Author: Jarrod Hayes (page 3 of 4)

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

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

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

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Securitization Forum: Why Does American IR Ignore Securitization Theory?

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

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

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Securitization Forum: Are they just not that into it?

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

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

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Securitization Forum: The Transatlantic Divide: Why Securitization Has Not Secured a Place in American IR, Why It Should, and How It Can

This is the second contribution in our forum on securitization theory in the U.S.  Stacie E. Goddard is the Jane Bishop ’51 Associate Professor of Political Science at Wellesley College.  Her book, Indivisible Territory and the Politics of Legitimacy: Jerusalem and Northern Ireland, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2010.  Ronald R. Krebs is Beverly and Richard Fink Professor in the Liberal Arts and Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Minnesota. He is the author most recently of Narrative and the Making of US National Security.

We want to thank the editors of this forum, as well as the Duck of Minerva, for inviting us to this discussion. As Jarrod and Eric note in their introduction, securitization theory is, if not dominant in European IR, then pretty close: one of us recently taught a week-long graduate seminar in Europe, and it was all the students seemed to know about IR theory. But it has barely penetrated the American academy, and deep, explicit engagement with securitization confines one to the margins—as a reviewer of one of our draft book manuscripts once warned, in urging that the relevant paragraphs be excised. We often speak of the transatlantic divide in the scholarly study of international relations: nowhere is it more starkly apparent than when it comes to securitization. This is puzzling not only because the regional difference in the research programs’ relative influence is astonishing, but because scholars of securitization are clearly on to something quite important and because there would seem to be obvious affinities to, or at least large points of intersection with, mainstream constructivism. Continue reading

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Securitization Forum: Introduction and Setting the Scene

The following is a lead piece for a forum discussing why securitization theory has had so little traction in American IR.  Drawing on established and emerging scholars from around the world, the forum will run from September 16th – 30th and feature guest posts every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Two years ago Dan Nexon approached Eric, a petulant graduate student, about organizing such a forum with the support of Patrick T. Jackson.  Dan and Patrick soon had to leave Duck of Minerva for International Studies Quarterly.  The project was put on hold until Eric met Jarrod at ISA in New Orleans.  What follows is almost certainly different from Dan’s vision, but if anything good comes of it, then it is in no small part due to Dan and Patrick’s early entrepreneurship.  Finally, both Eric and Jarrod are immensely grateful to the contributors for their time and their insight.

Eric Van Rythoven and Jarrod Hayes

Foreign ideas don’t always go the distance. As Amitav Acharya (2004) has argued, outsider ideas always undergo a process of localisation when they spread. Local forces determine to what extent – if any – an idea can be adapted to domestic circumstances. When looking at the sociology of knowledge in IR finding an idea resonates with a particular region can be revealing, but equally revealing is when an idea is ignored or passed over. While these observations are as old as human society, when it comes to IR theory, they introduce implications that are ill at ease with the conception of IR as a social scientific enterprise. At least in the U.S., the ontological and epistemological underpinnings of IR as a discipline hold that theories are measured not by their foreignness but rather by their ability to explain the world. If that is the case, rejection of foreign theories is deeply problematic. Unless of course the claim is that the theory is invalid, but that begs the question why is it invalid in one place, but not in others?  Continue reading

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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…

 

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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.

 

 

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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!

 

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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.

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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.

Pale_Blue_Dot

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.

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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.

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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.

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