On my second day in Belgium, the Atlantik-Brücke conference, a Canada-Germany conversation, got underway and was immediately quite interesting. The opening session had two speakers that provided broad surveys of the world’s crises, and I was struck that there seemed to be some comparisons that did not work for me. Why? Because some crises are harder than others and that we can focus on three dimensions of each crisis so that we can compare apples and oranges: the degree of difficulty of the actual policy problem, the stakes, and the level of consensus among the key players.
There’s something about ‘lone wolf terrorism’ debates that stinks. I can’t quite find a singular source of the smell, but after further investigation, it seems the relatively recent surge in the use of the category ‘lone wolf’ to describe individual acts of political violence draws on extremely rank racist, sexist, and alarmist logic. When you compare the sparse literature on lone wolf terrorism and the slough of articles on the topic, one thing is clear: definitions of lone wolf terrorism are “fuzzy”, disparate, and often rely on contradiction and assumptions about mental health and motivation. The defining feature of the lone wolf terrorist is his or her (actually it is almost always a male) lack of wolf pack (I can’t get past the Hangover reference either, but stay with me). They are loners, committing political violence. Below, I raise several questions about the literature and discussion on lone wolf terrorism in the hopes of inviting dialogue and debate about why this term has such political purchase.
1. Is it possible that ‘lone wolves’ are neither lone nor wolves? The problems with definition:
The US Government defines terrorism as “premeditated politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents.” The overarching argument is lone wolf terrorism differs from ‘regular’ terrorism in that it is orchestrated by an individual. Yet the existing definition of terrorism seems to include agents as well as groups. So what purpose does ‘lone wolf’ serve? If ‘lone wolves’ are defined as acting politically, doesn’t this assume- by definition- the affiliation, or at least association, with a larger group? Recent research into 119 lone-actor terrorists in the United States and Europe, concluded that the individuals clearly expressed their beliefs and grievances to others, primarily family, friends, or an online community. This seems to indicate that ‘lone wolves’ aren’t that lonely. Continue reading
[Note: The following is a guest post by Prof. Dan Reiter of Emory University]
Joshua Goldstein wrote in the preface to his award-winning, 2001 book War and Gender that while finishing his book he “discovered a list of unfinished research projects, which I had made fifteen years ago at the end of graduate school. About ten lines down is ‘gender and war,’ with the notation ‘most interesting of all; will ruin career—wait until tenure.’” This was probably not a completely inaccurate assessment, at the time. Through the 1980s and 1990s, the study of gender and international relations was viewed by many as outside the mainstream of IR, lending itself only to post-modern and critical methods of inquiry. Fortunately, during this period scholars such as Cynthia Enloe, Ann Tickner, Spike Peterson, and others sloughed off this marginalization, producing path-breaking work on gender and IR, asking new questions, posing new theoretical answers, and crafting entirely new agendas.
I’ve wrote a post today with Bethany Albertson for The Monkey Cage. The post reports the findings from a recent article we wrote for the relatively new academic journal Research and Politics. The article includes a survey experiment we conducted to assess what messages, if any, the American public finds persuasive on climate change. Both represent interesting departures in the academic blogosphere and publishing. Continue reading
Recently, articles have emerged in both the United States and the United Kingdom concerned over the current politico-intellectual trend toward diminishing the importance and funding of the humanities and social sciences (HSS). For all the reasons the authors indicate, this trend is problematic. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) disciplines are of course incredibly important. But they are only part of the collective agenda of intellectual inquiry, and cannot be made to dominate universities without intellectual, economic, and political costs. In this short post, I will leave aside arguments about the intrinsic or societal value of HSS, not because they are trivial (they are not) but because the current wave of humanities and social sciences demotion speaks in terms of global competitiveness and economic productivity. I don’t accept that these arguments should define the boundaries of the debate, but if a case can be made on those or related grounds, then at least parties to the ‘debate’ will not be talking past each other. Continue reading
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.