We open each of my undergrad classes with a discussion of current events. In the past four years, there have been several times that students have wondered whether a war may be about to break out: between America and North Korea, America and Venezuela, India and China, Qatar and Saudi Arabia…America and Iran. We spend a lot of time talking about the issues, the motivations for each state’s behavior. And when “nothing” happens, I always wonder whether all the time we spent was worth it.
I’m wondering the same thing about tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean. If the situation defuses without conflict between Turkey and Greece, will all the attention we’re paying to it have been worthwhile? And will this register as a “case” worth explaining for international relations? I argue that it should, and suggest a few ways we can approach it.
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.
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.
David C. Kang is Maria Crutcher Professor of International Relations at the University of Southern California, where he also directs the Korean Studies Institute. His latest book, coedited with Stephan Haggard, East Asia in the World: Twelve Events that Shaped the Modern International Order, will be published Cambridge University Press next month.
This summer, the graduate students in our Ph.D. program here at USC, and the undergraduates as well, called for an end to the Eurocentric curriculum in our department. They noted that there are twice as many classes devoted to Europe as there are to any other region of the world; if we add in classes on American politics, there are easily 3x as many classes.
I absolutely support our students in their call to be aware of a Eurocentric curriculum and scholarship, and to our colleagues to think much more widely about, and be open to, ideas and cases that might be much more vivid and lively than they suspect, and have much more to teach us than we originally thought.
In this case, what’s politically important and socially conscious is also scientifically sound. The basic problem of Eurocentric scholarship is selection bias — If we care about social science, and if we want to understand anything about the world, we need to define concepts in generalizable ways. We all suffer if the field is parochial: our concepts are narrow, our cases are truncated, and the true richness and possibility of what international relations actually is can be overlooked.
I want to point out what that means in practice using three examples. I will conclude this post with a few possibilities for both young scholars, and the way we pursue research and publish.
This is a guest post from Phoebe Donnelly (@PhoebsG86), a Visiting Fellow at the Feinstein International Center at Tufts University and a Women and Public Policy Research Fellow at Harvard Kennedy School.
The UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Conflict-Related Sexual Violence (CRSV) passed without much recognition on June 19. However, CRSV has not disappeared during the global pandemic and victims of different forms of CRSV face additional hurdles to accessing services and support. Certain survivors in particular, those in forced marriages with members of rebel groups, may face even more challenges in escaping cycles of violence because of the ways in which forced marriage binds them to their partners and rebel groups. Due to the increased challenges for survivors of CRSV, it is a useful time to understand one common and less visible form of CRSV: forced marriage.
My own research on forced marriage finds that rebel groups perpetrate this form of CRSV to help them build their strength and promote their belief systems. Understanding forced marriage is not only essential for understanding CRSV, but also for studying rebel groups strategy, hierarchy, division of labor, and propaganda. Additionally, there is a spectrum of coercion within forced marriages that accounts for the different experiences of wives in rebel groups globally.
As people have become consumed with concern about the coronavirus, organized cyber criminal groups are actively exploiting uncertainty, doubt and fear to target individuals and businesses in a variety of ways. Reports of cyber phishing attacks using coronavirus themes started appearing in early February 2020, but these attacks have since become widespread. The explosion of coronavirus-related scams, range from fake storefronts hawking fake vaccines to sophisticated phishing scams that take advantage of the uncertainty around the pandemic. For instance, Google’s threat analysis group reported in late April 2020 that they find an average of 18 million malware and phishing messages per day related to COVID-19. This is in addition to more than 240 million COVID-related daily spam messages that are automatically deleted by Gmail spam filters.
Analysis by industry experts show that a significant portion of these attacks are carried out by state-sponsored hackers, some of whom are targeting coronavirus-related research. Responding to these state-sponsored attacks poses a significant challenge to targeted states as they seek to navigate the foreign policy and international relations implications of retributive action. While technical solutions provide the best bet for responding to these attacks, government policy could play a crucial supporting role. In this post, I review modalities of COVID-19 themed cyberattacks and outline some options available to governments as they seek to deal with them.
This is a guest post from Aniruddha Saha, a PhD student at the Department of War Studies, King’s College London. His research examines India’s nuclear policy using a constructivist approach and is currently being funded by a King’s International Postgraduate Research Scholarship. He has also recently published with Strategic Analysis, OpenDemocracy, Eurasia Review and The Quint.
With the killing of 20 Indian soldiers by the Chinese army along the disputed Line of Actual Control (LAC) on June 16, several dimensions of the violent border skirmishes between India and China have come to light. Research has shown that the brewing Sino-Indian crisis since early May remains unprecedented ― since at least a decade. More recently, Clary and Narang have argued in ‘War on the Rocks’ that in the backdrop of the current COVID-19 crisis, the response options of the Modi-led Indian government to the Chinese threat “range from bad, to worse, to truly ugly.”
However, the current responses taken by the Indian administration to the crisis seems to contradict the direct confrontational actions that it has recently taken in response to other threats, notably from Pakistan. Therefore, the more pertinent question to ask is: Whether this high degree of apprehension of the Modi government (and the moral compromise of its own retaliatory standards) to deal with the Chinese translates to ‘defeat’ in the absence of a full-blown conventional war?
This post is part of the Bridging the Gap channel at the Duck. Danielle Gilbert is a PhD candidate in political science and a fellow with the Institute for Security and Conflict Studies at the George Washington University. She serves as a New Era Fellow with the Bridging the Gap Project. Rachel Whitlark is an Assistant Professor in the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at the Georgia Institute of Technology. She serves as a New Era Fellow with the Bridging the Gap Project.
In 1701, a cartographer named Herman Moll produced a map entitled “The Isle of California: New Mexico: Louisiane: The River Misisipi: and the Lakes of Canada.” Glance at this image, and you will notice the exaggerated size of Florida, condensed Great Plains, and presence of a Gulf of California fully separating the state from the rest of the country. How might such a map have been drawn?
The apocryphal story
goes something like this: In the 1600s, a first set of explorers arrived in
California via Baja. Trekking north, they soon encountered non-navigable waters.
A second set of explorers started at the north end of the territory, journeying
south through the Straits of Juan de Fuca; they too encountered water they
could not pass. Putting together the explorers’ reports, the mapmakers in
Amsterdam connected the dots, and the Island of California appeared.
Years later, a third
group of explorers sought to cross the Gulf and explore the land beyond. They
arrived, fully prepared with long boats in tow. But of course, instead of
water, they encountered the Sierra Nevada mountains. The crossing was
merciless, and most of the explorers died. Those who survived shared their
discovery with the mapmaker. “Well,” he replied, “the map can’t be
wrong; you must have been in the wrong place!”
illustrates our very human blinders. We have outsized confidence in what’s
familiar (Florida) and pay less attention to what isn’t (the Plains); we
extrapolate from existing knowledge to project into the unknown. And when faced
with contradictory evidence, our entrenched models and maps remain difficult to
For the last 15
years, we at the Bridging
the Gap Project (BTG) have used this story to introduce
scenario analysis as a central piece of our New Era Workshop for PhD students.
During the workshop, two dozen graduate students in political science, history,
and related disciplines are presented with thematic, global scenarios, unfolding
five to ten years in the future. Through analyzing these scenarios and probing
the challenges and opportunities presented by plausible future worlds, our
participants shed their “mental maps” to pose questions about future-oriented
policy and research questions. BTG directors and fellows have previously written about this exercise—an
method for generating novel, policy-relevant research questions.
This is a guest post by Carrie A. Lee, an Assistant Professor at the US Air War College. The opinions and recommendations offered in this piece are those of the author do not represent the official policy or positions of the U.S. Government, U.S. Air Force, or Air War College.
On the first evening of June 2020, President Donald Trump used National Guard military police units to fire tear gas and rubber bullets on peaceful demonstrators in front of St. John’s Episcopal church in Washington, DC. The move, which was largely perceived to be an intentional and excessive show of force to clear the way for a photo-op, sparked outcry amongst observers from across the political spectrum, including those of us who study civil-military relations and remain concerned about the increasing use of the military for partisan political purposes.
In case you missed it, quite the IR controversy has broken out. In August 2019, Alison Howell and Melanie Richter-Montpetit (hereafter H&RM) published “Is securitization theory racist? Civilizationism, methodological whiteness, and antiblack thought in the Copenhagen School” in Security Dialogue (SD) OnlineFirst. The authors conclude, after a tendentious (my assessment) reading of Security: A New Framework for Analysis(1998) and Regions and Powers (2003) that securitization theory is fundamentally racist and, deemed unsalvageable, should be ejected from security studies—and this would include the word securitization.
This is a guest post from Collin Meisel and Jonathan D. Moyer.
Collin Meisel (Twitter: @collinmeisel) is a Research Associate at the Frederick S. Pardee Center for International Futures and a veteran of the U.S. Air Force. At Pardee, Collin works with the Diplometrics team to analyze international relations and build long-term bilateral forecasts for topics such as trade, migration, and international governmental organization membership.
Jonathan D. Moyer (Twitter: @moyerjonathan) is Assistant Professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver and Director of the Frederick S. Pardee Center for International Futures. For the last 15 years, Jonathan has used long-term, integrated policy analysis and forecasting methods to inform the strategic planning efforts of governments, international organizations, and corporations around the world, including sponsors such as USAID, the African Union’s New Partnership for Africa’s Development, and the UN Development Programme.
As COVID-19 disrupts life the world
over, many of the pandemic’s long-term consequences remain uncertain. However,
using multiple long-term forecast scenarios, one geopolitical consequence is
beginning to come into focus: COVID-19 is accelerating the transition in power between
the U.S. and China. Despite assertions
from political scientist Barry Posen that COVID-19 “is weakening all of the
great and middle powers more or less equally,” economic and mortality
projections suggest that China will see material gains relative to the U.S. that
could translate into broader geopolitical gains.
Quantified in terms of the distribution
of relative material capabilities, China’s forecasted gains are roughly the
magnitude of the current relative global capabilities of Turkey.
This is a guest post by Elizabeth Radziszewski, Assistant Professor at Rider University and author of forthcoming book Private Militaries and Security Industry in Civil Wars: Competition and Market Accountability (Oxford University Press) and Jonathan M. DiCicco, Associate Professor of Political Science and International Relations at Middle Tennessee State University and a Senior Fellow with the TransResearch Consortium.
While the world has
been coping with the disastrous COVID-19 pandemic, India and Pakistan have
experienced the worst cross-border fighting in two years. Unfortunately, this
fight is not against the virus. Instead, it is a continuation of the two enemies’
rivalry over Kashmir, a disputed territory each claims as its own.
This is a guest post from Paul Johnson, who is an operations research analyst with the US Army. His personal research ranges on topics from political violence and militias to security force loyalty and design. The views expressed here do not represent the perspective of the US Army or Department of Defense.
Given this forum’s focus as an outlet helping bridge the
gap, this post discusses ways that academics working on national
security-related topics can make themselves and their work more accessible to
potential end-users, as seen and experienced from the author’s perspective as a
A Wide Variety of
Previous articles on this topic (e.g., see here
and here) have pointed out a
variety of contributions that scholars can make to applied work, including:
which provides an idea of how to view an emerging event or string of events,
helping users “see the forest for the trees.”
From an analytical perspective, being able to point to a solid body of
social-science literature backing up a framework — especially a literature with
fairly settled empirical findings — increases the credibility of that
framework for application to real-world problems.
which may be quantitative or qualitative.
Publically accessible social science datasets often find their way into analytical
usage in national-security settings as the best available data on a topic of
interest. Similarly, the perspective of area
specialists, also known as subject matter experts (or “smees”), on a given
country or set of countries can provide highly valued information.
which can be as simple as a most-likely-outcome statement. Bonus points for willingness to take a stab
at a probability point-estimate for that statement, and more points for being
explicit about uncertainty.
about what to do in a given real-world situation. Since most empirical scholars focus on
establishing ceteris-paribus relationships across a large number of cases, practicing
applying that work to a specific case usually requires a bit of a mindset shift,
but adopting that mindset is necessary for any applied work.
methodology, which finds its way into applied work through a variety of
means. Some of these means include PhD students being hired into federal
government, ongoing professionalization for current civil-servant analysts, and
academics working as government contractors or other forms of participation on
a per-project basis.
This is a guest post from Emily Meierding, who is an Assistant Professor of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA. Her book, The Oil Wars Myth: Petroleum and the Causes of International Conflict, has just been published by Cornell University Press. The views expressed here do not represent the perspective of the US Navy or Department of Defense.
The global oil market has entered uncharted territory. On
Monday, the price of WTI crude, the US oil benchmark, went negative for the
first time in history, closing at -$37 per barrel.
What happened? And what does it mean for international petroleum politics?
Two factors drove the oil price collapse: market
fundamentals and the quirks of oil futures trading.
Market fundamentals—oil supply and demand—were the proximate
cause of the price collapse. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began earlier this
year, global oil demand has dropped by twenty to thirty percent. In the United
States, consumption of petroleum productions has fallen thirty-one
percent since January.
The following is a guest post by Andrew Leber,
a PhD candidate in Government at Harvard University.
The death of Sultan Qaboos bin Said, and
the succession of Haitham bin Tariq as the country’s new ruler, was yet one
more high-profile news item this year amid the back-and-forth attacks and
tragic consequences of events further up the Gulf.
Yet for the world of political science, this transition calls to mind important questions for comparativists about authoritarian successions in particular and authoritarian institutions more general.
Depending on your Twitter addiction, you either went to sleep or woke up with the news that America had assassinated Qassim Suleimani, the commander of Iran’s Quds force. Suleimani was one of the most powerful men in Iran, and the driver of its activities in the Middle East, so this is a big deal. People are debating whether this was just and necessary, and what happens next. But I wanted to raise a different point: what this means for America’s Persian Gulf allies.
Many would suspect these states–particularly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE)–to be the biggest winners in this strike. Both states have a history of antagonism with Iran. Both were also the victim of strikes against their oil industry likely orchestrated by Iran (likely by Suleimani himself). And both have been fighting a proxy war in Yemen against Iran. So removing him from the region would be a good thing for them.
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.
Rebuilding social cohesion—restoring bonds of social trust that bind people
together in communities and enable them to peacefully coexist—commonly serves
as a central goal for peacebuilders engaging in communities fractured by
political violence. Despite a growing consensus
about the necessity of promoting social cohesion in the aftermath of widespread
violence, questions remain about how scholars, practitioners, and donors can
collaborate to implement effective peacebuilding practices.
To address these challenges, we brought
together sixteen scholars and practitioners for the inaugural peacebuilding
symposium of the Conflict 2 Peace Lab at the
Mershon Center for International Security Studies at The Ohio State
University. Drawing on lessons learned from similar
the gap” initiatives, we designed a workshop to
facilitate exchange and find spaces for building community and mutual learning.
Our time together focused on three themes: concepts and theories of social
cohesion, effective peacebuilding practices, and monitoring, evaluation, and
Finding Common Cause: Peacebuilding in Research and Practice
Over two days of structured discussion and
information conversations, several commonalities emerged.
Warning! According to the law that the Russian parliament passed yesterday, this post might need to be prefaced with a disclaimer that the following text has been compiled by a foreign agent. An individual can be labeled as a “foreign agent” in Russia if they (1) distribute information, and (2) receive funds from sources outside Russia. I am ticking both boxes here, even as an academic working at a university, and the law intentionally left the “information spreading” extremely broad: you can literally post something on social media. It would be up for the Justice Ministry and the Foreign Ministry to decide who receives a “foreign agent” label. A specific procedure is yet to be established, but if an individual is deemed a foreign agent, they will have to create their own legally registered organization within a month in order to interact as a foreign agent with the Russian government.
This iteration of the law comes as a sequel to the ‘amendments to the law on non-commercial organizations’ of 2012 that obliged Russian organizations to register as ‘foreign agents’ in case they were involved in ‘political activity’ (even through funding) and received funding from abroad. It has affected by now a large number of my colleagues, including the Sova Center for the Monitoring of Xenophobia that was forced to pay a large fine. As one of the defenders of the law stated on prime-time television and in line with the usual liberal anti-American narrative and a conspiracy theme:
The purpose of the law is to reduce the influence of foreign countries on the policy. Thus, our law is much softer than the one in the US […]. And at the same time if you engage in politics, that means fighting for power, you must inform the Russian citizens. Those who oppose this law, do this for two reasons: the first – or they want to seize power in Russia in the interests of foreign states and against the interests of Russia, and the second – they get Western money and want to steal it.
Duma Member Sergey Markov
The law on foreign agents was passed in the same session with more restrictive legislation on public rallies undoubtedly taking the cue from Vladimir Putin who remarked during his Direct Line in December 2011 that he was sure that some of the people went to the protest ‘in a foreign country’s interest and for a foreign country’s money’. The notorious usage of the singular as opposed to the plural was telling – the country in question was not named, but it was clear for the audience that he was talking about the only country that could afford financing a protest in Russia, the USA.
Pervyi Kanal, Russian state TV, responded to the Direct Line with lightning speed and three days later on Sunday prime time news there was a segment on ‘the history and spread of coloured revolutions’, where it was stated that there is a special American think tank that is active in countries where the US ‘is interested in changing the regime’. One of the Pervyi Kanal’s experts emphasized that ‘there are many symbols and concepts, but the aim and the sponsor is the same – the USA’ (Pervyi Kanal, 18 December 2011). Thus, the Soviet frame about American dollars buying instability and wars was time and again re-articulated both by state officials and TV personalities.
Why pass this new foreign agent law now, one might ask? After all, who doesn’t like that goofball Donald and who is afraid of that barely competent State Department that can’t even fact check a TIME magazine cover? According to a Russian MP, it’s because of Maria Butina’s case:
Very recently, Maria Butina returned to Russia. She was sentenced to a year and a half under a similar law that’s in place within the United States of America because she failed to register as an individual ‘foreign agent.’ […] We’re talking about protection from direct foreign influence on the media market […]. Unfortunately, political forces in our country use tactics like these quite often in order to bring often unreliable and compromised facts forward for discussion.
Duma’s Vice Speaker Pyotr Tolstoy (United Russia party)
For starters, of course the American law is not that similar. Individual foreign agents in the US are supposed to be taking action in the interest of a foreign government or lobbying politicians. You know, like the convicted Michael Flynn or Paul Manafort. But lobbying effort is completely absent from the Russian law. While Butina was portrayed as another victim of “deep state” elite battles that ravage the American establishment, with the impeachment hearings kicking into high gear, who knows who will be the next President in the US and what kind of cookies the next State Department is going to distribute in Russia? In the meantime, “sovereign internet” is coming along and the laws are ready.
So by this point we all know the big news on Syria. Overnight, Trump announced that–after consulting with Turkish President Erdogan–the US would be pulling troops out of north Syria, giving Turkey freedom to operate. This would likely involve military actions against Kurdish forces there, which Turkey fears are coordinating with Kurdish insurgents in Turkey. This is concerning for two reasons. First, the United States had worked with these Kurdish forces to fight ISIS, so we’re basically abandoning them. Second, this will basically leave ISIS detention camps unguarded, possibly letting this terrorist organization regroup.
A lot has been said on Twitter and elsewhere. This will hurt US credibility. We shouldn’t have open-ended commitments in the Middle East, but this isn’t the way to stop them. This is no way to treat our allies. I encourage you to read others’ takes, and I’m not going to pretend these insights are original to me (but you could read my thread if you want).
But I did start thinking about what Turkey is hoping to accomplish. They’re framing this as a security issue; they want to uproot forces supporting insurgents in their territory. That is understandable, even if we don’t like abandoning Syria’s Kurds. But there are indications this is part of a broader push to increase Turkey’s regional influence.
This is a guest post from James Guild who is a PhD candidate in political economy at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore. His research interest is economic growth and infrastructure development in Indonesia and Southeast Asia, and his work has appeared in The Diplomat, Jakarta Post and New Mandala. Follow him on Twitter @jamesjguild
The dominance of rational-positivist approaches to modern social science, particularly in the United States, has tended to privilege research designs featuring deductive hypotheses that can be rigorously tested, typically with large-n datasets. This means the role of culture, society and history is often situated lower on the methodological hierarchy. I think many would agree that culture and socially constructed meaning are important variables in understanding political and economic outcomes; but there is little consensus on how to define or measure them, which makes them tricky analytical concepts.