Is the US in an inevitable spiral of decline? Is China rising as the new hegemon? These are a few of the new dinner table topics of the 21st century. The latest iteration of such questions can be found in the discourse surrounding current economic negotiations. In this area most attention is focused squarely on the US and China; however, it must be recognised that these two countries are only two of the participants in a highly complex dance of geopolitics. The US and China are significant actors, to be sure, but their strategies should be understood in a broader context.
Last night, John Oliver (the comedian no less!) had a terrific interview with Edward Snowden, which was much more introspective and challenging than the Oscar-winning documentary Citizenfour. Oliver sought to grapple with the necessity for secrecy in intelligence and the moral responsibility Snowden faces for trusting journalists to properly vet what materials to release and subsequent errant release of sensitive material (like anti-ISIS operations in Iraq):
He continued, “So The New York Timestook a slide, didn’t redact it properly, and in the end it was possible for people to see that something was being used in Mosul on al Qaeda.”
“That is a problem,” Snowden replied.
“Well, that’s a fuckup,” said Oliver.
Oliver had a fantastic set-up on how the American public isn’t concerned about what surveillance capabilities the U.S. government has and can use against American citizens, involving an entertaining exchange about pictures of his genitalia. The whole interview is a worth a watch. All of this is part of a interesting gambit for Oliver as swashbuckling comedian/journalist/advocate that he has advanced on a series of issues in his short time on the air. Open comment thread follows on surveillance, Snowden, infotainment, etc.
I’ve been reading some interesting exchanges on Facebook about the pros and cons of the Iran deal, and though I’ve been snowed under by grading to have much bandwidth for blogging of late, I thought I would start an open thread here.
Fareed Zakaria laid out the case for a deal before it happened in this post, seeing a deal (but presumably not just any deal) as better than the alternatives, continued sanctions and airstrikes, which to him had too many disadvantages and could lead to catastrophic outcomes in the region. David Ignatius had a quick take that suggested the deal was better than expected. David Rothkopf also was also generally warm to the deal on Twitter.
If both the U.S. and Iran think they got a win, can they both be right? Those worried about Israel’s security seemed to think that this was a bad deal and the answer is no, that there is some zero-sum element here. Others worry about what the Gulf states will do and whether or not those states will see this deal as a reason to move forward on their own nuclear programs, given that the deal allows Iran to continue some, albeit reduced, enrichment.
My own view is that much remains to be nailed down, the U.S. and international community should get more time, more transparency if and when Iran decides to break out and pursue nuclear weapons in earnest. In exchange, Iran will get the prospect of removal of sanctions (though not immediate). That’s not a zero-sum outcome, though for the Israelis and Gulf states worried about Iranian influence in the region (and the prospects for what Iran might do with extra revenue from an unsanctioned, more vibrant economy) that may be cold comfort.
What do you think? (Some choices quotes from observers after the jump).
Last week Joe Scarborough from Politico raised the question of why US foreign policy in the Middle East is in “disarray.” Citing all of the turmoil from the past 14 years, he posits that both Obama and Bush’s decisions for the region are driven by “blind ideology [rather] than sound reason.” Scarborough wonders what historians will say about these policies in the future, but what he fails to realize is that observers of foreign policy and strategic studies need not wait for the future to explain the decisions of the past two sitting presidents. The strategic considerations that shaped not merely US foreign policy, but also US grand strategy, reach back farther than Bush’s first term in office.
Understanding why George W. Bush (Bush 43) engaged US forces in Iraq is a complex history that many academics would say requires at least a foray into operational code analysis of his decision making (Renshon, 2008). This position is certainly true, but it too would be insufficient to explain the current strategic setting faced by the US because it would ignore the Gulf War of 1991. What is more, understanding this war requires reaching back to the early 1980s and the US Cold War AirLand Battle strategy. Thus for us to really answer Scarborough’s question about current US foreign policy, we must look back over 30 years to the beginnings of the Reagan administration.
What? No “pirates?” Ironic, since the Season 4 finale set a new piracy record and now at 18.5 million viewers is the second most watched HBO show in history. What does this mean for mass understandings of foreign policy? Maybe nothing. Maybe something.
Last week 60 Minutes ran a feature called Women in Combat: Cracking the Last All-Male Bastion of the US Military. The segment, led by David Martin, focused on Marine Infantry Officer training. He finds that, although the Marines are required to integrate women as a result of the removal of the combat exclusion, no women have made it through the rigorous physical training requirements. This re-raises key questions around women in combat: *Do women have what it takes to serve in combat? and *Should the military adjust its standards to accommodate women?
Physical standards are- by far- the greatest sticking point when it comes to debates on women in combat. Opponents of gender integration have long argued that the average physical differences between men and women are proof that women are inferior. They also argue that any adjustments in the current physical standards would be tantamount to ‘softening’ ‘diluting’ or weakening the standards and thereby reducing military effectiveness. Focusing on whether women can meet the current physical standards maintains a stalemate in terms of their full integration into the US military and limit the military’s ability to develop standards that reflect modern warfare. There are three reasons for this:
1. Physical standards are out of date and disconnected from the job.
2. Physical standards are not as objective as we think.
3. There are no exclusive combat roles, and therefore no need for exclusive combat physical standards. Let me explain: Continue reading
Roads. Who can be against them, right? They allow us to get from A-to-B. And as anyone who has been to a place where there were no roads can attest, their absence is a real impediment to the modern political economy. The construction of roads is thus a central feature of the international development agenda. The World Bank publishes analysis of road investment by developing countries. The World Trade Organization claims ~30% of all overseas development aid ($25-$30 billion) is spent on trade related development—central to which is road construction and maintenance. Continue reading
Loyal, even devout, readers of the Duck may have noted somewhere along the way that comment streams of yore seemingly disappeared. That could be frustrating if you wanted to go back to an exchange you had with Duck contributors and enthusiasts. I’m happy to report that with the help of our web designer support extraordinaire Lori Lacy of mod.girl.designs that our comments history is restored. For example, here is a post that had lost comments that are now back.
Let us know if you see any missing ones on other posts. We hope you are enjoying the functionality of the new and improved Duck, and keep letting us have it with your comments, guest posts, and inquiries. We are also, as Charli noted, looking for a few good new guest Ducks who are prepared to blog regularly.
In about a month, High Contracting Parties to the United Nations Convention on Conventional Weapons will again consider the humanitarian and ethical problems posed by fully autonomous lethal weapons. As I’ve written before, this issue in on the UN agenda due to a savvy and well-organized network of “humanitarian disarmament” NGOs. This coalition is keen to reconstruct governments’ interpretation of how to balance military utility with humanitarian concerns when it comes to emerging technologies of violence. Yet with the landmine and cluster munitions campaigns considered some of the landmark successes in global civil society advocacy, it is fascinating how little of the transnational advocacy networks scholarly literature focuses in empirical or theoretical terms on the humanitarian disarmament sector.
Each time her sex is butchered with the pretext of purity…three million of our sisters face this violence each year…
In his new song “Tomber la Lame” or “Drop the Blade,” Burkina Faso hip-hop artist Smockey has an amazing call to end the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM), a procedure that remains widespread in parts of Africa and the Middle East that removes a piece of a girl’s genitals with a knife so that she won’t experience sexual pleasure as an adult and, so the logic goes, be less likely to stray from her husband. It’s a horrifying practice, but one that foreign groups fought with limited success until local change agents and organizations like Senegal’s Tostan took up the mantle.
Smockey is a middle-aged married guy so having a man advocate an end to FGM makes for an interesting messenger. He himself argues in this PRI interview that woman are the main bearers of the tradition, which I’m not sure is exactly true or indeed an artifact of him speaking in his non-native tongue.
One of the most important observations of the transnational social movements literature over the past couple of decades is the importance of locally resonant messages and messengers (here Amitav Acharya’s 2004 IO pieceWhose Norms Matter is an exemplar). Having foreign actors champion norms is often a recipe for a local backlash, though certainly history is rife with foreign actors trying to change local beliefs, whether it be through proselytizing religion or related campaigns to stop cultural practices like female footbinding (documented in Keck and Sikkink’s masterful Activists Beyond Borders).
Thus, the success of Tostan, documented in Molly Melching’s autobiography, and future success of efforts like Smockey’s is a function of local actors with deep roots in their communities persuading their peers to change practices and outside actors, where they are involved in such struggles for cultural change, finding local interlocutors to carry the message forward.
So you’ve finally received research funding to hire a research assistant….now what? Attaining resources to get research support is a wonderful thing, but figuring out who to hire and how to work with them can be a challenge. While I have been very fortunate to work with some excellent research assistants, I’ve also experienced difficult situations where I’ve hired someone with the wrong skill set, or clearly not mentored or managed the relationship well. These different experiences have taught me a few things about working with research assistants that I hope others find useful. Since I’m relatively new at managing a research team, I’d also love to hear some of your suggestions on this topic. So, here’s my list of frequently asked questions about research assistants:
1. Who do I hire? Once you have funds to hire a research assistant (RA) it can be exciting- and daunting- choosing the right person. If you are new to an institution, or you don’t know anyone who isn’t already working at their max, it can especially be challenging. Before you can choose the right person, it is important to determine what types of tasks you are seeking an RA for. I used to think that the most senior graduate students would necessarily make the best research assistants. I assumed that they would have the highest level of skill and maturity, so it made sense to seek out available PhDs, if possible. While PhD students are often excellent RAs, there are several types of tasks that aren’t necessarily suited to advanced graduate students. I’ve found that simple work like data collection, editing, entering information, and organizing data is better suited to advanced undergraduates. This is a huge over-generalization, but undergrads can be much less grouchy about doing some of the the more tedious work that some of us need RAs to help with. PhDs often want to work on more macro-level thinking, which could include synthesizing data or writing briefs. This makes perfect sense. In some cases, it is useful to hire both an advanced undergraduate and a PhD student to work together on different aspects of a project. Both get to build skill sets that are useful, and you get the results you need in less time.
2. How can I mentor while I get research assistance? This question is linked to the first one. I see hiring a RA as a form of mentorship. If you can figure out what skills different potential RAs have, and also what skills they want to refine and work on, it can help you not only hire the right person, but also to mentor them. Students who are working on a Masters degree who are looking to work for an NGO, for example, will want to attain different skills than a PhD student who wants to be associated with a potential publication. I have found that if students feel they are being mentored, they work better and are happier than when they simply feel like ‘employees.’ Continue reading
The old policy, dating from way back when Dan and Patrick were slowly expanding the blog:
The procedure for bringing on guest bloggers is one of those “salami factory” things… and strangers just aren’t very likely to make it through the process.
In other words, guest blogging happened by invitation only.
At first it happened sort of ad hoc and accidentally. We would scout new talent in the blogosphere and offer upcoming bloggers a place to build a profile. Or we would reach out to those in our social networks we wanted to encourage to blog, especially women and minorities; or offer a place to others who were interested in giving it a try but unready to launch their own blog (as Dan and Patrick once did for me). As we institutionalized it, we came up with internal norms for recruitment and rotation, and sought to increasingly diversify our recruitment pool.
It’s worked well, but we have realized that no matter how hard we try, our social networks are an insufficiently diverse representation of the discipline and so yield insufficiently diverse results. We think we’re missing a lot of important talent not able to access us through social ties. Plus it’s a lot of work to constantly recruit and we want to find time to blog ourselves.
So here’s the new policy: anyone with a PhD in IR, plus some expertise in some substantive global policy issue area, and a willingness to post at least 200-500 words, at least once a week, can apply to become a guest for a six-month rotation. If you’re interested in a guest spot, send one of us a letter of interest (just as if you were proposing a one-off guest post) and we’ll consider you for our next rotation. Cheers!
Leebaw examines representations of the natural environment in laws of war as they have evolved in four stages:
under Grotius, a conception of Nature as Property, with protections articulated in the same way that men were once protected from the rape of “their women” during wars
under early efforts to ban chemical weapons, the notion of Nature as Combatant, with chemical weapons’ development and prohibition internationally relying both on a notion that the weapons were too “inhumane” to use on humans in battle yet perfectly appropriate to use against insects domestically – insects being framed as ‘the enemy’ and later themselves conscripted into military service.
under the environmental movement of the 60s, the notion of Nature as Pandora’s Box, an untameable force preparing to unleash ecological consequences humans can’t predict or absorb – a yet-anthropocentric discourse which viewed natural disaster in consequentialist terms
Nature as Victim, a view more associated with the resurgent notion of “ecocide” as an international judicial claim – a perspective invented by Richard Falk in the 70s but ill-reflected in treaty law on environmental war crimes and revitalized in the post-Rome Statute era of international criminal law.
Reading this, and enjoying the many theoretical directions Leebaw maps out for scholars rethinking boundaries between national, global, human and planetary security, I was brought back to the NatureisSpeaking.org movement and the distinctively gaialogical way I Am the Ocean frames the planet – as fundamentally indifferent to the human race. Continue reading
There has been much focus, and deservedly so, on the economic sanctions hitting Russia hard. The problem is whether they hit those who support Putin or not, and whether they create economic opportunities for those who are good at evading the law (the police, organized crime) who also happen to be tied to Putin.
Today is World Wildlife Day, and species we think of as part of the fundamental awesome creatures of the natural world – elephants, rhinos, and sharks – face unprecedented risks of extinction, particularly as a result of rising demand from Asia and China in particular. I’m currently teaching a year-long class on Global Wildlife Conservation for which my students have been writing some excellent posts on the poaching crisis and what can be done. If you are not familiar with this problem, this brief post provides a bit of background.
Over the past couple of years, news of the global poaching crisis of iconic species like elephants and rhinos has spread. Elephant tusks are prized for ivory for carvings and trinkets, with increased purchasing power and greater China-Africa commerce and ties leading to surges in demand. Countries in Central Africa have experienced steep declines in elephant populations due to poaching, losing by one estimate 64% of their elephants in the past decade. Late last year, this culminated in news of involvement by China’s presidential delegation in ivory smuggling in diplomatic bags out of Tanzania in 2013. This week, China announced a one-year ban on imported ivory, which is welcome news, but this is a critical time for the global community to put pressure on the Chinese government to rein in domestic demand forever. Even as China announced this positive move, elsewhere aging Zimbabwe dictator Robert Mugabe celebrated his 94th birthday by treating his guests to baby elephant. Continue reading
Last week the New America Foundation hosted its launch for an interdisciplinary cybersecurity initiative. I was fortunate enough to be asked to attend and speak, but the real benefit was that I was afforded an opportunity to listen to some really remarkable people in the cyber community discuss cybersecurity, law, and war. I listened to a few very interesting comments. For instance, Assistant Attorney General, John Carlin, claimed that “we” (i.e. the United States) have “solved the attribution problem, and the National Security Agency Director & Cyber Command (CYBERCOM) Commander, Admiral Mike Rogers, say that he will never act outside of the bounds of law in his two roles. These statements got me to thinking about war, cyberspace and international relations (IR).
In particular, IR scholars have tended to argue over the definitions of “cyberwar,” and whether and to what extent we ought to view this new technology as a “game-changer” (Clarke and Knake 2010; Rid 2011; Stone 2011; Gartzke 2013; Kello 2013; Valeriano and Maness 2015). Liff (2012), for instance, argues that cyber power is not a “new absolute weapon,” and it is instead beholden to the same rationale of the bargaining model of war. Of course, the problem for Liff is that the “absolute weapon” he utilizes as a foil for cyber weapons/war is not equivalent in any sense, as the “absolute weapon,” according to Brodie, is the nuclear weapon and so has a different and unique bargaining logic unto itself (Schelling 1977). Conventional weapons follow a different logic (George and Smoke 1974).