Here’s my argument: Late 80s/early 90s Soviet Union. The United Kingdom in 2016. The United States 2016 to now. Three contemporary examples of international suicide that conventional IR neither predicted nor can account.
Ok, so perhaps suicide is too hyperbolic a concept and we should go with appetite for self-destruction . Certainly in the case of the Soviet Union any agential claim regarding the state is overdrawn. But either way I think there is a point here. All three states, and particularly the last two, undertook an internally driven diminution of international standing and capacity—dare I say, power.
It seems like good times have come around again for realists. After decades in the theoretical and empirical doldrums (getting end of Cold War wrong, opposition to war in Iraq, terrorism and COIN) realism is back. The most recent U.S. National Defense Strategy renews a focus on great power competition, specifically with China and Russia. The Pentagon has offloaded MRAPs and is stocking up on boost phase interceptors, hypersonics, and other weapons platforms not all that useful against insurgents but great for peer competitors. Oh, happy days for the balance of power!
This is the second of two guest posts ]by Eric Parajon, Richard Jordan, and Marcus Holmes. The first can be found here.
In our last post, we explored recent TRIP survey data illustrating that International Relations scholars overwhelmingly blame President Donald J. Trump for a perceived decline in America’s international respect. We also detailed how this individual level explanation seemed at odds with a reluctance over the past three decades on the part of IR scholars to publish articles focusing on the role of the individual or the “first image”. We closed our piece with some possible explanations for the divergence between what scholars study and what they say is important. In this post, we further detail what we see as the most compelling explanation, that scholars have correctly assessed Trump’s importance, but how they study the world does not mirror how they see the world.
It is absolutely true that IR scholars research the second and third
images almost exclusively–but it is also likely true that very few think the
first image unimportant. It may be that the discipline has simply not known how
to study individuals systematically, and this confusion masquerades as
Among IR scholars, research on the role of individuals in world
politics, or the “first image,” has languished for three decades. With the
dominance of structural and rationalist approaches in the late 20th century,
combined with skepticism individuals can be studied in a systematic, rather
than idiosyncratic way, the first image has largely been neglected. Data out of
the Teaching, Research, and International Policy (TRIP)
project at William & Mary illustrate the point. Over the last thirty-five
years or so, only 12.5%
of the articles analyzed, in a wide-swath of IR journals, featured any
engagement with the first image:
Figure 1: Proportion of scholarly journal articles utilizing each image approach (Grouped by year)
Some time ago, Charli reviewed an article I published in International Organization. In that review, Charli asked how do we know what we ‘know’ about the nature of external states. At the time, I thought the question an important one. In only a few years, the question has gone from important to absolutely critical. As the politics surrounding Trump’s election and administration, including the now pervasive claim of ‘fake news’ demonstrate, knowledge—and faith therein—is under strain. While knowledge has never been as objective or robust as most international relations (IR) scholars assume, the phenomenon of social media has shifted the ground. Continue reading
This is a guest post by Sarah Detzner, a Ph.D Candidate at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Her research is focused on international security, particularly post-conflict stabilization/reconstruction and security sector reform. In addition, she serves as Director of the Fletcher Graduate Writing Program, as a Fellow at the Center for Strategic Studies and the Institute for Human Security, and as a consultant for the World Peace Foundation. Previously, she served in the Obama Administration as a speechwriter for former Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, campaigned as an Obama 2008 staffer, and worked with the National Democratic Institute in Washington, Lebanon, and Jordan. She is a graduate of Macalester College and originally from the Chicago area.
In his indictment of the training that schools of international affairs offer their graduates, Stephen Walt has an advantage. He’s able to observe from a great height, over a long period, the migration patterns of herds of hopeful students trekking up and wintering a season or two in Boston before starting the return journey southward to the shores of the Potomac in search of warm weather and think tank gigs.
However, from that peak, it’s easy to miss the confusion, the mud, and the constant search for enough forage that day-by-day nudges along those who eventually make it to shore. From a different perspective, as third wildebeest from the back and slightly to the left, I say that the United States’ international affairs programs are churning out graduates with exactly the skills that the United States’ foreign policy establishment rewards, though certainly not those it actually needs. Continue reading
As Josh has already noted, grandee of IR Stephen Walt published a condemnation of US professional schools of IR, calling them broken and claiming that while there is superficial innovation the ‘rot runs deep’. After noting that we should expect US foreign policy (fopo) to be better than it is in the hands of foreign policy professionals—many of whom receive graduate education in institutions like Walt’s Kennedy School of Government at Harvard—Walt concludes that the schools of IR must share some of the blame . After this fairly breezy assessment, Walt goes on to outline five ways the ‘experience’ of graduate education in IR can be improved: Continue reading
This is a tough post to write. In October, Charli was hospitalized for severe abdominal pain. Surgery revealed a large mass, and Charli was diagnosed with Burkitt’s Lymphoma—a systemic cancer of the immune system. This is a rare cancer, but fortunately it is highly treatable (doctors say the cancer is responding well) and Charli has access to some of the best doctors in the world in Boston. But, the treatment is brutal: an intensive, six month course of chemotherapy. Charli is soldiering on, dealing with the anticipated (the hair!) and unanticipated challenges of cancer diagnosis and treatment with the indomitable spirit we all know.
Like me, I’m sure your response to this news is, how can I help? Charli has an amazing community supporting her on a day-to-day basis, but she needs our help to deal with the financial elephant in the room. Cancer treatment is expensive, and Charli’s insurance doesn’t cover the whole bill. Her family has set up a fundraising site to help defray these substantial medical costs. I hope the Duck community will join all of here at the blog in supporting Charli as she beats down this cancer. Together, we can help to ensure her story is one in which she lives happily ever after.
Earlier this month the Washington Post ran a piece detailing increased efforts by Charles Koch’s eponymous foundation (hereafter CKF) to fund foreign policy programs in the United States (h/t to Josh for posting to Twitter). Notwithstanding one’s perspective on the Koch brothers’ politics, increased money for academia is a good thing, right? And all the CKF wants is to “ask questions about America’s proper role in the world and how we move forward”…to ‘broaden the debate’ about US foreign policy. All noble aims, and so I am sure the CKF is distributing money to institutions large and small to give faculty opportunities to take students on study abroad programs, bring in policymakers and thinkers to foster discussion, and other mechanisms to provoke reflection and debate.
In a 2014 interview, Nick Onuf argued that IR has lost coherence as a field and should instead be considered “as a species of social relations and [to] abandon IR theory for social theory.” Were that to be the case, the work of Peter Berger would certainly contend for space at the top of the list of required reading.
We all know the traditional narrative in International Relations of the state as a unitary act. Despite substantial volumes of work in the foreign policy analysis subdiscipline as well as in IR theory, the common shorthand in IR scholarship is to say ‘China’ did X or ‘Britain’ bombed Y. At least in the case of the United States, climate change is going to force scholars and analysts to seriously reconsider those assumptions. Continue reading
This is a guest post by Dillon Stone Tatum, Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science and Geography at Francis Marion University.
If the liberal world order isn’t dead, commentators have killed it. The recent explosion in analysis focusing on what Donald Trump, or broader populist movements, mean for the future of world order have already written both the eulogy and the obituary for liberal internationalism. Robert Kagan makes this argument most bluntly in suggesting “the collapse of the world order, with all that entails, may not be far off.” Kagan is not alone. Others like Stephen Walt express concern with the decline of a liberal order. And, John Ikenberry argues that this new order is already upon us—that “in this new age of international order, the United States will not be able to rule. But it can still lead.”
The Trump Administration’s foreign policy, if we can call it a policy, has certainly injected a degree of excitement into the foreign policy commentariat and IR classrooms around the world. Reading all the output is a full time job. But it is fair to say that most of the coverage has been, shall we say, less than favorable. Recently, Dani Nedal and Dan Nexon tackled the problems with Trump’s foreign policy unpredictability. Stephen Walt argued that Trump does not really care whether his foreign policy is successful. And the list goes on.
A few years ago the possibility that an American president would be complicit as armed supporters attacked members of opposition would have seemed far-fetched. Yet the alliance between president-elect Donald Trump and the so-called ‘alt-right’, a protean alignment of nativists, xenophobes, Christian identarians, and white supremacists, raises this distinct fear. Right-wing militias are among Trump’s most vociferous supporters. Jay Ulfelder, a leading researcher on political violence, after the election opined that
American civil liberties are values-blind. We live in a society that tolerates the overt organization of armed groups committed to fighting the state and hurting other people. In some places, the lines between those groups and the state blur. Under those conditions, it seems sensible to prepare against the worst. Continue reading
In this, the first of a sequence of posts addressing Brexit in one way or another, I want to take a look at the shifting systems of authority in the current political climate and comment on how they might impact international relations into the future.
At the time of the Brexit vote, commentators and news reports drew parallels between the British decision to the leave the EU and the tumult of the US elections, particularly the rise of Donald Trump. Many pointed to the resurgence of nationalism, but here I want to argue that while the concept of nationalism as a practice of identity certainly sheds light on both Brexit and the rise of Trump, it also obscures some importance differences. In particular, part of nationalism is an aspect of governance, and in particular an embodied system of authority. In the case of Brexit, authority remained at the institutional level but shifted in aggregation, from the supernational to the national level. Continue reading
Tough as it is to follow Charli’s excellent post on terrorism, somebody has to do it and so I might as well. If this past ISA is any indication, quantum is a big deal. The panel on Alex Wendt’s new book linking quantum mechanics to the social sciences was standing room only (from what I hear, I could not be there). James Der Derian has Project Q at the University of Sydney. One of the papers I read as a discussant at ISA invoked the term superpositionality, much to my surprise. So, Newtonian World out, Quantum World in (not sure where Einstein fits).
This is all fascinating. Quantum mechanics has been around for a while, and for a while physicists have struggled to reconcile the strange subatomic world, characterized by phenomena like superpositionality (the state or location of a particle are probabilistic and exist in multiple states/conditions at the same time, and according to one interpretation only collapsed to a point upon observation), quantum tunneling (when a particle passes through a barrier without having to surmount it) and quantum entanglement (quantum states of two particles are linked such that changes in one are immediately reflected in the other, regardless of distance), with the macroscopic world we see, which is characterized by none of these things. Continue reading
Some weeks ago, Stephen Walt lamented the absence of realist commentators in the American media space. What was striking to me at the time was Walt’s claim that realism is a ‘well-known approach to foreign policy.’ That claim—that realism is a foreign policy approach—makes sense in the context of Walt’s dirge, which focuses on the role of policy makers and media in shaping state behavior. But putting realism into a foreign policy context does not come without theoretical costs. Indeed, the grandee of modern realism in IR Kenneth Waltz rejected the idea that realism was a foreign policy framework.
By taking analysis down to the policymaker level, Walt (and others) introduce a tension into analysis that is irreconcilable. The problem lies in the objectivist foundations of realism. For Waltz, the strictures of the system were independent of human perception, beliefs, or ideas. Waltz is never quite clear how systemic forces actually produce state behavior—he discusses socialization, but who is socialized, how that socialization is carried through time, and how it translates into actual policy outcomes is never very clear (in modern parlance, his microfoundations needed work). But, for the objectivist ontology and epistemology that formed the lynchpin of a now ‘scientific’ realism (e.g. balance of power as a timeless law governing international politics), Waltz’s neglect of microfoundations was useful for reasons that I hope are clear by the end of this post.
In a number of ways, if we go by the standard of previous environmental pollution treaties the Paris Agreement does not look like a notable success, hedging as it does in terms of a binding commitment on the part of the signatories. Continue reading
Late last month the New York Times ran an interesting piece about the power of language and climate change. Central to the story is the concept of a carbon budget. On its face, the concept is simple. Drawing on complex models of the atmospheric and energy effects of carbon dioxide and other heat trapping gases, climate scientists have proposed a global carbon budget: the amount of carbon dioxide (or, we should add, the equivalent in other gases which can be far more potent) that can be emitted into the atmosphere without breaking the two degree Celsius mark. Turns out the numbers are not pleasant (like just about everything else with respect to climate change). In the latest IPCC report (the fifth, 2013), climate modelers estimate that humans have a total carbon budget of about 800 billion tons, of which humans have used about 530 billion tons, which means we only have 270 billion tons left. Given the average emissions rate of 10 billion tons a year, looks like humans and the rest of the planet have a little less than 30 years left, and that assumes that carbon emissions stay constant. If they grow, of course, the time shrinks. Continue reading
Josh’s excellent tripartite (1, 2, 3) discussion of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy record in conjunction with with the narratives of Putin’s strategic leadership accompanying Russian military involvement in Syria have me thinking about the concept of authority. Specifically, I do not think we as academics (and as a result, policymakers) have a very good set of tools for thinking about leadership and authority in the international system. In large part I suspect the materialist foundations of much of IR theory are central to this gap, and indeed are reflected in the narratives surrounding Putin’s action.
As the story goes, Putin is exhibiting global leadership and building international authority by dint of the fact that he is doing something in a very specific way—bringing to bear Russia’s military capabilities to bomb the enemies of the Assad regime. This produces very optical and material action and as such seems to satisfy an assumption that leadership and global authority are based on military, material impact (with healthy dose of masculinity). Remarkably absent, however, are feasible claims about how Putin’s actions will produce global authority and with whom. How does bombing Bashar al-Assad’s enemies produce a collective shift in how Russia is understood vis-à-vis the hierarchy of the international system? Continue reading