Category: US Foreign Policy (page 2 of 7)

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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Magic Lines and Escalate Ladders

A colleague asked me if there will be war between the US and North Korea.  I said maybe, which is pretty damned scary, given the likely consequences.  Why am I worried?  Basically for two reasons that intersect in bad ways, besides the Trumpiness and KJU-ness factors:

  1. the US seems awfully confident that they knew where the line is between what North Korea will perceive as an exercise and what NK will perceive as the start of an attack
  2. Escalation Ladders are finite.

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The Book Nook: The CIA and the Politics of US Intelligence Reform

Today we begin the Bridging the Gap “Book Nook,” a series of short videos describing new books by scholars in the BTG network. For the first entry, our very own Brent Durbin discusses his book, The CIA and the Politics of US Intelligence Reform (Cambridge, 2017).

(We hope to do a bunch of these, and we would welcome any thoughts on how to improve the format!)

Bridging the Gap at the Duck

This inaugural post from our partners at Bridging the Gap is written by Naazneen Barma and Brent Durbin, who will be coordinating contributions from BTG’s network of scholars.

Take a moment to think back to college – or whenever you decided to pursue the path that has brought you here, reading about world politics and sundry related topics on the Duck of Minerva. What set you on this path? What made you want to devote years of your life to studying politics, perhaps even through formal graduate training? If you’re like us, you looked out and saw a puzzling and imperfect world, and you wanted to develop the tools to understand it more clearly. Perhaps, in the heady confidence of your youth, you even wanted to make it a better place.

As graduate students in political science at UC Berkeley in the early 2000s, we found ourselves hungry for opportunities to tie our studies to policymaking and the “real world.” Both of us had come to Berkeley from Washington, DC, and we wanted to find ways to connect to our old networks, as well as to parlay our research into new policy opportunities. In the first few years of our PhD studies, it wasn’t obvious that this would be possible.

Then two things happened.First, we discovered a group of like-minded students at Berkeley who, under the guidance of Steve Weber, would begin the work that has evolved into the Bridging the Gap project. And second, we found that there were many in the discipline who felt the same way – even if they couldn’t always tell their colleagues or advisors about it. One important marker of this community was the emergence of the Duck of Minerva in 2005, which introduced a new channel for conversation among others like ourselves.

We’re thrilled to join the Duck this fall as editors of a new “Bridging the Gap” channel. (Special thanks to Josh Busby for proposing this idea, and to the other editors for welcoming us aboard.) As Josh mentioned in his introductory post, Bridging the Gap (BTG) is an effort to build stronger connections between scholars and the policy world, both by providing professional development and networking opportunities, and by generating policy-relevant research. Continue reading

Basic Rules of US Civil-Military Relations and Trump’s Afghanistan Policy

Trump’s speech has something for everyone … to criticize.  I will not focus here on how icky the first part on loyalty was.  Instead, I focus on the rules of US Civil-Military Relations:

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The Transgender Ban and Politics of Exclusion

The following is a guest post from Jennifer Spindel and Robert Ralston, Ph.D. Candidates in Political Science at the University of Minnesota.

On 26 July 2017, Donald Trump announced, via Twitter, that the US Government would “not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the US military.”[1] Notably, the tweets were sent exactly 69 years after President Harry Truman issued the order to integrate the US military. Even if Trump’s tweets do not lead to formal policies, they exemplify the narrative that “others” would disrupt cohesion, thus would negatively affect the military’s ability to win “decisive and overwhelming victory.”

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The Trump Administration at 6 months

The following is a guest post from Jeff Colgan, the Richard Holbrooke Associate Professor at Brown University. Colgan is  a Bridging the Gap Policy Engagement Fellow. Follow him on Twitter at  @JeffDColgan  This publication was made possible (in part) by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.

July 20 marks six months into the Donald J. Trump administration. Now seems like a good time to step back from the daily headlines and take stock of the situation. To what extent is the United States experiencing democratic erosion?

Let me give credit where credit is due. I am a political scientist but democratic erosion is not my area of expertise. Since Trump was elected, I have been drawing on others’ expertise and published research. Steve Walt, Timothy Snyder, Sam Wang, and others have put together useful thoughts on creeping authoritarianism. I’ve learned a lot from Brendan Nyhan, Erica Chenoweth, Norm Ornstein, Shana Gadarian, the Bright Line Watch group, the Authoritarian Warning Survey, and others.

What follows is not fully systematic, which makes me uncomfortable as a social scientist. The United States is a fast-moving political environment and it is hard to know what impact various events and developments will have in the long run. So I will limit myself to putting events from the last six months into three basic categories: the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Continue reading

Trump and the Russian Money Trail

This is a guest post from Seva Gunitsky, an associate professor at the Department of Political Science at the University of Toronto. His book Aftershocks: Great Powers and Domestic Reforms in the Twentieth Century was recently published by Princeton University Press.

To understand the roots of the collusion, set aside Putin and follow the money.

In the endless pursuit of the Russia-Trump collusion story, we sometimes forget a key element: this whole mess began with money, not with election interference. The connections between Trump and Russia were forged years ago, well before he developed any serious political inspirations, and were focused on the shady schemes of Russian oligarchs and their dealings with Trump. Understanding the roots of the collusion means setting aside the usual narrative – Putin wants to destroy American democracy – and following the money first.

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