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Rhetorical Entrapment and Syria: Let’s Not Do Dumb Stuff

I’m on team Dan on the question of not freaking out over Syria. I don’t think Jeff’s assessment on this blog reflects the reality which is one of Russian weakness, nor am I convinced, per Seth’s conjecture, that the Obama administration had some master plan to lure the Russians in to Syria.  Russia’s moves in to Syria suggest real fear that their long time client state could fail. By one estimate, the Syrian army  has been reduced by 2/3 to less than 100,000, and as Dominic Tierney points out in The Atlantic,  Assad may control only a 1/5 of Syria.

I also agree with a number of folks like Dan Drezner and Andrew Kydd that this is likely to be a quagmire for Russia.  As Brookings’ Jeremy Shapiro points out, nobody, least of all Republicans, appears to have an alternative approach to what the Obama administration is doing:

The truth is that everybody’s critical of the Obama policy in Syria, and nobody has a better alternative. I’ve never fucking heard one. And if you heard something that even resembles a good idea on Syria in the Republican debate I would eat my head.

That said, in terms of the administration, even former Obama officials such as Phil Gordon acknowledge that a new approach is needed:

There is now virtually no chance that an opposition military “victory” will lead to stable or peaceful governance in Syria in the foreseeable future and near certainty that pursuing one will only lead to many more years of vicious civil war. Stopping the conflict will require all the regional powers that are currently fueling it—including Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the United States—to come to terms with the reality that their maximalist objectives cannot be achieved, and that the result of trying to achieve them will mean only more misery and conflict throughout the region—at high cost to them all.

The problem is that the Obama Administration has painted itself in to a corner by saying that Assad must go. This is what Frank Schimmelfennig once called  “rhetorical entrapment” which allows opponents of the administration to take advantage of the administration’s failure to keep pledges about “red lines” by imposing political or what Kelly Greenhill calls, “hypocrisy costs.” The Republicans don’t necessarily wan’t to do anything different on Syria; they just want to exact a pound of flesh to make the administration look weak (as polling suggests, the American people are not all enthusiastic about a more robust role in Syria beyond bombing the s–t out of ISIS). Continue reading


Russia, Russia Burning Bright? (Spoiler: Not So Much)

Russia Comp GDP

GDP (PPP) for US, Russian Federation, and Major European Economies

The Russian Federation covers more territory than any other country. It has a large nuclear arsenal, skilled weapons designers, and the world’s fourth largest military budget—after the United States, China, and Saudi Arabia. But it maintains that budget—which comes it at roughly 12% of US military expenditures—by spending a larger percentage of its GDP on defense than does the United States, China, Britain, France, Japan, or Germany. Indeed, if the major European economies boosted defense spending to 3% of GDP—still short of Russia—they would each have larger military budgets.

Of course, military spending is a poor proxy for capabilities. Russia has a larger population than any other European state, along with a big army, extensive air-defense network, and other indicators of martial prowess. But it also has a smaller economy than the state of California, and still cannot indigenously produce much of the high-tech accruement of modern warfare. Moscow can certainly overwhelm many of its neighbors, but it isn’t a political-military juggernaut.

I consider such remarks necessary in light of the current freakout over Moscow’s intervention in Syria, including here at the Duck of Minerva.

Thankfully, a wave of cooler heads have started to push back against the hyperventilations of #resolvefairy acolytes. But the whole notion that Putin is a master strategist, and that whatever goes down in Syria is a result of his outmaneuvering the West in Ukraine, needs a reality check.

Let’s review. Continue reading

Habebamus papam!

This is a guest post from Nathan Paxton, Professorial Lecturer in the School of International Service at American University and a 2015-2016 APSA Congressional Fellow.

Now that Pope Francis has jetted back to the Vatican on “Shepherd One”, we have the chance to talk about the theoretical underpinnings of the pope’s international politics. I hope you’re as excited to have a political theory discussion as I am. Primarily, I want to discuss what I think the papal view of politics is, how it fits in with liberation theology, and what that means to those of us who care about international and comparative politics.

Philosophical foundations

Pope Francis’s message to Congress was shot through with the idea that politics can at its best be a means for the flourishing of each individual human person. That flourishing is the end of human community, and the goal of all human society should be to maximize the common good. Importantly, however, politics is a mean, not an end per se.

Politics is, instead, an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good: that of a community which sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life. (Address to Congress)

The emphasis on community and personalism is one of the best indicators that we have that the pope is not a liberal, either in the classic political theory sense nor in the impoverished contemporary American political discourse sense. He’s a pre-Burkean conservative, in that his emphasis is on the traditional, the communal, and what historian Brian Porter-Szücs calls “harmonious social relations.” Because “classic liberalism” promotes both individual liberty and free-market capitalism, it is an atomizing force, prizing and exalting the individual above the ensconcing community and so providing the basis for eventually breaking down that community as every individual pursues what seems to them their own good. Continue reading

Putin Falls Into Obama’s Syria Trap. (Or Is It The Other Way Around?)

Russia has begun conducting air strikes in Syria, much to consternation of many. But there seems to be some in the Obama Administration who can barely contain their glee at the thought of Putin and Russia getting bogged down in the Syria quagmire:

“If he wants to jump into that mess, good luck,” one official said, noting that Russia had become bogged down in Afghanistan a generation ago in a fight against Islamic radicals.

Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken told reporters that the Russians may be “making a terrible strategic mistake” by deepening their military involvement in Syria. He also warned of the “risk of running into a quagmire.”

Continue reading

Securitization Forum: End, or Beginning?

Cai’s post brings to an end our two week exploration of securitization theory and its scholarly audience in the United States and elsewhere.  We thank all of the distinguished contributors for generously donating their time and energy to this project.  This has been an extraordinary experience for us and we hope the Duck community has benefited as much as we have from the result.  We also thank the powers that be at the Duck for allowing us to run this experiment.  While the forum comes to a close, we hope that it lives on: through discussions in comment sections of the various posts; in classrooms and PhD seminars as a pedagogical tool; and in discussions between scholars in Europe, the United States, and beyond.  And perhaps, as Cai suggests, American scholars will reconsider securitization theory and their engagement with it.

Many thanks for reading.


Eric Van Rythoven and Jarrod Hayes

Securitization Forum: Back on Tour With the Copenhagen School – Better to Travel Than Arrive

A full twelve posts in to the forum, the question posed by Jarrod and Eric about why securitization theory’s travels in the US have been so pedestrian compared to its extensive tour schedule in Europe and elsewhere has already been explored from a considerable number of angles, with various diagnoses made. Details differ, but the overall consensus appears to be that securitization theory (at least in its original theoretical form) is in all respects too alien to the disciplinary ecosystem of American IR to be able to gain any substantive foothold amongst the US discipline’s dominant conceptual and methodological species under current conditions. Furthermore, incentives for its import are lacking on the part of both buyers and sellers: the former argue that it doesn’t provide sufficient added value compared to existing options to justify its price, whilst the strong (mainly) European market for securitization theory has meant that there’s been little incentive to try and crack American IR/Political Science.

If this is the case, then why not just accept this stalemate? Does it really matter if much of American IR simply prefers to stick with its current conceptual toolkit? What’s really to be gained by insisting that all theories are present in all places?

Observed from this perspective, the question of whether we need a theory of securitization even in American IR is too easily dismissed. Certainly Juha provides an excellent overview of what sort of insights securitization theory can generate and effectively dispels some common criticisms which may (hopefully) prompt some in the US to (re)consider their view of securitization theory as a result. Many, however, will remain unconvinced and untroubled. After all, an affirmative answer to the question of whether we need a theory of securitization carries a hefty burden of proof, especially when you’re trying to convince a skeptical audience (mainstream American IR) that they need something that they’re sure they don’t need.

It’s still premature to conclude that American and European IR need to agree to differ, however, and exploring a question that follows on from Juha’s can provide new insights into the curious case of securitization theory’s lack of traction in the US: What is lost, omitted or even prevented as a consequence of securitization’s very limited Stateside travels?

Continue reading

Securitization Forum: Follow the Money and the Mentality

This is the twelfth contribution to our securitization forum. Clifford Bob is professor of political science and Raymond J. Kelley Endowed Chair in International Relations at Duquesne University. His books include The Global Right Wing and the Clash of World Politics (Cambridge, 2012) and The Marketing of Rebellion: Insurgents, Media, and International Activism (Cambridge, 2005).

Illuminating as this forum has been, it has tip-toed around one uncomfortable but potentially significant reason that securitization theory has failed to be taken up by the American IR academy. It runs counter to dominant political and social incentives that we all face. These keep many American scholars within a narrow range of opinion, most of it tracking closely the conventional wisdom of political and military power-holders. Securitization theory, whether or not there is strong evidence to support it, challenges this conventional wisdom. It therefore holds little appeal to most IR scholars. There are also strong material factors keeping many scholars from testing or adopting securitization theory. Continue reading

Will 2016 Be a Foreign Policy Election?

The Third Way project, a centrist Democratic policy outfit, has just released an interesting survey on public attitudes going in to the 2016 election.  They make two arguments that I think are worth exploring, (1)  the foreign policy advantage Democrats briefly enjoyed in the wake of the Iraq War has dissipated and (2) foreign policy may be more salient in this election than in the recent past.  My general take is that foreign policy, barring a crisis, isn’t a big driver of voter decisions in presidential elections. That said, it could be an important issue for a more significant segment of the electorate than in past elections. That could matter on the margins in a close election. I’ll come back to this at the end of this post.As for the partisan gap on national security, the folks at Third Way identified a paradox in their survey findings:

Most importantly, our survey revealed a paradox that may be at the heart of the Democratic Party’s national security problem. While voters overwhelmingly favored Republicans on national security, they viewed Democrats as much more like themselves on national security.

My wife Bethany Albertson just released a book with Shana Gadarian, Anxious Politics, which I think offers a ready explanation for the somewhat curious patterns observed in the survey. An emotionally anxious electorate will turn to the party that offers “protective policies” that they perceive will keep the country safe. If a particular party seems to own an issue area, they are able to generate support from folks who normally wouldn’t agree with them, even when the party’s preferences may be further from their own. Republicans in this case have had a traditional dominance on national security that deteriorated in the wake of the Iraq War but which has seen new life in the wake of the resurgence of ISIS.

Continue reading

Securitization Forum: Geopolitics of Securitization Theory

This is the eleventh contribution to our securitization forum. Can E. Mutlu is an Assistant Professor of International Relations at the Bilkent University. His research interests are located at the intersection of technology, security, and political sociology of global mobility regimes with a particular focus on practices, technologies, and materialities of border security and mobility. His recent research appears in Comparative European Politics, European Journal of Social Theory, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, the Review of International Studies, Millennium Journal of International Studies. He is the co-editor of Critical Methods in Security Studies: An Introduction. He writes for the Disorder of Things blog as a regular contributor.

When Jarrod Hayes and Eric Van Rythoven approached us to answer a set of questions on related to the “why Securitization Theory has had so little traction in the United States, and why it has been so valued elsewhere,” I was unsure what I was supposed to say. I believe that while these are thought-provoking questions, they are a bit confusing. Continue reading

Securitization Forum: Scholars’ agency in securitisation: a leap forward

This is the tenth contribution in our securitization forum.  Clara Eroukhmanoff is a PhD candidate at the School of International Relations at the University of St Andrews. She recently published an article in Critical Studies on Terrorism on “The remote securitisation of Islam in the US post-9/11: euphemisation, metaphors and the “logic of expected consequences” in counter-radicalisation discourse.”

The scholarly impact of securitisation theory (ST) cannot be overstated in Europe. I would argue that this differs from US scholarship if and when scholars situate ST within the linguistic turn. As Oren and Solomon observe in this forum, linguistic approaches in the US are either ignored, or misunderstood. I suggest that if scholars wish to approach ST in this way, their agency needs to be re-established. Continue reading

Russia, Syria, and the Costs of Inaction in Ukraine


The ominous Russian military buildup in Syria represents the most significant projection of force beyond the territory of the former Soviet Union since the old Cold War. It will allow Russia to keep the brutal regime of Bashar al-Assad in power in Syria, effectively negating the new diplomatic path toward resolution of the regional sectarian war that has been opened up by the Iran nuclear deal.

In addition it will further enable Russia to build and retain a major forward operating base for Russian military forces. At first it will be used to keep Assad in power. Then, as a cover, Russia likely will initiate sustained use of force ostensibly against ISIS, but actually to act as if Russia is in vanguard with the West and Middle Eastern powers in combating the world’s most dangerous insurgent group.

Beyond this, there is little guarantee that Russia won’t use its most high end military weaponry in other destabilizing ways that are contrary to western interests, such as attacking U.S.-backed opposition fighters (alarmingly, Russian drone flights have been scouting those areas, not ISIS areas). Offensive hardware including fixed wing Su-24, 25, and 27 fighter jets, attack helicopters, drone aircraft, main battle tanks, and SA-22 surface-to-air missile batteries have already been deployed at Russia’s new base in Latakia Syria in the backyard of Assad’s stronghold. Continue reading

Securitization Forum: The theory gap and securitization as a form of identity politics

This is the ninth contribution in our securitization forum. Scott Watson is Associate Professor in International Relations at the University of Victoria, Canada.

In their initial post, Jarrod and Eric nicely demonstrate both the incredible influence of the securitization framework and the relative paucity of securitization scholarship among American IR scholars. As they convincingly show, the success of securitization is evident by the growing number of citation counts and the spread of securitization to fields outside of IR. From my perspective, the strongest indicators of the success of securitization theory are less empirical – it feels as though it has re-energized the subfield of security studies, opening it up to a more diverse range of scholars, and providing a launching point for new avenues of inquiry. Indeed, its greatest impact may be measured by how often it is used as a departure point for novel forms of inquiry, into: affect and emotion, visual imagery, the politics of security, and bureaucratic practices, to name a few. While securitization theory certainly has limitations, exclusions, and blind spots, on the whole the framework lends itself to critical reflection and inclusion of multiple perspectives – it is a vibrant research programme. Testament to its success is that securitization is now often used as the ‘foil’ against which new studies seek to differentiate themselves. Continue reading

Securitization Forum: Do we need a theory of securitization?

This is the eighth contribution in our securitization forum. Juha A. Vuori is acting Professor of World Politics at the University of Helsinki in Finland. <plug> He would like you to order his Critical Security and Chinese Politics (Routledge, 2014) for your library. </plug>

As we can see from the citation counts put forth by Jarrod and Eric, securitization as a keyword or notion has become very enticing, even to the degree that it is used in articles to do things without any references to the securitization studies literature. There seems to be something self-explanatory in the term as such, which may partly explain some of the confusion in the critical literature on it. Other alternative terms that engage similar phenomena, such as security framing or threat politics, do not appear to have the same appeal as the notion of securitization. Intuitively, securitization is about how security comes about.

While how security comes about is an important part of how and why security is studied within securitization studies (which has outgrown securitization theory by now), it is important to note how the theory of securitization goes beyond describing the social mechanisms and causalities involved in the social construction of security. This is the crux of my post. Continue reading

Making Sense of Afghanistan

This is a guest post by Erik Goepner, a Phd student at George Mason University.  He commanded units in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

American and international expertise, money, and blood have flowed into Afghanistan for 14 years, yet stability appears more elusive today than it did in 2002. High rates of civil conflict continue with record numbers of civilian deaths, corruption that plagues the government, and transnational terror groups such as the Islamic State appearing to grab power.

The first stop in America’s war on terror has not gone as planned.

Continue reading

Securitization Forum: On the poor reception securitization theory has gotten in the U.S.

This is the seventh contribution in our forum on securitization theory in the U.S. John Owen is Taylor Professor of Politics at the University of Virginia and, during the Fall of 2015, a Senior Guest Scholar at the Center for Transnational Relations, Foreign and Security Policy at the Free University of Berlin.  He is author of The Clash of Ideas in World Politics (Princeton).

I hesitated before agreeing to write this entry, because although I view the Copenhagen School with sympathy and admiration, I neither belong to that school nor have a sure command of its literature. Being an increasingly senior academic, however, I cannot allow a little ignorance deter me from pronouncing on the topic at hand: Why has securitization theory been received so poorly in the United States?

My strong sense is that the reason is related to the indifference with which American IR views much constructivist scholarship in general. Indeed, there are two related reasons. On our side of the Atlantic, it appears that securitization theory is just another form of critical theory, and it is not at all clear that securitization scholars are interested in causal explanation. These appearances may bear little relation to reality, but, as securitization theorists should appreciate, that does not make them any less powerful. Let me take the two reasons in turn. Continue reading

Securitization Forum: Securitization Theory is All Very Well, But Will it Sell?

This is the sixth contribution in our forum on securitization theory in the U.S. Monika Barthwal-Datta is Senior Lecturer in International Security at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) Australia. Her research focuses on critical approaches to security, food security, and the international politics of South Asia. 

It’s quite simple, I’m told. Securitization Theory doesn’t sell in North America.

Why? Because it’s not a ‘central’ IR theory.

I know this is not an earth-shattering revelation, and that it is actually widely accepted within the discipline that in the US, most people who study and ‘do’ IR prefer to stick to the mainstream theories. Still, it was quite sobering and ultimately insightful to be at the receiving end of this bias. Continue reading

Migration as Protest

This is a guest post by Leila Kawar, Assistant Professor of Legal Studies at University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is the author of Contesting Immigration Policy in Court: Legal Activism and Its Radiating Effects in the United States and France (Cambridge University Press 2015) and a cofounder of the Migration and Citizenship Section of the American Political Science Association. In 2000-2001, she spent a year in residence at the Institut français du Proche-Orient in Damascus, Syria.

migrantsThis summer, the ramparts of “Fortress Europe” were breached by a mass exodus undertaken by young Syrians, Iraqis, and Afghans. News coverage has described them as “migrants.” But I would argue that this term is a misnomer; rather than “migration,” what we are witnessing is a collective act of “protest” against the current governance regime that quarantines conflict outside of Europe’s borders. Continue reading

Securitization Forum: Three challenges to securitization theory in the U.S.

This is the fifth contribution in our forum on securitization theory in the U.S.  Sirin Duygulu recently got her PhD in political science from UMass, Amherst and currently teaches at Okan University, Istanbul. Her research focuses on the use of security language by transnational advocacy campaigns.

I believe when questioning the reasons behind the limited traction that securitization literature has so far had in American IR, three set of factors worth consideration. These factors are: the historical development of IR scholarship; the relatively close ties between the policy world and the academic world in the US; and the limited dialogue between framing and securitization literatures. Continue reading

Securitization Forum: Why Does American IR Ignore Securitization Theory?

This is the fourth contribution in our forum on securitization theory in the U.S.  Ido Oren is associate professor and chair of the department of political science at the University of Florida and can be reached at Ty Solomon is Lecturer in the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Glasgow and can be reached at

Eric Van Rythoven and Jarrod Hayes ask the timely question of why securitization theory has gained so little traction in American IR. They suggest that we should be puzzled by the absence of securitization theory from American IR given the high citation counts for the theory’s seminal works, its growing attractiveness to scholars in other disciplines, and the thirst for a power-oriented constructivism as an alternative to the liberal idealism that pervades American constructivist scholarship. We wish to make two inter-related points regarding the politics of securitization theory. First, somewhat in contrast to Eric and Jarrod, we argue that the absence of securitization theory from American IR should hardly be puzzling given the embeddedness of American IR in American political science, which is dominated by a neopositivist orthodoxy. Second, we want to sharpen Eric and Jarrod’s characterization of the geography of securitization theory. We suggest that the divide is not merely between the US and Europe, but that securitization theory has begun to take root wherever IR enjoys greater autonomy from political science, and/or wherever political science is not strongly attached to neopositivism, including Australia and Canada. Continue reading

Securitization Forum: Are they just not that into it?

This is the third contribution in our forum on securitization theory in the U.S.  Amir Lupovici is a lecturer in the Department of Political Science at Tel Aviv University. His book The Power of Deterrence is forthcoming in Cambridge University Press. His previous publications appeared in International Studies Quarterly, Review of International Studies, International Studies Review, International Studies, Perspectives and Foreign Policy Analysis. His research interests include constructivism, cyberspace, securitization, and deterrence.

In their preamble, Hayes and Van Rythoven clearly justify the need to address why securitization theory has had little traction in American IR—a tendency that is puzzling not only given this theory’s prominence outside the US (e.g., in Europe), but also when we consider its important implications for so many fields of research and relevance to policy making. I address this puzzle here by comparing it to a similar case—that is, the curious absence of Israel from the study of securitization. While the comparison doesn’t fully explain the scant use of the theory in the US, it lets us place it in a larger context and elaborate on what exactly it means. In other words, although (and maybe because) the two cases are significantly different, we can contrast key characteristics of Israel’s absence in securitization studies with characteristics of the American case. Continue reading

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