Category: Security (page 1 of 8)

What do new Turkish university campuses have to do with Trump’s Syria decision?

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.

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What’s in a Wink? The Case for Thick Description

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

This is the fourth in the series on changing the field. #IRChange

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.

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Why Audiences (Mostly) Don’t Care about Reputation in Foreign Policy

This is a guest post from William G. Nomikos, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Washington University in St. Louis. Follow him on Twitter @wnomikos.

Recent relations between North Korea and the United States suggest a puzzle for International Relations. The Trump administration has relied on what it has called a “maximum pressure” campaign—a set of sections and threats of military escalation—to prevent North Korean nuclear missile tests and to roll back North Korean nuclear proliferation.

According to the prominent theory of International Relations known as “audience costs,” North Korean leader Kim Jong-un should take maximum pressure threats seriously. President Donald Trump is facing a challenging re-election campaign and voters should punish him if he makes a threat but subsequently backs down. Yet North Korea has shown very little signs of taking these threats seriously. If anything, North Korea has advanced its nuclear weapons program.

What explains this divergence between a well-established theory, a robust set of empirical evidence and North Korea-U.S. relations? Do audiences care about reputation in foreign policy? Probably not. In my recently published research with Nicholas Sambanis, we find that domestic audiences care more about a leader’s perceived competence than their ability to manage the nation’s reputation. In this study, we identify a new mechanism by which audiences evaluate leaders in foreign policy crises and find that existing research overestimates “audience costs.”

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Wait…what about Iran?

Remember this summer, when we were about to go to war with Iran? Iran seized an oil tanker passing through the Persian Gulf. Iran also shot down a US drone. The United States responded by shooting down an Iranian drone flying near a US ship, and nearly launching an air strike against Iran. The United States also expanded sanctions on Iran.

With Trump’s behavior becoming…unpredictable, and hawkish advisers like John Bolton and Mike Pompeo seemingly ascendant in the Administration, some sort of military clash appeared likely. But at some point this likely event kind of…faded away. It’s hard to point to a specific moment–someone backing down, tensions defusing dramatically. The issue just slipped away.

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A War On … Something?

This is a guest post by Linda Monsees who works as a Post-Doctoral Researcher at Goethe University Frankfurt and is the author of Crypto-Politics.

After wars on drugs, Christmas and everything in between, it seems that we people tend to call everything a war – everything despite a real war. But really, we are now in a ‘war on truth’? Politicians, companies, and countries start disinformation campaigns and lots of stories are shared that do not qualify as journalism.  And this spread of fake news got us in a ‘war’? I get it, we are still in the process of overcoming the shocks of certain elections that did not end the way many of us would have liked. Combine this shock with a natural technology-angst and this thing called fake news becomes a real threat.

But isn’t the task of a social scientist to take some distance, anaylse, explain and – dare I say? – even give guidance? So what about the ancient wisdom of ‘Don’t Panic’? I get the feeling that much of the academic debate reproduces assumptions about the impact on fake news rather than investigating them. A closer look at empirical research shows that the impact of fake news isn’t that big – fake news do not really seem to change people’s voting behaviour. And well, do I need to tell you that spreading false information for political or economic gains isn’t such a new phenomenon either? If you think about it, fake news are a form of propaganda. Of course, networked technology makes it possible that these news items spread faster than ever before. I am not denying that fake news are a thing, the public discourse might just overrate its impact. So, fake news are widely shared and it certainly shapes current political debates – but maybe not in the way most people think? 

Research on fake news has shown that people really do not seem to care too much about the veracity of the stories that they share. In the UK, more than a third of people sharing news admit sharing inaccurate or false news, an insight corobroated by other sociological research. While it surely is a problem when people (and I include myself here) cannot distinguish between ‘real’ and ‘fake’ news, people seem also be fine with sharing non-true stories. Acknowledging these insights then also means that ‘media literacy’ is not really a solution to the problem. danah boyd actually made this argument in a much nicer way, so check out her article over here. Focusing on media literacy does not acknowledge the underlying political and social problems that might be the source for the spread of fake news. Media literacy is considered to be the right tool to educate people about which kind of news they need to read. But this focus on education makes the problem of fake news one of young and uneducated people. According to this view, media literacy will help people who cannot distinguish between fake and non-fake news to become more educated.  Fake news is thus only a problem of ‘them’  – the young and uneducated. The underlying political economy, the importance of clickbait and legitimate political protest are covered up by such a focus on media literacy.

Fake news, post-truth, disinformation will probably just become part of our political vocabulary. This reflects changes in technology and the media culture and even though we feel uncomfortable about this we should maybe listen more to people who have actually done empirical research on this rather than repeating panicked judgements. 

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Americans Oppose Killing Civilians. Reports Saying Otherwise Are Wrong.

Awhile back, when cross-posted here and at Lawyers, Guns and Money to harp on the Game of Thrones denouement, LGM Commenter “Dogboy” clicked a link in that post to this article by Stanford researcher Scott Sagan (with Benjamin Valentino), purporting to show (via survey experiment) that Americans would be fine carpet-bombing civilians in Iran. Dogboy’s rightful reaction: “WTF, WHY DID I CLICK THE LINK?” To which I was happily able to reply, “Don’t worry, I’ve studied this data and the authors are wrong. Stay tuned for my follow-up essay in the next few days.” 

It has taken many days to issue my follow-up, partly because, while I was busy completing replications on the Iran study and preparing a rebuttal for publication, Sagan and his team published another similar study on North Korea just before Trump headed over there.

This time, their survey respondents were not asked to saturation bomb an Iranian city (a flagrant violation of the Geneva Conventions), but to violate the UN Charter through a preventive strike on North Korea, with nuclear or conventional weapons depending on your treatment group, weighing the strategic gains against various game-theoretic likelihoods of various levels of civilian casualties in both North and South Korea, ranging from 15,000 to 1.5 million. 

Naturally, of course, the media reported on this study, published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and titled “What Do Americans Really Think About Conflict With Nuclear North Korea? The Answer is Both Reassuring and Disturbing” by focusing on the DISTURBING: the quote from the article most frequently mentioned in the media is this one:

“As we have previously found, the U.S. public exhibits only limited aversion to nuclear weapons use and a shocking willingness to support the killing of enemy civilians.” 

Well, having just replicated the original Iran study,* and also looked closely at this new North Korea one, I can tell Dogboy and everyone else that we can (mostly) relax. Here’s why: what Sagan’s team calls “disturbing” is not really that disturbing, and even if it is, the “Reassuring” way outranks the “Disturbing” in statistical terms. Below are three reasons why you shouldn’t worry too much about the blood-thirstiness of your fellow Americans.

“A Large Hawkish Minority Lurks.” Basically, Sagan’s team found Trump supporters are happy to bomb foreigners. Why the authors want to focus on (or have the media focus on) the minority of voters who would support war crimes over the large majority of Americans that don’t is unclear. But what they find “disturbing” is these voters also appear “appear insensitive to informational cues that most security experts would expect to reduce such levels of support.”

Voters may ‘appear’ that way, however, because Sagan and his team did not include ‘informational cues’ on knowledge or exposure to the Geneva Conventions in their experiment – something lots of ‘security experts’ including my co-author and I found matters tremendously in such matters. Indeed, when we replicated the original Iran Study we found that providing these cues reverses the result on saturation bombing:

What this means is that in real life, where international and domestic human rights groups (plus generals) would invoke the Geneva Conventions or UN Charter, support for these acts would be much lower than a carefully controlled survey experiment might suggest.

“A Shocking Willingness to Support Killing Civilians.” No. Absolutely not. What they found is that a large majority of Americans (77%) opposed killing civilians, whether or not this was done through conventional bombing or nuclear weapons. Again, this is “reassuring” not “disturbing” and it is also entirely consistent with the Geneva Conventions, which prohibit killing civilians no matter what weapons you use.

This new North Korea finding is actually consistent with what Alex Montgomery and I found on our replication of the original Iran study, as reported in this companion piece in Foreign Policy on audience reactions to the firebombing of King’s Landing: the vast majority of Americans believe it’s wrong to target civilians under any circumstances.

“A Strong Retributive Streak?” Sagan and his team also write that, even though “the majority of Americans do not want President Trump to return to threats to attack North Korea,” there is a “strong retributive streak in US public opinion.” 

This is a stretch. On the original Iran study, the authors developed this claim, because they found that among those willing to bomb the city, some Americans used a sort of “they deserve what they get” or “bomb them all” kind of explanation. On our replication, we found that only a minority of Americans really preferred to target civilians once you control for framing effects embedded in the original prompt, and of those that only a tiny minority (12%) evinced this sort of mentality when we studied the open-ended comments explaining the answers. This dropped to 6% if we gave an open-ended version of the question itself, rather than forcing respondents to choose between terrible options:

Now that’s an augmented replication of the original Iran study. In the new North Korea study, Sagan and his team argue death penalty support predicts retributive attitudes toward civilians and maybe so (we haven’t explored that), but this is hardly a “disturbing” finding about Americans, since death penalty support is at historic lows.

The Media Does Like “Disturbing” Things.

Whether these findings are legitimately disturbing or not, the media sure latched on to the claim that they were, and circulated the erroneous conclusion that this means Americans are happy to kill civilians – just as they did when the original (and flawed) Iran study came out.

This is a shame because what Americans think about what other Americans think can actually influence what Americans think – and that can influence what policymakers do. If the media’s misappropriation of this survey finding, due to a carelessly worded title in a research paper, leads Americans to think many of their countrymen are fine disregarding the UN Charter and the Geneva Conventions, that really is terrifying. Because research shows those rules are sometimes the thin red line encouraging restraint in war.

*Our paper is not yet published, but if you want to read more about the replication I’ve developed with Alexander Montgomery, read this description of our methods at Open Global Rights. If you want to learn more about how Sagan’s team conducted the original Iran study go here. If you want to ponder what’s at stake when pollsters invite Americans to express preferences for war crimes, read this DISTURBING new article by my brilliant PhD student Alexandria Nylen.

Cross-posted at Lawyers, Guns and Money.

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Appetite for Self Destruction, or three suicides and a funeral*

Here’s my argument: Late 80s/early 90s Soviet Union. The United Kingdom in 2016. The United States 2016 to now. Three contemporary examples of international suicide that conventional IR neither predicted nor can account.

Ok, so perhaps suicide is too hyperbolic a concept and we should go with appetite for self-destruction . Certainly in the case of the Soviet Union any agential claim regarding the state is overdrawn. But either way I think there is a point here. All three states, and particularly the last two, undertook an internally driven diminution of international standing and capacity—dare I say, power.

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Failed National Military Strategy Analogies

by Anonymous US National Security expert, as part of a new series of posts providing insights into the policy-making process

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The slow death of realism in IR

It seems like good times have come around again for realists. After decades in the theoretical and empirical doldrums (getting end of Cold War wrong, opposition to war in Iraq, terrorism and COIN) realism is back. The most recent U.S. National Defense Strategy renews a focus on great power competition, specifically with China and Russia. The Pentagon has offloaded MRAPs and is stocking up on boost phase interceptors, hypersonics, and other weapons platforms not all that useful against insurgents but great for peer competitors. Oh, happy days for the balance of power!

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Pakistan’s Proxies: Rising Costs, Uncertain Benefits

This is a guest post from Adnan Naseemullah from is Senior Lecturer in International Relations, King’s College London, and the author of Development after Statism (Cambridge University Press, 2017).

Indian airstrikes near Balakot inside the Pakistani province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on the 26th of February, and Pakistani airstrikes in response, have created anxiety because nuclear conflict lies at the end of a steep escalation ladder. India was retaliating against a Valentine’s Day suicide attack on a convoy of paramilitary forces in Pulwama, in Indian-administered Kashmir, in which 42 were killed.

Jaish-e-Muhammed (JeM), one of several Pakistan-based militant groups operating against the Indian state in Kashmir, claimed responsibility. Indian retaliation targeted a madrassa thought to affiliated to JeM in Pakistan. India’s position is that because groups like JeM are proxies of the Pakistani state, crossborder strikes are justified as a means of preemptive self-defense combatting terrorism. 

This dynamic highlights both the uses and hazards of proxies as a tool of crossborder coercive statecraft. It follows a long and ignominious tradition of the use of proxies to weaken strategic competitors that has recent roots in Cold War competition, and has been used by both India and Pakistan. I argue that Pakistan’s use of proxies is becoming increasingly counterproductive as a tool for enhancing its own security by diminishing its neighbor’s, even as recent Indian policies toward Kashmir have created an environment hospitable for these proxies.

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Flying Blind in Crisis Time: The US Strategic and Human Foreign Policy Deficit

This week has seen a number of key events and crises in global politics that have made crystal clear once again the careening mess that is US foreign policy under the current administration. The Trump administration has no real overarching strategy—the argument that allies in Europe and elsewhere should bear more of the costs of their defense was not articulated as part of any coherent broader vision—and gutting of the diplomatic corps has left the US devoid of expertise and key actors to confront crises when they arise.

First, there were two big stories around nuclear powers this week. The biggest being India and Pakistan’s clashes, which came on the heels of a suicide bombing attack on Indian troops in Kashmir by a local man that was claimed by Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed. In a scenario that Toby Dalton and George Perkovich worried about and predicted, an air raid by India into Pakistan resulted in bombs dropped on an open field, with two Indian planes apparently shot down, and one airman captured. Pakistan responded with a raid of its own across the Line of Control in Kashmir, sparking fears of escalation between the two nuclear-armed states. The Indian raid marked the first known aerial attack by one nuclear power on the territory of another.

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I’m So Bored With the USA

The United States is the safest country in the world. It has vast ocean moats to the east and west and weak friendly neighbors to the north and south. It has sufficient resources to shun global trade should it so choose. It is also the wealthiest and strongest country the world has ever seen.

The heaviest foreign policy costs it has paid in the 20th and 21st centuries have come from self-inflicted wounds. The war in Vietnam. The war on Afghanistan. The war on Iraq. Those have had terribly high human, economic, resources, moral, and opportunity costs. Each of those wars was a choice made by U.S. presidents.

With the resignation of Secretary of Defense Mattis some have become more concerned about competitor states taking advantage of the chaos within the U.S. administration. Continue reading

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Big Goals and Small Adversaries: Why Grand Strategy Matters

The United States is closing in on the 18th anniversary of its first wartime death in Afghanistan, that of CIA operative Mike Spann, providing a melancholy opportunity to emphasize the role of grand strategy as a policymaking tool. To this end, I ask why the United States has done relatively poorly in so many of its so-called small wars, wars against much weaker adversaries. Its poor record is surprising because the United States has done so well in its major wars, including the world wars, the Korean War, and the Cold War.

Some of the United States’ smaller wars have gone as planned. The invasion of Grenada and replacement of its leftist government in 1983 was quick. The attack on Panama to replace President Noriega in 1989-1990 was also relatively short and low cost for the United States. Some small wars (small from the great power perspective, of course) have not turned out quite as planned, but have also not escalated significantly either vertically or horizontally, or in costs. These include the humanitarian military interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo.

Why should Iraq and Afghanistan still drag on, then, when the United States and its allies are fighting weak non-state actors whose ideologies hold little appeal? Why did the U.S. intervention against insurgents in Vietnam last 21 years? Why did its intervention against the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Movement, which started out stealing and buying its weapons from the Salvadoran military in the Salvadoran civil war, last 13 years?

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At what point do we call this a right-wing terrorist campaign?

America is reeling from the horrific attack on a synagogue in Pennsylvania, in which an anti-Semitic man killed 11 people. And we were already reeling from a series of attempted mail bomb attacks by a right-wing man targeting important liberal figures. Meanwhile, another right-wing attack this week in Kentucky was nearly overlooked. Those on the right tend to view these as horrible but isolated events. Those on the left point, rightly, to the vicious rhetoric coming from Donald Trump and some of his Republican allies, as well as the country’s lax gun laws. But I wonder if we should go further: is America facing a right-wing terrorist campaign?

What would this mean? Here is a passage from Bruce Hoffman’s influential Inside Terrorism on the definition of terrorism:  “We may therefore now attempt to define terrorism as the deliberate creation and exploitation of fear through violence or the threat of violence in the pursuit of political change.” Likewise, Audrey Cronin, in her important book How Terrorism Ends, defined terrorist campaigns as involving “three strategic actors—the group, the government and the audience—arrayed in a kind of terrorist ‘triad.’”

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Congress, Trump, and Internationalism in U.S. Foreign Policy

This post comes from Bridging the Gap co-director Jordan Tama, Associate Professor at the School of International Service at American University. 

American presidents have typically been more internationalist than the average member of Congress. For instance, many presidents have struggled to persuade Congress to approve important international agreements or increase spending on diplomacy and foreign assistance. Scholars of U.S. foreign policy have provided a compelling explanation for this pattern: since voters hold presidents more accountable than members of Congress for the country’s overall welfare and security, presidents have a stronger incentive than lawmakers to advance broad national interests through overseas engagement.

Under Donald Trump, however, this pattern has been stood on its head. As Trump has sought to advance his “America first” agenda by pulling back from international commitments, Congress has at times become the country’s strongest voice for maintaining and deepening overseas ties. This has been evident in the rejection by Congress of Trump’s proposals to cut the State Department’s budget by one-third, the reaffirmation by Congress of the U.S. commitment to NATO, and the restriction by Congress of the president’s ability to withdraw U.S. troops from South Korea.

Yet simply labeling elected officials as internationalist or the term’s opposite (nationalist or isolationist) fails to capture a lot of the nuance in their foreign policy positions. In a terrific new Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) report, Beyond the Water’s Edge: Measuring the Internationalism of Congress, a team led by Kathleen Hicks, Louis Lauter, and Colin McElhinny looks under the surface of recent foreign policy debates to explore congressional internationalism in depth. The report is based on an impressive set of original research, including case studies of recent congressional activity in several foreign policy issue areas and detailed profiles of a representative sample of 50 members of Congress.

Importantly, the study finds that internationalism is more widespread in Congress than one might think.  Continue reading

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Killings in Kandahar: Implications

The news out of Kandahar is pretty awful: the top leadership of the province was killed in an apparent attempt to kill General Austin Miller, the commander of US and NATO forces in the country.  There is not many details, but the WashPost account is suggestive of some key dynamics and challenges.

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Peacekeeping’s Perverse Effects: Bolsonaro and Brazil’s Remilitarized Politics

In under two weeks, Brazil will have the second round of its presidential election. Former military officer and fan of fascists Jair Bolsonaro looks set after a strong first-round showing to defeat Workers’ Party (PT) candidate Fernando Haddad. If he wins, Bolsonaro will have strong party backing in Congress, though he does not care much for the legislature—in 1999, Bolsonaro said Brazil’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship “should have killed 30,000 people more, starting with Congress and [then-President] Fernando Henrique Cardoso.” Bolsonaro’s running mate is retired General Hamilton Mourão, his planning adviser and likely Minister of Transport is General Oswaldo Ferreira, an anti-environmentalist who looks for inspiration to infrastructure projects enacted by Brazil’s military government, and Bolsonaro has promised to stack his cabinet with generals. Current and retired military officers have been prominent backers of Bolsonaro, and Bolsonaro announced that he would not accept any result other than victory, menacingly saying “I cannot speak for military” but that there “could be a reaction by the Armed Forces” if he lost and deemed it due to PT fraud (never mind that the PT is not currently in power).

As Michael Albertus highlighted, the military is returning to Brazilian politics in a big way. While the military in Argentina was punished for its dictatorial Dirty War, elites with ties to dictatorship never faced sanctions or fully left the political scene in countries like Brazil and Chile. In Brazil, civilian leaders managed to weaken the military during the transition to democracy, but it retained a broad scope of activities, including internal security and development, especially in combating the drug trade, a mission with which current President Michel Temer tasked the military earlier this year in Rio de Janeiro. Bolsonaro spent his time as a representative in Congress “interested in helping the military above all else,” and his message that he will restore law and order both resonates with a Brazilian public fed up with high rates of violent crime and with a military keen to reassert itself. Continue reading

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With Arms Sales, “It’s Not Just the Economy, Stupid”

This post comes from Jennifer Spindel, Assistant Professor in the Department of International and Area Studies at the University of Oklahoma and a 2018 participant in Bridging the Gap’s New Era Workshop

The disappearance and suspected murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi this month has led to calls for the US to suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia. President Trump has ignored these calls, saying “it would not be acceptable to me” to cease arms sales to Saudi Arabia because doing so would hurt the US economy. Arms sales have been a remarkably consistent news topic, from discussions about US arms sales to Saudi Arabia, to the recent grounding of the F-35 fleet, to disputes with Turkey about its arms purchases. This is, on the one hand, unsurprising: the United States sold $55.6 billion in weapons in the 2018 fiscal year, a 33 percent jump from the previous year. Yet the way the Trump administration talks about arms sales in terms of their sheer market and economic value reveals a fundamental misunderstanding about the political stakes of arms sales.

The issues surrounding the F-35 are instructive. From potentially decapitating pilots to recognized hardware issues, the F-35 has become a favorite (if too easy) punching bag in the defense community. Despite issues with the F-35’s capabilities, the plane is still a sought-after weapon – and not just because states have already poured hundreds of millions of dollars into developing and producing it.

The recent fighting between the US and Turkey over Turkey’s F-35 procurement illustrates the political stakes of such deals. Turkish companies produce components for the F-35, and Turkey is supposed to receive at least 20 of the planes. But in December 2017 Turkey purchased the Russian-produced S-400 missile defense system and, in response, the US Senate wanted to prohibit Turkey from acquiring the F-35. There is some concern that the S-400 will be able to collect intelligence about the F-35’s capabilities – and send this information back to Russia.

Yet much of the debate concerns the broader political problems of Turkey buying the S-400. States treat arms transfers as signals of foreign policy alignment: Turkey’s deal with Russia drove home its deteriorating relationship with the US and European States.

This political salience is reflected in statements by US and other policy-makers about the arms sale. US Assistant Secretary of State Weiss Mitchell said, “We can’t be any clearer in saying, both privately and publicly: a decision on S-400s will qualitatively change the US-Turkish relationship in a way that would be very difficult to repair.” Similarly, US Senator James Lankford said, “Turkey has gone a long way from being a NATO ally and an important partner in working against terrorism, to the situation today.” US allies are taking Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 as a symbol of rift between Turkey and the West, with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute calling it “meltdown in relations between Turkey and the US.” Israel has repeatedly expressed its concern about Turkey to the United States, arguing that allowing Turkey to get the F-35 would reward its bad behavior, and that Turkey should no longer be considered a “real” NATO member.

The political effects of the plane on the U.S.–Turkey relationship are independent of its military capabilities and will not change even though the entire F-35 fleet was grounded yesterday. The F-35 is, if nothing else, a status symbol that reflects the strength of political ties between states that have it.

As a signal of alignment, arms sales have wide-ranging consequences. Turkey’s simultaneous pursuit of the F-35 and the S-400 has emboldened other US friends to do the same. What was once unthinkable – US-friendly states actively courting Russian weapon systems – is becoming increasingly common. India, which was recently designated a Major Defense Partner by the United States, also signed a deal to get the S-400 and Saudi Arabia, a US ally, has hinted its interest in getting the S-400 as well.

Arms deals are much more than the transfer of military capability. Nor can they be thought of purely in economic terms. But – in responding to calls to suspend arms transfers to Saudi Arabia for its air campaigns in Yemen or, this week, for its supposed murder of Jamal Khashoggi – Trump has chosen to emphasize the economic consequences of halting arms transfers: “We have jobs, we have a lot of things happening in this country,” he said. “Part of that is what we’re doing with our defense systems and everybody’s wanting them. And frankly I think that that would be a very, very tough pill to swallow for our country.”

Even if Saudi Arabia proved the crucial market to keeping US production lines open, Trump is overlooking the foreign policy signal that the arms sales send. By continuing to supply Saudi Arabia with arms, the US is tacitly endorsing Saudi actions. Congress should, at the very least, suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia. The State Department approved $1 billion worth of sales to the kingdom in March – delaying the transfer of TOW anti-tank missiles would be one clear way to signal US displeasure with Saudi Arabia. Otherwise, why should Saudi Arabia cooperate with investigations into the disappearance of Khashoggi, or modify its policy in Yemen? In the realm of international politics, talk is cheap; actions matter. Cutting off arms sales or switching suppliers is one way states can signal their dissatisfaction with partners, as Turkey so clearly did by purchasing the S-400. The political stakes of arms sales are high – and it is crucial that policymakers consider that political significance in their arms sales decision calculus along with economic and military considerations.

 

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What’s in a Name? Developing Countries and Security Cooperation

This post comes from Dr. Fabiana Sofia Perera, Assistant Research Fellow at the William J. Perry Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies and a 2016 alumna of Bridging the Gap’s New Era Workshop.

Defense Secretaries from the countries of the western hemisphere will convene in Cancun, Mexico next month to talk about the most pressing issues facing defense and security institutions in the Americas. The biannual meeting presents an important opportunity for the US to engage with Latin America as the hemisphere continues to try to work together to address the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela and other challenges. After the underwhelming Summit of the Americas, defense seems like a promising avenue for cooperation. Secretary Mattis already met with a number of his counterparts during his first trip to the region in August promising a closer relationship between the US and Latin America.

Security cooperation between the US and Latin America, however, faces one important obstacle: the definition of developing country. Though scholars think of the region as part of the developing world (studies of Latin American countries are routinely featured in journals and conferences focusing on development), most countries in the hemisphere are middle income. Trinidad and Tobago, and Estonia, for example, have about the same GDP per capita; Uruguay is nearly on par with Croatia; Costa Rica and China are within a few dollars of each other. This is where the US runs into difficulties for carrying out cooperation activities.

US Code, Title 10, Section 312 provides that security cooperation money “may be used only for the payment of expenses of, and special compensation for, personnel from developing countries.” US Code further stipulates that the term “developing country” “has the meaning prescribed by the Secretary of Defense [in] the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017.” The current iteration of that meaning is that countries are considered “developing” if they are not “high income” on the World Bank classification of countries. Argentina, Barbados, Chile, and Trinidad and Tobago are all “high income” this year.

The World Bank’s definition is not the only option, and may not be the best one for US purposes.  Continue reading

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Backlash and Stigma: Rethinking Restraint in the Age of Trump

This is a guest post from Eric Van Rythoven. Eric Van Rythoven recently finished his PhD at Carleton University studying emotion, world politics, and security. His work is published in Security Dialogue and European Journal of International Relations.

There is a recurring frustration among observers of the Trump administration that commentary easily becomes distracted. Stories about the Trump family’s everyday nepotism and corruption may be important in the context of a so-called ‘normal’ presidency, but these are small marbles when compared to the administration’s catastrophic performance at Helsinki or the odious policy of child separation. For many IR scholars the message is clear: don’t focus on Ivanka’s clothing line, focus on what matters.

But what if stories like the decline of Ivanka’s clothing brand matter more than we think? In isolation, these kinds of stories appear as inconsequential distractions. Taken together, they form a broader genre of reporting focused on the rising personal costs of serving under Trump. This genre of reporting is important because it points to two crucial political processes occurring around the Trump administration right at this moment: backlash and stigmatization. I want to suggest that scholars should not only think about how these processes are significant features of contemporary politics, but how they can inform how we think about restraint in the age of Trump. Continue reading

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