Welcome to IR Theory and Practice!



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.
Comments have been turned off -at least for the time being. My hope is that we will talk about this material in class. For those who wish to be notified when new posts are published, there is a “Follow” button on the sidebar to the left.

Saudi Arabia Has No Idea How to Deal With Iran -New York Times


I think the main point of the article is quite correct: the Saudis are playing a bad hand poorly.

There are a few points that I am not too sure about though. First, the author claims “The Saudi-led blockade of Qatar has been more successful. The effort to tame that country’s assertive regional policies has worked and the crisis has now been put on the back burner of international diplomacy.” However, Qatar is now closer to Iran than ever, and at a time when the Saudis needed to be building a durable anti-Iranian front, they have fractured the GCC. I don’t see this as successful, even if only relative to Riyadh’s other attempts to deal with Iran. In fact, I’m pretty sure Iran sees this as a win.

Second, the author warns that the war in Yemen may turn “the Houthi movement into something akin to Lebanon’s Hezbollah.” Even if this is just be a turn of phrase, the Houthis-Iranian relationship is not comparable to Iran’s alliance with Hezbollah. The social/historical/religious connections are not there, and Iran’s military support for the Houthis has been limited.

Third, and finally, the author describes Saudi Arabia as “keen to reach out to Tehran despite provocative Iranian actions” and that “King Abdullah courted Presidents Akbar Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami”. This has not been the case. Riyadh has never been keen to court Iran. In fact, it’s been the other way around. Tehran has been the suitor, and Riyadh has played hard to get. Rafsanjani spent most of the 1990s trying to start a dialogue with Riyadh, only to be rebuffed. Before Rafsanjani’s death earlier this year, both he and Rouhani  reached-out to Riyadh, but again with no success. Rightly or wrongly, the Saudis’ strategy for dealing with Tehran has been to try to keep Iran as isolated in the Persian Gulf as possible. Given the regional situation post Arab-Spring, I doubt diplomacy would have worked, but I think the article mischaracterizes this part of their relationship.

A similar article was also published in Foreign Policy entitled, Tehran Is Winning the War for Control of the Middle East (https://foreignpolicy.com/2017/11/21/tehran-is-winning-the-war-for-control-of-the-middle-east-saudi-arabia/) and I expect there will be more in the near future claiming that the the Iranian-Saudi Cold war is swinging Tehran’s way. Some, like the one above, will cast Iran as the aggressor and the Saudis as the victim, albeit a clumsy self-destructive victim. Others will portray the Saudis as the belligerents and Iran as misunderstood. Both narratives have a grain of truth. But both miss the main point: the rivalry in its present form is being driven by the regional instability caused by the Arab Spring. Ideology and incompetence have only made things worse.

Saudi princes among dozens detained in ‘corruption’ purge -BBC


Anti-corruption campaigns are a tried-and-true mechanism for dealing with opposition in authoritarian regimes. Perhaps the most notable example comes from the Assad regime in Syria during the 1970s. Hafez al-Assad used the tactic to clean house and build legitimacy. The purges allowed him to claim to be a champion of the people. More importantly, because corruption was endemic within the regime, everyone was potentially vulnerable. To a large degree the regime was built around corruption. Without oil money to distribute, the regime used government corruption as a form of patronage. Loyal officers and bureaucrats were given positions where they could extract bribes etc… as their reward. Therefore, almost be definition, if someone was in a position of authority, they were guilty of corruption. Assad could arrest anyone he wanted and everyone else was so terrified they made sure to toe the party line. After Hafez died, his son Basher repeated the exercise to ensure he would not be challenged by any of the old guard.
It should not be surprising then that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is launching a similar campaign. The Saudi political system is somewhat different from Syria’s but the logic of the anti-corruption game remains the same. Almost everyone is vulnerable, and those that escape are usually so relieved they don’t complain.
The initial public reaction has been positive, at least if the twitterverse can be trusted. However, there are a few things the King and Crown Prince should keep in mind. First, the regime is already going through a major transformation. The reforms instituted by the Crown Prince and his Father, King Salman, challenge the complex ruling formula that has held Saudi Arabia together since before the oil boom of the 1970s. As part of the Vision 2030 project, King Salmon and son are cutting back on government spending, privatizing parts of the national oil company, ARAMCO, and adopting an assertive and expensive new foreign policy posture in the region. Even gender roles are being challenged, with women being given the right to drive. The anti-corruption campaign is likely intended to preempt opposition to these changes. However, with so much happening the regime may be too fragile to withstand a major purge.

Second, the regime’s main strength has always been the cohesion of the royal family. Even before the oil boom, the main pillar of the regime was the al Saud itself. The logic was always simple: stay together or hang separately. Backing this logic up were a complex set of rules concerning succession and norms for governing within the family that smoothed out the rough edges and kept disputes to a minimum. However, by promoting the Crown Prince so quickly, the King has already violated most of these rules and norms. Moreover, Saudi specialist Joseph Kechichian suggests the intent is to “modernize the ruling establishment, not just for the 2030 horizon but beyond it too”.  If that is true, they may undermine the logic of maintaining cohesion may also be undermined. If the other members of the al Saud figure they are going to hang anyway, there may not be much incentive for them to stick together.

See: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-41874117







See also: https://iranonline.blog/2016/09/30/eight-unprecedented-hours-with-mr-everything-prince-mohammed-bin-salman-bloomberg/


Boys Are Not Defective –The Atlantic


This article looks at an interesting development in the Middle East. Across the region, girls and young women do markedly better in school than boys and young men, even in the sciences.

  • “In fact, across the Arab world, women now earn more science degrees on a percentage basis than women in the United States. In Saudi Arabia alone, women earn half of all science degrees. And yet, most of those women are unlikely to put their degrees to paid use for very long.”

The conclusion the article reaches is surprising. It questions the common assumption that Middle Eastern women succeed in education because their lives are controlled and distractions are minimized.  Rather than argue women study harder because they have nothing else to do, this article argues the problem may be in the quality of education boys and young men receive and the dynamics created by gender-segregated class-rooms

  • “…boys’ schools are more violent places, concluded the study, which was funded by USAID. Over half of the boys interviewed said they’d experienced some kind of bullying in school over the previous year. Only 11 percent of girls said the same thing. Two-thirds of male teachers said they’d witnessed physical violence among students in the past year—compared with less than a quarter of female teachers.”
  • Boys also reported worse relationships with their male teachers. Only 40 percent of male students interviewed said they believed their teachers cared about how well they did in school—compared with 74 percent of girls.” “…male teachers in all-boys schools were more likely to belittle or punish students for getting the wrong answer. And boys were much more likely than girls to complain about their male teachers’ tendencies to beat students and shout at them.”

Their explanation for this pattern was a mix of political economy and cultural norms:

  • “Teachers do not earn a lot of money in Jordan, but men are still expected to be the primary breadwinners in families. So male teachers are more likely to work second or third jobs as tutors or even taxi drivers in order to augment their small salaries. One Jordanian student told me about a male biology teacher he’d had who was so exhausted by his two other jobs that he used to close the blinds in first period and go to sleep.”
  • “On average Jordan’s male teachers—who have mostly gone through the same educational system themselves—do worse on the national entry test for teaching, according to Ministry of Education data. This suggests in turn that boys might be encountering less-prepared teachers on average. “Male teachers are hard to come by, and good male teachers are even harder,””
  • “The problem, Osman and his colleagues concluded, was not simply boys’ freedom or male teachers’ preparation. It was all that and more. Through surveys and other analysis, they identified a long list of factors that were interacting like a chemical equation, which is the unsexy secret about how education systems usually work. Not just teacher quality but students’ sense of safety, their study habits, and the subtleties of the boy and girl peer cultures all converge to create a healthy—or toxic—brew.”

Along the way, the article discusses the need to empower men: “We used to say, empowering women, and now we talk about empowering men,” Hamood Khalfan Al Harthi, the undersecretary for education and curriculum in Oman, says. In patriarchal societies this may seem a bit whiny, but it’s not:

  • “Natasha Ridge, the executive director of the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research in the United Arab Emirates, has studied gender and education around the world. In the United Kingdom and the United States, Ridge believes she can draw a dotted line between the failure of boys to thrive in school and votes for Brexit and for Donald Trump. Disengaged boys grow up to become disillusioned men, Ridge says, left out of the progress they see around them.”

In the context of the Middle East, that disengagement one must wonder if it also leads to political radicalization…





The Risk of Nuclear War with North Korea -The New Yorker


This article from the New Yorker looks at the tensions between North Korea and the United States. It provides a rare glimpse into the internal workings of the insular state. Along the way it also raises some important issues about brinksmanship as a foreign policy and the strategy of deterrence.

Quoting Thomas Shelling one of the founders of American strategic thought, brinksmanship is the art of “manipulating the shared risk of war.” It involves creating a crisis or escalating a crisis with the expectation that one’s opponent will back down. Basically, it’s a game of chicken. In theory, it is a rational game played by rational actors, making careful calculations about the other side’s interests and the level of their aversion to escalation and possibly conflict. That being said, “…they may compete to appear the more irrational, impetuous, and stubborn.” Given the nature of the two leaders involved, Donald Trump & Kim Jong Un, the article correctly goes on to ask, “what if the adversaries are irrational, impetuous, and stubborn?”

The article also raises deeper questions about brinksmanship and deterrence, though. For these strategies to be employed without producing a disaster, there has to be a clear understanding of the other side’s interests and red-lines. Regardless of the specific leaders in place, this article suggests that neither side really understands the other.

  • US on North Korea: “Experts can’t say definitively why Kim wants nuclear weapons. Are they for self-defense, as North Korea claims, or will Kim use them to achieve the unfulfilled ambition of the Korean War—forcing reunification with South Korea? A senior Administration official told me that members of Trump’s national-security team are not convinced that Kim will stop at self-protection. “There are fewer and fewer disagreements about North Korea’s capabilities now, and so then, inevitably, the question of their intentions becomes critical,” he said. “Are they pursuing these weapons in order to maintain the status quo on the Peninsula, or are they seeking to fundamentally alter the status quo?””
  • North Korea on the US: “… I asked Pak what he and other North Koreans thought of Trump. “He might be irrational—or too smart. We don’t know,” he said. They suspected that Trump’s comment about “fire and fury” might be part of a subtle strategy. “Like the Chinese ‘Art of War,’ ” he said. “If he’s not driving toward a point, then what is he doing? That is our big question.”
  • Even China struggles to understand their neighbor: “In 2008, when Kim Jong Il suffered a stroke, Randal Phillips, a senior C.I.A. officer overseeing operations in Asia, met a Chinese counterpart to share analyses, as they sometimes did. But Phillips discovered that Chinese intelligence “didn’t know what was happening,” he told me. “I think the Chinese know a hell of a lot less than people assume.” Compared with other American adversaries, North Korea is the “hardest target,” Terry said. “There’s no other country that’s like that,” she told me. “It’s just pieced together.”
  • To make things worse, the North Koreans are deliberately obtuse: “We must envelop our environment in a dense fog,” Kim Jong Il once said, “to prevent our enemies from learning anything about us.”


Deterrence also requires effective communication, and as the article illustrates, the two sides have not been good at messaging each other. The following discussion provides a perfect example of how not not to communicate in the context of deterrence:

“So is he going to launch them or not?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Pak said. “It depends on whether the United States sends another nuclear asset, like a B-1B, over the Korean Peninsula.”

“Does the U.S. know that’s the determining factor?” I asked.

“We haven’t told them! But they should know, because we said they should not send any further ‘nuclear provocations.’ ”

For those familiar with the 1960s Cold-War satire, Dr. Strangelove, it is eerily similar to the miscommunication that leads in the movie, to nuclear Armageddon.



Why India has never seen a military dictatorship -Quartz India


Here is an interesting article looking at the durability of civilian rule in India. While all of India’s neighbors -Pakistan, Bangladesh, Burma and Sri Lanka- have experienced military rule, the Indian army has stayed in the barracks.

The article is particularly interesting for two reasons. First, it is a good example of comparative poli-sci methodology. It compares the Indian experience to that of Pakistan, a state that emerged from the same historical roots as India. By looking at the similarities and differences between the two cases, the authors tries to isolate the key factors that have led the two countries down very different paths. Second, the analysis does not focus on the “usual suspects” so to speak. It does not explain the persistence of civilian rule in terms of political culture or the lasting influence of the British. The author correctly points out that Pakistan had the same historical experience with the British and and yet the Pakistani military has intervened repeatedly in civilian governance. The article also does not place a great deal of emphasis on military professionalism of leadership. Instead, the authors focuses on the relative strengths and weaknesses of civilian political institutions. Relative to Pakistan, the Indian state has been relatively robust and the country’s main political party, Congress, has been well organized and coherent. In Pakistan, the civilian institutions have been a mess, and the military has been the best organized institution in the country.

See: https://qz.com/418468/why-india-has-never-seen-a-military-dictatorship/

Information for ISU 2017


ISU 2017
“After the Arab Spring: Conflict and Cooperation in the Contemporary Middle East”

  • Instructor: Dr. James Devine
  • Mount Allison University (New Brunswick Canada)
  • email: jtdevine@mta.ca



  • Participation and Presentation 30%
  • Map quiz 20% (Day #3)
  • Take Home Essay #1 25% (Day #6)
  • Take Home Essay #2 25% (Day #9)



permitted absence of 10% (max. two teaching hours) for each course.

Course Material

Reader & this Blog: IR Theory and Practice (https://jtdevinemta.wordpress.com/)



Week 1

24-Jul Introduction: The Middle East Regional System

25-Jul Pre-Arab Spring: Regional Rivalries and Alliances Curtis R. Ryan, Regime security and shifting alliances in the Middle East  p.42-47

26-Jul Arab Uprisings and the Regional Demonstration Effect & Political Islam: Roger Owen “The Arab ‘demonstration’ effect and the revival of Arab unity in the Arab Spring” 372-381 & Jillian Schwedler Why academics can’t get beyond moderates and radicals Islam and International Order p.23-25

27-Jul The US, Russia and the Arab Spring Greg Gause & I. Lustick,  America and the Regional Powers in a Transforming &  Stephen M. Saideman, Multinational war is hard. Syria and the Islamic State 49-50

28-Jul The Iranian-Saudi Cold War Curtis Ryan The New Arab Cold War and the Struggle for Syria

Week 2

31-Jul The Syrian Civil War Taha Ozhan,”The Arab Spring and Turkey: The Camp David Order vs. the New Middle East” pp. 55-64 & Kevin Mazur, Local struggles in Syria’s northeast In Syria and the Islamic State p.6-10 & Stathis N. Kalyvas “The logic of violence in the Islamic State’s war”. p.38-40

1-Aug Kurdish Politics and The Syrian Civil War See Blog articles tagged ‘Kurds’

2-Aug The Yemenese Civil War ICG Reports, Yemen: Is Peace Possible? p.1-4

3-Aug Human Rights, Refugees and Civilian Casualties



Written Assignments

Assignment # 1

Describe the impact of the Arab Spring on one country in the Middle East

Assignment #2

Choose a country. How did that country respond to:

  • The Syrian Civil War
  • The rise of ISIS
  • The Yemeni Civil War
  • The Qatari Diplomatic Crisis


  • 1-2 pages
  • Cite at least 2 on-line sources
  • No Wikipedia
  • No cut-and-paste
  • Assignment #1 Due in Class #6
  • Assignment #2 Due in Class #9



  • Groups of 2 students
  • 1-2 Articles on Country and Conflict
  • See schedule for Topics & Dates
  • 5 Minutes Approximately
  • Day #4 through Day #8



  • How did the state react?
  • Who did the state support and who did they oppose?
  • Why do you think they reacted this way?


Map Quiz:
-Place 10 of the Following Countries on a Map

  1. Afghanistan
  2. Algeria
  3. Bahrain
  4. Egypt
  5. Iran
  6. Iraq
  7. Israel
  8. Jordan
  9. Kuwait
  10. Lebanon
  11. Libya
  12. Morocco
  13. Oman
  14. Palestine
  15. Qatar
  16. Saudi Arabia
  17. Syria
  18. Tunisia
  19. Turkey
  20. United Arab Emirates
  21. Yemen


Presentation Schedule
Friday United States
Morris Peyton
Grabek Jan
Longenekerc Andrew
Monday Syria
Frazier Reilly
Hungerford Sawyer
Sprong Evan
Monday Libya
Clough Claire
Hall Sam
Hansen Katharina
Tuesday Qatar
Alhammadi Khawla
Aljaberi Khaula
Alshehhi Maryam
Wednesday Yemen
Mahmoud Noor S O
McIntyre Devynn
Boullt Zachary