Tag: war (page 1 of 2)

Ethical Robots on the Battlefield?

Every day it seems we hear more about the advancements of artificial intelligence (AI), the amazing progress in robotics, and the need for greater technological improvements in defense to “offset” potential adversaries.   When all three of these arguments get put together, there appears to be some sort of magic alchemy that results in widely fallacious, and I would say pernicious, claims about the future of war.  Much of this has to do, ultimately, with a misunderstanding about the limitations of technology as well as an underestimation of human capacities.   The prompt for this round of techno-optimism debunking is yet another specious claim about how robotic soldiers will be “more ethical” and thus “not commit rape […] on the battlefield.”

There are actually three lines of thought here that need unpacking.   The first involves the capabilities of AI with relation to “judgment.”  As our above philosopher contends, “I don’t think it would take that much for robot soldiers to be more ethical.  They can make judgements more quickly, they’re not fearful like human beings and fear often leads people making less than optional decisions, morally speaking [sic].”  This sentiment about speed and human emotion (or lack thereof) has underpinned much of the debate about autonomous weapons for the last decade (if not more).  Dr. Hemmingsen’s views are not original.  However, such views are not grounded in reality.

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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

Polio and the International Politics of Eradication: CIA Vaccination Ruse, Vaccine Trust, and DNA as a Tool of War

[Please note: this is a guest post by Alison Howell, Rutgers University- Newark]

The recent WHO designation of polio as a ‘global public health emergency’ has reignited debate as to whether the spread of polio is the result of reduced vaccine trust due to the CIA vaccination ruse in Pakistan. The vaccination ruse in Pakistan was part of the CIA’s apparent aim to get Osama bin Laden’s family DNA. In 2011 the Guardian first reported on the ruse and global health experts began to express concern that this would lead to vaccine refusals in Pakistan. There, major efforts were underway as part of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, which was launched in 1988 and inspired by the success of the eradication of smallpox (a campaign very much tied up with Cold War politics, but that’s another story…). The Taliban opportunistically seized on the moment to ban polio vaccinations until the US stopped its drone strikes, and in 2013 at least 26 polio workers were killed.

With the WHO’s report of a rise in polio, the worst fears of a link between the CIA ruse and polio seemed to be confirmed. Yet, as reported in the BMJ, the WHO previously asserted that it did not expect the ruse to have a major impact on polio eradication. Despite the inconsistency, some media outlets have made a direct link between the CIA activities and this rise in polio. These arguments are understandable not only because they draw our attention to the serious and growing problem of the spread of polio, but also because they seem to point us to yet another major cost of the post- 9/11 wars. This is a tempting association, but there are at least three problems with it:

First- It is unclear that the issues at stake best captured by the frame of ‘vaccine trust.’ Continue reading

The War against Neologisms:  Calling Out “New” Types of War

It seems that every pundit, scholar, and borderline academic publishing online has developed a new term to describe the state of war in the system.  I can’t browse the pages of Foreign Policy, Foreign Affairs, or even the New York Times without someone making up a new term to articulate basic and common features of modern warfare. roboduck

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Classroom Activity: Shared Threat and Delayed Elections

This activity comes after students are to have listened to a lecture (slides) about domestic politics helps us understand variation in the likelihood of international conflict. I focused particularly on whether the spread of democracy explains Europe’s transformation from one of the most violent parts of the world to one of the most peaceful and how the the fear of coups and rebellion in Sub-Saharan Africa helps explain why there have been so few interstate wars there.

I closed out the portion focusing on the democratic peace by discussing how territorial disagreements both promote war and inhibit democracy, thereby creating a spurious correlation between joint democracy and peace (see this recent post of mine).

To help the students see how the nature of the threat a state faces might be related to the constraints placed on the government, which is a key part of that argument, I asked them to play the part of an opposition party that was being asked to allow the government to delay elections in each of two related scenarios.

The correct answer, as a relatively slim majority (?!) of them guessed, was the second scenario. I had expected this to be more straightforward. Among those who offered an explanation for their answer (which many did, though none was required), the correct answer was a clear favorite, and the reasoning was generally well in line with my expectations. But for some reason, a substantial minority still went with the first scenario, for reasons that are not clear to me. Perhaps they were just guessing at random?

At any rate, my hope was that by getting them to more or less reveal through their own behavior a core part of an argument that implies that the correlation between joint democracy and peace is spurious, I might have convinced some of them that there’s something to the alternative argument. I don’t how many of them connected those dots, and I’m fairly sure that no matter how many times I talk about correlation not necessarily implying causation, a good chunk of them will continue to draw invalid inferences when the conclusions fit their priors, but I think some of them got something out of this activity.

Classroom Activity: Gambling Over War

This activity comes after students are to have listened to a lecture (slides) on information problems as an explanation for war—which I’d say is the most useful explanation we’ve got. The broad contours of the argument are pretty straightforward, but the full implications are not. (That’s something of an understatement. As I’ve discussed a few times before, a lot of very smart people have made incorrect statements about what this argument implies. In fact, while I’ll gladly admit we’ve hit the point of diminishing marginal returns, I still think there’s a lot we’ve yet to learn from this way of thinking.)

This activity was designed to illustrate both the general point that war can occur as a result of states taking (optimal) gambles and also to demonstrate two less intuitive implications of the argument: states who expect to do poorly in war are not necessarily any less likely to risk war; and states who are fairly sure their fait accompli will provoke military resistance may still execute them, even if said resistance would cause them ex post regret.

The scenario described by the two parts of the activity is identical to that depicted by the game-theoretic model discussed in the lecture. But whereas the lecture walks through a general solution to the model, identifying optimal strategies under all possible conditions, and thus involves a fair amount of algebra, the activity assigns concrete numbers to everything and so simplifies things greatly. In fact, while I allowed the students to consult their notes and/or the slides during the activity, as a handful did, the optimal strategies here are sufficiently straightforward that most students correctly identified them without doing so (and probably, in many cases, without having listened to the lecture before class.)

Of course, it helps that this time around, I didn’t throw things wide open the way I did with a previous activity. The only two options that make any sense (the largest land grab the blue type would be willing to live with, which would provoke a war if D happens to be red but bring a better payoff if they’re blue; and the largest land grab that the red type would tolerate, which ensures peace but not necessarily on the best possible terms) are identified for them. All they have to do is figure out which makes more sense.

As many correctly determined, it makes sense to gamble here. That’s not terribly interesting, in and of itself. But what one might overlook is that they just proved to themselves, through their own behavior, that it can make sense to risk war even if you know that, should the war that you genuinely hope to avoid occur, the outcome would be pretty terrible. In this case, grabbing 50% of the territory meant accepting a 30% chance of provoking a war that would leave you feeling as though you’d gained nothing at all (acquiring 10% of the territory but incurring costs that completely offset that gain). And yet most of them went for it. As they should have.

The second part is nearly identical to the first. However, here, any potential war would go pretty well for the challenger, even against the red type. The costs of war have even come down a bit. So it’s not surprising that even more of them decided to gamble here, taking 90% of the territory. Again, that’s not what I what I was trying to show. What I wanted them to focus on was that the vast majority of them went for the larger land grab despite the fact that they knew (or, at least, should have known) there was a 65% chance that they wouldn’t get away with it. As I hope was clear to at least some of them, taking 60% of the territory, which they’d have been sure to get away with, would certainly leave them better off than fighting a war against the red type would, since that would leave them feeling as though they’d acquired 50%. So even though the war they risked provoking wouldn’t prove disastrous, its occurrence would still entail ex post regret. It would be a war no one wanted. As most wars are.

As ever, I’m not sure everyone got what I was trying to convey. But I think most of them did. Hopefully, most of them will now be less inclined to confidently assert (the way so many do) that it makes no sense to involve yourself in a war you don’t expect to win, or to see a war that no one really wanted and conclude that some or all of the personalities involved must have been deficient in some way. As I discussed in the lecture, it’s entirely possible that those factors were at work in many historical cases. But we don’t know that. We can’t know that, at least not with the sort of confidence many exhibit. Because despite what many seem to believe, such outcomes can arise as the result of optimal decision-making.

Classroom Activity: Issuing Ultimata

This activity comes after students are to have listened to a lecture (slides) introducing the second big puzzle of the course: why states sometimes burn what they want in order to get more of it—that is, why wars occur despite the inefficiency their costly nature implies.

Over the course of the next few lectures, I’ll be taking them through the main arguments of Fearon 1995 (see also this blog post) step by step. But before we turn to the explanations for war, we first need to understand the inefficiency argument so as to fully appreciate why common explanations fail.

Today’s activity was simpler than many of the previous ones, consisting of a single decision that should have been pretty straightforward for those who actually understood the lecture (of which, it appears, there were only so many).

The correct answer is 75%, as a handful (but, sadly, only a handful) of students determined. The reason is that D has no incentive to start a war unless doing so leaves them feeling as though they held onto more territory than if they allowed C to get away with their fait accompli, and since D will feel as though they have held onto a mere 25% of the territory if they resist (despite retaining control of 40%), C can safely take 75% without provoking a war. Should C take less than this amount, C will avoid a war, but will fail to achieve the best outcome possible. To take less than 75% of the territory in this case would be the equivalent of insisting on paying more than amount due at the grocery store. Sure, you can. I think. I mean, I’m certainly not aware of any law against that. But why would you? (Of course, there’s a very important moral difference between countries taking less land than they could have gotten away with and individual consumers overpaying at the grocery store, but they weren’t asked what % of territory C could morally justify taking, nor do I think they understood it as such. If they had, I’d have expected a lot more answers of “0%” or “none” and a lot fewer of “100%” or “everything.”) On the other hand, taking more than 75% provokes a war, which leaves C feeling as they’ve only acquired 50% of the territory. So that can’t be optimal.

The most common answer was 100%. Every number on the slide made a pretty strong showing, particularly 60% and 50%, leaving me with the impression that a good number of students were guessing randomly. Some did, however, offer explanations for their answers that indicated they were thinking along the right lines but just didn’t quite connect all the dots. At any rate, after I explained the optimal strategy, they seemed to get it right away, which was encouraging.

Russia’s Coercive Diplomacy against Ukraine: The Power Politics Story

*The following post is written by Ryan Maness and myself.

Events are in motion that many thought were past us, part of a bygone era where conventional war still had a prominent place in deciding the course of nations.  Having done a great amount of work on Russia’s strategic behavior and use of power (we have a book on the topic under review), we were a bit caught off guard too.  Not by the course of events, but that our vision was focused on cyber conflict and thus were distracted from the real world developments.  duck russia 2

The events in Ukraine fit a recent pattern of Russia’s coercive diplomacy directed toward the states of its former Soviet empire, more commonly known by Russians as the Near Abroad. Since the Soviet fall in 1991, Russia has been going through an identity crisis. Always regarded as a major power, it found itself weak after the end of the Soviet era, unable to even quell violence in Chechnya. It lost nearly half of its territory and population as the Soviet Union broke up into 15 independent states. Since then, Russia has been attempting to regain its status as a world power, or at least a regional power. Under the leadership of Vladimir Putin, Russia has used power politics strategies, mainly in post-Soviet space, to carve out its place and dominate a specific sphere of influence.

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Why the Crimea is the Third Rail of International Politics

*this is a guest post by Konstantinos Travlos, currently a Visiting Assistant at Georgia Southern, who writes on international conflict and history.  The arguments presented below are based on past research.

Russian policy towards Ukraine is partly driven by short term political reasons such as protecting an investment in the form of Yanukovych, the Russian view of Ukraine as a “little brother”, a legitimate worry over the future of the Russian minority in Ukraine, and a very real opposition to what is seen by the Kremlin elite as the meddling of Western powers in its Near Abroad. However, I argue that the most intractable issue driving Russia is control of access to the Crimean Peninsula as a naval base, an indivisible territorial issue.  This has less to do with geopolitical and strategic reasons and more to do with the identity of the Russian state as a great power which makes Crimea a transcendental and thus difficult to negotiate over. This is why the recent and quick escalation is not surprising, in counter to some arguments madeLight Brigade2

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What Patterns of Trade Might Tell us About the Democratic Peace

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: it appears that wars between pairs of democracies are relatively rare compared to wars between other pairs of states.  Some people even think this relationship might be causal.

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Regional Variation in the Explanatory Power of War and Reason

Many conversations about the empirical relevance of game-theoretic models of war begin and end with Bueno de Mesquita and Lalman’s War and Reason.  That’s unfortunate, but it’s not exactly surprising.  Most game-theoretic studies of war do not include any empirical analysis, whereas War and Reason offered a systematic analysis of European dyads.  The standards by which BdM and Lalman would have the predictions of the International Interactions Game (IIG) be judged are clear.

In the Behavioral Origins of War, Bennett and Stam seek to assess the relative explanatory power of all the major theoretical explanations for war, including the IIG.  Not only do Bennett and Stam report that other variables outperform those associated with the IIG, they assesses the model’s reliability across time and space.  They find that the variables associated with the IIG predict behavior in Europe reasonably well, the Middle East and Asia somewhat less so, and they provide a worse than useless account of conflict occurrence in the Americans and Sub-Saharan Africa.  That is, conflict occurs less often in these two regions when the IIG predicts war than when it does not.

Bennett and Stam interpret this as evidence that the IIG assumes distinctly Western preferences, and so it’s explanatory power is limited to Europe.  In fact, implicitly treating the IIG as representative of all of “rational choice”, they go so far as to conclude that “rational choice” is more applicable to the Western world.

That’s a bold claim.  It’s also one that many critics of “rational choice” will find intuitively appealing.  Of course rational choice only applies to the West, one might say.  (Especially if one conveniently overlooks the fact that one of the two problem regions is the Western hemisphere…which I thought was pretty Western.)  Game theory makes no allowance for the importance of honor, after all.** How could anyone even doubt Bennett and Stam when they say that regional variation in the explanatory power of the IIG demonstrates the importance of culture?

Well, there’s just one little problem — in order to infer that actors who do not behave according to the predictions of a particular game-theoretic model do or do not hold a given set preferences,*** we have to assume that they were in fact playing precisely that game.  In other words, to infer that culture accounts for the IIG’s shortcomings, we have to make heroic assumptions about the applicability of the IIG.  Something of a contradiction, wouldn’t you agree?

The critical question then is whether there is reason to believe that leaders in the Americas and Sub-Saharan Africa are playing a different game than European (and Middle Eastern and Asian) leaders.  I think there is.

For all the talk of the importance of domestic politics in War and Reason, the IIG still treats states as unitary actors.  BdM and Lalman simply assume that leaders of democracies will value certain outcomes more or less than leaders of other regimes.  No meaningful decisions made by actors within the state.  The possibility of civil violence is assumed away.  That’s not problematic in and of itself, but it tells us something about what we can and cannot infer from Bennett and Stam’s results.

The following graph (click for larger image) displays the relative rate of civil and interstate war by region, as indicated by the latest release of the Correlates of War data set.  Each bar depicts the number of wars of each type fought in each region as a proportion of the number fought in the region most prone to that type of war.

Notice that the Americas and Sub-Saharan Africa, the two regions that most defy the expectations of the IIG, have experienced fewer than half as many interstate wars as Europe.  Though each region has seen a roughly similar number of civil wars between 1816 and 2007, the risk of civil war far exceeds that of interstate war in the Americas and in Sub-Saharan Africa.  In Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, leaders have historically faced threats both foreign and domestic.  Granted, we’re speaking in sweeping generalities here — there is significant variation within each of these regions that we’re overlooking.  There’s also significant variation over time that we’re ignoring.  But if we’re going to generalize about entire regions, it makes more sense to conclude that the reason why the model developed in War and Reason fits Europe better than other parts of the globe is because it focuses exclusively on international interactions than because it fails to account for cultural differences in preferences.  That’s not to deny that culture is important.  It is.  But until we know more about the observable implications of game-theoretic models in which actors simultaneously face some risk of both civil and international conflict, we won’t really know how much of the discrepancy between our theoretical expectations and our empirical observations owes to culture.

I know a few people working on such models.  In future posts, I’ll discuss some of their work.


*However, see here.

**This claim is patently false, but we all know that the existence of game theoretic models that account for [x] is not a sufficient condition for preventing people from claiming that game theory does not or cannot account for [x].

***To their credit, Bennett and Stam do not entertain the notion that non-Western actors are less rational than their European counterparts.  I have heard others interpret their results in this way, and one need not be a rational choice apologist to find such claims to be both offensive and disturbing, but Bennett and Stam only argue that non-Western actors hold different preferences.

Gender, Violence, War, Political Memory

The sailor (George Mendosa) and nurse (Greta Zimmer Friedman) depicted in this iconic photo snapped moments after the announcement that World War II had ended turned out to be complete strangers, and apparently Greta Friedman, the nurse, wasn’t kissing back:

Mendosa: “It was the moment. You come back from the Pacific, and finally, the war ends,’ Mendonsa told CBS. ‘The excitement of the war being over, plus I had a few drinks. So when I saw the nurse, I grabbed her, and I kissed her.”

Friedman: “I did not see him approaching, and before I know it, I was in this vice grip. That man was very strong. I wasn’t kissing him. He was kissing me.”

Crates and Ribbons notes how recent interviews with the “couple” fail to acknowledge Mendosa’s behavior as sexual assault. A lively discussion in comments about gender, violence, war, and political memory. Enjoy.

The Trouble with Combining, or Why I’m Not Touting the Global Peace Index

 The Institute for Economics and Peace is making a big splash today with the release of the 2012 edition of its annual Global Peace Index (GPI)—“the world’s leading measure of global peacefulness,” according to its web site. The launch event for the 2012 edition included several people whose work I respect and admire, and the Institute identifies some of the heaviest hitters in the global fight for peace and human rights—Kofi Annan, Desmond Tutu, and the Dalai Lama, for crying out loud—as “endorsers” of the GPI.

I really want to like this index. I’m a numbers guy, and I’ve spent most of my career analyzing data on political violence and change. But, the closer I look, the less I see.

The basic problem is one that confounds our best efforts to develop summary measures of complex concepts in many fields. Complexity implies multi-dimensionality; the complex whole is composed of many different parts. As a result, no single indicator will capture all of the elements we believe to be relevant.

To try to overcome this problem, we can mathematically combine measures of those separate elements in a single scale—an index. Unfortunately, with truly complex phenomena, those parts do not always move in lock step with each other. As a result, we often wind up with a summary measure that obscures as much as it clarifies because it blinds us to those tensions. In some cases, we can see changes in the index, but we can’t tell what’s driving them. In other cases, the index doesn’t budge, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that there haven’t been significant changes that just happened to cancel each other out. In both of these scenarios, we’ve got a number, but we’re not really sure what it means.

We can see this dilemma clearly when we look closely at the GPI. According to the Institute’s documentation (PDF), the Global Peace Index represents a weighted combination of 23 indicators in three concept areas: 1) ongoing domestic and international conflict; 2) societal safety and security; and 3) militarization. The index includes so many things, we are told, because it aims to get simultaneously at two distinct ideas: not just “negative peace,” meaning the absence of violence, but also “positive peace,” meaning the presence of structures and institutions that create and sustain the absence of violence.

Some of the indicators are inherently quantitative, like counts of deaths from civil conflict and number of jailed population per 100,000 people. Others, such as “perceptions of criminality” and “military capability/sophistication,” are qualitative concepts that are scored by Economist Intelligence Unit staffers. All 23 are converted into comparable five-point scales and then aggregated according to an algorithm that involves weights assigned by an expert panel at the level of the individual indicator and at the level of two sub-component indices having to do with internal (60%) and external (40%) peace. Here’s a complete list of the 23 components:

  • Number of external and internal conflicts fought in the past five years
  • Estimated number of deaths from organized conflict (internal)
  • Estimated number of deaths from organized conflict (external)
  • Level of organized conflict (internal)
  • Relations with neighboring countries
  • Perceptions of criminality in society
  • Number of refugees and displaced people as a percentage of the population
  • Political instability
  • Level of respect for human rights (Political Terror Scale)
  • Potential for terrorist acts
  • Number of homicides per 100,000 people
  • Level of violent crime
  • Likelihood of violent demonstrations
  • Number of jailed population per 100,000 people
  • Number of internal security officers and police per 100,000 people
  • Military expenditures as a percent of GDP
  • Number of armed services personnel per 100,000 people
  • Volume of transfers (imports) of major conventional weapons per 100,000 people
  • Volume of transfers (exports) of major conventional weapons per 100,000 people
  • Budget support for UN peacekeeping missions: percentage of outstanding payments versus annual assessment to the budget of the current peacekeeping missions
  • Aggregate number of heavy weapons per 100,000 people
  • Ease of access to small arms and light weapons
  • Military capability/sophistication

That’s a long list with a lot of very different elements that don’t always move in unison. More problematic in light of the GPI’s additive approach to combining them, those elements don’t always point in the same direction.

Take military expenditures and deaths from external conflicts. International relations scholars would tell you that countries can sometimes avoid wars by preparing for them; rival states are less likely to pick fights with armies they can’t easily beat. Most people would probably think of the avoidance of war as a peaceful outcome, but the GPI casts the preparations that sometimes help to produce that outcome as a diminution of peace. In an ideal world, disarmament and peace would always go together; in the real world, they don’t, but the index’s attempt to combine measures of negative and positive peace muddles that complexity.

The same goes for internal affairs. Imagine that a country is suffering a high homicide rate because of rampant criminal violence (Mexico? Venezuela?). As the GPI implies, that’s not a particularly peaceful situation. Now imagine that that country’s government invests heavily in policing to fight that crime, and that the expanded police presence leads to a decline in the homicide rate and to higher incarceration rates as criminals are arrested and imprisoned. According to the GPI, the gains in peacefulness realized by stopping the wave of murders would be (at least partially) offset by the increases in the size of the police force and the prison population. A change most citizens would regard as an unmitigated good gets washed out by the supposition that the means used to reach that end are detrimental to positive peace.

Now, put both of those problems and several others like them into a single box and shake vigorously. Instead of an elegant simplification, we end up with a complex tangle, simply represented. We see echoes of this problem in summary measures of democracy, like the 21-point Polity scale, which aggregates across several dimensions in ways that sometimes obscure differences of great importance and interest.

For an index to improve on its parts, it should capture something important that we miss when look at the components individually. In my opinion, one of the best examples of this is the Heat Index, which combines air temperature and relative humidity into a single number that we really care about: how hot it actually feels to us humans. The Heat Index is really useful because it gets at something we miss if we look at air temperature alone. The whole illuminates something that the single components can’t show.

Unfortunately, this is hard to do. In many situations, the individual components will offer sharper and more transparent measures of specific dimensions, and we’ll see more when we juxtapose instead of combining them. When we want to explore how these components relate to each other, we can start with two- or three-dimensional scatter plots, which quickly reveal interesting cases of reinforcing or competing tendencies. For more complex problems, multivariate models that relate the components to some observable ground truth (e.g., the absence of deaths from violent conflict) will often work better than indices that use expert judgment to assign weights and directionality.

In the case of the Global Peace Index, I think the starting point for a more useful set of measures would be to construct separate indices for positive vs. negative peace. From my reading of their project, this distinction is more relevant to their objectives than the internal vs. external peace distinction for which they currently report sub-indices, and these are the dimensions along which changes are most likely to be offsetting. This could be done separately for internal and external peace, producing four indices along which levels and movement could be compared and contrasted. Two-dimensional scatter plots could be used to compare countries overall (with positive and negative peace as the axes) or separately for domestic or international peace. To compare a few countries on all dimensions or to illustrate changes within countries over time, radar charts would be useful.

As I hope that last bit of constructive criticism makes clear, I don’t mean to knock the creators of the Global Peace Index for their thoughtful attempt to grapple with a very hard problem. I’d like to see them succeed; I just don’t think they have…yet. More generally, I think the ways in which their current effort falls short illustrate some common dilemmas of measurement that most social scientists face at one time or another.

This is a cross-post from my solo blog, Dart-Throwing Chimp.

When Life Imitates Sports

Lots of folks use war as analogy for football (US version) or football as analogy for war, such as the blitz starting with war going to football and going back to war.  How about we take a key concept from football and from other sports and apply it to US (and perhaps NATO) defense policy: the salary cap?

In professional sports, leagues have had to impose restraints upon owners of teams since competition among them (combined with nepotism leading to lousy decision-making) cause salaries to escalate.  As a result, bargaining with unions tends to be about the split of the income, with each team limited either strictly or not so strictly from spending over a certain level.  This provides some competitive balance.

Well, how about we develop a “war cap” limiting either how many wars the US or anyone else fights over a short time frame.  Perhaps countries, such as the US, might want to consider restraining themselves from repeatedly fighting in the same region to prevent exhaustion at home and alienating entire neighborhoods abroad.  Given that folks seem to be advocating for war hither (Iran) and thither (Syria), perhaps we need to restrain ourselves, even if we allow folks without military experience or kids in harm’s way to talk.

So, if we set a Middle East war cap at three for a rolling five year period, the US would be beyond the cap: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya with war-ish activities in Yemen and Somalia.  As a result, any war-monger in the US would have to wait until 2015 to start a new war, as Iraq would then be rolling off the list and would no longer count against the cap.*

 *  The funny thing about all these wars the US has fought, none, except for Afghanistan, have much to do with 9/11.  Now, would I waive the cap if the US wanted to attack Saudi Arabia?  Hmmm.

On the other hand, perhaps three wars in the same region is too low of a cap?  What say you?

A Reminder

The United States is currently fighting wars in lands that, while distant to us, are not so distant to their inhabitants and US soldiers.

I am tempted to carry on about the “new normal,” or compare the experience of peripheral wars to that of imperial Britain, France, and Russia. But the fact is that US forces have been engaged in some form of conflict–whether directly or indirectly–pretty much continuously since the start of World War II. And that’s a conservative timeline.

Still, the most striking thing of the US wars of the twenty-first century is how incidental they’ve been to most people living in the metropole. David Remnick wrote a fantastic piece about this on the tenth anniversary of September 11. Indeed, during the year I spent in the US government a constant refrain was how everyone needed to be reminded that the US was at war.

I was working in the Department of Defense.

War and the Eurozone

PM and Chancellor Merkel press conference

Last week, at University of Bristol, I gave a talk called “The Future of World Order” to the student International Affairs Society. It was a speculative lecture, based on my 17 years directing the Grawemeyer Award (for Ideas Improving World Order) more than my scholarship per se. I warned the audience from the start of two personal biases: (1) I am an optimist; and (2) I don’t really put much stock in specific predictions. I tried to stick to big ideas more than particular policies.

In the presentation, I argued that any order built on coercion and force would inevitably face a legitimacy crisis — and would ultimately collapse. The implications are twofold, I think. Domestically, people will demand greater control of their own lives. This means the world will see many more emancipatory movements to topple autocrats and unaccountable sources of power — as illustrated just this year by events in Egypt, Syria, Libya, Bahrain, the city of London, Wall Street, etc.

Internationally, it means order built on deterrence, brute force, or even the balance of power will give way to something that is more consensual, such as a security community. In support of this position, I talked a bit about John Mueller’s thesis that major power war is becoming obsolete — an outmoded institution, abandoned like slavery and dueling previously were. Could this thinking become even more pervasive, so that virtually any talk of war — internal or external — becomes outmoded? Eventually.

In the talk, I did not explicitly argue against the traditional state-centrism of international relations, nor call for the end of the states-system. However, I strongly implied that the future of world order will be more cooperative, focused on low rather than high politics (elevating the human security agenda), and much less violent.

This week, recovering from jet lag, I’ve been following the efforts to save the euro and Eurozone. One interesting aspect is that conservative leaders in Europe have certainly made some bold claims to sell their preferred outcomes. For instance, while traveling in Australia, British Prime Minister David Cameron used some classic statist language to highlight his concerns about the implications of ongoing negotiations:

“This is our key national interest, that Britain, a historic trading nation, has its biggest markets open and continues to have those markets fairly open and fairly governed.”

He later told the BBC’s political editor Nick Robinson: “In business often it’s selling more to your existing customers that’s the best strategy.

What his comments reveal is that when – if – the eurozone crisis ends, big political questions will replace the big economic problems”

“We’re big sellers into Europe, we can do better in those markets if we liberalise further.”

Mr Cameron has vowed to protect the UK’s position and said on Friday that the City of London was one “area of concern… a key national interest that we need to defend”.

“London – the centre of financial services in Europe – is under constant attack through Brussels directives,” he said.

Note the words and phrases Cameron used: “key national interest,” “attack” and “defend.”

Next, consider these remarks Wednesday from German Chancellor Angela Merkel:

“Nobody should take for granted another 50 years of peace and prosperity in Europe. They are not for granted. That’s why I say: If the euro fails, Europe fails,” Merkel said, followed by a long applause from all political groups.

“We have a historical obligation: To protect by all means Europe’s unification process begun by our forefathers after centuries of hatred and blood spill. None of us can foresee what the consequences would be if we were to fail.”


Based on these quotes, scholars should perhaps worry about the long-term durability of Mueller’s thesis.

Well, at least slavery is gone. Right?

Mobile Duck: Wireless for War?

I am going to try to keep this short, because the function to split the page is not available in this browser …what browser, you ask? Safari for IPad, I’ll tell you.

I’ve decided to make this my first IPad post in part because I was itching to try it, but also because it seemed fitting for it’s subject matter…a talk that Peter W. Singer gave at ISA-West in Los Angeles on September 25 on his book,Wired for War. So I thought I would write about Wired for War wirelessly. Funny, right? Maybe I should keep my day job. Maybe.

Ok, my thought about this talk and the book is relatively straight-forward, but perhaps still important. Singer started his talk with a commander’s letter “home” to a “dead” robot’s company, thanking the manufacturer for sparing the military the need to write a letter “home” to a soldier’s mother …as if a mother’s grief was the true tragedy of a soldier’s death. Elsewhere in the talk, Singer noted that many people who oppose the use of robotics in the US military or criticize it from an enemy or victim perspective attack the masculinity of its users. They argue that the use of robots is cowardly, and that ‘real men’ face and fight their enemies.

Singer’s analysis, of course, did not highlight the gendered dimensions of these discourses. Still, as important work in this field like Lauren Wilcox’s has demonstrated, this is not the first time that gender discourses have been key to debates about the use of new technologies in war. While, in Singer’s terms, whether ‘we’ are ‘wired’ for war or not seems to matter, being ‘equipped’ at whatever technological level seems include meeting standards of masculinity.

Metaphors of War: Superbowl Edition

Football and War have long been metaphors for each other, with players famously (and infamously in some cases) referring to themselves as “warriors” who will “do battle” on the gridiron led by “field generals” at quarterbacks, throwing “long bombs” to score, and Generals “calling an audible” to launch a “blitz” or a “hail-marry pass.” Indeed, those seeking to inject greater tolerance into American culture have long counseled that we do away with such metaphors, as they trivialize war on both sides of the equation. George Carlin saw this years ago. (Updatedrepaired link to Carlin’s baseball vs. football routine).

Today’s Superbowl between the Arizona Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers provides a rare moment reflection on this seemingly inescapable current in American popular culture. The Cardinals offer a unique mechanism for this, as until this year, they were probably best know for being the team of Pat Tillman, the former Cards player who joined the Army and was killed in Afghanistan.

It also provides a moment to notice, as the Washington Post reports, that the NFL seems to have re-thought its role in this process:

In a little-discussed shift in recent years, the NFL has moved away from depicting its games in military terms. While the league continues to embrace the military as an entity, inviting Gen. David H. Petraeus, the head of Central Command, to make the Super Bowl’s opening coin toss and having the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds perform a pregame flyover at Raymond James Stadium, the NFL no longer endorses using military terminology to describe its contests.

It is inappropriate, league officials say, to do so at a time when American forces are fighting two wars halfway around the globe.

“It’s a matter of common sense,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said as he stood outside the stadium the other day.

The same is true at NFL Films, an arm of the league that perpetuated for decades the image of football as controlled warfare by producing movies glorifying the game’s violence with phrases like “linebacker search and destroy.” In recent years the company’s president, Steve Sabol, ordered all allusions to war be removed from its new films.

“I don’t think you will ever see those references coming back,” he said. “They won’t be back in our scripts, certainly not in my lifetime.”

The sport that once saw itself as the closest thing in athletics to the military no longer holds to this once-cherished notion.

“We’re not going to fight no war, man,” Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Nick Eason said….

“They were basically cliches anyway,” Sabol said. “Just like you would hear coaches say, ‘That’s a guy I want to be in a foxhole with,’ they’ve never been in a foxhole and they’re trying to articulate that to a player who has no idea what a foxhole is.”

At the extreme, these metaphors were always silly, at their worst, they devalued the true sacrifices of soldiers and dehumanized the true destruction and human devastation wrought by actual war. Its a good thing that the NFL is moving in this direction.

Multipolarity versus Hegemony: Is this really the right question?

Dan recently commented on how the decline in US economic power will likely lead to a rewrite of the post-war global order. Additionally, there are reports that a new intelligence assessment by US agencies is set to be released after the upcoming elections which notes the coming relative decline of US predominance, particularly in the economic realm, by 2025. Now, there have been numerous predictions of US decline that, like the death of Mark Twain, have been greatly exaggerated. But the current panic in the US economy is on par with the very worst crises we’ve seen since the Great Depression (e.g. Stagflation, Black Monday, post-9/11, etc.), and there seem to be real structural problems that are unlikely to abate any time soon. That combined with the true rise of new economic players (e.g. China, India, and the continued productivity of the EU) means that for the first time since WWII we are seeing even more economic parity on the world stage.

Let’s assume for a moment that we will finally see a significant decline in US economic predominance and the rise of a more multipolar world order–is this necessarily a good thing? The answer I think is that polarity isn’t really the most important factor.

There has long been a debate in IR circles on what types of great power systems create the most stability–from a military and economic perspective. Balance of Power theory suggests that stability is dependent on the relative parity of great powers, as power imbalance between the great powers provides opportunities for both defensive and offensive balancing actions that can lead to war. There are only two possible systems, bipolar and multipolar–depending on who you ask, one or the other is preferrable from a stability standpoint. Hegemonic Stability Theory predicts an opposite scenario, where a single predominant economic and military power creates conditions necessary for peace and for an open economic trading order (Peter has certainly provided insightful commentary on HST in this space). The two theories are difficult to reconcile–however, Ed Mansfield tried to do just that in “Power, Trade, and War“. The book was based on his dissertation and was an attempt to determine which theory had it right–was the world more peaceful and prosperous when there was a more even distribution of power amongst great powers, or when there was a high imbalance of power with a single great power dominating the system?

The data suggests the answer was, well, yes. Mansfield found that in addition to looking at the polarity of a system (how many great powers exist in a system) it is equally important to examine the concentration of power in the system, where concentration is a combination of the number of great powers as well as the relative inequality of economic and military capabilities among those powers.

Mansfield finds a U-shaped relationship, rather than a linear relationship, between the concentration of power and openness of trade, and an inverse-U relationship between the degree of concentration and the outbreak of war [see figure below for a representation of both relationships].

What is most interesting is that the most dangerous times in terms of war and the least prosperous times occur in systems where the concentration of power appears in flux, or in a middle state–stability in trade and peace comes when power is most concentrated or most evenly dispersed.

I bring this up because if we are seeing the emergence of a more multipolar order (and that is debatable), whether or not this is a good outcome will depend more on how this effects the concentration of power in the system. The rise of new great powers and their effect on the relative concentration of power in the global system may have a net negative effect on peace and stability if we transition into that middle state. US economic power will decline in a relative sense, but militarily speaking it should remain predominant. Yes, China is growing economically and would like to convert those gains into military power, but the gap is large and a global economic slowdown will no doubt hamper those plans. Same with Russia–with global oil and gas prices dropping, Putin is less likely to catch up (if that is even the goal) with the US. And I will believe that Europe is dedicated to seriously enhancing their military aresenal when I see it. However, more important is the US’s ability to actually use that power and convert it into influence. While our spending will remain high (regardless of who is elected, just check the historical data), we have serious issues with our ability to translate that power to favorable battlefield outcomes as well as diplomatic victories. The main reason of course is the damage done and the vulnerability demonstrated since 2003 with the Iraq escapade. Not only did it stretch resources too thin, but it also demonstrated that a large budget doesn’t easily translate into dominance in practice.

I don’t have a prediction as of yet, but the economic and military trends do worry me–not because I am only comfortable with the US being a global hegemon, but depending on how dispersed power becomes in the next 20 years we could see far more turbulence in the system than we have for decades.

Just a thought.

Olympic Dreams

The 2008 Summer Olympic games kicked off today in Beijing, on the same day as Russia and Georgia go to war. Correlation? Causation?

John Hoberman’s “Think Again” article in the most recent issue of Foreign Policy would have us believe that the Olympics are not only irrelevant to, but actually bad for world order and international cooperation:

“The real genius of the IOC is its ability to create and sustain the myth that it promotes peace. In reality… trapped by its grandiose goal of embracing the entire ‘human family’ at whatever cost, the IOC has repeatedly caved in and awarded the games to police states bent on staging spectacular festivals that serve only to reinforce their own authority.”

I am no expert on the IOC’s history or on any large-N studies that may or may not confirm Hoberman’s claim that the Olympics have a negative or at best zero effect on the frequency or intensity of interstate war. But I am able to see an important conceptual problem in Hoberman’s argument: he treats “internal human rights” as synonymous with “interstate peace.” For example, the first sentence of his abstract begins with the foil: “The Olympic Games were founded to bridge cultural divides and promote peace.” But the article primarily refers to the internal human rights abuses of certain Olympic-hosting states as evidence that this goal has not been met by the IOC. Hoberman derides the IOC’s official policy of political neutrality and Olympic diplomacy as an “old cliche”:

“What the Olympics promote instead is a form of amoral universalism in which all countries are entitled to take part in the games no matter how barbaric their leaders may be.”

But it is precisely this amoral universalism that has the capacity to promote peace – among, not within, countries. It is no different from the political neutrality espoused by humanitarian organizations who, like the IOC, lack coercive instruments and instead peddle universal norms; or by the United Nations, an organization founded on the sovereign equality of states moreso than on a commitment to clean up their internal politics. In fact, the tension between these two noble goals – international stability between states, and human rights within them – underlies many of the key debates about UN reform today. Hoberman treats these two goals as if they are the same and can be conflated, when in fact, achieving one often depends on undermining the other.

Do the Olympics promote human rights? I’ll buy his argument that they can legitimize offending governments. But does the IOC claim to be a human rights organization? No. Its avowed goal of “acting as a catalyst for collaboration between all members of the Olympic Family” does in fact, perhaps, sometimes depend on looking the other way when it comes to internal repression by governments who think of themselves as family members.

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