Tag: foreign policy (page 3 of 5)

Strategic narratives: An uncertain science

Timing is everything; I’m not sure its good to be publishing a paper about strategic narratives just as the US cuts its Advisory Commission on Public Dipomacy, although RAND have begun exploring this field. National-level policymakers still try to tell stories about where their state and the international system are heading and should head. To the extent these narratives create expectations, shore up identities, create buy-in from partners, or have other discernible effects, we can say strategic narratives matter. The investment states have made in their international communications infrastructures in the past decade indicates the hope that aspiring or existing Great Powers can get their story out to overseas publics and elites. At the same time, sometimes just having an ambassador who carries his own bag can create a good impression. The ‘science’ of strategic narratives remains uncertain.

Hence, colleagues and I are trialing a working paper ‘Forging the World: Strategic Narratives and International Relations’, available to download here. It is authored by Alister Miskimmon (Royal Holloway), myself and Laura Roselle (Elon/Duke), and is based on the keynote Miskimmon and I delivered to International Studies Association (ISA) South at Elon University in October 2011. It comes from our long disatisfaction with how IR scholars treat media, communications and questions of influence, and how media and communications neglect many of the power dynamics of IR. It also comes from our experience working with foreign policymakers as they try to show measurable ‘impact’ of the narratives, and their attempts to harness new digital methods to monitor overseas public opinion. We plan to publish a book developing these ideas late in 2012, and we have panels on the subject at ISA San Diego in April and BISA/ISA Edinburgh in June with some great scholars (Neta Crawford, Karin Fierke, Antje Weiner, Robin Brown, Monroe Price, Amelia Arsenault), so if you’re interested in please come along or look for the papers. For now, we’d really appreciate it if the Duck commentariat have comments on the paper.

Share

Zombie Theory of Foreign Policy

We have gone almost a month without talking about zombies, and you all must be in need of a fix. Instead of thinking how various theories of international relations might expect us to cope with a zombie epidemic, I thought it might be fun to think about how leading public figures – elected officials, pundits, etc. – might respond to a zombie attack. This is in keeping with my general belief that we would see many different responses by individuals in the same structural circumstances, that foreign policy is more important than international relations.

Incidentally, I just want you to know that you can Google anyone with ‘zombie’ in front of their name and find an image. What is wrong with you people?


Michelle Bachmann: This Martian invasion will not be tolerated.

Momar Qaddafi : Can you help a brother out?

John Boehner: My sundried skin will not be tasty to them, I am immune. Later, b*tches.

Nancy Pelosi : Be not afraid, I am one of you.

George W. Bush: Zombies hate America for our freedom, to use our brains.

Rick Perry: I urge everyone to spend the day fasting and praying to God to save us from this zombie scourge. This is exactly why I take my gun with me when I jog.

Al Gore: This is yet another sign of the terrible effects of global warming.

Mitt Romney: Do they take checks? I mean, have they heard the good news about Jesus Christ?

Ron Paul: I might make an exception on military spending for this.

Dick Cheney: You are not going to make a big deal about waterboarding these guys, right? Can we at least agree that zombies do not qualify under the Geneva Conventions or are you going to bust my balls on this one too, Amnesty?

Barack Obama: I reject the false choice between the security that comes with eradicating all zombies and our values.

Glenn Beck: Is Woodrow Wilson one of them, because I’d like a shot at that mother*cker.

Sarah Palin: I am uniquely positioned to deal with the zombie threat. In Alaska I can see the graveyard from my house.

Hillary Clinton: It is important for us to understand underlying structural causes of zombies, like poor access to water and development.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn : OK, I can’t get bitten by one, but can I still have sex with one?

Bill Clinton: I had the same question as DSK.

Bank of America: We know how you feel.

Anne Coulter: Zombies are Liberals.

John McCain: It is absolutely unacceptable that zombies are receiving healthcare when they are no longer legal citizens of this country. Or alive.

Hosni Mubarak: This would have been better for me a few months ago. I could have used a little rallying around the flag.

Benjamin Netanyahu: We have some lovely new accommodations we would like to show you just outside Jerusalem.

Dan Drezner: OK, now I’m going to buy a Benz.

Let’s make this interactive. Can you think of some others? Please reply below.

Share

Semantic polling: the next foreign policy tool

George Gallup –
what have you started?

The traditional methods for a state to know what overseas publics are thinking are changing. Instead of relying on your embassy staff’s alertness, your spies’ intelligence and the word of dissidents, we’re reaching the point where foreign policymakers can constantly monitor public opinion in countries in real-time. The digitization of social life around the world  – uneven yes, but spreading – leaves ever-more traces of communications to be mined, analysed and acted upon.  In a paper that Nick Anstead and I presented in Iceland this week, we called this ‘semantic polling’, and we considered the ethical, political and practical questions it raises.

Semantic polling refers to the use of algorithms and natural language processing to “read” vast datasets of public commentary harvested from the Internet, which can be disaggregated, analysed in close-to-real-time, and which can then inform policy. It can give a general representation of public opinion, or very granular representations of the opinion and behaviour of specific groups and networks. Multi-lingual processing across different media platforms is now possible.  Companies already provide this service to pollsters and parties in domestic campaigns, and NGOs make use of it for disaster response monitoring. Given how public diplomacy has adopted many techniques of the permanent campaign, it will be no surprise to see semantic polling become part of the foreign policy toolkit.


The semantic web is the standardization of protocols so that everything on the web becomes machine-readable. This means semantic polling is about more than reading social media data. In principle, our shopping, driving, social media, geolocation and other data are all searchable and analyzable. It is only a matter of computing power and integration of data streams for this method to profile to the individual behavioural level. This also enables predictive engagement: if Amazon thinks it knows what you want, then a state, with access to more data streams, might be use semantic polling and think it knows who will support an uprising and who will not.
Ethically, do people around the world know their tweets, public facebook data and comments on news blogs are being used to build a picture of their opinion? How should journalists report on this when it happens? Politically, how will states and NGOs use semantic polling before, during and after crises and interventions? Is it predictive, valid and reliable? Will semantic polling’s real-time nature further intensify the pressures on policymakers, since the performance, credibility and legitimacy of their policies can be visualized as they are enacted? Will publics resist and find ways to circumvent it? And given that it is barely regulated at the domestic level, how could or should it be policed in international affairs?
When we thought of this paper it seemed a little bit like an exercise in science fiction, but interviews with the companies, pollsters and social scientists driving this has convinced us this is developing quickly. Our political science audience in Iceland seemed positive about this – semantic polling offers relatively cheap, unobstrusive and ‘natural’ data that might provide insights into human behaviour existing methods cannot give. Perhaps a good first step would be for people around the world to understand how semantic polling works, so they can decide what they think about it, since it is their lives that are being monitored. 

Share

What Exactly is the Point of Foreign Policy Analysts?: Lessons from Libya (and any other crisis in history)

I don’t follow the news as closely as I should. I am not up on everyone’s blogs. I don’t check the Brookings Institution for every new report it issues. I am a lazy blogger. But I do seem to recall when this whole Libya thing started and didn’t end successfully immediately that all kinds of “foreign policy analysts” came out of the woodwork to say it wouldn’t work, that we were merely facilitating and prolonging a protracted civil war stalemate. We couldn’t will the means that would be necessary.

Dumbasses.

I say that not because they got the prediction wrong, but rather that they tried to make a prediction at all. I wish we could just admit that we generally have no earthly idea how a civil war, humanitarian intervention, tsunami response, military coup, financial crisis, etc. will work out. I


Eat humble pie, boys. I said, “Eat it!”

am an international relations academic not because I don’t want to be on TV, but because I have a sense of shame and dignity. I simply could not get up in front of millions, or even dozens, of people and claim that I had any notion of how any of those things was going to work out. We can only work out explanations well after the fact when we know what was going on on the ground, what people were thinking, etc. Every social phenomena of interest is simply too complicated. I appreciate it when folks like Steve Saideman tell us the mistakes of the past. But I wouldn’t like it if he predicted the future. And he doesn’t.

I am not going to name names, because I’d have to look them up. Like I said, I’m lazy. But the next time that one of these things happens again, like tomorrow, and someone offers you a prediction of how it will end, respond like this: “Ew, get that away from me. That’s been up your butt.”

Share

White House: Osama Bin Laden Is Dead.

POTUS speaking to the nation this evening:

11:40: “They took care to avoid civilian casualties.” Hmm. No word as to whether they succeeded.

11:41: “Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader. He was a mass murderer of Muslims.” That was good.

11:43: “Today’s achievement is a testament to the greatness of the American people.” I see. Killing this individual is on par with walking on the moon. We can all be very proud. The “war” will continue.

My immediate take: they’ve done a masterful job at playing the media and making a huge story and enormous nationalistic success out of a single operation in a vast and endless war, that apparently will have no impact on our foreign policy.

Share

A puzzle in promotion: Petraeus at the CIA

This is a guest blog by Jarrod Hayes, who is is an assistant professor of International Relations at the Georgia Institute of Technology. His research broadly focuses on the social construction of foreign and security policy.

The New York Times is reporting that President Obama plans on moving Leon Panetta to the position of Secretary of Defense and David Petraeus to the position of CIA director. While the Panetta move is interesting in its own right (i.e., will Panetta have the force of will necessary to manage the DoD?), what I find far more interesting is the move of General David Petraeus to the CIA, a man whose credentials for leading the CIA at best require some creative argumentation. I find the move puzzling (hence the title) and would like to forward a possible explanation for the move as well a negative repercussion that could result. First, the explanation. In June 2010, when Obama fired then U.S. commander in Afghanistan Stanley McChrystal after insubordinate remarks by officers under McChrystal’s command came to light, the President was left with a problem. Seven months earlier, Obama had announced a large troop increase to Afghanistan as part of an effort to prevail in a conflict claimed to be vital to US national interest. What appointment could Obama make in replacing McChrystal that would be in line with the President’s contention that success in Afghanistan was of critical importance? The obvious answer was hero-of-Iraq-and-counterinsurgency-demigod Petraeus, and so the President demoted (lateral move?) Petraeus from Central Command Commander to head up the Afghan mission. However, the appointment presented its own problems. At the same time Obama announced the Afghan ‘surge,’ he promised to begin bringing home US troops after 18 months (~midyear 2011). Would Petraeus, a man now vested with an immense amount of military and security legitimacy, resist when Obama decided to pull the plug? If he did, the President’s political capital could take serious damage at a time when the campaign for re-election would be at a critical stage.

Obama appears to have found a solution by promoting Petraeus to CIA director. Petraeus now has less reason to oppose a drawdown in a conflict that is going less than swimmingly (see Steve Saideman’s excellent post on the subject here) because his personal credibility and legacy are no longer on the line. Moving Petraeus to the CIA also shifts his institutional context, and if Graham Allison was right about where you stand depends on where you sit, being at the CIA ties Petraeus hands for two reasons: 1) CIA has global concerns (less dog in the Afghan fight) and 2) CIA has a firm institutional emphasis on not making policy. So the promotion is a win-win all around. Petraeus gets out of a fight that may be impossible to win and Obama removes (or at least lessens) a potential political landmine. The only downside is the poor guy who will get tagged with whatever comes in Afghanistan after the US leaves.

There is, however, a dark side to promoting Petraeus to the CIA. Since September 11, 2001, the CIA’s mission has increasingly focused on the US military mission. Military commanders have pressed progressively greater demands for timely battlefield intelligence and policy shifts that accompanied the Bush administration’s GWOT put the CIA on the front lines. These changes are not cost free. Rolf Mowatt-Larssen (and Andrew Bacevich regarding foreign policy broadly) among others has argued that the CIA since September 11 has become increasingly militarized at the expense of its traditional role as a collector and analyzer of political intelligence. It used to be the CIA’s primary job to know the kinds of things that might have led us to be less surprised by the uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya. The shift to a more militarized CIA means that the Agency no longer focuses on that kind of information (perhaps encouraging technological workarounds?), hence the surprise at the ‘Arab Spring.’ Since September 11, I think there is a good case to be made that we ask the CIA to do too much, and the increasing focus on militarily useful intelligence comes at the expense of the political intelligence that forms the basis of sound foreign policy-making. The appointment of Petraeus creates the real possibility that this pattern will not only continue but also be cemented and accelerated. If that is the case, Americans and their policy-makers will be increasingly in the dark about the world and what happens in it.

Share

India: Choosing between America and Iran

India appears to be continuing to shift its West Asia policy away from a once budding partnership with Iran, which aimed among other things to stabilize Afghanistan. It is rumored that in late March, the Indian National Security Adviser, Shiv Shanker Menon, delicately delivered a message to the Islamic Republic that India’s PM would not be making a state visit later this year (Telegraph [Kolkata] 3/10/11).

If the news reports are correct, the diplomatic maneuver comes only a few months after India abandoned the practice of paying for its crude oil imports from Iran through the Tehran based Asian Clearing Union, a central bank clearing mechanism, apparently under direct pressure from President Obama. India was so hasty in acceding to US demands that it failed to set an alternate mechanism in place or even to consult private petroleum importers. India asked Iran to find a set of banks that were not under US sanctions in order to reroute financial payments. For its part, Iran did not retaliate and continued to supply crude oil on credit to India until a new payment arrangement was agreed through branches of both countries’ state owned banks in Germany. Iran is the largest single supplier of crude oil to India (importing ~$12 billion / per year), and India still has plans to invest heavily in Iranian oil and gas fields.

India has also abstained from voting on Iran’s human rights situation in the UN Human Rights Council and it voted in 2010 in support of the IAEA censure of Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program. The latter vote elicited a “nasty” letter from the Iranian government even though India had tried to indicate that it did not support punitive sanctions and favored dialog (PTI, 5/17/2010). The censure vote reinforced a decision in 2005 by India to support taking the issue of Iran’s nuclear enrichment program to the UN Security Council. Although India might ideally prefer to retain its friendship with Iran, India appears to be signalling a shift toward further alignment within the American orbit at the expense of its ties to Iran.

A portion of the tension between India and Iran may also relate to technical details in the proposed IPI (Iran-Pakistan-India Pipeline) project. India wanted Iran should to guarantee delivery of gas across Pakistani territory and Iran has been unresponsive (Doordarshan, 5/15/2010). However, these disputes are likely to be a consequences of India’s position at the IAEA rather a completely separate point of contention.

In addition to the fact that India’s partnership with the US has already begun to provide dividends, India’s foreign policy establishment must also weigh the value of its growing security ties with Israel as well as robust economic relations with the Persian Gulf countries relative to the value of potential future energy imports from Iran. Indian non-oil trade with the GCC countries (~$24 billion) dwarfs its non-oil trade with Iran (~$5 billion). The GCC countries also supply approximately 2/3 of India’s oil imports and are a major source of remittance income (Indian Express 8/9/2007).  Finally, as a permanent member of the IAEA Board of Governors, India has a strong interest to defend its own reputation as a responsible nuclear power in order to legitimate its own questionable entry into the nuclear armed club.

If the shift in Indian foreign policy continues, it will be tantamount to a retreat from its considerable efforts to stabilize Afghanistan (India is the 5th largest donor to Afghanistan). It is already evident that the Delaram-Zaranj road built by Indian paramilitary forces at considerable risk and cost in Western Afghanistan to reduce Afghanistan’s dependence on Pakistan has been taken over by Taliban militants. Lowering India’s profile in Afghanistan marginally harms America’s objective of stabilizing Afghanistan, particularly as India remains one of the most favored donor countries among Afghans.

American policy toward Iran, which is almost exclusively a reflection of the interests of allies in West Asia, may come at the expense of stability in South Asia. Although Iran has no interest in destabilizing its eastern neighbor, American attempts to isolate Iran diplomatically mean that an opportunity to use the stabilizing influence of a Muslim majority state which has historically had tremendous influence among Dari speaking Afghans and a strong anti-Taliban disposition are being squandered.

The US and Iran were able to work together in 2001 to help overthrow the Taliban. And despite some reports of munitions from Iran being shipped to insurgents (none of which have been successfully traced back to the Iranian government), Iran has mostly acted as a stabilizing force in Afghanistan — even allegedly supplying direct cash support to the Karzai regime. In fact, as Ambassador James Dobbins has recounted, it was the Iranians who reminded the Americans at the Bonn conference that the new Afghan constitution really ought to mention the word “democracy” at least once. And for all of the moralizing American rhetoric about women’s rights, it is also worth recalling that in the early years of the Taliban, when the US sought to cozy up to the brutal movement to secure pipeline contracts, only the Iranians championed the rights of Afghan women which were being trampled. This is not to argue that the Iranian regime’s record on democratic governance, human rights, and civil rights is without very serious problems, but it is to show that Iran is not America’s “other.”

A more balanced US foreign policy toward Iran (which would also give India greater political and diplomatic room for maneuver), despite decades of animosity and the potential for further horizontal nuclear proliferation, is most likely in the best interest of the US and most of the regional players in South and Central Asia. Iran could also contribute by climbing down from its current position on nuclear enrichment.

Share

Why we need to debate foreign policy in elections: Lessons from the UK 2010 General Election

FYI: I am blogging on Canada-related issues at the Cana-blog. It basically satiates my desire to engage with Canadian issues without boring Duck readers to death about our various neuroses from North of the 49th Parallel. Do check it out though, eh?

Last year I blogged about the UK General Election as a “Johnny Foreigner”. I thought it would be a very dull affair, but it ended up being pretty interesting with the first televised election debates, “Cleggmania” and the subsequent coalition discussions. What didn’t the election have? Foreign policy.

In fact the only foreign policy-related items that really featured at all were brief disagreements over relations with Europe (more about the transfer of Westminster powers), climate change and a really, really dispiriting debate on immigration (especially if you are said Johnny Foreigner).

Depressing immigration debates aside, this makes sense. The UK was hit hard by the recession and the debate was largely about the economy. Foreign policy, seldom a popular topic in elections anyway, was even less important. It’s the kind of thing that won’t help you win an election – only lose one.

Lo and behold, it’s 2011 and Canada finds itself in a national election. And what’s not on the agenda? Foreign policy. Why? The economy. And healthcare (which always ranks as important in Canadian elections).

Foreign policy has not and will not play a large role – even if Canada is in Afghanistan and helping to lead the NATO mission in Libya. (Although, to be fair, Carl Meyer at Embassy Magazine has a good article on the ways that foreign policy may feature in the election.) In this sense, there is a certain amount in common with the UK 2010 General Election – at least in terms of the downplaying of foreign policy issues to domestic ones.

But is this something that us IR-wonks should learn to live with? Is there anything we can learn from the UK experience?

In short: yes. After the UK foreign-policy-free election, the coalition has made major and significant policy decisions which affect foreign relations. Some of the significant ones include:

There was no debate on any of these issues. For Afghanistan, all that the leaders spoke of was their trips there and meeting the troops. It could not be said that there was a major debate about the scale, scope and vision of the mission. So should there have been a debate on the UK’s foreign policy priorities and its role in the world? And why wasn’t there one?

There are a number of factors which may have prevented a foreign policy debate.

First, quite frankly, it may have been something that the political parties just didn’t want to confront. It’s not an easy question and, as argued above, it was simply not a priority for them or the voters. Additionally politicians may want to avoid saying anything inflammatory about allies or policies during the election which may come back to haunt them later.

Second, in the parliamentary system, where cabinet ministers sit in the legislature (and owe their position more to patronage and party balancing than expertise), there were not necessarily any obvious foreign policy spokespersons. Certainly there were politicians with interest (such as Rory Stewart). But while positions are fluid and unclear, it’s not obvious that there were any obvious persons to debate the issue.

Third, foreign policy events are unpredictable. While some things are constant – NATO, the EU, relations with the United States – no one could have possibly predicted the uprisings in the Middle East or the fact that NATO would be bombing Libya as some kind of R2P operation. So, for example, while Bush and Condoleezza Rice wrote about not using the 82nd Airborne for nation building in 2000, he ended up spending most of his presidency doing just that. Events may distort or even dictate policies – and this is why they are not carefully outlined (other than broad, vague ideas at best) in elections.

Finally, foreign policy is just something that politicians feel that international affairs are best debated in Parliament rather than on the campaign trail. (Although the debates may sometimes be lacking as well.)

But there is a lesson here for Canada (and other democracies) that tend to not debate foreign policy in elections: governments are going to have to deal with foreign events, and without some kind of guidance, or debate or understanding of what our interests are and what our priorities should be, then there can be major surprises later on.

Even if it must take place in terms of vague generalities, a foreign policy debate is worth having. It is worth knowing where political parties stand on R2P, development, the United Nations (and UN Security Council) international organizations, etc. Broader ideas and goals should be outlined even if, inevitably, events cause change and reversal later on. While I do not anticipate huge cuts to Canadian defence spending nor a major change on our alliance policies, it would be nice to know what the Conservative (UK and Canadian) line on “the Responsibility to Protect” is – since we seem to be doing a lot of it lately.

EDIT: James Joyner has a great post on the US take on this at Outside the Beltway.

Share

More On the Gap Between Feminist IR and Gendered Foreign Policy Debates

Foreign Affairs has published a longer version of my original remarks about the so-called “Lady Hawks” who supposedly “ball-busted” our presumably lily-livered president into a war ostensibly “not of his choosing.”

We’ll see how he deals with all this, among other things, tonight at 7:30 EST – (my guess: with his own brand of tough-and-tender masculinity) – but in the meantime, here’s the capsule version of my scholarly take translated into Belt-Way-ese:

Commentators are falling over themselves to explain the “gender divide” among Obama’s staff, particularly the apparently astonishing fact that several key pro-intervention voices came from women… These discussions reveal far more about gender misconceptions among foreign policy journalists than about the preferences or influence of Obama’s female foreign policy staff. Avlon, Dowd, Dreyfuss, and others apparently subscribe to the classic gender myth that women are generally more diplomatic and opposed to war than men…

But systematic social science studies have shown that the ‘women and peace’ myth is partially correct at best. Evidence suggests that it is not sex but gender ideology that correlates with more pacifist views… Political scientists Marc Tessler and Ina Warriner found that both men and women who generally value gender equality also generally value non-violent resolutions to international disputes such as the Palestinian conflict. And Mary Caprioli… has found that a higher level of gender inequality within a country yields a greater likelihood of militarized international disputes, even when controlling for democracy.

But gender trends are only probabilities: they have very little to say about what policies an individual woman or man would prefer once in power, or about the extent to which she or he will succeed in pursuing those preferences. And fixation on the sex of the pro-intervention voices in this case overlooks a far more fundamental difference between the hawks and doves on the Libyan issue: in the hawks’ view, the national interest included both human and national security…

Ultimately, it does not matter whether a political actor is male or female; it matters whether social expectations about gender roles shape or frame policy choices. It is unlikely that the sex of these policymakers alone determined their preferences, and it is unclear if it influenced their authority in briefings with the president. It is, however, apparent that gender expectations — based on myths and stereotypes — have influenced the interpretation of these events. And if such spin damages Obama’s credibility in the eyes of U.S. allies or adversaries, the responsibility is on the spin doctors, not the policymakers.

Check out the whole thing here.

[cross-posted at Lawyers Guns and Money]

Share

Information Doesn’t Want to be Free, People Do.

Clay Shirky has the lead article in this month’s Foreign Affairs on social media and world politics. Although both governments and activists both seem to be assuming that the effects are a boon to civil society, Shirky begins by pointing out that the record of such effects on political mobilization is a mixed bag:

“The use of social media tools – text massaging, email, photo sharing, social networking and the like – does not have a single pre-ordained outcome… the safest characterization of recent quantitative attempts to answer the question ‘do digital tools enhance democracy?’ is that these tools probably do not hurt in the short run and might help in the long run – and that they have teh most dramatic effects in states where a public sphere already constraints the actions of government.”

Given this, Shirky argues that the clearest way in which social media empowers citizens is not through information dissemination per se but by providing them tools and platforms through which to coordinate and mobilize – privately – among themselves to buttress and enhance the public sphere so indispensable to democracy. He thus critiques “internet freedom” policies that focus primarily on preventing states from censoring outside websites and argues that the key is a thriving public sphere (which can be faciliated by social media among other things), not information freedom per se:

Although the story of Estrada’s ouster and other similar events have led observers to focus on the power of mass protests to topple governments, the potential of social media lies mainly in their support of civil society and the public sphere – change measured in years and decades rather than weeks or months… The US government should maintain internet freedom as a goal to be pursued in a principled and regime-neutral gashion, not as a tool for effecting immediate policy aims country by country… internet freedom is a long game, to be conceived of and supported not as a separate agenda but merely as an important input to the more fundamental political freedoms.”

An interesting piece full of insight, but it also has a number of important blinders; I’ll mention two here.

First, it’s interesting to see Shirky’s article framed as a critique of the State Department’s internet freedom policy on instrumental grounds rather than in terms of the disconnect with evolving US practice. The US comes off here as a well-intentioned yet empirically misguided champion of civil society’s right to information on the basis of its official agenda. Recent events, however, situate the US less as a champion of internet freedom and more as a powerful government in search of tools for suppressing that freedom. Whether or not you believe (as I do not) that organizations like Wikileaks should have the unlimited right to access and publicize private documents, it is alarming to see a powerful government actively searching for ways to prosecute such behavior as illegitimate speech rather than seeking to regulate it.

[To be fair, Shirky has much to say about this on his own blog:

I am conflicted about the right balance between the visibility required for counter-democracy and the need for private speech among international actors. Here’s what I’m not conflicted about: When authorities can’t get what they want by working within the law, the right answer is not to work outside the law. The right answer is that they can’t get what they want.}

But second, let’s take the opposite tack. If Shirky’s argument about the coordinating power of civil society through social media is accurate, an important question about the extent to which “information freedom” policies help or hurt needs to be directed not just at policymakers in the State Department but also information freedom activists like Assange himself and the movement for which he remains a figurehead.

Shirky’s claim is that the real value of social media is in “allowing citizens to communicate privately among themselves;” in the off-cited “boomerang effect” this communication often crosses boundaries and involves dissidents within one country seeking alliances with civil society networks and sympathetic governments abroad. The public sphere, in other words, is increasingly internationalized. The strategy of capturing and leaking digital evidence of such communications, while intended to hold governments to account, predictably produces blow-back effects on dissidents as well by exposing their connections with those governments abroad. Belarus and Zimbabwe are two recent country contexts where this allegations of this dynamic are coming to light.

Similarly, as privacy controls on social networking sites and laws protecting the privacy of text messages are increasingly whittled away, will this not dampen precisely the public sphere that translates social media into political power? As plausible as Assange’s argument that transparency will hobble the ability of state bureaucracies to organize wrong-doing in secret is the threat that transparency will hobble citizens’ ability to organize dissent and protest against the state. If so, strengthening laws, norms and media architecture to protect the right to control who can view and disseminate one’s digital artifacts – be they governments, corporations or individuals – would perhaps be a more important step toward freedom than condemning information censorship. And this is an argument to be pitched not just at the US State Department but the wider elements in global civil society that want a rights-based internet architecture that works for people.

[On some key distinction between private control and institutional control over data, see John Lanier’s recent essay and Zynep Tufekci’s riposte.

And that brings me full circle to an important conceptual point. What I am describing is not information freedom. Is it the freedom of individuals to control how information about themselves and their socio-political activities are shared and with whom. And this – like the ability to peacefully assemble and organize – is a prerequisite to the achievement of other important rights.

Share

Election 2010: the Foreign Policy Elephant in the Room (updated)

CBS Nevada reporter Nathan Baca tried to approach [Sharron] Angle during a stroll through the airport and the airport parking lot with questions about her foreign policy views.

After going through several evasive answers, an irritated Angle replied: “I will answer those questions when I’m the senator.”

Much of the liberal reaction to Angle’s latest evasion of the press has taken the form of “if she can’t face reporters, how can she a U.S. Senator?” In light of Angle’s general bizarreness, I can understand the comparative lack of attention given to issue areas she refused to address. But, as Dan Drezner’s noted, the 2010 elections have been marked by an almost total absence of foreign-policy debate. That’s not surprising. The Obama Administration hasn’t exactly been “soft on terrorism,” the unemployment rate hovers near ten percent, and Republican politicians basically support U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. In short, international affairs doesn’t provide particularly rich soil for harvesting votes.

However, this election may prove quite consequential for U.S. foreign relations. Even if the the Democrats hold onto a slight majority in the Senate, the legislative branch is about to shift significantly rightward. This is not a terribly comforting thought, given that the current GOP combines an impoverished foreign-policy playbook with a scorched-earth mentality toward the Obama Administration.


Consider three signs of what’s to come.

First, Republican opposition to New START. While New START is not without its problems, none of them bear any resemblance to the outlandish criticisms offered up by the GOP. Even Robert Kagan admits that conservative objections to the treaty don’t justify blocking ratification. The charge that the administration, whose deterrence policies depend on a robust commitment to the Phased Adaptive Approach (PAA) to Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD), is willing to let Moscow veto BMD policy, should strike any observer as particularly ludicrous.

New START is, in many respects, a rather modest nuclear arms-control agreement; the major differences between a world with and without ratification are twofold: in the latter, the U.S. (1) lacks important tools to monitor Russian nuclear happenings and (2) loses significant credibility when it comes to negotiating binding agreements with not only Moscow, but other foreign powers. Yet all indications are that the Republicans will block ratification.

Second, the tenor of Republican media on U.S. foreign-policy issues. For example, The 2010 Nuclear Security Summit contained its share of successes and failures. Among the latter was a series of botched attempts to forward Turkish-Armenian normalization, which only succeeded in undermining US-Turkish and US-Azerbaijan relations (the latter wasn’t even invited to the Summit). During all of this conservative media was interested in one burning question: was a stylized version of the Bohr model actually a quasi-secret sign of Obama’s interest in imposing Sharia law in the United States, appeasing Iran, or something. Otherwise, the summit was mostly met with conservative silence.

Third, the commitment to unlimited defense budgets. Even as conservatives criticize the Obama administration for record deficit spending, they still find time to complain that military spending is too low. Seriously. The “finest” foreign-policy minds in the GOP think the Obama Administration is jeopardizing U.S. military preparedness against decades-away threats by not pushing a sufficiently large increase in U.S. defense spending. That sound you hear is Zombie Eisenhower crying.

So we’re likely in for an opposition with international-affairs positions variously inherited from the Bush Administration, dictated by a desire to oppose and embarrass the President at every turn, and determined to avoid talking about substantive foreign-policy problems. The irony, of course, is that we desperately need a “loyal opposition” to highlight and correct serious failures in Obama foreign policy. Which we’re not likely to get.

Oh, goody. I can’t wait.

UPDATE: Foreign Policy’s list of influential GOP foreign-policy congresscritters pretty much makes the point.

Share

Preemption News

Search the current White House website for the phrase “Bush Doctrine” and “no results” are returned. However, as I’ve previously argued, that does not mean the Obama administration has abandoned the Bush view of “preemption” (which was really a rebranding of preventive war).

This week, the Pentagon has announced a new cyber-spin on “preemptive war”:

The Pentagon is contemplating an aggressive approach to defending its computer systems that includes pre-emptive actions such as knocking out parts of an adversary’s computer network overseas – but it is still wrestling with how to pursue the strategy legally.

The Washington Post reports that the Department is developing a range of weapons capabilities, including tools that would allow “attack and exploitation of adversary information systems” and that can “deceive, deny, disrupt, degrade and destroy” information and information systems, according to Defense Department budget documents.

General Keith Alexander, who leads the Pentagon’s new Cyber Command is quoted as saying “We have to have offensive capabilities, to, in real time, shut down somebody trying to attack us.” These attacks are more than just hypothetical, as detailed in the September/October 2010 issue of Foreign Affairs.

The Post article mentions clearly legal defensive measures the Pentagon could employ when it anticipates attacks — firewalls, password protection, etc. Plus, the U.S. could try to resolve potential disputes without force, with diplomacy perhaps. And, of course, General Alexander implies a retaliatory attack, which would presumably be legal.

But the notion of striking first seems to have been engrained in the defense community’s culture over this past decade.

Luckily, at least some bureaucrats within the administration still recall the illegality of preventive attacks:

Government lawyers and some officials question whether the Pentagon could take such action without violating international law or other countries’ sovereignty.

Apparently, the U.S. has already engaged in questionable cyber-preemptive attack:

The military’s dismantling in 2008 of a Saudi Web site that U.S. officials suspected of facilitating suicide bombers in Iraq also inadvertently disrupted more than 300 servers in Saudi Arabia, Germany and Texas, for example, and the Obama administration put a moratorium on such network warfare actions until clear rules could be established.

The CIA, by the way, is apparently upset that the Pentagon’s strikes would bound to be covert — and that domain belongs to CIA. Turf war!

Share

Indian Pro-Americanism

Since the Nineties, Indian elites have been increasingly described as “pro-American.” While attending a mini-conference of a segment of India’s foreign policy and security elite in New Delhi last week, I kept noting how widespread the “pro-American” sentiment seemed to be. In fact, I heard one of the intellectuals argue that India’s rise would naturally be assisted by other secular, pluralistic, constitutional democracies and resisted by states which adhered to the principle of harmony. Such a statement would have been unthinkable in the recent past (although it may still be terribly naive). And yet this general warmth toward the US and the West does not seem to have translated into a significant shift in the commitment of India’s military resources.

(Now of course I need to state at the outset that there is still a segment of the political and intellectual spectrum in India which remains reflexively anti-American, but they are a distinct minority among decision makers and policy pundits today.)

So the real issue is what does it mean when Indian elites say that they are pro-American? I would argue that being pro-American in the Indian context means primarily a lack of hostility toward the foreign policies and economic influence of the United States in the developing world and South Asia in particular. What it does not necessarily mean is open or overt support for the American agenda in the region or in international fora except where American and Indian interests directly converge. In other words, Indians have no plans to displace the British lapdog (or the ever-purring Israeli lap-kitten).

Indian elites increasingly take what they describe as a “business-like” attitude toward the US. It is well understood that America will look out for its own interests and India does not expect the US to protect Indian interests. Indians know that they must engage actors and issues on their own to safeguard their national interests, but there is no longer an assumption that the US is hostile to the rise of India (although some strong suspicions remain that the US is trying to use India in a soft containment policy targeted at China). Similarly, India does not necessarily view the presence of great powers in its backyard with fear or anger as it once did. There is no longer a strong desire to proclaim a “Monroe Doctrine” for South Asia, from what I have seen. Naturally, there is concern that resources contributed to America’s partners in the war on terror or militants mobilized against the US may be directed against India once the US withdraws,but it is also acknowledged that in a globalized world terrorism will not be so easily confined to one region through a “forward policy.” So the US is not seen as a stabilizing force in the region, but few question the need for the US to fight the war on terror — although many question the way it is fighting that war and the partners the US chooses to work with.

Pro-Americanism does not imply significant responsibility for India, at least in the mind of Indian elites. In other words, Indians do not feel much pressure to help support US foreign policies through troop deployments. In most cases, overt Indian military involvement (e.g. in Afghanistan) would not be welcome by third party actors anyway. Moreover, any external troop deployment would have to confront a strong domestic bias against deploying troops abroad outside of the UN umbrella, not to mention a complex legacy from the disastrous Indian mission in Sri Lanka which culminated in the assassination of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Retired military officials with whom I spoke stated that India has the capability to project power into countries like Afghanistan, but other policy experts were skeptical of that claim. India is willing to give financially (for example it is the largest regional donor to Afghanistan and one of the top five internationally), but this is realtively painless compared to sending troops.

Pro-Americanism also does not imply any serious constraints on Indian policies. For example, Indians will continue to work with Iran on most issues regardless of US pressure. While India can be convinced that a nuclear armed Iran might be against its interests, a general policy of isolating and demonizing Iran will be quietly rejected.

Thus, when an Indian says they are “pro-American” what this really means is that they are not reflexively hostile to American policies and influence. There is a sense of affinity based on the similarities between the regime types and common threats, but India is not likely to simply bandwagon with the hegemon.

Share

Why states shouldn’t count on Facebook for foreign policy


My colleague, Ben O’Loughlin at Royal Holloway, has written a blog post on the potential consequences of states in the West, particularly the US and UK, increasingly relying on informal social networking of its citizens to promote foreign policy priorities. This would be a move away from the kind of ham-fisted attempts at public diplomacy seen in the wake of 9/11 aimed at getting Arab states to “like” the west to allowing every day citizens to debate the international issues of the day.

Thus, “The War on Terror” becomes the “The Long Change” – or changing people’s minds.

However, Ben points out several potentially huge flaws in this idea:
What is new is that this public diplomacy can be done by publics themselves through social media. The clumsy strategic communication officers of the state can stand back. This approach assumes that communication and connection between people across borders through social media can have a liberal, pluralizing effect. But its not clear why people would engage in patient, deliberative, possibly multilingual conversation with people in other countries about controversial political issues. Anyone familiar with the ‘under the line’ discussions on news websites will see how quickly and often the conversation becomes a hostile dialogue of the deaf.

So, perversely, publics must be taught how to be spontaneously deliberative. Forums for ‘global conversations’ will be created, along the lines of the BBC’s Have Your Say online spaces. These will form the ideal of what public-to-public diplomacy is about, for emulation by progressive media around the world. Unacceptable opinions or styles of participation will be moderated out. The mechanism for the long change is us, or what has been called in recent years ‘the power of we’ and ‘we the media’. But any global ‘we’ will have to be carefully constructed and edited.

It is stating the obvious to note that foreign policy issues are already being debated on the internet by both states and citizens. (The fact that the Israeli MFA actually bothered to tweet me on my Flotilla post brought that fact home to me in a big and scary way.) And I admit that I was impressed last year with the global online support for the Iranian protesters in the wake of the election there – although I do wonder if this constitutes debate? It was interesting that Obama intervened and asked that Twitter delay a service update in order to facilitate the Iranians protesting. Ben does not touch on these issues in his post. But the larger point to what he is getting to is whether such movements (particularly the one aimed at Iran) can be harnessed by states in ways that (cheaply!) support their foreign policy priorities.

I share Ben’s scepticism. However, where he seems to be concerned that “The Long Change, should it come to pass, implicates social media – and us as users and citizens – directly into international affairs in ways that require very careful scrutiny” I confess that I am more concerned over the idea that foreign policy could be constructively debated between “Beiberfan4Lyfe16” and “jiHHHAdiKilla”.

*picture from xkcd. I’m a huge nerd.
Share

Iran’s setbacks: Buying time?

According to Gary Samore, Iran’s nuclear enrichment program has had some important recent setbacks. The AP, last week:

Setbacks in Iran’s uranium enrichment program have significantly delayed its progress toward building a nuclear weapon, President Barack Obama’s top nuclear adviser said Tuesday.

…On Iran’s enrichment program, Samore said that Tehran had been set back by problems with its centrifuges and by disclosure of an enrichment plant near Qom that the United States alleges was part of a secret nuclear program.

Samore said that because of the setbacks, “the nuclear clock is not ticking as quickly as some had feared.”

Samore’s lengthy title is “Special Assistant to the President and White House Coordinator for Arms Control and Weapons of Mass Destruction, Proliferation, and Terrorism.” So he should know, right?

Samore seems to be saying that this threat is not yet technologically imminent. The statement is not quite as precise as the 2005 NIE, which reportedly said that Iran’s nuclear bomb was at least a decade away, but it’s still good news.

The comments seem to be directed at Iran hawks, of course, and also at the policy wonks who have recently been upset by Iran developments. For example, in a February blog post, my go-to source for proliferation information Dr. Jeffrey Lewis, emphasized the very bad news in Iran’s just-announced plans to enrich uranium to 20%.

If Iran enriches a significant amount of U235 to 20 percent — and that’s a stated goal right now, not yet an actual achievement — then Iran would be able to “top off” the enrichment [at] a small, clandestine facility like the one revealed near Qom.

In a comment to the Lewis post, Yale Simkin simplified the problem for those of us without a lot of nuclear physics:

Imagine a bowl with 1,000 ping-pong balls in it. 993 of the balls are green. 7 of the balls are red. The balls are at “0.7% Red Enrichment.”

Now imagine reaching in the bowl and pulling out unwanted green balls. You are doing “separative work”. You will be leaving the red balls in the bowl.

Remove 840 green balls, a long and tedious job. Now you have 153 green balls and 7 red balls.

You are now at “4.4% Red Enrichment”

Last step. This time remove only 152 green balls.

This leaves 7 red balls and 1 green ball or an “88% Red Enrichment.”

So note: It took EIGHT-FIVE percent of the work to go from 0.7% to 4.4%!

That is why “Peaceful” enrichment is a fraud…

What other wonks have been worried about Iran policy?

Back in February, the Leveretts argued that the Obama administration was dithering recklessly in the ongoing negotiations:

…the Obama Administration and its European partners have effectively rejected these Iranian positions—precisely because accepting them would mean that the Obama Administration would not have a year or more to sort through what it is prepared to do regarding the prospective substance of U.S.-Iranian engagement. Instead, the Administration would have to make strategic choices and develop real positions on important issues much sooner than it had contemplated. And, rather than do that, the Obama Administration is moving to embrace the same counterproductive and feckless policies aimed at isolating and pressing Tehran that the George W. Bush Administration employed.

I too have expressed fears that the Obama policy looks too much like the Bush Doctrine in the right light.

Sixteen months into this administration, the U.S. should clearly work “faster, please” to achieve results in the Iran negotiations. Election-year promises about bargaining without preconditions are beginning to fade from memory even as blustering threats are occasionally made public. The so-called “Zombie fuel swap” proposal may not be a sufficient solution.

In any event, this latest news is perhaps a sign that the world has more time to work out a reasonable compromise.

Share

Nuclear Arms Control

Yesterday, in Prague, President Obama signed a new START deal with Russian President Medvedev. In strategic and military terms, the treaty does not make much difference. I think it is generally good to reduce nuclear overkill, but the treaty allows both states to retain 1550 strategic nuclear weapons. That’s plenty for deterrence purposes and still a long way from zero.

Potentially, the 30% cut in nuclear weapons is symbolically important as the U.S. tries to convince other states (like India) that it is serious about its NPT Article VI commitments. Russia shares this interest as well. It makes a nice bookend with the “negative security assurances” announced earlier this week.

Interestingly, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Louisville right now, speaking as I type (I’m watching the stream) in support of the treaty. She flew to Louisville from Prague and must be exhausted.

Why would she do that?

That’s easy to answer.

Clinton is speaking at the McConnell Center (for Political Leadership, though that part of the name seems to have disappeared from the website). Indeed, the Secretary was introduced by Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell. This speech is an obvious effort to make sure that Republicans do not block the new START accord in the Senate. After all, a treaty requires a supermajority in the Senate. Indiana’s Dick Lugar is apparently on board, but the administration will need six more Republicans and clearly wants many more.

They’re apparently aiming for the big enchilada, McConnell. At minimum, they don’t want him to lead a strong opposition movement though he reportedly has concerns about scaled-back U.S. missile defenses. Clinton pointed out in the speech that this treaty does not limit U.S. plans in those areas (though to please Russia, the administration has changed the policy in an earlier action).

The Secretary pointed out in her speech that recent arms control accords (post cold-war, basically) have been approved overwhelmingly, with 90+ votes in support. George W. Bush’s arms accord had zero votes against. Clinton did not mention the CTBT, which her husband failed to get through the Senate. It was a rare outright defeat for a treaty as presidents usually avoid pushing agreements that will fail.

In his opening remarks, Senator McConnell pointed out that Clinton is the 6th Secretary of State to speak in the Center that bears his name. This is not a coincidence. He’s proud of the Center and has used his position on committees or leading his party to leverage speakers. When he had great influence over foreign aid, the University hosted ambassadors from both Israel and Egypt (separately). At the time, guess which states received the most foreign assistance from the U.S.? Hint: Israel is still #1.

Most of the audience questions after the address pertain to horizontal proliferation (Iran, especially), which I think everyone recognizes is a more important problem than the precise size of the U.S. and Russian arsenals. In her address, Secretary Clinton mentioned “next week’s 40-plus head-of-state nuclear-security conference in Washington.” That event will directly address the broader proliferation problem.

In short, Hillary Clinton was performing political theater for Mitch McConnell. Her script is only indirectly related to the more important foreign policy concerns that are to be addressed in a completely different political context. However, the Obama administration needs McConnell’s tacit support because Article VI of the NPT links horizontal and vertical proliferation. From the U.S. point of view, “getting to zero” is a two-level game and McConnell is a key player in it.

Share

The Latest on U.S. Militarism

In my U.S. Foreign Policy class this semester, students read the latest book from historian Andrew Bacevich, The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism (2008). As in his prior work, Bacevich is critical of the apparent militarism in American foreign policy. Primarily, he argues that the U.S. is too willing to use military force as an instrument of policy and that the American people and its leaders overestimate the effectiveness of military power.

Arguably, another indicator of American militarism is its willingness to place former top military leaders into security policy posts that could well be topped by civilians. Already, the top military brass is very influential on U.S. foreign policy in their roles as military leaders. In fact, it sometimes seems as if Generals Petraeus and McChrystal have made all the key U.S. decisions bout Iraq and Afghanistan.

Most recently, for example, Barack Obama has selected retired Major General Robert Harding to head the Transportation Security Administration. Why should TSA be headed by a former general?By the way, Harding started a company that apparently overbilled the government millions of dollars for “interrogation” work in Iraq, so his nomination might not be assured.

Independent of that potential scandal, why should former military officials also currently serve in other top security posts? The former generals and admirals may well be qualified, but the U.S. assures greater civilian control of security policy if it keeps these positions in civilian hands. Yet, the Director of National Intelligence is former Admiral Dennis Blair. The current National Security Advisor is retired Marine General James Jones.

The practice of placing former military leaders into security positions in U.S. foreign policy is not unique to the Obama administration.

On my personal blog, I often wrote posts highlighting the fact that many former military leaders opposed the U.S. war in Iraq. Thus, I don’t mean to argue that all these leaders are dangerous hawks that threaten American democracy. Nor was I previously trying to argue that military opinion should trump the ideas pursued by civilian policymakers. Indeed, in those years, President Bush often said that he listened to his active Generals in regard to Iraq, so “the military’s” views were presumably heard (as if “the military” singular existed).

In this particular instance, I’m worried about the lack of civilian input on security policy issues. I’m in favor of listening to the views of people with military experience, but I also think that diverse perspectives should play a prominent role.

Share

The Hurt Locker, again

Duck of Minerva bloggers have already written quite a bit about “The Hurt Locker,” which won the Best Picture prize at this week’s Academy Awards ceremony. I saw the movie on DVD a few weeks ago and have been digesting some of the reactions to the film.

Like many critics of this film, Michael Kamber of the NY Times offers a list of serious errors in “The Hurt Locker.” Viewers see the bomb disposal team leave on missions without much other military support. The team members clear buildings by themselves, become skilled snipers and spotters when they stumble upon some British mercenaries, and operate alone in the desert for no apparent reason. He concludes that these are much more than minor technical mistakes:

The film is a collection of scenes that are completely implausible — wrong in almost every respect…it’s not just minor details that are wrong.

Perhaps most inexplicably and implausibly, Staff Sgt. William James, the lead character portrayed as a reckless showboat, has supposedly managed to disarm hundreds of bombs without killing himself! In one key scene, he runs around Baghdad alone at night without suffering injury. His unbelievable exploits are emphasized and reemphasized throughout the film.

So, why did I like “The Hurt Locker” and find it a viable candidate for the canon of IR-related films?

As I read the film, the story of Sgt. James is a metaphor for the story of post-cold war U.S. military intervention — primarily in Iraq, but elsewhere as well.

For James, the war in Iraq is a narcotic. He thrives on the adrenaline-inducing experience, even though he cannot talk to his wife on the telephone, nor really endure his ordinary post-war experience at home with wife and child. His bomb disposal techniques are so disturbing that his fellow team members talk of killing him. He returns to Iraq because his participation in that war has become an integral part of his identity. Sure, he’s been incredibly lucky in the past, but his personal image is embedded in his wartime experience.

As some critics point out, this film has been lauded because domestic audiences appreciate its apparent wartime “realism,” even though the storyline and characters seem completely unrealistic to experts who give them serious thought.

The U.S. too has a long and mostly successful military record — and it too has been incredibly lucky. Like James, the U.S. returned to Iraq after a successful first effort in 1990-91, though many of its friends decided to sit this war out — and some worked actively to try to stop it. Most IR experts found the rationale for U.S. participation in Iraq fairly implausible back in 2003, though I suppose the mass public supported a certain rationale at the time it was originally offered.

To its critics, the U.S. too is a reckless showboat, willing to take incredible risks with other peoples’ lives, even as it claims to be “saving” them. As Vikash has argued at the Duck, the film makes very little effort to explore the perspective of the Iraqis in the film. “The Hurt Locker” is a narrow portrayal of one small unit’s experiences with death and destruction.

This too could be read as an important element of the film. In political debates, Americans focus on U.S. forces, casualties, and experiences. Foreign policy experts debate the meaning of the Iraq war for preventive war doctrines, counterinsurgency tactics, present and future budgeting, etc. Few consider the implications for Iraqis and the wider Middle East.

At times, their technology and ability make the bomb disposal team members seem like Supermen, saviors of the world. However, the film makes no effort to argue that these super-human efforts are actually doing any greater good — or even improving the security of the United States. The film was set in 2004, which means that the U.S. had not yet officially given up on the search for WMDs, the Downing Street Memos had not been disclosed, the Samarra mosque had not been bombed, etc. “Shock and awe” had not prevailed, however, proving that America’s technological prowess didn’t lead to the type of victory many war proponents predicted in advance of the conflict.

In other words, the bad news was bad…but it got worse.

In sum, while the storyline of “The Hurt Locker” often seems detached from realistic war-time experience, that FUBAR narrative works pretty well to explain the actual U.S. experience in Iraq. The lead character’s addiction to war, recklessness, luck, inexplicable behavior, and need to “save the day” reflect an unsavory, but nonetheless viable, portrayal of American identity.

Share

Gender and Security: Theory and Practice

My post-ISA blogging is slower than it otherwise would have been, due to an unfortunate interlude with food poisoning. But I figured I’d start with the “working group” that Jennifer Lobasz and I ran at ISA, called “Gender and Security: Theory and Practice,” which Charli mentioned in her previous post. A Working Group at ISA meets on the day before the conference, and then twice during the conference, and members are asked to attend common panels around the theme of the group.

The stated mission of our group was:

The “Gender and Security: Theory vs. Practice” working group aims to develop an evolving subfield of Feminist Security Studies by creating a discussion between key scholars in the field of gender and international relations and new voices seeking to grow and consolidate these research programs. Addressing subject matter of interest to the Peace Studies, International Security, Feminist Theory and Gender Studies, and Women’s Caucus sections of the ISA as well as the conference theme, this working group will deal with questions about the relationships between gender, war, and peace; between the theory and practice of gender and security; between gender/feminist theorizing on security and the mainstream of “Security Studies”; and between different branches of Feminist Security Theorizing.

In the last five years, work in Feminist Security Studies has proliferated, producing dozens of journal articles, several important books, and several journal special issues, including, most recently, a special issue of the journal Security Studies. This workshop is meant both to reflect on and analyze this recent proliferation of scholarship and to look forward to defining and developing Feminist Security Studies as a subfield. Gathering a group of approximately 20 junior and senior scholars working in the field, the Working Group will look at Feminist Security Studies both internally (what is this subfield) and externally (how does it relate to Security Studies/IR more generally, and what does it have to say about “real world” practice of security?) through a variety of panels, informal conversations, roundtables, and other presentations.

While I couldn’t be at all of the meetings, I caught snippets of very interesting conversations: Tuesday, about the “state of the field” in Feminist Security Studies and the relationship between theory and practice in various areas of research, including conflict, post-conflict reconstruction, foreign policy, and peacemaking; Thursday, the conversation that Charli referred to about the relationship between Feminist Security Studies and Security Studies more broadly; and Saturday, concluding conversations reflecting both on those discussions and panels. I very much enjoyed listening to and participating in these conversations, and its hard to pick what to talk about, but two things jump out …

First, at the Thursday meeting, we posed a number of questions to participants, some of which Charli mentioned:
1) What (if anything) can gender analysis tell us about international security that security analysis omitting gender cannot?
2) What (if anything) can Security Studies tell feminist theorizing about security that it would not have access to otherwise?
3) Is a conversation where the sum will be greater than its parts? If so, how do we get to those benefits? What are the potential risks?
4) Can we develop effective strategies for communication among scholars coming from substantially different epistemological understandings to make a bridge between Security Studies and Feminist Security Studies? Should we?

Particularly, most of you who know my work, know that the great majority of what I do is devoted to making links between Security Studies and feminist theorizing – so I’ve defended that as a mission many times and remain committed to it. That said, a commitment to engagement, in my understanding, also requires asking the third question on this list – particularly, what are the risks of engagement? Sarah Brown (in a special issue of Millennium 22 years ago) warned that, in engaging IR, feminism risked losing its ontological and epistemological uniqueness. I’m interested in this concern particularly as I read Charli’s post which effectively advocates instrumentalizing gender as the way to package, re-present, and sell “feminist” concerns to the security establishment. While I don’t want to argue that there aren’t policy benefits that come from such approaches, but do worry that being quick to accept (or accepting at all) that it is okay to “sell” gender emancipation as a means to “normal” (impliedly gender-neutral) policy ends is problematic, reifying both the secondary nature of gender concerns and the existing (gendered) hierarchy of policy concerns in the security arena.

So, to me, write about gender in gendered techno-strategic language? No so much. Or, at least, not exclusively. But that brings me to the second question – the one to which I don’t have the answer, entirely. That is – if it is important to speak to/with the security arena, but not appropriate to do it in a way that “sells out” gender emancipation (at its ultimate expense) – then how? Separately, works in Feminist Security Studies reformulate mainstream approaches to traditional security issues, foreground the roles of women and gender in conflict and conflict resolution, and reveal the blindness of security studies to issues that taking gender seriously shows as relevant to thinking about security. Together, these works, as a research program, show that gender analysis is necessary, conceptually, for understanding international security, important for analyzing causes and predicting outcomes, and essential to thinking about solutions and promoting positive change in the security realm. How to “sell” that, though? Still working on it. But many of the very bright, very engaged participants in the Working Group had a lot of very interesting ideas and important success stories that I thought walked the line better than I ever have. And I will try to share some of those in the coming weeks and months.

Share

Thinking About Gender and Security Studies at ISA

Among events I attended last week at the International Studies Association Annual Conference: an informal discussion on the relationship between IR feminist theory and security studies, organized by fellow Duck Laura Sjoberg. Some of the questions posed to the participants in advance: What (if anything) can feminist theory teach security studies? What (if anything) can security studies teach IR feminism?

My key answer to the first of these questions has typically been: feminist theorists can show security folks how a gender lens can help solve problems that matter to security studies.

The foreign policy community and defense establishment gets this, I think. The US Army has recently begun requiring all soldiers, male and female, to undergo resiliency training so they can learn to “talk about emotions” as a bulwark against morale problems, suicide, domestic violence and divorce. Top Pentagon brass are urging the Obama Administration to repeal the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy not just because “it’s the right thing to do” but because the discharge of numerous gay and lesbian servicemen and women has deprived the military of key assets.

What the defense establishment often doesn’t get is how to do “gender” very well because their efforts to craft more gender-friendly policies are themselves so based on gender assumptions rather than gender analysis. So for example, the State Department has seized upon “women’s empowerment” as a benchmark for its democracy promotion efforts – with mixed results. I think there’s a tremendous opportunity right now for feminist IR scholars studying gender dynamics in post-conflict zones and the roles of gender discourse in national identity and international negotiations to have an important effect in creating sounder policy options.

The key to having that effect, though, is to speak to the interests of those states involved. The US interest may not be “Iraqi women’s betterment” in and of itself; it may be “effective stability operations.” But if you can make the case that protecting Kurdish women from honor killings or ensuring Shi’a women equal protection under a national constitution supports the broader goal of the “nation-building” then you may have a much better chance of harnessing the support of powerful actors for feminist ends than if you limit yourself to “critiquing the hegemonic discourse.”

And this is where my answer to Question Number Two comes in: Security Studies can teach IR feminists how to communicate with the defense establishment more effectively. As I pointed out at the discussion, very few IR feminists I know – (and I am obviously poking fun at some of my own writing here as well) – can utter the sentence “the US needs to revamp its force structure to ensure power projection in anti-access environments” without snickering much less talk or write seriously about the kinds of issues raised in the QDR that was released last month – on terms that are actually likely to be taken seriously by military bloggers, defense intellectuals, or men and women in uniform. Certainly most of Laura’s posts at the Duck do not.

I think this is a shame and that it could easily be changed if IR feminists accept the validity of a genuine exchange with security studies on its own terms, rather than on some asymmetric cross-paradigmatic battlefield. My review essay with Valerie Hudson and Mary Caprioli forthcoming in the ISA Compendium will – if the Compendium ever actually materializes – attempt to do just that.

P.S. Peter Feaver from Shadow Government attended this discussion and his contributions were the bomb. I hope he blogs about them…

[cross-posted at LGM]

Share
« Older posts Newer posts »

© 2019 Duck of Minerva

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑