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Leader Personalities: Trump vs. Biden

This is a guest post from Ryan Beasley, Senior Lecturer at the University of St Andrews, with research interests in political psychology and foreign policy: Juliet Kaarbo, Professor at the University of Edinburgh, who works on personalities, parliaments and parties in foreign policy; and Consuelo Thiers (Twitter @Consuelothiers), a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh, who is completing her doctorate on beliefs and emotions in enduring rivalries.

For those of us who study leaders’ personalities and how they affect their actions while in power, President Trump has really been a blessing, if well-disguised.  For many of his opponents, turning a corner on the Trump Presidency is not just about changing his policies but also quieting his persona, removing the centre-stage megaphone of political office from the hands of a man feverishly keen to use it (even when actually feverish).  The gregarious and agreeable Joe Biden – perhaps average, risk-averse, and vanilla to his detractors – will surely be different. We wanted to be sure.  

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Ant-Man as a metaphor for the modern professor

In Marvel comics and movies, Ant-Man is a super-hero who can change his size using a special suit and “Pym particles.” When giant, he’s…giant. But when he’s tiny he keeps the same density as a regular human, giving him the ability to lift and move things much bigger than his insect size. The idea of shrinking in size but having to shoulder the same–or greater–burden resonated with me, and in a way feels like a metaphor for the modern professor.

This thought came to me in response to a recent email from my university. We have a hybrid set-up, with some students attending courses remotely (from home or campus) and others in person. Our Student Services office noted which of our advisees were at home, and asked us to take special care to reach out to them. This didn’t really affect me, as I reach out to all advisees before course registration. But the idea of a Student Services office telling professors–already overloaded with difficult online teaching, as well as research and service responsibilities–to devote extra time to engaging with students instead of, you know, doing it themselves, struck me as slightly off.

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COVID: An Extraordinary Crisis, but Ordinary Political Patterns

This is a guest post from Tana Johnson, an Associate Professor of Public Affairs and Political Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  Her publications include the book Organizational Progeny: Why Governments Are Losing Control over the Proliferating Structures of Global Governance.

COVID-19, which disregards national borders and threatens all countries, is a “problem without a passport.”  The usual prescription is to 1) work through international organizations (IOs), 2) collaborate on collective long-term solutions, and 3) defer to experts.  Yet in 2020, countries defied each prescription, producing three patterns.

Patterns: IOs, Interests, and Experts

Pattern #1 is the tendency to blame international organizations, particularly the World Health Organization (WHO).  With its drastic decision to cut off funding and intended withdrawal from the World Health Organization, the U.S. government has been an aggressive critic.  But more than 100 countries also endorsed the European Union’s call for an independent investigation into the WHO’s handling of the disease. 

Pattern #2 is the temptation to put short-term or narrow interests above longer-term or broader ones.  During the crisis’ initial months, dozens of countries implemented export restrictions, travel bans, and unilateral vaccine development – all despite the World Health Organization’s objections. 

Pattern #3 is a divided reaction to experts.  Schisms have arisen at the subnational, national, and international levels.  Some people have readily deferred to public health officials – but other people have challenged them, questioning the efficacy or legality of their recommendations.

Why, in the midst of a pandemic, would governments question or punish the very IO that’s supposed to guide the world’s response?  Since this disease is a shared threat and can’t be defeated instantaneously, why aren’t countries concentrating on what would be useful for the larger international community, well into the future?  And why, in a crisis of public health, is anyone refusing to follow public health experts?  Work in International Relations (IR) dispels the mystery – and shows that although the pandemic may be extraordinary, its political patterns are quite ordinary.

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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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COVID and Fed Legitimacy

This is a guest post from Walter James, a PhD candidate in the Department of Political Science at Temple University with an interest in comparative political economy of financial regulation.

The Federal Reserve has stood as a bulwark between COVID-19 and another Great Depression in the United States. But it must tread carefully to maintain its reputation and legitimacy once the crisis passes.

Since COVID’s arrival in the United States, the Fed has acted with unprecedented speed by cutting its federal funds rate to close to 0%, purchasing massive amounts of securities, providing dollar liquidity to other central banks through international swap lines, and establishing lending programs for both Wall Street and Main Street as well as to state and municipal governments. Just in the last six months, the century-old central bank has flexed all of its monetary, regulatory and lending muscles at its disposal and acquired new ones along the way.

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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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On Publishing and Open Access

Recently, I was asked by an interdisciplinary journal to edit a special section on climate governance, and I inquired whether it was an open access journal where authors have to pay to publish. It is, and I declined because asking others to contribute to a special issue that they then have to pay to publish in strikes me as unseemly. I’m pretty uncomfortable with this model of publishing, but I dislike the existing paywall mafia too.

Pay to Publish?
This is the third time I’ve had open access fees come up in the process of publishing in journals in the energy/science policy space. The other two were surprises where a journal changed to an open access pay model in the middle of publishing and the other was one where I joined an author team to a new journal that I didn’t look in to. In the other cases, the fee was waived or my co-authors had some way to have the fees paid. This model of pay to publish I think is more prevalent in the sciences.

I understand the desire to make work available to people without a paywall. I also respect the desire to defray the costs for authors in the global South with fee waivers, but it is not easy, even for someone like me at an R1, to come up with $1000 or more to publish a paper. For one, I’ve never done it, and I don’t have a reservoir of money to pay publication fees. If you publish several articles a year and they are open access, these costs would add up.

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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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Visualizing the Gender Publication Gap: 1999-2019

This is a guest post from Laura Breen, a PhD student with research interests in international law, global governance, and emerging technology; Gaea Morales, a PhD student with research interests in environmental security and global-local linkages; Joseph Saraceno, a PhD candidate with research interests in political institutions and quantitative methodology; and Kayla Wolf, a PhD student with research interests in gender, politics, and political socialization. All are completing the PhD program in Political Science and International Relations at the University of Southern California.

It’s not news that political science has a gender problem. This blog has multiple entries on the gender gap, and anyone who spends 20 minutes on academic twitter or at a grad student happy hour is likely to encounter firsthand accounts of the effects of the gender gap. If firsthand accounts aren’t enough, there’s plenty of excellent peer reviewed reviewed work showing that the phenomenon exists, including Maliniak et al.’s finding that women are “systematically cited less than men” in IR, Dawn Langan Teele and Kathleen Thelen’s 2017 article that found a comparable gap even when accounting for women’s share of the profession.

A common talking point about the gender gap in political science is that things have been getting better, and the gender balance in publications will steadily even out over time as gender disparities in society are minimized and the number of women in the profession grows. In short: we are approaching parity, all it takes is time. However, for many scholars, and particularly women in political science, this narrative of progress conflicts with lived experience and observations of who (and what) we see published in top journals.

The Data

As part of a simple data visualization project gone off the rails, we gathered four years of data to see whether the optimistic belief that things are really getting better bears out empirically. We were particularly interested in the years since the last comprehensive examination of gendered political science publication rates.

Building on the dataset Teele and Thelen created to examine gendered publication rates across ten journals from 1999-2015, we hand coded author gender and order for all articles across the original journals examined in their article for the years 2016 to 2019. These included Journal of Politics, American Political Science Review, Comparative Politics (CP), International Organization, Comparative Political Studies, Journal of Conflict Research (JCR), Perspectives on Politics, Political Theory, and World Politics. To collect author gender for the years 2016 onwards, we coded gender based on pronouns used in personal website and department biographies.

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Will Eastern Mediterranean tensions matter to IR if there is no war?

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.

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Meet Our Guest Ducks (Again)

With the coronavirus, it has been hard for many of us to just keep going, let alone set aside time to blog (certainly not as much as we otherwise might!).

So, we wanted to acknowledge that by giving our guest Ducks from last year an additional semester (at least!) to have this platform for talking about substantive issues in international relations and the academy.

We are thrilled that folks have stayed on. Please read their work to date and be on the lookout for new posts. There are some really good ones on a range of topics. If you have an interest in becoming a guest contributor come January, let any of the permanent members know!

The Current Guest Contributors to the Duck of Minerva

Bridging the Gap
Meg K. Guliford
Anne Harrington ⚑ 
Cullen Hendrix
Peter Henne 
Luke Perez 
Alexandra Stark
Ajay Verghese

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Race and the Russian IR

This is the fifth post in the our series Race&IR.

Black Lives Matter has spearheaded a massive reckoning of race relations in the US and around the world, but not so much in RussiaThe discipline of IR may have started a bit earlier than this year’s protests: there have been a number of interventions that have brought the issue of race to the forefront of teaching and research – even though it should have always been there at least since DuBois. Not everyone is happy though: right-wing media cry “cancel culture” and debates on the merits of critical approaches somehow make national news

Russian mainstream IR community has been slow in embracing this problematique – even though Russian IR itself has been often considered as one of the examples of non-Western IR. A recent piece in “Russia in Global Affairs” by Dr. Alexander Lukin seems to make a point similar to a lot of critical scholars and scholars from the Global South: “It is necessary to correct the West-centric bias … by gradually introducing more information about the non-Western world into the teaching of history and international relations”. Fair point? Yes, absolutely. Alexander Lukin argues further that “a new all-encompassing totalitarian theory is approaching us, according to which all social and historical phenomena will need to be analyzed from a “racial” point of view, just as the Marxists analyzed them from the point of view of the “class struggle.””. How do you like them apples?

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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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Teaching Race and International Politics: Notes from a Canadian Classroom

Eric Van Rythoven (PhD) is an Instructor in the Department of Political Science at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada.  His research focuses on the intersection between the politics of emotion, International Relations, and security.  His articles have been published in the Journal of Global Security Studies, the European Journal of International Relations, Security Dialogue, among others and he is the co-editor (with Mira Sucharov) of Methodology and Emotion in International Relations (Routledge, 2019).  You can learn more about his research and writing at his website.

This is the fourth post in our series on Race&IR.

How should we approach discussions of race and racism in the classroom? Increasingly, issues of race are receiving more attention in the field of IR.  Whether it is through a series of high-profile articles discussing why race matters in IR, or why the field remains blind to racism, debates about race and racism are taking a more prominent place in the field.  Yet comparatively less attention has been given  to how to teach race in the classroom.  This mirrors broader patterns of intellectual life in IR where the “published discipline” dominates scholarly attention and the “taught discipline” appears as an afterthought (Ettinger, 2020).  But if we take calls to think about the taught discipline seriously, how then should we approach teaching race in the classroom?

This post contributes to the conversation by discussing the results from a brief survey on student views on teaching race and international politics in a Canadian classroom.  The survey (n=100) was supported through Carleton University’s Students as Partners Program (SaPP) where faculty can offer paid experience to undergraduate students to help develop curriculum and teaching resources.  Respondents were primarily students from IR courses, but also included those studying Canadian Foreign Policy. 

As part of our project we wanted to hear students’ views on teaching race in the classroom, including what topics they are interested in learning about, as well as what they see as some of the barriers to learning.  Situated in a diverse city in a unique national context, it is important to caution against generalizations. Yet in what follows we highlight some of the main findings and bring them into dialogue with the broader pedagogy literature on race and IR.

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Renewable or Sustainable? Green Energy Is More Complicated Than You Think

Jen Evans (Twitter: @Jen_L_Evans) is a PhD student at the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies and a Project Lead at the Frederick S. Pardee Center for International Futures. Her research focuses on resource rights, cooperation, and conflict.

On 30 June, House Democrats released a climate plan aimed at eliminating the U.S. economy’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The plan mandates sweeping shifts towards clean and renewable energy, with U.S. automakers transitioning to solely electric vehicle production and electric utility providers operating as net-zero emitters, all in the name of making America’s economy more sustainable.

The plan unveiled by Democratic policymakers follows widespread public support for renewable energy. Some 70% of consumers believe that, in the near future, 100% of electricity should be produced via renewable sources such as solar, wind, and hydropower. More than half of consumers are willing to increase their electric bills by 30% just to facilitate this transition. And corporations have been quick to jump on the renewable energy bandwagon, with 71 of the Fortune 100 companies having published sustainability targets as of 2017.

The case for renewables

Renewable energy proclaims to do everything from creating jobs to reducing dependency on imports. The main benefit of renewable energy, though, lies in its apparent ability to replace the burning of fossil fuels, which currently accounts for 62% of electricity production and 95% of transportation sector power in the United States. The damage and risk associated with this longtime dependency on fossil fuels is significant and potentially catastrophic. In addition to the well-documented impact of fossil fuels on climate change, the use of fossil fuels contributes to environmental degradation associated with the surface mining of coal, health and environmental risks of drilling for oil and natural gas, and economic and foreign policy implications related to reliance on oil imports that are often sourced from unstable regions at high risk of conflict.

It would appear, then, that renewable energy represents a comprehensive solution not only to carbon emissions associated with the burning of fossil fuels, but also to many environmental, economic, and security concerns related to extracting traditional energy resources. Yet, in discussing the many benefits of renewable energy, we often disregard a critical element: Our flashy devices, the factories that manufacture them, and the vehicles that deliver them to us do not inherently absorb the sun’s rays and spring to electrified life. Rather, producing accessible renewable energy requires technologies such as solar panels and wind turbines; technologies that are constructed using familiarly controversial extraction processes.

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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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We all suffer if the field is parochial

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.

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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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U.S. Political Scientists Must Work To Support Free and Fair Democratic Elections

This is a guest post by Jeffrey C. Isaac, James H. Rudy Professor of Political Science at Indiana University, Bloomington. You can follow him at his blog at Democracy in Dark Times.

Democracy is a central and arguably the central theme of contemporary American political science research and teaching. This is certainly true in the “subfields” conventionally designated as “Comparative Politics,” “American Politics,” and “Political Theory.” And even where it is not the central theme, as in most “International Relations” inquiry, it is an important theme.

By far the most broadly influential endeavor in U.S. political science—the teaching of “Introduction to American Politics,” a staple of undergraduate teaching at virtually every academic institution in the U.S.—centers on the dynamics of the U.S. political system, the nature of its constitutional democracy, and the complex dynamics of public opinion, party organization, political campaigning and competitive elections.

Most of this teaching is not emphatically normative. But it is normative nonetheless, as a perusal of most syllabi or prominent textbooks will attest. The 2015 Brief Edition of Keeping the Republic: Power and Citizenship in American Politics, written by Christine Barbour and Gerald C. Wright, for example, leads with a chapter on “Power and Citizenship in American Politics” that centers on the distinction between liberal democracy and authoritarianism. Without some such discussion, what sense is to be made of American political institutions?

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