Welcome to IR Theory and Practice!

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This blog is intended primarily for my students, though all are welcome.The material posted here is chosen because it provides more information about issues being discussed in class and/or illustrates theoretical arguments. In addition to being tagged by subject, posts are also therefore tagged by course number. The blog also provides links to other web sites (blogs, news magazines and think-tanks) that may be of interest. The last group of links, “Perspectives: Left Right and In-Between” are for web sites that take a clear ideological stand. No source is completely “neutral” or “objective”. However, these sites self-identify as promoting a particular political or ideological agenda. Whether you agree or disagree with their particular point of view, read them critically but also generously.
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In North Korea, ‘Surgical Strike’ Could Spin Into ‘Worst Kind of Fighting’ – The New York Times

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This New York Times article examines the possibility of a surgical strike against North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. As the title suggests, the author is arguing against the idea.
The author makes a compelling case. Beyond this, there are a number of theoretically interesting points in this article. First, this is an interesting example of deterrence in the post-Cold war world. During the Cold War, the logic of deterrence was relatively simple at least at a superficial level. The type of deterrence most of us think of during the Cold War could be classified as general direct deterrence. If the US was attacked by the USSR, it promised to retaliate with nuclear weapons, inflicting massive amounts of damage on the USSR. And of course, visa-versa. If the US attacked first, the Soviets made the same threat. Since neither side could eliminate the others side’s retaliatory capacity with a first strike, both sides knew they would be destroyed if a conflict broke out. This was often referred to as mutually assured destruction.
To the extent this type of deterrence worked, it was because of clarity. In the context of general direct deterrence, the threats of retaliation were clearly communicated and for the most part credible. It was clear that both sides had the weapons capability to follow through on their threats. That is, both sides had a reliable second strike capability. And, in the case of a nuclear attack, there was little question that both sides were committed to following through. Given this clarity, neither the US nor the USSR was likely to misunderstand the situation they faced. Indeed, communication, credibility and capability are often referred to as the three C’s of deterrence.
In the context of post-Cold War politics that clarity is often lacking. As we see in the case of North Korea, figuring out the capabilities of the state is a complicated matter. There are questions concerning North Korea’s actual nuclear capabilities and the quality of its delivery vehicles (i.e. will the missiles fire, will they hit their targets etc.…). North Korea’s conventional capacity is much more formidable. As the article states, North Korea has the capacity to inflict a tremendous amount of damage to the South Korean capital, Seoul. The artillery and artillery rockets they would use may be crude by today’s standards but there are enough of them and they are dug in deep enough that it would take an estimated four days for the US and South Korean military to knock them out of action. In that time, estimates suggest there would be up to 6000 civilian casualties. One would hope that this type of carnage would be enough to deter an attack, but it is nowhere as near a simple a calculation as was the case with nuclear weapons.
There are also questions about the credibility of North Korea’s deterrent threat. If North Korea used nuclear weapons against targets in South Korea or elsewhere in Asia, the US would likely retaliate in kind. Even if they did not, as restricted themselves to a conventional attack against Seoul, the US might very well launch a full scale invasion and topple the regime as it did in Iraq. So, it is possible that a surgical strike may not lead to the type of retaliation described above. The North Korean regime may decide it is better to absorb the surgical strike and remain in power. Or not. We can only guess. And therein lies the problem. As long as there is a small chance that retaliation will not happen, there will be someone arguing that a surgical strike is worth the risk, particularly since the 6000 civilians are in South Korea not the US.
This also makes communication problematic. If there are questions about capability and credibility, no matter how clear the North Korean regime is about how it would respond to an attack, there will be room for doubt. And, a sliver of doubt is all it takes for someone to make a mistake.
This is not to say that the Cold War was good, or that every state should have a large arsenal of nuclear weapons, although some such as the late Kenneth Waltz made that argument. General direct deterrence was only one dimension to the Cold War strategy and the most simple and theoretically stable. Extended deterrence (making deterrent threats to protect allies) immediate deterrence (deterrence in the case of a crisis) and extended immediate deterrence were far more complex and even during the Cold war, far from reliable. Rather, the point here is that deterrence is even more problematic a strategy now than it was in the past.

 

Three flawed ideas are hurting international peacebuilding -Monkey Cage

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According to , while “policymakers and practitioners often admit that many standard peacebuilding techniques are ineffective. In the absence of compelling alternatives, these faulty templates continue to be used all over the world by default. Further, “effectiveness can be improved significantly if foreign peacebuilders avoid three widespread assumptions:

Assumption No. 1) Good things promote peace and bad things undermine peace.

Democracy, liberalization and education may actually fuel conflict. Conversely,  corruption, the drug-trade and other illegal activities can foster stability -at least in the short term.

Assumption No. 2) It takes formal peace efforts to control violence.

“ordinary people can engage in everyday actions to reduce tensions, such as avoiding topics that might be contentious. Or they focus on being polite to members of other groups — or they reach out to local civil-society organizations, rather than state law enforcement, when there is a problem.”

“In these cases, formal, externally led peace initiatives may not be necessary because local people are already coping on their own. In fact, external support may actually jeopardize local efforts rather than support them.”

Assumption No. 3) Inhabitants of conflict zones aren’t capable of resolving their own predicament.

“outsiders don’t necessarily have the knowledge to build peace in host countries. They may not speak local languages, understand local customs or have the in-depth knowledge of local history necessary to comprehend and resolve the deep sources of tensions. And all societies — even those at war — tend to have local systems and skills to resolve conflicts.”

 

In the final analysis, its all about context: “peace efforts must draw on the knowledge, competencies, perspectives, networks, assets and leverage of both insiders and outsiders.”

 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2017/03/15/avoiding-these-3-assumptions-may-actually-help-bring-peace/?utm_term=.091678e2f659

 

 

 

The man who declared the ‘end of history’ now fearful of the very fate of liberal democracy -National Post

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In the early 1990s, just after the end of the Cold-War, Francis Fukuyama argued that we had reached the “end of history”. He was not saying the world was coming to an end, but instead that liberal, capitalist democracy had emerged as the only accepted form of government. Fascism had been discredited by WWII and communism discredited by the collapse of the USSR. The liberal model was, so to speak, the last man standing.

His argument was controversial at the time. Many saw it as simple self-congratulatory American rhetoric. Others, like Samuel Huntington argued the new world order would be dominated by a clash of civilizations.

Now Fukuyama is himself questioning the future of liberal-democracy. Much of his concern is due to the election of Donald Trump. However, the problem is deeper then this, according to Fukuyama, and more widespread.

In part he argues it is a long-standing problem in American politics where “the Republican Party has gerrymandered districts and established what amounts to de facto one-party rule in parts of the country.”

In part, it is also globalization, which produces “internal tensions within democracies that these institutions have some trouble reconciling,” he said. Combined with grievances over immigration and multiculturalism, it created room for the “demagogic populism” that catapulted Trump into the White House.”

It is also present in Europe, where he argues the EU is “unraveling” and right-wing nationalism is on the rise.

He certainly is not arguing that liberal democracy is doomed, but his ideas about the nature of the international system have certainly changed:  “Twenty-five years ago, I didn’t have a sense or a theory about how democracies can go backward,” said Fukuyama in a phone interview. “And I think they clearly can.”

The man who declared the ‘end of history’ now fearful of the very fate of liberal democracy

 

 

WHY FACTS DON’T CHANGE OUR MINDS -The New Yorker

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This article focuses on cognitive process that distort our reasoning and call into question the idea that people, and by extension, political actors and decision makers are “Rational Actors”. Among several sources of flawed reasoning, it examines the idea of ‘confirmation bias’, the tendency for people to dismiss or ignore information that conflicts with preexisting ideas and beliefs while accepting new information that is consistent with old -regardless of the evidence.

  • “Even after the evidence “for their beliefs has been totally refuted, people fail to make appropriate revisions in those beliefs,” the researchers noted. In this case, the failure was “particularly impressive,” since two data points would never have been enough information to generalize from.”

The refer to a book that argues that this is a social phenomena. It is not adaptive for individuals:

  • “If reason is designed to generate sound judgments, then it’s hard to conceive of a more serious design flaw than confirmation bias. Imagine, Mercier and Sperber suggest, a mouse that thinks the way we do. Such a mouse, “bent on confirming its belief that there are no cats around,” would soon be dinner. To the extent that confirmation bias leads people to dismiss evidence of new or underappreciated threats—the human equivalent of the cat around the corner—it’s a trait that should have been selected against. The fact that both we and it survive, Mercier and Sperber argue, proves that it must have some adaptive function, and that function, they maintain, is related to our “hypersociability.””

We tend to accept and internalize ideas that come from within our group and remain skeptical about those that come from others:

  • “Mercier and Sperber prefer the term “myside bias.” Humans, they point out, aren’t randomly credulous. Presented with someone else’s argument, we’re quite adept at spotting the weaknesses. Almost invariably, the positions we’re blind about are our own.”

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/02/27/why-facts-dont-change-our-minds

Keeping the gunpowder dry? -North by Northwest

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This brief op-ed discusses the securitization of the North. As the author,  Marc Lanteigne, points out, securitization does not mean that there is an imminent threat. Rather it means that an issue is being framed as a security issue, which usually means it seen in realist terms: It is conceptualized in terms of potential threats that need to be contained or perhaps leveraged, and the issue becomes the object of competition and a 0-sum thinking. The North has escaped securitization for the most part, but perhaps not for much longer:

  • “The Arctic, despite the unlikelihood of a military confrontation or unfriendly economic competition, has nonetheless been securitised by many Arctic and non-Arctic actors, including governments, as the region falls under greater international scrutiny. This securitisation process is coming from a variety of different directions:
    • Resources: Although oil, gas and commodity prices have remained largely depressed going into the new year, as more uncovered land and more open water appears every summer in the Arctic, the possibility of more resources being easier and cheaper to access grows in tandem. While most of these riches lie in uncontested areas, environmental strains and differences over demarcation in the central Arctic Ocean could still create future tensions.
    • Access: It is still largely a matter of guesswork as to exactly when the NSR and other Arctic sea routes will be usable to the point where transits become commonplace, and provisions are being put into place, including the Polar Code, which entered into force last month, but as long as jurisdiction over some of these routes remain disputed, the possibility of access becoming a source of insecurity and even conflict should not be dismissed. This matter may be further complicated as non-Arctic actors, such as those in Western Europe and East Asia, also vie to make use of Arctic sea routes to lessen travel time and trading costs.
    • Power: As the report stated, the Arctic has been distinguished as a place where adversaries can and have ‘checked their grievances at the door’. Whether that situation can continue indefinitely, however, is another question. The United States has recently expressed concern over Russian remilitarisation of its northern regions, and the two great powers remain at odds over the Ukraine conflict and possible future instability along Eastern European borders. Maintaining the Arctic as a cordon sanitaire in the face of these disputes is unlikely to get easier in the short term.
    • Governance: The Arctic, at present, has no dedicated security community despite various security issues appearing from many different directions on the margins. The Arctic Council is not (yet?) equipped to address emerging hard security concerns, such as those suggested above, due to its lack of a security mandate and its structure, which has begun to resemble a pyramid. Eight states form the core membership, but several major non-Arctic governments, including China, Germany, India, Japan and the United Kingdom sit as observers, with another, the European Union, possibly attaining that status in May. As the Munich report noted, ‘Arctic affairs have become a matter of global attention.’ This situation situation is unlikely to reverse itself even if a resource scramble never comes to pass. Differences between Arctic and non-Arctic actors over the direction of regional governance, and worries about the Arctic becoming a ‘closed shop’, could create tensions and strain the council’s ability to address future security issues.”

http://arcticjournal.com/politics/2939/keeping-gunpowder-dry

FBI will revert to using fax machines, snail mail for FOIA requests -The Daily Dot

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So much for the relentless march of technological progress. “the FBI will no longer accept FOIA requests via email. Instead, requesters will have to rely on fax machines and standard mail (“snail mail”) in order to communicate with the agency’s records management division.”

  • “The new procedure mirrors that of other agencies that intentionally rely on archaic technologies to process public records requests. The Central Intelligence Agency, for instance, only accepts such requests by fax, while the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which researches advanced technologies on behalf of the Pentagon, also ditched email a few years ago in favor of old-school fax machines. The FBI’s records division has also been known to use computers from the 1980s specifically to create technological roadblocks.”

 

http://www.dailydot.com/layer8/fbi-foia-records-requests-email-fax/

‘Why let ’em in?’ Understanding Bannon’s worldview and the policies that follow. – Washington Post

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The description of Bannon’s Islamophobia and general callousness is pretty much par for the course. There has been so much written on the Trump administration’s moral bankruptness that it is impossible to keep up with it all. This article digs a little deeper into Bannon’s psyche and his preoccupation with a particular understanding of the concept of “sovereignty”.

Bannon’s “worldview, which….laid out in interviews and speeches over the past several years, hinges largely on Bannon’s belief in American “sovereignty.” Bannon said that countries should protect their citizens and their essence by reducing immigration, legal and illegal, and pulling back from multinational agreements.”

This goes beyond typical realist thinking in its xenophobia and the belief that the “United States and the “Judeo-Christian West” were in a war against an expansionist Islamic ideology”. Further distancing himself from traditional realism, even ultra-hawkish realism, is his belief that this cultural threat is so pressing, it takes precedent over balance of power politics and the US’ deteriorating relationship with Russia:

“However, I really believe that in this current environment, where you’re facing a potential new caliphate that is very aggressive that is really a situation — I’m not saying we can put [Russia] on a back burner — but I think we have to deal with first things first,” Bannon said.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/bannon-explained-his-worldview-well-before-it-became-official-us-policy/2017/01/31/2f4102ac-e7ca-11e6-80c2-30e57e57e05d_story.html?postshare=1711485989417561&tid=ss_mail&utm_term=.b50125428f6a