Category: Featured (page 1 of 139)

The Leaky Pipeline

This piece is written by Bridging the Gap co-Director Naazneen H. Barma, Director of the Scrivner Institute of Public Policy, Scrivner Chair, and Associate Professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. It was commissioned as part of the “Represent” series on diversity, inclusion and representation in the national security sphere, an initiative of Defense 360 of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Defense 360 and the Duck of Minerva agreed to cross-post the piece in order to ensure wide reach to both academic and practitioner readership on this crucial topic.

The last decade has brought a series of welcome initiatives to amplify, bolster, and expand the diversity of voices in the national security sphere—including the Leadership Council for Women in National Security, the Diversity in National Security NetworkOut in National Security, and Women of Color Advancing Peace and Security. What each of these seeks to redress is the simple fact that a paucity of diverse voices in the national security spaces results in poorer national security dialogue and practice. There is a normative imperative: our national security professional cadre should represent us and the diversity of identities that comprise this country; it is the right thing to do. And the goal is also instrumental: bringing the wealth of a wider range of lived experiences into national security policy formulation does improve the process; it is the effective thing to do.

A crucial part of the challenge of achieving better representation in national security lies in the pipeline that runs through academia and into the policy-making sphere. Whether we are talking about those who undertake graduate education in order to pursue national security careers or about emerging scholars who want to make a career of studying and informing national security, the pipeline leaks diverse voices all along the way.

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Why are we so quick to dismiss the UAE-Israel peace treaty?

In September, the UAE and Israel signed “the Abraham Accords,” normalizing relations between the UAE and Israel. The Trump Administration presented this as if it was equivalent to the Camp David Accords, a ground-breaking peace agreement that would transform the world. Much of the Middle East policy community, however, met it with a shrug. I’m not sure I’m joining in on that shrug. While it’s true Trump exaggerated and misrepresented the deal, as he is wont to do, I worry a sneaky “common wisdom” has developed among observers that may obscure the significant impacts of this agreement.

The deal came together over the summer, although there have been signs of a potential shift among Gulf Arab states towards Israel. They share a common enemy in Iran. Additionally, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Oman in 2018, while the UAE’s US Ambassador wrote an op-ed in an Israeli newspaper hinting at possible normalization. Billed as a peace deal (even though they weren’t really at war) the two states agreed to normalize diplomatic ties and expand economic cooperation. While some saw it as a betrayal, other seem to see it as a relatively inconsequential event.

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What game theory taught me about last night’s presidential debate

Last night’s debate might go down as one of the greatest in recent memory, and I am prepared to die on that hill. It was ugly. But it was also raw, unfiltered, and honest. It was thin on policy substance which is why I think the majority of my Twitter feed thought it was a shitshow.[1]

A few things stood out which I think are worth mentioning, even on an IR blog. The performances last night got me thinking a lot about game theory. I am not a game theorist, and if I were, I would not subject you to a model of this year’s electoral strategy by Teams Trump and Biden. (I doubt the game theorists could even pull it off.)

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Duck Podcast Episode 4: Julie Kaarbo

Professor Julie Kaarbo (U. of Edinburgh) discusses role theory and identity, the relationship between FPA and IR theory, and a new project she is calling Breaking Bad. As always thanks go to Steve Dancz (https://stevedancz.com) for our theme music.

Erratum: I refer to this as the third episode in the recording, but it is actually the fourth.

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Is there a middle ground in the study of ideas in international relations?

I’m working on a new project about the use of religion in power politics (part of which I’ll be presenting “at” APSA this week). I’m finding good evidence, but the framing is tricky. Religion as a power political tool happens, and matters, but it rarely works out the way the wielders intended. Is this an example of ideas mattering in international relations, or an example of their limits? The fact that I feel forced into such a binary reflects a broader issue in the sub-field.

As we all learn in Intro to IR, the study of ideas revolves around constructivism. With the emergence of neorealism and neoliberalism in the 1980s, IR became overly rationalist and materialist. Constructivism developed as a reaction to this, producing numerous studies on the way intersubjective beliefs guided and shaped state behavior. After the paradigm wars faded, “constructivist-y” studies continued, with important work focusing on the role of rhetoric and practices in international relations.

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A Tale of Two Protests

The artist Rufina Bazlova has used traditional embroidery to describe current events in Belarus

This past weekend, two European capitals witnessed large-scale protests. Both of them protested against the government, both carried the flags that once symbolized their state, in both cases the police was involved, and during one of them the crowd was chanting “Putin! Putin!”. If you think the latter happened in Minsk you are sadly mistaken: the crowd in Belarus is much more creative than the Neo-Nazi conspiracy theorists in Berlin. 

The 38,000-strong crowd in Berlin was doing yoga against German Covid containment policies and tried to storm the Reichstag, while the 100,000 Minsk crowd has been protesting for weeks now against mass-scale election fraud and brought a cardboard cockroach as a present to the still clinging to power Alexander Lukashenka. For the record, if you need to wear a bulletproof vest and give a rifle to your underage son, that does not sounds like you have 80% popular support.  

While Putin is not going to save the Berlin protesters from wearing a mask on the train, he can still play a role in the Belarus protests, at least Lukashenka thinks so: they already spoke 5 times on the phone and right now the de facto president of Belarus seems to be on the way to Moscow. Why does Putin care? For the same reason that he cared about the Orange Revolution and Maidan in Ukraine. For once, he is afraid that might happen to him. And secondly, as Alexander Baunov notes, Russian politics suffers from geopolitization of any domestic political action. That means that elections are not about an internal transfer of power, not about feedback between the population and the government, but an act of foreign policy defense, and their results should be treated accordingly. The same applies to freedom of assembly, press, doping investigations, Eurovision, movies, monuments, you name it.  

On top of it, 20 years of Putin have significantly eroded public faith in organic protest. For the past four Putins and 1 Medvedev all Russians heard on TV was the same conspiratorial regime change narrative. Orange Revolution – it’s the West! Georgian revolution – it’s the West! Arab spring – it’s the West! Maidan – it’s the West! According to Levada, 39% of Russians are sure that the mass protests were provoked by “foreign forces” and almost 50% believe the elections in Belarus were mostly fair. Yes, those elections where you had polling workers climbing out the windows with the protocols so the observers don’t catch them falsifying.

The protesters in Belarus, unlike those in Berlin, hope that Russia does not interfere, because by the looks of it, Putin can only be on the one side, and it is not the side that is being tortured in Okrestina police station. Really, the Berlin protestors could really learn a thing or two about governmental oppression from the brave people in Belarus. Russians have also been protesting electoral fraud for years now, but it seems that Putin and his cronies either sincerely believe that every single precinct in a city can have exactly the same numbers or they don’t care that the results are cooked. Luckily, citizens of Belarus care and hopefully, they manage to send their dictator into a long overdue retirement.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times indeed. 

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Do Policy Recommendations = Policy Relevance?

Whether scholars embed policy recommendations in their work is a flawed measure of whether work is policy-relevant.

Across a series of articles and book chaptersMichael Desch and Paul Avey have argued international relations scholarship is declining in policy relevance, with IR scholars falling into what Stephen Van Evera has called a “cult of the irrelevant”: a hermetically-sealed professional community that values technique and internal dialogue over broader societal and political relevance. As evidence, they cite data demonstrating a marked decline in the frequency with which articles in top IR journals provide policy prescriptions.

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The Book Nook: Diversity, Violence, and Recognition

This entry in the Bridging the Gap Book Nook series comes from Elisabeth King and Cyrus Samii of New York University. In their new book, Diversity, Violence, and Recognition (Oxford, 2020), they address key questions for peace-building in multi-ethnic societies: Under what conditions do governments manage internal violent conflicts by formally recognizing different ethnic identities? And what are the implications for peace?

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Beyond the Open Skies Treaty

Guest post by Sandor Fabian is a PhD candidate at the University of Central Florida and instructor of record at the NATO Special Operations School. His research is in security studies with a focus on new concepts of conflict, U.S. foreign military aid, and counter hybrid warfare. Follow him at @SandorFabian2 and Doreen Horschig is a PhD candidate and teaching associate at the University of Central Florida. Her research is in nuclear security with a focus on public and elite opinion on nuclear weapons and norms of weapons of mass destruction. Follow her at @doreen__h

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Journal Submissions in Times of COVID-19: Is There A Gender Gap?

The following is a post by ISA journal editors Krista Wiegand (International Studies Quarterly), Debbie Lisle (International Political Sociology), Amanda Murdie (International Studies Review), and James Scott (International Studies Perspectives).

There has been a lot of talk in academia about the many negative consequences the COVID-19 pandemic has generated, ranging from declining enrollments, inability to travel for field research or conferences, and research productivity working from home. As editors of the International Studies Association (ISA) journals, we started noticing some new trends in submissions as the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated. First, submission rates were up for almost all the ISA journals. When we checked the submission rates from March 13 – the average date that most universities shifted to online classes – to May 4 this year, compared to the same time period last year, most of the journals had a higher number of submissions, ranging from a 17% to 343% increase compared to the same time period last year. However, we also noticed that submission rates by female scholars were down — at least proportionally — in most of the journals. When we compared the submission rates by women to “normal” times, we saw a clear decline. For example, in International Studies Perspectives, the proportion of submitted manuscripts including at least one female co-author declined by over 19% compared to the same time period last year. 

This trend in increased submissions does not appear to be unique to ISA journals; we know from social media that several IR and political science journals have seen an uptick in submission numbers since mid-March. The editors of Comparative Political Studies and American Journal of Political Science noticed the trends as well. Outside of political science and international studies, other academic fields have started highlighting the same trends, getting attention in mainstream media like The Guardian. In economics, one study found that the productivity of women and mid-career faculty, as measured by submission of recent working-papers, was disproportionately down during lockdown. There have been similar discussions about women’s reduced productivity in journal submissions in the sciences. 

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Why are Egypt&Turkey sending medical equipment to the US? International Status and lazy explanations in IR

Like so much else in international relations, the answer to this question seems “obvious.” But, like so much else, it gets trickier when we really investigate the situation, and it reveals nuances to international relations that many scholars and policy analysts overlook.

About a week ago, Egypt sent medical equipment to the United States to help in the fight against Covid-19. The packages were printed with “From the Egyptian People to the American People.” This prompted many dark jokes, as Egypt is currently suffering a major Covid-19 outbreak it is struggling to contain. Then Turkey followed suit. Turkey sent a plane with medical equipment to the United States, despite also suffering a Covid-19 outbreak.

The “obvious” explanation is economic: Egypt depends on US aid, so they want to keep us happy. Turkey doesn’t, but its economy is struggling so maybe they want to ensure the United States will help them if needed.

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Cooking up a Constitution

In an attempt to distract myself from the thought that today my small university town will be overrun by 900 frat boys who went to Northern Italy on a skiing vacation despite the Dutch government’s warning, let’s discuss something that might have gone under the radar – future changes to the Russian Constitution. 

Amid a global pandemic what could be better than voting in a Referendum? Only voting for a President, amirite? But let’s start from the beginning. Mid-January Russian President Vladimir Putin suddenly announced that the Russian Constitution might need some freshening up. Needless to say, the announcement came as unexpected as Putin’s previous hints that he will leave his post after his current term. 

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Practicing Academic Kindness in the Classroom

This is a guest post by Philipp Schulz, who is a Post-Doctoral Researcher at the Institute for Intercultural and International Studies (InIIS) at the University of Bremen. Philipp’s research focuses on the gender dynamics of armed conflicts, with a particular focus on masculinities and wartime sexual violence. His book ‘Male Survivors of Wartime Sexual Violence – Perspectives from northern Uganda’ is forthcoming with University of California Press. 

Academic competitiveness and pettiness is alive and real. From expediting demands of the competitive academic job market, disrespectful peer review comments, to micro-aggressions and open hostilities at conferences – in particular to early career, women and/or people of colour scholars – there seem to be countless examples for an acute absence of kindness and empathy in the academy. Probably most of us, although to varying degrees, have been confronted with the unkind aspects of academic environments. In many ways, of course, these problems are embedded in wider structural problems of racism and sexism within the academy at large.

Fortunately, there seems to be increasing (albeit slow) recognition of the toxic practices of academic work cultures. As an early career researcher, I am particularly excited about some of the kindness that many of my peers are extending and the horizontal generosity that is beginning to spread across conferences, workshops and social media. Yet, I do believe that the (sub-)field of feminist international relations is particularly unique in that way, perhaps not unrelated to some of the disciplinary sanctioning and marginalizing that the field still experiences in the discipline more widely. 

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When 70% is good enough

When I was a grad student, I had the privilege of student teaching with political theorist Eric MacGilvray. Eric was—and I’m sure still is—a brilliant teacher. He was always in motion, but in a way that felt deliberate. He often perched on an elevated windowsill while listening to students debate amongst themselves. He made even the most archaic and dense texts accessible. (The class was Classics of Social and Political Thought.) He also had a unique approach to grading. Rather than marking on a scale of 100, where 94 is an A, he introduced a seven-point scale. Actually, it was a ten-point scale, but when he introduced it to students, he explained that seven was what they should aim for. A ten on this scale was publishable work. At their level, students weren’t meant to be doing publishable work. They were meant to be learning. Seven was good enough. 

At an elite American university where too many of the students aimed for perfection, the idea that you didn’t have to be perfect was liberating. It allowed students to take up and internalize feedback. Even though we translated the seven-point scale back into US-based grades at the end of the semester, it opened a space for learning. I found Eric’s system brilliant. Only it turns out that it wasn’t Eric’s system.

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Restraint for what purpose?

Restraint in US foreign policy is having a moment. That’s a good thing. But I worry it’s unclear whether restraint is a means or an end, and what that end would be. Without resolving this–preferably in favor of re-imagining a continued US leadership role in the world–current calls for restraint may do more harm than good.

The popularity of restraint in US foreign policy should be making me happy. I went to college in the Bush years, and marched against the Iraq war. After graduating, I joined a group in DC trying to formulate a smart, progressive foreign policy vision. A few years later I resigned in frustration that they accepted the troubling aspects of Obama’s foreign policy–like his expanded drone strikes–and focused mainly on helping Democrats sound tough on foreign policy. I cheered the pushback on US support for the Saudis in Yemen, beginning under Obama and continuing under Trump.

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The Russian Enigma

On an ice-cold winter evening I arrived in Moscow to untangle the riddle that is Russia. After reading two op-eds by Anne Applebaum and Bill Browder I knew what this country was about but I just wanted to see it for myself. The eyes of the border control guards reflected the thousand years of Russia’s repressive regime. I was half-expecting the KGB to arrest me there and then because four years ago I posted on Facebook that I didn’t like Vlad, but they let me through. My Moscow adventure had begun. 

The shadow of Stalin still looms large over this sprawling city. As soon as you approach the Kremlin you can see his doppelgängers entertaining tourists that shows the profound admiration Russians have for this tyrant. The beautiful Christmas lights mask the darkness that lurks in the hearts of the people that have no hope for the future or French cheese. While checking into my Ritz-Carlton room I couldn’t help but wonder, is the master of the Kremlin checking in on me too?

I didn’t find a Pizza Hut on the Red Square and realized that capitalism has failed here. Russian economy has not really become free after all. Gorbachev brought opportunity to this country, but instead they settled for Lenin’s mausoleum where you can still smell the rotting corpse of Bolshevism. After a decadent dinner in Doktor Zhivago restaurant, I could see that Russians are still trapped in the past, longing to resurrect their Soviet legacy, unable to open themselves up to new experiences (they do accept Apple Pay though). 

On my way to the Bolshoi theatre I got lost and a young lady directed me in English. Her surprisingly not blue eyes and not blond hair, as well as passable language skills will stay in my memory forever as a glimmer of hope that still flickers in this country of slaves. Pogrom, kompromat, troika, kalinka, babushka, gulag, vodka. If you know these words, you will see right through the mysterious Russian soul as did I, after a day and a half stay in a five star hotel in Moscow city center.

On my ride back to the airport, I realized that the East will never understand the West. Our values of the Enlightenment, human rights, liberty and democracy are lost on these people who don’t speak much English. They will never comprehend what it’s like to live in a free country and speak a language that doesn’t have 6 cases and 7 declensions.

Russia is no longer an enigma for me. I riddled me this. 

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Russians Love Their Children Too

Sting said it best

What kind of questions do you usually expect from a Town Hall meeting in the US? Healthcare? Climate change? Pensions? Schools? Roads? You would be surprised, but these are also the kind of questions journalists asked President Putin last Thursday at his annual presser (his 15th one, no less). Apart from the recurrent theme of the Great Patriotic War, it was your run of the mill, banal Q & A session; just instead of concerned citizens you have a room full of 1895 journalists from Russia and abroad with varying level of sanity and servility. 

The range was big to say the least: from icon-waving crackpots and terrified young reporters reading out encomiums about Putin’s involvement into youth programs to BBC correspondents asking about his daughters’ business ventures or about Boris Johnson’s comparing Putin to Dobbie the Elf from Harry Potter. The ones playing annual Putin bingo probably got everything down during the over 4-hour exercise in democracy and transparency: a bunch of mostly correct statistics, a traditional jab at the US, a signature lidded cup with (allegedly) tea, record numbers in agriculture, a snarky exchange with a Ukrainian journalist, as well as a couple of lessons in history.

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The Same but Different: US vs UK Higher Education

Four years ago I accepted a job at a university in the UK. When I took the job I didn’t think a whole lot about how working in the UK might differ from my previous academic posts in the US. I’m an American, and though I have British friends who work at UK universities–one of whom warned me “not to be fooled by the fact that we speak the same language”–I was woefully underprepared for just how distinct the two higher education systems are. Brits and Americans do speak the same language, but there are significant differences in their use of terminology. It’s not just that we use different words to mean the same thing, it’s that we use the same words to mean different things. For instance:

Are you alright? 

Let’s start with the simple stuff. If a Brit greets you and asks, “You a’right?” it is the equivalent of an American saying, “Hey, how are you?” However, I spent my first couple weeks in the UK wondering if there was something wrong with how I looked. I would immediately check to see if I was bleeding or if I had spilled coffee on my shirt.

Dissertation vs Thesis

In the US the dissertation is what you write to earn your PhD. In the UK it’s what an undergraduate or master’s level student writes as a capstone assignment. I learned this fact only after a couple of rather confusing conversations with my advisees. To sum it up: A dissertation is a thesis and a thesis is a dissertation.

Course 

In the US what would be called a “course” is called a “module” in the UK. So, for instance, where students select their classes from a course catalogue in the US, they browse a module catalogue in the UK. However, this use of terminology becomes extra confusing because in the UK they use the word course to describe what in the US would be a degree program. In other words, a module is to a course in the UK as a course is to a program in the US.

Lecturer 

When I was hired on in the UK, I was hired as a lecturer. I knew it was a “permanent” position. Yet the fact that in the US a lecturer is usually a contingent or adjunct employee caused confusion for my friends back home. In the UK a lecturer is the first rank on the academic promotion scale. In some ways it is equivalent to being hired as an assistant professor in the US, except that in the UK there is no up-or-out tenure system. Once you pass a cursory probation period you are hired on an open-ended contract. Though rare, technically, you could spend your entire career as a lecturer.

Reader

In the US the term reader is generally used to describe someone who enjoys reading. In the UK it is also a rank on the academic promotion scale. The rank of reader does not have a US equivalent in the sense that there are three rungs on the US promotion ladder, whereas there are four rungs in the UK. The promotion ladder in the UK is lecturer, senior lecturer, reader, professor. A senior lecturer is generally considered to be equivalent to an associate professor. A reader is equivalent to the junior ranks of what would be a full professor.

Professor

Adding to the confusion is that in the UK there are differences in title attached to the differences in rank. In the US all tenure-track and tenured faculty are addressed as “professor.” In the UK, until you reach the rank of professor you are addressed as “doctor” rather than “professor.” My students call me Dr. Harrington, or at least that’s how I ask them to address me. I still get plenty of emails that start out with “Hi” or, more unfortunately, “Miss Harrington.”

Staff 

In the UK the term staff refers to all academic and administrative employees. In the US “staff” usually refers to administrative support and “faculty” denotes the academic personnel. Moreover, rather than working directly for academic faculty who have taken on administrative positions, as they usually do in the US, administrative staff have a career track and promotion hierarchy that sits parallel to the academic track. This then touches on another, broader point about the extent of UK bureaucracy, but that’s a story for another time.

Marking

Marking is what in the US is called grading. This is not a particular source of confusion as marking and grading are more or less synonymous terms in the US as well, but I am including it here because the culture of marking is quite different than it is in the US. It is a much more involved process which includes the practice of moderation in which a colleague reviews a sample of the marked essays and comments on the consistency of the grades and the quality of the feedback.

Scheme 

What in the US would be called a program or plan Brits call a “scheme.” There’s a scheme for almost everything in the UK. There’s a pension scheme, a postgraduate funding scheme, a publication scheme. To an American it manages to make even the most banal plan sound like an underhanded plot. Take for instance the Beacon Scholarship, which my university’s website describes as “a lucrative scheme..open to all undergraduate courses,” or my university’s bicycle scheme. I pictured a bicycle theft ring, but it turned out to be a completely above-board program to purchase a bicycle on a tax-free installment plan.

This catalog is far from exhaustive, and it only scratches the surface of what are much deeper structural and cultural differences. I’m sure that there are many more terms that one could add, but for now, as they say in the UK, I wish you all “Happy Christmas.”

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Chain-ganging in reverse? Gulf states and US hostility towards Iran

I had a piece in the Washington Post’s “Monkeycage” over the weekend, which you can read here. I noted that many worry Saudi Arabia and the UAE will pull America into war with Iran. But it actually looks like they’re the ones restraining us. The piece was inspired by the famous “chain-ganging” dynamic in IR scholarship, but there was little discussion of that as it was geared towards a broader audience, so I wanted to expand here.

I suspect most readers of this site had to read Christensen and Snyder’s “Chain gangs and passed bucks” at some point. In case you didn’t, the argument is basically that in multipolar systems, alliances tend towards chain-ganging (being dragged into wary by allies) or buck-passing (wars breaking out because no one wants to stand up to an aggressor). The former happens in the case of offensive-dominant systems, the latter in defensive dominant ones.

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