. Indeed, such polarization has increased significantly in the United States since the 1970s. A number of studies have found that this trend spans domestic and foreign policy, though scholars have disagreed about the extent to which American divisions over foreign policy are growing. Congressional voting patterns also suggest that bipartisanship is more prevalent on international than on domestic issues.

Scholars and journalists have given much less attention, though, to variation in types of bipartisanship. Analysts of American politics typically conceive of bipartisanship as a situation in which the two parties cooperate with each other or adopt the same position on a policy issue. Analysts of U.S. foreign policy often further associate bipartisanship with both parties in Congress supporting a position of the president – as in the adage, frequently invoked during wartime or when the president travels overseas, that politics stops “at the water’s edge.” In either conception, bipartisanship is usually seen in binary terms: an issue is either characterized by bipartisanship or it is not. Conversely, writing about partisan polarization typically sees bipartisanship simply as the opposite of polarization.

These binary images overlook important distinctions in the alignments of elected officials across different issues, particularly on foreign policy. Continue reading

Free Access and the Future of Gated Publishing

I am just back from the launch of the Texas National Security Review (TNSR), a new partnership with War on the Rocks and underwritten by my home institution. Forgive the quasi-promotional qualities of this post, as I think the new journal raises fundamental questions about the gated publishing model.

TNSR promises to be disruptive to the traditional game of academic publishing in the security space in a few ways. First, all their content will be available for free.

Second, the journal will include both peer-reviewed and straight-up policy pieces, sort of International Security meets Foreign Affairs. The journal’s main aim is for policy relevant scholarship, to bridge the gap by soliciting contributions from scholars and practitioners in the same pages. The inaugural issue thus features more academic pieces like Jon Bew’s on grand strategy and Rose McDermott and co-authors on the psychological origins of deterrence alongside policy pieces by Kathleen Hicks,  John McCain,  and Jim Steinberg.

Third, even as it has legacy print editions, it will take advantage of new media with an attractive web design, accompanied by podcasts and other content that War on the Rocks has popularized in the security space. Certainly, existing journals like ISQ have made efforts in this direction but it is more baked in to the DNA of TNSR.

Fourth, with the involvement of my colleague Will Inboden and my former colleague Frank Gavin, the journal also promises to be more inter-disciplinary, providing a home for diplomatic historians and international relations scholars alike.

It is an open question whether the journal can become a place that academics feel is a desirable outlet to publish their peer-reviewed work. We have seen in recent years the proliferation of new journals like the Journal of Global Security Studies and International Theory, and I don’t have a feel for how they fit in the existing landscape of security-oriented journals like IS, Security Studies, Journal of Peace Research, and the Journal of Conflict Resolution.  But, it does feel like the landscape is shifting in important ways.

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Liberal World Order, Redux

Earlier this year, I wrote a piece for Duck regarding “declinist” arguments about liberal world order under Trump. I don’t think these arguments are going away, and in fact—just this week—they are in the news, and on our blog/twitter feeds (including a great piece posted just last week here on Duck).

I want to reiterate, and elaborate on some earlier points I have raised about these kinds of arguments. In the first place, they deserve reiterating and elaborating. In the second place, I just got back earlier this week from an illuminating conference at University College Dublin called “John Dewey and Critical Philosophy for Critical Political Times” which touched on many issues related to the problems for democracy around the world in a time of right wing populism.

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Entering the Global Multilogue – A Replique to the German ZEIT Manifesto

This is a guest post, written by Antje Wiener, Professor of Political Science, especially Global Governance, University of Hamburg (Germany) and By-Fellow, Hughes Hall, University of Cambridge (United Kingdom); Sassan Gholiagha, postdoctoral research fellow at the WZB Berlin Social Science Center (Germany); Jan Wilkens, Lecturer and PhD Candidate at the Chair of Political Science, especially Global Governance, University of Hamburg (Germany); and Amitav Acharya UNESCO Chair in Transnational Challenges and Governance and Distinguished Professor of International Relations, American University, Washington, D.C (United States of America).

On 11 October 2017, the New York Times  quoted from a manifesto, titled “In Spite of It All, America”  written by a group of ‘German foreign policy experts’ saying that the ‘liberal world order’ is “in danger” from the Trump administration because of its “America First” credo. It aims to preserve its assumed foundation in multilateralism, global norms and values, open societies and markets.’ As the group’s manifesto claims, it “is exactly this order on which Germany’s freedom and prosperity depends.” Hence the call for prolonged transatlantic relations.

While we do not see any reason to doubt the role of strong transatlantic relations, we do take issue with the “German Manifesto”. We believe that the current crisis calls for a more drastic rethinking of the liberal order and developing an inclusive approach to global challenges. Interventions from scholars around the globe have criticized the perception of a ‘liberal community’ and the performance of the “liberal world order” that firmly stands on common fundamental values long before President Trump moved into the White House.

The “liberal world order” and the idea of a “liberal community” that underpins it built around its elements such as free trade, liberal democracy, and US-built and dominated global institutions, was really never a truly global order, but functioned more as a selective transatlantic club built and managed by the US with West European countries playing a supporting role. Major nations of the world such as China and India, but also many developing countries, were marginal to its creation and functioning. They remained outliers, not allowed to reform its core institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank to make their voices heard. Hence the emerging powers have turned to developing their own regional and international institutions, such as ASEAN, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the BRICS; New Development Bank. Moreover, the liberal order was selective in promoting human rights and democracy, as well as regional integration in the developing world. When it did, especially the EU, it often sought to impose its own “model” and values at the expense of locally-prevalent institutions and practices. In the meantime, the liberal order accentuated global inequality and remained fundamentally coercive in its approach to the world’s conflicts. Continue reading

Mr. Trump, Choose Your Own Adventure

This post comes to us from Rupal N. Mehta, Assistant Professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and an alumna of Bridging the Gap’s New Era Workshop and International Policy Summer Institute (Twitter @Rupal_N_Mehta); and Rachel Elizabeth Whitlark, Assistant Professor in the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at the Georgia Institute of Technology and a Bridging the Gap associate and alumna of the New Era Workshop (Twitter @RachelWhitlark).

In the coming days, President Trump is tasked with recertifying the Iran nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The Obama Administration brokered this landmark agreement between Iran and core members of the international community (the P-5 plus Germany) to limit Iran’s nuclear program. The 2015 Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act mandates the U.S. president with recertifying Iranian compliance with the JPCOA every 90 days.

This week marks the two-year anniversary of implementation day, and it is not at all clear what course of action Trump is going to take. In the past few weeks alone, we’ve heard rumors from in and around the administration about what action is forthcoming, including an eerie warning about “the calm before the storm.” Domestic and international sources have said that Iran is complying with the terms of the nuclear agreement and that the JCPOA should therefore be recertified. Conversely, foreign policy hawks and the President himself have argued for its unilateral rejection for reasons largely outside the scope of the JCPOA.

In what follows, we envision two possible worlds emerging from Trump’s decision point. In the first, Trump recertifies the JCPOA and the U.S. continues to uphold its end of the bargain. In the second, Trump decertifies and Congress re-imposes sanctions on Iran and effectively withdraws U.S. participation, thereby abrogating the deal. It’s worth thinking through the consequences of each of these worlds for international security, even as we will soon know which is most likely to transpire.

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Want to build support for ‘America First’? Try the UN.

Today’s Bridging the Gap contribution comes from Theo Milonopoulos, PhD Candidate at Columbia University and alumnus of our 2017 New Era Workshop

In an often combative speech before the United Nations General Assembly last month, President Trump at times praised, and other times disparaged, an institution he once dismissed via tweet as “just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time.”

Although few doubt the need for reform of an increasingly sclerotic institution, President Trump’s evident disdain for the United Nations is misplaced, not least because of its ability to bolster perhaps his most coveted asset: his popularity.

An original survey experiment I conducted just after the 2016 election shows Trump might actually benefit from working through the very institution he so frequently ridicules, particularly in galvanizing support for his policies among members of his own Republican Party.

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The Rise of the Trauma State: Afghanistan and America’s Unwinnable War

This is a guest post by Erik Goepner, a visiting research fellow at the Cato Institute. During his earlier military career, he commanded units in Afghanistan and Iraq. He is currently a doctoral candidate at George Mason University, and his main research interests include civil war, trauma, and terrorism.

Post-traumatic stress disorder afflicts 11 to 20 percent of U.S. military members after they serve in Afghanistan or Iraq. The military expends significant effort to provide them with needed care. Commanders move the psychologically injured out of the combat zone. Medical and mental health providers deliver needed aid. And, commanders may temporarily suspend individuals’ authority to bear firearms to minimize any threat they pose to themselves or others. For good reason: studies indicate that combat veteran status and PTSD associate with a two to three times increase in the risk of violence against others.

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