Month: February 2013 (Page 1 of 4)

Thursday Morning Linkage

I’m going to be filling in with some morning linkage in the coming weeks/months, so you’ll probably see some posts with a smattering of U.S. foreign policy, global health, climate change, and whatever strikes my fancy such as the following:

– the triennial meeting of CITES, the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species, opens in the next few days in Thailand (preview in Nature here) amidst a global crisis in rhino and elephant poaching; here is a podcast by Julian Rademayer, author of an expose on the illegal rhino trade; and another two on sharks and manta rays from the Pew Environment Group; the host Thai government itself is being targeted for its legal loophole that allows for the trade of domestic ivory from captive elephants which apparently traffickers are using to disguise international ivory

– Trevor Houser estimates how much of the 13% decline in U.S. CO2 emissions below 2005 levels is because of reduced economic activity (a lot), the shift from coal to natural gas (a good slug), and the rise of renewables (a decent slice) but with natural gas prices on the rise, coal consumption may be rising again


– Naazneen Barma, Ely Ratner, and Steven Weber follow up their earlier article in the National Interest on the world without the West with the provocative piece “The Mythical Liberal Order”

– Mead Over writes about the 700+ page review of PEPFAR,  the U.S. bilateral AIDS program, by the Institute of Medicine that declared that “PEPFAR has saved and improved the lives of millions”

– Ezra Klein thinks the sequester’s effects on defense spending aren’t by historic standards such a significant cut

Military-spending-sequester– Jay Ulfelder reminds us that big data won’t kill theory, that we’re a long ways from having enough data to be able to interpret the world without a theoretical net

– Michael Levi argues that energy innovation alone will not deliver a clean energy revolution

– Bono gave another TED talk, proclaiming he’s a “factivist” and that extreme poverty will be gone by 2030

The new issues of Foreign Affairs and Survival are out

– Conor Friedersdorf reminds us of Jennifer Rubin’s spectacularly bad prognostication on the Hagel nomination



Wednesday Morning Link Dump

Egypt DuckIt’s that time of year in the Georgetown Government Department… when we juggle financial aid offers and admissions in an attempt to lock down a strong incoming class of PhD students. This takes up lots of my mental energy, leaving little for the Duck of Minerva.

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Tuesday Morning Linkage Club Lite

cute-duckThere’s a lot going on in the world, but there’s also a lot going on in my world, so here’s your abbreviated linkage:

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The Syrian Conflict: to Internationalize or not to Internationalize

Earlier this month, The Guardian reported that the Obama administration blocked a Pentagon supported plan to provide arms to Syrian opposition forces.  For civilians in Syria hoping  for meaningful intervention to stop the conflict, this must have been difficult news to absorb.  I was reminded of this story yesterday while attending an informative workshop in Amman, Jordan on Islamic law and the protection of civilians. At the time, we were discussing how a non-international armed conflict (NIAC) becomes an international armed conflict (IAC) under international humanitarian law (IHL).   In legalese, this happens when a state becomes “a party to the conflict”, aligning with the rebels in opposition to the government.  This discussion made me wonder whether the United States would become a party to the Syrian conflict if the Obama administration did decide to arm the rebels.  It’s pretty clear that taking part in hostilities on the ground, say dropping bombs on government targets, would make a state a party to the conflict.  But what about more indirect involvement like supplying weapons to rebel forces?  IHL says a state can become a party to an armed conflict if its support of an opposition force is such that the opposition force’s actions can be attributed to that state.  What acts would create this relationship under IHL is subject to debate.  Providing military aid might qualify if it is done so that it enables a state to exert some control over rebel forces.  While the United States has rejected plans to arm the Syrian rebels, some regional countries allegedly have supplied them with arms.  If the weapons transfers enable these states to exert legally sufficient control over the rebels, it may well transform the Syrian conflict from a NIAC to an IAC. Continue reading


Time to Redefine the Term “soft power”?


The broad goal of this blog, to the credit of its founders, is to bridge the gap between foreign policy practitioners and foreign policy scholars.  Prior to joining it recently, I have known its reputation for doing just that.  While in government I kept a mental note every time I came across a policymaker who regularly followed the Duck, and frankly I lost count.  So in this vein I’d like to quibble with something I thoroughly digested as a student, regularly promulgated as a professor, and gradually began to question as a policymaker.  It seems high time to question the usefulness of how we define the term “soft power,” which has gained credence ever since the scholar Joseph Nye came up with it more than decade ago.

Nye’s classic definition of the term–the attractiveness of a country based on the legitimacy of its policies and the political and cultural values that underpin them–seemed reasonable enough when I first became familiar with it in the mid 1990s.  The notion that a country’s cultural power could influence other countries and cause their governments to either agree more with a country of cultural prowess or adopt similar values made a lot of sense.  The Cold War had recently come to an end, and the rush of East Central European governments to join the West in all ways seemed just the evidence one needed to subscribe not only to the concept, but also the view that the U.S. possessed a whole lot of soft power that was causing other countries to agree with or emulate it.  After all liberalism and openness of all kinds were being celebrated, and the new concept of globalization was further and futher in evidence while the third wave of democracy was spreading fast.

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Monday Linkage

Photo by Hamed Saber

Mornin’ ducks… In anticipation of the P5+1 talks in Kazakhstan this week, let’s start the week  in…


  • Yousaf Butt, a nuclear physicist, urges the West to make Iran a serious offer.  But Patrick Clawson argues that the Islamic Republic is just too dysfunctional to cut a nuclear deal.  Farhang Jahanpour at Juan Cole’s Informed Comment blog argues that talks with Iran might just work this time.  Whose argument should we believe?
  • In other news… For the first time since Iran and the US cooperated in overthrowing the Taliban, they have joined forces again to save … wrestling.  Wait … does this mean the Iron Sheik is coming out of retirement?!?  Hulkster, are you hearin’ this? Oh, wait it’s not the kind of wrestling where the Americans always win in the end… it’s the other kind.
  • There’s another area where Iran clobbers the US: Iran is apparently much better than the US at providing maternity leave.  But to be fair, almost everyone in the world is better than the US on this indicator (Notably, Iran also has obligatory two-week paternity leave).  Now on the issue of abortion rights in Iran it’s a rather different story… (h/t Robin Dougherty)

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Can IR Theory Free this Student?

IMG_2294-1Omid Kokabee is a University of Texas PhD student from the Department of Physics who was arrested in 2011 when he returned home to Iran over the winter break to visit his family.

Though he is by all accounts apolitical, Omid was sentenced to 10 years for conspiring with foreign governments and given additional time in jail after he earned some money teaching other prisoners foreign languages and physics. His fellow students in the UT Physics Department have launched a campaign to try to free him. They asked my wife, also a political scientist, about what they should do.  Can we learn anything from international relations about how to free Omid? What do you think?  Continue reading


On the Word ‘Global’

The word ‘global’ has become so frequently used in Western strategic debate that is has almost become background music. On one level, overuse robs it of resonance. But on another, it might be contributing to the conceptual and rhetorical overstretch that has led the US to overextend itself.

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Torture as War Victory: My Hugely Unpopular Thesis about the ‘Real’ Agenda of Zero Dark Thirty


“This is what winning looks like”

I have to confess, I was late to watch “Zero Dark Thirty” (ODT). I read a handful of reviews and blogs about the movie, had arguments with friends about its message, and even wrote it off completely–all weeks before I bothered to watch it. I wasn’t interested in watching another American war movie, nor was I keen to see the lengthy torture scenes I had read about in the reviews. I figured I already knew exactly what the content was (are there every any real surprises in American war movies? and, didn’t we all know how this story ended anyway?) and that there was really nothing left to say. BUT, I think there is something left to say about the film.

First, let’s all be honest: most of us walked away from this movie saying to ourselves “did I miss something?” What about the film deserved all the Oscar hype, debate, and acclaim? By most standards, this was a classic, boring American war movie. In this case, the lack of plot and acting skills are made up with using violent torture scenes rather than expensive battle scenes. There is no emotional journey, no big moral dilemma that the characters are going through (I’ll get to torture soon), little plot twist (again, we all know how it ends after all), and no unique or interesting characters (don’t get me started on Jessica Chastain–what exactly about her stone-faced performance warrants an Oscar? perhaps she deserves an award for for ‘most consistent blank expression’). So what gives? Is this just another “King’s Speech”? Meaning, is this just another big movie that people talk about and get behind, but no one actually can put their finger on what was remotely interesting about it (never mind what was destructive about it)?

So I’m calling it. Not only was this movie soul-less, boring and poorly made, everyone seemed to miss the message (and it is easy enough to do). The real question about ODT is not whether or not it is condoning torture. Continue reading


Academic Freedom and the Challenges of Going Global: LSE Cancels Conference in UAE.

imgres-1Apparently, the Arab Spring will not come to the UAE this weekend. Planners of an LSE conference on the implications of the Arab Spring set for this weekend in UAE have cancelled the event after efforts by senior UAE officials to control the content. From the BBC:

A senior LSE academic told the BBC he had been detained at the airport in Dubai on Friday.

Dr Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, who is the co-director of the Kuwait programme at LSE, said immigration authorities had separated him from his colleagues and confiscated his passport before denying him entry and sending him back to London.

In an earlier statement given to the BBC, the university said:

“The London School of Economics and Political Science has cancelled a conference it was co-hosting with the American University of Sharjah on The Middle East: Transition in the Arab World.

“The decision was made in response to restrictions imposed on the intellectual content of the event that threatened academic freedom.”

It did not say who had placed restrictions on the conference but a well-placed source told the BBC pressure had come from “very senior” UAE government officials.

To date LSE has received £5.6m ($8.5m) from the Emirates Foundation, which is funded by the UAE government, but the institution denied that the foundation was involved in placing the restrictions.

I am guessing we’ll get more details about this specific event in the days to come. But, here are a couple of quick thoughts:

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Note to Bahrain: Release Prisoners and Provide More Social Services

Thanks to a very awesome grad student of mine, I just realized that last week marked the second anniversary of the start of the Bahrain uprising.  Fueled by protests in Tunisia and Egypt, citizens of this small and very beautiful island state took to the streets to demand political changes.  For two years, the protests have not completely dissipated but haven’t escalated to the point of civil war either. What explains this continued state of violent limbo?

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Friday Morning Linkage

sitting ducks
Here’s the round-up:


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The New Grand-Strategic Divide? A Response to Thomas Wright

Teddy_RooseveltThe style of this piece deviates from what I usually put up here. By way of explanation: I wrote this after some initial indications of interest by Foreign Policy in running a response. But they’ve got a lot on their plate and they no longer seem intrigued. Frankly, that’s for the best; this is now about as long as Tom’s initial piece. So I’m posting it at the Duck. Full disclosure: I served on Tom’s dissertation committee and co-authored an article, “What’s at Stake in the American Empire Debate,” with him. So this should be viewed as a friendly, if spirited, rejoinder. For another reaction, see David Schorr’s piece at Democracy Arsenal.

Thomas Wright’s “Neocons vs. Realists is so 2008” gets a lot right about the emerging grand-strategic debate in the United States. He argues that it stretches between  two poles. One is composed of “restrainers” who “believe that the United States is overcommitted in the world” and seek some kind of retrenchment combining “nation-building at home” with a reduced emphasis on shaping the global environment. The other is occupied by “shapers” who advocate a continued–or even expanded–American commitment to ordering international affairs. He contends that Obama’s second term will likely be dominated by a specific breed of “restrainer,” one that “want[s] to preserve America’s core alliances” but also “to avoid any new entanglements that go beyond core commitments” and relies on allies to shoulder a greater burden in future interventions. Although the administration has “been a shaper in East Asia and a restrainer in the Middle East,” the impulse for restraint looks poised to dominate future foreign-policy decisions.

Wright paints a plausible picture of the current ideological balance in the Obama Administration. It clearly prefers to “invest” in long-neglected capital projects over maintaining current levels of defense expenditures. Given the current fiscal-political environment, pursuing such a preference will require continuing efforts to convince allies and partners to accept a greater share of the military burden. Wright also offers an important corrective to the assumptions of some of the “restrainers.” We should not over-interpret the long-term implications of current US economic performance and the general fatigue created by the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts. India, Brazil, China, and the rest of the rising-powers crowd face their own challenges. Some of these may prove more intractable than the self-inflicted wounds created by Washington’s current dysfunctions.

Moreover, the odds suggest the formation of the kinds of foreign-policy coalitions Wright anticipates–including the increasing alignment of liberal and conservative “shapers.” This entails situational alliances among neoconservatives, primacy realists, and muscular liberal-internationalists. All three camps fit within the “shaper” rubric insofar as they believe that the United States can, and should, maintain international primacy–what scholars call “hegemony”–for as long as possible. However, they disagree about many things. Primacy realists are constitutionally skeptical of placing the maintenance and expansion of liberal order at the center of American foreign policy. When they conflict, the argument goes, realpolitik considerations should always trump the promotion of liberal values–whether human rights, democracy, or multilateral international governance.

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Legal Prostitution: what can we learn from the empirical record?

No, this isn’t one of those posts where we go all “Monkey Cage” on our readers and pimp (sorry)  promote political-science research, but rather a “Dan is befuddled, perhaps readers might help” kind of thing. In other words, I make no effort to answer the question of the title. The post is an extended version of the question itself.

In one of those strange synergies associated with social media, I’ve seen a fair number of things about prostitution today. Erik Loomis points to an interesting history of sex work. Then there’s this Julie Bindel piece arguing that “the Dutch experiment in legalized prostitution has been a disaster,” which isn’t very good but does mention the key problem with experiments on decriminalizing and legalizing prostitution: that they just seem to make life easier for pimps, organized criminal syndicates, human traffickers, and others seeking to profit from the exploitation of women and men  (she does a better job chronicling those issues here). Sweden’s decision to abandon a regulatory model and criminalize the buying of sex (but not the selling of sex) gets a lot of positive press these days.

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Update: UWE Response to My Letter

I have an update for those interested in the decision by the University of the West of England to shutter its Politics and IR programs.

Help Wanted...

Last night, I sent the following message to UWE Vice Chancellor Steven West:

19 February 2013

Dear Vice Chancellor West,

I learned today that the University of the West of England is seriously considering a decision to close its Politics and International Relations programs. I believe that would be a serious mistake and would urge you not to make it.

From what I understand, the decision will be part of a university effort to refocus coursework around skills and vocational training.

In the United States, some excellent recent scholarship demonstrates that liberal arts education is actually much more valuable than vocational and professional education. In the book Academically Adrift (University of Chicago, 2010), scholars Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa find that liberal arts students receive a far superior education compared to students enrolled in other degree program — and this is later reflected in the job market. The reason for the far better performance is academic rigor. Students pursuing traditional liberal arts majors showed “significantly higher gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing skills over time.” Students pursuing practical and applied fields — business, education, social work, and communications — were more likely to be at the bottom of their rankings.

Data on the Politics and IR webpage at UWE seem to confirm this US data by revealing that the overwhelming majority (over 90%) of IR students at your university are either employed or enrolled in additional courses of study six months after they complete the program.

None of this data speak to the field-dependent reasons for saving Politics and IR. Many of the world’s most important problems will require concerted political action in order to prevent disaster. The current policy stagnation on climate change, for example, has much more to do with international politics than it does natural or physical science. Similarly, the world continues to confront the tremendous problems of war, weapons proliferation, poverty, and hunger. In all these areas, the world needs people trained in politics and international relations to help understand the global issues, frame potential solutions, and build winning coalitions. Nation-states, nongovernmental organizations, international institutions, and global businesses will have to come together around these problem areas. Today’s Politics and IR students funnel into jobs in all of those entities.

Again, I urge you not to close Politics and IR at UWE.


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2013 Awards Update

I apologize for my radio silence on the OIAS awards since we announced the finalists. The winners are being selected by a panel of judges for each award. Each panel is composed of staff from the Duck of Minerva and “outside experts.” The latter have PhDs in political science and are “blog savvy,” meaning that they either maintain blogs and/or are long-term consumers of academic blogs. Each judge is providing a “top two” ranking directly to me. I will tally the outcome using a basic Borda-count procedure.

As detailed in previous posts:

[W]e will announce winners at the annual meeting of the International Studies Association (ISA). The award ceremony will take place during the first-ever International Studies Blogging reception–which will occur on Thursday April 4th from 7.30-8.30pm. The reception, which is sponsored by SAGE, will feature 4-5 minute “spoken blogpost” presentations. The current lineup includes Erica ChenowethDan DreznerRob FarleyMarc Lynch, and Steve Walt. We hope that ISA participants will join us, and note that the OAIS awards are in no way, shape, or form affiliated with the ISA.

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Wednesday Linkage

Sitting Ducks• Belusconi offers tax rebates. Opponents accuse him of seeking to “buy votes.” 

The letter came in an official-looking envelope, headed: “Important notice: reimbursement of IMU 2012.”

“The refund will be available either through a transfer into your bank account, or to you personally at the counter of the post office,” the letter said, according to Reuters.

It was sent to millions of households in Sicily, Veneto, Campania and Lombardy – key regions which could decide the result of the election, which is held on Sunday and Monday.

The IMU tax amounts to 0.4% of the value of a property owner’s primary residence, and is comparable to similar taxes levied elsewhere in Europe.

• Analysis on the implications of the Italian election from Brent Whelan.
• Anti-austerity protests bring down the Bulgarian government.
• Kelsey Davenport brings us the “view from Seoul” on North Korean nuclear activity.
• Should the US and Europe “make Iran a serious offer?” What if Iranian “nuclear breakout” is worse for oil markets than a US preventive strike on the country? Continue reading

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