Tag: foreign policy (page 1 of 4)

What Happened at Subi Reef?

Following on my last point which tried to understand the logic of ISIS’s role (if indeed it is responsible) in the bombing of a Russian charter plane int he Sinai, let’s turn our attention to the confusion surrounding the recent activity in the South China Sea. In an (alleged…more on this later) effort to counter China’s claims of expanded territorial waters and recent island building in the South China Sea, the US Navy sent the destroyer USS Lassen within 12 miles of Subi Reef, a part of the Spratley archipelgo claimed by several regional actors. China responded by asserting its “indisputable sovereignty” over the reef and accused the US of violating Chinese territorial waters. At the time, that seemed to be the end of it: the US conducted a Freedom of Navigation Operation (FONOP), China responded with predictable rhetoric, and that’s the end of that.

Not so fast.

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What Does it Mean to Promote Human Rights?

Migrants on the Hungarian border

A few months ago, I began my Duck postings with an introspective on what it’s like to have grown up in the USA and moved to Canada to start my professional career. The current context in Canada is both daunting and exciting – yes people, “We the North” have an election. In two weeks. We have three (possibly four or five) parties to choose from, only one has amazing hair, and unlike US elections with the circus of personality assassinations and general chaos that surrounds the process, the Canadian one has gone on quite civilly and remained mostly focused on real issues. There are real issues at stake here in the Canadian election – and I had a chaotic but very thought-provoking week to reflect on some human rights concerns, both in Canada’s foreign and domestic policy. I had two sets of thoughts that popped into my mind as a result of being part of two human rights-related events this past week: global leadership on human rights is exceedingly difficult; and maybe we need some leadership on human rights domestically.

First, I had the honor of moderating the annual Keith Davey Forum on Public Affairs, which is co-sponsored by the Department of Political Science and Victoria University, at the University of Toronto. This year, I got to lead a discussion between The Honorable Lloyd Axworthy, who as Former Minister of Foreign Affairs led the way to ban landmines, is a celebrated name among human rights junkies in particular (like me … if you don’t know who he is, see this), and Professor Charli Carpenter, who is a colleague whose work I’ve referenced extensively in my own research. They were responding to the topic of “Is Canada Doing Enough to Promote Human Rights Around the World?” which was the topic that U of T’s political science students came up with for the evening. Continue reading

Foreign Policy and the First GOP Debate

Republican presidential candidates arrive on stage for the Republican presidential debate on August 6, 2015 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. From left are:  New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie;  Florida Sen. Marco Rubio;  retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson; Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker; real estate magnate Donald Trump; former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush; former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee; Texas Sen. Ted Cruz; Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul; and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.  AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN        (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

So, with the conclusion of last  night’s first GOP debate, it’s worth a look back at the foreign policy claims made by the candidates for the Republican nomination for president. The focus was, as much of the election race will be, focused on domestic policy, but there’s still some stuff worth analyzing. I’ll be working off of the debate transcript posted by Time.

The first foreign policy question was directed at Senator Rand Paul:

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Greece: a Shakespearean Tragedy


In the Greek bailout episode the Greek government has been behaving much like the self-pitying Antonio from “The Merchant of Venice,” while the EU has been posing as a rather heavy-handed Shylock. Despite being aware of the damaging consequences of a Greek default and potential exit from the Eurozone, the EU seems intent of having its pound of flesh. By subjecting Greece to additional austerity provisions, it may be risking the revival of the Euro financial crisis—this time with serious geostrategic implications.

For five years the Greek people have been dealing with a series of austerity measures that have crippled their economic prospects. The Greek economy has contracted a jaw-dropping 25% during this period, forcing Greece into a deep recession that now borders on depression, with a 26% unemployment rate and a debt level of 180% of GDP. The resulting loss of jobs and livelihoods has been staggering; tens of thousands of Greeks are barely getting by.

But on the eve of its default this week the Greek government capitulated and at the 11th hour informed the EU it would accept additional austerity after all, only to be told by the EU that its offer had expired. Adding insult to injury, a senior EU official stated “The previous program has expired. So now we need to start new negotiations as regards a new program.” Tragically, Greece may no longer be in the Eurozone by then. Continue reading

Deterrence in Cyberspace and the OPM Hack

I have yet to weigh in on the recent hack on the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).   Mostly this is due to two reasons.  First is the obvious one for an academic: it is summer! But the second, well, that is due to the fact that as most cyber events go, this one continues to unfold. When we learned of the OPM hack earlier this month, the initial figures were 4 million records. That is, 4 million present and former government employees’ personal records were compromised. This week, we’ve learned that it is more like 18 million.   While some argue that this hack is not something to be worried about, others are less sanguine.   The truth of the matter is, we really don’t know. Coming out on one side or the other is a bit premature.   The hack could be state-sponsored, where the data is squirreled away in a foreign intelligence agency. Or it could be state-sponsored, but the data could be sold off to high bidders on the darknet. Right now, it is too early to tell.

What I would like to discuss, however, is what the OPM hack—and many recent others like the Anthem hack—show in relation to thinking about cybersecurity and cyber “deterrence.”     Deterrence as any IR scholar knows is about getting one’s adversary to not undertake some action or behavior.   It’s about keeping the status quo. When it comes to cyber-deterrence, though, we are left with serious questions about this simple concept. Foremost amongst them is: Deterrence from what? All hacking? Data theft? Infrastructure damage? Critical infrastructure damage? What is the status quo? The new cybersecurity strategy released by the DoD in April is of little help. It merely states that the DoD wants to deter states and non-state actors from conducting “cyberattacks against U.S. interests” (10).   Yet this is pretty vague. What counts as a U.S. interest?

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The New Mineshaft Gap: Killer Robots and the UN

This past week I was invited to speak as an expert at the United Nations Informal Meeting of Experts under the auspices of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW). The CCW’s purpose is to limit or prohibit certain conventional weapons that are excessively injurious or have indiscriminate effects. The Convention has five additional protocols banning particular weapons, such as blinding lasers and cluster bombs. Last week’s meetings was focused on whether the member states ought to consider a possible sixth additional protocol on lethal autonomous weapons or “killer robots.”

My role in the meeting was to discuss the military rationale for the development and deployment of autonomous weapons. My remarks here reflect what I said to the state delegates and are my own opinions on the matter. They reflect what I think to be the central tenet of the debate about killer robots: whether states are engaging in an old debate about relative gains in power and capabilities and arms races. In 1964, the political satire Dr. Strangelove finds comedy in that even in the face of certain nuclear annihilation between the US and the former Soviet Union, the US strategic leaders were still concerned with relative disparity of power: the mineshaft gap. The US could not allow the Soviets to gain any advantage in “mineshaft space” – those deep underground spaces where the world’s inhabitants would be forced to relocate to keep the human race alive – because the Soviets would certainly continue an expansionist policy to take out the US’s capability once humanity could emerge safely from nuclear contamination.

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Should the United States Arm Ukraine?

With Russia’s incursions into Ukraine becoming more aggressive, there has been a lot of chatter about whether or not the U.S. government should arm Ukraine with lethal weapons. Defense Secretary Nominee Ash Carter has signaled his openness to such a move. Ivo Daalder, Strobe Talbott, Steven Pifer, and collaborators have issued a call for such support. There has been push back from Sean Kay and Jeremy Shapiro, other establishment foreign policy types. (With Talbott, Shapiro, and other folks from Brookings weighing in on opposing sides, there has been interesting discussion of this being an internal food fight there).

What are their arguments? How can we adjudicate who is right? In other words, what kinds of empirical and theoretical arguments can we draw on to assess these differences in judgment? Continue reading

The Responsibility to Protect & Fear of Foreign Policy Failure

Last week I had the opportunity to partake in a workshop on the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) at The Hague Institute of Global Justice (the Institute). The Institute is preparing to launch a project on R2P, seeking to bring academics, civil society and government/policy makers together to formulate insightful and policy relevant findings on R2P.   As the workshop was governed by Chatham House rules, I will only here note a few of my insights from the workshop, primarily insights about the connections between political will to uphold R2P and the theoretical and practical realities of foreign policy.

R2P is a very broad agenda with multiple loci of responsibility. The first covers the responsibilities of states to protect their own populations against war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and ethnic cleansing. A second locus of responsibility is the “international community,” for when states cannot protect their peoples or prevent these crimes, then, it also has an obligation to aid states, through various capacity building and preventive mechanisms. Third and finally, the United Nations Security Council possesses a particular responsibility. When preventive measures fail (or are not forthcoming), then the international community as represented through the United Nations Security Council has the responsibility to use all peaceful means to protect people from the four R2P crimes. If or when those peaceful means fail, then the Security Council has the responsibility to take “timely and decisive” measures, in accordance with Chapter VII of the UN Charter, to protect populations. Such measures include military options, taken with or without the consent of a target state.

These three loci of responsibility track the three Pillars of the doctrine. Pillar One refers to the domestic state’s responsibility as outlined above. Pillar Two addresses the international community’s obligation and commitment to encourage and assist states (through capacity building) to uphold their Pillar One responsibilities. Pillar Three highlights the range of tools, from peaceful to non-peaceful and less coercive to more coercive, available to the Security Council and regional organizations. The pillars, it is thought, are not sequential, and some cases may only invoke or require Pillars One or Two. Regrettably, much of the debate concerning R2P tends to distill to questions about forcible intervention under Pillar Three.

This brings us to last week’s workshop. The brute fact of the matter is that R2P is a state doctrine, and much of the reality in international affairs is that states will only voluntarily undertake actions. In R2P parlance, this means that there is an ongoing question about the “political will” to uphold R2P. The discussion about political will, however, becomes blurred due to several related aspects. First and more generally, when any discussion of political will raises its head, it seems that almost everyone is working from the assumption of the political will to intervene militarily (the Pillar Three responsibility). Yet R2P proponents are quick to point out that R2P is more than this, as it includes early warning and capacity building.

This leads to a second point. States seem quick to lend rhetorical support for early warning and capacity building, but the discussion ends there. It seems, at least to me, that we ought to press them then to make more explicit commitments on these fronts. Development is linked to prevention, and perhaps we ought to change the background assumptions about political will from intervention to state building.

If this is too strong, as many states are unwilling to engage in prolonged state building enterprises, then there ought to be an open and pressing discussion about peacekeeping. If states are unwilling or unable to open their wallets, then perhaps they would be willing to provide troops. For example, as Perry and Smith note, North America and Europe have the lowest levels of troop contributions compared to Asia and Africa. A keen example is the United Kingdom, which consistently contributes around .5% of peacekeepers worldwide. Some might think that these countries are already fulfilling their obligations through foreign aid, so they are under no other or further obligations to supply peacekeepers, but this logic is unsound for a variety of reasons. Least amongst them, it overlooks the sad fact that we have no way under the current R2P doctrine to say who and who has not fulfilled their obligations or even how those obligations could be fulfilled. (See here, here and here for some discussions about this issue.)

Moreover, the gendered division of peacekeepers is also noteworthy and ought to be pressed upon from an R2P perspective. If one is looking for a way to not only keep the peace, but also to build capacity, then it would seem that including more female peacekeepers could kill two birds with one stone.   The level of gender equality is seen as a factor in conflict emergence, and if one could mitigate at least small levels of gender inequality while simultaneously saving lives, then this seems like an obvious win. However, looking at the data for female troop contributions, Crawford, Lebovic and Macdonald find that between 2009-2011 “86 percent of countries contributed no female personnel to an average mission in all three years, and 99 percent of countries contributed no female personnel to an average mission in at least one of the three years, under consideration.” Capacity building and timely response seem inherently linked on this issue.

Though what is apparent from the discussions last week and the reality of R2P is that states are unwilling to commit themselves or their peoples to anything that may end up looking like foreign policy failure. Even if we can divide R2P along the three pillars, states implicitly understand that if they sign on to more than their own responsibility for R2P crimes, this may end up committing them to foreign policy agendas that they deem too risky or too costly.   As Feaver and Gelpi argue in their work, states are willing to take on costs, particularly costs in lives, if they are seen to be “winning.” Casualty aversion only becomes a key concern for states when they are losing their foreign policy battles. While the cases are different, Feaver and Gelpi’s findings are illustrative here. Whatever foreign policy goals states set for themselves, they must be able to formulate them in such a way that they can ultimately “win.” Given that R2P is so wide ranging, covering everything from developing constitutions, building infrastructure, advocating for open democracy, calling for inclusive education of citizens, as well as (non)coercive measures to force states to abide by their obligations, it is, in a sense, a foreign policy nightmare. No statesperson could adequately formulate a policy framework that could be operationalized in a way where states could show that they upheld their responsibilities, did what they could, as well as succeeded in their efforts, and were not also on the hook for more.

Some might object and say that there are R2P successes. To be sure, there are, but there are also so many “failures” that the variation in foreign policy responses as well as the success rate tell us very little about the conditions for states to act, let alone act and succeed. While states are willing to note that they and the international community have a responsibility to protect, they are unwilling to talk about the finer details, and it is my worry that this is because of the vast expanse of the doctrine itself. If states cannot be seen to win and succeed, then they will either refrain from embarking on an R2P activity, or they will choose to do so from the shadows. Risk of foreign policy failure is, then, inherently linked to the discussion of political will, and it is high time we see that the doctrine itself is breeding its own limitations.

Meaningful Punishment

Seeing reports in the New York Times today on further Russian aggression in Ukraine has me thinking about Ely Ratner and Elizabeth Rosenberg’s recent article entitled “Pointless Punishment?” where they argue that Western sanctions on Russia are at best pointless and at worst counterproductive. I think Ratner and Rosenberg (R&R henceforth) have a valid point in looking at the ways in which sanctions might produce unexpected negative consequences for the US. But also I think the events being reported today, and some other lines of analysis that they do not include in their article, suggest that not only is the punishment not pointless, but that it is important for the stability of the international system and the health of the rules that underpin it that all states, or as many as possible, impose a significant cost of Russia.


From Newsweek: http://www.newsweek.com/putin-tells-merkel-partial-withdrawal-east-ukraine-border-238941

From Newsweek: http://www.newsweek.com/putin-tells-merkel-partial-withdrawal-east-ukraine-border-238941

To be fair, R&R argue that eventually isolation of Russia would be counterproductive. It would in the long term weaken Japan (which needs access to Russian gas supplies) and push Russia and China closer together by weakening Russia’s ties with states like India, Vietnam, and Japan that see China in a negative light. So while R&R do not say the international community should do nothing, since Russia shows no signs of backing down in Ukraine the suggestion does seem to be that punishment (i.e. sanctions) should be rethought now and probably abandoned.


There are some parts in their argument I find problematic. First, isolation of Russia in the long term is not inevitable, even with sanctions. Europe and the US have given Russia a clear path out of the crisis, and it doesn’t even involve returning Crimea to Ukraine. So it is possible that increased sanctions will push Putin to reconsider, particularly since he has thus far used military force in ways that allow him a level of deniability, which dramatically decreases the domestic cost to him of a policy reversal.


Also, in the long term Russia’s economy is going to push strongly in favor of selling hydrocarbons to Japan. Russia needs diversified customers. While it is true that Russia just signed a gas deal with China, it is not entirely as R&R characterize it (that Russia and China can cooperate when they have nowhere else to turn). Russia inked the agreement at the lowest possible price they had indicated acceptable, suggesting that while Russia had nowhere to turn, China apparently had enough options to drive a hard bargain. That imbalance will only continue to get worse as Russia’s economy suffers under sanctions and lost investment while China’s continues apace. My guess (and it is only that) is that Russia’s business leaders if not political leaders understand this reality. So it is unlikely that Japan will pay a serious long-term cost for participating in the sanctions regime now. And in the short to medium term, the United States may step in to the breach if LNG exports are approved by the Obama administration (thus strengthening ties between the US and Japan).


Second, R&R seem to ignore the political reality in Europe, where important NATO member states are increasingly nervous about Russia’s behavior, and what it means for them. Abandoning sanctions or any efforts to oppose/correct Russian behavior may lead to a weakening of the transatlantic relationship as some of the most stalwart Atlanticist countries come to doubt the resolve of US to help hold Russia in check and in general support European allies. So while sanctioning Russia may isolate it in the short to medium terms, not doing so may damage the most world’s most successful security alliance in the long term.


Third, R&R overlook the ramifications of Russia’s behavior in terms of nuclear proliferation. No mention is made of the fact that Russia violated an explicit legal agreement (the Budapest Memorandum) lodged with the UN by which it bound itself, the US, and the UK to observe the territorial integrity of Ukraine in perpetuity in exchange for Ukraine giving up its legacy nuclear weapons after the end of the Cold War. Russia has completely violated that agreement. Failing to punish Russia undermines the international legal basis for assurances given to all non-nuclear states. The potential damage in terms of the nonproliferation regime is clear. So while isolation of Russia may be problematic, so to is the potential that the US might undermine sensitive negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program by appearing to dismiss the rule of international law and thus undermining the credibility of any promises given in exchange for Iranian nuclear concessions.


All of this comes on top of the flagrant violations of the legal norms of sovereignty Russia has perpetrated in Ukraine. As with any policy, sanctions now and possibly enhanced sanctions in the future have a cost. But so does doing nothing, and in my reading the cost of the latter is far higher than the former. The solution, if there is any, to Russian transgressions in Ukraine is for the international community to come together with as broad a coalition as possible to impose sanctions on Russia, thereby undermining both an element of Putin’s legitimacy at home (economic growth) and defusing his nationalist narrative that he is leading Russia against Western oppressors. China may not participate, but if India, South Africa, Egypt, Nigeria, Brazil, and other major states outside the ‘West’ do, that gives the best chance of short-circuiting the narrative Putin is using domestically to legitimate his policy while aligning material incentives to encourage him to stand down on Ukraine.

Germany: Beyond Its History, Again


Germany won the World Cup in soccer, demonstrating to all that its team truly is the best in the world. The German players and coaches were dominant, dispatching a succession of opponents with near masterly strategy and skill—including a historic drubbing of the overwhelming local favorite Brazil, expected by many to emerge with a symbolic victory for the host country. Instead, the Germans beat them handily at home, before going on to prevent Argentina from denying them from an even more symbolic victory of their own.

A massive celebration immediately ensued across Germany, among Germans the world over, and vast throngs that were cheering them on for the World Cup victory they achieved in grand style. Strangely however, not all Germans were among the jubilant. In fact, a sizable minority of Germans remain uncomfortable with such a widespread and vibrant display of patriotism. The weight of history remains staunch, so much so that some of this ilk have publicly called for banning the display of German flags in public. It is an odd phenomenon, to say the least.

For don’t Germans deserve at long last to be proud, and unreservedly so; in fact, doesn’t Germany deserve to be treated like—and become again—a normal country? After all, the horrors of World War II took place more than half a century ago. Successive German generations have grown up in a culture of collective guilt, in which the vestiges of pride and patriotism were purposely kept out of reach. But Germany long ago has paid its debts, with memorials to the holocaust strewn across the country and decade after decade of responsibility displayed on the European and world stages by every Chancellor since Konrad Adenauer in the name of everyone that elected them. Continue reading

Will the markets tame Russia?

I don’t have an answer for this, as I’m not sure how globally integrated Russia is in to the world economy at this juncture or vulnerable given its fossil fuel resources, but I see that the Russian stockmarket declined this morning as has the value of the ruble.

I know Russia experienced significant economic crises in the 1990s after the breakup of the Soviet Union that made it dependent on IMF support, but my sense is that the resurgence of the country’s petro economy bolstered its international economic position. That said, I wonder if the markets can tame Putin in a way that politicians can’t. My bet is that if Putin is willing to tolerate high costs, then no, but I’d welcome our readers with more regional knowledge to weigh in.  Continue reading

Cyber Spillover: The Transition from Cyber Incident to Conventional Foreign Policy Dispute

*Post written with my coauthor Ryan Maness.  We are currently rounding the corner and almost ready to submit the final version of our Cyber Conflict book.  This post represents ongoing research as we fill out unanswered questions in our text.

My coauthor and I have dissected the contemporary nature of cyber conflict in many ways, from cataloging all actual cyber incidents and disputes between states, to examining cyber espionage, and finally, examining the impact of cyber incidents on the conflict-cooperation nexus of states.  What we have not done until now is examine the nature of what we call cyber spillover.  duck read 2

Cyber spillover is when cyber conflicts seep and bleed into traditional arena of militarized and foreign policy conflict.  While it is dubious to claim that the cyber domain is disconnected from the physical domain given that cyber technology has to be housed somewhere, it is also true that there are very few incidents of cyber actions causing physical damage (the only case being Stuxnet).  Our question is not about the transition from cyber to physical, but when cyber disagreements lead directly to conventional foreign policy disputes between states, thus altering how international interactions work.

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Cutting arms and tying hands?

Prometheus Bound? DOD photo by U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Aaron Hostutler.

Prometheus Bound? DOD photo by U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Aaron Hostutler.

Post by Steven Ward and Paul Musgrave

The Obama administration’s plans to shrink the U.S. military attracted intense media attention yesterday. The plan is being described as a maneuver to shift the United States’s defense posture away from protracted occupations, such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan, and toward a more conventional deterrence role.

It’s easy to exaggerate the scale of the changes to the military budget. In particular, the soundbite that the post-cut U.S. Army will be the smallest since before the Second World War is seriously misleading. According to the Historical Statistics of the United States database, in 1940, the U.S. Army had 269,023 personnel–but that total included the Army Air Corps. On December 31, 2013, the U.S. Air Force by itself had 325,952 active duty personnel. Under any plausible scenario, the USAF will continue to outnumber the prewar U.S. Army handily. Similarly, after the force cuts, the U.S. Army will have about 440,000 active duty personnel, while the Marines will have nearly 10 times their 1939 active-duty personnel level. (And none of these figures, of course, include the reserves, the National Guard, civilian personnel, contractors, or any other part of the post-Second World War U.S. military establishment.) The smallest-since-1940 number, like Mitt Romney’s campaign charge that the U.S. Navy was “smaller than it’s been since 1917”, is technically true but hardly informative. Perhaps more important, given the vast increases in U.S. military expenditures over the past fifteen years, the U.S. can make significant cuts to its military spending while remaining the world’s leading military power by any meaningful metric.

Nevertheless, whenever a great power decides to reshape its military, IR scholars should wonder what’s going on.
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Cyber Events Data and Foreign Policy Reactions

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Ryan C. Maness of the University of Illinois at Chicago and Brandon Valeriano of the University of Glasgow.

In the rush to note the changing face of the battlefield, few scholars have actually examined the impact of cyber conflict on foreign policy dynamics. Instead most studies are of a hyperbolic nature that suggests the wide ranging impact of cyber conflict on daily social and military life. Here we attempt to cut through the bluff and bluster to examine exactly what happens between countries when cyber conflict is utilized as a foreign policy choice using week events data.

In our previous work we noted that while cyber conflict is proliferating, the level of attacks remains minimal when compared to actual state capabilities and general expectations. Using our dataset of cyber incidents and disputes, we measure the level of conflict and cooperation observed after a cyber incident and dispute to understand the true impact of this new tactic on foreign policy dynamics.

Our work on cyber conflict focuses on rivals which are basically active and historic enemies. It would be thought that during a rivalry, a situation of constant and historic animosity exists, a state will do all it can to harm the other side. If a rival uses a cyber operation to harm its enemy, the likely response should be characterized by further conflictual relations. We therefore expect that cyber incidents and disputes will lead to an escalation of hostility between rivals. Continue reading

Magical Thinking in the Sahel

This time last week, international intervention plans in Mali consisted of a rather under-powered African (ECOWAS) force, which was expected to arrive no earlier than September.  This force was not backed by overpowering consensus. Nigeria and Mauritania, the two best-equipped militaries in the region, were reluctant to pledge serious troops. The United States insisted that free and fair presidential elections must precede any international intervention, even after a December coup rendered this unrealistic.  And the Malian government itself seemed an obstacle.  The December coup signaled the resurgence of hardliners within the junta, who claimed that the Malian military – broken and demoralized as it was – could deal with northern insurgents on its own.  Tweets out of Mali (and even statements in the press) took a nationalist turn, and international intervention, even by an African force, began to seem fraught.

And now, seven days later, we’re in a brand new world.*

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Nobody cares about foreign policy

It bears repeating that nobody votes on foreign policy, and most folks don’t know anything about it anyway (remember that a nontrivial number of Americans think South Korea is our greatest enemy). I’ll quote myself:

[N]obody gives a damn about foreign policy. Theories of democratic responsiveness and empirical models of foreign policy choice need to begin with this fact. Nobody cares! That thing we do? The international relations bit? It’s somewhat less important than professional bowling or HGTV. [Americans] only care about security–and their understanding of that is about as sophisticated as the Toby Keith song about the Statue of Liberty. …

[O]ur brilliant little theories about how voters express their desires over foreign policy rest on the idea that voters have some utility over foreign-policy choices. That, in turn, may also be flatly wrong. When voters vote, their choices are likely wholly driven by domestic factors. If that’s the case, there’s no residual term–foreign-policy voting is in the error term. This means that foreign policy should be relatively unconstrained, both ideologically (except among a very few elites) and in its implementation (because nobody cares).

I make the same point more diplomatically and, at much greater length, in my dissertation. I should note that the professional bowling jest was an exaggeration, but foreign affairs is demonstrably less important to voting behavior than college football (e.g., e.g.. I also point out that sometimes it’s okay to exaggerate for rhetorical effect.

Below the fold, I adduce new evidence that even the Council on Foreign Relations is somewhat ambivalent about foreign policy.
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Podcast No. 17: Interview with Iver Neumann

Iver NeumannThe seventeenth Duck of Minerva podcast features Iver Neumann of the London School of Economics. Professor Neumann discusses his intellectual and educational background and a small part of his copious academic output. Topics incude post-structuralism, policy engagement, the practice turn, popular culture and politics, and the Mongols.

I should reiterate important change to procedures. From now on, the Minervacast feed will host mp3 versions of the podcasts. The whiteoliphaunt feed will host m4a versions of the podcast. Unless I hear otherwise, we will continue this approach into the foreseeable future. I’ve heard of output problems on the mp3 versions, but I can’t reproduce

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Why Does John McCain Hate Susan Rice? Republicans and Benghazi

I’ve been curious why John McCain is pursuing Susan Rice with such a vengeance for her inopportune remarks on Sunday talk shows in September about the not-so spontaneous attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. As I think about other prospective nominees to lead the State Department like John Kerry, John McCain actually has more in common with Ambassador Rice.


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The Difference Parties Don’t Make?

To the best of my knowledge, no prominent peer-reviewed article in political science has reported a difference in the frequency with which the United States enters into conflict under Democratic presidents relative to Republican presidents.  That’s not because no one has looked for such a difference (I know I have).  It’s because, to date, no one has found one.  This is the file drawer problem in action.

Now, we want to be careful not to over-interpret that.  Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.  There could be lots of reasons why we might fail to observe such a difference even if it was true that one party was significantly more hawkish than the other.  But when we look at other democracies, we DO find clear evidence that left-leaning governments involve their nations in conflict less often than do right-leaning governments.

As we head into the third presidential debate, it’s worth keeping this in mind.  I am reluctant to say that there’s  not much difference between what US foreign policy would look like under a second Obama administration and what it would look like under a Romney administration.  I can’t know that for a certainty.  But the past provides relatively little clear evidence that those who believe it will can point to.

But wait, you say.  What about Bush?  How can I believe that a Gore administration would have taken the US to war in Iraq?

Well, for starters, Clinton may have selected Gore to be his running mate in 1992 in part because he voted to authorize the Gulf War whereas most prominent Democrats had not.  In the closing days of the 1992 campaign, Gore essentially accused Bush of appeasing Saddam, suggesting that there’d have been no need for war if Bush hadn’t tried so hard to befriend him.  Soft on Iraq, Al Gore was not.  Or you might consider all the statements made by Democrats in the late nineties up through 2002 about Iraq and WMD (seriously, go click on that link), or the international town hall meeting the Clinton administration held in February of 1998 to communicate the administration’s dedication to destroying Iraq’s stockpile of WMD, or the bill passed with bipartisan support in the same year calling for regime change.  And, again, there’s the fact that the US has not involved itself in conflict more often under Republicans than Democrats since 1945.  But if you’re still convinced that the 2000 presidential election proved to be very consequential for foreign policy — and I’m willing to entertain such arguments, even if I’m less willing than most to accept them on face value — that doesn’t tell us whether the same will hold in 2012.

There are two important points here.  First, what candidates say they will do in terms of foreign policy is not exactly a perfect predictor of what they’ll actually do in office, any more than opposition to policies enacted by someone else after the fact proves that one would not have pursued the same policy.  Note that Obama’s primary victory over Clinton may well have been driven by the perception of him as an anti-war candidate.  Granted, those who were surprised when he escalated US involvement in Afghanistan clearly didn’t pay close enough attention to what he actually said on the campaign trail.  But neither did he position himself as the type of person who would conduct more drone strikes than Bush (by a considerable margin), nor was it clear that Obama would keep Gitmo open, declare it legal to kill US citizens without first trying and convicting them of crimes, and so forth.

Second, note that Romney’s foreign policy platform to date can be summarized as “I’ll do what Obama would do, but I’ll do it with more swagger.”  Even setting aside concerns about how well campaign rhetoric predicts policy choices made in office (has anyone looked at this systematically?), there’s relatively little difference between the policies these two candidates are currently telling us that they would pursue.

There may not even be much of a puzzle here.  Studies that have found systematic differences in the frequency with which democratic states enter into conflict under left-leaning governments relative to right-leaning governments, such as the one I linked to above, largely focus on minor powers who are allied with the US.  In such countries, foreign policy is largely a luxury good.  By that, I mean that these states look to the US to address their greatest security threats.  A left-leaning government in such a state can refrain from responding to minor incidents in a hostile manner without much affecting their security.  Similarly, a right-leaning government can behave a bit more aggressively when dealing with minor incidents, content in the knowledge that their actions will have little impact on the nation’s security.  Put differently, when you outsource large part of your security policy to a superpower, you can afford to treat the areas you retain control over as a venue for symbolic politics.  The smaller you are, the more you can afford to cater to your base without compromising your security.  Superpowers might be playing by different rules though.

Again, to be clear, I’m not saying that we know for a certainty that there’s no difference between US foreign policy under Democratic and Republican presidents.  What I’m saying is that we have some theoretical reason to expect that there might not be much difference, and an absence of persuasive evidence that there is much of a difference.  There’s always the possibility that existing attempts to establish a difference between the parties have overlooked something important, or that this time will be different.  And I haven’t said a word about the impact of the party of the president on domestic policy (nor shall I, since that’s a subject that’s well outside my area of expertise).  But it’s at least plausible that the difference between how Democratic and Republican presidents behave in office, with respect to foreign policy, is far smaller than many realize.

VP Debate once again tells the World that all We care about is the Middle East

Yes, it’s partisan, but it’s a somewhat useful deconstruction

First, I included the above video to reference a point I tried to make earlier – that Romney flip-flopped so much in the first debate that I no longer have any idea what he thinks about the big issues of campaign. I just wish I knew wth Romney wants to do with the presidency. There has to be some purpose, some reason to vote for him, and I can’t find it. Someone tell me in a few coherent, specifics-laden paragraphs why I should vote for him? Not why Obama is a bad president – I know that already – but why Romney should be president. Honestly, I don’t know, which makes his presidential run look like a vanity project or something.

Second, did anyone else think that the vice-presidential debate once again broadcast to the world that our foreign policy is dominated by the Middle East? It was all about Iran, Syria, Libya, and Afghanistan. Obviously, these are all important places and issues. But it doesn’t take a lot of foreign policy training to know that Russia’s ever-more erratic course under Czar Putin, a possible euro-EU meltdown, or China are a lot more important to the US’ future than a bunch of small, poor fractured states in the Middle East. But no, let’s argue once again about Israel, Iran, terrorism, Iraq…  Good grief. There are other issues out there…

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