Tag: Featured (Page 1 of 37)

Wednesday Linkage

Editor’s note: this post originally appeared on my personal blog. It contains some links to posts that appeared here at the Duck.

1. An interview with Jim Fearon about Ukraine. Lots of good stuff here, both about Ukraine and in general. As you’d expect.

2b. Some thoughts from Branislav Slantchev about Russia’s Cold War Syndrome. c. Anna Pechenkina reacts. d. Slantchev responds.

3. Still want to read more about Ukraine? Okay, check out Taylor Marvin on why it doesn’t make much sense to use force in Syria in order to signal resolve. I agree. Using force in one crisis to influence perceptions about your willingness to do so elsewhere may make sense under certain conditions, but the crises would have to be pretty similar. Unlike some, I’m not convinced that failing to poke out the eyeballs of someone who flipped you off will lead the world to think that you wouldn’t lift a finger to stop someone from beating your children to death with a baseball bat.

4. Also, check out this nice post by Anita Kellog on what the crisis does (or does not) tell us about the impact of economic interdependence. Key quote: “In 2012 total trade with Russia (imports and exports) accounted for 26% of Ukraine’s economic activities, whereas this trade accounted for only 2% of Russia’s GDP.”

5. Assad announces bid for reelection. He’s, um, expected to win.

6. A call for partition of Central African Republic. Key quote: “‘The partition itself has already been done. Now there only remains the declaration of independence,’ said Abdel Nasser Mahamat Youssouf, member of a youth group lobbying for the secession of the north, as he pointed to the flag of what he said would be a secular republic.”

7. This isn’t everything you need to know about Israel and Palestine, the title notwithstanding, but it’s still a nice resource. Fairly comprehensive, but still concise. Worth assigning to students.

8. The Marshall Islands is suing the world’s nuclear powers (h/t Holly Gerrity). Key quote: “While the suit seems unlikely to end in any country being compelled to disarm, it will at the very least highlight the fact that while existing nuclear powers frequently invoke international law to argue for why countries like Iran shouldn’t have nuclear weapons, they tend to gloss over the other part of the deal—that they will work to fully eliminate their own arsenals.”

9. A trade spat between the US and Mexico over sugar (h/t Rebecca Johnson). Key quote: “John W. Bode, the president of the Corn Refiners Association, ‘The political influence of the US sugar industry is legendary…. They may be only 4 percent of US agriculture but when you look at political contributions, they account for a third.'”

10. Writing a great abstract (h/t Brent Sasley). A lot of good advice. Key quote: “The ideal abstract…has three parts. 1. statement of the area of concern or disputation 2. statement of the thesis or argument 3. implications for further research.”

11. Interview with GRRM. The whole thing is worth reading, but I found this quote to be of particular interest: “The war that Tolkien wrote about was a war for the fate of civilization and the future of humanity, and that’s become the template. I’m not sure that it’s a good template, though. The Tolkien model led generations of fantasy writers to produce these endless series of dark lords and their evil minions who are all very ugly and wear black clothes. But the vast majority of wars throughout history are not like that. World War I is much more typical of the wars of history than World War II – the kind of war you look back afterward and say, ‘What the hell were we fighting for? Why did all these millions of people have to die? Was it really worth it to get rid of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, that we wiped out an entire generation, and tore up half the continent? Was the War of 1812 worth fighting? The Spanish-American War? What the hell were these people fighting for?'”

11. John Oliver on India’s election.


How the Blogosphere Helps Junior Scholars?


Dear Readers,

In this post, I would like to focus on the few ways in which the blogosphere and social media more generally help junior scholars. I will use myself as an example.

It is not easy for me to reach out to senior colleagues and start a dialogue. I find it much easier to respond to a blog post they publish than to email them out of the blue. Right before last ISA, I contacted a senior scholar about his guest post on the Duck. He replied in the kindest manner possible. And I had the privilege to have lunch with him at ISA. I am very thankful.

I am interested in meeting new colleagues, finding collaborators, and making new friends. But networking is not my forte. Even though I have only contributed a handful of posts to the Duck thus far, I had the opportunity to get acquainted with a few contemporaries. I look forward to meeting them in person at upcoming conferences.

Remember the times you had to dine alone at conferences because you didn’t know anyone other than your graduate school friends. I had my fair share of isolated nights. I didn’t enjoy eating alone in my hotel room.  I and many others, I think, will have pleasant dinners at conferences thanks to the social media.

Academic blogs also help me stay connected to the field. I have heavy teaching responsibilities. I admit that I am not always on top of what is hot in all the subfields during the academic year. Blogs give me an idea of what I should read during the summer months. And as Jon mentioned, blog posts make good reading materials in some courses.

Facilitating a sense of community is another contribution of the blogosphere. A few people told me that they appreciated the simple post I wrote about letter of recommendation requests. The post signaled to them that they weren’t alone. Their feedback signaled to me that I wasn’t out there.

Academic blogs also offer a great opportunity to junior scholars to figure out how things work. Colleagues generously share their experiences on social media. Some offer advice. I continue to learn from them. I am glad I don’t need to reinvent the wheel.

I think junior faculty and grad students have a lot of reason to support the ISA “Online Media Caucus.” Thank you Steve and others for coming up with this proposal.





Learning the Wrong Lessons? Who Should Blog?

In the past week, there has been a heap of controversy here over a post that many folks found to be offensive.  In reaction, the blogger is ceasing to blog, Charli  discuss the challenges of blogging, and others still are drawing lessons, such as Christopher Zorn who posted on his FB page “the vast majority of academic political scientists are just not cut out to be bloggers, and probably shouldn’t do so.”

My reaction to this is:

Continue reading


Turkey, Syria and the Geopolitics of Identity

This is a guest post by Peter S. Henne. Peter is a doctoral candidate at Georgetown University. He formerly worked as a national security consultant. His research focuses on terrorism and religious conflict; he has also written on the role of faith in US foreign policy. During 2012-2013 he will be a fellow at the Miller Center at the University of Virginia.

The Syrian shelling of Akcakale–a Turkish village on the Syrian border–and Turkey’s military response against Syrian targets was shocking. Personally, it made me think of a 2009 trip I took to Antep and Urfa–cities in southeastern Turkish–sponsored by the Rumi Forum. The region, long underdeveloped, was experiencing a boom thanks to infrastructure investment and trade with Syria, as I saw in both of these cities. I wondered what a trip there would be like now, given Urfa is less than an hour from Akcakale and Antep two and a half hours away.

What happened? How did the Turkish-Syrian relations go from close-and-getting-closer to on-the-brink-of-war?

Only a short time ago, Turkey was establishing unprecedented ties with its Middle Eastern neighbors. Although much has been made of Turkey’s break with the United States over the Iraq invasion and tensions with Israel, more dramatic changes occurred with states like Syria and Iran. Turkey almost came to blows with both in the 1990s over the insurgent Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), which found support in Iran and Syria. Likewise, Turkey had generally not been involved in Middle Eastern politics. Turkey’s improved relations with these states under the currently-governing Justice and Development Party (JDP)–and the popularity of JDP Prime Minister Erdogan among Arab societies–is thus a major development.

Continue reading


Urban Violence Web Seminar

Especially considering that I recently criticized the human security community for failing to pay enough attention to urban violence, I’m delighted to hear of this upcoming web seminar on the topic at Harvard’s Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research. These are open to the public but you must register in advance. I’ve done a few on topics in humanitarian law and find the format and substance quite intellectually compelling. 

Here’s the excerpted description:

More than half of the world’s population is concentrated in urban areas. According to UNFPA, this number is expected to rise to 5 billions by 2030, reaching 2/3 of the world population, with the largest cities emerging in Africa and Asia. Regrettably, along with this mass urbanization has come an unprecedented level of violence and crime in densely populated slums and shantytowns… In many countries, particularly in Latin America, this emerging form of violence is considered one of the greatest threats to national security. To curb the violence, states have responded by deploying specially trained military units when traditional law enforcement has failed to restore security. These instances of ongoing urban violence engaging organized criminal networks, coupled with the use of military force, increasingly resemble to situations of armed conflicts... the regulation of the use of military force represents a major challenge in urban environments, even more so when humanitarian law is formally inapplicable and the enforcement of international human rights is weak. 

Furthermore, the humanitarian sector faces formidable difficulties in the context of urban violence. First, humanitarian actors must assess whether involvement in these complex situations is appropriate under their respective mandates. Second, humanitarians must develop objective criteria to determine whether the level of violence and human suffering warrants intervention in view of the specific security and policy risks. And third, humanitarian actors must adapt to these situations and identify priority areas of humanitarian action on a case-by-case basis. In light of these considerations, this Live Web Seminar will shed light on the tensions and challenges arising out of the application of humanitarian principles in urban violence. Expert panelists and participants will explore the following questions: 

1) Whether instances of urban violence can be characterized as armed conflicts? If so, what are the advantages and disadvantages of applying International Humanitarian Law (IHL) to these situations?  

2) To what extent is it necessary to develop a legal framework that incorporates both humanitarian and human rights considerations tailored to situations of urban violence?

3) What strategies and policy tools can be put in place in order to minimize human suffering and, at the same time, address the security concern of states in urban conflicts?

4) What is the proper role of humanitarian actors in urban conflicts? 



Tuesday Morning Linkage: Things Fall Apart

Maybe we should have named the blog the “Seal of Minerva.”
Photo: Dan Nexon


Any good academic movies?

With the loss of the drinking intellectual stimulation that comes from APSA, I’m in need of some inspiration to kick start the semester that begins next week.

We all know that academic life is full of adventure, comedy, human drama, and conflict. So, it shouldn’t be too difficult to find a decent Hollywood movie about academic life.

Lucky Jim should be a shoe-in, but the 1957 film is just bad. Wonder Boys ranks high because Michael Douglas looks good in a pink robe, and in a rarity for this genre, actually refuses to sleep with his student. A Beautiful Mind isn’t really about academic life, but the critique of the movie by academics is close — can you believe that Hollywood simplified the complexities of Nash’s work — oh, the outrage! Most in the genre are too superficial or predictable — Tenure, Mona Lisa Smile, and the more recent Liberal Arts.

My favorite, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf, is just too scary to watch again:

Any suggestions?


Book Review: Arms Control – History, Theory and Policy

Praeger has published a new two-volume compendium on arms control edited by Robert Williams Jr. and Paul R.Viotti. If you’re writing anything on the subject of arms, weapons advocacy or national security governance Volume 1, at least, is a pretty helpful resource – especially if you have research money to cover the hefty price tag.

The book begins with some theory, history and definitions; some philosophical views and a section on “Arms Control and the Social Sciences” which includes chapters on human security as a paradigm, conflict resolution as an emerging discipline, and agent-based modeling. There’s a section on NGO advocacy and some historical case studies of specific regimes – though this section misses important ones like the blinding lasers ban and bio-weapons, contains no generic historical overview in which to situate the case studies, and ignores non-regimes entirely.

Like many edited volumes, some of the chapters are very good, others more superficial. One of particular note is Jeffrey Knopf‘s analysis of “NGOs, Social Movements and and Arms Control.” This is less of an arms control paper than a piece on transnational networks using the arms control issue area as a focal point to develop a very useful typology of advocacy structures and tactics, so it has general theoretical utility to NGO network-types those working in other issue areas as well. The chapters on specific NGO campaigns like clusters and landmines are written by scholar-practitioners who participated in the campaigns, like Bonnie Docherty who combines a career teaching law at Harvard with research for Human Rights Watch and knows of what she speaks; and Kenneth Rutherford, a landmine survivor and advocate who now teaches at University of Missouri.

I also appreciated Pauletta Otis‘ contribution on “Anthropologists and Arms Control.” Studies of epistemic communities in the arms area have tended to focus on the contributions of hard sciences. Yet as MJ Peterson‘s recent work on indigenous rights and the brouha over DOD’s Human Terrain System suggest, the relationship between anthropology and global normative currents bears further investigation, even in “hard” security studies. And unlike the other chapters that fall under the subsection “Arms Control and the Social Sciences,” Otis writes not simply about what anthropologists have to say about arms control but the extent to which they are players in the politics of it all. While the chapter is little more than a sketch of a research agenda on this topic, that’s ok if it sparks off some genuine studies placed in journals where people will read them.

Now for some criticism.
Volume 2 is egregiously – unforgivably – dominated by nuclear arms control. Not to belittle the significance of governance in the nuclear realm, but ten chapters on nuclear weapons should have been a separate project since the audience for this compendium is not nuclear security specialists per se but generalists looking for a broad overview of “arms control.” So a single chapter on nukes in Volume 1 would have more than sufficed and should have been balanced out with single chapters on other important arms control regimes. If Volume 2 was necessary at all, it should have included a broader range of case studies. Probably it wasn’t.

Part of this is about framing. Let’s assume a separate volume divided between “Weapons of Mass Destruction” case studies and “Advanced Technologies” case studies added enough value to justify itself on top of the already fat-enough Volume 1. To title Volume 2 Part 1 “Weapons of Mass Destruction” and then focus solely on nuclear security rather than analyzing the strengths and weakness of the chemical and biological weapons regimes distorts the readers’ understanding of what WMD includes. And this exclusive focus on the nuclear obscures what seems meant to be a wide-ranging discussion of arms control generally: nuclear arms control is a very specific creature within this wider area of governance, and Volume 2 does nothing but distort that agenda (and significantly increase the price tag of the project to readers).

But it’s also about opportunity costs. The ten chapters on nuclear weapons in the “WMD” part of Volume 2 leaves almost no room for what should have been the most exciting part of the project of all: Volume 2 Part II “Advanced Technologies.” If you wanted to really delve here, you’d have some thematic chapters on the applicability of war law to emerging technologies, or the politics of emerging technologies; if you wanted to minimally cover this now-burgeoning field you’d include a range of chapters on autonomous weapons, synthetic biology, non-lethals, nano-weapons, etc. Instead we get a chapter on outer space and a chapter on cyber-conflict – about each of whose significance there are important points of debate at present. 

The moral of the story: book editors, learn how to reject manuscripts.  Book publishers: less is more; cheaper is more salient.


Friday Punctual Nerd Blogging/Blegging

Last week, I embedded with smart people thinking hard about ethics, armed conflict and emerging technologies. I learned that it’s an open questions whether governments can or should move toward fully autonomous systems; I learned philosophers, technicians and lawyers approach these questions so differently that it’s probably wrong to think of a expert network like CETMONS-AWTG as an epistemic community.

 I also learned that being a world-famous expert on emerging lethal technologies doesn’t guarantee that you will necessarily know what a Cylon is. [I didn’t exactly have a Dwight Schrute moment when this occurred, though thanks to my trusty laptop and Amazon digital, it was a simple matter to throw a film screening during the conference and geek out with a few new colleagues, who, after hearing my plug for Kiersey and Neumann’s new book Battlestar Galactica and International Relations were, I am convinced, appropriately indoctrinated into my thesis that “BSG matters.” This notwithstanding the fact that reactions to the miniseries by that group were mixed to say the least, the biggest issue being how confusing the plot was, about which I regret I have little to say by way of assurance.]

What was most intriguing, however, was how many of those at the conference who had never followed BSG had followed pop cultural developments in vampires and zombies fairly closely by contrast. (One participant, who shall go unnamed due to Chatham House rules, had even heard of Theory of International Politics and Zombies – let me add these were neither IR scholars nor political scientists.) Given that this was also a group that, on balance, leaned more toward Ronald Arkin’s techno-optimistic view on lethal robotics than toward the techno-pessimism associated with some in the NGO sector, I wonder if this is further evidence of my zombie-distraction thesis.*

And that concludes nerd blogging ala Carpenter this week. I sure hope Steve shows up with something funnier and more visually stimulating than this drek.

*That video is a satire of course. But I do find myself mildly curious whether consumers of robo-apocalyptic fiction are more or less likely to buy into bans or moratoriums on autonomous lethal weaponry than are those who typically consume other genres. If you know of a study on this, I bleg you to kindly leave a link in comments. If you don’t, hey there’s an interesting and diverting dissertation topic…


Do Battle Droids Dream of Electric Medals?

 One of the more interesting issues raised informally during the time I spent at the Lincoln Center’s Emerging Technologies Workshop was the relative likelihood of developments in lethal autonomous robotics leading to fully autonomous armies: that is, eliminating the human presence from battle-spaces altogether. 

The general consensus is that this is unlikely, with which I am not claiming to disagree. But what fascinated me was a particular argument to this effect: that lethal robots would never be able to replace human beings as sacrifices in the name of the nation. 

Two constitutive arguments underlie this claim. 

First, that warrioring as risk-based sacrifice is constitutive of warfare such that states would be restrained from a shift to fully autonomous armies. (I doubt that, since this is the same logic seems not to apply to tele-operated systems, but of course we shall see if critiques of what is unfairly construed as “video-game war” do in fact end up rolling back the use of such systems.)

Second that warrioring as sacrifice is constituted by the uniquely human ability to voluntarily exhibit courage in the face of risks on behalf of one’s nation or other vulnerable others. There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical of this claim as well, but let me accept the claim and instead focus on the assumption that such an ability is uniquely human. In order for this “fact” to restrain governments and military cultures from fielding robotic armies, it would need to be perceived to be true. So the question is not “could robots experience courage as do humans?” but “can a lethal autonomous weapon be imagined to experience emotions constitutive of warrioring such as courage?” 

At least one data point suggests yes: the growing popularity of essays by the author writing under the pseudonym Drunken Predator DroneThis individual is quickly achieving renown among military bloggers and foreign policy elites not only for his/her astute and sophisticated theoretical essays on emerging technology but for the sardonically unique standpoint from which s/he writes and tweets: that of a frustrated and misunderstood unmanned drone. To wit:
Somehow, us drones — yes, we prefer the term “drone” over the alphabet soup of UAV, RPA, or UAS — have been pressed into unwilling service as the bugaboo for a host of disparate interest groups. Libertarians like Ron Paul probably couldn’t agree with Code Pink’s Medea Benjamin on the time of day, but they can at least agree that they don’t like me. And that hurts my robotic feelings, because I simply don’t deserve it.

Question to readers: if a semi-autonomous drone can be imagined to experience defensiveness, annoyance, wounded pride, wry sympathy, and even sarcastic irony how unlikely is it that genuinely autonomous lethal robots of some hypothetical future could at least be imagined to experience fear, courage or heroism?


Post-Vacation Blogging

Regular blogging will begin to resume over the next weeks now that I’m back from a family road trip down the eastern seaboard and starting to gear up for the academic year. In the meantime, of possible interest to Duck readers is this terrific exhibit on The Art of Video Games at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, which we randomly stumbled into one day during a fire drill at the International Spy Museum across the street. Here is one of the video trailers of the exhibit:


Collective action and the end of the world

Today I gave a lecture on the environment and the dilemmas of collective action in my course on Introduction to International Relations. Despite the best efforts of St. Elinor (the patron saint of political science and my alma mater), I’m still a fairly pessimistic adherent to Mancur Olson’s diagnosis of public-goods provision. Consequently, the environmental lecture (“Saving the Sunlit Earth”) is probably my most depressing canned talk. (The “sunlit earth” comes from a speech by Nobel laureate F. Sherwood Rowland, who co-discovered CFCs’ harmful effects.)
Simply put, unlike the Montreal Protocol that reduced CFC emissions and put the ozone layer on track to be healed within a century or so–a smashing success for environmental diplomacy, and no I’m not being sarcastic–the number of countries involved in negotiations on climate change and the distribution fo the costs and benefits of reducing CO2 emissions make me so despondent over the chance for a lasting agreement that I’m pretty glad that I’ll likely be dead before the ice caps are completely melted.

To illustrate my argument, I downloaded the most recent stats on CO2 emissions I could find and cranked them through Stata. As we can see, per-capita emissions in the rich world have been relatively constant or even declining since 1990:

But those modest increases on a per-capita basis in China and South Korea have nevertheless yielded tremendous shocks to total CO2 output.

Astonishingly, China–which produced about as much CO2 in 1950 as Great Britain had in 1750–now produces more CO2 than the United States did in 2000. And, of course, the first and second derivatives on that time series are positive.
I’m glad to see social scientists paying more attention to these issues. Frankly, if the threat of great-power conflict was the animating purpose for international relations theorists to get out of bed in the morning during the post-World War II era, I think it’s fairly clear that issues relating to political economy–and global climate change is, at root, a political-economy problem–should drive us in the post-Cold War era.
Below, a Google n-gram of the relative popularity of the two types of end of the world: “nuclear war” and “global warming.” 
I’m going to use this to begin my most optimistic lecture of the semester, which about nuclear weapons. 


Constructivism, Social Psychology, and Interlocking Theory (I)

This is the first in a series of guest posts by Stuart J. Kaufman of the University of Delaware. Stuart advances a long-running dispute with PTJ about whether “what goes on inside people’s heads” is relevant to social constructionism. PTJ doesn’t think so; Stuart disagrees. After the final post, we will make the entire piece available as a PDF — consider it our first true “working paper” publication.

When scholars hold up physics as a model for how social science should operate, they tend to focus on the neat equations that physics is able to generate to explain physical phenomena. A more useful lesson to learn from physics, however, is how it deals with the multiplicity of sources of physical effects that are often described by different physical laws. Basically, it adds them up.

Consider the forces that keep a star stable. On the one hand, a star is powered by the process of nuclear fusion of lighter elements such as hydrogen into heavier elements, with their nuclei bound together by the strong force. This fusion releases massive amounts of energy, which generate electromagnetic forces that push the star’s matter outward, in some cases leading to massive stellar explosions (novae and supernovae). Most of the time, however, stars do not explode, as the gravitational forces that make nuclear fusion (and thus the heat) possible also hold the matter in the star together. Understanding how these processes balance out, however, requires understanding of at least three (really all four) of the basic forces in physics—the strong, weak, electromagnetic, and gravitational forces—and how they interact, even though they operate according to different physical principles.

Unfortunately, debates in political science and international relations tend to be less constructive. One side says, “the ontological nature of reality is the dominance of the electromagnetic force; ergo the sun’s heat will cause it to explode”. The other side asserts, “the ontological nature of reality is dominated by gravitational forces, so the sun must collapse.” Both sides agree that because of these competing ontologies, no synthesis is possible.

Real debates in political science and I.R. have the same “blind man and the elephant” quality. Because neorealism and most versions of constructivism are structural theories, their ontologies allegedly rule out consideration of domestic political or—horror of horrors—individual levels of analysis. Any departure from strict structuralism is scorned. For example, the standard constructivist theory of norm change, Krebs and Jackson (2007, p. 40) scold, “relies on incompatible microfoundations in stage one (instrumental adaptation) and stage two (internalization).” As one constructivist scholar flatly declared to me, “I reject methodological individualism”.

It seems obvious to me that this attitude is both profoundly illiberal and profoundly anti-intellectual. If liberalism requires not just toleration but respect for people who think differently, then such a priori rejectionism should be normatively out of bounds for any decent person, and doubly so for a self-respecting intellectual. More to the point, unless scholars are prepared to defend the position, “all individual psychology is bunk, and all psychologists who write about it are wrong,” then they have to concede the likelihood that psychologists do indeed know something about human behavior, and some of what they know is relevant to the study of political science and international relations. The same is true of sociologists, anthropologists, historians and even economists.

One of the things psychologists know, for example, is that—pace Krebs and Jackson—there is no incompatibility between the processes of instrumental adaptation and internalization. On the contrary, as has been widely shown and even explained by political scientists, just this process is psychologically common. People often react instrumentally to specific situations, and then infer their broader preferences from their own behavior—preferences they then internalize. Larson (1985) showed that just this process, as hypothesized by cognitive dissonance theory, was operating among members of the Truman Administration during the run-up to the Cold War: they first took a few hard-line decisions, then internalized the hard-line anticommunist norms. Confronted with the cognitive dissonance between their uncertain attitudes toward the Soviets and their tough decisions toward them, they resolved the dissonance by adopting the hard-line values implied by their own behavior.

At the root of the Krebs/Jackson mistake is the silly assumption that theoretical assumptions imply an exclusive ontology. They do not; they are metatheoretical judgments about which aspects of reality—which partial ontology—is most useful for answering a particular question. In some of my work (Kaufman et al. 2007) for example, I accept basically realist premises to explain the politics of the ancient Middle East, generally endorsing hegemonic stability realism over balance-of-power realism. In doing this, I do not accept the notion that the fundamental nature of international reality—the ontology of the international system—is fully described by realist thinkers like Robert Gilpin or Kenneth Waltz. Rather, I make the metatheoretical judgment that for this particular time, place, and issue (balance or hegemony?), these alternative realist theories identify most of the key variables for explaining the phenomena under consideration. My sympathy for liberal and constructivist insights comes in large part from my recognition that the contemporary world system is different from the hyperrealist ancient system precisely in that the role of international norms, international trade, international institutions, and internal liberal democracy is so much greater now than then.

These metatheoretical judgments are based, in turn, on the implicit or explicit conditioning hypotheses that come attached to all theories. If neoclassical realism truly explained the ontology—the essential nature—of social reality, then John Mearsheimer would take literally his own injunction to be “the biggest guy on the block” by spending much of his time in the gym bulking up. He would spend the rest of his time endeavoring to become the successor to Al Capone in Chicago on the theory that only armed force ensures physical security. The fact that he does neither shows that Mearsheimer, uber-realist though he is, recognizes a critical scope condition for realist theory—it applies to the anarchical international realm, not the hierarchical domestic one. In his writings, he makes the metatheoretical judgment that anarchy itself contradicts the scope conditions of liberalism; thus he does not assume that humans or human groups are ontologically incapable of cooperation. He merely asserts that stable cooperation requires an authority to enforce it. I think he is wrong about that, but it is not an exclusive ontological argument about the nature of reality.

The way forward in political science and I.R. theory, then, is to recognize that all social and behavioral sciences have some valid insights to offer; that all of those insights are limited by both the quality of the supporting evidence and the restrictions of the theories’ scope conditions; and that complex social realities can only be adequately understood if we can work out how to draw on multiple sources of insights to explain them.

The ontological fallacy of Krebs and Jackson, inter alia, is to assume that social theory must be based on a single, simple assumption about human nature: the human is a fearful creature (realism); the human is a cooperative creature (liberalism); the human is a social creature (constructivism); the human is a creature of habit (Bourdieu); the human is an emotional creature (motivational theory); the human is a rational utility-maximizer (rational choice theory); the human is a biased decision-maker (cognitive theory). It is obvious that all of these assertions are sometimes true of some people, and that all also offer good descriptions of the behaviors of certain groups at certain times, because all have some good social scientific evidence in their favor. It should therefore be plain that none alone is likely to offer a satisfactory basis for a theory of any complex behavior. Metatheoretical choice is not ontology. What we need is to define the scope conditions and implications of theories that harness each of those insights.

To be continued…


“Having it all” and a (non-essentialist) feminist politics

Anne-Marie Slaughter’s recent Atlantic article, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” has stirred up a fair amount of controversy in the last couple of days. Dozens of my Facebook friends have posted and reposted it, and it has prompted many of them to reflect on their personal experiences with womanhood, femininity, parenting, and/or motherhood. Several students have asked me about the article and my opinions on it, and it seems to be stirring up debate and discussion wherever read. To me, that’s the mark of a good article – that it inspires contemplation and argument. On top of that, Slaughter’s article seems heartfelt and honest, even though the author is aware of the risks and pitfalls of the strategy that she takes. While I don’t agree with everything in the article, there’s a lot of important stuff there, and I think it absolutely needed to be published.

Under a different title, minus the sex essentialism.

An important starting point and an important caveat: as a feminist, politically and academically, it is crucially important to me to recognize that gender inequity remains a fact of life in our society, and that said inequity manifests often in terms of the burdens of child care, the stereotypical assumptions that are made about the relationship between women and motherhood, the work habits and capacity of mothers, and other factors. Sex discrimination/sexism, pregnancy discrimination, heterosexism, and cissexism are very real – and, as Slaughter points out, are constantly present in (women’s) negotiating work/life balance issues. I see the right to reproduce as every bit as important as the right to reproductive control. Intellectually and politically, I believe a society where the joys and burdens of parenthood are enjoyable by all who would like them and not distributed sex-differentially is a crucial part of the feminist vision (and mine). And, like Slaughter, I realize that such a society is complicated, difficult, demanding, and at times almost impossible to imagine. In my view, motherhood is indisputably a key feminist issue, and it is important to realize both how much progress has been made and how far from sex-equal parenting (and sex-equal treatment of parents in the workplace) we really are.

That said, the idea that motherhood is a key feminist issue and the idea that motherhood is a key part of femininity are different, but conflated often, and not only in Slaughter’s article. Certainly, restructuring  society such that women can make the choice to be mothers and not both be expected to bear a disproportionate part of the personal and professional costs and suffer discrimination is crucially important to ending gender subordination. But so is restructuring society to deconstruct the assumed relationship between women and motherhood, where it isn’t assumed women have to have (and succeed at) motherhood to “have it all” …

My personal reaction to Slaughter’s article was different than that of many of my friends who are parents. Many of my friends are parents, and many of them are amazing parents who have sacrificed a significant amount to be there for their children. I respect that as a life choice immensely, and say that with the upmost seriousness. That said, it is a life choice I would never even consider making. I have never had any desire to be a parent, and know myself well enough to know that I never will. I do have a sense of what my life would look like if I “had it all” – but that sense does not include, and will never include, having children or being a good parent. I do experience the impacts of gendered, sexist, and heterosexist assumptions both in life generally and in terms of “work-life balance” (a term I also don’t like), but not in the area of parenting.

This puts me in an odd position vis a vis the traditional association of women and motherhood and the feminist defense of the rights of mothers, personally and professionally. That’s in part because I can’t identify with (and can’t imagine) the struggles many women go through to parent, and therefore have a lot of respect for it. But its in part because there’s this creepy feeling in my stomach every time someone equates “having it all” with parenting, or suggests that “women” need particular things related to parenting or parental leave or parental accommodations. Though I’m supportive of parenting, and especially of removing a disproportionate amount of the burden of parenting from women, statements like that imply that women (should and do) want to parent, and that there’s something wrong with (me as) a “woman” who does not want to parent, and who has different needs and desires.

Many would say that I’m just reading that implication into these statements, which sound but might not be sex essentialist, especially given that many of them are uttered by feminists, and many feminists make the choice to be parents and navigate complicated relationships at home and at work to do so. But I’ve heard the non-implied version of those statements behind closed doors so many times that I’m sure of the implication of the “public consumption” version. I can’t tell you how many times someone has told me, in personal and professional contexts, that I will “change my mind,” that my “biological clock” will start “ticking,” that I should “meet a nice gentleman” (a tip I received on my tenure case, oddly enough), that “children are a part of being whole,” and that I “don’t have to sacrifice a family for my career” (by those who incorrectly assume that is what my choice is about). All of those assumptions – that all women want to have children, that it is a natural part of femininity, that children are essential to “having a family,” and that the choice not to have children is about a career (rather than about life, and all of the other things it is about to me) – are commonplace, even among scholars, and even among many feminist scholars.

Those assumptions are every bit as gendered as the assumptions that we traditionally critique as gender-subordinating, and they are linked. Until we disassociate “having it all” as a “woman” and motherhood, women will be expected to do a majority of care work and will be treated differently personally and professionally for it. Some women (and some men, and some people that are neither) can and should be mothers. But I’m not one of them – I don’t identify with parenthood and feel even more distant from the idea of motherhood. My existence personally lets me know that such people exist intellectually – that any association of women and motherhood isn’t fundamental, and that one can be a “woman” without any desire for or interest in “motherhood.”

Under a different title and with a different underlying assumptions, Slaughter’s article is crucially important. After all, as one of my Facebook friends (someone I knew well in high school) notes: “a new parent – it’s hard as hell to juggle a career and my daughter. The pursuit of gender equality should teach us, in my non-professional opinion, that women should be free to pursue a fulfilling life, whether or not children are included. But damn, Laura, there’s a stigma attached to having kids, too. Trust me.”And I’m not denying that – it is inscribed on the daily lives of most, if not all, mothers.

But its not unrelated to the assumption that “having it all” includes having children – in fact, they are one in the same – sexist assumptions about what women are and what women should be. Though they affect “women” who choose very different life paths, the discomfort that my friend feels struggling to juggle a career and child, the discomfort that I feel defending my lack of interest in parenting stem from the same assumption, and the discomfort that Anne-Marie Slaughter describes in making and defending the decision to spend more time with her family stem from the same fundamental problem: that the sense of what women are and should be is tied to a particular notion of motherhood. To the extent that Slaughter’s article, in assuming that “having it all” and parenting are fundamentally linked more generally than for her, entrenches that assumption, it is counterproductive to its own goal of making visible and quelling gender subordination. Were it able to get past that assumption, it would be a crucial part of a non-essentialist feminist politics.

PS – thanks to my fellow Ducks for allowing my return after a year’s sabbatical from blogging …


The collective production of individual genius

Can China create the next Steve Jobs?

 The New Yorker discusses a quasi-official Chinese attempt to find the next Steve Jobs–a sort of Apprentice with less Donald Trump and more pseudo-Confucian standards. As the New Yorker reporter Jiayang Fan writes, there is something bizarre in the contest. But there is also something revealing about how countries partake of international relations in a world once presumed to be post-nationalist.

The first oddity is the contest’s presumption that there should have been a Chinese Jobs or Bill Gates, someone who represents a transformative genius who commercializes innovation and helps countries to (as an American president once said) “win the future.” This is a nationalist argument-by-analogy that falls apart pretty quickly. Until the 1980s, after all, there wasn’t even an American Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, and earlier contestants–Henry Ford and Thomas Edison–hailed from an era that was, even then, decades in the past. And I don’t think that it’s just my provincial  (in every sense of the word) education that precludes me from naming the French, the Dutch, the German, or the Canadian Steve Jobs. (Actually, I can name the Canadian: Alexander Graham Bell.)

The second oddity, as Fan notes, is that neither Gates nor Jobs fit the script that the contest organizers wanted. Both were college dropouts, while the contestants were all apparently pre-screened on their high grades. One wonders if the ideal-typical Chinese school would have known what to do with Jobs, who was famously a terror to his teachers until a couple of them decided to show him how to handle coursework that bored him.

Yet the bigger problem with the idea is that the contest individualizes what is blatantly a collective story. But it does so because any other way of introducing the topic would lead to an implicit criticism of China’s society and governments. The paradox is that individual success–which China and other authoritarian states lionize–rests on collective foundations incompatible with illiberal states.

Even in the trivial sense, neither Jobs nor Gates created the innovations their firms helped commercialize. “Jobs” was really “Jobs and Wozniak,” and then later Jobs and Markkula, and so on–and Apple’s post-Jobs continuity (at least, in the second post-Jobs period) has proven that much of Jobs’ success rested on the marriage of singular taste with an organizational culture. Gates, similarly, co-founded his firm with Paul Allen, and during its most innovative period it is unclear how much Microsoft owed to Gates’ vision. (Besides the childish Windows-copied-the-Mac debate of the 1980s, there’s the plain fact that Gates didn’t understand the Internet in the 1990s as he failed to understand the post-PC age in the 2000s.)

Both Microsoft and Apple, moreover, are examples not only of their own success but of the dynamic nature of destructive capitalism in a disruptive industry. Reading about the history of Silicon Valley and the tech industry is reminiscent of the early days of the car industry. In both cases, huge numbers of firms entered, followed by most of them dying. For every Apple, there are a dozen Commodores; for every Ford, a score of Studebakers. The founders of the surviving companies were ex post facto recognized as geniuses whether or not they deserved the title.

That’s a lot of fluidity and instability taking place. And in both industries, the social networks of Silicon Valley (or Route 128, or Detroit, or wherever) allowed for highly-trained technicians and managers to move from one firm to another relatively seamlessly. As labor and ideas become more fluid, innovation becomes cheaper and hence more readily brought to market.

China does not lack for such fluidity in some parts of the market, as The Run of the Red Queen argues in its study of China’s manufacturing regions. But its particular genius for innovation today lies in process and logistics, not the creation of new industries or products. One might surmise, to follow on a long body of work (including theoretical work by Alexander Motyl and most recently including a working paper by Gary King, Jennifer Pan, and Margaret Roberts), that the Chinese government is more interested in breaking apart precisely the kind of social mobilization that is essential for that kind of innovation.

And so the critical flaw of the Chinese contest is revealed. The important thing about Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Henry Ford, or any other individual whose name is metonymous for disruptive innovation is not the personal traits or ambition of such men and women. Rather, it is their ability to harness preexisting social and commercial networks to reconfigure sectors of the economy. Such fluidity may well require a sort of freedom of movement and organization incompatible with an authoritarian state.


Targeting the Source: Why Supporters of Abuse Should Be Held to Account

Guest post by Katherine Boom, University of Massachusetts-Amherst

           As Bashar al-Assad’s violent crackdown on civilian protesters unfolds, the international community agonizes over how to punish the Syrian government. But while the debate rages over whether to respond to Assad through sanctions, military intervention or a punitive tribunal, few are questioning how to treat his third-party supporters. No case of mass atrocity occurs in a vacuum: states or groups committing crimes receive support from outside sources. Yet the international mechanisms for punishing crimes against humanity often focus solely on the perpetrators, not their accomplices. This needs to change.

In the Syrian case for example, what many know but few discuss is that in 2011, Russia sold nearly $1 billion in arms to Assad’s government. After months of standing their ground Russian officials have finally agreed to temper weapons sales, yet this incident raises broader questions about the role that states should have in preventing crimes against humanity. Russia’s decision to limit its material support of Assad may be telling of the effects that pressure from the United States and others can have, which is not insignificant. The fact remains, however, that as they are currently interpreted the existing legal mechanisms are insufficient to ensure that accomplices to human rights abuses are likely to be held accountable. And Russia’s role in Syria is only a recent example of a long-standing problem. 
Consider the Bosnian War. Though the International Court of Justice (ICJ) found Serbia guilty of not doing more to prevent the egregious acts committed by Bosnian Serbs, the Court ruled that Serbia was not culpable for the genocide committed by Bosnian Serbs because it did not unilaterally dictate the actions of this population. In a similar ruling about a decade earlier, the U.S. was found guilty by the ICJ of violating international laws prohibiting the unsanctioned use force in another country when it directly began to mine the harbors of Nicaragua. However, despite significant financial and political backing of the contras, the U.S. was cleared of any wrong-doing in terms of human rights violations carried out by the contras. The ICJ ruled U.S. financial and logistical support for the contras did not indicate mean that it exercised “effective control” over their activities. These cases illustrate both the historic lack of accountability demanded of accomplices to crimes against humanity and ways in which ICJ rulings have worked to institutionalize the idea that states are only responsible for the crimes they commit directly.
Studies indicate that outside support, even in the absence of effective control, exacerbates crimes against humanity. For example, political scientist Shannon Lindsey Blanton shows that there is a link between weapons transfers and the level of a state’s human rights violations. Correlations observed by Han S. Park between citizens’ physical quality of life and how government money is allocated support Blanton’s claim. A deeper problem is simply that impunity for facilitating crimes against humanity is clearly inconsistent with international norms opposing violence against citizens. The purpose of human rights law is to guarantee personal health and safety and prevent the abuse of populations everywhere. It is universally accepted that ruling parties are not allowed to wage violence against their own populations. Humanitarian interventions targeting direct perpetrators of crimes against humanity in Somalia, East Timor, Rwanda, Libya, Kosovo, and others are all indicative of this. However, if the global community is serious about protecting human rights, it is not enough to target those directly committing the crimes. Those providing resources must be decried as well.
How can this be achieved? In the short term, nongovernmental organizations should work to expose the connections between crimes against humanity and the flows of resources that make them possible. Bringing more attention to the states that facilitate crimes against humanity, and illustrating how their behavior undermines the responsibility that the international community has to protect victims of abuse. Human rights laws address the treatment of “all people,” and as past ICJ rulings indicate, states may be held accountable for failing to prevent human rights abuses. 
While negotiations toward an arms trade treaty would be a step toward filling this legal vacuum, the principle that it is wrong to materially abet abusers does not require a change in the law itself, but rather in the way existing law is perceived to apply to states. NGOs should work to pressure governments to condemn states that facilitate human rights abuses and states concerned with atrocities should broaden their focus to include those who are indirectly involved. NGOs have proven to have considerable clout in effectively pushing normative reform, and should lobby UN member states to expand definitions of culpability when it comes to human rights violations. If failure to prevent is a crime then aiding and abetting must certainly be considered one as well.
Human rights – minded states should also expand the use of trade as a carrot to encourage proper behavior by third-parties, just as they do with abusers themselves. University of California’s Emilie Hafner-Burton has explored the effectiveness of preferential trade agreements on enforcing compliance with international law and illustrates that it significantly impacts the extent to which states take international law seriously. Offering incentives to “well behaved” states not to abet abusers may encourage acceptable human rights performance. An advantage of trade carrots as opposed to trade sticks (e.g. sanctions) and formal multilateral censures is that they are likely to be as effective but have far fewer negative or controversial economic and political side effects.
The events unfolding in Syria underscore an important inconsistency in how the world should react to human rights abuses. If the international community is serious about its commitment to eliminating large-scale abuses of human rights, all states must be held to higher standards. The support systems fostering human rights abuse to need to be dismantled. As Hans Peter Schmitz and Kathryn Sikkink point out, human rights exist “only because people believe and act as if they exist.” If we fail to act in defense of human rights by not hold those facilitating abuse accountable, eventually there may not be rights left to protect. 
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