Day: February 26, 2010

Peace Talks and Terror Tactics

Video Source: Channel 4 (UK)

One day after peace talks between India and Pakistan, there has been an attack targeting Indian nationals on a goodwill mission in Afghanistan. I don’t think anyone seriously doubts that these Taliban-led attacks in Afghanistan are being directed from Pakistani soil. (In general, the Afghan and Indian people have quite warm relations and Afghan nationalists have gravitated toward seeking a strategic partnership with India as both countries share territorial disputes with Pakistan.) Moreover, there are strong suspicions that a Pakistani extremist organization is to blame for the terrorist attack in Pune (India) a few days before the peace talks began.

The Government of India is convinced that the militant organizations attacking Indian citizens and interests are linked to elements within the Pakistani state. In the latest peace negotiations, India requested the extradition of 33 Pakistani nationals, including two currently serving Pakistani military officers, who are alleged to be involved in the Mumbai attacks of 2008. India provided Pakistan three dossiers with evidence to support their request. Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary responded that he “did not want to be sermoned on terrorism.” It became readily apparent that these talks, which had been urged by the United States, did not reflect a changed disposition toward the use of terror tactics by the Pakistani state.

In a forthcoming article in Pragati magazine, my co-author and I predict that the use of terror tactics by elements linked to the Pakistani state against India will increase in the coming years. Echoing the recent work of C. Christine Fair, we argue that more than a fear of further dismemberment, the real reason why a nuclear armed Pakistan continues to use terror is that it cannot compete economically or militarily with a rising India. In essence, the deployment of militants using terror tactics is not defensive in nature, nor is it a negotiating tactic; Pakistan’s use of terror is preventive. The main objective is to prevent peace in the subcontinent which would clear a pathway for India’s rise on the global stage. Unfortunately, Pakistan can delay but not prevent the inevitable rise of India.

American policymakers need to engage this issue in greater depth. Urging peace talks between India and Pakistan in order to free up Pakistani troops to fight America’s War on the Taliban is a pointless exercise if Americans haven’t laid the groundwork for successful talks. If the United States is serious about creating peace, it needs to force Pakistan to rethink its grand strategy. This can only be done by convincing the people of Pakistan that the quest for military and economic parity with a much larger and economically more dynamic India is a fantasy that undermines their own goals of democracy, regional peace & prosperity, and sovereignty. The Pakistani state and people must be encouraged to review their strategy in light of the 1998 nuclear tests. While Pakistan has had good reason to fear Indian aggression in the past, the strategic context has changed. It is only by re-evaluating their strategy that Pakistanis will realize that the goal of military parity is outdated, unnecessary, and harmful to their own national aspirations.

It will be argued that I am not asking India to change its behavior. That is correct. India can facilitate peace by continuing to show restraint in response to militant provocations emanating from Pakistan. Ultimately, India will need to make more sacrifices, particularly in Srinagar, but that can only come after Pakistan abandons the use of terror tactics and eliminates the militant organizations on its soil.

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Explaining, broadly understood


So Charli — who did, in fact, attend our ISA Battlestar Galactica panel in costume — has posted elsewhere about the panel. Though she calls it the “best event [she] attended at ISA this year,” she does express some disappointment about the content of the panel when compared with the panel’s title:

Unfortunately the panel turned out to be misnamed however, for none of the papers really spoke to the question of whether BSG has an impact on actual world politics. … Admittedly, the papers weren’t really trying to do that kind of explanatory work – the panel really was misnamed – so this isn’t a criticism as much as an observation.

Certainly, as one commentator over at LGM has already pointed out, there’s sufficient ambiguity in the word “explains” that it need not quite mean “influences” or “impacts.” But what’s intriguing to me, methodologically speaking, is that Charli, along with not a few others in our field, tend to go directly from “explain” to “impacts,” and in particular, to “exerts an independently-measurable causal impact on.” That says something revealing about the field, and it might just help to explain why the study of popular culture continues not to make a lot of headway in the disciplinary mainstream.

Some definitions first. In Charli’s formulation, for BSG to “explain” world politics, the show or the viewing of the show has to function as an independent variable, which means that in order for it to matter it has to be shown to be correlated in some relatively robust way with a measurable outcome. In that way, BSG could “explain” observed variance, perhaps best visible if we compared a BSG-watching-and-discussing national or international security bureaucracy with a non-BSG-watching-and-discussing one, or a BSG-watching public with a non-BSG-watching one. This does set up some tricky measurement problems — how do we count watching and discussing, how do we specify the intervening steps between the show and the outcome — and raises the specter of spurious correlation all over the place, but in principle there’s nothing altogether impossible about conducting a study like this. The challenge would be to isolate the impact of BSG, which would probably require a more elaborate theoretical account of human perception than we have at present; it’s one thing to see people in their office cubicles discussing BSG and then writing counter-terrorism policies, and another to demonstrate that their discussing BSG exercised an independent effect on the subsequent policies.

[And parenthetically, even if BSG were subsequently cited — either in the final policy statement, or in interviews after the fact — that would tell us precisely nothing except that some people who participated in the process thought and think that BSG was important. That doesn’t make them right for thinking so. If, hypothetically, BSG was referenced when the policy was concluded and presented, we’d have a heck of a time determining whether this was a strategic rhetorical move designed to appeal to the audience (think of Reagan’s use of the phrase “star wars” here) or some kind of an expression of a sincere belief, Similarly, if people interviewed later on cited BSG, or 24, or some other TV show as influential in their thinking, we’d have a heck of time distinguishing between a) strategic re-presentation of events in the light of contemporary concerns; b) mis-remembering what happened, perhaps benignly and perhaps more craftily; and c) actual influence. So that kind of primary source evidence isn’t enough, in any case, to establish that BSG had an effect; instead, we need some hypothesis about what viewing and discussing BSG would imply behaviorally, so that we could look for the appropriate kinds of indicators not in what people said about why they did what they did, but in what they actually did.]

But fortunately for the rest of the panel, “explain” doesn’t just mean this kind of neopositivist methodological strategy. Indeed, it’s even something of a misnomer to say that an independent variable “explains” an outcome; strictly speaking, the whole statistical model explains the outcome, and the various independent variables participate in or contribute to the explanation — or, perhaps, they explain a certain portion of the observed variance. So if we wanted to be precise here, even if we were following Charli’s neopositivist implicit definition of explanation, we would have called the panel “How Battlestar Galactica Contributes to the Explanation of World Politics.” This inelegant reformulation does, however, permit a number of things to fit more easily underneath its umbrella, including the paper that I presented on that panel on “Battlestar Galactica as Methodology” in which I suggested that social scientists could learn something from BSG about the way we construct our explanations of world politics. That would not be BSG as causal factor — truth to tell, I think that the measurement and conceptualization problems with the BSG-as-IV thing that Charli proposes are actually insoluble, and pretty much everyone doing audience-reception studies agrees that drawing an independent causal connection between something that you see on TV and something that you subsequently do is pretty much impossible — but BSG as inspiration, BSG as an exploration of a certain ideal-typical formulation of values as they confront a variety of fantastic empirical situations, and BSG as a model of how social scientists ought to analyze concrete cases in terms of how the logical implications of a given set of values are or are not realized in practice. (My remarks on the panel were recorded; podcast here, if anyone wants to check them out.)

But the bigger issue here is not whether Charli or I are correct about what to do with BSG, especially since I don’t think that there’s anything illegitimate about either of these methodological strategies. The issue is that we don’t have a very good lexicon in IR for discussing what to do outside of the hypothesis-testing, IV-DV kind of explanation that Charli is proposing. I worry about that for a lot of reasons, not in the least because I think that a claim about the independent causal impact of popular culture is kind of foredoomed to failure and I like studying popular culture (among other things) because I think it does matter — but it “matters” in a different way. I have written a book trying to address this situation, and I want to do something else about it too: a new department here at the Duck that I’m calling “Methodology411.” I will post something launching that department sometime in the next couple of days, when I will also explain where the name comes from.

But for the moment, let me just post an excerpt from an e-mail exchange that Charli and I had about a slightly different point concerning methodology and BSG, by way of showing that the number of methodological issues involving the study of things like popular culture is actually quite a large one, and gets larger once you plunge into actual empirics. Food for thought, and perhaps, for subsequent discussion.

Charli: I have been thinking more about your argument re. humanity using the example of the moment with Helo. The more I think about it the more I don’t buy it. I remember the problem with that scene was that Helo is in a love relationship with a Cylon and his child is Cylon. I think this really dilutes the moral strength of his argument as he appears in the episode to simply be promoting his own self-interest – not arguing in favor of sacrificing self-interest on moral ground to include “the other.” For him, Cylons are part of the “in-group” already, so it’s not exactly a hard case…

PTJ: Your analysis here makes two unfortunate conflations — conflations that put your objections on a page quite different from my original claim [from the panel]. Substantively, you conflate an analysis of Helo’s motives with an analysis of the social meaning of Helo’s actions, and methodologically, you conflate an analysis of the characters in BSG with an analysis of BSG as a whole narrative product.

Substance first. In your objection you have subtly shifted the question from the terms of Helo’s argument to the reasons that he might have for making it. This is ‘reductionism’ in the precise terms that Ken Waltz meant it: you take the social and reduce it to the individual, as though social action were merely the aggregate of individual behavior. But social action is meaningful, which means — by definition — that it includes a component that is not reducible in this way, since it involves shared sensibilities. ‘The social’ is not just a bunch of individuals, in the formulation I’m using; logically speaking, the social *precedes* the individual, and in fact ‘the individual’ is a site or a node in a structured social network. Why one individual does one particular thing, and how that thing was possible in the first place, are different kinds of questions, and they don’t preclude one another; Helo might indeed have been motivated by the kinds of concerns that you suggest motivated him, but that is strictly speaking irrelevant to my argument. ‘Sincerity’ is not an empirical phenomenon, but a normative judgment, and it doesn’t matter what Helo was really thinking; what matters is what he said (the socially sustainable vocabulary that he used), how people made sense of what he said (which might involve *their* judgments on his sincerity, but those would tell us precisely nothing at all about whether or not Helo really was or really was not sincere), and what resulted from his intervention. And in those terms, what’s fascinating about Helo’s action is that it might have involved a claim that the non-human Cylons had, in some sense, humanity — that they were what Orson Scott Card (in his brilliant novel Speaker for the Dead) would call “ramen,” or humans of another species. Motive doesn’t matter; socially meaningful action does.

Now, methodology. You seem to be focusing on this scene in isolation from the rest of the text, as though BSG as a whole could and should be treated as a novel set of empirics to be analyzed in the same way that we might analyze the historical events of our ‘regular’ world politics. But BSG is, of course, *fictional*, which to me means that it has a necessarily world-constituting quality that actual historical events don’t necessarily have. When we analyze world politics, when we are engaged in producing social-scientific accounts of world politics, we are of necessity treating world politics as the raw material from which we produce our accounts. There’s no ‘authorial intent’ to worry about, and no pre-existing plotline save the one that our methodology and our analysis helps to disclose. BSG is different: not because what Ron Moore and company think about BSG should necessarily be controlling for our interpretations, but because the story is a *story* and as such has a plot of its own. Ignoring that — which is what modern-day realists do when they mis-read Thucydides as advocating the Athenian philosophy “the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must,” since Thucydides then goes on to depict the tragic consequences of this bit of hubris as the book unfolds — is problematic. When I say that BSG’s value-system is critical humanist, I do not mean that any particular character is a critical humanist (although some are or become so, including Helo, and this scene is a pivotal moment when he consolidates that position), but that the series as a whole expresses critical humanism. That expression is sometimes found in dialogue, but it is more often found in plot and outcome, especially the show’s relentless demolition of every particular definition of ‘the human’ and its replacement by something even more encompassing — culminating, of course, in the revelation of ‘mitochondrial Eve’ as a Cylon/Colonial hybrid.

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Sudan’s Truce: A turning point or a simple pause?


Last weekend’s signing of the truce between Omar al-Bashir’s government and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) rebels in Darfur is a good first step. The government will commute the death sentences of some of the JEM rebels and will release several others. The JEM will hold to a truce and the two sides will resume more comprehensive negotiations in March.

However, the problem is, as Laura Heaton from Enough Project notes, this is essentially a bilateral agreement between the government and JEM. It does not include the dozens of other rebel groups that have been fighting over the past seven years. JEM has long demanded it be considered the central voice for Darfur.

Excluding groups from peace processes is often done out of diplomatic expediency. It is easier to get a deal between two major warring groups than to open the process up to several factions. However, as we frequently see, this often creates significant downstream problems. For example, the Naivasha Agreement (Comprehensive Peace Agreement CPA) that helped end the war in Southern Sudan limited the negotiations to SPLM and the Sudanese Government. Other groups, including many fighting in Darfur since 2003, also had grievances against the government in the 1990s but were largely excluded from the CPA process. Similarly, the Kosovar Albanians had hoped to get support from the international community for their grievances against Slobodan Milosevic in 1995 but were shut out at Dayton. In both instances, unresolved conflicts between governments and aggrieved groups ultimately led to additional violence.

To mitigate against this potential in Darfur, the Obama administration has been working with other international negotiators to unite a disparate group of other factions under the umbrella of the Liberation and Justice Movement (LJM) and negotiating a parallel track between the LJM and the govenrment. It seems we may see a similar truce between the government and LJM in the coming days.

The question, of course, is how will the JEM respond to the joint track with LJM — especially if a final agreement includes government power sharing with Darfuris. Who will represent Darfur? Furthermore, not all of the other factions have joined forces under LJM. What happens if they balk? And, how will the government respond if there are outliers in the process?

Finally, neither the first track between the government and JEM nor the second track between the government and LJM include a wide range of civil society groups. To be sure, a cease fire is the first step, but the long-term sustainability of any cease fire as well as successful post-conflict transitioning will require the active participation and incorporation of civil society groups into the process. But, if they are shut out from the beginning when the initial power-sharing rules and structures are parceled out, it’s hard to see how they will be able to join the party later.

(cross-posted at The IR Blog)

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Wilson’s legacy

Duck readers may recall that just over two years ago Charli posted about an interesting and provocative Deborah Boucoyannis article arguing that realist notions of the balance-of-power are actually liberal ideas about checks-and-balances.

The post generated a lot of comments (which apparently cannot be linked under the new software), including a fairly long and somewhat critical one from Duck founder Dan Nexon. Despite the flaws he noted, Dan nonetheless wrote that “the argument…is persuasive; she’s made a very important contribution, at a minimum, in arguing that the ‘balance of power’ is too big to restrict to realism, and ought to be treated as an object of analysis in its own right.” Later, the author responded to the critics.

As Charli said in her post, if an idea long associated with realism can be explained from a liberal viewpoint, then many of us must rethink how we teach IR theory. In my case, I’d long compared the balance of power to domestic checks and balances so that students familiar with the latter could better understand the IR concept. However, I’d never made the argument Boucoyannis presented.

This exchange came to mind recently when I read Stanford historian David Kennedy’s brief essay in the January/February Atlantic Monthly. Kennedy makes a novel-to-me argument about Woodrow Wilson’s famous call that “The world must be made safe for democracy.” This time, however, the scholar asserts that an idea long associated with liberalism (nee Wilsonianism!) in IR was actually tied to a practical realism:

Wilson tempered his diplomatic ideals with a pragmatic comprehension of the modern world, of its possibilities and its dangers. He respected the pride and the prerogatives of other peoples. He shrewdly calculated the reach as well as the limits of American power. Perhaps most important, he was attentive to what kind of foreign policy, resting on principles of moral legitimacy, the American public would embrace.

Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman took the lessons. They asked only that the world be made safe for democracy, not that the world be made democratic. They understood the complexities of human cussedness and the constraints on even America’s formidable power. They would surely have hesitated to wage a preemptive war against Iraq that grossly overestimated America’s capacity to achieve its goals.

In the end, Kennedy praises a set of four “principles [that] constitute a blend of realism and idealism, not a stark choice between them, and their careful application over several decades represents a singular achievement for American diplomacy.”

At ISA, I served as a discussant on a panel about continuity or change in U.S. foreign policy from Bush to Obama. Two of the three papers quoted the familiar Wilson line in a way that reflected the taken-for-granted meaning — and widely shared view of its crusading implications. I pointed the authors to Kennedy’s piece because it was fresh in mind, but it is certainly possible that this is an established argument that I’ve somehow missed or forgotten. Does a longer version appear elsewhere?

Kennedy’s argument about Wilson serves also as a fairly clear warning that neoconservative calls for a “democratic realism” are dangerous and not Wilsonian. Neocons want to employ American (military) power to advance democracy. Wilson and his successors wanted to secure democracy in a dangerous world.

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More late post-ISA thoughts

I, like Laura, am a bit slow off the take regarding post-ISA blogging. In my defence I have a 6-hour jet-lag that was aggravated by United Airlines being successful in severely messing up every single segment of my flight to New Orleans and back. (The friendly skies? More like the unfriendly kick in the… oh forget it.)

Certainly one of the highlights for me was the panel (already discussed here, here , here and here) on international relations, academia and blogging. I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but I did want to add my $0.02 (~£0.013) It was great to see Dan Drezner, Stephen Walt, William Winecoff, Robert Farley and DoM’s Charli Carpenter discuss the implications of the medium for the dissemination of knowledge, risks to tenure (at least in the US) and use to policy makers. Joe Nye was the dissenting voice and was more sceptical of the enterprise (although this has not stopped him from contributing to the Huffington Post). I’ve been doing this for nearly two months now so, as a newbie, I found this quite useful.

A couple of observations from the panel:

  • Charli was the only woman on the panel and I’m struggling to think of other women bloggers out there in international relations blogging. Charli was fantastic and presented a rather scholarly view of the subject. But it got me wondering as to whether there is actually a dearth of female IR bloggers out there and for what reasons this might be? Is it the whole tenure risk thing – that blogging may be seen as a liability rather than as something neutral or even beneficial? Is it that we’re all just busy trying to get published in “traditional” forms for the same reason? Is it that we feel that we’re already having problems being taken seriously in a discipline? Or is there just a barrier to new entrants – and most of the “old guard” happens to be men?
  • I asked a question about academia and “snark” – exactly which tone should we be using when we blog? Joe Nye made an analogy that taking a bad or rude tone online was akin to posting naked photos of yourself before a job interview. (I could say so much here, but I don’t want to be too…. snarky.) Stephen Walt said that he just took a boring tone (although his posts are almost always interesting so I’m not sure he’s being fair to himself.) Dan and Charli took a different view of “snark” however. They both argued that if “snark” was understood as “wit” then it was to be welcomed and may serve to make dissemination of information more fun and blogging more enjoyable. (As you can probably tell, I take the latter view – most of us are doing it because we like it. It needs to be at least a little fun.)
  • Of course one might expect this from a panel of mostly successful bloggers, but there was a real sense that it has already become a force to be reckoned with and that it is increasingly being taken seriously. And perhaps nothing illustrated this point better than the fact that the room was pretty packed. It may have been that there were big names on the panel, but I felt that people were genuinely interested in what these individuals had to say about blogging.

Other minor observations about ISA this year:

  • I couldn’t agree more with Jon’s post on the state of New Orleans. While the area we stayed in was largely damage-free, the city was clearly still in recovery mode. But what was so inspiring to see was how happy the New Orleans Saints Superbowl win had made so many people I can’t tell you how many times I heard “we needed this”. They clearly did.
  • At the same time, “WHO DAT”, even to a Saints fan, becomes a little tiresome after six days or so.
  • If you are staying in a hotel in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, please check for assorted random objects under your bed before you unpack. Trust me. Just think of it as a very sordid treasure hunt.

More to come on human rights, civilian casualties – but first I still need to unpack.

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