Author: Jarrod Hayes (page 3 of 4)

Play it Cool

Yesterday I had the great fortune to sit on a faculty panel discussing the Iran nuclear deal put on by my colleagues at Georgia Tech [I will link to the video when it is available]. A logic of thought that came up, in different formulations, related to the idea that the nuclear deal might transform US-Iran relations and/or change Iran’s domestic politics. Coincidentally, the New York Times reported yesterday the answer is apparently a resounding no from the Ayatollah Khamenei–Iran would not be having anything more to do with the US lest the Great Satan “sneak back in through the window.”  As a bonus, he predicted Israel will “not be around in 25 years’ time.” These comments are almost certain to provoke anxiety in Israel and give renewed strength to critics of the nuclear deal in the US. I would caution them to hold their fire.

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Europe, Greece, and the problem of identity: Doing it wrong, social psych edition

The Iran deal is the hot topic now, but since I wrote on the subject recently in another venue, I thought I would address the Greek/Euro crisis. I can’t help but borrow a bit of Josh’s title on the subject because it describes so well the situation in Europe. A lot of people are piling in on the Europeans.  While I have not read all the analysis on the crisis, I suspect much of it is economically oriented.  Ben Bernanke, for example, thinks Europe is failing to uphold its end of the deal by delivering equitable economic growth. Stephen Walt thinks Europe is in for a tough time mostly for economic and security reasons: because of overexpansion (too many different levels of economic development), the collapse of the Soviet Union (no external threat), the Euro crisis, deteriorating regional security environment (Ukraine, terrorism and migrants)*, and the persistence of nationalism. Continue reading


Partly Missing the Point: Rethinking US and EU Sanctions on Russia

Recently, Suzanne Nossel published a piece critical of US and EU sanctions against Russia. A number of her points make sense. For US-EU sanctions to really isolate Russia and thus have a chance to change Russian behavior in the short term, they need to have the participation of other major states in the system like China and India. Without those states, the isolation effort is doomed to fail. Moreover, the effect of US-EU sanctions will fade over time as Russia deepens economic interaction with non-participating states. The marquee example is the May 2014 deal for Russia to provide $400 billion in gas to China over 30 years (Russia and China announced a second deal in November 2014, but as one analyst notes, that second deal is not a deal on price or timelines, but rather a agreement to discuss further). Nossel also rightly notes that sanctions did not prompt Putin to change direction but rather to impose counter sanctions. And as the continued violence in East Ukraine suggest, Putin has not dropped his military support for separatists or changed his mind about implementing the Minsk II agreement. The sanctions, at least in the short term, has also lent superficial veracity to Putin’s narrative that the West seeks to prevent Russia from regaining its national greatness.

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How do we know?

In her review of my 2012 IO article on identity and security in democracy, Charli asked a very important question: how do we know other states are democracies? I think this question, writ more broadly, is something IR scholars overlook to a detrimental degree. Perhaps because of the objectivist ontology that underlies much of IR scholarship (and is perhaps an extension of human psychology) I think there is a general reluctance to problematize collectively held knowledge of the world.* But, as events playing out today show, the question of ‘how do we know’ in the context of states and societies is crucially important.

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Development and Security

For a range of reasons, I have been thinking lately about the relationship between development and security. At one level, the relationship is obvious, if somewhat banal: resources allocated for security (e.g. guns) cannot be used for development purposes (butter). I suspect that for many American IR scholars, and certainly most Americans in security studies, that is the limit of their thinking on the relationship.

If we think about security in material terms, then perhaps those limits make sense. But what if we think about security in social terms—as a socio-political logic—that organizes social/political activity, gives meaning to events in the world, and binds society together. After all, Tilly tells us in The Formation of National States in Western Europe that war made the state and the state made war. This point on security as a social logic emerges in Grand Duck Dan Nexon’s enlightening discussion of Tilly a couple years ago: Tilly’s work can be understood as an effort to introduce “different explanatory accounts of variation in the European topography within which bargaining around warfare and the mobilization for warfare took place.” Continue reading


Thinking about the intellectual future of higher education

Recently, articles have emerged in both the United States and the United Kingdom concerned over the current politico-intellectual trend toward diminishing the importance and funding of the humanities and social sciences (HSS). For all the reasons the authors indicate, this trend is problematic. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) disciplines are of course incredibly important. But they are only part of the collective agenda of intellectual inquiry, and cannot be made to dominate universities without intellectual, economic, and political costs. In this short post, I will leave aside arguments about the intrinsic or societal value of HSS, not because they are trivial (they are not) but because the current wave of humanities and social sciences demotion speaks in terms of global competitiveness and economic productivity. I don’t accept that these arguments should define the boundaries of the debate, but if a case can be made on those or related grounds, then at least parties to the ‘debate’ will not be talking past each other. Continue reading


Road to nowhere?

Roads. Who can be against them, right? They allow us to get from A-to-B. And as anyone who has been to a place where there were no roads can attest, their absence is a real impediment to the modern political economy. The construction of roads is thus a central feature of the international development agenda. The World Bank publishes analysis of road investment by developing countries. The World Trade Organization claims ~30% of all overseas development aid ($25-$30 billion) is spent on trade related development—central to which is road construction and maintenance. Continue reading


Mr. Netanyahu goes to Washington

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s looming address to the United States Congress has me thinking about the nature of authority in security. I think this is an issue that often gets overlooked, especially in security studies where the materiality of power (i.e. the ability o blow things up) takes up most of our collective attention. Certainly, Netanyahu seeks to make a security claim in his argument against the possibility of a deal between the United States and Iran over the latter’s nuclear program. But in so doing Netanyahu is on relatively thin ground. In most domestic contexts there are speakers with institutionally-sedimented security authority, individuals whose ability to make security claims is much greater than others. In democracies, these are typically elected politicians and bureaucratic leaders of the elements of the national security apparatus. We often overlook these lines of security authority unless something occurs that imperils them, as was the case in the second George W. Bush administration in the wake of the disastrous invasion of Iraq.

But when a foreign leader visits an alien domestic political context, the importance of authority to speak security claims becomes obvious. This is certainly the case with Netanyahu and his speech before Congress. On what basis will Americans and their elected representatives, one assumes his target audiences, accept Netanyahu’s claims that a deal with Iran poses an existential threat to Israel and possibly the United States? On the Israel claim, Netanyahu’s security authority is stronger as the leader of that state. But on the claim of an existential threat to the United States, Netanyahu’s ability to speak security is much weaker—which draws our attention to the political conditions that facilitate security claims. Certainly shared democratic identity between Israel and the United States supports Netanyahu’s security authority, as does a long alliance between the two countries that helps generate shared beliefs about security. Continue reading


The merits of the concept of terrorism

About a week ago I published a piece with the International Relations and Security Network (ISN) on the analytical and political utility (or lack thereof) of the concept of terrorism.  I cannot reproduce it here in full for Duck readers because the ISN owns it.  But, since I think the topic might be of interest to readers, here is a taste of what I argue in hopes of prompting a discussion:

With high-profile incidents of political violence continuing to make headlines, the time has come to question the labeling of these events as ‘terrorism.’ While politically or ideologically motivated violence remains all too real, approaching events such as these through the framework of ‘terrorism’ does little to help academics or policymakers understand or prevent them. Fourteen years into the Global War on Terror, the political and security baggage that accompanies the label ‘terrorism’ may even undermine such efforts. This is because the term terrorism creates the false impression that the actions it describes represent a special or unique phenomenon. Because this confusion impedes our ability to understand politically motivated violence as part of broader social and political systems, the costs of continuing to use the concept of terrorism outweigh the benefits. The simplest solution to this problem would be for scholars and policymakers alike to jettison the term…



Constructivism and the tension within

My first post of the new year (hey, it is still January!) is a bit IR theory geek-ish, so apologies to readers who do not follow those arcane discussions. About two weeks ago I participated in a workshop on constructivism at USC. Not surprisingly given the caliber of the people around the table, the conversation was a rich and enlightening one. A number of things jumped out at me, but the one I want to write on here addresses a tension (of many?) I think lies at the heart of the constructivist research agenda. Specifically, I think the intellectual and professional agendas of constructivism are at cross-purposes.


In brief, the intellectual agenda of constructivism emphasizes the intersubjective nature of social reality, and is populated with things like identity, norms, roles, and the like. The intersubjective nature of social reality means that while there is no objective social reality existing apart from social interaction and observation, neither is reality only in our heads. There are shared understandings and conceptions of the world that span individuals that scholars can observe and theorize about. But because these structures are intersubjective, they can change (although Ted Hopf argues not very easily) and are recreated every day. The complexity of these theoretical foundations and social nature of the things constructivists study suggests a plurality of methods and theoretical agendas is in order. There is, or should be, an awareness that what constructivism is as a theoretical space within IR is also intersubjectively constructed, and that scholars should be careful when defining what/who is or is not counted as part of the club.


Yet the profession practice of IR pushes in a very different direction. Success is had through clearly defining the boundaries of constructivism (to invoke Foucault, disciplining constructivism) and determining those scholars who are ‘good’ constructivists, rewarding them, building networks around or with them, and propagating their students out into the IR system. These dynamics also serve social psychological purposes, as scholars who identify as constructivists have symbolic leaders to which they can rally, and in so doing generate intellectual clarity (through simplification) and emotional gratification. Obviously, this disciplining activity has the effect of marginalizing many voices—a point feminists and post-structural scholars have long made about IR more generally. But it also creates constructivism as an objective thing in the scholarly universe rather than a field defined by intersubjective construction. This move does terrible violence to the intellectual program of constructivism, and is at the heart of the tension between the intellectual and professional agendas.


What to do about this conflict? Maybe nothing can be done to resolve it. The networked professional keys to success are unlikely to change and in an ‘new normal’ of incredibly tight job markets and scarce resources, the professional imperatives exert powerful influence. And yet, constructivism is not constructivism if it loses sight of its intersubjective and socially constructed core. So perhaps the best constructivists can hope for is to remain aware of these conflicting imperatives and stake out a tenuous via media or middle ground, an unstable and ever shifting equilibrium between what it means to be a constructivist as a scholar and what it means to do constructivist scholarship.




Theatre and Cyber Security

By now I am sure many of you have seen the news that Sony has indefinitely postponed/canceled the theatrical release of The Interview under threat from hackers apparently connected to the regime in North Korea. It is not clear whether the threat was explicitly against movie goers or against the companies screening the film, and whether the assault would be virtual or physical in form (although the Obama Administration has suggested the theatre threat was overblown and has criticized Sony for withholding the film). What is clear is that the cancellation costs Sony tens of millions of dollars in lost production and promotion costs and has established a precedent that digital assaults can produce real world costs and behavioral changes.

Quite striking is the shift in construction of the Sony issue as a threat. Previous breaches of corporate information technology (IT) security have hardly prompted the kind of national security discourses the Sony case has generated. Indeed, the earlier disclosure of sensitive emails from the Sony IT breach did not result in discussions of national threat. Certainly, the more international and public elements of the situation suggest greater basis for making a national security claim. And yet, the appearances are deceptive. The Obama Administration specifically downplayed the possible threat to cinemas, with the Department of Homeland Security indicating there was no credible threat to cinemas or theatregoers. The cancelation of the film is certainly costly, but most of the cost is born by Sony (to the tune of tens of millions of dollars). To that end, the IT breach is not any different from other corporate IT breaches where customer information has been compromised. The North Korean element is certainly substantive, but not altogether unique. 

What the shift in discourse reveals is the socially constructed nature of threat. The public costs of the Sony IT breach are economically smaller than in other breaches, and the linkage to external state is not unique to the Sony case. So materially, there is little that obviously qualifies the Sony IT breach as a national security issue, much less something that calls for US government retaliation. The discursive shift regarding the national security ‘threat’ posed by the Sony incident highlights the utility of securitization theory for thinking about the issue of cyber security. Specifically, securitization theory directs our attention to how political actors are seeking to reconstruct the Sony IT breach in ways that justify extraordinary measures, in this case the US government risking conflict escalation with a isolated, reactive, and militarized regime in North Korea on behalf of a private economic/corporate entity. Notably, since the cancellation of the film discourses have highlighted core elements of American political identity, specifically the right to freedom of expression, as the basis of the security claim. This discursive shift suggests a societal boundary with respect to information technology issues in the United States between a private concern (Sony breach before film cancellation) and a public security matter.

Securitization also draws our attention to the political effects of security, and a consequence the costs of security. Who benefits from or is empowered by treating IT issues as security issues? What consequences arise from making IT security a national security matter? How can the state possibly mandate security measures for an issue that interweaves throughout the economy? What kinds of instabilities are created by involving states as security actors in the cyber realm with the strong potential of militarization? Certainly weak states will seek to take advantage of the asymmetric opportunities of global information technology, but the question of responsibility and countermeasures remains an open one for the most powerful and developed states in the system and whether those should lie with the state. Specifically, in past nonsecuritized (from the standpoint of the state) IT breaches, the responsibility and the cost were assumed to lie with the victimized corporation. Securitization shifts that responsibility and cost to the state.

I have long been a skeptic of the concept of cyber security as such, and for me securitization theory opens up an analytical space for critically interrogating the concept of cyber security, the process by which information technology issues are transformed into security, as well as the political and social effects of terming information technology as security.


**Thanks to Dave McCourt for helpful comments on this post!



Theory as thought

Recently a friend and colleague wrote me to say:


“The SS piece is actually really useful to me as a model for dealing with Political Science post paradigm wars.”


Which prompts me (as if academics ever need such a prompt) to revisit an issue I raised almost a year ago: the role of theory in policymaking. In that long ago post, I mentioned that Patrick James and I had an article under review that addressed the relationship between theory and policy from a fairly novel perspective, and I am happy to say that article—entitled “Theory as Thought: Britain and German Unification”—came out earlier this year in Security Studies.


In the piece, we derive inspiration from analytic eclecticism in an effort to develop a more nuanced and useful understanding of how theory interacts with the real world. In pursuit of that agenda, we make a simple but potentially controversial claim: rather than represent objective descriptions/explanations of the world, theories of international relations represent different modes of thinking about the world. These different modes are intersubjective structures and discourses that enable shared efforts to understand and explain the world. Thus, theories are actually shared logics embedded in society that enable policymakers to make sense of the world. As such, IR scholars are embedded within and develop their theories from broader currents of social meaning-making.


To make the argument work, we distil the core operative logics underlying realism, liberal institutionalism, and constructivism. Rather than derive explanatory building blocks from theories and apply them to empirical sources, we analyze policy-makers’ modes of thought to investigate whether they contain patterns of IR theory. We realize that doing so is part of the controversial nature of the article, as scholars operating within these traditions may reject the simplifications we undertake, or in the case of constructivism that it has enough coherence to have a unifying logic. We spend some time justifying these decisions in the article, so I leave it to readers to look there for our defense.


After establishing the logics, we apply them to our case study—British policymaking toward German unification. We find that, contrary to claims that these theories only explain the international system, they actually represent modes of thought that shape how actors see the world. Moreover, all three logics play a critical role in the British policymaking process, interweaving to produce a complex constructed social reality. The logic of realism clearly played an important role in shaping the perceptions of top British leadership, particularly Thatcher, of German unification as a problem. This foundational assessment played a crucial role in shaping how the British understood the events of 1989 and 1990. But it did not play an important role in how the British responded to the process of German unification. By turning to NATO, the CSCE, and the EU to integrate an expanded and quasi-hegemonic Germany within the existing network of institutions, the logic of neoliberal institutionalism played a critical role in how British policymakers constructed their policy response. Why did the logic of neoliberal institutionalism prevail over the logic of realism in directing British policy? Here the power of the logic of constructivism is evident, particularly the role of identity and rhetorical entrapment. These logics constrained British policymakers to cooperative policy options.


A range of implications arise from our argument, and we spend considerable time in the conclusion talking about them so I only present a couple highlights here. One of the implications that comes out of our argument is that no theory of international relations is consistently applicable across space and time. Rather, the applicability of theory to events depends on the particular mix of theoretical logics in a particular time and space. These logics, like other socially constructed systems of meaning and relation (e.g. identity) may come to be sedimented (in strategic culture for example) and thus relatively stable over the short to medium term. But scholars would be well served to problematize what theoretical logics constitute the dominant discourses and narrative in the times and places they are interested in studying.


Another implication addresses the divide between material and ideational approaches to IR. Material versus ideational analysis emerges as what Brecher calls a “flawed dichotomy.” Regardless of the approach under consideration, it is not possible to comprehend how policymakers understood German transformation without both. The most convincing account is one that recognizes the contributions of multiple paradigms to understanding complex international events with intertwining logics. For such reasons, frameworks ranging from the streamlined realism to the more intricate constructivism should be regarded as complementary rather than competitive in resolving the mysteries of IR.


A final implication regards the separation between theory and reality, and the gap between academics and policymakers. If we are right about the basis of theory, that means that theoretical development corresponds with changes in the world and how state leaders and societies come to terms with those changes. But the influence is not unidirectional. Theories also shape the world, providing systems of meaning that are taken up and integrated into shared logics. Thus, at a fundamental level there is no gap between academics and policymakers even if on a day-to-day basis such a gap seems yawning.


Theory is thought, both in the minds of scholars as well as actors in the ‘real’ world. Incorporating that simple observation into research on international relations holds the potential of greater illumination—from theory development to analytical veracity to bridging the gap between IR scholars and practitioners.


Carl Sagan and Reflections on the Significance of IR

I was remiss yesterday in failing to note that November 9, 2014 would have been Carl Sagan’s 80th birthday.  For a former astrophysicist such as myself, it is an opportunity for reflection on the significance of what we do in the study and practice of international relations.  Sagan was a masterful communicator of important scientific ideas to the public.  One of the lessons of cosmology he was so effective, and persistent, in communicating was the tenuousness of humanity’s existence.  Earth orbits a nondescript star in the relative hinter regions of a nondescript galaxy, one of more than 170 billion galaxies in the observable universe, each one with billions of stars.  Other than water and the right temperature, there is nothing apparently unique about Earth, and there is nothing that protects Earth from the ravages of the universe, both foreign and domestic.  It is a singular lifeboat, and once you start to think about the scale and the nature of the universe, suddenly all the things we take for granted take on renewed significance.

To give a sense of what Sagan was talking about, consider the famous Pale Blue Dot photo, taken by Voyager 1 in 1990, when it was 3.7 billion miles from Earth, or roughly 40 times as far as the Earth is from the Sun.  In it we see Earth as a tiny pixel of blue light surrounded by darkness.


That’s the whole of it.  As far as we know, not just human life, but all life is on that speck of blue.  Sagan put it better than I ever could in his 1994 book Pale Blue Dot:


The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

The relevance for IR is profound, because so many of the problems that might or do threaten the continued existence of human and all life are international and global and thus the stuff of IR scholarship: nuclear proliferation, disease and biological weapons, climate change, environmental degradation and species extinction, industrialized warfare, and so on.  Other problems may not pose a threat to human existence, but despoil the human experience: human trafficking, endemic poverty, malnutrition, biodiversity loss, and so on.  The study and practice of IR is either central or very important for all of these issues and more, and given the stakes riding on the solutions, it is a sobering reminder of just how important the study of international relations is.

As a final note, exobiologists (those who search for extraterrestrial life, intelligent or otherwise) have puzzled for some time over the apparent lack of observable intelligent life in the universe (civilizations capable of emitting radio waves).  With all those stars and all those galaxies, surly the conditions of life exist not just elsewhere, but many, many elsewheres.  So why do we not find any evidence of technological civilizations?  Sagan’s conclusion was and remains a sobering one.  The reason we find no evidence of technological civilizations is because those civilizations end up destroying themselves before they are able to exist long enough to leave much of a trace.


Christianity and the Sino-American Relationship

Last week, the Economist reported on the expanding sway of Christianity in China. While the numbers are difficult to pin down, The Economist reports that some argue that the number of Christians in China exceeds the number of official members of the Chinese Communist Party (87 million). What we are witnessing in China then is a dramatic shift in the constitution of domestic social systems in China as religion in general and Christianity in particular increasingly inform conceptions of what it means to be ‘Chinese’ and the accompanying systems of meaning.


From the vantage point of many in the US, the rise of Christianity in China is welcome news. Discourses about China, particularly those propagated by Republicans, occasionally highlight the ‘atheist’ nature of the Chinese regime. More broadly, the prevalence of discourses of Christian identity in the United States suggests the possibility of an emerging identity dynamic. As Chinese come to understand themselves as ‘Christian’, a harmonization in the identity dynamics between the US and China might occur as both come to see themselves as past of the same societal ingroup. This harmonization may be accelerated if tensions within China between the dominant Han ethnic group (where Christianity is growing fastest according to the Economist) and Tibetian and Uighur minorities (many of whom are Buddhist and Muslim respectively) increase. These tensions may then serve to activate the Christian/non-Christian identity duality in China, which could strengthen relations between China and at least some elements of American society. This in turn might provide some resilience to what has been and seems an increasingly fraught Sino-American relationship.


These hopes might be very premature and in fact misplaced. The function of identity in shaping socio-political relations is a product of activation and content, and on both counts Christian identity might not bind the US and China together as much as the case above suggests.


At least in the United States, and probably into the indefinite future for China, Christianity identity is not an identity that functions in the political realm (as compared to democracy in the US case or Maoism in China). That is, identity may inform the identities of some actors in both places, but a broader Christian identity does not function as a basis for understanding political behavior. For example, American politicians do not regularly invoke Christian identity to justify elements of foreign policy. Where such an invocation arises (e.g. George Bush’s use of the term crusade and religious laden language after September 11, 2001) controversy follows. Thus in the US, Christian identity is contested as a basis for understanding appropriate behavior and for establishing expectations of the self and others. That is, Christian identity does not provide a set of guidelines that govern political interaction because it does not provide a basis for political behavior expectations or political meaning-making. This in turn means that Christian identity would provide little basis for resolving political conflicts between the US and China—which predominate the relationship today and for the foreseeable future.


It may be that shared religious identity operates in the political background, generating a basic level of societal ease. Even if this is the case, the evangelical nature (as reported by the Economist) of Chinese Christian identity may prevent shared identity from operating in that way. If Chinese Christians see American Christians as wayward or even apostate members of the ingroup, that could further fuel, rather than ease, tensions between the states (see for example relations between Shi’a Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia–both Islamic states, but both at odds in part due to differences in the content of their religious identities). Thus the content of the identity has implications for the activation of the identity as well as how the identity functions, including corporate elements (who is part of the ingroup and who is not). Thus, scholars will have to be very careful in assessing what role the important changes in China’s social fabric will have on its relations with the rest of the world.


Normative dilemma of writing policy?

This week, courtesy of my colleague Adam Stulberg and the Center for International Strategy, Technology, and Policy, our department hosted Matthew Kroenig. When I first learned of Kroenig’s visit, my initial thought was that it would be a great opportunity to do (yet another) take on his arguments regarding the possible use of force against Iran. But I think there is little value added to such an exercise. It has been done, not only here on the Duck but in other venues as well. What I think might be a more fruitful way to take advantage of Kroenig’s visit is to think about some of the challenges of bridging the gap between academics and policymakers.


Specifically, I am thinking here about the possible parallels with Jef Huysmans’ examination of the normative dilemma of writing security. Like myself, Huysmans is writing from a social constructivist perspective, and as such understands “the creation of a security problem as a social phenomenon.” Security then is the “result of a practice of definition: security is what agents make of it.” These insights inform discourse-oriented constructivist approaches to security like securitization theory. Turning issues into security then involves, among other things, “…a particular kind of knowledge (security knowledge)”. This is where the dilemma comes in: by analyzing and writing about the practices and discourses of security, scholars may in turn reinforce and reify those practices and discourses. This occurs not only through the repetition of the security claims, but also through the legitimacy imparted through association with the authority of academia. As Huysmans points out, in this discursive interpretation, “speaking and writing about security is never innocent.”


What if the normative dilemma of writing is not constrained to security, but to the larger interface between the academy and the policy world? That is, in seeking to influence/provide value to policymakers, scholars unavoidably shift themselves from the position of analyst to the position of political actors, and in the process create and reify policy dynamics. Which brings me back to Kroenig. A skim of his CV quickly reveals that he has built his career in a substantial way on bridging the gap between academia and policy. While I suspect that Kroenig does not accept the epistemological or ontological precursors to Huysmans’ arguments, I thought it worthwhile nonetheless to ask Kroenig what he thought of the dilemma. He answered, more or less, that he felt there was a substantial amount of misinformation regarding US policy (and policy options) toward Iran’s nuclear program, and he sought to rectify that misinformation. Therein I suspect lies a substantial part of the charm for academics regarding bridging the academy-policy gap. By contributing to the policy discussion, academics improve the marketplace of ideas that underpins policymaking. That is a powerful lure, and in some ways gets scholars out of the dilemma by reversing the normative dilemma into a normative imperative: it is a socially good and normatively desirable for scholars, with their carefully considered arguments, deep knowledge, emphasis on analytical and theoretical thinking, and focus on linking theory with empirics to enrich the public/policy discourses and as a consequence improve the store of ideas from which policymakers make their withdrawals.


I don’t know if there is an answer to the dilemma of writing policy or security. And perhaps the dilemma for policy broadly is less problematic than for security specifically. Or perhaps the dilemma of writing security does not translate at all to policy writ large. Nonetheless, I am left with a nagging concern. As I watched Kroenig’s public talk (which is impressive) I found myself analyzing him as a securitizing actor. How was he making his arguments about Iran as a threat to the United States? What social and discursive tools was he drawing on? Therein lies the source of my concern. In bridging the gap, at least on this security related issue, Kroenig (perhaps unavoidably) goes from being a security analyst to a security actor. He is in his own way creating a specific security knowledge, of Iran and its nuclear program (and possible nuclear weapons) as a threat to the United States. I suspect for Kroenig that is not a problem because he does not share my or Huysmans theoretical orientation. But for those that do, it becomes very challenging to think about how to bridge the gap without becoming a part of the very security/policy practices we seek to examine, uncover, and problematize.


Neoliberalizing the academy

Josh’s post on his experience with course evaluations has gotten me thinking about the practice of using course evaluations. Because my personal circumstances differ from Josh’s (e.g. I do not have children), I have been able to avoid some of the painful tradeoffs he discusses and have not yet had to confront ‘bad’ evaluations. Reading his post, however, prompted me to connect some dots that have been floating around in my head regarding the ideological underpinnings of practices in the academy with recent pieces I have seen in the media—specifically a NYTimes report on the release of the follow-up to Academically Adrift and a report in the Economist on the upward march of grade inflation.


I assume the original intention of course evaluations was a reasonable one. Professors spend most if not all of their time in the classroom unsupervised, and course evaluations provide a basic mechanism for administrators to make sure faculty are doing their jobs. They also, for reflective teachers like Josh, provide valuable feedback for refining pedagogical approaches and techniques. Today, however, they have come to serve a different purpose. Evaluations have become part of a broader shift within universities as they increasingly adopt neoliberal economic norms. This includes conceiving of students as customers and universities as job training centers. In this context, course evaluations become less about improving pedagogy and more about ensuring the customers are satisfied. But, as Aspiring Adults Adrift—the follow up to Academically Adrift—demonstrates, students are not well placed to assess the quality of their education. From the New York Times piece reviewing Aspiring Adults Adrift:

When asked during their senior year in 2009, three-quarters reported gaining high levels of critical thinking skills in college, despite strong C.L.A. [Collegiate Learning Assessment] evidence to the contrary. When asked again two years later, nearly half reported even higher levels of learning in college. This was true across the spectrum of students, including those who had struggled to find and keep good jobs.

Through diplomas, increasingly inflated grades and the drumbeat of college self-promotion, these students had been told they had received a great education. The fact that the typical student spent three times as much time socializing and recreating in college as studying and going to class didn’t change that belief. Nor did unsteady employment outcomes and, for the large majority of those surveyed, continued financial dependence on their parents.

This brings me to grade inflation. The Economist story only reports on the dynamic on Ivy League campuses, but where the Ivies go many others follow (exploding research productivity expectations for example). To me, these indicators connect to the neoliberalization of American universities. If universities are simply providing a service to customers, then happier customers produce greater revenues (higher enrollments) for departments, colleges, and universities. Course evaluations are the primary metric for establishing student satisfaction, and studies demonstrate that higher average course grades correlate with higher course evaluations. From a 2010 study in the Journal of Political Economy:

Student evaluations are positively correlated with contemporaneous professor value‐added [higher course grades] and negatively correlated with follow‐on student achievement [performance in subsequent courses]. That is, students appear to reward higher grades in the introductory course but punish professors who increase deep learning (introductory course professor value‐added in follow‐on courses). Since many U.S. colleges and universities use student evaluations as a measurement of teaching quality for academic promotion and tenure decisions, this latter finding draws into question the value and accuracy of this practice.

Even units supportive of faculty that seek to prioritize rigor over easy As will have a hard time holding the line as enrollments (and thus revenue) drop because students migrate to courses and majors where such rigor is lacking.


The solution is not to eliminate course evaluations. Used properly, as part of a holistic assessment of teaching, course evaluations provide an opportunity for students to provide feedback and for faculty to understand how they are connecting with their students. Instead, the solution lies ultimately with students. The neoliberalization of American universities is not going away. So it will be up to students to demand more of their universities—not in terms of climbing walls or campus Starbucks—but rather in terms of educational rigor. The problem, of course, is that students are the least well placed to recognize rigor. Ultimately, they will have to ask themselves: Did the course challenge me? Did it push me outside the bounds of my conventional thinking? Do I think (about issues and problems) differently? If so, students should take more classes with that professor and reflect those qualities on course evaluations. Students in the end will have to change the ‘rationalist’ cost-benefit calculations underpinning the system.


How does this come back to Josh’s experience? I do not know the particulars of why his students evaluated him as they did, but the dynamics I discuss above suggest that perhaps the evaluations really are not as bad as he thinks.


The Short-Termist Cost of Security

It is no secret in the academic IR community that securitization theory, an approach developed in Europe as part of the Copenhagen School of security studies, has struggled to get traction here in the United States. While the approach is widely used elsewhere in the world, from Europe to Asia, American IR scholars have been very reticent reluctant to accept the merits of the approach. Which is a shame because the approach has the potential to offer significant insights. One possible objection to securitization theory might be that, since it argues threats are political and intersubjective rather than objective, the approach offers little in the way of guidance to policymakers—an important aim of security studies in the U.S. This reading of securitization theory is incorrect. There are a number of ways in which securitization theory can enable better policy analysis and policy making. In this post, I am interested in how securitization theory helps us to evaluate the long terms costs of the persistent tendency in the United States to evaluate matters in security terms.


Securitization theory enables such an analysis because it, unlike approaches that seek to identify and prescribe measures for ‘objective’ threats, securitization theory points the analyst toward the political dynamics that give rise to shared perceptions of threat, and the effect on the political system of those shares perceptions of threat. According to securitization theory, security is a particular kind of politics, one in which extraordinary measures are justified by imminent existential threats. But the nature of security politics is acute: in all polities the extraordinary measures undertaken to address threats are corrosive to the political system, and are thus difficult to sustain for very long. This leads to an emphasis on short-term responses that address the immediate problem over sustainable long-term measures that tackle the underlying conditions that gave rise to the problem/threat in the first place.




Consider the situation of Ebola in west Africa. According to the CDC, more than 5,000 people have been infected with Ebola, and more that 2,500 have died. The incidence rate of Ebola is doubling roughly every 3 weeks, which means that West Africa could be looking at 10,000 cases sometime in October. And yet, it only last week that the Obama announced a major effort by the US to address the outbreak, and not surprisingly the militarized policy (U.S. military will be deployed) was couched in security terms. Leaving aside the problems associated with waiting until the Ebola outbreak reached a level that could support securitization, this policy may be effective in the short term. In the medium-to-long term, however, a sustained policy for dealing with Ebola, and more broadly public health problems in west Africa, is not likely to emerge because the security basis for the current policy cannot support long-term engagement. This in turn leaves west African countries little better prepared for future public health problems.


Because of the political nature of security, turning to threats to enable policy produces short-term policy action through extraordinary measures but cannot sustain the medium-to-long-term policies necessary to manage and address the underlying forces that create the conditions that are eventually securitized. This imbalance between short-term security policy and long-term nonsecurity policy reflects the imbalance between threat and opportunity noted by Bobrow in his essay on American strategic style. Coming back to the example of Ebola, viewing the outbreak in terms of opportunity would result in a very different—potentially more sustainable and long-term—set of policies than viewing it in terms of threat. Thus, the invocation of security has very real policy implications—sacrificing long range planning to the immediate demands of security—and securitization theory does an excellent job of drawing our attention to them. And as with any problem, the first step toward developing a solution is to recognize the problem’s existence in the first place.


Britain’s Role in the World and Scottish Independence

[Note: This is a guest post by David M. McCourt, an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of California-Davis. His book, Britain and World Power Since 1945: Constructing a Nation’s Role in International Politics, has just been published by University of Michigan Press.]

On Thursday the Scottish people will go to the polls to vote on independence from the United Kingdom, with the prospect of a “yes” vote more realistic than many believed only a few weeks ago. This raises important questions for Britain’s role in the world, and by extension for the future of NATO, the UN and the European Union as well. Without Scotland, would “rest of the UK” or “rump UK” (rUK in either case) continue to play the prominent role on the global stage Britain has since the end of the Second World War? Or would a chastened and meeker rUK exit international affairs stage left?


I argue that rUK foreign policy would display far more continuity than change. This follows from a theoretical claim: that state action in world politics is driven more by social expectations coming from the international sphere than by factors internal to states—be they identities, preferences, the national interest, or whatever. These expectations take the form of social roles: predominant understandings of a state’s place in the world, communicated and negotiated in interaction with others in international politics. Put simply, although Britain will be a different actor should Scotland secede, others on the world stage will still be the same, and will expect rUK to play Britain’s traditional role. Crucial here are France and the United States. Both have propped up Britain’s global role: France because it has tried to play a similarly robust role, the US because it has needed a junior partner.


For its part, France shows no sign of wanting to play a lesser role in international affairs, as recent interventions in Mali and the Central African Republic have demonstrated. This is underpinned up by a strong military industrial infrastructure and similarly expansive sense of a French civilizing mission in the world to the British (la Francophonie, etc.). France and Britain are also currently engaged in a number of defence and security cooperation agreements, like the development of a Combined Joint Expeditionary Force and joint nuclear weapons testing, and a mooted plan for the UK to use a French aircraft carrier should Britain need one (say in the South Atlantic) before its two new aircraft carriers become operational in 2020. Unless French leaders become convinced rUK has committed itself to a reduced role in the world, it would seem sensible to assume that France will still expect Britain to play a prominent role alongside itself.


The United States too is unlikely to begin casting Britain into a reduced role in the world. President Obama’s suggestion that London and Edinburgh try to patch things up rather than break up is itself an alter-casting act: Britain, for Washington, is stronger with Scotland than without it. After independence, the United States will also still hope for rUK’s active military presence around the world, as joint statements aimed at ISIS at this week’s NATO summit in Cardiff, Wales, made clear.


You guys will still treat us the same, right?

You guys will still treat us the same, right?

This is not to say, of course, that domestic forces won’t play a part in how rUK’s foreign policy develops. They will. Numerous groups and institutions in Britain have a vested interest in a prominent foreign policy: the City of London, the armed forces, the defense establishment, and think tanks like the Royal Institute for International Affairs at Chatham House and the Royal United Services Institute. Domestic factors of all sorts will be important, therefore, and not only in favor of a continued prominent international role but also against it. In the case of Britain’s membership of the European Union—a key aspect of its international position—for example, there is a strong domestic movement for a withdrawal, which might have a large impact on Britain’s role in the world. The expectation that rUK maintain a prominent role would not therefore determine its foreign policy.


Nonetheless, taking a role-based perspective gets us away from a traditional but problematic starting point in IR: that what states do is driven entirely from within, here that rUK’s role in the world will be defined by what role rUK elites want to play in the world. As much as we would all like to, we can’t define the social roles we play. Since many of the same pressures now felt by UK policy-makers when they step on to the international stage will still be felt by their rUK successors should the Scots decide to leave, rUK will likely maintain a prominent international orientation without Scotland.



Once more unto the (climate) breach

I hope she brought her SCUBA gear.

I hope she brought her SCUBA gear.

I just happened upon a Foreign Policy piece from May 6 of this year framing climate change as a ‘Clear and Present Danger’. To summarize, the author argues that Obama’s plans to address climate change are a political non-starter in the US: Republicans are generally more opposed to carbon control policy than ever and the public is out to lunch on the subject. The solution, according to the author, is to invoke national security and get the military—a key Republican constituency—talking about how much climate change imperils national security. As a scholar of international security who does research on climate change (in collaboration with Janelle Knox-Hayes), my interest was immediately piqued.

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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:

From Newsweek:

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.

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