Tag: transnational politics

Book Review: “North Korea in Transition” – Oh Wait, it’s Not in Transition…


I know book reviews bore everyone, but the journal where I published this doesn’t post electronic versions of book reviews. So I thought this would be a good place to put it for internet accessibility. I tried to make this interesting by focusing on trends in NK, rather than just summarizing the constituent essays. It’s a great introduction to North Korea with lots of big names. I learned a lot from it. But I had to object to the title, likely chosen by an ill-informed editor looking for something catchy. North Korea is not in transition. If anything, we should be focusing on how remarkably stable it is. No matter what happens to the Kim regime – famine, de-industrialization, ‘factionalism,’ Chinese take-over of the economy, Dennis Rodman and his tats – nothing seems to bring down the clan or ever seriously shake it. Its astonishing ability to not change is what we should be our focus. Here’s that review:

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Podcast No. 11 – Interview with Janice Bially Mattern

The eleventh episode of the Duck of Minerva Podcast just went live. In it, I interview Janice Bially Mattern of the National University of Singapore. Her first monograph is Ordering International Politics: Identity, Crisis, and Representational Force (Routledge, 2005).


  • Front Matter
  • An Intellectual Introduction
  • Ordering International Politics
  • Transnational Organized Crime
  • Hierarchy, Emotion, and Transnational Criminals
  • The Multivocality of Mattern’s Work
  • Styles of Reasoning in IR
  • Taking Over the International Studies Review
  • International Theory Redux
  • Working in Singapore
  • End Matter

Note: podcasts now seem to be appearing every Friday, give or take. We’ll see how long we can sustain it.

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The Diffusion of Oil Income Transparency

This is a guest post by Jeff Colgan, an assistant professor in the School of International Service at American University.

Policy responses to the resource curse are diffusing in the international community. In August, the U.S. enacted rules that could reduce corruption, promote political accountability, and maybe even reduce the probability of war. The decision was encouraged transnationally by actors from developing countries. Now the European Union and other countries are taking up the torch. All of this points to an intriguing transnational pattern of policy diffusion of which scholars ought to take note.

Some background: in August, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) finally enacted long-overdue regulations stemming from the Dodd-Frank Act which will require any oil company that is publicly listed on a U.S. stock exchange to report its tax, royalty, and other payments to foreign governments. Previously, companies were able to conceal this information, making it difficult for civil society in developing countries to hold their leaders accountable, thereby exacerbating the resource curse.

Intriguingly, the campaign for transparency on oil revenues is transnational, and often includes actors in developing countries that want help in binding the hands of their own governments. Policymakers in developing countries are demanding transparency, as a recent NY Times op-ed by a Libyan official shows. This seems to follow a pattern of transnational advocacy described by Keck and Sikkink.

Now the U.S. policy is being copied by other countries. The European Parliament recently held a committee vote that would require oil, gas, mining and forestry companies listed on EU stock exchanges to disclose their payments to foreign governments, country by country and for each project. Canada is also considering transparency rules for its mining industry that mimic the SEC rules, though the oil industry does not seem to be included (yet?). Interestingly, it is some of the leading mining firms that are pushing for the rule changes in Canada, in contrast to the general industry opposition seen in the U.S. So in addition to transnational advocacy, we now have the kind of policy diffusion noted by Simmons and others.

This policy proliferation is good news. As I argued in Foreign Policy, the rule change is not just beneficial for development, but also for international security. If oil money is not managed well, it often gets used to fund civil and international wars. In particular, oil-producing states led by revolutionary governments are more than three times as likely to instigate militarized interstate disputes as a typical state. Oil income can make petrostates aggressive, which leads to wars like Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and Libya’s various battles with Chad and other neighbors. Those wars often draw in the United States  (My book on this subject, Petro-Aggression: When Oil Causes War, is forthcoming in 2013).

Still, transparency is not a panacea. I view transparency as a “probably necessary, and certainly not sufficient” condition for promoting good governance in the extractive industries. But we’d also like to know what else a country needs to do to avoid the resource curse. I think there’s an opening here to study the extent that transparency actually enables the kind of political accountability and good governance that advocates hope it does. (Some work on this issue is already underway: see Gillies and Dykstra in Cheng and Zaum, 2011)

There is also, it appears, an increasingly important opportunity to study the proliferation of resource-income transparency rules as an exemplar of transnational advocacy and diffusion.


A Short (and Hasty) Note on the Current Wave of Attacks

Tunisia Protests, AP

Readers probably already know that anti-western attacks are spreading beyond Egypt and Libya, and to non-US facilities. In Sudan, the German embassy is “in flames.”And so on.

How would someone committed to relational social analysis understand what’s happening? Here’s an ‘analytical snap judgment’:

  • We have an event — the emergence of the anti-Muslim film — that fits a particular pre-existing script concerning identity relations: “Americans/Westerners hate/disrespect Islam/Muslims.”
  • We have a script about what happens next: ‘Believers protest.’
  • We have pre-existing scripts and repertoires for how to engage in protest at various levels of specificity ‘attack institutions representing and/or affiliated with Americans/westerners,’ ‘set them ablaze,’ ‘raise Islam-oriented flags,’ etc.
  • Actors attempt to mobilize/channel/co-opt/suppress responses to the event by issuing proclamations, directing core supporters to act our those scripts/repertoires, deploying the infrastructure of the state, and so forth. 
  • Demonstration effects operate at the level of regimes, entrepreneurs, and ordinary people.
  • In this case, the trigger has the potential to activate and polarize specific identity boundaries: Islam/West, Muslim/Christian, Radicals/Moderates, Religious/Secular, and so forth.” The dynamics at stake involve broader wars of position and maneuver within specific countries, in transnational religious politics, and in interstate relations.

Fragile regimes worry about becoming included in the “affiliated with American/westerners” category; moderate and establishment Islamists worry about being outbid — losing their positions of leadership and cross-boundary brokers to more radical elements — and also about irreparably harming their relations with the United States and Europe; radicals hope to make such a balancing act impossible. Transnational jihadist hope to expand their core supporters, sway the opinions of fence-sitters, and cow their opponents. Action-reaction dynamics in one country impact those in others.

That being said, I expect that the immediate effect of the protests, attacks, and riots to be relatively small. We’ve seen this story before — albeit with two major differences: after the Arab Awakening (1) the stability of many Middle Eastern regimes is much more precarious and (2) Islamist parties have a stake — sometimes a dominant one — in a number of governments. Still, my gut instinct is that these differences won’t change the underlying trajectory: one of an ephemeral trigger for mobilization in the context of movements that lack sufficiently broad networks or support to sustain mass protest and large-scale violent action. If that diagnoses is correct, then what we’re looking at is another series of episodes in a much longer-term struggle — one in which the local, regional, and international stakes are very high indeed. [ed note: I should note that these two differences are rather significant… and that they raise serious questions about my ‘snap’ prognosis. I also don’t want to sound like I am minimizing the ongoing violence, loss of life, and property damage. This is serious stuff.]

*Note that these dynamics also operate outside of the Muslim and Arab worlds: consider the partisan political dimensions of the debate in the United States over these attacks, as well as the aims of specific right-wing groups in the United States and Europe.


“Reversing the Burden of Proof”: Tactic or Norm

An interesting observation I took away from this meeting is the frequency with which I heard practitioners talking about the need to “reverse the burden of proof” from advocates (to prove that a particular weapon causes significant humanitarian harm) to governments (to prove that it doesn’t). As Richard Price documented in his study of the landmines campaign and John Borrie documented in his landmark genealogy of the cluster munitions convention, the ability to shift the terms of debate in this way is a pivotal component of successful campaigns in the area of weapons.

At the same time, this appears to be a tactic used during specific campaigns only, rather than a broad principle itself being proposed and promulgated throughout the human security network. I wonder what humanitarian disarmament advocacy might look like if, rather than going to governments to deal with specific weapons issues in a piecemeal manner, advocates pushed for governments to document the humanitarian harms of their weaponry and justify their use on a regular basis.

Indeed, this latter is precisely the point of the Casualty Recording Campaign, spearheaded by the Oxford Research Group in collaboration with IKV Pax Christi and Article36.org, which would require states to do body counts in armed conflicts and report their results to the international community. While the campaign is conceived primarily to ensure the dignity and recognition of victims, if its goals were achieved it could also be a mechanism for “reversing the burden of proof” in a wider and more systematic sense around weapons issues – in short, make it more of a constitutive humanitarian norm (much like the precautionary principle in the area of environmental health) and less like a tactic to be used only in discrete cases.


Book Review: “The Possibilities of Transnational Activism”

Among the books I’m digesting this month as I work on my manuscript is this gem from Thomas Richard Davies – a case study of the transnational disarmament movement in the interwar period. I especially like two things about this book. First, it deals with a case of campaign failure, as the movement clearly did not meet its goals of general disarmament. This sets Davies’ book apart from most of the transnational advocacy literature that focuses on successful campaign. But secondly, he uses his case very self-consciously as a lever to explore the merit of extant hypotheses about campaign success and failure.

Davies begins by culling a set of hypotheses from the earlier case literature on TANs, detailing factors said to facilitate and impede campaign success, and dividing these analytically between characteristics of the international environment, the national environment, the activists and the issues (not so different from the typology I’m developing in my book, except that he doesn’t examine the impact of network structure on campaigns). He then asks whether any of these both help to explain the outcome in the disarmament case and are not refuted by the wider case literature.

Simply making the effort to test these hypotheses is a contribution – as he rightly points out, the correlates of campaigns success are often asserted but rarely demonstrated by comparison to unsuccessful campaigns. He concludes that of all the variables suggested by scholars, only one that is both constant across the case literature and sensible in the context of his case study: the promotion of a consistent/coherent framework for action:

Essentially, the interwar disarmament campaigners faced a dielmma to which all activists have to respond if achievement of their goals requires a change in public attitudes to an issue: without international public support activists cannot persuade governments to adopt their goals; but if these goals require a change in public attitudes the support will not be forthcoming.

When faced with this problem, activists have a choice between two options: i) conducting a programme of education until public support for their goals reaches critical mass; or ii) fudging their propaganda in order to give the impression of mass public support for their objectives which in fact does not exist. The interwar disarmament campaigners made the fundamental mistake of choosing the second option.

Exactly how this panned out in the disarmament case I’ll let you read the book to find out, but I find the narrative quite compelling and can see analogues in contemporary efforts like the small arms campaign, in which advocates have disagreed over the nature of the problem and the nature of the solution and are thus particularly vulnerable to being undermined by counter-campaigns, as Cliff’s new book will show.

I do have to say I think Davies may overstate his case a bit: while it is extremely useful to apply extant theory to a specific case as rigorously as he’s done, I don’t think you can confirm or refute a general argument on the basis of one data point. It’s true that he also draws on a wider array of cases, but he doesn’t study or code them systematically in the way that he studied his single case. I also wonder whether interwar campaigns are really comparable with the type of transnational organizing that has gone on since 1990, with the benefit of the Internet and a significantly altered normative environment.

But the book is an excellent read on a case that’s been neglected by TAN scholars, many of whom have focused on post-Cold War campaigns. And the practical implications of Davies’ findings bear overstating, as they imply the single most important indicators of campaign success is completely within the norm entrepreneurs’ control.
This is in stark contrast to the perceptions of practitioners with whom I have spoken for my book project, many of whom tend to see themselves as highly constrained by their political opportunity structure. Davies book by contrast provides a simple and powerful recipe for “getting it right,” and shows that whether or not campaigners do this can make all the difference.


Web Architecture Strikes Back

Twitter was down for two hours yesterday, assumed to have been the target of a cyberattack. BBC now reports that the target of the attack, which also affected Facebook and Google, was a single individual, Georgian blogger Cyxymu.

“”[The] attack appears to be directed at an individual who has a presence on a number of sites, rather than the sites themselves,” a Facebook spokesman told BBC News. “Specifically, the person is an activist blogger and a botnet was directed to request his pages at such a rate that it impacted service for other users.”

It is still not known who perpetrated the attack or why they may have targeted Cyxymu and his accounts. However, in an interview with the UK’s Guardian newspaper, the blogger blamed Russia. “Maybe it was carried out by ordinary hackers but I’m certain the order came from the Russian government,” he said.

The blogger has previously criticised Russia over its conduct in the war over the disputed South Ossetia region, which began one year ago. A previous statement by Facebook said that the attack on the websites where he held accounts was “to keep his voice from being heard”.
Other sites such as Live Journal, where Cyxymu has his blog, were also targeted in the attack on Thursday.

I don’t know much about the nuts and bolts of orchestrating such an attack. But assume for a moment that speculation is correct – that the act was perpetrated by a government to silence its opposition. The event would have seemed to have precisely the opposite effect, as Cyxymu’s dissident blogging has now made world headlines and increased, rather than decreased, his exposure.

Actually, one can hardly imagine that any government’s tactical thinking could be so flawed, as any reasonably informed follower of the relationship between Web 2.0 and transnational politics could surely have predicted this outcome. On the contrary, if we adopt the police investigator’s modus operandi of asking who stands to benefit from the act, one might actually suspect the dissident blogger himself, or one of his sympathists, or even a random hacker aimed at sending a strong message to governments that it’s ineffective to attempt to shut down online political discourse. What better way to pre-empt and turn the tables on government efforts at repression than to stage a repressive act impacting a wide community of users, whose source cannot easily be tracked, and then go finger-pointing?

If it was a government, hopefully all governments will have learned a lesson: web 2.0 is much more useful as a tool of global civil society than as a tool to silence it.

Other theories on whodunnit? Comment away.


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