Month: May 2011 (Page 1 of 4)

New Research on Global Agenda-Setting

A couple of years ago I wrote a post entitled the “Top Twelve Emerging Human Security Issues of the Next Decade.” Those of you who have followed my writing know I’m especially interested in candidate issues that for one reason or another get neglected relative to others that end up being more prominent in global policy networks.

As many of you know, this is part of a longer book project on the politics of issue selection in advocacy networks. Since blogging from me will be slow for the next few months as I make headway on the book version of what I’ve found on that score, I thought I’d at least leave you with the slick glossy report version of a piece of the project: our descriptive findings from focus groups with human security practitioners.

We’ve written that report so as to be fun and easy to read by non-academics, but as an academic let me just highlight an interesting finding we downplay in that report, on the composition of the human security network itself. Roland Paris some years ago critiqued human security in a classic essay, arguing that human security is nothing more than:

“the glue that holds together a jumbled coalition of ‘middle power’ states, development agencies and NGOs – all of which seek to shift attention and resources away from conventional security issues and toward goals that have traditionally fallen under the rubric of international development.”

Well, we operationalized the network empirically by studying survey citations to different organizations by individuals on human security mailing lists, and by studying hyperlinks between websites associated with the term “human security” and then coded nodes in the network according to thematic expertise and organizational type:

To me, these results suggest that Paris was both right and wrong. He was right about the human security network being a jumble of issue sub-networks. But he was wrong about development displacing security. What we are seeing is a fusion of and synergy across generally distinct global policy communities. In that sense human security creates cohesion among these disparate sectors precisely because it is a master frame, constituting a new landscape where issues at the intersections of these “silos” can be brought into relief. (Although it doesn’t always happen. More about that when the book is done…)


Feminist IR 101, Post #8, Human Rights

Controversial feminist lawyer Catherine MacKinnon titled her latest book Are Women Human? And Other International Dialogues. MacKinnon was, of course, referring to a feminist campaign to have women’s rights recognized as human rights (see, e.g., the work of Charlotte Bunch) …but what struck me about this title is the normalcy it implies – like, questioning women’s humanity (and thus their eligibility for human rights) is as commonplace as any other international dialogue.

Feminist work on human rights has been very diverse – and by no means only a project of Feminist IR. Women, and feminist groups, have been interested in human rights generally and women’s human rights specifically for as long as we have a history of those organizations existing. Somewhat unlike the study of war through feminist lenses, feminist IR is not pioneering into new territory when it thinks about human rights issues. So what is feminist IR work on human rights? And why does it matter?

A caveat before exploring this question in more detail: of course, the boundaries between “feminist IR” and feminist work in political science more generally, or even between feminist work in political science and “feminist theory” or “gender studies” or “women’s studies” or even “queer studies” is not as clear or sticky as I draw it here for illustrative purposes. At the same time, I want to be clear in making the argument that feminist IR approaches not only have something to contribute to IR’s understanding of human rights but also to feminist theorizing about women’s rights as human rights.

Since this post is aimed largely at an IR audience, though, I’ll focus on the latter: what can feminist IR tell us about human rights? Feminist IR work has done a lot of thinking how human rights are conceptualized internationally. Feminist IR scholars have demonstrated that, often, when it comes to gender issues, universal international agreements about what humans should be provided devolve into relativist “exceptions” to how women ought to be treated to accommodate cultural difference. Likewise, feminist analysis has demonstrated that international discourses often omit or even countermand “human rights” which might be important to women, including but not limited to reproductive rights, prenatal health care, sexual rights, and rights associated with (often forced) migration. Feminist work has shown that women are often not (in legal terms) “similarly situated” to men on a host of other human rights issues – they are differently affected by labor rights issues, citizenship rights issues, domestic violence issues, and the like.

That empirical work has led feminists to be at once critical of unreflected notions of human rights (particularly from a postcolonial perspective) and concerned with the empirical realities of women’s lives, especially as they are constantly impacted by gender subordination. A growing feminist literature, then, tries to grapple with (in Brooke Ackerly’s words), human rights in a world of difference. Feminist work like Ackerly’s looks to navigate a space for a universal conception of human rights through feminist lenses paying attention to difference and diversity with methodological rigor and precision.

This work through gendered lenses has implications not only for the meaning of human rights, but also the politics of human rights advocacy and enforcement; the laws that provide for and/or inhibit human rights; advocacy for ending gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, and other subordinations; and broader epistemological and ontological assumptions about the role of people in global politics.

So what does this mean if you are asked to read or review feminist work on human rights? While the implications as a whole are too broad to discuss, I will lay out a couple of ideas that might help in digesting this work from an unfamiliar perspective. First, it is not a methodological mistake or cognitive error when feminist work on human rights, when focusing on women’s human rights or women’s rights as human rights, does not compare women to men. Instead, the focus on women (as embodied and as performed) is often intentional – women as women are often the subjects of feminist work on human rights. A great example I just read is a book called Terrorizing Women, edited by Rosa-Linda Fregoso and Cynthia Bejarano, which looks at the practice of feminicide (the killing of women based on gendered power relations) in Latin America. The object of study was the violation of women’s rights; a comparison to men, when it happened, was not only politically but methodologically secondary.

Second, gender-neutral discourses of human rights often have gendered implications. Feminist scholars have often looked beyond the letter of the law to how the law is meant, performed, or practiced to see that the omission of gender words doesn’t make gender irrelevant. For example, one might deduce from the fact that the word “women” appears only twice in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (both as a part of the phrase “men and women”), a gender analysis of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is uncalled for, since gender is irrelevant to it. Feminist analyses of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, however, have showed that the Declaration is deeply gender biased, and nowhere more than in its omission of gender-specific language or acknowledgment of gender subordination. So feminist work on human rights that analyzes documents, laws, or practices that don’t mention gender isn’t crazy – it is, in fact, a very important part of thinking about how gender and human rights interact. This is related to, in Hilary Charlesworth’s terms, searching for silences.

Perhaps finally for this post, feminist IR work on human rights is not just about women and gender. Instead, feminist work includes analyses of race, gender, and nationality – looking at the different axes across which human rights issues impact, and are impacted by those factors. For example, feminists like Anne McClintock have shown that women’s symbolic place in (gendered) nationalisms has negative implications for women’s reproductive rights. Laura Shepherd and I just finished an article examining the ways that cisprivilege is a key logic of contemporary airport security practices, and the rights of trans- people are often violated at airports in the name of anti-terrorism.


Notorious BIG Fish: Mladic and Munyagishari

The capture of Ratko Mladic and his pending transfer to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has become another boon for international justice in a year where war criminals seem to be dropping like flies. But there’s an interesting debate to be had over whether this arrest signals a stronger commitment to end impunity on principle or its combined success with political and pragmatic imperatives. Of course, it’s both. Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch argues that the international community’s “principled pressure for justice” worked with Serbia – and the pressure came from conditioning Serbia’s EU accession on Mladic’s arrest. Similarly, Geert-Jan Knoops argues that Serbia’s action to finally arrest him was based on “political and economic motivations” – irrespective of the international community’s more normative appeals for holding Mladic accountable.

And hidden amongst the media and diplomatic excitement over Mladic was the important news about the arrest of Bernard Munyagishari by Congolese authorities in the DRC. Munyagishari is wanted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) for genocide and crimes against humanity committed in the 1994 genocide. He is alleged to have been the leader of the Interahamwe (an extremist youth militia) in the Gisenyi region of western Rwanda, responsible for training Interahamwe and ordering mass killings and rapes. There is little controversy over his arrest – it’s a victory for both the ICTR and the Rwandan government. Of course, there’s a pragmatic element at play here too. The presence of many former genocidaires in the Kivus in the DRC (Munyagishari was arrested in North Kivu) has been a significant source of insecurity and been used to justify Rwanda’s military engagement in the region. Impunity and conflict are intricately linked in this region.

That there are pragmatic reasons for and benefits to arresting war criminals, however, does not undermine the apparent trend of a principled commitment to end impunity. They’re often, but not always, mutually reinforcing.

Beyond the Big Fish….
In accordance with their mandates, the ICTR and ICTY have been successful in trying a broad swath of those considered “most responsible” for core crimes (such as Milosevic, Karadzic, etc. for ICTY and Bagosora, recently Bizimungu, etc. for ICTR). The ICTR has completed 46 judgments (including 8 acquittals) and 9 fugitives remain at large. The ICTY has completed 77 judgments (including 13 acquittals) and only one fugitive remains at large (Hadzic).

Apprehending the “big fish” is an important but not sole measure of success for international tribunals. It’s essential to look beyond indictments and arrests to the impact of trials on truth and reconciliation – the murkier and loftier goals of transitional justice that we can’t really measure. The trials of Mladic and Munyagishari will contribute to the already well established historical records of the systematic and systemic nature of atrocities. In both cases, their crimes are already well known and their guilt almost certain (especially for Mladic, as some of those operating under his command have already been tried and convicted). Just as important, their trials may help counter denial and individualize guilt – both necessary to combat Serb ultra-nationalist support for those like Mladic and what remains of political and military Hutu extremism in the DRC.

The impact of trials on reconciliation, however, deserves a healthy dose of skepticism. An EU representative made a statement that the arrest “will bring down barriers to reconciliation in Bosnia-Herzegovina.” This may be possible at a national or regional level – whereby reconciliation between those victimized by the Srebrenica genocide and the Serbian government would be thin without Mladic’s arrest.

In Rwanda, despite the ICTR’s mandate reference to reconciliation, the local population is largely dismissive and indifferent to the ICTR. The elite perpetrators that appear in its courtrooms are less well known to Rwandans and the process is physically and culturally remote to them (as compared to the trials in the local Gacaca courts). While many applaud Munyagishari’s arrest, it’s worth waiting to see whether his victims in Gisenyi consider this a meaningful form of justice.

(cross-posted at Global Transitional Justice)


IMF: plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose?

I find myself impressed with the obvious talents of Christine Lagarde, the current French Finance Minister and lead candidate for Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s replacement at the IMF (just endorsed by the G8 today ). I am admittedly drawn to the idea of appointing the first women to ever head the Fund, a testosterone-driven organization if there ever was one. Yet the fawning news coverage of the stylish Lagarde (see Maureen Dowd’s op-ed in the New York Times today) also leaves me with a sinking feeling. The crisis at the helm of the Fund should present an opportunity for change, permitting for the first time in the institution’s history a serious consideration of non-Western candidates for Managing Director. And while ultimately merit should take precedent over nationality, the appointment of a non-Western Managing Director would give a serious boost to the external legitimacy of the Fund and could even be the spark to incite much-needed change in its hierarchical, orthodox culture.

Yet that opportunity seems to be passing by. Over the last week, we have seen most of the viable candidates from the developing world drop out of the race. In turn, we have been deluged with arguments in favor of keeping with tradition, replacing DSK with another European (French again, no less). Worse may be the reason proffered for this – the idea that we need a European at the helm of the Fund at a moment when the institution’s main business happens to be the resolution of Europe’s cascading debt crises. Yet, as my friend and colleague Jacquie Best persuasively argued in this May 28 op-ed in the Ottawa Citizen :

“This argument would be more persuasive if the Europeans hadn’t said precisely the opposite in the past: They had no compunction in taking the helm of the IMF when it was Asia, Latin America or Africa in the grip of economic or financial crisis. In those cases, the fact that the IMF managing director was not from an affected region was seen as irrelevant.”

I find it nearly as shocking that much of the media coverage of Lagarde seems to justify this choice by arguing that Lagarde really isn’t as French as we might think. In fact, she spent nearly two decades living and working in the US. In France, Lagarde is disparagingly referred to as “l’Americaine”, fluent in English and boldly dismissive of French intellectual elitism. But are Lagarde’s American attributes really supposed to make us feel better in this post-crisis era?

As a sidenote, for those concerned about DSK’s welfare : the Fund is apparently providing him with a separation payment of $250,000. This should cover about five months rent in his lavish Tribeca apartment, where he is currently under house arrest.


Five Myths About International Criminal Trials

On the basis of what empirical studies I could find about the effectiveness of international tribunals versus execution of mass-murderers, I debunk the following in my latest Current Intelligence essay, responding to effects-based claims on both sides of the debate about whether Osama bin Laden should have been tried instead of summarily executed:

MYTH #1: OBL Could Never Have Received a Fair Trial.
MYTH #2: OBL Would Simply Have Used the Court as A Way to Promote Jihadism.
MYTH #3: A Trial Would Have Become a Focal Point For Further Attacks.
MYTH #4: A Trial Would Have Helped Deter Future Acts of Jihadist Terror and Build a Culture of Human Rights.

And lowest but most:

MYTH #5: The Question is Whether Trials Work.

In the final analysis, whether summary executions of terrorist leaders are preferable to trials is not a question of pragmatics. It is a normative issue. It is about whether an easy, illegal option with few benefits and certain drawbacks is preferable to a harder, legal option with equally uncertain outcomes. It is ultimately about whether or not the leaders of civilised nations believe they themselves are above the rule of law.

Read the whole thing here.



Politics is always somewhat gross, but there seems to be an abundance of stories lately that make me queasy. In the tradition of saying to your friends, “You have got to try this; it’s so disgusting” or to your wife, “I think this milk is going bad; taste it,” I share them with you, my online friends (or if you like, wives).

Budweiser wrapping itself in the flag: This ad shows a split screen of an American soldier coming home and a family getting ready to throw him a homecoming party. There is, of course, an Official Bear of the Homecoming Party and it is not Coors. I have always hated ads that try to pull my heartstrings to buy some product. There is a special place in hell for the ad execs who guilt people to buy life insurance by showing pictures of kids playing on the beach to sentimental music. Should we buy life insurance? Yes. Do we want our kids to go destitute if we die early? Obviously not. Do they really give a crap about my family? No. Would I punch you, said ad exec, in the face if I ever met you? Absolutely. Am I irritated by people who use rhetorical questions to make a point dramatically? Yes.

I am growing tired of this marriage of capitalism and patriotism spawned by 9/11. Not every NFL game needs a fighter jet flyover. It is not an anti-machismo thing. I like football. And I am bowled over by the courage of the guys who fight, even for things I don’t support. But people should not be making money off of them under the pretense of thanking them. A law to this effect shouldn’t be necessary. It should be obvious to anyone with a shred of self-respect and shame. I personally attribute it to Reagan, who put that chocolate and peanut butter together. Good politics. Very icky.

Nicholas Kristof, International Agent: I appreciate the light that this New York Times columnist sheds on women’s issues, child prostitution and sex trafficking in particular. I really do. But he is always the hero of his own story. This time he sweeps in with Indian police to a brothel with underage girls that he notified the police about. Do I admire that? Yes. Do I wish he could just tell it in third person and leave himself out so as to focus on the real story? Absolutely.

Anne Sinclair, wife of Dominique Strauss-Kahn: I’m a bit late out of the box on this one. But according to the New York Times: “Asked in 2006 by L’Express if she suffered from his reputation as a womanizer, she said: “No! I’m even proud of it. It’s important to seduce, for a politician. As long as he is still attracted to me, and I to him, it is sufficient.”” Ew. If a woman essentially gives a green light to her husband’s infidelity, that is going to be a problem. Still, I want to know — has this whole method of showing up naked in front of a stranger ever really worked? Because I just can’t imagine that. Is this like the reverse of the pizza delivery guy thing in X-rated movies? In my experience, women are not instantly sexually aroused merely by the sight of the nude male form. Maybe it is just my form. Irrespective of whether he sexually assaulted this poor woman, which the courts will decide, it does seem that he decided to make a play in this particular fashion. I am guessing this is not the first time and that it actually has worked for him in the past. Double ew.


Reporting in the Middle East: Are Female Journalists a Liability?

Do the responses to the plight of Dorothy Parvaz, a journalist for Al Jazeera English who was detained in Syria and Iran for nearly 3 weeks, show continued resistance to female journalists pursuing particular types of stories?

Parvaz flew to Syria to gather information that could add to what little is known about local protests and government violence. She was arrested at the airport in Damascus and taken to a detention center- Parvaz likened it to a mini version of Guantanamo Bay. Three days after her arrival in Syria she was extradited to Iran as a suspected spy before being released without charge.

In addition to providing an important and rare glimpse into Syria’s detention centers and the apparent random brutality of the regime, Parvaz’s story seems to have re-raised questions about female journalists. These questions echo those posed after Lara Logan was sexually assaulted during the revolution in Egypt (ie. Should the media pull women journalists from war zones?, should she have stayed home because she is a mommy?). Several media outlets chose to use Logan’s story as an opportunity to undermine the capabilities of female journalists and to question what types of assignments might be appropriate for them.

Similarly, in an interview by CBC Parvaz was asked whether she regretted her decision to go to Syria and was pushed on questions related to the risks involved in going. Responses to the interview online were scathing and included accusations that Parvaz was naïve (‘what was she trying to do?’), overly ambitious (‘her 15 minutes of fame are up’), took too many risks (‘she brought it on herself and can’t blame anyone’), and was abusing the fact that she has multiple citizenships where does her loyalty lie? Canada, US, Iran?’).

So why focus on the haters and not the supporters?

Hard line questions and critical comments shift the focus from the real story- torture and unjust detentions in Syria. Furthermore, Parvaz’s history as a competent and successful journalist and her brave efforts to cover important international events has been downplayed.

Finally, the caddy and critical comments raise some important questions, including: Is the underlying message in both Logan and Parvaz’s case a racist one- that the Middle East is inherently a hazardous place for non-Western women (forgetting that Parvaz holds Canadian, Iranian, and US citizenship)?; or a sexist one- that male journalists can prove their dedication and bravery through difficult or dangerous journalism while excellent female reporters continue to have to prove they are not a liability?


Feminist IR 101, Post #7, Political Economy and Globalization

Why is it that women represent 70% of the world’s people living in poverty? What does it mean to have economic stability? How do international structures interact with local structures to produce or disturb that stability? Is economic stability something people (or states) only gain at the expense of others? Are sex trafficking, migration patterns, home-based work, and base economies, related? If so, what does gender have to do with it? These are some of the questions feminist IR political economists ask.

Women are the majority of people in poverty around the world. The percentage of women living in rural areas who can be classified as impoverished is actually rising, not dropping. Women who work for wages are generally poorly paid, and many women do home, care, and agricultural work that goes unpaid. Women have not been left out of the economic reforms planned by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, but their gender is often invisible to the planners and implementers of these policies.

Feminist perspectives on global political economy (GPE) are investigating the extent to which these disturbing trends should be blamed on gender discrimination. They are interested in the causes of women’s, and other marginalized groups’, economic insecurities, and potential solutions to these problems. Feminist work in political economy has recognized what scholars have identified as the gendered division of labor in global politics, and analyzed its impacts.

The gendered division of labor in modern times can be traced to the Industrial Revolution in Europe, where definitions of what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman were shaped around the growing division of work to be done at work (man) and work to be done at home (women). The notion of a “housewife” developed, where women’s work was seen as private, domestic, and the property of the family, and the public world of the market was populated by rational, economically oriented men. Despite the fact that more and more women have come to work outside the home in recent times, the association of women with housework, caregiving, and mothering remains strong.

When women do go into the workforce, they are overrepresented in the caring professions (teaching, nursing, daycare, service industries) and underrepresented in the financial industries and capital trade. To the extent that women choose these professions, they do not choose them on the basis of profit maximization (which is what traditional economic theory assumes), but instead based on social expectations of what women should be and what they should do. Cynthia Enloe once claimed that a “modern” global economy requires “traditional” ideas about women.

Feminists have noted that ideas about gender also often lead to women having double responsibilities. Women who work outside the home continue to do the majority of the care work inside the home, while being paid less than men with comparable qualifications for their workforce duties. Care labor often requires time and energy that would otherwise be spent on paid labor. Women often sacrifice professional opportunities to care for children and elderly relatives.

The narrow definition of “work” as work in the waged economy tends to make it difficult to see many of women’s contributions to the global economy. Feminists have argued that the gendered division of labor cannot be understood without reference to political, economic, and social choices based on assumptions about gender. Feminist work about the global political economy has made a number of observations to highlight the importance of gendered forces.

For example, feminists have highlighted some gendered economic forces, like the global sex trade (see the recent work of Jacqui Berman, Jennifer Lobasz, and Jessica Peet), that are often ignored by political economists. Feminists have studied gender representations in the movie and beauty industries (see the recent work of Angela McCracken and V. Spike Peterson). They have pointed out that the gendered divide between the “public” realm and the “private” realm obscures the work women do. Feminists have also argued that, in addition to neglecting women generally, conventional work in political economy has also underestimated women’s economic agency.

Several feminists have also attempted to understand the gendered nature of globalization. V. Spike Peterson has divided the globalized economy into three sectors. The “productive” sector is the thing we usually think of as the global economy – where goods and services are made and traded. The “virtual” economy is the trade in intangible things, like money and information. The third sector, which Peterson gives equal weight as the other sectors, is the reproductive economy. The reproductive economy includes pregnancy, parenting, household maintenance, elderly care, and socialization. Feminists argue that these three categories taken together are more suited to finding women and gendered structures in the global political economy, and a more accurate reflection of how the world works more generally.

Feminists have therefore asked about how the global political economy would function if we restructured it taking women’s labor and women’s experiences into account.

They have looked in unconventional places, like households, sweatshops, and camptowns, for economic knowledge. These inquiries have led feminist to suggest restructuring the health care industry on the basis of care (see the recent work of Fiona Robinson). Feminists have also argued against the treatment of sexuality as a commodity. They have suggested that women’s unpaid labor be recognized not only intellectually but financially. Feminists have suggested that the gendered structure of the political economy and the gendered distribution of resources in the global economy require attention not only among feminist scholars, but also in IR more generally. Feminists have argued that we cannot understand the global political economy without reference to gender, and feminist political economists have built a research program to explore these questions.

I know the “feminist IR 101” series has been on (incidental but long) hiatus, but, with the end of my blogging career coming soon (July 1), and the series now being very security-biased, I figured I would finish its unfinished business, and hope the last couple of posts (#7 on Political Economy and Globalization, #8 on Human Rights, #9 on Transforming IR, and #10 on Feminist Scholarly Community) will be as useful to the people who have let me know that they are using these posts in their classroom as the others have been. While war/security is the theoretical territory in which I am the most comfortable, I think “Feminist IR 101” sort of thinking – quick discussions for students, crib guides for potential reviewers – is generalizable across (feminist) IR, and want to finish it. That said, since this isn’t my specialty, specialists should feel free to critique and correct.


Fresh Meat

I am pleased to introduce a new crop of guest bloggers for the 2011-2012 academic year.

Catherine Weaver hails from the Lyndon Johnson School of Public Affairs at UT Austin where she teaches international political economy, specializing (among other things) the culture, behavior and reform of international financial organizations – a smoking hot IR topic if there ever was one. She is the author of The Hypocrisy Trap and the co-editor of Review of International Political Economy.

Joshua Busby teaches with Kate at the Johnson School, but specializes in transnational relations, climate change, national security and energy policy. His new book Moral Movements in Foreign Policy has been hailed as “pathbreaking” by Thomas Risse and “nuanced and disciplined” by Robert Keohane – though all that discipline won’t, I suspect, keep Josh from cutting loose on various topics: he is a contributor to policy pieces for a number of think tanks including Brookings, the Center for a New American Security, the German Marshall Fund, and the Woodrow Wilson Center, as well as numerous scholarly outlets (where his work on celebrity activism is some of the hippest in the TAN literature). Josh is a member of Council on Foreign Relations and the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Megan MacKenzie is in transit from Victoria University of Wellington to University of Sydney, and will bring a critical-feminist-national-human-security-studies perspective to the Duck from down below. (Cynthia Enloe always did say that that’s where you should look for the real story of power politics in IR!) Megan studied at University of Alberta and was previously a Research Fellow at Harvard’s Belfer Center. Her work has focused on gender and post-conflict reconstruction in Africa. She is beginning a new project on gender integration in US, Canadian and Australian armed forces.

And last but not least please welcome our most junior Ducklet, Alana Tiemessen. Currently a Visiting Professor at University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Alana just completed her dissertation at University of British Columbia. Her work centers on international norms and transitional justice and she blogs at Transitional Justice Blog, where she covers developments in Kenya, Rwanda, Bosnia and globally. We look forward to her coverage of the Mladic trial… or whatever else strikes her intellectual fancy.

Please stay tuned for an exciting summer of new coverage from these folks as well as updates from our regulars.


EU Wins One, Right?

With Serbia arresting the last big PIFWC (person indicted for war crime–my favorite NATO acronym)–Ratko Mladic (see my post about the previous arrest, of Karadzic), does this mean that I was wrong about the power of conditionality?  That is, the Steve and Bill book argues that we ought not overestimate the threats organizations like the European Union or NATO make about conditions for membership.  We argue there and elsewhere that the requirements are unenforced (Cyprus gets in despite not settling its ethnic problems, Romania and Bulgaria get in with their shaky rule of law); that the rules do not apply to members so that once you are in, you can go back to violating the rules; and so on.

But Serbia seems to have knuckled under to EU pressure and will be sending Mladic to The Hague stand trial for genocide, ethnic cleansing and all the rest.  But the pressure has been applied since 1995.  Can we say that conditionality worked if it took 16 years?  Oh, and enlargement is probably not a realistic option right now since the EU is focused on its own internal crises (driven by past poor decisions about ignoring conditions–letting Greece and others into the Euro zone).  So, the timing here is interesting–submitting to the PIFWC conditions when the conditions are least relevant, as opposed to earlier when other countries were in the queue to join the EU (despite not meeting other conditions).

I have not been following Serbia’s politics closely, but this is still a very important decision, whether it is to suck up to the EU or not.  After all, a preceding leader of Serbia, Zoran Djindjić, was assassinated after sending Slobodan Milosevic to the Hague.  So, the stakes are quite high domestically.  Mladic was reputedly more popular than Karadzic, especially among Serbia’s military and police.  If there are no nasty consequences from this, then this is an important development for civilian control of the military and Serbia’s democratization. 

Getting Mladic to stand trial for his crimes is a big victory for Bosnia, for Serbia, and for justice.  I just am not sure that the EU had a lot to do with it.


It’s Coburn Clobberin’ Time

U.S. Senator Tom Coburn has released a new report criticizing the National Science Foundation, in no small part because he is offended that the NSF funds political science.

This new, lengthy-for-Congress report is a slick and well-produced piece of agit-prop. In it, Coburn claims to have found billions (!) in mismanagement at the NSF, including plenty of made-for-journalists “scandals” like jello wrestling at the McMurdo Research Station in Antarctica and shrimp on treadmills. Drawn from inspector general reports and Coburn’s staff’s review of NSF grant awards, Coburn criticizes the agency for failing to create Internet-level breakthroughs and not creating the kind of transformative research Americans expect from the federal government. I will not rebut these in detail, but I will simply note (a) that any large organization will feature supervisors behaving inappropriately with subordinates, travel funds, or pornography (like, you know, the U.S. Congress, from time to time) and (b) that the fact that the inspector general has discovered many of these problems means that the system is working, not that it is broken.

Most important to readers of the Duck, he returns to the anti-political science themes he sounded in 2009 (e.g., Drezner, ThinkProgress, and Crooked Timber). Even those readers of the Duck who are sceptical of quantitative and experimental researchers’ claims to epistemologial (or at least disciplinary) hegemony should join in resisting Coburn. But we shouldn’t scoff. Coburn represents a real threat.

Coburn’s report argues that the NSF shouldn’t be in business of pursuing social research at all. Coburn’s definition of science is strictly utilitarian but strangely deferential to science. Although he believes many NSF grants are “whimsical” and “silly,” he also argues that “Ultimately, the decision as to what constitutes ‘transformative’ or ‘potentially transformative’ [research] should be left to the scientific community rather than Congress.” But he rules out all social sciences–“business administration, economics, geography, political science, sociology, international relations, and communication”–on the grounds that none of these disciplines “deserve a cut of the same pie as astronomy, biology, chemistry, earth science, physics, and oceanography.” His criterion is that instead “NSF’s mission should be redirected toward truly transformative sciences with practical uses outside of academic circles and clear benefits to mankind and the world.”

This is hard stuff for a political scientist or an IR scholar to take. On the one hand, it is true that we have neither solved war nor devised the perfect campaign message. On the other hand, Coburn’s choices of what constitutes bad political science spending are so strange as to belie his complete lack of understanding of the social sciences as a whole. For instance, he attacks the American National Election Studies survey, which NSF has funded since 1958. The report does not even offer a critique of the project, except to say, limply, that “Some might question whether federal taxpayer dollars–intended to fund major scientific breakthroughs–are necessary to continue the project” given that the University of Michigan and Stanford have large endowments.

Not all readers of the Duck may be familiar with the importance of the ANES. There is much to dislike about the dataset–it is clumsy, it is old-fashioned, it is imperfect in its handling of voter coding, and so on–but it is undeniably one of the three or four most important datasets in political science. (Yes, including non-American political science.) I can think of few more transformative or practical claims than those that American political science has made about the behavior of the American voter, starting with the publication of The American Voter. Much of the modern science of understanding voting behavior and partisan attachment comes from the NES and similar NSF-funded surveys. Suffice it to say that we know about political behavior in the United States comes from studies that relied on the NES or were informed by its findings. (Hans Noel summarizes many of those findings here.)

Coburn also picks on a brilliant study by the brilliant Kevin Arceneaux (full disclosure: I’ve met Kevin and think that he’s brilliant, and not just because he was nice to me) asking whether O’Reilly, Maddow, and Matthews are polarizing figures. (You can read ungated versions of Arceneaux’s work here.) This is part of a long-term project evaluating whether a diversified media has led to more polarization among the electorate, as self-selection into what we read and watch becomes more important–a question with practical and, yes, transformative implications for how we think about media effects. And the importance of asking “Did terrorism warnings hurt John McCain’s 2008 presidential candidacy?”, “Why are people for or against American military conflicts?”, and “Do your genes impact your political views?” should be equally obvious, even if we may quibble about the methodologies employed in the various studies.

Other social-scientific studies that Coburn criticizes are similarly important. One asked whether boys are more likely to play with trucks, and girls with dolls, than vice-versa. Coburn’s response is typically dismissive:

Here, scientists may have benefitted [sic] from talking to any new parent, since the research just confirmed what most new parents easily learn through casual observation. In fact, one new dad observed that his young son would get “so excited upon seeing any truck. A recent trip to a dealership to pick up some parts resulted in his insisting we visit the trucks and touch them. When I set him in the cab, he was probably one of the happiest kids alive.”

That bit of scientific research comes from a blog post about a child’s trip to a car dealership. (Check it out: It’s footnote #170, just two citations after #168, which cites the notorious Satoshi Kanazawa.)

Duck readers will of course recognize the importance of the study for testing hypotheses about gendered socialization, and that the glib equation of a serious study with the informal “jus’ folks” common-sense of Coburn’s rejoinder is seriously misleading. The point of such research, after all, is to discover why it is that we “just know” that boys like trucks and girls like dolls.

So, Coburn is wrong–or at least vastly, indeed astronomically, more wrong than he is right. But he is no less dangerous for that. PTJ has argued, here and in his book, that “science” is a cudgel that some political scientists use against others to discriminate against methodological pluralists or epistemological heterodoxy. Here, however, I think such intramural disputes are beside the point. What is at stake is, frankly, whether academic political science is viewed as worthy of survival at all.

Coburn’s view of science, I think, is much closer to that of the median voter’s than any academic. Science is done by men in white coats who cure cancer or split atoms. That is the picture Coburn seems to be proceeding from, and I wager it is one that all of us have had to confront at the Thanksgiving table with relatives who don’t quite understand what it is we do. Coburn certainly believes his frame resonates with the public (and given the target audience of this piece, namely reporters and news producers, a pretty well-educated slice of the public at that). He begins his report by stating that, “As a practicing physician and a two-time cancer survivor, I have a very personal appreciation for the benefits of scientific research.”

He does admit that not all scientists cure cancer, as he continues: “Investing in innovation and discovery can transform and improve our lives, advance our understanding of the world, and create meaningful new jobs.”

Well, at least it’s nice to have a staunch conservative stand up for dirigiste research.

In a time of austerity, I have to agree with Coburn’s calculation. This is exactly the sort of frame that I would adopt if I were trying to end social science research. And part of the reason why the frame works is exactly that we are not very good, as a discipline, in presenting our findings. Outlets like the Duck and The Monkey Cage have done a good job, but they are insufficient.

We have to recognize that unlike the stereotypical men in white lab coats, the public’s presumption is against us. The assumption is that our research is wasted unless proven useful. Worse, the people who claim our research is wasteful, such as politicians who may not like what political scientists have to say about politicians’ agency or about voter responsiveness, have every incentive not to admit our usefulness.

Without that argument, the Coburn view will win by default. And that is why the Coburn report matters, a lot. It’s time for political scientists, economists, and social scientists of all stripes to fight not just this Coburn initiative but the broader misunderstanding of social scientific research.


Mladic, OBL and International Justice

It’s hard to overstate the significance of Ratko Mladic’s arrest last night. Moreso that Slobodon Milsoevic, Serbia’s president during the 1991-1995 war of ex-Yugoslavia, and moreso that Radovan Karadzic the political leader of the Bosnian Serbs during the war, Mladic is reviled by Bosnian survivors of the conflict as the former leader of the Bosnian Serb Army. Though best known for his his calculated role in the war’s most infamous massacre of over 7,000 noncombatants at Srebrenica – along with the subsequent massacre at Zepa, this was his crowning achievement after several years of war marked by sexual assault, forced displacement, massacre and general butchery of civilians and detainees. Danger Room has a well-linked round-up of info on the snatch.

What I find fascinating about the international reaction to his arrest is the importance of this man being brought to trial. At no point I am aware of during his years of hiding was it argued that he should instead be taken out by a targeted killing – partly because it was recognized that justice for his victims required a trial. Recent empirical research demonstrates that these courts have not only been able to effectively carry out prosecutions, but have had a number of other important positive side-effects, with few of the negatives originally feared. I remain puzzled that the ad hoc tribunal model has not been seriously considered for KSM, OBL or other terrorist masterminds.

[cross-posted at Lawyers, Guns and Money]


Standing Up against the “Patriot Act”

It’s great to see a few of our elected representatives fighting back against the Democratic and Republican leadership’s attempt to renew the Patriot Act for another four years without amendment or even debate.  
I highly recommend reading a few of the statements and speeches by the handful of Congress people brave enough to stand up against the leadership of both parties.  Here is one of Republican Senator Rand Paul’s speeches from a few days ago.  Here is John Tester.  And here is Democratic Senator Tom Udall.  They make many telling points about the Patriot Act’s gutting of the U.S. Constitution, particularly the Fourth Amendment–and the lack of meaningful debate that America has had about this. 
Their bold effort may be futile given the powerful political and economic forces behind continuation of the Patriot Act’s invasions of all Americans’ privacy and rights (not to mention the broad foreign policy effects).  But the attempt is worth paying attention to.
 For one thing, it is one of the most important issues facing our country.  Over the last 10 years, we have traded freedom after freedom for the illusion of “security” and the enrichment of the “homeland security” industry.  Even 10 years after 9/11, political leaders continue to use fear to empower the government, intelligence and military institutions.  Those tactics help generate the “I don’t care” or “I have nothing to hide” attitudes that too many Americans claim to have–but which, with a bit of probing and debate, often fall away. 
What is particularly sad is that both mainstream Democrats and Republicans avidly support these incursions on American liberties and stoke the fear-mongering.  Party loyalty—what Glenn Greenwald rightly calls “tribalism” by both sides–prevents all but the “fringes” of the parties from fighting back.  Yet just a bit of long-term thinking should make even hardcore loyalists think twice:  It is inevitable that the “other side” will hold the reins of power again soon.  Yet, for instance, Democrats servile to the Obama administration, think not about what might happen if Sarah Palin or Michelle Bachman became President—and wield these very same instruments of government.
Taking a more optimistic view, another reason to pay attention is that this might, just might, be one of the early signs of an eventual ebb in attacks on Constitutional freedoms in the name of homeland security.  It’s true of course that these efforts to debate the Patriot Act are receiving relatively little coverage in the mainstream press.  It’s also true that the coverage is often biased.  The New York Times’ backpage story for instance headlines that the delay in reauthorizing the Patriot Act “could hinder investigators.”  Shudders!  Those always trustworthy government agents won’t be able to read our emails, listen to our phone calls, and monitor our financial transactions without warrants.  We face grave peril!  The Times’ headline could just as easily have read that the delay will restore Constitutional liberties. 
But possibly, just possibly, the pendulum will begin to swing back.  If it does, it appears this will require an unusual coalition of libertarian politicians on left and right to fight the establishments of both parties.

Taking some time to understand what’s happening in Congress now—and to support debate about the Patriot Act—can only help.  Maybe someday this blot on our Constitution will actually be repealed.


Must Men Be Pigs? The C*jones Conundrum

Last week was full of bad news for those of us with c*jones:  One of my co-genders, who just happened to run the IMF, caught redhanded (or something) after assaulting a chambermaid; another, the very model of a manny-man rather than a girlie-man, fessing up to having sired a child with an employee over a decade ago. This week a one-time Presidential front-runner facing indictment for using campaign money to cover up news about his own love-child.

Maybe I’ve just missed it, but it seems that most of the justifiably angry responses to these events have come from the distaff side:  Maureen Dowd, Gail Collins, etc.   Deservedly so.  But men, especially those of us in the social sciences, should have our say too!  Silence does not mean that the vast majority of us condone these actions.  More likely, it indicates our embarrassment, even shame.  Let me take up the sword and kick these men while they are down.
There is no defense for what they have done.  (OK, admittedly DSK is innocent until proven guilty, but the many stories circulating about his past “exploits” paint a pretty damning picture.)  They thoroughly deserve all the opprobrium and ridicule they are getting.  The fact that they are put in electronic stocks for all the world to see is somewhat satisfying. 
But somehow, despite all the social punishments they receive, these appear to have only modest deterrent effects.  One might have thought that Bill Clinton’s protracted, worldwide disgrace would have scared off even the most reckless of the lot.  But of course Bill has long since been rehabilitated, and it’s obvious that his case has done little to deter. 
The world cries out for a better policy solution!  But first, of course, we need a few reams of high quality social science research.  So let me throw down the gauntlet here too.
To begin, a research question:  Not to put too fine a point on it, why can’t these men keep it in their pants?  Or to put this in social science terms:  Are they outliers?  Of course, I shouldn’t pick on DSK or the Sperminator.  There are so many more out there, from Sacramento to Rome, that it would be tedious to name them.  They’ve even given legitimate activities a bad name.  How many of you no longer dare stroll the Adirondack trail blithely smoking a stogie?   So, to put this in broader terms, given the right situation, is any man likely to do what these Bozos have done?  (Take that, selection bias!)
Some might say these are questions important only to psychologists—or tabloids.  But I see them as questions of politics—even international politics!  I once believed that a politician’s personal life should not be an important basis for deciding who to vote for.  But I have to say that the accumulated peccadilloes and outright crimes of the last decades are making me re-think that belief.  Bad judgment, risk-taking, and an inability to defer fulfillment in one field seem likely to spill into others, if you will.  Of course, that’s not to say that politicians with seemingly tranquil personal lives will not also make extremely bad decisions, as several of our recent Presidents amply attest.
But back to my research questions.  These come down to critical theoretical issues that social scientists must concern themselves with!  Thinking out loud (or, as we at the Duck are fond of saying, en blog), they concern the respective weight of identity (as married), networks (jointly formed during marriage), and the political institutions that new (and old) institutionalists are so fond of writing about.  How strongly do the bonds of trust, respect, and love created in marriage shape one’s identity?  To what extent do the broader networks in which married couples–even political couples–become enmeshed, keep them in line?  Or does institutional position so affect/infect the personality that those in lofty political, entertainment, or business positions are at higher risk of infidelity than others?
As a brief digression, let’s not forget our own institutions, fellow academics.  Anyone who works at an undergraduate teaching institution understands that, given students’ diverse dressing habits these days, even the most pointy-headed scholar faces daunting occupational hazards too.  (I’ve often considered contacting the producers of Most Dangerous Catch to suggest that they broaden their concept to the most perilous jobs in America—and film an episode in a typical college classroom devoid of the high school “nurse’s office” where the scantily clad can be sent for wardrobe refurbishment.)
Feminist scholars:  note that the prior two paras are written in gender neutral terms.   Are there examples of women in powerful offices, especially political offices, who have gone astray?
But back to my research questions!  Fundamentally, these go to the heart of the agent-structure debate, even if this glaringly obvious fact has only dawned on the most enlightened of the disciplinary cognoscenti.  Does the presidency (or governship) of your choice make the man–or does the man make the presidency?  Are people like DSK hapless victims of circumstance/structure/institution, as his lawyers seem likely to argue?   (Poor Arnold!)  Or, hard as it seems to believe, can they actually make choices, notwithstanding the structural conjuncture in which they find themselves?   Indeed there is a good chance of solving that hoary social science chestnut with a concerted, multi-year, multi-million dollar research thrust into these issues, if you will.
But back to my research questions!!  Perhaps they are misconceived, if you will.  Is there a hidden variable I am missing?  For instance, perhaps the inflated egos that typically go along with the quest for high office are coupled with a higher likelihood of super-charged libidos?  If so, we men may be fated to endure these kinds of embarrassing events perpetrated by our more successful members–from here to eternity?  

Most pressingly of all, why hasn’t political science paid attention to the c*jones conundrum?  For future research proposals, scholarly articles, and bestsellers, I hereby bleg your insights, theoretical perspectives, research designs, etc.


Cutting Edge Research on Popular Views of War Law

My Rules of War class this past Spring was an Honors version of the course, and to challenge my students I asked them to do original research on popular conceptions of international humanitarian law, an issue the International Committee of the Red Cross takes quite seriously. The assignment was to identify a concept in the rules of war, gain a firm understanding of the law, then identify a set of data on how people see those rules, and use content analytic or discourse analytic coding methods to study how far apart the representations of the law in text are from the rules as understood or represented in reality, and in which respects. It was a tough assignment!

The students were at liberty to choose any kind of text data they wanted. Some chose blog posts. Some chose news articles. Some studied internal DoD memos to try to understand the narratives of policymakers as they tried to implement the rules of war. One scoured the Star Wars Trilogy screenplays for evidence of inaccurate portrayals of just warrior-hood (see below). All were required to attend a coding workshop, explain their methods and their findings, and draw inferences about the dissemination of humanitarian law to the public, media and policymakers.

Having graded many an undergraduate paper in my day, I was mightily impressed by the quality of the papers I saw and the amount of effort and detail many of these students put into their projects. Below the fold are short descriptions of the five best papers in the class, with accompanying visualizations. Working papers are linked below.

Dan Glaun snagged a summer research assistantship with me for this paper, in which he explores how news coverage of the Geneva Conventions themselves has changed since 9/11, in the context of agenda-setting theory. Dan tracks an increase in the overall salience of war law reportage in the US press, a shift in the referent point of the articles, and a corresponding change in the accuracy, precision and normative bent of the news coverage compared to war crimes reporting in the 1990s:

“In the two years preceding 9/11, there was not a single story which misrepresented the Conventions. However, only 11% of the stories were precise as well as accurate. The pre-9/11 newspaper reports tended to engage in generalities about civilian protection and war crimes, rather than citing specific sections of the Conventions or quoting significant excerpts from the texts. Post 9/11, however, the profile of accuracy and precision changed significantly. Accuracy declined from 100 to 65 percent, indicating an increase in media misrepresentation of the Conventions. Simultaneously, precision increased from 11 to 54%, including both accurate representations and specific, precise claims which were in actuality false. Among accurate articles post 9/11, 58% were precise and 42% vague. For inaccurate articles, 44% were precise and 56% vague. This demonstrates an acrossthe-board decrease in accuracy following 9/11. It also shows a universal increase in precision, both in accurate and inaccurate accounts.”

Christine Donovan examined jus ad bellum justifications for the Iraq war in not only press coverage but also US and British political speeches and statements. Christine examined both newspaper articles and political speeches for both countries and coded them not only according to how accurate, vague or misleading they were but also for what type of war law arguments were used to sell the war. She found that overall both press coverage and political rhetoric in the US was less misleading than in Britain (and also relied less on arguments grounded in humanitarian law, such as Hussein’s treatment of civilians). She also found that the media and the public were far more interested in international law aspects of the invasion than the politicians were in making international law arguments:

“While the positive interpretation of UNSCR 1441 (as well as 678 and 687) appeared to have been the soundest legal argument for the United States and the United Kingdom to make, it was not the main focus of political rhetoric. This may have stemmed from the belief that, perhaps, complicated legal arguments would not resonate with ordinary people as much as weapons of mass destruction or human rights violations would. However, the strong focus on international law found in the selection of newspaper articles, especially those later on in the war effort for the United States and consistently in the United Kingdom, suggest that the public cares more about international law and the legality of the invasion than originally assumed. Perhaps United States and United Kingdom officials made an error by not presenting this legal reasoning to the public in depth, as it might have improved public opinion.”

Wes Mason, who also worked with me on my Battlestar Tweet project, examined how well bloggers understood the law on cultural property as applied to both Iraq and Egypt. He finds some variation between Egypt and Iraq (discussed at more length) but also some general conclusions:

“My analysis shows that bloggers do not use particularly nuanced understandings of international law to make arguments about protecting cultural property in armed conflict, that they are far more likely to reference the Hague Regime than the Geneva Regime, and that they are even more likely to reference other laws outside the aforementioned regimes specific ally concerned with preventing the trafficking rather the destruction of cultural property.”

Sarah Wesley coded a random sample of 200 articles from the NYTimes, Al-Jazeera, WSJ and Huffington Post to explore to what extent the term ‘enemy combatant’ has come to be used interchangeably with ‘detainee.’ She found that the answer depended somewhat on the source – with Al-Jazeera six times more likely than the NYTimes to use the terms interchangeably, but also more likely to put the term ‘enemy combatant’ in quote marks when used, and far less likely to use it overall:

“On average, newspapers recognize there is a clear distinction between the terms ‘enemy combatant’ and ‘detainee’ and/or ‘prisoner of war.’ However interestingly, these news outlet did not often understand the differences between the terms.”

And last but not least, without doubt the juiciest paper of the entire lot was Shawheen Saffari‘s analysis of the Star Wars Trilogy, in which he finds a significant gap between portrayals of just conduct by the rebels and the standards of conduct required of actual rebels under humanitarian law circa 1977 and after:

“My analysis shows that the Rebels in Star Wars abide to war law in some cases but not all, including certain tactics that would be considered grave violations. While Rebels would generally follow law dictating accepted uniform and bearing of arms, the Rebels would frequently harm civilians in the majority interactions as well as show disregard towards civilian property that would be deemed culturally or religiously significant, violations specifically of Articles 13 and 16 of the AP II.”

Quick: how many war law violations can you find in this clip?

Bataille d'Endor Attaque des Ewoks VO by yan_solo2010


The IMF Horse Race

The Western powers are in a rush to quickly confirm Christine Lagarde as the next MD, but there are some very good alternative choices outside of Europe who should be carefully considered. It may also be in the interest of the institution to at least appear more inclusive to the non-European parts of the world.  Here is a very rushed list of candidates whom I think would be viable in the eyes of the major stakeholders at the Fund (although each one has some flaws):

1. Tharman Shanmugaratnam: I remember several years ago attending this Singaporean MP’s meeting with local constituents. The meeting went late into the night as he and his volunteers attempted to sort out the various bureaucratic and some petty and not-so-petty social problems of the residents in the district.  I was surprised to see a senior official (at the time he was the Education Minister, he is currently the Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister) in what is essentially a one party dominated state spend so much personal time working with his constituents.  He is smart, tireless, and compassionate. Of course, the main drawback of Singaporean politicians is inexperience in dealing with strong public dissent.

2. Eisuke Sakakibara: Known as “Mr. Yen” and the man who coined the phrase “market fundamentalism” to describe neoliberal economic policies, Sakakibara is a well respected Japanese technocrat and intellectual who is not afraid to speak his mind. Sakakibara was Japan’s nomination for the MD position 11 years ago. His tenure might signal a shift away from economic neoliberalism at the Fund.

3. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai: The incorruptible former Finance Minister of Afghanistan under Hamid Karzai has extensive experience in the challenges faced when rebuilding shattered economies. In addition, he worked for a decade in the World Bank and understands the Bretton Woods institutions very well. His drawback is that he can be gruff and does not tolerate fools — which is partly why  he was forced out of office in Afghanistan.

4. Anne Osborn Kreuger: Admittedly, a Westerner, but still quite worthy of consideration. An American economics professor who was the First Deputy Managing Director of the IMF from 2001 to 2006 and a former chief economist at the World Bank. She made a concerted effort to address the pressing issue of sovereign debt restructuring in her time at the IMF.

5. Montek Singh Ahluwalia: A whip smart economist who headed the IMF’s Independent Evaluation Office. He was also part of the team of economists, along with Manmohan Singh, who helped to engineer India’s liberalization policies in the nineties. Montek has said he is not putting his name forward for the position, but I think he could be talked into it. He is a figure who is accustomed to controversy, but at the very least his work at the IEO would make him aware of the many failures of the IMF in recent decades.

I’d be interested to hear other names from my fellow Ducks and our readers…


Do the ‘Securitweebs’ matter?: Between Facts and Snark

Brian C. Rathbun now has 64 twitter followers!

Co-authored by Stephanie Carvin and Ben O’Loughlin

This article is about the twitter community who post content about human security or security in a non–traditional context – not just tanks and strategy but natural disaster relief, post-conflict reconstruction, low level political violence, and all the law and politics surrounding these issues.

So far as we can tell, this community seems to share the following characteristics:

  • They are a mix of journalists, think tankers, academics, NGO staff, and students.
  • While they frequently link to articles on traditional media websites, they frequently produce their own content, whether that is academic research, op-eds, or ‘reputable’ blog posts.
  • Although anyone may have a twitter account, and it may be seen as an equalizer, these individuals seem to have ‘elite’ qualifications. They seem to have skills (languages), experiences (military, conflict zones, journalism) or qualifications (graduate education). They are engaged with research and researchers.
  • They follow each other on twitter and engage with each other, forming a dense network. They often re-tweet each other’s links.
  • The perspective is often US-centric but inflected with international experiences and views.
  • The politics tends towards the centre-left on US terms or centre in Europe, but recent disagreement over whether to intervene in Libya shows there is no soggy consensus.
  • The content combines expertise, news, and a high degree of snark.

Taken together, this is the community of Securitweebs.

Two things made us write this article. A few weeks ago Stephanie posted a request for information about NGOs and landmines in the 1980s and got back really useful information from several tweeters, including @theHALOTrust – who also put her into contact with other organizations. Meanwhile down the hall, Ben was putting together a talk about how to identify and map ‘influencers’ in social media in order to shape what narrative spreads about Afghanistan or Syria. Is it possible to influence the narrative spreading among the Securitweebs? And can the Securitweebs as a whole control the narrative spreading beyond? There are nodal players within the Securitweebs, but the Securitweebs are a node within international public affairs.

The Securitweebs are an epistemic community: a network of experts who produce what counts as the truth about an issue. Mainstream media will come to them when the issue becomes a breaking story. Policymakers may solicit their leading figures of the moment, who will channel the collective wisdom of the network (and Tweet back to the network while being consulted, in close to real time, possibly adding a snarky comment).

Epistemic communities have long existed. What difference does existence through Twitter make? It is too soon to tell, but we would present a few observations:

  • Posting a question and receiving useful Tweets back makes it easy to survey a field, find hard-to-locate information, or even find new possibilities for collaboration. This is expertise harnessing crowd wisdom.
  • In addition, the network effects mean the connectivity of the most followed make it possible for anyone to produce content that becomes widely disseminated very quickly.
  • However, there is the obvious danger of groupthink; there is a consistent style and perspective as well as a shared interest, and that style and perspective is likely to attract the like-minded.
  • It’s interesting to conceive of how “nodes” work in this network. While there are many with thousands of followers (@abumuqawama and @afpackchannel for example), there are others with only a few hundred – but are well connected enough that their tweets, when picked up by this dense network, may have a substantial impact. Does this mean the network is essentially a multiplier?

Does the Securitweeb network differ from other communities? Do Securitweebs engage in more self-promotion than, say, the experts Tweeting about climate science? Does the level of political literacy or historical awareness or systemic sexual promiscuity differ from levels in the development community? Does the Securitweeb have more influence over security policy than Economistweebs do over taxing and spending? How does this network differ from a network about cupcake enthusiasts?

So what do Duck Readers think about this interpretation of the discussion of security/human security in the twittersphere? +1 or #fail?

@Ben_OLoughlin @StephanieCarvin


Kicking the Can Down the Ring Road

How is it that time and time again we are persuaded to hang on for another year in Afghanistan with the mantra that counterinsurgency (a.k.a. COIN) will really work this time. While I certainly acknowledge the limited range of alternative options and oppose any peace agreement with the Taliban, I think that putting our faith in COIN time and time again is problematic… To understand why, perhaps a (not so brief) recap of how the discourse of COIN has mutated in Afghanistan would be helpful…

From late 2003 to mid 2004, Robert Andrews, a CIA and DoD official and Donald Rumsfeld’s head of special operations, began urging the US to undertake a “countrywide counterinsurgency” campaign in Afghanistan (WaPo, 8 August 2004). However, COIN in Andrew’s outlook mainly entailed an effort to broaden the manhunt for terrorists by attempting to target drug lords who were thought to be propping up the warlords, the Taliban, and Al Qaeda. (In actuality, of course, it was the US which has paid, armed, and legitimated Afghanistan’s warlords since 9/11. In turn, those warlords helped to maintain the central government’s weakness thereby fueling the dramatic growth of narco-trafficking — but these inconvenient contradictions in US policy were ignored by experts who never seriously contemplated the idea that the US itself could be the heart of the problem they were trying to manage.) Andrews, like his boss Donald Rumsfeld, thought that the idea of counterinsurgency could be used as an antidote to “overmilitarization” of the conflict. They still seemed to envision counterinsurgency as reliant on light, fast moving elite units linked to “local allies.”

Other military experts did articulate a more conventional understanding of COIN doctrine, for example US CENTCOM Director, Brigadier General Douglas Lute, argued that COIN required a separation between the insurgent and his base of support.  However, Lute said that it takes 20 years to develop a seasoned civil affairs officer or to train a linguist (Tampa Tribune 26 August 2004). In other words, he was skeptical of the ability to transform the US military to engage in a counterinsurgency mission in Afghanistan. Such frank and pessimistic comments would become a rarity or heavily diluted in order to be used as a plea for patience with an ever expansive COIN strategy in the years to come.

In November 2004, the US Army re-issued its counterinsurgency manual for the first time since the American defeat in Vietnam. Although the release of the manual was intended to address challenges being faced in Iraq, it would obviously become relevant in Afghanistan once the Taliban’s Maoist-style insurgency would move into a more confrontational phase (Giustozzi 2008).  Notably, this manual advised against a prolonged counterinsurgency campaign stating that the longer a counterinsurgency strategy is used the more resentment it breeds. Despite its flaws, the hastily published manual replaced the woefully outdated and Orientalist “Small Wars Manual” then being used in Iraq:

“One purpose for the manual, Colonel Horvath said, was to update archaic language and concepts. The ‘Small Wars Manual,’ which many Marines carried to Iraq, includes sections on the ‘management of animals’ like mules, and assertions like a warning that mixed-race societies are ‘always difficult to govern, if not ungovernable, owing to the absence of a fixed character,'” (NY Times, 13 November 2004).

Nevertheless, the existence of the Small Wars Manual calls into question some revisionist claims in the mainstream press that the US military had no framework for thinking about an insurgency prior to 2004.

By 2005, the US began to talk openly of handing off the Afghanistan campaign to NATO and cutting the 20,000 US troops by at least 20% the next spring in order to focus on the Iraq War. NATO initially balked at the idea of being drawn into a counterinsurgency campaign commanded by the Americans (NY Times 14 September 2005).  Defense Secretary Rumsfeld insisted that the US could manage the counterinsurgency with the current level of troops until NATO was ready. In October, NATO caved to US pressure and agreed to increase its troops from 9,000 to 15,000, move away from its existing peacekeeping mission, and take on the counterinsurgency mission minus the counter-narcotics mission (NY Times, 7 October 2005).  The US still hoped that it could hand off the entire COIN mission to NATO’s 15,000 troops in the near future. (In other words, this was basically a mini-surge). Lt. General Barno predicted in April 2005 that the insurgency would collapse in about a year.

As it turned out, 2005 was the most lethal year for American soldiers in Afghanistan since the war began. But American commanders claimed to have killed 600 insurgents and had plans to “step-up” attacks in insurgent areas and to train Afghan troops to fight through the winter. The US also hoped that spending $68 million on “development” projects would help win over hearts and minds in southern Afghanistan the next spring. The relative absence of Taliban attacks during the 2004 Presidential elections and the 2005 Parliamentary elections, which we now know was mainly due to intense US pressure on Pakistan to seal its borders (Rashid 2008, 259), bolstered the idea that counterinsurgency efforts were working.  US advisors boasted that the 20,000 strong ANA was ready to safeguard the country and that they had already performed admirably under fire. Defense Intelligence advisors told reporters that the ANA was stocked with former mujahideen who had fought the Soviets in the 1980s.  Hence, the Afghan troops were considered “competent and capable,” (Daily News [New York] 18 September 2005).

As the Americans transferred authority to Canadian troops in Kandahar at the end of 2005, the Canadians stated they would use the same rules of engagement as the Americans. Canadian Col. S.J. Bowles stated that “We understand this is an active insurgency,” (NY Times, 31 December 2005). The US had encouraged such statements because it was concerned that a failure to vigorously pursue COIN tactics and strategy would endanger the “slow but steady political, economic, and security gains” they claimed to have achieved in southern Afghanistan. It was clear that the Americans thought holding on to territory in southern Afghanistan was critical to the counterinsurgency struggle. The US military continued to believe that the Taliban was some kind of ethnic insurgency rather than a ruthless, adaptive, and opportunistic set of loosely affiliated militant organizations that would recruit disaffected and frustrated young men wherever it was possible and convenient.  Hence the US continued to focus on clearing and holding southern Afghanistan when it should have realized that the Taliban were probably busy infiltrating the north in the same way they had gradually infiltrated the south.

By 2006, US military officials claimed that COIN doctrine had finally been incorporated into US military training centers. Army experts and commanders stated that prior applications of COIN (e.g. cordon and sweep) were incorrect and counterproductive due to inadequate training. General Petraeus stated that as the next crop of officers entered the field, COIN would be properly applied to “make a difference” in 2007 (WaPo, 21 January 2006). In reality, light infantry forces had been receiving at least some training in counterinsurgency since 1987 at the Joint Readiness Training Center in Fort Polk, Louisiana (Dallas Morning News, 20 March 2006) — but the General’s narrative was rarely challenged.

In May 2006, the Marines began drafting a new counterinsurgency manual apparently for the first time in 25 years.  This manual argued “The (counterinsurgency) effort requires a firm political will and extreme patience,” (China Daily, 23 May 2006). Military experts were quoted as saying that the operation could last another 3 to 12 years, some even said it could go on for any number of years. The mission to “push out timelines” was now in full swing (WaPo, 24 September 2006). A key element in gaining support for an indefinite timeline was to show sufficient progress to continue the campaign yet another year.

Thus, one of the most frequently cited statistics to show that counterinsurgency was working and hearts & minds were being won over related to the number of schools being built and the enrollment of girls in those schools. In fact, the school was usually the only sign of the central government’s penetration of remote rural areas. The fact that this strategy would make schools into a lightning rod for the insurgents, thereby endangering Afghan children, was either not thought through or simply ignored. School building should have followed other (gradual) development objectives rather than leading the attempt to penetrate rural areas (to the extent that a strategy based on the state’s penetration of rural areas has any wisdom in the Afghan historical and cultural context). Of course, with each school burning and attack on teachers and school children by the Taliban, the enemy was portrayed as even more ruthless and the counterinsurgency strategy was redoubled.

Another metric of demonstrating progress was counting bodies of dead insurgents — a practice which was contrary to the essence of standard counterinsurgency doctrine. If anything the reliance on such a metric at a time when COIN was supposedly becoming the core doctrine of western forces in Afghanistan indicated tensions within the US military as well as ISAF (Globe & Mail 3 November 2006). Perhaps there is/was a disagreement between soft, hard, and very hard COINistas in the military. Of course, even in a conventional conflict, body count data would only be meaningful if the Taliban had a limited stock of recruits or an inability to replenish its ranks continuously. As such an assumption was questionable, the repetition of official body count statistics by journalists was a relatively mindless activity.

A third metric to secure patience were statistics about the growing size of the ANA and ANP to which power would eventually be handed. The startling desertion rates and high levels of illiteracy among the recruits were rarely mentioned in the early years. It was also not generally acknowledged that the ANA had mainly been trained in a light infantry model to support US and ISAF operations. It was always unclear just how many ANA and ANP troops would ultimately be needed. There was no discussion of how an ever expanding Afghan military could be supported by the domestic economy of one of the poorest countries on Earth. The political ramifications of building a massive military and police force for Afghanistan’s democracy were also not articulated to the public. By 2007, the ANA had reached 37,000 soldiers and there were plans to double the size of the military. The fetish for “doubling” existing troop strength should have been a clue that military planners had no idea of what constituted a sufficient or sustainable military… ultimately, it did not matter how many troops were necessary, stating a goal of doubling troops by next year would help make the case for more patience and more funding for the strategy for at least another year.  So now in 2011 we have an ANA with 150,000 troops, with the goal of 260,000 by 2014, the ANP is now at 115,000 police officers with goal of 160,000 by 2014.

Finally, a revisionist chronology of the Anbar Awakening and the Surge in Iraq helped to build confidence that COIN can work in Afghanistan.

To skeptics who argued that the situation in Afghanistan increasingly seemed like a quagmire, COINistas would point out that classical counterinsurgency actually dictated a far higher level of troop strength and an 80/20 allocation of resources between nonmilitary and military efforts (New Yorker, 18 December 2006). Although the basis for such claims is questionable and reliant on deference to military authority, they create immense space for bureaucratic budgetary lobbying to “do it right, this time.” So today in 2011 we have 132,203 ISAF troops in Afghanistan, including 90,000 US soldiers.  There are also 18,919 private security contractors in Afghanistan. Will this be enough troop strength, particularly when combined with 260,000 ANA and 160,000 ANP to carry out counter-insurgency the “right way” against an estimated 36,000 Taliban? Check back in 2014…


Obama’s “1967” Play

What to make of it? Was it significant, or just more of the same?

Of course it was significant — it is the first time a U.S. president has publicly claimed the “1967 lines” as the basis for negotiations and it came after an apparent “angry” phone call from Netanyahu to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton demanding that the language be removed from the speech. It was clearly meant to send a signal.

For the past five months, the Obama administration’s reaction to the Arab spring has been a blend of soft rhetorical support with a wait-and-see approach. (This, by the way, was exactly the approach George H.W. Bush’s team took during the East European revolutions in 1989.)

But, we now have a better picture of where things are likely headed. And, while the Israeli-Palestinian issue was a non-factor in the Arab revolutions thus far, that’s about to change.

Liberal democratic neighbors might ultimately be good for Israel. But, we’re not likely to see any in the region any time soon — democratic transitions are long and difficult — and inherently unstable. New elites will emerge and exploit populist appeals and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is low-hanging fruit. The type of violence against the Palestinians that erupted last weekend, coupled with continued settlements are ready made for demagoguery and exploitation by new (and old) Arab politicians seeking to carve out political space and support. Given popular (median voter) opposition to Israel, any elections are likely to produce governments that are more skeptical and confrontational toward the Israelis.

At the Herzliya Conference in early February, Alex Mintz of the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy at IDC Herzliya warned that the strategic time-frame that used to be in Israel’s favor is now against it. With unstable revolutionary transitions, a weaker U.S. position in the region, and greater regional diplomatic energy coming from Ankara and Tehran, coupled with dysfunctional Israeli domestic institutions, significant gaps in Israeli society, and with problematic demographic trends, Israel is now, in many ways, in a more vulnerable position than at anytime since 1967.

Netanyahu and the American right have been banking on the status quo to create new realities on the ground — more settlements = new and better lines to negotiate from. That approach is now not only unsustainable, but will become increasingly more dangerous for the Israelis in the wake of the Arab revolutions. The strategic time-frame has shifted and it clearly is not on the Israeli side — that seems to be the gist of Obama’s “1967” play.

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