Tag: shameless self-promotion (page 3 of 5)

Prisoners of America’s Wars (A shameless self-promotion kinda morning…)

My (first) book, Prisoners of America’s Wars: From the Early Republic to Guantanamo is now shipping on Amazon.com (or Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.ca, etc.). Considering that this would be the closest thing to offspring that I have ever produced, I thought that I would post it in the hope that it may be of some interest to some Duck readers. I’ve pasted the abstract below for that very reason:

Prisoners of war have been a significant feature of virtually every conflict that the United States has engaged in since its revolutionary beginnings. Today visitors to Washington DC will frequently see a black POW flag flying high on government buildings or war memorials and monuments in silent memory. This act of fealty towards prisoners reflects a history where they have frequently been a rallying point, source of outrage and problem for both military and political leaders. This is as true for the 2003 Iraq War as it was the American Revolution.

Yet, the story of prisoners in American wars (both enemies taken and soldiers captured) helps to reveal much about the nation itself; how it fights conflicts and its attitudes towards laws of war. A nation born out of an exceptional ideology, the United States has frequently found itself faced with the contradictory imperatives to be both exemplary and secure, resulting in situations that were sometimes ironic and sometimes tragic. At the same point American diplomats might be negotiating a treaty at The Hague, American soldiers might be fighting against a bloody insurrection where it seemed that little to no rules applied. 

The complex relationship between America, prisoners of war and international law is not one entirely based on exemplary culture or carnage, but on a blend of ideology, historical experience and national imperatives that has challenged presidents from Washington through to Obama. By taking a historical approach, this book demonstrates that the challenges America faced regarding international law and the war on terror were not entirely unique or unprecedented, despite the claims made by the Bush administration or its policies, as claimed by its critics.  Rather, to be properly understood, such dilemmas must be contextualized within the long history of those prisoners captured in American wars.

Stephen King, eat your heart out. 
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Smart Bombing War Criminals While Avoiding Civilians

Despite what is sometimes argued, fighting wars is not a crime. But it is against the law for weapons-bearers to target large areas indiscriminately without regard for potential collateral damage. Instead, they are required to carefully choose only legitimate military targets.

In my view, the same standard could be applied to whistle-blowing advocacy groups: organizations like Wikileaks should engage in precision targeting of legitimate military foul-ups, rather than indiscriminate bombshells aimed at the entire military-industrial complex; and most importantly, they should aim to minimize collateral damage.

At Foreign Policy, I argue if Wikileaks were to follow such standards in disseminating future information, it could go far to regain its credibility as a champion of rather than threat to human security:

Criticisms aside, WikiLeaks adds real value to the international regime governing the behavior of soldiers in wartime by promoting precisely the sort of accountability that the Geneva Conventions require but military culture tends to discourage.

Imagine if WikiLeaks specialized only in receiving and publicizing reports of specific war crimes submitted by troops in the field. Instead of dumping 90,000 documents into the public domain and letting the chips fall where they may, the organization would serve as a conduit through which to reveal specific events that militaries might otherwise be tempted to cover up. Such a mechanism would ensure that specific war crimes allegations were made public and properly investigated without undue risk to whistle-blowers. That access point of information would encourage governments to take a stronger lead in investigating and punishing transgressions in the first place — a requirement under treaty law — potentially deterring future atrocities.

In short, the value of whistle-blowing should not be discounted – as Marc Thiessen has done – simply because it can do harm when done irresponsibly. Indeed a more targeted whistle-blowing architecture of the type Wikileaks has pioneered could be an indispensable element of 21st century security sector reform.

Read the entire thing here.

[cross-posted at Current Intelligence]

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Web 2.0 and the IR Profession

Dan Drezner and I have a new essay in International Studies Perspectives on the ways in which user-generated technologies are impacting the discipline of IR. Here’s the abstract:

The International Relations (IR) profession has not fully taken stock of the way in which user-driven information technologies—including Blogger, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Wikipedia—are reshaping our professional activities, our subject matter, and even the constitutive rules of the discipline itself. In this study, we reflect on the ways in which our own roles and identities as IR scholars have evolved since the advent of “Web 2.0”: the second revolution in communications technology that redefined the relationship between producers and consumers of online information. We focus on two types of new media particularly relevant to the practice and the profession of IR: blogs and social networking sites.

Of course if scholarly journal lag-time weren’t what it is we had written this more recently than thirteen months ago, we’d probably have also talked about the data generation possibilities of tools like Wikileaks… more on that here.

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What ISA Can Learn from Small Niche Conferences

What you see on the board in the picture is the visual description of my latest research article on weapons advocacy, which will be out later this year in International Organization. Also in the picture are yours truly and Duck co-blogger Drew Conway hob-nobbing. Those things we’re waving around as we talk? Yuengling beers. This took place earlier this week at the Networks in Political Science conference at Duke University, and the nature of this poster session at this friendly, fun niche geek-fest has something to teach conference organizers in big associations like ISA and APSA.

Here’s the lesson: poster sessions should be incorporated into section receptions rather than warehoused in a lonely corner of the conference hotel competing with happy hour. I have done poster presentations only a couple of times in my entire career, mostly because in the mainstream associations they are depressing, low-output affairs that are thought to signal academic loser-hood since “you didn’t make the panels.”

Organized properly however, a poster session can be far more rewarding than a panel presentation. Visualizing one’s argument draws on a different and useful set of skills; discussing it verbally one on one in iterations is a far more useful way to get feedback; plus there’s a networking element associated with this type of exchange that greatly exceeds the types of interactions that occur on a panel presentation.

But the problem is that poster presentations need to draw an audience in order to have this effect, and the way they’re organized at large conferences often does the opposite. Three tricks seem to make a difference:

1) minimizing the number of presenters available at a time
2) making sure the posters all revolve around a specific theme and
3) making the event festive (an open bar is ideal).

At niche conferences, one and two happen easily and I’ve seen the “Poster Session Happy Hour” model work splendidly at more than one conference. (If you throw in a cash prize for “best poster” that works well too.) ISA is not a niche conference but could approximate these kinds of gains in the popularity and value of posters by asking the organized sections to incorporate posters into their section receptions. International Security Studies Section folks could drink and hob-nob among visualizations of COIN or nuclear proliferation; next door Human Rights Section members could get their dark genocide jokes on over beer while perusing the latest visual research on Darfur, sex trafficking or drone war ethics. I think this approach would heighten both interest in the receptions and in the posters, and I for one would stop turning down poster presentation opportunities at the big hubs if they switched to such a model.

Other things I learned while at this conference:

1) Network analysts form networks in pretty predictable ways, even though they know enough about networks to be more inventive. This made participant-observation at the conference wine reception a particularly interesting exercise.

2)The WaDuke Inn and Golf Club has probably the most outstanding customer service of any place I’ve ever stayed (and I spend about 1/3 of the year traveling so this is not small praise). Especially if you like bacon in just about every dish.

3) In terms of involvement in the three conferences held by the group since 2008, IR is the most under-represented and recidivist subfield in the Networks in Political Science group, which now has the status of a Section in the American Political Science Association. (Not entirely sure I know why, although Hafner-Burton, Kahler and Montgomery are right that IR folks have been slow to make use of SNA tools – but it could also just be that many IR folks prefer ISA over APSA.) Mathematicians, however, appear at a glance to be well represented in the organization (and highly mathematical formal modeling papers were, from what I could see, over-represented on the panels).

4) Social network analysts have a hard time wrapping their brain around research (like mine) that incorporates and test hypotheses from network theory using non-network-analytic methods (like case studies or elite interviews). However the group is actually intended to be inclusive of both network analysts and network theorists of other sorts, so if you’re working on networks but don’t have the quant background don’t let that put you off: I’ve found this is a great place to be and to learn for scholars who are doing more applied work on networked communities of practice.

5) Billy Mitchell was beat last year and I didn’t even know it until Google reminded me about Pac-Man’s birthday. Also, target shooting in a gun-friendly state is a great way to spend a final afternoon before heading home.

Drew, who understands network analysis way better than I do and made a bang-up presentation at the conference, has more on the conference at Zero Intelligence Agents. And the full video of the didactic workshops on network analysis and network theory can be found on the conference website.

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Geopolitics and Empire


Gerard Toal and Gerry Kearns (both of Virginia Tech) threw a great little academic bash today: GEOPOL 2010, keynoted by a lunchtime presentation by Derek Gregory on “War Cultures” that was, among, other things, a marvelous demolition of the idea that “our” techno-strategic wars are clean and precise while “their” new wars are messy and imhumane. I had to leave before the day was over, but this morning I was on a panel entitled “Geopolitics and Empire” for which I had the standard “academic 10 minutes” (which means: about 15 minutes) to say something hopefully interesting. So, naturally, I talked about ‘civilization’, ‘civilizations’, and the legitimation of US foreign policy, since I know more about those things than I know about either empire or geopolitics narrowly defined. I suppose that I was commenting on what critical geographers call “the geopolitical imaginary,” though, so I was certainly in the general conceptual region that the organizers were aiming to cover.

I will spare you the details of a back-and forth between myself and Gerry on one hand, and Charles Kupchan and Chris Preble on the other, about whether there were “brute facts” of geography that necessarily influenced foreign policy; you can probably work that sequence out for yourself. But in case anyone is interested I am going to post the notes from which I spoke below the fold; an audio recording of my presentation can be found here on my general podcasting site.

my own work on global geopolitical imaginaries — or what I prefer to think of as conceptual infrastructures of social action in world politics — deals with what Max Weber would call “legitimate domination,” and for me the important part of that is the “legitimate” part. Let me throw out some conceptual vocabulary that I find helpful in interrogating these issues.

of course, by “legitimate” I don’t mean “ethically acceptable in some transcendental sense.” I mean rendered legitimate, in the eyes of some politically relevant audience, by the strategic use of rhetorical commonplaces and other cultural resources tossed up by productive discourses. This is another way of saying that boundaries have to be drawn around the set of possible courses of action.

it makes a difference who the actor is taken to be for a given course of action: who is “we.” Defining and solidifying the acceptable/unacceptable boundary is wrapped up with issues of who acts and in whose name action is performed, and different actors come with different social capacities. So we have “boundary commonplaces” — cultural and rhetorical resources that sustain, in principle, particular actors and their boundaries.

in this light, if we examine pronouncements about patterns of global action, we find that the socially relevant actor in question is often (contrary to the solemn pronouncements of orthodox International Relations theory) not a sovereign state, but a variety of other entities: individuals, ethnicities, nations, civilizations, and sometimes “humanity” itself. These actors may not be as well organized or institutionalized as sovereign states, but if we just follow the legitimation strategies they emerge quite clearly as empirical phenomena.

in the remainder of my time I want to talk about a particular social site — the articulation of US foreign policy — that I have investigated in some detail in tracing these boundary commonplaces. Note that “the US” here means not an a priori actor, but a set of social institutions and capacities occupying certain positions within global socio-politico-economic networks; it’s an analytical place to look, not an exogenous “artificial person” whose desires and interests we have to delineate. And “foreign policy” simply means political techniques for handling cross-border transactions with various others.

and if you look back at the history of US foreign policy, you quickly discover a traditional boundary commonplace — ‘American exceptionalism’ — that was used up until the late 19th century to legitimate a policy of keeping the US pure of outside influences (a “city on a hill”) and divorced from any “entangling alliances.” ‘American exceptionalism’ afforded the kind of policy of continental expansion we know as “manifest destiny,” largely through its incapacity to acknowledge the existence of constitutively equal rivals; in the language of the most ardent manifest destinarians, other races would simply “melt away” before the advance of the American empire. Here I use the term “empire” advisedly and deliberately, both because a) in terms of legitimation strategies, the non-recognition of diverse others is perhaps the most important aspect of imperialism; and b) from this perspective ‘American exceptionalism’ is an imperial boundary commonplace, leading to what Anders Stephanson has called “the empire of right.”

the history of US foreign policy in the 20th century is the history of various efforts to deal with ‘American exceptionalism,’ either by dissolving the exceptional specialness of the United States in some broader community, or by reworking ‘American exceptionalism’ so as to afford trans-continental or global expansion. Schematically, three alternatives: “the West”; civilization-in-the-singular; and humanity.

there are subtle but very important distinctions between these three commonplaces and the actions to which each is connected:

1) civilization-in-the-singular encompasses multiple states/nations/regions and is opposed only to the uncivilized, who are either savages (can be educated/reformed) or barbarians (have to be eliminated, or at least barred from entry). There are no comparable others for civilization-in-the-singular, and thus nothing that has to be taken into account as being in some measure an equal. So this is a relatively imperial boundary commonplace with respect to the uncivilized, even though it may promote or afford a relatively multilateral dialogue among the “civilized powers” of the world. This is Teddy Roosevelt’s alliance of the civilized great powers, Woodrow Wilson’s League of Nations, and FDR’s grand alliance against “uncivilized” Nazi Germany.

2) a particular civilization, like “the West,” exists in a world of civilizational diversity, and its domain only stretches as far as its cultural area. “The West” has no business interfering in the internal affairs of other civilizations, and is instead reduced to “balancing” for and against them. Such a legitimation strategy stands on a recognition of differences between civilizations (even if that recognition is grudging, and accompanied by a wish that God/history/fate would eliminate the other). This is post-WWII containment, famously retrofitted for the multipolar post-Cold War world by Samuel P. Huntington as “the clash of civilizations.”

[Note that US Cold War policy is not purely “containment,” but also features a civilization-in-the-singular notion of “development” when we’re dealing with the so-called “Third World” — this is, so to speak, imperial tutelage, helping the savages learn to wear clothes, eat with silverware, and manage their balances of payments properly. Continuities with the “civilizing mission” of earlier colonialisms.]

3) humanity functions as the highest court of appeal; this is the realm where in our day biological imperatives (including the future survival of the species) get invoked, alongside concerns about the global environment and notions of transcendental individual dignity (human rights). As Carl Schmitt infamously pointed out, humanity as such has no enemy, not on this planet anyway (and parenthetically we could now veer off and talk about science fiction as a cultural arena for exploring the limits of the human, and I’m happy to talk about Battlestar Galactica as a seminal articulation of critical humanism at some later point). [sadly, no one asked about BSG in the q&a]

humanity, I want to suggest, is still up for grabs, and this is an important arena where active political struggles are going on in the US. It’s unclear whether it is going to be an imperial boundary commonplace wielded against “inhuman” and “evil” practices, as we see in neoconservative respecifications of ‘American exceptionalism’ to aggressive unilateralism; neocons, who had been dissatisfied throughout the Cold War with containment as “soft on Communism” because it let the communists survive, seized humanity as a warrant for imposing a US vision on the rest of the planet (GWB: liberty is God’s gift to humanity), even while refusing to bind the US to any global agreements (e.g. Kyoto Protocol, ABM treaty, Geneva conventions…). Neocons loathed “particular civilization” rhetoric, since that was the conceptual core of “containment,” so they swept “the West” etc. out of the public discussion.

but there is also a “humanity” notion with the US first among equals — “indispensable nation” — so something like global pluralism within an overarching framework (albeit imperfectly articulated and implemented). This is how I read the Obama gamble: reclaim humanity without being imperial about it (but even Obama sounds pretty imperialist sometimes, as in his Oslo speech and the reference to “evil”). If one doesn’t want to be a neocon, the alternative is to embrace traditional ‘American exceptionalism’ (not its neocon variant) and withdraw to the borders of the US sovereign state (and hole up to wait for the Second Coming; this is the populist side of what we might call with apologies to Jimmy Hendrix “the Sarah Palin Experience”). But as pragmatists might put it, holing up behind our borders is no longer a “live possibility,” given political-economic networks and our ever-growing sense of a climate emergency; “the West” seems to have outlived its usefulness as a term of political discourse, and the ship of a global “dialogue among civilizations” seems to have sailed as far as the US polity is concerned. But can there actually be a universal human community without imperialism? That may be the most important political question of the 21st century.

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Nuclear Protected Terrorism

Issue coverWith apologies for the shameless self-promotion… My co-authored article on “Nuclear Protected Terrorism” is out in this month’s Pragati: The Indian National Interest Review

My co-author and I argue:

“The prospects for an end to the protracted conflict between India and Pakistan appear as remote as ever. In fact, it is likely that there will more deadly provocations in the future by terrorist groups based on Pakistani soil. In a recent op-ed article in the Wall Street Journal, C Christine Fair noted that in the future “Pakistan is likely to become more reliant, not less, on nuclear-protected jihad to secure its interests. Pakistan’s fears of India are chronic and are likely to deepen as India continues its ascent on the world stage.”

The notion of “nuclear protected jihad” is simultaneously chilling and perplexing.

The perplexing aspect of the rivalry is that Pakistan’s anxieties about India should have been alleviated once it tested nuclear weapons in 1998; thereby negating India’s conventional military superiority and achieving a level of strategic nuclear parity. However, instead of creating a “hard shell,” the possession of nuclear weapons seems to have only heightened paranoid anxieties about further dismemberment and even dispossession of its nuclear arsenal. It is as if Pakistan acquired nuclear weapons in “a fit of absent mindedness” and forgot to update its strategic posture.”

Read More at Pragati…

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Current “Current Intelligence”

It’s been a busy week for me adjusting to new blog formats in multiple spaces. So while LGM readers wait for their heads to stop spinning at this site’s facelift, I encourage them to hop on over and check out the new Current Intelligence site, also just renovated this week.

Current Intelligence
, where I post from time to time about the laws of war, used to be an off-shoot of Complex Terrain Lab but is now an online journal with a blog, a set of more formal foreign policy columnists including my Duck of Minerva co-blogger Jon Western, and a “Letters from Abroad” series in which the site’s bloggers report from places they visit, like Durban, South Africa and Varanasi, India. Our illustrious editor actually convinced me to contribute a piece on New Orleans as a “letter from abroad” – something you can actually do at an online journal where political community is understood to be delimited by something other than sovereign territorial boundaries. Snippet:

“It was corporate hotel culture I and my colleagues visited, not New Orleans per se.The gap between physical and social place-ness struck me all week, just as it does when I “pass through” sovereign territorial-legal spaces while never leaving the neo-medieval corridors of international airports – each of which aims to present a caricature of national culture but all of which function as carriers instead of a global culture, one characterized by spaces of liminality and heterogeneity. And yet one’s experience in such spaces borders on strictly homogeneous from a class perspective. We find ourselves compartmentalized from others around us not by geography or language but by norms, rules, uniforms and political economies… Transnational conference sites are like this too. They are hyped up as opportunities to visit a locale, interface with a population, affect local understandings, but they are actually transnational sites in which cleavages are based on capital.”

Anyway. Current Intelligence covers foreign affairs, asymmetric conflict, war law and post-Westphalian political geography. It’s a fabulous community that includes a number of excellent bloggers such as Chris Albon (ConflictHealth is one of the finest human security sites I know of), Tim Stevens who also blogs at Ubiwar, and of course Mike Innes who blogs at Monkwire and is behind the whole thing.

[cross-posted at LGM]

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For Only $3,000 You Too Can Read My Latest Piece

It sounds like a lot, but for 4,000,000 words and 12 volumes, the International Relations Encyclopedia is really quite an amazing deal for any independently wealthy intellectually astute student of world affairs. Dan Drezner has more about this exciting development in the discipline.

If you or your library buy access rights (or if you are happily already a member of the International Studies Association), you can check out my contribution with Valerie Hudson and Mary Caprioli on “Gender and Global Security.” Here we expound on points made recently that to mainstream gender into security studies one must meet the discipline on its own terms.

It’s about marketing, but of course the argument goes only so far.

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Biological Weapons

A few years ago, a mid-career biochemist enrolled in my master’s level international relations course because he was burned out of working in academic and commercial settings in his field. He wanted to apply his background in biological sciences to his new interest in security politics. The 2001 anthrax attacks, in particular, had influenced his thinking.

Phil McCauley turned out to be a very bright and capable student and we soon figured out a meaningful way to connect our common interests. After all, I spent much of the past decade thinking and writing about the “Bush Doctrine” of preventive war. Fear of biological weapons (BW) proliferation could potentially trigger American use of force.

Many states are surreptitiously working on BW, meaning that international arms control efforts to limit proliferation are failing — or at least that perception is growing globally. In 2001, the Bush administration almost unilaterally killed a verification protocol to the Biological Weapons treaty. The taboo against BW use, however, has been strengthened in the past decade.

We wrote a paper explaining our concerns about these developments and presented it at the 2008 ISAC/ISSS conference in Vail. Here’s the abstract:

States have constructed an ill-considered and potentially dangerous biological weapons (BW) taboo that rebukes the fundamental logic of arms control. Historically, to prevent war, minimize the costs and risks of arms competition, and curtail the scope and violence of war, states embraced an arms control regime that limited both the acquisition and use of BW. However, efforts to limit BW capabilities have stalled even as prohibitions on their use have been maintained and strengthened. The new regime effectively allows states to retain suspicious capabilities that will be viewed as very threatening by their peers. This approach is particularly troublesome as many states now embrace counterproliferation strategy and the prospect of preventive war. The Obama administration seems to have preserved perilous elements of the so-called “Bush Doctrine.” The international community should redouble efforts to build a more effective and verifiable biological weapons nonproliferation regime to augment the existing taboo against use.

The Illogic of the Biological Weapons Taboo was published this week in the Spring 2010 issue of Strategic Studies Quarterly.

The paper explores Obama administration policy documents and concludes that it has not rejected the Bush Doctrine. As the news story linked above explains, it also decided in December not to reverse the Bush policy on the 2001 Verification Protocol.

Feedback on the paper would be welcome.

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ISA: Renewing my call for comedy

I’m just back from the 2010 ISA conference in NOLA, but I don’t have time for a full convention report right now. Among the highlights: First, I attended a panel on blogging featuring the Duck’s Charli Carpenter on a stage with Dan Drezner, Rob Farley and Steve Walt, among others. Later, over drinks, I got to meet a few of the newest Duck bloggers.

These events motivated me to blog more frequently. We’ll see, eh?

In any case, in addition to networking, a major purpose of ISA is for scholars to exchange ideas in a somewhat formal setting. Ideally, panel members present their latest research and then receive useful feedback from other academics. Since I wouldn’t mind getting more feedback on my latest projects, I’m using the rest of this post to highlight my two ISA papers. Sorry for the shameless self promotion — but I’m in a bit of a panic as I saw something at the conference that made me think that I should work faster.

Loyal readers may recall my 2007 ISA paper and related Duck post on “The Comedy of Great Power Politics.” At this ISA, I presented two papers related to my ongoing “comedy project.”

One was fairly directly on point: “Teaching Global Politics Through Film: The Role of Comedy.” Here’s the abstract:

Popular films can be employed very effectively to teach international relations theory. Indeed, film creates learning opportunities that are not readily available in more typical formats. As a mass medium, film provides potent access to viewers’ imaginations, even as it serves as a unique alternative text and mode of learning within the classroom. The paper first reviews the traditional realist concern with tragedy to cement the importance of dramatic narratives in the field and to stress the contours and limits of the typical story. The second section develops the case for studying comedy in world politics, emphasizing the importance of the concerns of ordinary people and highlighting the critical value of farce and satire. This section brief discusses the storylines or other cinematic elements of several specific films that illustrate each of these comedic forms.

I’m pretty sure that anyone can download the pdf, but let me know if you have difficulty and I’ll email it. The paper borrows a bit from my Duck series of posts on my film class, mixes in a bit of my 2007 paper, and provides something of a critique of IR theory and the way it is ordinarily taught.

My other paper (“Is Nuclear Deterrence as Dead as the Dodo?”) views nuclear deterrence as a long-established norm that is currently in the midst of an increasingly heated “norm contest.” For decades, some scholars have argued that deterrence is irrational, illogical, or contradictory, but a few have gone even further — arguing that the inconsistencies reveal nuclear strategy to be absurd, fantastic, ridiculous and far-fetched. You know, “not a tragedy but a ghastly farce.”

Since at least the early 1980s, many prominent political figures and former military leaders have taken up these points as well–calling often for nuclear disarmament based on the framing developed by the academics. When I teach Global Politics Through Film, I assign my students a speech by former SAC Commander General Lee Butler, who offered one of the strongest statements against nuclear deterrence in 1998 (perhaps poorly timed in a year of Indian and Pakistani proliferation). Butler noted SAC planning that “defied reason” and reflected “complete absurdity.”

My primary concern in the paper is whether the growing recognition of the contradictions, irrationalities, and even absurdities of nuclear deterrence might usher in the strategy’s demise—and potentially create the conditions for, and/or provide the impetus to, a world free of nuclear weapons. Critical theorists often argue that serious contradictions between public justification and policy action are logically unsustainable and suggest an opening for alternative, perhaps emancipatory, possibilities. Of course, it is possible that the death of deterrence might merely assure the life of preventive war and counterproliferation strategies like the “Bush Doctrine.” The paper looks at that too.

Before ISA, I posted the full abstract and link to the paper on my personal blog. Again: I’m trolling for feedback, so please let me know if you need an emailed copy.

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Climate Politics: IR and the Environment

Starting this week, I’ll be blogging until at least the end of the year on the e-IR website. The blog is narrowly focused on Climate Politics: IR and the Environment, so I’ll still be blogging about other international relations topics here at the Duck. The idea is to focus on the run up to the UN Climate Change Conference at Copenhagen this December.

Hopefully, I’ll have something to say as I’m currently writing a chapter on the politics of climate change for a new edition of Ralph Carter’s USFP textbook. Also, I’m teaching “Global Ecopolitics” this fall, with a focus on climate change.

If you are interested, drop by the new blog.

Update: The first two posts are on-line now:

August 12, I posted “Climate change and security politics.”

And today, August 14, I posted “Investment bubbles and climate politics.”

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Identification and clientelism

Patrick Porter writes about two contending visions of the Afghan insurgency:

Burke is playing down the economic angle. But there is a certain tension, or tradeoff, between ‘power’/’politics’ and ‘tribal vendettas’/’ethnicity.’

Identity can define allegiance, but not exhaustively. Calculations about power balances can wreck the whole day of cultural ties.

In Afghanistan, it is more prudent, given the impermanence with which different power brokers rule, to hedge, and at the right time, to flip, to change sides and align with the winning side. As Fontini Christie and Michael Semple argue:

After continuing uninterrupted for more than 30 years, war in Afghanistan has developed its own peculiar rules, style, and logic. One of these rules is side with the winner. Afghan commanders are not cogs in a military machine but the guardians of specific interests — the interests of the fighters pledged to them and of the tribal, religious, or political groups from which these men are recruited…Thus in Afghanistan, battles have often been decided less by fighting than by defections. Changing sides, realigning, flipping — whatever one wants to call it — is the Afghan way of war.

Not sure I’d particularise it as the Afghan way of war. But the point emerges clearly. As Fouad Ajami once said, nations cheat. They juggle their identities. They uphold blood ties and kinship when it suits them. They avert their eyes when it suits them. Historical struggles and ancient hatreds can be powerful ideas…until the wind changes.

Two comments:

1) The apparent paradox that identities often matter a great deal–people routinely explain what they do or exhort one another to action via identity claims–but also seem quite flexible has long plagued scholars of international relations. This becomes a good deal less of a problem, though, once we take seriously the fact that people operate with multiple identities that range from the very broad (e.g., religious) to the rather specific (e.g., a warlord’s “man”).

All things being equal, we shouldn’t expect any one of those identities to provide an efficient explanation for anyone’s behavior. Moreover, we should certainly not assume that under “normal” conditions relatively broad, abstract identities are the most salient for individuals at any given moment.

Some of the most interesting aspects of the politics of identity, moreover, concern struggles over which of those identities should take priority at any given moment and, relatedly, which of those identities should be homologous with socio-political boundaries.

2) What Christie and Semple describe is actually pretty typical of communities in which clientelistic relations predominate, let alone when patron-client networks involve violence-wielding capacity.

I actually discuss this in The Struggle for Power in Early Modern Europe, both as a way of illustrating relational approaches and because such networks proved extremely important in the European “wars of religion.” Indeed, many nobles joined the Reformed Church in France precisely because their patrons did, and while they fought and died in a struggle over whether Calvinism or Catholicism would predominate in France, a good number might easily have found themselves on the other side if their patrons had chosen to remain Catholics. And much of the potency of the “religious” struggle stemmed from how it mapped onto factional conflicts for control over the French court.

But none of this should be taken to mean that identity is irrelevant in the face of “material interests.” Instead it suggests that we delude ourselves if we think the only identities that matter are religious, national, or ethnic, and that we tend to place too much emphasis on the subjective dimensions of identity and not enough on the politics of identity claims and counterclaims.

Image from The Struggle for Power in Early Modern Europe, published by Princeton University Press, 2009. All relevant copyrights apply.

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Science Fiction, Popular Culture and the Concept of Genocide

Claims of “genocide” abound in policy discourse. So do misunderstandings about the concept.

Some recent examples. In the last two years, Russia claimed that Georgia’s attack on Tshkinvali was “genocide;” US House of Representatives accused Iran of inciting genocide in response to Ahmadinejad’s inflammatory comments about wiping Israel (as it is currently politically constituted) off the map; and Gideon Polya apparently discovered a correlation between countries experiencing “war, genocide and occupation” and the failure of those countries to win Olympic medals.

These examples demonstrate both the political salience of the “genocide” label as a catch-all term for “evil-doing,” and the general lack of understanding of a relatively narrow term which connotes a set of actions aimed to destroy national, political, religious or ethnic groups, not to describe all the other horrors against individual human beings of which Mankind is capable, and certainly not all forms of deadly political violence. At the heart of this misunderstanding is a confusion about the distinction between group rights and individual rights.

Popular culture often doesn’t help. So I argue in my new essay “The Enemy We Seek to Destroy,” just published in Adam Jones’ collection Evoking Genocide. The article analyzes narratives about “war crimes,” “crimes against humanity” and “genocide” in the science fiction series Star Trek: The Next Generation, and focuses particularly on the Federation’s understanding of ethical conduct vis a vis a truly genocidal enemy, the “Borg.”

Excerpts from my essay are below the fold.

Star Trek, a cultural phenomenon that encompasses the original TV series, five spin-off series, ten feature films, and numerous books, comics, games, magazines, and fan websites, has long been understood by cultural theorists as a political commentary on contemporary world affairs. Those of us who have followed it closely see it above all as a morality play. Episodes routinely discuss timeless issues of what it means to be a person; whether good can triumph over evil; the relationship between emotion and reason; the meaning of free will; and the nature of justice.

As a young person, and later as a budding human rights theorist, I perceived in Star Trek a commitment to liberal individualism and a respect for cultural self-determination. In that sense, the “United Federation of Planets” – the cosmopolitan organization that dispatches the Starship Enterprise to its distant realms – opposes violations of both individual and group rights. Growing up, the show was a constant touchstone for my emerging ethical and political consciousness. In several episodes, the Enterprise encounters planets where genocidal practices are in place. Each case is treated as the outer limit of the non-interference doctrine (the Prime Directive), which might be read as an early articulation of the norm of humanitarian intervention.

Against this background of appreciation for the show’s moral universe, I later found myself, somewhat to my surprise, disillusioned by a particular episode, one in which the Federation itself contemplated genocide against an alien collectivist culture. The Borg are a cybernetic race who evolve through assimilating organic species, and their technological distinctiveness, into their own cyber-collective – linking individual “drones” to a single collective consciousness. In the fifth season episode, I, Borg, the Enterprise encounters the crash site of a Borg scout ship, along with a lone Borg survivor. At the insistence of the doctor, Beverly Crusher, the drone is taken aboard for medical treatment – although the inclination of the other officers is to shoot the drone, since “the collective will come looking for it.” (In fact, the Borg have engaged the Federation previously, with the goal of assimilating Earth’s entire civilization into their collective. Picard was once abducted by the Borg, which possibly explains his no-holds-barred attitude.)

When the drone recovers consciousness, Captain Picard hatches a plan to introduce an “invasive programming sequence” into the drone’s subroutine. When the drone interfaces with the Borg collective, Picard hopes that the computer virus will “infect the entire collective” and “disable their neural network,” in effect shutting down their brain, and eliminating them as a threat to the Federation. Over the course of the episode, however, the crew is forced to reconsider this plan, as the Borg drone, now severed from the collective, begins to function as an individual, evoking the sympathy of the crew and respect for his rights.

What immediately struck me about this sequence is that, while the characters eventually come to view harming the individual Borg as wrong, the idea of genocide (as a crime against a collective) is never fully critiqued. Most of the officers accept with very little discussion that eradicating the Borg collective as such is an appropriate course of action. Crusher is alone in questioning the policy of genocide. Other officers concur with Picard: “We’re at war”; “They’ve attacked us at every encounter.” But even Crusher appears implicitly to accept the crew’s argument that exterminating the Borg as a collective could be justifiable on grounds of self-defense. Her disagreement focuses on whether exterminating individual Borg non-combatants is ethical. She does not concur with Picard’s argument that individual drones lack rights. Were collective rights her reference point, Picard’s argument about the Borg collective consciousness would not have been “convenient,” but would rather underscore the atrociousness of targeting that civilization-defining consciousness.

Subsequent to this scene, the morality of destroying the Borg collective as such is evaded. The ethical debate in the episode (for in Star Trek, there always is one) centers only on whether the “invasive program” would violate the rights of Borg drones as individuals. Dr. Crusher does argue on behalf of the Borg prisoner: “When I look at my patient, I don’t see a collective consciousness. I see a living, breathing boy who has been hurt and needs our help.” But this is reminiscent of protections for wounded prisoners enshrined in humanitarian law. She also continues to question the ethics of “using” an unsuspecting individual to destroy his people, though increasingly the targeting of “the people” itself is lost in the discussion.

Crusher’s claims are validated as the episode progresses. The drone, now separated from the collective, begins to exhibit individual traits, and becomes increasingly identifiable as a person. Thus, while early on Picard had used classic genocidal rhetoric in encouraging his crew not to become too attached to “it,” he eventually comes to view the prisoner as an individual worthy of respect, protection, dignity, and choice. In many respects, the episode is a study in the power of dehumanization to enable atrocity, and of rehumanization to restrain it. But rather than transforming Picard’s understanding of the Borg collective, this newfound sensibility simply provides him with a different set of concerns to weigh against the supposed moral viability of genocide. The goal of eradicating the collective continues to hold sway throughout the episode, but it becomes difficult to justify forcing the individual drone to return to the collective like, as Crusher puts it, “some sort of walking bomb.”

In fact, it seems that the ability to view the drone as worthy of rights at all is contingent on viewing him as distinct from the Borg, rather than as an individual of a sentient race that ought not to be exterminated on principle. This is perhaps best exemplified by Picard’s statement, when he finally concludes that it would be wrong to bring the plan to fruition: “To use him in this manner would be no better than the enemy we seek to destroy.” Destroying the enemy “as such” is not questioned – only the use of a sentient individual as a tool for this purpose. This is thoroughly inconsistent with the rules of war in liberal international society, as well as the rules of engagement in the Star Trek universe. There, one does not seek to destroy one’s enemies, but merely to defeat their military forces, and perhaps transform them into allies.

To my mind, the Borg episodes in general, and this one in particular, engage a range of ethical questions relating to the concept of genocide (or xenocide?). First, are genocidal strategies appropriate against an enemy bent on committing genocide themselves? That is, is genocide justifiable if committed in self-defense? If so, what is the burden of proof for demonstrating that defense against genocide is impossible with less draconian methods?

Second, if an entire society is mobilized (as the Borg arguably are), does treating that society as a military objective constitute genocide, or would it be consistent with the laws of war that permit targeting military objectives? (That is, is it only genocide if the targets are non-combatants, or is the reference point the existence of the collective entity itself?) Are the laws of war obsolete when defeating an entire military would, essentially, require the destruction of an entire society? Is destruction of a civilization as such acceptable, even appropriate, if the destruction takes place through non-lethal means and is carried out so as to liberate “oppressed” individuals from a cultural context inimical to their own individual freedoms? And how should a military officer respond, when given a command that could be deemed profoundly unethical?

“I, Borg,” and Star Trek more generally, offers an opportunity to meditate on these issues. Indeed, as a multimedia phenomenon, it promises (and often delivers) a careful, nuanced grappling with some of the important political problems of our day. In this instance, however, I think the show missed an opportunity to educate viewers about the nature of genocide both as concept and as crime: as something distinct from war, and from questions of individual human rights. Apparently, even the most liberal ethical narrative can accommodate genocidal thinking within certain parameters. This should give us pause.

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Wanted: Catchy Book Title

In an effort to keep up with Dan, I’m happy to report that Columbia University Press has just agreed to publish my book Constructing Rights and Wrongs: How the Human Rights Movement Forgot Bosnia’s Children Born of War.

I’m less happy about the fact that they are demanding I change the title. OK, anything with “Constructing” in it is probably too jargony to attract a wide audience. But my goal is to keep reference to my very interesting case study (children of war rape) in the subtitle, and have the main title refer to the wider theoretical contribution of the book, which is about how the process of constructing atrocity narratives regarding certain populations can frame the rights of other populations off the agenda altogether. Hence, “Constructing Wrongs and Rights.”

Well, now I’m in the market for ideas: a catchier, pithier title that still communicates this and engages constructivist literature on human rights advocacy.

“Wrongs and Rights?” “Blaming and Framing?” :)

Help! Whomever comes up with an idea that gets used shall receive a free copy.

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The Struggle for Power in Early Modern Europe


Princeton University Press officially released The Struggle for Power in Early Modern Europe: Religious Conflict, Dynastic Empires, and International Change last week, but copies have yet to arrive at online retailers.

However, you can preorder the book from Amazon right now, at a significant 27% discount, which brings the price down from $29.95 to 22.01 [update at 21h10m: currently 33% off at $20.21; gotta love that algorithm]. Plus, if you order through the Duck, you will automatically contribute to my daughter’s birthday fund!

Why should you purchase a copy? I can offer a veritable plethora of reasons. It has a very pretty cover, comes complete with artfully crafted original maps by Andrew Rolfson, and will change the way you think about international relations. Also, every copy sold makes it more likely that I’ll receive tenure.

Okay, I lied about the last two. But if you want to see what the blurbs say, read on….

“With this book, Daniel Nexon brings an assertive and iconoclastic voice to an already vibrant conversation among international relations theorists about how the modern international system took shape in early modern Europe. His stress on the combustible power of religious ideas and his innovative model of power and authority amount to a sophisticated and creative explanation of the international politics of this period and indeed of any period–including, he arrestingly argues, our own.”–Daniel Philpott, University of Notre Dame

“Daniel Nexon has woven a magisterial account of the impact of the Reformation on international politics. Using network theory and institutionalist analysis, he deftly crafts a composite theory that is relevant not only to the understanding of international change but also to the study of composite polities, empires, and nation-states. His study, furthermore, suggests how religion and institutional change can braid together to produce fundamental challenges to the existing international order. In so doing, he not only provides insights into the past but illuminates contemporary processes as well.”–Hendrik Spruyt, Northwestern University

“In its depth of theoretical insight and subtlety of reasoning, few recent books in international relations and history rival what Daniel Nexon has accomplished in this impressive piece of scholarship. The book’s fresh conceptualization opens new vistas on the past experiences, present conditions, and future trajectories of international relations. No theoretically inclined student can afford bypassing Nexon’s challenging ideas.”–Peter J. Katzenstein, Cornell University

“This is an extremely impressive book. Nexon not only illuminates a crucial and controversial moment in the history of international relations, but he does so in the context of making a vital theoretical and methodological contribution to the field. This is a very important study, and a superb piece of work.”–Richard Little, University of Bristol

“This book makes a significant contribution not only to international relations theory, but also to comparative politics. Nexon develops an innovative and productive way of viewing changing patterns of international relations, and he helps us to transcend the often-artificial divide between domestic and international politics. He also successfully transcends the debate between materialists and idealists. This book should be of interest to a broad audience.”–Mlada Bukovansky, Smith College

And you know that people asked to write endorsements never, never, ever exaggerate the quality of the product.

So what are you waiting for? Go justify my advance and increase the size of my daughter’s bloated playmobil collection.

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Killer Robot Blogging at Complex Terrain Lab

Complex Terrain Lab’s Symposium on Peter Singer’s Wired for War kicked off today with opening comments by Singer and my post on the politics of global norm construction re. autonomous weapons. They’ve got a fantastic line-up of bloggers over there, including Ken Anderson of Opinio Juris and Matt Armstrong of Mountain Runner, so check it out.

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W(h)ither balance-of-power theory?

I already pimped it, but my review essay, “The Balance of Power in the Balance,” just came out in World Politics (abstract). Unlike a number of other journals, World Politics subjects review essays to peer review and insists that they include original argumentation.

Two of my conclusions:

Balance of power theory, at least in its stronger variants, cannot survive the combined weight of arguments and evidence presented in these four volumes. while a case exists for preserving a weak balance of power theory, such a theory ultimately works by decoupling the mechanisms specified by Waltz from his predictions about system-level outcomes. Indeed, even contemporary variants of hegemonic order theory, let alone neoclassical realism, hold that anarchy shapes and shoves units so as to make relative power and power transitions crucial factors in international relations. It is therefore not at all clear that realists can eliminate weak variants of balance of power theory without calling into question why realism enjoys any status as a general account of world politics.

And

These considerations should not obscure more immediate implications for the field concerning the study of the balance of power. The works reviewed here carry an important lesson: the field is long overdue for a time when we firmly decouple the study of balancing and the balance of power from the broader debate about realism. Both phenomena deserve our attention as objects of analysis in their own right. as I discussed earlier, a number of extant and possible theories of balancing and of power balances start from other than realist premises. But we have yet to see, for example, a well-developed constructivist research agenda on balancing. Given that, as skeptics of the existence of contemporary balancing note, leaders now find it useful to legitimate their policies with reference to balance of power considerations, we need much better understandings of, for example, the significance of balancing as rhetorical commonplace or normative orientation.

My major regret is that I didn’t develop my categorization of different forms of what we mistakenly call “soft balancing” in a full-blown typology, which is something rectified (I hope) in my current work.

After reading Emile Hafner-Burton’s and James Ron’s excellent essay on the state of research on human rights, I find myself with one additional shoulda-woudla-coulda about my own piece: that I wound up including a summary of the books; my original plan called for a straight “New York Review of Books” style piece, and the other essay demonstrates that this would have been acceptable.

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Philosophy of science in a nutshell

From the department of shameless self-promotion and linking to one’s colleagues: here’s a little scholarly op-ed I wrote for the good folks over at e-ir. Nice site they have there, and they read Duck, making them people of taste and discernment besides.

The op-ed is titled “What the Philosophy of Science is Not Good For.”

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Hot deal for our UK readers

Well, “hot” isn’t quite the right word. But I just got word that you can pre-order a copy of The Struggle for Power in Early Modern Europe: Religious Conflict, Dynastic Empires, and International Change (Princeton University Press Description) for 34% off the cover price at Amazon.uk.

Someone must have taken a look at the book and realized what a dog they had on their hands.

PS: Yes, the title on the cover mock up is wrong.

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NGOs as the “New Colonialists”

Somehow, last summer I missed a Foreign Policy article by Michael A. Cohen, Maria Figueroa Küpçü, and Parag Khanna, which appeared in the July/August 2008 issue. Unfortunately, you won’t find much of the article at that link unless you are a subscriber. I happened to see the piece in the November/December Utne Reader. The on-line excerpt is a bit longer there, but you still won’t find the full essay. Sorry about that.

Nonetheless, the authors’ central thesis is certainly provocative and worth discussing even if internet users cannot find the entire piece:

[T]he thin line that separates weak states from truly failed ones is manned by a hodgepodge of international charities, aid agencies, philanthropists, and foreign advisers. This armada of non-state actors has become a powerful global force, replacing traditional donors’ and governments’ influence in poverty-stricken, war-torn world capitals. And as a measure of that influence, they are increasingly taking over key state functions, providing for the health, welfare, and safety of citizens. These private actors have become the “new colonialists” of the 21st century.

Is this the logical new step beyond what Jessica Matthews called a “power shift” back in 1997? Clearly, this is not what scholars had in mind when they noted that activists had moved beyond borders.

While the authors credit NGOs with performing all sorts of beneficial — even vital — functions, they nonetheless claim “whatever the task, the result is generally the same: the slow and steady erosion of the host state’s responsibility and the empowerment of the new colonialists themselves.” Additionally, the authors imply that NGOs have a selfish agenda: “aid organizations and humanitarian groups need dysfunction to maintain their relevance. Indeed, their institutional survival depends on it.”

What are we to make of this critique?

As I said, I’m late to this discussion, so I should first point to an excellent early September post by William Felice at the HRHW Roundtable blog. Felice laments

“the way in which the language of colonialism, imperialism and empire has been sanitized and misused in the current period…Cohen, Küpçü, and Khanna fall into this revisionist quagmire by conflating colonialism solely with dependency, ignoring the most vicious and brutal components to the over 450 years of colonial domination. It should not be so easy to label an organization “colonialist.” In fact, given the real meaning of the term, it is absurd and scandalous to call the Gates Foundation “colonialist.” One would not lightly brand a group “fascist” or “totalitarian.” Yet, somehow today it is OK to talk about empire, imperialism and colonialism as if these were almost neutral terms.

Felice also takes on the claim about selfishness, pointing out that human suffering would increase to “immeasurable” levels if NGOs did not provide vital functions throughout the developing world.

On July 31, Tony Pipa of the Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations at Harvard wrote that equating NGOs with colonialists simply “doesn’t work…It’s like calling the Prius the new Hummer. They both get you from here to there, but the goals and values behind the design are completely different.” Pipa also references specific infrastructure projects that NGOs voluntarily turned over to governments once they had some success.

The Foreign Policy trio conclude that NGOs must be held accountable in order to assure that their goals are just and their power limited. They don’t really offer many specifics — market-style “competition among aid groups” is the most concrete suggestion.

There’s actually a very large policy and scholarly literature on NGO accountability. See, for example, this piece and this one too. Nayef Samhat and I briefly addressed some of it in our 2004 book. We argue for widespread inclusiveness, transparency, and public deliberation.

Update: Corrected a typo on Tony Pipa’s name 1/21/09.

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