Jon Western

Israel in Gaza: What’s the Plan?

by on 2014-07-18- 3 Comments

10557671_684954708219777_6909228407805769384_o(Photo by Oliver Weiken—EPA)

What's the Israeli plan with all of this? According to the Israeli Defense Forces statement, "The IDF's objective as defined by the Israeli government (in the ground offensive) is to establish a reality in which Israeli residents can live in safety and security without continuous indiscriminate terror, while striking a significant blow to Hamas' terror infrastructure."

Despite the somewhat ambiguous language here, what this apparently means is that the Israeli government wants to return to some kind of status-quo ante -- albeit one with a weakened Hamas stockpile of rockets and tunnels. It doesn't want to return to full-scale occupation in Gaza and it doesn't want to defeat Hamas. Both would be too costly. As Aaron David Miller writes :
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Meanwhile in Cambodia: The Detention of Mu Sochua

by on 2014-07-17- Leave a reply

Mu Sochua a leading member of the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) was arrested on Tuesday along with five others after a demonstration to gain access to Phnom Penh's Freedom Park turned violent in clashes between police and some of the protesters. Sochua was elected to the Cambodian parliament in 2013 and is a leading human rights and non-violence advocate in Cambodia. Despite their calls on the protesters to remain calm and non-violent, Sochua and the five others have been charged with insurrection and incitement and have been detained in Phnem Penh's maximum security prison.  If convicted, they could be sentenced to 30 years in prison. The US State Department, and others, including my home institution Mount Holyoke College have already called on the government for their release. Human Rights Watch called the government to investigate and prosecute those opposition supporters who committed violence, but is also called the insurrection charges "absurd" and yet another "pretext for threatening opposition leaders with prison."

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The Collapse of the Status Quo in Israel.

by on 2014-07-09- 2 Comments

Just over a week ago – two days before the discovery of the bodies of the three abducted Israeli teenagers and four days before the abduction and revenge killing of Muhammed Abu Khdeir -- I sat in the family quarters of a young Palestinian shop owner in Jersusalem’s Old City sipping mint tea with two colleagues.  We met the young shop owner and his two cousins while bargaining over some textiles in the Muslim quarter of the Old City.  At the conclusion of the sale, they thanked us for a rigorous negotiation and invited us to their family quarters where they had a museum style display of textiles, rugs, and other artifacts that their family had collected in their 150+ years as shop owners in the Old City bazaar.

As we sat drinking our tea, we asked the young men about the political situation.
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Is All of This Focus on Transitional Justice Really Worth It?

by on 2014-06-23- 2 Comments

[Note:  This is a guest post by Geoffrey Dancy, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Tulane University]

Nearly every civil war negotiation or democratic revolution is now accompanied by a consideration of how to publicly address previous human rights abuses—what practitioners refer to as transitional justice.

Over the last week, Juan Manuel Santos was narrowly reelected president in Colombia on a peace platform. His government must now move forward with a fourth round of negotiations with FARC rebels. Having already tackled land reform, political rights, and the drug trade, this round will involve discussion over the “transitional justice framework,” and must resolve a series of thorny issues like victims’ rights to reparation. Most importantly, the government and rebels will have to address the controversy over whether individual combatants will receive prison time for the many human rights violations they committed during the 50-year-long war. The issue of justice is especially salient following the recent ‘false positives’ scandal--where it was discovered that government security forces over the last decade rounded up and murdered thousands of young men from slums, dressed them as guerillas, and presented their kills to authorities for reward.

Colombia is not an isolated case. 
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Note to Controversial Commencement Speakers — Don’t Quit!

by on 2014-05-16- 4 Comments

Let's face it, most commencement speakers aren't really all that inspiring. Every spring, tens of thousands of graduating seniors, proud parents, faculty, and others sit through seemingly endless speeches filled with those insipid "inspiring life lessons," those essential "kernels of wisdom that will guide graduates through life's challenges," and the hopeful "ten ways this year's class of graduating seniors will change the world."

Humor sometimes -- but only sometimes -- helps.

And, then occasionally the stars align and we get that memorable commencement -- with a speaker whose presence and message provokes students to think about their core values, their beliefs, their relationship to the broader world; the speaker who gets the students to reflect on their courses and their intellectual growth over the past four years; someone who gets students and faculty talking, debating, and if we are really lucky engaged, riled up, and even impassioned.

That's what makes this whole recent dust-up over a number of commencement speakers bailing on their invitations so unfortunate. These are the commencement speakers who need to show up.
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Pitching Your Article?

by on 2014-05-08- 1 Comment

Dan Nexon has instituted a new Ask the Editors feature on his editor's blog on the newly revamped ISQ website. If you haven't seen it yet, PTJ has done a great job developing the site and Dan hasn't missed a step in the transition from his great blogging here at Duck to his new role at ISQ.

In the first installment of Ask the Editors Dan responds to a reader's question on what information should be conveyed in the dreaded cover letter included with an article submission. The reader referred to the cover letter as that "mystical piece of the peer review process."

Dan's response is insightful and certainly a must read for anyone considering submitting a piece to ISQ, but one of his major conclusions strikes me as curious. He writes:

In short, a manuscript's cover letter bears almost no resemblance to what accompanies an application for a job or for a grant. You should not use the cover letter as place to "pitch" the manuscript to us.

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The Bloody Secession of Eastern Ukraine

by on 2014-04-28- 3 Comments

[Note: This is a guest post by Branislav L. Slantchev, professor of Political Science at the University of California-San Diego]

Anna Pechenkina has written an insightful response to my opinion that if the West cares about Ukraine’s pro-Western orientation and integrity (at least what remains after Crimea), then we and the Ukrainians need to brace ourselves for a risky confrontation with Putin’s Russia: Kiev must ask for, and we must agree to, NATO troops on the ground in the Eastern provinces. Since the question then becomes whether we care enough about Ukraine to run such a risk, I argued that it is in our interest to protect Ukraine.

Pechenkina – who, like I, wants to see Ukraine emerge whole and independent from this imbroglio – but she does not think we have important interests there.  In the end, this means Ukraine will be dismembered. But, and this is important, she says that this will hurt Russia in the long run. She also takes issue with my claims that Putin’s domestic legitimacy is based on promoting foreign policies that must confront Western influence in the Eurasian basin where Russia has traditionally been dominant, that our failure to act in Ukraine will encourage Russia’s neighbors to become more accommodating to Putin, and that Russia itself will be encouraged to pursue more adventurous policies.
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ForeignPolicy.Com Fail

by on 2014-04-14- 8 Comments

As I noted last week, for the final project in my linked seminar this year, my students have to design and launch a website to promote their fictitious human rights NGO. In prepping for the course and in developing the grading rubrics, I've spent quite a bit of time reading the literature on what makes for a strong and effective website and how to integrate design, functionality, and content. My students' websites are evaluated on all of these aspects. The content and text should match the sophistication of the targeted audience -- generally it should be smart and focused. The aesthetic should include visual appeal, professional appearance, color harmonies with elegant and clear and easy to use design functions to visually guide readers through the content.

All of this makes me wonder what the hell are the folks at Foreign Policy.com thinking?
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So You Want to be a Liberal Arts College Professor: Is there a Future for the Liberal Arts?

by on 2014-04-11- 8 Comments

Last year I wrote a post titled “So You Want to be a Liberal Arts Professor.” At the time, I promised a series of pieces on the subject, but then my job as a liberal arts college professor got in the way…. Oh well. Among other things, I got mired in a faculty committee examining the future of the liberal arts, developing our college learning goals, and revamping the college’s distribution and graduation requirements.

Throughout the process, we spent a lot of time looking at the literature and debates on question of the relevance of the liberal arts in the 21st century – and especially on the instrumentalization of knowledge and the concerns about the practical turn in higher education.

And, while I’m concerned about many of the trends in higher ed – the corporatization of the academy and the emergence of a new managerial class -- one thing that has struck me about much of this debate about the relevance of the liberal arts is how divorced the discussion tends to be from what many of us actually do in the classroom.
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Crimea is not a Realist story

by on 2014-04-10- 5 Comments

[Note:  This is a guest post by Jarrod Hayes, assistant professor of international relations at the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at the Georgia Institute of Technology.  His first book, Constructing National Relations: US Relations with India and China was published by Cambridge University Press in 2013.]

Jeffrey Stacey has already discussed the issue in Crimea with alacrity, as have his interlocutors in the comments section.  My agenda here is to argue that what is going on in Crimea is not a story about which Realist theory in international relations has much to say.  My specific foil here (probably at some professional peril) is John Mearsheimer.  Mearsheimer is perhaps most known for his forceful support of Realist IR theory (there is that Israel thing too), specifically a variant called offensive realism.  According to that theory, great powers are constantly predatory, seeking to boost their power (military capability and economic capability that boosts military capability) whenever benefits exceed the costs.  It is a materialist and rationalist approach to international security, grounded in a logic of power and appealing in its simplicity.  And Mearsheimer has not been shy about commenting on the crisis in Crimea, arguing that Ukraine should have kept its nuclear weapons after the end of the Cold War and that Russia’s annexation of Crimea makes perfect sense as the actions of an insecure state seeking to prevent immediate neighbors from falling into the orbit of the West.

The story is an appealing one, and on the surface it looks compelling. 
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An East-West Bridge for Ukraine

by on 2014-04-02- Leave a reply

[Note: This is a guest post by Joshua B. Spero, Associate Professor of International Politics and Coordinator of International Studies at Fitchburg State University.]

Since the Russia-Ukraine crisis accelerated with Russia’s territorial consolidation in Ukraine, Europe is back on the radar screen as great powers and international institutions struggle to de-escalate this security dilemma. After President Obama’s European trip and coordination with European Union (EU) and NATO leaders on 26 March, the international community should pause to consider that, unlike classic power politics regarding heartland Europe, there might still be ways to avoid zero-sum decisions. Virtually lost in the Russia-Ukraine crisis remains the post-Cold War partnership in the heart of Central-East Europe – the Poland-Germany bridge for East and West. Given the U.S. President’s admonition in Brussels that Russia’s actions in Ukraine underscore its “regional power” status and illustrate its “weakness” toward its neighbors not its “strength,” the quarter century-old Poland-Germany crisis management mechanism anchors heartland Europe’s integration, promotes key consultation with Russia and Ukraine, and helps reduce America’s European role while still tying the U.S. to Europe.
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And the Winners Are…..

by on 2014-03-28- 1 Comment

It was a great night for Political Violence @ a Glance winning awards in two of the four of categories at this year's OAIS Blogging Awards held at ISA last night. They were the winners of the 2014 Award for Best Blog (Group) -- narrowly defeating The Monkey Cage. Christian Davenport won Best Blog Post of the Year for his post "Researching While Black, Why Conflict Research Needs More African Americans (Maybe)" at Political Violence @ a Glance last April. Barb Walter's "The Four Things We Know About How Civil Wars End (and what this tells us about Syria)" also at Political Violence @ a Glance was a close second.
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2014 OAIS Blogging Awards and Reception, Thursday, March 27!

by on 2014-03-20- Leave a reply

Mark your calendars for one week from tonight! Please join us for the second annual IR blogging awards and reception at ISA next week: Thursday, March 27 from 7:15pm to 8:30pm in Sheraton Ballroom C at the Sheraton Centre Hotel in Toronto. The reception and awards are co-sponsored by SAGE Publications and Duck of Minerva. We packed the reception venue last year so we've moved up to a ballroom -- help us pack it. Charli has put together a couple of great ignite-style talks and we'll be announcing the winners of the 2014 OAIS Awards. If you are heading to Toronto for ISA, come help us acknowledge the impressive contributions of IR blogging and celebrate with the winners. We hope to see you there.

We will be announcing the winners from these groups of finalists:
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What’s the Status of the Decline of War?

by on 2014-03-20- 3 Comments

In light of Russia's annexation of Crimea, Josh raised the question this morning about how we are all feeling about the war decline thesis. Also in reaction to Russia's actions, Mlada Bukovansky issued a strong call to end the complacency regarding the acceptance and influence of global liberal norms and institutions. These comments appear to contrast with John Mueller's post last week on the profound differences between attitudes on war today from a century ago and this week's release of the 2013 Human Security Report which notes the continuation of the decline of conflict.

So, what to make of it all? Do Russia's actions this week suggest we are returning to a more "normal" history -- one in which interstate war is more likley, more frequent and common? Are we headed toward some kind of major interstate conflict between Russia its neighbors? How does this fit in the broader context of the overall trends in interstate war and the decline of war thesis?

These are some of the questions we'll be looking at next week at ISA. My colleague, Kavita Khory, and I are coordinating an ISA Working Group in Toronto next week that will examine the global trends on war, conflict, and political violence. This June marks the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I. Over the past century, we've witnessed episodes of extreme interstate and intrastate violence as well as a more recent period of relative stability. This more recent trend -- the dramatic decline in interstate war -- is striking. The Working Group will bring together a great line-up of scholars from a diverse set of theoretical, methodological and geographical approaches to look at the broad trends in interstate war, intrastate war, and political violence over the past century, where we are today, and what the future trends might look like.

We'll be focusing on four broad areas:
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Not Just Another Word (for nothing left to lose)

by on 2014-03-19- 13 Comments

Russian soldiers in Crimea

Note: The following is a guest post from Mlada Bukovansky, Professor of Government at Smith College.

The word freedom has to come into it, when speaking of the Ukraine crisis. It has become exceptionally difficult to use that term without wincing in the post-Bush era, but still I think it needs to be said. I was speaking to my mother about Ukraine and inevitably Czechoslovakia 1968 came up. I could hear in her voice the urgency and echoes of the passion that accompanied our fleeing Prague in August of that year. There would be no more freedom there. She said those who stayed behind were “doomed.” That included her own father, and many other family members besides. My initial reaction to her use of the term – doomed – was to dismiss it as hyperbolic, and that it may be, but I know what she means.

The power politics and legitimacy of the interests involved, the hypocritical orientation to international law by all sides, the lack of will by the U.S., the EU, and NATO to do anything painful in response to the annexation of the Crimea, as well as the assignation of blame for what triggered the violence in Ukraine has been well covered in many threads, from many angles. What is pressing me to write now, though, is the sense that not enough attention has gone to what will happen, and what has already happened, as in Georgia, to the people coming into Putin’s orbit. They are losing their freedom, and by that I mean something very specific. They are losing what can be called republican freedom (again, take your mind off Bush, please) – the freedom from arbitrary power. Because that is what Putin is exercising: arbitrary power with little restraint (I won’t say no restraint). He is of course not alone in this in our world, and there are arguably far worse villains operating with impunity, but he is operating so in Europe, and as tired and elitist a cliché as that may sound, this makes a difference. Because presumably European institutions, as so the American institutions which share their core ideals, are designed to restrain arbitrary power – that is arguably the central and most critical mechanism from which many of our other advantages and capacities emanate.
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Economic interdependence as a facilitator of war?

by on 2014-03-13- 2 Comments

Note: This is a guest post by John Mueller of Ohio State University.

The ongoing crisis/standoff in the Ukraine relates in some ways to a long-standing debate about the potential connection between economic interdependence and war. The debate is over the idea that the decline in interstate war has been caused by the fact that countries closely linked economically are unlikely to go to war with each other.

On the one hand, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s foray in an area of deep economic interdependence doesn’t seem to have been waylaid by potential economic cost considerations. On the other hand, as the value of the ruble tumbles, economic considerations could play a role in keeping the crisis from escalating to a more direct military confrontation. Meanwhile, those contemplating sanctions on Russia, particularly in Western Europe, have been musing about the pain they might themselves might bear if they applied economic punishment to a country they depend on for so much of their energy resources.
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America’s Strategic Dilemma in Ukraine

by on 2014-03-02- 16 Comments

images-1[Note: This is a guest post by Sean Kay, Robson Professor of Politics at Ohio Wesleyan University and Mershon Associate at the Mershon Center for International Security Studies at the Ohio State University. He has long-researched and written on NATO policy and worked in the US Department of Defense during the first round of NATO enlargement planning. His forthcoming book is America’s Search for Security: The Triumph of Idealism and the Return of Realism (Rowman and Littlefield, 2014).]

Russia’s incursion into Ukraine presents the United States with a dilemma. The cries to “do something” are loud. The situation in Ukraine is, nonetheless, complicated and there is as much possibility that our efforts to do something can be well-intended but inadvertently make the situation worse.

Political scientists and historians have warned for over 20 years, since the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, of the deep ties that Russia has to its relationship to Crimea. Scholars and significant policy figures like George Kennan and former Sen. Sam Nunn repeatedly warned against the risks of NATO enlargement – especially expanding too proximate to vital Russian interests. No less a Cold War hawk than former Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, writes in his recent memoir:
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OAIS Blogging Awards: And the Finalists Are….

by on 2014-02-10- 1 Comment

Thanks to all of you who voted over the past month for this year's OAIS Blogging Awards finalists. And a very special thanks to all of the nominees for transforming this platform into a strong and vital part of the IR intellectual community. We had an outstanding class of nominees this year -- a real testimony to the impressive talent and intellectual contribution that blogging makes to the IR profession. We had a great turn-out and some very close votes, and we're pleased to announce this year's finalists. Finalists will now be reviewed by a panel of judges that includes last year's winners and Duck of Minerva permanent contributors. We will announce the winners at the OAIS Blogging Awards and Reception on March 27, at the ISA Conference in Toronto. Congratulations to the finalists!

2014 OAIS Blogging Award Finalists
(Listed in alphabetic order)

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OAIS Blogging Awards: Last Call to Vote

by on 2014-02-06- Leave a reply

Voting closes tomorrow at 5pm EST for this year's OAIS Blogging Awards. If you haven't already done so, now is the time to cast your ballot. You can review the nominees and get more information here. Once the votes are in, we'll identify the finalists for each category and turn the process over to our panel of judges. We'll announce the winners at the OAIS Blogging Awards and Reception at ISA Annual Convention on Thursday, March 27.
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Vote Now! Demonstrate the Blogging Contributions to IR Scholarship

by on 2014-01-30- Leave a reply

One of the best ways to respond to the ISA Executive Committee proposal is to demonstrate the professionalism and the significant intellectual and scholarly contribution that blogging makes to the IR profession. We've assembled a slate of impressive nominees in four categories for outstanding On-line Achievements in International Studies (OAIS) Awards for this year. If you haven't already done so, please take a moment to cast your ballot. If you haven't received one or would like one, please email us for a ballot. We've had an impressive response thus far and we'd like to do better.

We ask voters to choose three (3) finalists for the Best Blog category, six (6) for the Best Individual Blog category, (2) for the Most Promising New Blog, and five (5) for Best Post. As with last year, we will use a Borda-count process to create a list of finalists and then proceed to a second round in which a panel of judges (last year's winners and Duck permanent contributors) will determine the winners in each category.

Voting closes on February 7. We will be announcing (and celebrating) this year's winners at the ISA Annual Convention in Toronto at reception sponsored by SAGE on Thursday, March 27 at 7:15pm. Charli is lining up a great program featuring a number of Ignite talks. More details to follow.

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Here are the final nominees by category:
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