Death Counts and War Commemoration

Death Counts and War Commemoration

by on 2014-11-11- Leave a reply

Among the various things I've read in the run-up to Veterans Day / Remembrance Day is this article by University of Auckland's Tom Gregory, entitled, "Body Counts Disguise The True Horror of What Wars Do to Bodies":

"Relying on these statistics alone may provide us with a brief glimpse at the suffering of those affected, but it ends up concealing the violence it is supposed to expose. When dealing only with numbers, we tend to lose sight of the bodies that are left broken by the machinery of war, along with the individuals who are busy living and dying on the battlefield."

This is an important perspective. As much as numbers illuminate war's costs, they can hide its grim realities. Still, I would argue that this is not such a zero-sum game and that on balance the construction of casualty metrics helps rather than harms the cause of reducing and mitigating war's impact.
Continue reading

Carl Sagan and Reflections on the Significance of IR

Carl Sagan and Reflections on the Significance of IR

by on 2014-11-10- 3 Comments

I was remiss yesterday in failing to note that November 9, 2014 would have been Carl Sagan's 80th birthday.  For a former astrophysicist such as myself, it is an opportunity for reflection on the significance of what we do in the study and practice of international relations.  Sagan was a masterful communicator of important scientific ideas to the public.  One of the lessons of cosmology he was so effective, and persistent, in communicating was the tenuousness humanity's existence.  Earth orbits a nondescript star in the relative hinter regions of a nondescript galaxy, one of more than 170 billion galaxies in
Continue reading

Fall of the Berlin Wall: Then and Now

by on 2014-11-09- 2 Comments

ss-091102-berlin-wall-22_ss_full Today 25 years ago the Berlin Wall was torn down, one of the most consequential events of the 20th Century, catalyst for the end of the Cold War and freedom for millions stuck behind the Iron Curtain yanked down on them by the USSR. I was a student just starting to get interested in the wider world. I grew jealous of a couple of friends who were able to be there…in Berlin…dancing on the wall with the Germans…a seminal moment, which I watched on TV like everyone else.

I got there as soon as I could, once finals were over. With a guy from my hostel who had a hammer, we warily approached a broad section of the Wall not really knowing what to expect. As we started to bang and chip away at the outer layer, a small old man came through a hole in the concrete; we both stepped back, and the three of us just stared at each other hardly moving. We were a little afraid, to be honest. I mean, we weren't that savvy but we did know the history of this spot. After what seemed like a tense eternity, he finally managed to smile wanly. He approached us, but didn’t speak. Instead he reached up and pated my shoulder. Then he turned and scrambled right back through the hole in the Wall.
Continue reading

Christianity and the Sino-American Relationship

Christianity and the Sino-American Relationship

by on 2014-11-09- Leave a reply

Last week, the Economist reported on the expanding sway of Christianity in China. While the numbers are difficult to pin down, The Economist reports that some argue that the number of Christians in China exceeds the number of official members of the Chinese Communist Party (87 million). What we are witnessing in China then is a dramatic shift in the constitution of domestic social systems in China as religion in general and Christianity in particular increasingly inform conceptions of what it means to be ‘Chinese’ and the accompanying systems of meaning.


From the vantage point of many in the
Continue reading

The Costs of Irredentism

by on 2014-11-08- 1 Comment

In For Kin or Country, the basic idea is to explain a set of policies that is always expensive.  When one tries to take the territory of another country, there tends to be a response.  While folks dismissed Obama's line about Putin's moves having a cost, it turns out that he was right.

Continue reading

Friday Nerd Blogging: Awakened Edition

by on 2014-11-07- Leave a reply

I have yet to see any video that plays upon the news that Star Wars Episode VII has a new title: The Force Awakens.  But twitter was abuzz yesterday with alternatives.  So, here is two of mine:

Continue reading

China Tries to Come to Grips with Pollution

China Tries to Come to Grips with Pollution

by on 2014-11-05- 2 Comments

In the lead up to the APEC summit about to start this week in Beijing, China’s leadership undertook a series of emergency measures to avoid the continued embarrassment of a string of poor air quality days that had bedeviled the country over the previous year. The government reinstated the familiar practice of restricting car travel to certain days of the week based on license plate numbers. Government workers and schools were closed for an “APEC holiday” to reduce traffic. Factories have been ordered to shut down during the summit. Interestingly, those plans seemingly backfired as companies anticipated the later forced work stoppages by working overtime in advance of the later down hours they would be offline during the summit.

Thus, in October when Beijing often enjoys clear skies and cool weather, the city was cloaked in a devastating haze. Some of the world’s best soccer players from Argentina and Brazil were in town for a friendly, only to be confined to their hotel rooms for most of their visit, save for training sessions that left them gasping for breath. Later in the month, photos (see above) captured the spectacle of the Beijing Marathon being run amidst this foul air, with many participants clad in elaborate gas masks as they ran the course. Of course, while foreign visitors are exposed to this pollution during short stays, this is the air quality the people of China experience all the time. A recent study by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) concluded that seventy percent of the country’s population live in areas that exceed air pollution levels recommended by the World Health Organization. That pollution was estimated to be responsible for 670,000 premature deaths in 2012 from stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and pulmonary disease.

At this point, China's bad air isn't news (see my earlier posts here and here). However, China's unfolding "war on pollution" is news and may ultimately improve both air quality and address climate change. 
Continue reading

Locals Know Best: Community Action Is Game Changer for Containing Ebola In Sierra Leone

by on 2014-11-04- 2 Comments

This is a guest post by Dehunge Shiaka, Researcher and gender expert in Freetown Sierra Leone

This is the second post in a series by Shiaka, which is meant to provide an insider's perspective on living in Sierra Leone during the Ebola crisis. The first one can be accessed here. To access our linkages posts on Ebola click here or here.

Hassan is a 35-year old youth volunteer working with the Sierra Leone Red Cross. In the thick of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) outbreak in Kenema, he led one of the burial teams in that town. Each day he as he came home to meet his family after work, Hassan went straight to the back of the house to change his clothes and shoe before using the bathroom. He also ensured a period of ‘social distancing’ among his own family members and between his family and neighbors, as is now the recommended norm within the Kenema township. That was some three months ago. Today, the infection rates in the districts of Kenema and Kailahun (where the first case was reported) seem to be dropping. In general, the trend shows that the rate of infection in those two districts as well as in the districts of Bonthe, Koinadugu, Kambia, Moyamba, Pujehun, Kono, Tonkolili and Bo are no longer spiraling.

While the international community fumbled at international conferences and deliberated as to how best to rescue Sierra Leoneans, we here in Sierra Leone have been developing innovative- and effective- mechanisms of survival. Now, as the international community finally wakes up to the magnitude of Ebola and begins arriving in greater numbers, they should pay attention, and plug into these community networks and structures. Doing so could provide the game changer for containing the spread of the disease in the country. According to Hassan, community mobilization has been a key element in slowing the destructive spread of EVD. In particular, youth groups have worked not only to spread awareness about the virus, but also to act as monitors, contact tracers and enforcers of bylaws throughout communities. These small-scale efforts have had big pay offs when it comes to reducing infection rates and saving lives.
Continue reading

Are We Finally Ousting the World’s Last Dictators? Sadly, No.

by on 2014-11-03- 4 Comments

[Note: This is a guest post by Andrew G. Reiter, Assistant Professor of Politics at Mount Holyoke College.]


Following massive public protests challenging his attempt to amend the constitution and extend his 27-year rule; Burkina Faso’s President Blaise Compaore announced his resignation Friday, bringing an end to one of the world’s longest standing dictatorships. In his influential 2003 book, Breaking the Real Axis of Evil, Mark Palmer argued that the days of the dictator were numbered. The wave of democracy that had washed over the world in the last decades of the twentieth-century was making this form of government increasingly obsolete. Moreover, Palmer contended, if Western democracies made democracy promotion a priority, by calling for dictators to step down and applying targeted economic sanctions and military force when necessary, the dictator’s demise could be accelerated and the world could be free of them by 2025. Now at the halfway mark and in the wake of the latest dictator, Compaore, to fall from power, it is ripe to ask: are we finally ousting the last dictators? The answer, sadly, is no. The dictator is not going away anytime soon.

At first glance, it might seem as though we are making great progress. Saddam Hussein was ousted from power, tried, and hanged following a US-led military invasion in 2003. Liberia’s Charles Taylor was forced out, exiled, then captured and tried in The Hague. Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, who had ruled for over 40 years, was captured and killed by rebel forces in 2011. The popular protests at the heart of the Arab Spring movement removed long-time Tunisian and Egyptian dictators Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak from power, and Yemen leader Ali Abdullah Saleh fled to Saudi Arabia.
Continue reading

Advice for a Junior Colleague

Advice for a Junior Colleague

by on 2014-11-02- Leave a reply

What kinds of advice do you give junior colleagues early on as they think about what it takes to get tenure and promotion? With some new colleagues, I've been giving that some thought based on my own pretty recent experience. Obviously, some guidance is institution-specific, and I have a fairly idiosyncratic circumstance in a policy school. Nonetheless, I think there may be some generalizable lessons, with the focus here on research.
Continue reading

Friday Nerd Blogging: Belated Halloween Edition

by on 2014-11-01- Leave a reply

I have fallen behind in my Friday Nerd Blogging contributions, so I have this belated Halloween video:

Continue reading

My 5 Secret ‘Weapons’ for Finishing a Book

by on 2014-10-31- 2 Comments

There is all kinds of advice out there on how to write and finish a book. We are frequently advised to 'Write everyday', 'write early in the morning,' 'workshop and present your work,' among other things. Here is a great overview of 10 steps to writing a book and another fantastic post called "'I'm writing a book no one will read' and other reasons the PhD can get you down.'" It seems common knowledge that writers need time, space, and mental energy to complete any piece of work. But no one talks about the other types of daily tools that can be useful in getting words on a page. I'm no expert on writing books- in fact, I've only got one! But I've been hibernating for 8 months working on another project. Besides the obvious- coffee, sleep- here are a few unlikely 'weapons' I used to complete my recent book (unless I'm wrong, and I still have 2 chapters to write, which is a reoccurring nightmare)

1. IMG_3008'Back in 5 or 45 minutes' post it notes.
Ok, I'm outing myself to my colleagues on this one. I appreciate office socialization and I generally have an open-door policy and welcome staff and student drop-ins. However, when I start to get on a writing roll I try to get up, put up a 'back in 5- or 45' note, and close the door to ensure uninterrupted typing. Obviously, I don't do this during office hours or other appointments. The result? I catch the inspiration while it is there, and open the door for chit chat when its not.

2. Retreats.
Over the course of this project, my partner and I organized 3 separate  writing retreats. They were scheduled at pivotal times (completing the theory chapter, writing the intro, and going over the complete manuscript a last time). I went to a Buddhist temple that has simple hotel rooms. There is not much to do besides write, meditate....and sneak in a few episodes of bad tv from the ipad. These blocks of time got me over major writing blocks and helped me get back on track when I had fallen far behind my own deadlines.

IMG_30103. Dragon Dictate (hands free microphone)
Sure it is a mega pain in the @ss to set up, but once you get the hang of using this program it can get you through some long days. It is particularly useful for 'talking out' sections of the manuscript, dictating longer quotes, or brainstorming ideas that you will go through and finesse later. Much of the conclusion chapter was 'written' by me pacing around my office with this plugged in my ear.

4. Grooveshark and Spotify. Namely, extended Prince playlists.

IMG_30095. New glasses. This seems obvious, but trying to write a book (or anything) with glasses from 3 years ago is not a good I figured out in month 2 of this project. These beauties make 8 hours of screen-staring bearable.

What are your weapons for getting work done?
Continue reading

Disaster Politics and the American Red Cross

by on 2014-10-30- Leave a reply

This is a guest post by Wendy Wong, Associate Professor of Political Science at University of Toronto, Director of the Trudeau Center for Peace, Conflict and Justice, and author of Internal Affairs: How the Structure of NGOs Transforms Human Rights.

When the great fall from grace (especially those who have built their reputations on being high-minded and altruistic), it makes a great story. And that’s exactly the view of the expose written by NPR and ProPublica that hits us with the punchline: the American Red Cross (ARC) is mismanaged, somewhat incompetent at its job, and misguided in its priorities!

In their lengthy story, the reporters document missteps in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Isaac and make the case that the ARC has diverted funds that should be used for disaster relief for its own brand-promoting purposes. They use some ARC documents, but mostly base their claims on a handful interviews with external critics of the organization (current ARC representatives make cameo appearances).

To be frank, the ARC has had more than its fair share of high profile mess-ups, starting with 9/11 in the 2000s and more recently, with. There are real problems the ARC should deal with that the article does a good job pointing out: resource waste, sex offenders mingling with children in relief centers, slow response time unbecoming of the reputation of the organizations that was founded in 1881. But … is this really an expose, or are nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) at the forefront of trying to ameliorate overwhelming disaster conditions that no one, or even group, of actors could hope to address effectively?

Let’s put the report in perspective.
Continue reading

The Responsibility to Protect & Fear of Foreign Policy Failure

The Responsibility to Protect & Fear of Foreign Policy Failure

by on 2014-10-27- Leave a reply

Last week I had the opportunity to partake in a workshop on the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) at The Hague Institute of Global Justice (the Institute). The Institute is preparing to launch a project on R2P, seeking to bring academics, civil society and government/policy makers together to formulate insightful and policy relevant findings on R2P.   As the workshop was governed by Chatham House rules, I will only here note a few of my insights from the workshop, primarily insights about the connections between political will to uphold R2P and the theoretical and practical realities of foreign policy.

R2P is a
Continue reading

Groupthink and the Turkish Government

by on 2014-10-26- Leave a reply

The Turkish government’s unwillingness to intervene in Kobani has led to renewed violence across the country, claiming more than 30 lives. Turkey’s own Kurds demanded action, Ankara bulked, people died. The peace process between Ankara and the Kurds might now be in jeopardy. And the government is drafting a suspicious bill that, if passed, can restrict the civil rights and liberties of Turkish citizens and violate their fundamental human rights.

I was working on a post on the UN climate change summit (next post, promise) but the violence that erupted in Turkey hit home. Growing up in Turkey in the 80s and
Continue reading

The Future of Climate Governance: Lessons from Failure

The Future of Climate Governance: Lessons from Failure

by on 2014-10-25- 9 Comments

As I mentioned in my previous post on climate and security, I went to Colorado College last week for two talks that Andrew Price-Smith organized. The second talk covered the theme of global climate governance (slides here). Last month, both Jennifer Hadden and I wrote about the People’s Climate March and the renewed optimism about possible international progress on climate change that accompanied the UN leaders meeting in New York.

I wanted to expand on the theme, not simply because of the talk in Colorado. The strategy for next year’s climate negotiations has been in the news of late. Just last week, U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern laid out in a talk at Yale the potential U.S. strategy for next year’s 2015 Paris climate negotiations, emphasizing that only parts of the agreement should be legally binding. Elsewhere, UCSD’s David Victor argued that the 2 degrees Celsius target that negotiators previously embraced as the ceiling for warming is unrealistic and unworkable. Both are provocative and potentially helpful ideas. Here’s why.

Continue reading

Normative dilemma of writing policy?

by on 2014-10-22- 8 Comments

This week, courtesy of my colleague Adam Stulberg and the Center for International Strategy, Technology, and Policy, our department hosted Matthew Kroenig. When I first learned of Kroenig’s visit, my initial thought was that it would be a great opportunity to do (yet another) take on his arguments regarding the possible use of force against Iran. But I think there is little value added to such an exercise. It has been done, not only here on the Duck but in other venues as well. What I think might be a more fruitful way to take advantage of Kroenig’s visit is
Continue reading

Iraq’s Chemical Arsenal: Justification for War?

Iraq’s Chemical Arsenal: Justification for War?

by on 2014-10-22- Leave a reply

Yesterday, a student asked me about the recent news reports indicating that Iraq did, in fact, have "weapons of mass destruction" back in 2002 and 2003 when the U.S. was attempting to justify a "preemptive" war. The New York Times reported that American soldiers were injured in the past decade by chemically-armed munitions found in Iraq.

Already, a slew of articles in the media have debunked the claim that this vindicates George W. Bush and his Iraq misadventure. This Washington Post piece is perhaps the best since it primarily quotes Bush administration claims from the pre-war period.

The Times piece certainly does not try to claim that Bush is vindicated:

Continue reading

Conversation Hijacking: How Not To Insert Yourself into a Conversation by Pushing a Woman Out of It

by on 2014-10-21- 2 Comments

This is a guest post from Kathleen Gallagher Cunningham, an associate professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland.  She is the author of Inside the Politics of Self-determination (Oxford University Press, 2014).

I was recently at a relatively small academic conference, one that I’ve been attending for years whenever I can. The size of the meeting encourages engagement between big names and small names, grad students and professors, and across genders. It is a classic academic mixer, filled with slightly awkward people, many of whom are slightly disheveled, talking about things that are really interesting in really boring ways (to outsiders).

I started attending as a grad student and have made a number of critical personal and professional connections. In addition to getting useful feedback on my own work, this venue is a great opportunity to reconnect with people in my field and get to know some new ones. While I began as a young grad student, I am now at place where I am a (newly) senior member in the field.

After the final session one day, while people trickled out of the room, I sat down with a colleague I hadn’t seen for years. I was just hearing about a fascinating research project he’s working on when another person (another senior man in the field, though I’m not sure that matters) walked up and sat down, smiled at me but did not introduce himself and started a totally independent conversation with my colleague. I got up a few minutes later to make another meeting, but this small event stayed with me.

Continue reading

Under Review: Cite This!

by on 2014-10-18- 1 Comment

The boon and bane of our academic enterprise is that we get feedback all the time on our work.  Our work is better for it--that the hack-iest stuff I read is always stuff that is not submitted to any kind of refereeing process and relies instead on editors who seem to be blind to the hack-ness.   The bane is that, well, rejection and criticism can not only delay publication but also hurt feelings.  When well done, reviews further the enterprise.  However, sometimes, reviews seem to make the authors dance in relatively unproductive ways.  There have been lots of tweets and posts complaining about robustness checks--that reviewers have been asking authors to submit dozens (sometimes hundreds) of additional analyses.

My grievance du jour is something else--reviews that focus on stuff that one "should have cited."

Continue reading