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.

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

In North Korea, ‘Surgical Strike’ Could Spin Into ‘Worst Kind of Fighting’ – The New York Times


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


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.”






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


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





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.”