The World Trade Organization is set to meet in Bali starting today in the latest last-ditch effort to salvage something from the Doha round, which means there's a round of news stories about the significance of the meetings. The Wall Street Journal's Ben Otto files the exemplar of this kind of story, which is worth mulling over a bit:
The World Trade Organization this week makes what could be a final effort to keep long-sputtering trade talks alive amid mounting signs that many of its 159 members have given up on a global agreement.
After 12 years of missed deadlines—and the failure last week to agree on even a scaled-back package of measures ahead of the four-day meeting in Bali—the negotiations appear all but dead, barring a last-minute breakthrough.
Countries including the U.S. have turned instead in recent years to smaller bilateral and regional trade deals, bypassing the WTO. Just Monday, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron called for a free trade deal between the European Union and China.
The WTO as a negotiating forum for trade liberalization has "become irrelevant," said Jean-Pierre Lehmann, a professor at IMD, a Switzerland-based business school.
Even the WTO's other main function—as an arbiter of trade disputes between members—could be at risk if trade talks break down in acrimony, Mr. Lehmann cautioned. Over the long term, the dispute-resolution mechanism risks losing legitimacy, which could result in more trade wars.
"Dispute settlement only works if there is consensus," he said. "The WTO has no army."....
The growing economic weight of developing nations like China, Brazil and India has added to the cacophony of voices, agendas and friction. Four ministerial conferences failed to make much progress, including in Cancun, Mexico, in 2003, Hong Kong in 2005, and Geneva in 2009 and 2011.
Some observers say the WTO has become less important as the nature of global trade has changed.
Scott Miller, a trade expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, points out that half of global trade is in components, meaning products are rarely made in one country.
Countries in those supply chains are increasingly carving out regional trade agreements. "My view is that Doha has been dead since 2008," Mr. Miller said (emphasis added).
This kind of story is both overly optimistic and overly pessimistic about the state of the WTO. It's overly optimistic in assuming that, even if something is negotiated in Bali (and the odds aren't great of that happening), it's unlikely that the WTO will ever be the focal point for comprehensive trade talks ever again. Even getting agreement on the "easy" parts of Doha has been super-hard. There's very little upside to making the WTO the focal point of new talks, especially given that most of the regional and bilateral trade talks have been of the "open regionalism" variety.
On the other hand, the "slippery slope" argument of the WTO losing relevance is also way overplayed. Such a statement omits two very important facts. First, even if there's no further WTO-guided liberalization, the rounds negotiated to date constitute far more liberalization than what can be achieved in the future. In other words, the WTO rules still govern a lot of trade, and further liberalization won't erode the WTO's bailiwick that much.
Second, the WTO's Dispute Settlement Understanding remains the ne plus ultra of enforcement arrangements in global governance. Contrary to the WSJ story, there is zero evidence that WTO enforcement has weakened as Doha bogged down or as protectionism increased after 2008. That part of the trade system is still working pretty well.
For decades, trade commentary has implicitly embraced the "bicycle theory" - the belief that unless multilateral trade liberalization moves ahead, the entire global trade regime will collapse because of a lack of forward momentum. The last decade -- and particularly the post-2008 period -- suggests that there are limits to that rule of thumb. It is possible for the WTO to matter less on jump-starting multilateral trade negotiations while still mattering a great deal in enforcing the rules of the game.
So Bali might represent the end of multilateral trade negotiations -- but it's not the end of multilateral trade.
Last week, Jessica Trisko Darden wrote a guest blog post about the international politics of the Miss Universe pageant. Yesterday, over at Duck of Minerva, Megan MacKenzie took me to task for this post on a number of fronts. Problem #1:
Like my professors over a decade ago, Drezner doesn’t come back in at the end of the lecture to engage with the content and he certainly doesn’t address the
half-naked ladieselephant in the room: that pageants are different from other entertainment/political events in that they involve (largely men) judging the esthetics of one WOMAN who is meant to embody each country. Good lord, if you can’t find and name the gender and race politics of Miss Universe where will you ever be able to find them? Skinny, straight, long-haired women parading in romantic, caricature costumes of their nation….and you don’t think to write about gender and race? You missed the politics completely Drezner (and I’m holding you accountable, not your guest lecturer).
I'd encourage you to read the rest of MacKenzie's post to get a taste of the (pretty odious) race and gender politics that she references. And I agree that, while Trisko Darden's guest post certainly did reference these issues, I did not.
But I'm not sure MacKenzie's teaching analogy is appropriate. This wasn't a guest lecture -- it was a guest blog post. I don't have them very often, but when I do, I tend to let the post speak for itself. In the classroom, or perhaps in a journal article, MacKenzie would be absolutely correct to push me to be as comprehensive on a topic. I'm not sure the same rules should apply to a blog post -- though this is a far-from-settled question, and I'm curious what others think.
MacKenzie's other criticism runs quite a bit deeper -- namely, that I shouldn't have outsourced the topic to Trisko Darden at all:
I felt like I was back at uni and my male professor had brought in a female body (any female body) to teach the week on gender. Sure she has a PhD and was Miss Earth- and she does have a unique perspective on pageants; however, since when do we need an insider to write about the politics of an issue....
Do we still need ladies to comment on lady issues Drezner?
Hmm.... Trisko Darden's unique perspective was exactly what made it a useful and informative guest post. But let's step back from these particulars, and get to the deeper question. If MacKenzie really wants to go there, then I'd observe that, yeah, responses like hers do an excellent job of raising the barriers for male political scientists to comment on gender politics when it's not their area of expertise. Why on God's green earth would I want to venture out from my professional comfort zone of American foreign policy and global political economy to blog about the politics of gender -- just so I can be told by experts on gender politics that I'm doing it wrong? To be clear, there is some upside to such engagement -- see the next paragraph. But the thing is, the downside risks of poorly articulated arguments on this subject are pretty massive. Indeed, I suspect Duck of Minerva bloggers are fully cognizant of those risks.
Now, all that said, MacKenzie makes a good point -- I've talked about lady issues in the past, I shouldn't be too scared talking about them in the future. And it is altogether good and appropriate for scholars to venture beyond their intellectual comfort zone -- it's the best way to learn. And as it happens, an opportunity presents itself on this front.
I'm about to start work on the
revised revived edition of Theories of International Politics and Zombies. There's gonna be some updating of the zombie material -- a lot has happened in recent years. But one of the things that's gnawed at me since the first edition of the book came out was that I didn't talk a lot about more critical perspectives of international relations theory. So I'm throwing caution into the wind and adding a chapter on feminist international relations theory and zombies. [Because of this?--ed. No, I decided to do this quite some time ago.]
This means I'm gonna have to read up on feminist IR theory. A lot. As I've noted, feminist approaches to international relations are not my strong suit, and it's going to be rather important to get the tone right. So I'd ask MacKenzie, as well as readers on this subject, to suggest in the comments the pertinent feminist literature (beyond the obvious canonical citations) that would speak to "post-human" politics. And vice versa -- which parts of the zombie canon clearly have things to say about the politics of gender?
Yesterday I was intermittently watching Janet Yellen's testimony before the Senate Banking Committee, and I was struck by how often she relied on the guidance of "studies" to explain her worldview on monetary policy. By "studies," Yellen was referring to the policy-relevant academic literature.
This, in and of itself, is not extraordinary -- you'd find the same trope when Ben Bernanke testified. But it got me to thinking,. and then to tweeting:
Fun exercise: imagine a SecState or NSC Advisor referring to "studies" -- i.e., the literature -- as much as Yellen has in Cong. testimony.— Daniel Drezner (@dandrezner) November 14, 2013
My point is that no foreign policy principal, in testifying before Congress, would ever think of saying that the academic literature guides their thinking on a particular policy issue.
In response to that tweet, Chris Blattman -- a strange economist in the stranger land of political science -- offered a response:
[An] immense amount of what the best political scientists are doing is irrelevant to what State or the NSC does, and what is relevant is often of mediocre quality. I think this is improving but I’m not very sure. (emphasis added)
Now it's possible that Blattman is correct -- but I don't think so. First, I'm unconvinced that political scientists are doing as much irrelevant scholarship as he suggests. More importantly, I'm extremely dubious of the implicit contention that a greater fraction of political scientists are doing policy irrelevant work than, say, economists.
I'd offer an alternative hypothesis -- prejudice. The issue isn't the poverty of political science research, but rather that foreign affairs policymakers view their relevant academic literature very differently from the way economic policymakers view their relevant academic literature. To repeat myself:
[T[he fundamental difference between economic policy and foreign policy is that the former community accepts the idea that economic methodologies and theory-building enterprises have value, and are worth using as a guide to policymaking. This doesn't mean economists agree on everything, but it does mean they are all speaking a common language and accept the notion of external validity checks on their arguments.
That consensus simply does not exist within the foreign policy community.... Many members of the foreign policy community explicitly reject the notion that social science methodologies and techniques can explain much in world politics. They therefore are predisposed to reject the kind of scholarship that political scientists of all stripes generate. This might be for well-founded reasons, it might be simple
innumeracyhostility to the academy, or it might be a combination of the two. I'd love to have a debate about whether that's a good or bad thing, but my point is that's the reality we face.
For evidence to back up my assertion, see this forthcoming International Studies Quarterly paper by Michael Desch and Paul Avey entitled "What Do Policymakers Want From Us?" They find that senior foreign affairs policymakers are extremely dubious about the utility of political science scholarship. The interesting finding is why:
[T]he more sophisticated social science methods such as formal models, operations research, theoretical analysis, and quantitative analysis tended to be categorized more often as “not very useful” or “not useful at all,” calling into question the direct influence of these approaches to international relations. Indeed, the only methodology that more than half the respondents characterized as “not very useful” or “not useful at all” was formal models. As Table 4 shows, the higher the rank of the government official, the less likely he or she was to think that formal models were useful for policymaking (p. 11).
Now here's the thing -- as Desch and Avey note, these very same policymakers have a very different attitude about economics: "Respondents were more tolerant of 'highly theoretical writings [and] complex statistical analysis of social science topics' in the realm of Economics (p. 9)." Indeed, they note at the end of their paper that an outstanding question remains: "why is it that policymakers are relatively tolerant of complex modeling and statistical work in Economics and survey research but not in other areas of political science and international relations? (p. 35)"
Maybe this is because economists are really just far more sophisticated in their research than political scientists -- but I don't think so. Maybe, as Desch and Avey postulate, it's because foreign affairs policymakers exaggerate how important these methodologies are to economic policymakers. Or maybe it's something different: it's that economic policymakers have imbibed the methodology and jargon of economists in a way that foreign policymakers have not with international relations. They don't reflexively pre-judge such scholarship in a negative light.
What do you think?
Way back in the Early Stone Age of the Internet -- i.e., the mid-1990s -- a group of developed countries started negotiating a Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI). Negotiated in semi-secret, the MAI soon triggered a backlash among elements of global civil society. In response, they initiated mass protests, petitioned governments, and -- most subversively -- posted MAI treaty drafts on the web. According to them -- (and, to be fair, some scholars) they played a
crucial role in the stalling out of the MAI in December 1998.
The thing is, there is minimal evidence that global civil society was really the cause of the MAI's downfall. As the draft documents suggested at the time, the member states were far from reaching an agreement - the last draft version of the treaty had contained almost 50 pages of country-specific exemptions. The United States and European Union were also deadlocked over the issues of extraterritorial sanctions, application of the most-favored nation principle, and cultural protectionism. In his book Fighting the Wrong Enemy, Edward M.Graham concluded: "the negotiations were indeed in very deep difficulty before the metaphorical torpedo was fired by the NGOs... this torpedo thus was more a coup de grâce than a fatal blow in its own right." The precise role of global civil society in scuttling the MAI remains a topic for debate.
I bring up this ancient IPE history because it appears that Wikileaks is about to provide a great natural experiment on the power of these kind of networked actors to influence the global political economy:
Today, 13 November 2013, WikiLeaks released the secret negotiated draft text for the entire TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) Intellectual Property Rights Chapter. The TPP is the largest-ever economic treaty, encompassing nations representing more than 40 per cent of the world’s GDP. The WikiLeaks release of the text comes ahead of the decisive TPP Chief Negotiators summit in Salt Lake City, Utah, on 19-24 November 2013. The chapter published by WikiLeaks is perhaps the most controversial chapter of the TPP due to its wide-ranging effects on medicines, publishers, internet services, civil liberties and biological patents. Significantly, the released text includes the negotiation positions and disagreements between all 12 prospective member states....
The TPP is the forerunner to the equally secret US-EU pact TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership), for which President Obama initiated US-EU negotiations in January 2013. Together, the TPP and TTIP will cover more than 60 per cent of global GDP. Both pacts exclude China....
The TPP negotiations are currently at a critical stage. The Obama administration is preparing to fast-track the TPP treaty in a manner that will prevent the US Congress from discussing or amending any parts of the treaty. Numerous TPP heads of state and senior government figures, including President Obama, have declared their intention to sign and ratify the TPP before the end of 2013....
The longest section of the [Intellectual Property] Chapter – ’Enforcement’ – is devoted to detailing new policing measures, with far-reaching implications for individual rights, civil liberties, publishers, internet service providers and internet privacy, as well as for the creative, intellectual, biological and environmental commons. Particular measures proposed include supranational litigation tribunals to which sovereign national courts are expected to defer, but which have no human rights safeguards. The TPP IP Chapter states that these courts can conduct hearings with secret evidence. The IP Chapter also replicates many of the surveillance and enforcement provisions from the shelved SOPA and ACTA treaties.
The consolidated text obtained by WikiLeaks after the 26-30 August 2013 TPP meeting in Brunei – unlike any other TPP-related documents previously released to the public – contains annotations detailing each country’s positions on the issues under negotiation. Julian Assange emphasises that a “cringingly obsequious” Australia is the nation most likely to support the hardline position of US negotiators against other countries, while states including Vietnam, Chile and Malaysia are more likely to be in opposition. Numerous key Pacific Rim and nearby nations – including Argentina, Ecuador, Colombia, South Korea, Indonesia, the Philippines and, most significantly, Russia and China – have not been involved in the drafting of the treaty.
Now, Wikileaks actually has a decent point to make on the intellectual property front. It also makes many absurd points about how a) the TPP is "the largest-ever economic treaty" (when it really isn't); b) the TPP and TTIP are intertwined (when they really aren't); and c) it's so unfair that some countries are negotiating an agreement that doesn't include other countries (why, you'd never see China or Russia doing that kind of thing!!).
Truthfully, however, the substance of the TPP is not the point of this post -- it's the political economy. Compared to the MAI, it's safe to say that the TPP negotiations are much further down the path to completion. Furthermore, from a geopolitical perspective, the Obama administration has a lot more invested in TPP than the Clinton administration did in the MAI. If, by publishing the draft texts, Wikileaks manages to derail the agreement, then that's a data point in favor of the power of networked global civil society. If, on the other hand, TPP proceeds relatively unscathed, then it suggests that perhaps the power of these non-state actors has been exaggerated, even in a Web 2.0 world.
If you look past the fundamentals, Russia has had a pretty good few months on the world stage. More recently, Forbes, in a surprising move
that demonstrates yet again that no one at that magazine has a f**king clue about world politics, labeled Vladimir Putin the most powerful man in the world.
Tomorrow is the cherry on top of the sundae -- Moscow will be hosting the Miss Universe 2013 competition. It is, literally, a crowning moment for Russia's leaders.
Or is it? One of the themes of this blog is that you can find interesting politics and good political science topics anywhere -- you just need to look properly. So it is with the Miss Universe competition. Sure, it's a topic ripe for cheap West Wing jokes and Saturday Night Live skits, but is it something more than that? To get a better grip on the politics of global beauty pageants, I asked the most qualified person on Earth to write the definitive guest post on this topic.
[Really? The most qualified person on Earth? REALLY?!--ed.] Jessica Trisko Darden holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from McGill University and a M.A. in Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies from the University of Texas at Austin. She is currently a Faculty Fellow with the School of International Service at American University. Oh, and she was also the Miss Earth 2007 international titleholder. [Um... oh... Ok then!--ed.]
High Heels Meets High Politics: Russia and Miss Universe 2013
Jessica Trisko Darden
Is Russia's hosting of Miss Universe more than just pageantry? As a former Miss and a scholar of International Relations, I know first-hand that international pageants are as political as they are entertaining. From strict security and protests to the formation of regional blocs, international pageants are as tense as a G-20 summit, with cross-cultural miscommunication, behind the scenes diplomacy, and deal making. When 86 women walk across a stage in Moscow on November 9th, they won't just be participating in a beauty competition - it will be an international political event.
In many ways, the Miss Universe pageant functions like any major international organization (IO). The decision-making process is opaque, often contested, and in many ways reflect the underlying power relations and interests of the dominant countries.
Similar to most other IO's, the United States dominates. The pageant is co-owned by Donald Trump and NBC, and Miss USA has won 8 times in 61 years (13 times if the 5 wins by the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico are included). Miss Universe also has the formal structure of an IO. Countries send delegates, in this case women between the ages of 18 and 26, who convene annually. Participating countries bid to host the event in spite of the relatively high cost.
The delegates have specific diplomatic functions, including literally embodying their culture through the national costume competition. For many of these women, it will be the first and perhaps only opportunity they will have to represent their country on the world stage, though some may go on to hold political office after hanging up their tiaras (Eunice Olsen, Irene Sáez and Angelina Sondakh, among others). However, Miss Universe, while reflecting international norms of fair competition and equal representation, arguably globalizes specifically American values, including a Barbie-like model of beauty.
As with any major international conference, the host nation benefits by harnessing international attention for its own objectives. The world press arrives. Tourism ads are aired in the 190 countries where the pageant is broadcast, generating revenue for the host. A successful pageant may also convince the international media of the ability of the host to safely pull off a large event. This is surely part of the rationale for Russia hosting Miss Universe for the first time, three months in advance of the Sochi Olympics.
There is a potential downside to all this international attention. On stage at Miss Universe 2013 are not only stunning evening gowns but also the present state of Russia's foreign relations laid bare. Notably absent from this year's roster are Albania, Kosovo and Georgia.
The Russian Federation does not recognize Kosovo as an independent state and could not issue a visa to Miss Kosovo. Miss Albania withdrew from the competition as a sign of political solidarity between the ethnic compatriots. Even more controversially, the Miss Georgia organization is not participating because of the country's strained foreign relations with Russia. Georgia severed diplomatic relations during the 2008 conflict between the two countries and later withdrew from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), an IO formed amongst several Soviet successor states. Georgia's President-elect, Giorgi Margvelashvili, recently announced that his country has no intention of rejoining the CIS in spite of overtures by Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko. This year, then, the pageant has provided a venue for the dark side of Russia's "soft power" - the ability to exclude, marginalize, and ignore.
As with the contestants, the spotlight on the host is not always kind. Advocates concerned with recent xenophobic attacks and anti-LGBT legislation in Russia may use the Miss Universe competition as a potential platform. One of the American hosts has publicly withdrawn over concerns about treatment based on his sexual orientation, adding further to the growing calls for a boycott of Sochi in support of gay rights. In addition, pageant pundits have commented on the fact that a pageant-associated fashion show failed to include any African delegates. This follows on the heels of complaints of racist chanting towards black players by Russian soccer fans.
The pageant may also bring attention to disparities between ordinary Russians and the country's elite. Tickets for the event range in price from $80 to $2,000. With an average Russian disposable household income of $1,275 a month, only Russia's super-elite is likely to be on display in the front rows.
Domestic political developments in other countries will also be on stage in Moscow. While the landmark participation of Miss Myanmar, the California-educated Moe Set Wine, may not have been what advocates of Burma's liberalization had in mind, it certainly reflects the country's growing embrace of globalization. The fact that Miss Israel is of Ethiopian heritage also signals to the world a different image of that country; the first black Miss Israel had the opportunity to meet with America's first black president during Obama's visit to Jerusalem in March.
Bikinis and big hair aside, attention to cultural events such as Miss Universe teaches us that high politics pervades all aspects of social life. The pageant is inherently political.
The touchstone for hypocrisy in popular culture is this scene from Casablanca, in which Claude Rains' character, Captain Reynaud, closes Rick's bar on the flimsiest of pretenses:
I bring this up because of Glenn Greenwald's revelations in Le Monde that the NSA has been spying, like, a lot, on France. Here at FP, Shane Harris and John Hudson have noted that the French are shocked about these revelations. The question is whether they're genuinely shocked... or Claude Rains shocked.
In the New York Times, Alissa Rubin's reportage suggest the latter:
French officials called the spying “totally unacceptable” and demanded that it cease.
“These kinds of practices between partners are totally unacceptable, and we must be assured that they are no longer being implemented,” Mr. Rivkin was told, according to a ministry spokesman, Alexandre Giorgini.
The same language was used late Monday in a statement from President François Hollande describing what he had said in an earlier telephone conversation with President Obama.
However, in a discreet signal that some of the French talk may have been aimed at the government’s domestic audience, France did not call this episode a breach of sovereignty, as Brazil did last month after similar revelations....
[M]any observers both then and now suggested that the French government’s harsh tone was in part political theater rather than genuine outrage because France runs its own version of a spying program on the Americans, which came to light in 2010.
At that time, a previous White House director of national intelligence, Dennis C. Blair, tried to put in place a written agreement pledging that neither country would spy on the other’s soil — similar to the “gentleman’s agreement” that the United States has with Britain. The deal fell through in part because some members of both countries’ intelligence communities wanted to continue to spy on each other, said officials close to those negotiations.
In addition, the facts of the N.S.A. data collection in Europe have been known for months, which led two nonprofit groups that oppose the spying to describe it as “astonishing” and “cowardly” that the French government would portray itself as not knowing about the surveillance. It also became clear over the summer that France’s espionage agency, the General Directorate for External Security, carried out data collection on French citizens without clear legal authority, suggesting that although the technology used by the United States may be more sophisticated, electronic eavesdropping as an antiterrorism and anticrime tool is broadly practiced. (emphasis added)
Yeah, that's Claude Rains shocked, not actually shocked.
Rubin's entire article is worth reading, as it also addresses the Mexican government's response to spying allegations there -- and a similar kind of Claude Rains-style reaction.
As I've blogged previously, I'm extremely dubious that any kind of international regime will ever genuinely restrict espionage activities. Monitoring by NGOs, the press and whistleblowers might cause the occasional flare-up in attention, but eventually it disappears into an SEP field.
As a coda to this point, it's worth re-reading this passage from John Le Carré's The Secret Pilgrim, in which George Smiley explains the permanence of the espionage profession to new recruits:
Spying is eternal. If governments could do without it, they ever would. They adore it. If the day ever comes when there are no enemies left in the world, governments will invent them for us, so don't worry. Besides--who says we only spy on enemies? All history teaches us that today's allies are tomorrow's rivals. Fashion may dictate priorities, but foresight doesn't. For as long as rogues become leaders, we shall spy. For as long as there are bullies and liars and madmen in the world, we shall spy. For as long as nations compete, and politicians deceive, and tyrants launch conquests, and consumers need resources, and the homeless look for land, and the hungry for food, and the rich for excess, your chosen profession is perfectly secure, I can assure you.
Am I missing anything?
For the past month or so, your humble blogger has been preoccupied with questions about just how much "credibility" matters in world politics. And for the past week or so, your humble blogger has been preoccupied with the budget/debt ceiling showdowns going on in Washington, DC.
So it's awesome that Bloomberg's Mike Dorning and Margaret Talev have a story that ties these two things together -- on how Obama is viewing this debt showdown with the GOP as a fight over credibility:
Shortly before President Barack Obama was re-elected, he confided to John Podesta, an informal adviser, a vow he was making for his second term: He would never again bargain with Republicans to extend the U.S. debt limit.
The precedent, set in the agreement that ended a 2011 budget standoff, “sent a signal that this was fair game to blackmail over whether the country would default,” said Podesta, a onetime chief of staff to President Bill Clinton and co-chairman of Obama’s 2008 presidential transition, in an interview. “He feels like he has to end it and end it forever.”
The stand Obama has taken on the latest fight over the government shutdown and borrowing limit -- refusing to tie policy conditions to raising the debt ceiling -- is an attempt to repair some of the damage that he and his aides believe he sustained by making concessions to Republicans to avert a default two years ago, according to former top administration officials and advisers.
The resolution of the showdown with House Republicans will be critical to maintaining Obama’s capacity to wield his clout in Washington during the three years left in his presidency and protect the political initiatives of his first term, they say.
The outcome will probably help determine his leverage to press for new priorities such as a revamp of immigration law, expanded access to pre-kindergarten education and infrastructure funding. It may also stave off attacks on his health-care law and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
If Obama makes concessions again to House Republicans over raising the $16.7 trillion debt limit, “he’ll be viewed as a guy who you can hold up,” said Podesta, chairman of the Center for American Progress, a Washington research group with close ties to the administration.
Now, given my profound skepticism about the impact of credibility in world politics, one would think I would share the same dim view about it mattering in domestic politics. Except that I don't.
As I wrote last month about the gap between academics and policymakers on this question:
Academics have the advantage of thinking about the long term; for policymakers, the long term is two weeks (for the Middle East, it's two days). Because of these different perspectives, they look at credibility differently. Academics usually make the country the unit of analysis: does the United States show resolve or not, for example. They care about the role that credibility plays over the span of years. For foreign policymakers, all politics is personal. As Heather Hurlburt intimated in this Bloggingheads conversation, they care about whether they or their boss is perceived by others inside the Beltway as credible or not immediately after a crisis....
If this explanation is correct, then both academics and policymakers are correct. International relations academics might well be correct in observing that what happens in Syria now will not affect what happens in Iran a year from now. Still, policymakers might well be correct in noting that if Barack Obama fails to follow through on his Syria pledges, his personal credibility might take a short-term hit inside the corridors of power.
That point, however, just covers how foreign showdowns are viewed by domestic political actors. The importance of credibility gets magnified even further when appreciating that these same individuals are going to have to go to the bargaining table again and again and again over the next few years. It is in precisely this set of circumstances -- in which the bargaining is ongoing and the individual actors don't change -- that one would expect credibility and a reputation for tough bargaining to be pretty friggin' important (though I'd really, really like to hear from my American politics colleagues on this question).
Of course, this cuts both ways. The problem with the current crisis is that it's dragged on enough so that if you think credibility matters, then both the Obama administration and Republlicans in Congress will face considerable audience costs for backing down. Any kind of concession that the GOP makes -- and let's face it, they've walked a fair way away from their initial bargaining position -- weakens the credibility of their bargaining position the next time around. Which leads to tweets like these:
"Clean" Continuing Resoultion and Debt Ceiling = Blank Check
— JohnCornyn (@JohnCornyn) October 10, 2013
This, by the way, is why I'm queasy about the idea of a short-term fix to allow time for further bargaining. Because whichever side is viewed as having "lost" the current exchange *cough* Republicans *cough* will dig in their heels even more during that future bargaining. Which dramatically increases the likelihood that, two months from now, I'll be linking to this post.
Am I missing anything?
There's an awful lot being written about the myriad ways in which political science and international relations scholarship skews this way and that way, but not the meritocratic way. To underscore that note, Peter Campbell and Michael Desch have an essay titled "Rank Irrelevance" over at Foreign Affairs. Their target is the National Research Council (NRC) rankings of graduate programs in political science. It's also part of their larger Carnegie-financed research project on policy relevance in the academy. As they explain at their website, a key component of their research program focuses on:
[H]ow traditional academic disciplinary rankings might skew the sort of work scholar undertakes and highlight how different sets of criteria based upon sub-field criteria and broader relevance could produce very different rankings. To illustrate this, we have ranked the top fifty political science departments based on 37 different measures of scholarly excellence and broader policy relevance of their international relations faculty. We have also done the same thing for the 442 individual scholars in that group.
So, how are the NRC's academic disciplinary rankings skewed? Campbell and Desch explain:
[T]he NRC measured academic excellence by looking at a variety of parochial measures, including publications per faculty member and citations per publication. But the NRC only counted work published in disciplinary journals, while excluding books and non-peer-reviewed magazines (like Foreign Affairs). The NRC also calculated faculty productivity and intellectual impact exclusively by tallying scholarly articles (and limited it to those covered by the Web of Science, the most well-known index of this type). In addition, the NRC considered percent faculty with grants, awards per faculty member, percent interdisciplinary faculty, measures of ethnic and gender diversity, average GRE scores for admitted graduate students, the level of financial support for them, the number of Ph.D.s awarded, the median time to degree, and the percentage of students with academic plans, among other factors.…
The NRC’s methodology biased its rankings against two kinds of scholarship: international relations scholarship, which is often book-oriented; and policy-relevant scholarship, which often appears in non-peer-reviewed journals. That leads to vast undervaluation of many leading scholars and, accordingly, their schools.… It also discourages ranked programs from promoting authorship of in-depth policy relevant work.…
[W]e believe that broader criteria of scholarly excellence and relevance ought to be part of how all departments are ranked. We are not advocating junking traditional criteria for academic rankings; rather, we urge that such narrow and disciplinarily focused criteria simply be balanced with some consideration of the unique aspects of international relations and also take account of the broader impact of scholarly work.
My FP colleague Stephen Walt has already praised the value-added of Campbell and Desch's approach:
Their point -- and it is a good one -- is that the standards and methods used to evaluate graduate programs are inherently arbitrary, and if you reward only those publications that are least likely to generate policy-relevant research, you are going to get an academic world that tends to be inward-looking and of less practical value.
I have a slightly different take. To be sure, Campbell and Desch raise one valid point: The NRC, by ignoring books, discriminates against fields that place more importance on them -- namely, international relations, political theory, and comparative politics. Incorporating university press books would seem to be a relatively quick and easy fix to that problem. Even here, however, it's not clear to me why international relations is particularly "unique" within political science. If anything, it's the Americanists who are unique with such an overwhelming emphasis on journal articles.
The thing is, Campbell and Desch do not want to stop there. They also suggest that an appropriate ranking system should include factoring in policy relevance. This could be done through counting policy publications (in Foreign Policy and Foreign Affairs), serving in the government with a Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellowship, or congressional testimony.
Now, I'm a big fan of policy relevance. I've published in both Foreign Policy and Foreign Affairs. I've had the CFR fellowship. Hell, I even testified before Congress a few times. Throwing false modesty aside, if I were included in Campbell and Desch's individual scholar rankings, I'd kick ass and take names.
That said, incorporating all of these policy-relevant factors would be a pretty bad way to rank political science departments.
The obvious problem with these metrics is that they discriminate against the other political science fields way more than the status quo discriminates against international relations scholars. But let's assume that Campbell and Desch would include, say, testifying before state legislatures or advising foreign governments into their metrics as well. Logically, this proposal still doesn't hold together.
On the one hand, their definition of "policy relevance" is exceedingly narrow. It consists primarily of actions or publications that service the U.S. government. It's entirely conceivable that some international relations scholars, for ethical or normative reasons, might decide that they would rather not aid the state with their service, authorship, or testimony. Surely there are other ways scholars can become policy relevant: advising NGOs, jump-starting social movements or campaigns, or even, say, out-and-out partisan blogging. Unless one wants to create a bias that rewards scholars for cozying up to the state, Campbell and Desch would have to devise a much more inclusive formula to calculate "policy relevant activities."
The thing is, if you go that far, you've probably gone too far. You're ranking scholars and departments not for their scholarship, but for their ability to act in a political manner in the service of that scholarship -- or simply asserting policy positions from a position of authority. As Johannes Urpelainen observed:
Academic policy relevance should be defined as the ability to use the scientific method to contribute to policy formulation. Insightful commentary based on a gut feeling or authority is not academic policy relevance. It results from a fundamental misunderstanding of what the role of academic institutions is in the global society. International relations scholars who feel the need to comment on current events based on their personal views or experiences can do so, but their policy relevance must be evaluated based on their ability to use the scientific method to add value.…
[A]s an academic, I am more than happy to subject my work to peer review. If my arguments are logically flawed or my identification strategy weak, I should not be rewarded just because some policymaker out there wants to justify a policy by referring to an Ivy League academic who is of the same opinion. International scholars should work harder than ever before to do the kind of research that survives the difficult process of peer review.
See Steve Saideman on this point as well.
Supporters of Campbell and Desch's argument might say that such an attitude "fetishizes" peer review at the expense of, say, writing for Foreign Policy. And there's no denying that the peer review system is imperfect. But I have seen, up close, the gatekeeping system that operates in order to crack Foreign Affairs or the New York Times op-ed page -- as, I'm sure, Campbell and Desch have. I'm therefore a bit gobsmacked that any academic would claim that this kind of non-peer-reviewed system is somehow fairer than what operates in the academy. In actuality, these other publication outlets stack the deck heavily in favor of name recognition and the prestige of one's home institution. They might do that for valid or invalid reasons -- but those reasons have very little to do with scholarly achievement.
Focusing primarily on peer-reviewed publications is a lousy, flawed, and inefficient way of doing rankings -- until one considers the alternatives.
Campbell and Desch are correct that scholars should not be punished for trying to enter the public sphere. As biases go, however, I'd posit that the one against policy relevance has faded over time and is a far less disconcerting form of bias than, say, this one.
What do you think?
Your humble blogger continues to be interested in the divide between current/former policymakers and academics over the meaning and significance of "credibility" in international affairs. I have bent over backwards to suggest that maybe, just maybe, policymakers know something we don't. But increasingly, I'm wondering whether the Syria deal highlights just how much policymaker types need to gain a wider perspective.
For exhibit A, there's the New York Times' Thom Shanker and Lauren D'Avolio, who report that former Secretaries of Defense Bob Gates and Leon Panetta are pretty critical about the Syria deal because of concerns about... credibility with Iran:
Mr. Panetta... said the president should have kept his word after he had pledged action if Syria used chemical weapons.
“When the president of the United States draws a red line, the credibility of this country is dependent on him backing up his word,” Mr. Panetta said.
“Once the president came to that conclusion, then he should have directed limited action, going after Assad, to make very clear to the world that when we draw a line and we give our word,” then “we back it up,” Mr. Panetta said....
Under questioning from the moderator, David Gergen, who advised four presidents and is now on the faculty at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, both former secretaries said that American credibility on Syria was essential to enduring efforts to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons.
“Iran is paying very close attention to what we’re doing,” Mr. Panetta said. “There’s no question in my mind they’re looking at the situation, and what they are seeing right now is an element of weakness.” (emphases added)
Other former senior policymakers I've talked to this week have also stressed the Iran angle. Even if they acknowledge that what happened in Syria is not going to affect events in North Korea, they point out that Iran is in the same neighborhood and will undoubtedly process Obama's "climbdown" on Syria into their calculations on what to do with respect to their own nuclear program.
Now, that certainly makes intuitive sense. So the Iranians must be hardening their negotiating position on the nuclear question, right? Let's go to the Financial Times' Najmeh Bozorgmehr:
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, has advocated flexibility in talks with major powers in a rare public acknowledgment of his determination to find a solution to the dispute over the country’s nuclear programme.
Uh.... I don't think that's what Panetta meant. Hmm... maybe the FT got it wrong. Let's check the New York Times' Thomas Erdbrink's coverage:
A series of good-will gestures and hints of new diplomatic flexibility from Iran’s ruling establishment was capped on Wednesday by the highest-level statement yet that the country’s new leaders are pushing for a compromise in negotiations over their disputed nuclear program.
In a near staccato burst of pronouncements, statements and speeches by the new president, Hassan Rouhani; his foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif; and even the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the leadership has sent Rosh Hashana greetings to Jews worldwide via Twitter, released political prisoners, exchanged letters with President Obama, praised “flexibility” in negotiations and transferred responsibility for nuclear negotiations from the conservatives in the military to the Foreign Ministry.
But... but... what about Syria?! Surely the Iranians have processed what happened in that crisis and have decided to double down in hawkishness, right? C'mon, help me out here, Erdbrink!
Mr. Rouhani, asked in the NBC News interview if he thought Mr. Obama looked weak when he backed off from a threat to conduct a missile strike against Syria over a deadly chemical weapons attack outside Damascus on Aug. 21, replied: “We consider war a weakness. Any government or administration that decides to wage a war, we consider a weakness. And any government that decides on peace, we look on it with respect to peace.”
Son of a....
Now, if you read the Erdbrink story, it's clear that Iran's desperate, sanctions-induced economic straits are playing a key role in a months-in-the-planning rollout to reignite negotiations with the West. So it's not like compellence doesn't matter.
But I wonder if reaching an agreement on Syria might have also sent an unanticipated but useful signal to Iran. As I've blogged about in the past, the Obama administration has toggled back and forth between wanting to cut a nuclear deal and wanting to foment regime change in Iran. From Iran's perspective, this made it very, very hard to believe that the U.S. government could credibly commit to any nuclear agreement with the current regime.
As Phil Arena pointed out with respect to Syria, softening a hardline position on Syria might have enhanced U.S. credibility in negotiations:
[T]he most relevant obstacle to negotiation, up until very recently, might well have been a belief on behalf of Putin and Assad that the US couldn’t be appeased. That they faced a commitment problem stemming from the inability of the US to credibly promise to leave Assad alone if he ceased using chemical weapons. Once debate within the US made it clear that regime change wasn’t the goal, that the US really doesn’t much care how many innocent people are raped and killed so long as they aren’t gassed, everything changed. The lack of resolve signaled by the US might have served to convince Putin and Assad that the US could be bought off, and relatively cheaply.
One can extend Arena's logic to negotiations with Iran. Rather than accommodation on Syria signaling a weakening of resolve to Iran, it might have signaled something very different -- a willingness of the United States to accept the negotiations track. As Arena's analysis suggests, such deals carry policy tradeoffs. But it seems like the willingness to negotiate on Syria has, on the margins, bolstered rather than weakened Iran's willingness to negotiate a nuclear deal. This would be consistent, by the way, with Anne Sartori's research on the importance of credibility in diplomacy.
Now if you think the primary goal in Iran or Syria should be regime change, or if you think that Syria's concessions now and Iran's concessions later will be meager, then this post will be of little comfort. And as Arena points out, there are some sticky policy tradeoffs here for U.S. policymakers. But Iran's behavior vitiates the notion that Obama's policy reversals on Syria have somehow emboldened Iran's leadership into adopting a more hawkish position. If anything, the opposite is true.
Or, in other words -- and I mean this with all due respect -- policymakers treat credibility as this magical overarching concept that only applies to "resolve to use military force." It's possible that credibility is a more circumscribed effect... and applies to diplomacy just as much as force.
What do you think?
As BuzzFeed's Miriam Elder has chronicled, the foreign policy community ain't too happy with Obama right now. Your humble blogger hasn't been quite as unhappy, but that's mostly because I've been distracted by conferences -- and genuinely unsure about what the United States should do in Syria in the two weeks since blogging on it last. This puts me in a decided minority.
But in honor of the traditional start-of-school day in the United States, it's worth pointing out a hidden reason for why foreign policy wonks are so displeased with the Obama administration's last two weeks on Syria. And believe it or not, it has to do with international relations theory.
As I've blogged previously, the Obama administration's approach towards the Syrian civil war has been pretty realpolitik:
To your humble blogger, this is simply the next iteration of the unspoken, brutally realpolitik policy towards Syria that's been going on for the past two years. To recap, the goal of that policy is to ensnare Iran and Hezbollah into a protracted, resource-draining civil war, with as minimal costs as possible. This is exactly what the last two years have accomplished.... at an appalling toll in lives lost.
This policy doesn't require any course correction... so long as rebels are holding their own or winning. A faltering Assad simply forces Iran et al into doubling down and committing even more resources. A faltering rebel movement, on the other hand, does require some external support, lest the Iranians actually win the conflict.
So far, so understandable. The thing is, the use of chemical weapons in Syria has triggered the liberal internationalist impulses inside of the Obama administration. The taboo against the use of chemical weapons has strengthened over time. This is a good thing. Humans are a pretty barbaric species, so on the whole I tend to approve of any small step towards more civilized behavior. The chemical weapons taboo is one such small step, so I value it a bit more than my FP colleague Stephen Walt.
The Obama administration clearly wants to segment intervening in Syria to enforce the chemical weapons taboo from intervening in Syria to aid the rebels. As both Charli Carpenter and Stephanie Carvin has pointed out, in theory these are different and separate policy goals.
I thought Carvin and Carpenter's distinction was an important one... until I read Adam Entous and Noru Malas' Wall Street Journal story:
In June, the White House authorized the Central Intelligence Agency to help arm moderate fighters battling the Assad regime, a signal to Syrian rebels that the cavalry was coming. Three months later, they are still waiting.
The delay, in part, reflects a broader U.S. approach rarely discussed publicly but that underpins its decision-making, according to former and current U.S. officials: The Obama administration doesn't want to tip the balance in favor of the opposition for fear the outcome may be even worse for U.S. interests than the current stalemate....
The administration's view can also be seen in White House planning for limited airstrikes—now awaiting congressional review—to punish Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for his alleged use of chemical weapons.
Pentagon planners were instructed not to offer strike options that could help drive Mr. Assad from power: "The big concern is the wrong groups in the opposition would be able to take advantage of it," a senior military officer said. The CIA declined to comment.
The White House wants to strengthen the opposition but doesn't want it to prevail, according to people who attended closed-door briefings by top administration officials over the past week. The administration doesn't want U.S. airstrikes, for example, tipping the balance of the conflict because it fears Islamists will fill the void if the Assad regime falls, according to briefing participants, which included lawmakers and their aides....
Growing frustration with the slow pace of the CIA arming and training program has prompted calls from lawmakers and some Arab leaders to shift the effort to the Pentagon, said congressional officials who favor the move. White House and Pentagon officials had no immediate comment.
And here we get to the nub of the problem. The trouble with Obama's liberal desire to enforce the chemical weapons taboo is running up against his realist desire to make sure that Al Qaeda doesn't have a friendly regime running Syria.
The domestic politics of gaining congressional support make this even more complicated. For Obama to secure support for his stance on chemical weapons, he needs the approval of full-throated neoconservatives like John McCain and Lindsey Graham. They don't want Obama to stop with enforcing the chemical weapons taboo -- they want regime change in Syria on the table as well:
The White House’s aggressive push for Congressional approval of an attack on Syria appeared to have won the tentative support of one of President Obama’s most hawkish critics, Senator John McCain, who said Monday that he would back a limited strike if the president did more to arm the Syrian rebels and the attack was punishing enough to weaken the Syrian military.
Except that, as previously noted, the Obama administration doesn't want to weaken the Syrian military too much. This is an awfully hard balance to strike.
There are a lot of areas of foreign policy where different paradigms can offer the same policy recommendation, and there are a lot of foreign policy issue areas where presidents can just claim "pragmatism" and not worry about which international relations theory is guiding their actions. I'm increasingly of the view, however, that Syria is one of those areas where Obama is gonna actually have to make a decision about what matters more -- his realist desire to not get too deeply involved, or his liberal desire to punish the violation of a norm. If he doesn't decide, if he tries to half-ass his way through this muddle, I fear he'll arrive at a policy that would actually be worse than either a straightforward realist or a straight liberal approach.
[So which paradigm would you recommend that he choose?--ed. I'm not completely sure yet, but I confess to be reluctantly leaning towards the realist play right now.]
What do you think? Which paradigm will win out?
Barring a last-minute hurricane, your humble blogger is off to the American Political Science Association annual meetings early tomorrow. Now, personal and professional networking aside, there are two other reasons academics like myself like to go to these things. The first is to hear interesting work-in-progress, and the second is to linger over the book room, which has all the latest books about politics from academic and commercial presses. Name the most obscure political science-y topic in the world, and I'd be willing to bet that there's at least one book about it in that room.
Now, one of the perks of my
Klout score academic station is that publishers and authors send some interesting books sent my way. For those readers who are attending APSA and... um... read my blog and are therefore likely to be interested in the same topics that I am, here are the books that I think are worth picking up:
1) Mark Blyth, Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea (Oxford University Press). Blyth's book is that rare combination of analytical precision and furious jeremiad against the notion that fiscal austerity is the macroeconomic policy solution for times of uncertainty. If you're interested in economic ideas, this is well worth the read.
2) Ronald J. Deibert, Black Code: Inside the Battle for Cyberspace (Signal). Cyber! Cyber!! CYBER!!! It's been that kind of year. Deibert has been looking at these issues for more than a decade now, and this very accessible text looks like it will be a must-read for the fall.
3) Emilie Hafner-Burton, Making Human Rights a Reality (Princeton University Press). Over the past few years, Hafner-Burton has published... let's see... approximately a gazillion pieces on human rights over the past decade. This book represents Hafner-Burton's efforts to distill what she's learned from her research and convert that knowledge into an actionable strategy to improve human rights across the globe.
4) Thomas Hale, David Held and Kevin Young, Gridlock: Why Global Cooperation Is Failing When We Need It Most (Polity Press). Loyal readers are aware of the argument I'm making in my book about the state of global economic governance. This book disagrees with me, but it does so in some very interesting ways -- and also covers a much wier range of issue areas than my own project.
5) Noel Maurer, The Empire Trap: The Rise and Fall of U.S. Intervention to Protect American Property Overseas, 1893-2013 (Princeton University Press). Maurer makes an argument that strikes me as pretty much the opposite of Stephen D. Krasner's Defending The National Interest. He posits that U.S. interventions have been dictated by private rather than national interests, and that military interventions to deal with expropriations have proven to be a costly and unnecessary exercise. As I write some follow-up work to my summer International Security article, it should come in handy.
6) Manjari Chatterjee Miller, Wronged By Empire: Post-Imperial Ideology and Foreign Policy in India and China (Stanford University Press). It's easy and glib to talk about how countries that were colonized carry that experience into their post-independence foreign policy. It's another thing entirely to explore rigorously how these colonial legacies explain foreign policy behaviors in wars that standard international relations theories do not. Miller looks at China and India in particular, two kinda important countries.
Ah, the American Political Science Association annual meetings are coming up. Which means that political scientists are feverishly emailing each other trying to set up times for coffee/alcohol/food with friends/grad student cohorts/book editors/mooseheads.
Over at Duck of Minerva, Brian Rathbun tried to offer some useful advice for the relative newcomers to APSA. Tried. Unfortunately, Brian wrapped up that advice in, possibly, the worst metaphor ever. Here's the cached copy of the post -- Brian has taken it down, and explains why here. The reactions of Duck commenters to Rathbun's initial post has led to additional posts by Dan Nexon and Laura Sjoberg addressing sexual harassment and gender politics in the discipline.
Lost in the controversy, however, is that once you remove the metaphor, Brian made a salient point that bears repeating (see also Steve Saideman). Very often, graduate students and new-mint Ph.D.s approach APSA as an opportunity to ingratiate themselves with The Movers and Shakers -- i.e., the senior people in the field who are on important editorial boards, prestigious hiring committees, book series, and attend those cocktail parties that everyone thinks are so damn important. Hell, I certainly approached APSA that way when I was at that stage of professional development
back in the 19th century.
In his post, Brian was trying to suggest that there is a better way to network:
It is almost always the case that the young people are the most creative and the most fun to be around. You will learn more. Young people haven’t settled into their intellectual habits and do not take themselves so seriously.... Ask yourself not, WWLT (“What Would Lake Think?), but rather, who is going to be the David Lake in the next ten to fifteen years? When I was an assistant, I found my exchanges with other assistants and associate professors so much more fun than any awkward exchange with the old farts. Never trust anyone under 40! Well, maybe 45.
As a newly-minted member of old fartdom, I wouldn't go quite this far. The key metric here isn't age per se -- it's the extent to which the person is better known for their past work rather than their current work. This tends to be correlated with age -- but it's hardly a lock.
That said, there are the seeds of a sound point here. More generally, I would recommend that younger scholars realize the following when it comes to networking at APSA:
1) The best kind of networking is always -- always -- to research, write and present really good papers. Really.
2) There is a small arbitrage opportunity to be had with the kind of networking that Rathbun is discussing. You can try to make the Milners and the Keohanes and the Lakes of the world remember you. That's a very crowded market, however, and they are bombarded with people trying to Get to Know Them. Instead, connect with the people who seem to be writing/presenting the work that you find to be the most interesting. That's how you'll improve your own ideas -- and then see (1) above.
3) You don't have to network at all. It likely helps your professional development a little bit on the margins, but not nearly as much as you would think. The opportunity costs are small compared to researching and publishing good work. Pour your manic energy into the latter far more than the former, and don't fret that you're missing all the cool parties if you don't feel like schmoozing.
Am I missing anything?
Right now, the final paragraph of The System Worked -- in which I argue that global economic governance has done pretty well and that the great powers have acted pretty responsibly with respect to their international obligations -- reads as follows:
An occupational hazard of international relations observers is that is easier to stress gloomy scenarios than to suggest that things will work out fine. Warnings about doomsdays that never happen carry less cost to one's reputation than asserting things are fine just before a calamity. History is littered with peddlers of optimism who, in retrospect, have been mocked for their naiveté. From Norman Angell's great illusion to James Glassman and Kevin Hassett's 36,000-point Dow Jones average, optimistic predictions that turned out to be wrong stand out as particularly foolish. Nevertheless, there has been excessive pessimism about the state of global economic governance over the past few years. This book has argued that these pessimists have been wrong, and that perhaps a dollop of optimism is in order. Despite considerable economic turmoil and despite some material shifts in the distribution of power, global economic governance reinforced pre-existing norms of economic openness. If past financial crises are any guide, the global economy should be primed for more robust economic growth for the rest of this decade. The open global economy survived the 2008 financial crisis. It will likely persist for quite some time.
Now you have no idea how terrifying it is to write that, for exactly the reasons outlined in the paragraph. I don't think I'm wrong in my prediction - but if I am, I'm gonna be spectacularly wrong, and it's gonna be pretty embarrassing, and sometime in the 22nd century someone at Starfleet Academy will write a clever thesis about the legacy of Drezner's Folly.
I bring this up because Paul Kennedy has an op-ed in the International Herald-Tribune in which he makes some points that are similar to what I'm making in The System Worked.
To historians of world affairs, including this one, the only proper response to this litany of spats, pouting and injured pride is to ask: “Is that all?” Are these the only issues which divide and upset the Great Powers as we enjoy the second decade of the 21st century? And, if so, shouldn’t we count ourselves lucky?...
All of these Great Powers are egoistic, more or less blinkered, with governments chiefly bent upon surviving a few more years. But none of them are troublemakers; nor are they, in any really significant sense, a source of trouble. Would they but realize it, they all have a substantial interest in preserving the international status quo, since they do not know what negative consequences would follow a changed world order.....
If this thesis is correct, and the Great Powers, while sometimes complaining about one another’s actions, generally act in a restrained manner, then perhaps we may look forward to a long period without a major war, rather like the unprecedented peace among the Great Powers that existed after 1815 under the Concert of Europe.
Now, you'd think that having Universally Acknowledged Eminent Thinker Paul Kennedy on my side would make me feel better.... but actually, it's the opposite. See, Paul Kennedy has written a lot, but in international relations scholarship he is remembered for two things:
1) Writing that the United States was about to suffer from some serious imperial overstretch in The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers in 1987. A decade later, the United States was the sole "hyperpower" on the planet.
2) Writing in early 2002 in the Financial Times that,
Nothing has ever existed like this disparity of power; nothing. I have returned to all of the comparative defence spending and military personnel statistics over the past 500 years that I compiled in The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, and no other nation comes close. The Pax Britannica was run on the cheap, Britain's army was much smaller than European armies, and even the Royal Navy was equal only to the next two navies -- right now all the other navies in the world combined could not dent American maritime supremacy.
One could argue that the United States has been in relative decline ever since Kennedy penned those sentences.
Now these points are unfair to Kennedy. Rise and Fall is an outstanding book, and closer read of the predictions in his conclusion suggest he was pretty prescient about a whole lot of things. And his assessment in the 2002 op-ed is matched by others' analyses -- it was just that he wrote it at the apex of American power.
So this is a battle between my rational and superstitious brains. Rationally, I agree with almost all of Kennedy's analysis - indeed, it's a point I make in The System Worked. Less-than-rationally, I'm worried that I'm wrong, and somehow Kennedy's endorsement of my worldview feels like a bad luck sign. Somewhere, I sense the ghost of Norman Angell is clucking, waiting for company in the Cursed Optimists Hall of Fame.
Earlier this year I remember reading a Wall Street Journal profile of Yale professor Charles Hill in which he said something rather extraordinary:
"Model U.N. is very deleterious. It has been educating now two or more generations of high school and college students about a U.N. that isn't really the U.N. Now when people talk about the U.N. they talk about something that doesn't exist. They talk about it as though it's a kind of untethered international governing body," [Hill] says. "So you've got 4,000 high-school students coming in for a weekend at Yale" and "you give them 45 minutes for a little problem like Iran's nuclear program, and they solve it! And they wonder why, if we solved it this morning before lunch, why can't you solve it?"
Now, I did Model UN in high school
to be close to a girl I had a massive crush on and found it pretty anodyne. What I remember is that the delegate from St. Kitts and Nevis had the most influence because he seemed the least afraid of speaking publicly. I noted that this seemed to not correspond to the actual distribution of influence in the world. Certainly, at my meetings, no great agreements were reached. So Hill's concern struck me at the time as, frankly, a little bizarre.
Then, this weekend, I read Anjli Parrin's New York Times story about the current state of Model UN... and it ain't like your daddy's Model UN. The good parts version:
This is not F.D.R.’s Model United Nations, that rigid simulation of General Assembly protocol and decorum. Conferences like this one in Philadelphia, hosted by the club at Penn, have turned MUN, as it’s called, into a full-fledged sport, with all the competitiveness and rowdiness that suggests. Today, there are official sponsors, a ranking of schools and, much to the chagrin of traditionalists, non-U.N. role play....
In classic MUN, students represent the positions and values of assigned countries, adhering to official protocols when speaking, negotiating and drafting resolutions. Consensus is important, and the process of arriving at innovative solutions to global problems the goal. That is still the prevailing model. But a new breed of Model U.N., popular among student-run clubs at elite universities, has a distinctly different philosophy. Their “crisis committees” focus on a single historical event (the 1929 Atlantic City conference of crime bosses, for example) and fantasy recreations (“Star Wars,” “Harry Potter”). Participants battle it out in four-day conferences in hopes of winning a coveted gavel, awarded to the strongest member on each committee, and schools with the most “best delegates” top the new rankings....
In Europe and Africa, where [Amandla Ooko-Ambaka] first became involved with Model U.N., she said the focus is more on the academic element of debating. After two years on the traveling team at Yale, she became frustrated with all the politicking and petty tactics. “Not only did I have to put together a good position paper and know one or two things about my topic,” she said, “but I had to worry about someone stealing my USB stick,” where delegates often store their work.
Parvathy Murukurthy, a senior at the University of Chicago and member of the college circuit’s first all-star team, isn’t pointing fingers but says that “entire sections of my resolution have been duplicated into other people’s resolution.” Delegates say backstabbing is less common in crisis committees because they’re smaller (about 20 people while a General Assembly re-creation might have 300), with more chance to distinguish oneself.
Underscoring just how extreme the competition has become, many students refer to a phenomenon known as the “golden gavel,” in which a delegate sleeps with the chairperson in the hopes of winning. Two students told me they are convinced they lost an award this way. Others I spoke with had only heard rumors — but, they added quickly, not involving regular competitors.
One thing is clear. Chairpersons, who are appointed by their clubs, are all-powerful. They run their committee, and often research and write up each character’s portfolio of powers. “Essentially, the chair decides what’s what,” Mr. Venice said, “and the chair decides what’s what without really any guidance. I can’t think of another sport where that would fly, to be honest.”
So... to sum up: the current incarnation of model U.N. has unequal distributions of power, competition for status, and accusations of skullduggery and sexual impropriety. I dunno, Professor Hill: this sounds like a pretty decent simulation of modern international politics. [Aaaaand... the premise for a semi-sequel to Pitch Perfect!--ed.]
So, in honor of Samantha Power's confirmation as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, let me salute this generation of Model UNers: may you continue to flummox your elders!!
There's some interesting stuff a brewin' in the world politics blogosphere.
Over at Duck of Minerva, Daniel Nexon notes that world politics journals have done a pretty piss-poor job of addressing Big Issues -- you know, things like the 2008 financial crisis. He then asks how political science journals can properly address such questions:
[N]ot a few people argue that the whole point of academic international-relations work is to avoid faddishness and overly speculative claims about unfolding events. Anyone who has ever heard “journalism” used as an insult knows one version of this line of argument. Still, the fact that international-relations articles usually genuflect in the direction of policy relevance suggests that even those in this camp think journals should have contemporary salience.
I’m not visiting this well-trod terrain to provoke a meta-argument about scholarship. Rather, I’m curious what “big” questions deserve more attention in our journals. The nature and dynamics of contemporary economic order strikes me as an obvious candidate, but what else is out there? And how ought such questions be addressed in a way that maintains a commitment to scholarly rigor–in its myriad forms?
As it turns out, I think Tom Pepinsky gets at one answer in his wish list of how he'd like to reform political science journals. One of his requests is a return to the long review essay -- that is, a full paper devoted to just one Big Book:
I’m not sure if the practice of writing long peer-reviewed essays on major books has disappeared because no one wants to write such essays, or because journals won’t publish them anymore, or won’t subject them to peer review. But I do know that in the humanities, and especially in disciplines like history which remain book fields, the practice of writing long, peer-reviewed reviews of major books has survived....
My experience writing long review essays is limited (I have done precisely one). But that essay made a key theoretical point, and so long as books continue to be published in political science—and they will—we should give professional credit to long, serious, and peer-reviewed essays that strive to make similar theoretical contributions in response to recent scholarship. Even if they concentrate on just one major work. After all, that is the natural way to foster the rigorous and critical exchange that drives the discipline forward.
So, to answer Dan's question, I think one way that journals can engage in Big Topical Questions that have a dearth of rigorous scholarship is to engage in the Big Books that are out there in a critical way. Looking at my library, for example, I see the following ten books that I'd argue merit a full-blown review essay in World Politics, International Organization, or Perspectives on Politics:
1. Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, This Time Is Different.
2. Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature.
3. Dani Rodrik, The Globalization Paradox.
4. Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, Why Nations Fail.
5. Chrystia Freeland, Plutocrats.
6. Pankaj Mishra, From the Ruins of Empire.
7. Evgeny Morozov, To Save Everything, Click Here.
8. G. John Ikenberry, Liberal Leviathan.
9. Angus Burgin, The Great Persuasion.
10. Mark Blyth, Austerity.
Now, note a few things about this list. First, they're all tackling big topics: the secular decline in violence, the persistence of financial crises, the limits of technological solutionism, the rise of global inequality, and the significance of economic ideas. These are big, meaty, enduring topics that are not going to disappear anytime soon. These are not faddish books.
Second, political scientists did not write most of these books -- even though they cover topics pertaining to political scientists. One way to look at this is to sniff at such foolhardy outworlders and go about one's business. I'd suggest that a better way of responding is to imbibe these works but point out the ways in which pre-existing political science scholarship addresses or exposes some of flaws or weaknesses in their approaches -- and vice versa.
Finally, many of these books would not qualify as "rigorous" in the social science-y sense of the word. And that's OK -- the point of a good review essay is to apply rigor to ideas and theses that might be compelling but also might be eliding logical inconsistencies. Pointing out the ways in which political scientists can rigorously test sweeping claims is in and of itself useful. Projects born out of such efforts -- say, Giacomo Chiozza's Anti-Americanism and the American World Order -- are extremely valuable. Indeed, this might be the best way for journals to wrestle with big and topical ideas without losing their rigor.
So that's my (poached) suggestion. Offer up your own in the comments.
Back in December of last year, Stephen Brooks, G. John Ikenberry, and William Wohlforth wrote a smart and sharp essay in International Security arguing that the benefits of America's military primacy and deep engagement with the world far outweigh the costs (an excerpt also appeared in Foreign Affairs). Brooks, Ikenberry, and Wohlforth made an array of arguments to bolster their thesis -- including the proposition that military primacy yields direct economic benefits.
I bring this up because I have an article in the latest issue of International Security titled "Military Primacy Doesn't Pay (Nearly As Much As You Think)" that takes a critical look at the economic claims. Here's the abstract:
A common argument among scholars and policymakers is that America's military preeminence and deep international engagement yield significant economic benefits to the United States and the rest of the world. Ostensibly, military primacy, beyond reducing security tensions, also encourages economic returns through a variety of loosely articulated causal mechanisms. A deeper analytical look reveals the causal pathways through which military primacy is most likely to yield economic returns: geoeconomic favoritism, whereby the military hegemon attracts private capital in return for providing the greatest security and safety to investors; direct geopolitical favoritism, according to which sovereign states, in return for living under the security umbrella of the military superpower, voluntarily transfer resources to help subsidize the costs of hegemony; and the public goods benefits that flow from hegemonic stability. A closer investigation of these causal mechanisms reveals little evidence that military primacy attracts private capital. The evidence for geopolitical favoritism seems more robust during periods of bipolarity than unipolarity. The evidence for public goods benefits is strongest, but military predominance plays only a supporting role in that logic. While further research is needed, the aggregate evidence suggests that the economic benefits of military hegemony have been exaggerated in policy circles. These findings have significant implications for theoretical debates about the fungibility of military power and should be considered when assessing U.S. fiscal options and grand strategy for the next decade.
Read the whole thing -- if you have library access to the journal. I hope that in the coming week or so, the entire essay will be accessible.
Your humble blogger is vacationing the hell out of this week, so as a result his gimlet eye for international relations is likely a bit dulled. That's a fancy way of saying that this post might be more wrong than my typical post, so I'm looking forward to pushback more than usual.
Still, reviewing the latest Edward Snowden news, what's striking is the manner in which states that have recently exulted in jabbing the United States have changed their tune when it comes to granting Snowden asylum. When Vladimir Putin asks Snowden to cut-it-out-with-the-damaging-anti-American-leaks-already, you know something's askew. This Reuters story sums up the situation nicely:
Snowden has prepared asylum requests in countries including India, China, Brazil, Ireland, Austria, Bolivia, Cuba, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Norway, Poland, Spain, Switzerland and Venezuela, WikiLeaks has said.
But several countries, including Snowden's favored Ecuador, said on Tuesday they could not consider an asylum request from Snowden unless he was on their territory.
Norway said he was unlikely to get asylum there, and Poland said it would not give a "positive recommendation" to any request. Finland, Spain, Ireland and Austria said he had to be in their countries to make a request, while India said "we see no reason" to accept his petition.
France said it had not received a request.
Officials in Russia, which has made clear it wants Snowden to leave, say an embassy car would be considered foreign territory if a country picked him up - possibly a message to leaders of oil-producing countries in Moscow for talks this week.
Snowden's options have narrowed sharply.
Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa was quoted in Britain's Guardian newspaper on Monday as saying he could not consider the asylum request and that giving Snowden a temporary travel pass to fly to Moscow was "a mistake on our part".
So, what's going on? Could it be that countries as variegated as Russia, China, and Ecuador are suddenly fearful of the coercive power of U.S. hegemony in a way that they weren't last week?
I'd suggest an alternative hypothesis. The one thing that all of these actors have in common with the USA is that they are... states. And if there's one thing that states of all regime types and ideologies have in common, it's that they don't like it when new types of entities try to f**k with their franchise.
States will war with one another, spy on one another, foment revolution across borders, and what-not. They are pretty reluctant, however to empower actors that can then use that power to try and erode the principal of the state as the ne plus ultra of governing authority. This is why countries like Iran and Russia cooperated with the United States during crucial periods of the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan and the ensuing war on terror. When states see a threat to the Westphalian order that's been around for a few centuries, they will act in concert to repel it.
So long as Snowden was embarrassing the United States and the United States alone, U.S. rivals saw no problem with egging him on. As Snowden aligns himself more closely to Wikileaks, however, more and more countries will look askance at what he represents. Of course, this creates a vicious feedback loop. As Snowden finds his allies shrinking in number, he will naturally cling to his remaining supporters even more closely (and spurn his former friends). And the more that Snowden seems like an extension of the Wikileaks brand, the more states that will refuse to aid him.
Am I missing anything?
So it seems like the remaining Axis of Evil states are sending signals that maybe they want out of the international relations penalty box.
First, in Iran's presidential election, the most moderate candidate, former nuclear negotiator Hasan Rowhani, won a surprise first-round victory on the strength of
no real reformist being allowed to run a combination of Green Movement and mainstream public support. Thomas Erdbrink analyzes the new president for the New York Times:
During the recent election, Mr. Rowhani argued that it was again time to change tactics in the nuclear program and reduce international pressure on Iran.
The nuclear case, he wrote in his book, has turned into the most complicated negotiations Iran has ever held.
“It is good for centrifuges to operate,” he said in a campaign video, “but it is also important that the country operates as well, and that the wheels of industry are turning.”
On Sunday, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman told reporters that there would be no change in nuclear policy. But reformists led by former President Mohammad Khatami, who backed Mr. Rowhani in the election, say it is time for a new approach.
“The election result shows that people want a change in the nuclear policy,” Mr. Shakouri-Rad said. “Now we will wait and see what Mr. Rowhani will do.”
Meanwhile, over in the Pacific Rim, the North Korean government has proffered a new proposal, according to the Financial Times' Song Jung-a:
North Korea has proposed unconditional high-level talks with the US to discuss denuclearisation and easing tensions, less than a week after it called off negotiations with South Korea over economic co-operation projects.
“If the US truly wants to realise a ‘world without nuclear weapons’ and bring detente, it should positively respond to the DPRK’s bold decision and good intention, not missing the opportunity,” the statement said, carried by the country’s official KCNA news agency.
The statement also said Pyongyang wants to discuss replacing the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean war with a permanent peace treaty, as the two Koreas will mark the 60th anniversary of the Korean war in coming days.
The rare proposal of talks comes as Washington shows little appetite to engage Pyongyang directly since the breakdown of a food-for-disarmament agreement in February last year. Under the deal, Pyongyang agreed to suspend work on nuclear weapons in exchange for food aid, only to fire a long-range rocket weeks later.
So, does this mean I need to stop automating my Iran blog posts or that there will be something interesting to blog about on the Korean Peninsula?
The North Korean initiative is easier to dismiss. As the FT story notes, the U.S. reaction to this has been very cool. And it's worth noting that last week's DPRK effort to restart a dialogue with South Korea blew up because they couldn't agree on the appropriate rank of officials to meet.
What is interesting about the DPRK's latest efforts at diplomacy is the sense that Kim Jong Un has played himself into a rather tight corner. One of the takeaways from last week's Obama-Xi summit is that China and the United States are moving in the same direction on North Korea. South Korea's new president is about to have her own summit with Xi. So I suspect this is Pyongyang's way of trying to find a way out of the box. Hopefully, North Korea's leadership will eventually realize the only way that will actually happen is to be willing to negotiate over its nuclear program.
The Iran developments are more interesting, and as David Sanger notes, it seems like the Obama administration will be willing to test Rowhani's intentions and ability to control the negotiation process:
[W]hile the election of the new president, Hassan Rowhani, a former nuclear negotiator who is considered a moderate compared with the other candidates, was greeted by some administration officials as the best of all likely outcomes, they said it did not change the fact that only the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, would make the final decision about any concessions to the West.
Even so, they said they wanted to test Mr. Rowhani quickly, noting that although he argued for a moderate tone in dealing with the United States and its allies when he was a negotiator, he also boasted in 2006 that Iran had used a previous suspension of nuclear enrichment to make major strides in building its nuclear infrastructure (emphasis added).
It's really the bolded section that matters, however, with respect to the nuclear negotiations.
And that's the thing about negotiating with countries that clearly define each other as an adversary. The lack of trust makes it ridiculously easy to paint even the hint of a concession as the result of external pressure working -- which means that external pressure should be redoubled. Which means no breakthrough in negotiating a solution.
Of course, with both countries, from the U.S. perspective, it is entirely possible that there is no negotiated solution. Both Iran's and North Korea's behavior to date suggests that they will never really relinquish their nuclear programs, no matter what the United States offers.
What will be interesting going forward is whether Rowhani is skilled enough and powerful enough to project an Iranian government that doesn't seem, you know, bats**t insane. That might make it easier for the United States to decide that the focus of its economic and diplomatic statecraft toward Tehran is cutting a deal with the current regime rather than trying to subvert it.
But still, we're a long way off from me having to stop automating my Iran blog posts.
[WARNING #1: SPOILERS AHEAD]
[WARNING #2: I HAVE NOT READ THE GAME OF THRONES BOOKS. WHAT FOLLOWS IS AN ANALYSIS BASED SOLELY ON THE HBO SHOW. YES, I KNOW I COULD READ THE BOOKS TO DISCOVER WHAT HAPPENS AND MAKE THESE INTERPRETIVE POSTS SOUND INCREDIBLY PRESCIENT, BUT I HAVE FOUND WITH THE WALKING DEAD THAT I DIDN'T ENJOY THE SHOW AS MUCH KNOWING WHAT WAS COMING. JUST DEAL WITH IT.]
As a political scientist, I liked but did not love season one of HBO's Game of Thrones, because of the rather murky ways the fractious politics of Westeros translated into the modern world. I really liked season two, as the War of the Five Kings highlighted variations in political leadership that resonated better with recent political debates.
And season three? I confess to some decidedly mixed feelings. On the one hand, elements of this season started to drive me bonkers. The overwhelming number of plotlines meant that, from episode to episode, not a lot seemed to happen. There were a few eps where, literally, the overwhelming bulk of the show consisted of protagonists marching from point A to point B while they argued, kind of a poor medieval version of bad Aaron Sorkin. Speaking of marching, those damn White Walkers have been taking their sweet time getting down to the Wall, eh? And finally, the torture of Theon Greyjoy after the first cycle was redundant -- and the opportunity costs of that screen time pretty significant.
And yet the season's high points were pretty friggin' high. There was this:
And, of course, there was the Red Wedding. Any scene that leads to these kind of reactions is clearly doing something very, very right:
Stepping back, as a political scientist I think Season Three of Game of Thrones got two Very Big And Interrelated Things right -- but the risks are very high. First, they f**ked with the viewer's sense of identity. As Jonathan Mercer observed a while ago, it is very easy for humans to form identities and shared understandings that distinguish between in-group and out=group, and somewhat more difficult to dislodge them. Game of Thrones started the narrative by having the viewer sympathize with House Stark. They're good, they're honorable, they seem down to earth, and so forth. Compared to the other Westeroi families we encountered in season one -- the grab-bag of Baratheons, the moneyed, incestuous Lannisters, the decrepit, scheming Walder Frey, and the rent-seeking lot in the Small Council -- you automatically start rooting for the Starks (well, except for Sansa). It's from the Starks' vantage point that we entered this narrative, and we don't like leaving that first point of reference.
By the Red Wedding, however, Game of Thrones has shifted our perspective just a wee bit. Now there are Lannisters that merit some sympathy, such Tyrion and Jamie. There are other Lannisters -- Tywin -- that at least prompt some grudging degree of admiration. The Tyrells have added a more intriguing flavor of politics to Kings Landing. And as for the Starks, their downfall demonstrates the difference between military and political competency. Eddard, Robb, Catelyn, Arya, Sansa -- only in that lot would Jon Snow be considered the master strategist of the group. So while the downfall of the Starks was tragic, it also taught the viewer that, truly, anything can happen in this world. Somewhere, Joss Whedon is smiling, because that's the one thing he has in common with George R.R. Martin. My point is not that the Red Wedding isn't shocking -- it's that after the Red Wedding, one can only look back and think, "man, did the Starks screw up."
The other thing that changed this season was the insertion of actual ideas in the myriad conflicts. From the anarchism of Mance Rayder and the wildlings to the monotheism/anti-feudalism of the Brotherhood Without Banners to the deep anti-slavery sentiments of Daenerys Targaryen, we are now seeing actors whose power flows not just from the traditional sources of blood and treasure, but from new and interesting social purposes. Indeed, this season of Game of Thrones raises a very provocative question: who died and elected any particular house of Westeros to the Iron Throne? Hell, why even have an Iron Throne? By the end of the season, the wildlings' political philosophy seems rather bankrupt, or at least ineffective (one of the nice pieces of symmetry in that narrative was to make Jon Snow seem out of touch north of the Wall, but to make Ygritte seem equally out of touch south of the Wall). Monotheism, democracy, liberty and human rights are pretty appealing, on the other hand.
Going forward, however, Game of Thrones has put itself into a bit of a pickle. Wrenching the viewer away from the perspective of the Starks automatically reduces the tendency to identify with any other group. And it seems like the White Walkers will eventually pay Westeros a visit, which could cause a lot of these transgressive ideas to fall by the wayside. In other words, I'm worried that the very things I liked about this season will be squelched in season four.
What do you think?
This weekend I had the pleasure of informally conversing with a Senator Who Shall Remain Nameless about certain matters of world politics, when he scared the living crap out of me. We were talking about trying to define the dynamics of a rather nettlesome problem in world politics. The good senator admitted that this was a tough nut to crack... and then said, in essence, "this is one thing that academics like you need to do, to clarify how we should think about these issues."
It was at that point that I got very scared. Any time politicians are looking to academics for insight, you know they're pretty desperate.
Whether it was just a clever deflection or not, however, I think the senator was right. There are certain known arenas of world politics where practitioners are gonna do what they're gonna do. There are other areas, however, where the uncertainty is so high that the right concept at the right time really can shape the way the problem is handled.
I bring this up because the upcoming Barack Obama-Xi Jinping summit suggests a possible moment where the right idea might matter. All the reports I have seen suggest that this summer is less about tangible deliverables and more about how to define the overall relationship between the two countries. As I noted last week, it appears that the Chinese leadership has been casting about for new ways of thinking about the relationship as well. As Jane Perlez reported, Xi seems eager to explore "a new type of great power relationship." Not surprisingly, everyone inside and outside Washington has offered their two cents on the matter.
I'm going to try to puzzle out how to define the relationship via the
half-assed some blogging about it. I'm going to start in this post by pointing out quite clearly what China is not. Namely, China has not been a revisionist actor on the global stage. In fact, over the past five years, they've been.... wait for it... a pretty responsible stakeholder.
Now, longtime readers of this blog might be a bit shocked to read that last sentence. I've posted a fair number of items pointing out the myriad ways in which China has rankled, annoyed, or truly pissed off other actors in the world -- often ineptly. With respect to its foreign economic policy, one could point to China's multi-year project of keeping the yuan undervalued, its indigenous innovation project, and its periodic disruptions of rare earth exports as good examples. On security, China's actions in its neighborhood (South China Sea) or globally (intransigence on Syria) would seem to be at odds with the United States.
That said, Iain Johnston made a very persuasive case in the pages of International Security a few months ago on how China's post-2008 behavior hasn't deviated that much from its pre-2008 behavior. I don't agree with his comments on the blogosphere -- but I do agree with these two paragraphs:
A common problem in the new assertiveness analyses is that they consider only confirming evidence while ignoring disconfirming examples. The risk here is exaggerating change and discounting continuity. The pundit and media world thus tended to miss a great deal of ongoing cooperative interaction between the United States and China throughout 2010. Examples include the continued growth of U.S. exports to China during the year; the continued high congruence in U.S. and Chinese voting in the UN Security Council; Chinese support for UN Security Council Resolution 1929, which imposed tougher sanctions on the Iranian regime—a move appreciated by the Obama administration; Beijing’s abiding by its 2009 agreement with the United States to hold talks with representatives of the Dalai Lama; a Chinese decision to continue the appreciation of the renminbi prior to the Group of Twenty meeting in Toronto in June 2010; Hu Jintao’s decision to attend the U.S.-hosted nuclear summit in April 2010 (in the wake of the January 2010 Taiwan arms sales decision, the Chinese had hinted that Hu would not attend the summit); a Chinese decision to pressure the Sudan government to exercise restraint should South Sudan declare independence; and China’s more constructive cross-strait policies, in the wake of Ma Ying-jeou’s 2008 election as president of the Republic of China, which have contributed to a decline in tensions between China and Taiwan, thus reducing the probability, for the moment, of a U.S. military conflict with the PRC.
In addition to these U.S.-specific cooperative actions, throughout 2010 China continued to participate in all of the major multilateral global and regional institutions in which it had been involved for the past couple of decades, including the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations Security Council, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Plus 3, the China-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement, UN peacekeeping operations, and antipiracy activities in the Gulf of Aden. There is no evidence that, beginning in 2010, it began to withdraw from global institutional life or to dramatically challenge the purposes, ideology, or main organizational features of these institutions to a degree that it had not in the past. Diplomacy in these institutions continued to show the expected mix of focused pursuit of status and material interest, defense of sovereignty, and functional cooperation that has characterized China’s approach to these institutions over the past couple of decades.
I'd put it even more strongly. Since 2008, China has had multiple opportunities to disrupt the U.S.-created international order, and Beijing has passed on almost all of these opportunities.
Johnston's focus was on 2010, but one could argue that events since then further buttress his argument. China continued to allow the renminbi to appreciate and continued to demonstrate compliance with its WTO obligations. As Perlez noted in her story last week, the Chinese have taken significant steps to signal their displeasure with North Korea. Last week Chinese premier Li Keqiang gave a speech that kinda sounded like the death knell for any loose talk about a Beijing Consensus. Even on international issues where China has appeared to be willfully obstinate -- the law of the sea, climate change, cyberattacks -- there has been at least some positive movement in recent months/weeks/days.
Now, let's be clear -- China is doing almost all of this to advance its own narrow self-interest. None of the above means that China is suddenly going to embrace the U.S. perspective on human rights or the South China Sea. Still, there are a healthy number of issue areas where China's interests are pretty congruent with the United States, and where China has taken constructive policy steps.
My main point here is that China is a great power that is inevitably going to disagree with the United States on a host of issues. China is not, however, a revisionist actor hell-bent on subverting the post-1945/post-1989 global governance. To use John Ikenberry's language, recent Sino-American disputes are taking place within the context of the current international order. They are not about radical changes to that international order. Indeed, contrary to the arguments of some, the current system has displayed surprising resilience.
So, going into this summit, I do hope that the Obama administration recognizes that China thinks that they've been a constructive actor in maintaining global order -- and, in a lot of ways, this is more than just boilerplate. A failure to acknowledge this really will create, as the Chinese are fond of saying, "hurt feelings" in California -- and only exacerbate a more malevolent worldview in Beijing.
Acknowledging China's constructive role does not mean that Obama should keep its mouth shut on areas of disagreement, or that the relationship doesn't need to rest on firmer ground. But as a first principle, it's worth remembering that China's rise is not an existential threat.
Am I missing anything?
So the media is treating next week's summit between Barack Obama and Xi Jinping as a Pretty Big Deal, with reports on how the summit is being organized and what issues are going to be on the table. In the New York Times, Jane Perlez provides some interesting (and slightly disturbing) context to the Chinese perspective of the Sino-American relationship:
Earlier this year, officials from the Foreign Ministry met with professors of international relations in Beijing to discuss how best to define the “great power relationship,” but no one knew how to flesh it out, several professors said.
Nicholas Lardy, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, said both sides were “struggling to conceptualize what a new type of great power relationship might be.”
It is a given, Chinese and American analysts say, that Mr. Xi and his advisers are referring to the historical problem of what happens when an established power and a rising power confront each other. The analysts said the Chinese were well aware of the example of the Peloponnesian War, which was caused, according to the ancient Greek historian Thucydides, by the fear that a powerful Athens instilled in Sparta.
Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University and an occasional adviser to the Chinese government, offered some ideas of what Mr. Xi has in mind.
“He wants the American president to recognize that China is dramatically rising in military and economic ways, and he wants the president to know that he is active in world diplomacy,” Mr. Shi said. “If the American president recognizes all of these things, then Xi can be nicer, nicer in his definition, in a very tense situation.” (emphasis added)
Now, to be honest, I'm a bit dubious about just how much influence Chinese IR professors have over defining the Sino-American relationship. This might be a case where Perlez is reporting this so prominently because the professors were willing to talk about it, whereas Standing Politburo Committee members are not as chatty with New York Times reporters.
With that caveat, however, I find the bolded section a wee bit disturbing. As someone who teaches Thucydides from time to time -- and fervently wishes that everyone in the foreign policy community would read the entire book -- this invocation of the Peloponnesian War is not terribly fruitful. This isn't the first time someone has invoked Thucydides to describe the current Sino-American relationship, with the United States playing the role of Sparta and China playing the role of Athens. The problems with the historical analogy haven't gone away, however:
First, Sparta was never the hegemonic power prior to the war -- at best, they were a co-equal of Athens. That's not the current situation.
Second, Sparta was scolded by its allies -- and implicitly, by Thucydides himself -- for excessive caution when confronted with a rising power. Throughout the History of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides contrasts Athenian energy and dynamism with Spartan conservatism and risk-aversion. Spartan fear was triggered by past Spartan inaction and caution.
Now, say what you will about American foreign policy, but conservatism and risk-aversion have not been nouns associated with it for quite some time. Similarly, until about mid-2009, China was not thought of as a source of foreign policy dynamism. Furthermore, when China's foreign policy changed, so did the United States'. Comparing the Obama administration's response to Spartan inaction doesn't hold up.
In the sparest structural sense, there are a few parallels that can be drawn between Greece in the fifth century B.C.E. and the present day. On the whole, however, I think the Athens-Sparta historical analogy obfuscates more than it enlightens.
This doesn't even address the biggest difference between the two periods, which is the dynamic economic interdependence that binds China and the United States together in a way that Sparta and Athens never had to consider. When terms like "balance of financial terror" are used to characterize the bilateral economic relationship, and similar terms are used to describe the problems of cyberattacks, it suggests that something new has emerged since the days of Thucydides.
The way in which the Thucydides analogy matters is just how much Chinese and American policymakers think it matters. If they really believe there are strong historical parallels, that's good news for John Mearsheimer and bad news for everyone else. These kind of mental maps can have a self-fulfilling prophecy-like quality to them -- and given how the Peloponnesian War played out, I'd strongly prefer not to see a modern-day equivalent.
[OK, smart guy, if the Athens/Sparta analogy doesn't work, which one would you use? The Cold War?!--ed.]
Well, whomever came up with that analogy is really quite interesting. To be honest, however, the closest historical analogy I can think of is even more disturbing than the Peloponnesian War. The current era most strongly evokes the pre-World War I era. As in that era, you have an offshore superpower that's wary about relative decline. You have a rising continental power that feels like it didn't really benefit from the hegemonic order set up before it rose to power. You have a lot of fading great powers and emerging great powers that make someone very nervous. And you have global economic system that is far more integrated than the security situation suggests.
Does this mean a replay of World War I is inevitable? I don't think so, in no small part because of the lessons of... World War I. But that's a topic for a later post.
What do you think?
A standard take on how energy affects world politics is Tom Friedman's "First Law of Petropolitics" -- the belief that high energy prices cause energy exporters to act in more belligerent ways. What if the opposite is the case, however?
The Atlantic's Charles Mann has a long, winding cover story on the growth of non-traditional hydrocarbon energy reserves -- shale gas, methane hydrate, and so forth -- and what that could mean for world politics. The good parts version:
Shortfalls in oil revenues thus kick away the sole, unsteady support of the state—a cataclysmic event, especially if it happens suddenly. “Think of Saudi Arabia,” says Daron Acemoglu, the MIT economist and a co-author of Why Nations Fail. “How will the royal family contain both the mullahs and the unemployed youth without a slush fund?” And there is nowhere else to turn, because oil has withered all other industry, Dutch-disease-style. Similar questions could be asked of other petro-states in Africa, the Arab world, and central Asia. A methane-hydrate boom could lead to a southwest-to-northeast arc of instability stretching from Venezuela to Nigeria to Saudi Arabia to Kazakhstan to Siberia. It seems fair to say that if autocrats in these places were toppled, most Americans would not mourn. But it seems equally fair to say that they would not necessarily be enthusiastic about their replacements.
Augmenting the instability would be methane hydrate itself, much of which is inconveniently located in areas of disputed sovereignty. “Whenever you find something under the water, you get into struggles over who it belongs to,” says Terry Karl, a Stanford political scientist and the author of the classic The Paradox of Plenty: Oil Booms and Petro-States. Think of the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic, she says, over which Britain and Argentina went to war 30 years ago and over which they are threatening to fight again. “One of the real reasons that they are such an issue is the belief that either oil or natural gas is offshore.” Methane-hydrate deposits run like crystalline bands through maritime flash points: the Arctic, and waters off West Africa and Southeast Asia.
In a working paper, Michael Ross and a colleague, Erik Voeten of Georgetown University, argue that the regular global flow of petroleum, the biggest commodity in world trade, is also a powerful stabilizing force. Nations dislike depending on international oil, but they play nice and obey the rules because they don’t want to be cut off. By contrast, countries with plenty of energy reserves feel free to throw their weight around. They are “less likely than other states to sign major treaties or join intergovernmental organizations; and they often defy global norms—on human rights, the expropriation of foreign companies, and the financing of foreign terrorism or rebellions.” The implication is sobering: an energy-independent planet would be a world of fractious, autonomous actors, none beholden to the others, with even less cooperation than exists today.
Voeten's post at the Monkey Cage goes further.
The fact that China and the U.S. both currently rely on oil imports may be an important stabilizing force as it creates a shared interest in stable global oil markets and thus in ensuring that the Oceans are navigable, the Middle East is relatively stable, and that rules and norms whose violations could trigger instability are obeyed. Energy independence has long been thought to free U.S. foreign policy from undesirable constraints. But would the world be more stable if the U.S. had fewer constraints on how it exercises its foreign policy?
As if on cue, the Financial Times' Richard McGregor and Ed Crooks report that the Obama administration is starting to think about how to use the country's new energy bounty in
Although the energy department is the decision maker, the issue is being debated at senior levels in the White House which sees energy exports as giving the US new geopolitical leverage.
In a little-noticed speech in New York in late April, Tom Donilon, the White House national security adviser, said the new energy bounty allowed the US “a stronger hand in pursuing and implementing our international security goals”.
Mr Donilon said increased US and global gas production could break the link between the gas and more expensive oil prices and “weaken control by traditional dominant natural gas suppliers”.
The White House is also promoting gas as an alternative fuel to oil and coal as a way to reduce greenhouse emissions.
All of this has Walter Russell Mead a bit giddy, but let's go back to Mann and Voeten's point. Assuming that the extrapolations pan out -- and it's worth remembering that five years ago those projections looked very different -- will declining energy prices trigger an arc of instability?
Color me a bit skeptical. First, energy is hardly the only resource that imbricates the great powers with the rest of the global economy. The global value chain does that on its own quite nicely, thank you very much, and a glance at the new Trade in Value Added data makes that clear.
Second, if Donilon's speech was any indication of what new energy reserves would mean for U.S. foreign policy, I'd say retrenchment was not in the cards:
[R]educed energy imports do not mean the United States can or should disengage from the Middle East or the world. Global energy markets are part of a deeply interdependent world economy. The United States continues to have an enduring interest in stable supplies of energy and the free flow of commerce everywhere.
We have a set of enduring national security interests in the Middle East, including our unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security; our global nonproliferation objectives, including our commitment to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon; our ongoing national interest in fighting terrorism that threatens our personnel, interests and our homeland; our strong national interest in pursuit of Middle East peace; our historic stabilizing role in protecting regional allies and partners and deterring aggression; and our interest in ensuring the democratic transitions in Yemen, North Africa and ultimately in Syria succeed.
Furthermore, as the FT article suggests, the United States sees the change in natural gas as a way to expand exports into Latin America. This doesn't sound like a county that wants to retreat into autarky.
Third, there is one way in which reduced exports might make life easier for Middle Eastern governments -- in the short term. That region has the highest level of energy intensity in the world, in no small part because gas and oil are cheap and subsidized. Declining demand from elsewhere allows these governments to continue to provide cheap energy at home. From both a climate change perspective and an economic reform perspective, this ain't good news. But it does augment political stability.
Finally, this is a slow-motion change in the global energy picture. North America has moved the furthest down the road on this revolution -- Japan, China and Europe are just starting. So energy exporters have a fair degree of warning about what's coming. This doesn't mean that they'll use the lead time properly. Still, one of the reasons for building up sovereign wealth funds and the like is to insure against the time when the energy fairy disappears.
What do you think?
A. Iain Johnston has the lead article in the latest issue of International Security. It's available for free right now, and it's quite the doozy. Entitled "How New and Assertive is China's New Assertiveness?", Johnston picks apart the claim made by many (including your humble blogger) that China's post-2008 foreign policy represented anything all that much out of the ordinary. From the abstract:
There has been a rapidly spreading meme in U.S. pundit and academic circles since 2010 that describes China's recent diplomacy as “newly assertive.” This “new assertiveness” meme suffers from two problems. First, it underestimates the complexity of key episodes in Chinese diplomacy in 2010 and overestimates the amount of change. Second, the explanations for the new assertiveness claim suffer from unclear causal mechanisms and lack comparative rigor that would better contextualize China's diplomacy in 2010. An examination of seven cases in Chinese diplomacy at the heart of the new assertiveness meme finds that, in some instances, China's policy has not changed; in others, it is actually more moderate; and in still others, it is a predictable reaction to changed external conditions. In only one case—maritime disputes—does one see more assertive Chinese rhetoric and behavior.
Johnston has forgotten more about Chinese foreign policy than I will ever learn, so I'd encourage you to give the whole piece a read. My take is that I'm actually not that far apart from Johnston. As he notes, China's foreign policy had its share of belligerent episodes prior to 2008. He also acknowledges that there has been some movement by China on a couple of issues, including the maritime disputes. He also omits any discussion of some of the cases that I've highlighted on the blog, including the reaction to Liu Xiaobo's Nobel Peace Prize, as well as the kerfuffle with Google.
What's really interesting, however, is the second part of that abstract:
The speed and extent with which the newly assertive meme has emerged point to an understudied issue in international relations—namely, the role that online media and the blogosphere play in the creation of conventional wisdoms that might, in turn, constrain policy debates. The assertive China discourse may be a harbinger of this effect as a Sino-U.S. security dilemma emerges (emphasis added).
Whoa there!! Bloggers are constraining policy debates?
Here's the relevant passage from the article itself (p. 46-47):
The conventional description of Chinese diplomacy in 2010 seems to point to a new, but poorly understood, factor in international relations—namely, the speed with which new conventional wisdoms are created, at least within the public sphere, by the interaction of the internet-based traditional media and the blogosphere. One study has found, for instance, that on some U.S. public policy issues, the blogosphere and the traditional media interact in setting the agenda for coverage for each other. Moreover, on issues where this interaction occurs, much of the effect happens within four days. Other research suggests that political bloggers, for the most part, do not engage in original reporting and instead rely heavily on the mainstream media for the reproduction of alleged facts. The media, meanwhile, increasingly refers to blogs as source material. The result is, as one study put it, “a news source cycle, in which news content can be passed back and forth from media to media.” Additional research suggests that the thematic agendas for political campaigns and politicians themselves are increasingly influenced by blogosphere-media interaction.
Together, this research suggests that the prevailing framework for characterizing Chinese foreign policy in recent years may be relevant for the further development (and possible narrowing) of the policy discourse among media, think tank, and policy elites. As the agenda-setting literature suggests, this is not a new phenomenon. What is new, however, is the speed with which these narratives are created and spread—a discursive tidal wave, if you will. This gives first movers with strong policy preferences advantages in producing and circulating memes and narratives in the electronic media or in high-profile blogs, or both. This, in turn, further reduces the time and incentives for participants in policy debates to conduct rigorous comparative analysis prior to participation.
And here I'm going to have to disagree with Johnston a bit. On a day in which the mainstream media demonstrated a truly excellent ability to spread its own misinformation -- and, in response, said mainstream media blamed Twitter -- I'm highly dubious that the blogs play that much of a causal role. To be sure, I do think blogs can sometimes perpetuate falsehoods. That said, most of Johnston's evidence for blog effects comes from domestic policy, and methinks the foreign policy media ecosystem functions a wee bit differently.
If I had to wager why the misperceptions about China that Johnston enumerates have emerged, I'd hypothesize, in descending order of importance, the following reasons:
1) Foreign affairs columnists and international relations analysts who hadn't paid that much attention to China prior to 2008 had no choice but to pay a lot of attention to Beijing after the financial crisis;
2) Interest groups in the United States that were traditionally predisposed towards a more dovish view of China started feeling burned by Beijing on matters unrelated to security.
3) The media likes a trend, and a lot of the incidents that Johnston chronicles took place in rapid-fire fashion from the end of 2009 to the middle of 2010.
4) The Obama administration's rebalancing strategy validated the perception that China was doing something different.
5) Blogs acted as an amplifier for all of these other trends.
What's ironic about this is that in the article, Johnston properly takes a lot of the conventional wisdom to task for ahistoricism and problematic causal arguments in assessing Chinese behavior after 2008. I'd wager, however, that Johnston has done the exact same thing with respect to the foreign policy blogosphere.
What do you think?
Your humble blogger has been busy at the U.S. Army War College's annual conference on The Future of American Landpower ... at which he's heard a lot about cyberattacks. So at the risk of violating one of my own maxims, I want to write one post about this whole cyber business. Because the more I apply my monkey brain to this, the more dubious I get about how it's being talked about, and I want to try to work my way through this.
First, if we're living in a world where the director of national intelligence thinks it's the number-one threat out there ... well, let's face it, then it's not a very scary world, is it? I mean, if industrial espionage has replaced terrorism as the biggest national security threat facing the United States ... meh. I don't want there to be industrial espionage, but let's face it, this ain't the kind of Cold War-level threat that I hear bandied about so frequently.
But, to be fair, I think concerns about "cyber" aren't just about the industrial stuff -- it's attacks on critical infrastructure and so forth. Except now we need to step back and ask under what circumstances such attacks would occur. There are terrorists of course -- which means that this is a old threat in a new domain. There are state actors -- which means that this is an even older threat in a new domain. Terrorists will most likely attempt such attacks when the opportunity arises. State actors presumably would not attempt such actions on a full-bore scale unless there were actual military hostilities. Cases like Stuxnet fall in between ... into espionage and covert action.
So, can international norms about cyberattacks be negotiated? I know NATO is trying something like this with the Tallinn Manual, and I know the United States is insisting that the laws of war apply to cyberdomains. I suspect that this has a chance of working in regulating real world interstate military conflicts, because, with any shadow of the future, most states are prepared to obey most regimes most of the time.
But let's face it -- most of the concerns about cyber aren't about what happens if a war breaks out. The concerns are about regulating such attacks during peacetime, which means this is about regulating intelligence-gathering, espionage, and covert actions. Now, let me just list below the number of international regimes that establish the rules, norms and procedures for regulating these kind of activities:
Nada. Zip. Nothing. Or, as one journal article more delicately put it, "espionage is curiously ill-defined under international law."
That's because espionage can't really be regulated. For any agreement to function, violators have to be detected and punishment has to be enforced. In the world of espionage, however, revealing your ability to detect is in and of itself an intelligence reveal that states are deeply reluctant to do.
So I don't think negotiations will work, and I sure as hell don't think smart sanctions will work either. Most of what concerns us about cyber falls under the espionage and covert action category, and that's never been regulated at the global level.
What am I missing? Seriously, what -- because what I just blogged is highly subject to change.
Margaret Thatcher has passed away. I could try to talk about Thatcher's place as a world historical figure, but let's face it, there's going to be an orgy of columns on that very point over the next week or so -- anything I write on the topic would be second rate at best. I could write about my own memories of living in London during the late Thatcher era, but to be honest, that's not terribly interesting -- it's a tale of fading political popularity and really strident left-wing art.
So, instead, consider the following two ways in which Thatcher has left a legacy in international relations theory:
1) Diversionary war. There's a large literature in international relations on the notion of using war against a foreign adversary as a way to distract domestic opposition and/or bolster domestic support for a leader (see Chiozza and Goemans for the latest iteration of this literature). It's a little-known fact, but International Studies Association rules prohibit any paper on this topic from being published without a Thatcher reference.
I kid, but only barely. The Falklands War represents the paradigmatic case of diversionary war theory for two reasons. First, almost every analysis of the conflicts attributes the Argentine junta's growing domestic unpopularity as a key cause of their decision to launch the conflict (though, of course, it's a bit more complicated than that). Second and more importantly, absent the Falklands War, Margaret Thatcher would be remembered as a failed one-term prime minister. Victory over the Argentines in the South Atlantic enabled Thatcher to win re-election.
In truth, it's far from clear that diversionary war is all that common a practice (if it was, we'd be drowning in conflicts since 2008). The Falklands War, however, does provide the paradigmatic case.
2) The spread of ideas. It's fitting that the New York Times ran a story over the weekend about the boomlet in history about studying the growth of capitalism. Thatcher's role in advancing the spread of free-market ideas to other policymakers was crucial. To explain why free-market capitalism became the pre-eminent idea in economic policymaking over the past few decades, you have to look at Thatcher. She preceded Reagan, becoming the first leader in the developed world to try to change her country's variety of capitalism. Even after Reagan came to power, one could persuasively argue that Thatcher mattered more. As some international political economy scholars have noted, ideas and policies spread much faster when "supporter states" embrace them vigorously rather than reluctantly. Thatcher embraced capitalism with a near-religious fervor, acting as a vanguard for the rest of Europe on this front. For more on the role that Thatcher and her advisors played, see Yergin and Stanislaw's The Commanding Heights, or Jeffry Frieden's Global Capitalism.
OK, readers, in what other areas of international relations and comparative politics did Margaret Thatcher leave her mark?
Your humble blogger has been knee-deep in chairing, discussing, and attending International Studies Association panels
all of which seem to have the word "diffusion" in the title and SOMEONE PLEASE MAKE IT STOP!!!
Now, naturally, with the global financial crisis and its aftermath there's been a lot of talk about debts and deficits. And with the defense sequester and what-not, there's been a lot of talk about rising levels of partisanship. And I've come to the reluctant conclusion that a lot of this talk need to stop, like, right now.
Here's the dirty truth about most international studies scholars: They know a fair amount about the high politics of international affairs and almost next to nothing about the rest of life. Of course, the rest of life does impinge on world politics, so there's some natural overlap. The problem starts when, in talking about non-IR stuff, we start to think that we have just as much expertise in these areas. Which we don't. At all.
Last night I tweeted a query about what areas IR scholars should be quiet about and got way too many answers to fit in a blog post. So, here are five things about which I'd really like 99 percent of international relations scholars to shut the hell up:
1) Macroeconomic policy. Should the United States cut its deficit further? Are budget cuts, tax cuts, or tax increases necessary? How can the eurozone escape its current macroeconomic malaise? Most of us have no friggin' clue what the correct answers are for the United States, and that goes double for the euro zone. So unless you're actually publishing scholarly work on global macroeconomic policy, shut up.
2) The role of money in American politics. Foreign policy scholars are far too often shocked -- shocked!! -- when they see interest group politics at work. The Citizens United decision has only amplified this lament. The reaction to this is to either bemoan the general health of the American polity or to start developing simple theories that argue that money or lobbies explain everything about politics. Now I might not be the biggest fan of the American politics subfield, but I'm pretty sure they know more about this topic than we do. So shut up and read what they have to say.
3) Partisanship in the United States. Did you know that it's getting worse? And that it's paralyzing the U.S. government? And that it's getting worse? One of the natural biases of foreign policy scholars is to think in terms of a national interest, and then act appalled when there are different partisan conceptions of that term. Basically, what applies to #2 applies to this point as well.
4) The Internet. As near as I can determine, when asked about this technology affects international politics, most scholars answer with some variation of "networks networks networks cyber cyber cyber." Some scholars do very good work on this subject. The rest of us should shut up for a spell and read them.
5) Diffusion. Never again. Ever.
What else, my dear readers, would you like to see less gabbing about from international affairs scholars?
Blogging will be light for the rest of the week, as I'll be attending the International Studies Association annual meeting in San Francisco.
If you're also attending but new to these things and therefore unsure of what the informal norms are about such events, check out Megan MacKenzie's indispensable ISA Guide to Newbie Graduate Students. Oh, and come attend the First Ever Official ISA Blogging Reception. I'll be there too, and I'm bringing my #TFC12 finalist flask with me!!
My other piece of advice would be to read Rob Farley's provocative new PS: Political Science and Politics essay, "Complicating the Political Scientist as Blogger." Farley is responding to a 2011 essay by John Sides at the Monkey Cage, which offers what I would label the "standard" narrative about how blogging can be a help rather than a hindrance to good political science -- hell, I wrote something similar to it in 2008.
Farley considers this standard narrative, ponders it for a second, and then puts all his chips into the middle and raises the stakes:
Although I appreciate the effort to “just add blogging” to the discipline of political science, I worry that in making blogging safe, Sides gives away too much of what makes it interesting, influential, and fun. Specifically, I have two major objections to Sides’ characterization of blogging in political science. First, the article heralds an effort to discipline the political science blogosphere, establishing metrics for differentiating between “good” blogs that can contribute to (or at least should not be held against) a political science career, and “bad” blogs that do no one any good. In short, Sides’s article served both prescriptive and proscriptive purposes. Second, by emphasizing the “safe” elements of blogging, Sides has left winnings on the table; blogging could play a larger role in political science than he suggests.
Read the whole thing. I have, and I'm still sorting out how I think about it. On the one hand, I think Farley makes a really good point. There are ways in which the "standard" narrative leaves some things out. Let a thousand IR blogs bloom!
On the other hand ... well, I'm leery of advising junior faculty and grad students to throw caution into the wind and blog outside the box, as it were. Blogs are becoming more mainstream in international relations scholarship and political science, but I wouldn't describe them as truly mainstream just yet. So I have some residual caution.
There's something else, however. If blogs are going to occupy a more central role in the field of political science, then they're inevitably going to be measured, assessed, evaluated, and quantified in any kind of professional assessment. That's what happens when people are hired or promoted in the academy. But for blogging, this is problematic, because the distribution of traffic and linkage in blogs is highly asymmetric. I worry that any kind of assessment will skew against the majority of blogs. More generally, I'm kinda dubious about the metrics we do have to measure blogs. This doesn't mean we shouldn't do it -- but I think we need to be aware of the risks going forward, and I think I'm less sanguine about them than Farley.
Clearly, technology is changing the way we in IR scholarship do business. We're going to need to figure out what that means in the years ahead.
So the big push for World War Z is clearly afoot. The second trailer for the film was released a week ago:
So this trailer isn't all that different from the first trailer, which means my qualms about the film version of Max Brooks' masterpiece remain. Still, that airplane sequence at the end was well executed, and offers some promise.
But then we get to the Entertainment Weekly cover story -- out today -- about the long, laborious process of getting World War Z from page to screen. It's a good article that details the myriad screenwriters involved, the location difficulties, and the reshoots. One definitely gets the sense of how Brad Pitt warmed to the subject matter over time. Hell, in the EW article he referenced All The President's Men as his template for the story -- which, if you've read World War Z, you know isn't the craziest comparison.
Which is great, until we get to this long quote from Pitt at the end of the story explaining how the final version of the movie has changed from his original conception:
At the time, I was really interested in a more political film, using the zombie trope as a kind of Trojan horse for asking, 'What would happen to sociopolitical lines if there was a pandemic like this? Who would be on top? Who would be the powerful countries and who would be the most vulnerable?
We wanted to really explore that, but it was just too much. We got bogged down in it; it was too much to explain. It gutted the fun of what these films are meant to be.
Excuse me, I need to go do this for a while:
Here's the thing -- the very reason that World War Z the book is better than every other zombie novel ever written is the global scope and the reasonably realistic take on the politics of a zombie apocalypse. There is action galore in the book, but there's something more as well. The politics that "bogged down" the movie? That is the fun!
Will I go see World War Z? Probably out of sheer professional obligation. But let's be clear -- based on the evidence to date, the odds seem very likely that the movie version of World War Z will be a garden-variety big-budget disaster flick. It's not gonna be great.
While Pitt plans a trilogy of films, methinks this World War Z would have worked even better as a miniseries for HBO or FX. Too bad. Should some shameless huckster desire to procure the film version of Theories of International Politics and Zombies -- which is all about the politics -- then they should contact Princeton University Press.
Am I missing anything?
By now, readers have a pretty good idea of the thesis of my latest book topic: Contra the arguments of many, the system of global economic governance worked pretty well during the 2008 financial crisis, and it's continued to work "well enough" since 2008.
Furthermore, American leadership is at least partly rsponsible for the system working. Despite bouts of partisan gridlock, the United States government still enacted a plethora of emergency rescue packages (via the 2008 Troubled Assets Relief Program), expansionary fiscal policies (via the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the payroll tax cut, and the extension of the Bush tax cuts), stress tests of large financial institutions, expansionary monetary policy (via interest rate cuts, three rounds of quantitative easing and Operation Twist), and financial regulatory reform (via Dodd-Frank).
Another area where the U.S. has led the way is reforming IMF governance. Since 2006, the IMF has engaged in two rounds of quota reform so the distribution of power within the institution better reflects the actual distribution of power. A third round is planned for completion in 2014. As Ted Truman explains in this Peterson Institute of International Economics policy brief, U.S. leadership played a crucial role in these negotiations.
So far, so good for my hypothesis. There's just one problem -- Congress has yet to ratify the last round of quota revisions. Since the reforms can't be enacted without U.S. approvial, this is a thing. According to Truman:
The United States bears substantial responsibility for the current situation. After 15 years in which US administrations of both political parties have pushed aggressively and imaginatively for governance changes in the IMF culminating with the central
US role in shaping the 2010 Seoul package, the United States has failed to implement that package. The rest of the world has been remarkably tolerant of the US delay in acting on the 2010 Seoul IMF reform package, but that patience is running out. US leadership and influence in the IMF is weakening, and thereby the influence of the institution itself. This is the principal reason why it is urgent to enact the pending IMF legislation.
From a US and global perspective there is only downside and no upside in further delay. Doing so would support the IMF as the central institution promoting global economic growth and financial stability, involve no true financial cost to the US taxpayer, and reinforce US leadership and influence in this crucial institution, positioning the United States to continue to lead in negotiating further IMF governance reforms.
Don't take Truman's word on this alone, however. As the Financial Times' Robin Harding reports, a lot of experts are starting to get antsy about the lack of congressional action:
Almost 100 policy makers and academics have written to the US Congress urging the ratification of crucial reforms of the International Monetary Fund that international leaders agreed more than two years ago.
The signatories argue in an open letter, sent to House of Representatives and Senate leaders on Monday and seen by the Financial Times, that if the US does not sign up it will undermine its authority in negotiations at the G20 and other institutions that govern the world economy.
“Failure to act would diminish the role of the United States in international economic policy making and undermine US efforts to promote growth and financial stability,” the letter says.
Signatories include holders of the top international economic job at the US Treasury under Republican and Democratic administrations. They include Tim Adams, who worked for former president George W. Bush, and Jeffrey Shafer, who was part of the Clinton administration.
I'd say that it's a cruel irony that the United States is the brake on reforms spearheaded by ... the United States, except that by now, savvy readers know that this sort of thing is disturbingly common.
Does it matter? Well, as much as I love to pooh-pooh the BRICS, they do share one genuine area of consensus -- they want more influence over global governance structures. If they don't get it, there will come a time when they will be both willing and able to set up institutions on their own -- like this one. Which would be a shame for two reasons. First, as a general rule of global economic governance, it's better to have great powers on the inside pissing out rather than the reverse. Second, the IMF has had some good mojo as of late, demonstrating renewed independence from Eurocrats and proposing some nifty policy ideas.
If Congress stalls this quota reform measure that the executive branches from both parties have negotiated , they will be weakening a U.S.-friendly international institution and inviting potential rivals to set up or bolster alternatives. Which, if you think about, is a really stupid way to run U.S. foreign economic policy.
More importantly to me, however, it would really f**k up one of my book's hypotheses. Congressional gridlock hasn't sabotaged too much in the way of American global leadership for the past give years. Blocking quota reform would be a pretty big deal, though. It would force me to revise a book chapter, and I really don't want to do that.
So, in the name of political science, I humbly beseech Congress to pass the damn quota reform bill.
[Uh, you really think that an appeal to political sciece is gonna work with this crew?!--ed.] Uh ... in the name of preventing China and its allies from creating a New Anti-American World Order and threatening a global governance gap, I humbly beseech Congress to pass the damn quota reform bill. [Much better!!--ed.]
Maybe Moscow thought this would tilt its client state toward the pro-Russia choice in that binary, but it appears to have be having the opposite effect....
Russia is not in the process of losing a client-state, exactly — the political and cultural ties are likely still too deep for something that drastic to happen that quickly — but Moscow certainly isn’t doing itself any favors. As [Felix] Salmon wrote today, “If this is how the game ends, it’s an unambiguous loss for Russia, and a win for the E.U.”
Moscow’s aggressive, all-or-nothing approach appears to have only pushed Cyprus further toward Europe.
Now, far be it for me to question Russia's motiva--- oh, screw it, I'm totally going to question Russia's motivations here. Because what happened in Cyprus is emblematic of an interesting trend since 2008 -- the great powers that analysts have lazily defined as "revisionist" don't seem all that interested in collecting allies.
This is not the first time a weak Western ally has sought out either China or Russia as a way of avoiding onerous financial strictures. Iceland begged Russia for financial assistance during the depths of the 2008 financial crisis. At one point, the Icelandic President allegedly offered Russia the use of Keflavík Air Base. This possibility caused some mild consternation in Foggy Bottom. In the end, the Russians said they didn't need the base and proffered only a fraction of what Iceland wanted, leaving Reykjavik little choice but to cut a deal with the IMF.
One can tell a similar story with Pakistan and China. During the fall of 2008 Islamabad was facing a balance of payments crisis and sought out China as a benefactor. In the end, China was unwilling to offer Pakistan enough money to substitute for IMF support, forcing the Pakistani government to take out an IMF loan.
Both the Iceland and Pakistan outcomes were surprising enough in 2008 that I bothered to blog about them back then. The interesting thing is that nothing much has changed. Sure, through the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, China has enhanced its role outside its region, but even FOCAC is more about commercial interests than geopolitical interests. At the same time, China became estranged from one of its most loyal allies when Myanmar started embracing the United States. It also alienated a lot of neighbors that might otherwise have been more willing to defer to Beijing. And as I blogged earlier this year, China continues to be standoffish towards Pakistan despite the latter country's eagerness to ally itself with Beijing. Ironically, the only countries that Russia and China have really stuck their neck out for in recent years have been the allies that have given them the most agita -- Syria for Moscow, and North Korea for Beijing. [Gee, it's almost as if this phenomenon of small allies that are strategic deadweights is not unique to the United States or something!!--ed. This is a blog post, so stop your subtweeting.]
To be sure, China and Russia have , on occasion, engaged in some revisionist efforts to change the status quo. See: Russia's 2008 war with Georgia; China's border disputes with the rest of the Pacific Rim. What's striking, however, is that neither Moscow nor Beijing seems terribly interested in collecting client states. Hell, for all the rhetoric involving closer Sino-Russian cooperation, it seems as though the actual bilateral relationship amounts to little more than empty rhetoric and cooperation at the U.N. Security Council.
Why is this? I'm honestly not sure. Back in 2008, I spitballed the following:
For all their aspirations to great power status, both countries lack the policy expertise necessary to take on greater leadership roles. This leads to profound risk aversion, which leads to inaction. On the flip side, the U.S. is accustomed to talking to the countries in crisis, which both provides it with more information and allows Washington to act more quickly.
Four and a half years later, I don't think that's a sufficient explanation. Spitballing now, I think there are three possible explanations.
1) Pure buckpassing. Why should Moscow or Beijing spend their hard-earned cash on marginally useful client states? Let the West exhaust itself with these aid packages.
2) Internal balancing. Realists like to think that external balancing (forming alliances) and internal balancing (augmenting national capabilities) are substitutable strategies. Maybe China and Russia prefer to focus on national capabilities rather than coalition-building.
3) Outside their own neighborhood, neither Russia nor China is really revisionist. As great powers, Moscow and Beijing will do what they gotta do in their near abroads. Globally, however, they have neither the ambition nor the interest in altering the current system of "good enough" global governance. After all, the current rules of the global game have benefited both of them pretty well over the past decade or so.
You can guess which of these explanations I gravitate towards, but I'm hardly convinced.
What do you think?
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.