Tag Archives: Conflict

The Importance of Water (In)Security

Cross-posting with International Relations @ UIowa

Given that yesterday was World Water Day, it is a good time to reflect on the importance of humans’ access to clean water and the security threats that unequal access to water resources can create. While countries like Canada and the United States are fortunate to have large internal supplies of fresh water, many states like Iraq and Syria depend heavily on rivers that cross international boundaries. One third of the 263 international river basins in the world contain three or more countries, making negotiations over shared water resources complex. Israel’s seizure of the Jordan River headwaters area in the 1967 Six Day War created concerns that many more “water wars” would emerge. Yet while academics and pundits warned that water conflicts would increase in the decades to follow this conflict, most interactions between countries over shared river resources have been cooperative.

Ataturk Dam

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Russia and Syria: Let’s You and Them Fight

My friend and fellow blogger Brandon Valeriano is a much better security studies scholar than I am. He’s written a great piece today about Russia’s involvement in Syria, and in particular how unimpressive that involvement is so far relative to the breathless hyperbole appearing in the American press.

Some of this, of course, is press coverage in the context of an American presidential race. Republican candidates, none of whom have any credentials on foreign policy, are swift to criticize the Obama administration for making the US “look weak” and for “capitulating” to Russia. The narrative of Russia’s involvement in the Syrian war plays into that fable well, and helps win votes from tribal Republicans. It has no bearing on reality, but neither does most of the rest of the campaign. For those of us interested in the world as it is, we can safely ignore the three-ring circus and look instead to what we already know about international conflict and what that might tell us about the US-Russia strategic balance. Continue reading

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Sex and Death … revisited?

I won’t tell you how old I was when Carol Cohn published “Sex and Death in the World of Rational Defense Intellectuals” – but I will tell you that I’ve read it dozens of times over my years as an IR scholar, and that it has been foundational to my thinking about security issues in the international political arena, as well as the links between gender, violence, and security. So I was surprised, and interested, to see an article in the FirstView of International Organization which plays off of the title of Cohn’s original Signs article – Rose McDermott‘s “Sex and Death: Gender Differences in Aggression and Motivations for Violence.” Then I read it.

Almost thirty years ago, Cohn described that  “it was hard not to notice the ubiquitous weight of gender, both in social relations and in the language itself” of “white men in ties discussing missile size” (p.688, 692). This discussion about sexualized imagery does not serve to compare (favorably or unfavorably) men and women – in fact, Cohn notes the ease of getting drawn into it even with an explicitly feminist predisposition. Instead, Cohn’s discussion serves to show that militarism itself relies on gendered significations – of men and women, of states, and of strategies and tactics. The lasting richness of Cohn’s work is about voice, signification, reification, and hybridity in gender/security matrices. And that’s what’s lost in McDermott’s reuse of Cohn’s title.

McDermott naturalizes sex and gender, throwing Butler’s caution about the performative co-constitution of sex and gender to the wind. The consequences are a step backwards, rather than a step forward, for analyzing gender and international security.

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Solving the World’s Problems: Hegemony, the UN, and Why the World Isn’t Getting More Peaceful

One of the great gifts of teaching is that occasionally, you learn something. The opportunity to discuss things with students sometimes takes you down a path you didn’t expect and hadn’t seen before. The following emerged from a discussion with my Diplomacy & Negotiation class this week, and it’s a point wholly unexpected (to me, at least).

We were discussing third-party intervention into conflict: why countries intervene, how they justify intervention, when and under what circumstances interventions might be expected to be successful. In the course of the discussion, one student pointed out that there is a difference between intervening in internal conflicts (civil wars and the like) and intervening in a conflict between states. I started to talk about the relative decline of the latter and the increase in the former – an observation that is now largely background noise to those of us who study conflict – when it struck me that I hadn’t thought very much about why this was the case. And because we had earlier in the class been talking about the US as the system hegemon, an answer appeared largely unbidden: the post-WWII world was developed with almost exactly this outcome in mind. The rules of the current world system are designed to solve a particular problem; unfortunately, they are terrible for solving other kinds of problems.

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Mom, did you see me on TV?

With APSA just around the corner and chilly wind makes Cambridge evenings so pleasant it is time for some reflection on the summer break and a great opportunity to raise the topic of media appearances by political scientists. Of course I’m raising this question because it reflects my unique experience this summer. This was the summer when I revealed the media, or perhaps the summer that the media found me. Either way, as the world was going nuts (and my region of expertise, the Middle East, really outdid itself in the past few months), I got media exposure I never knew before.

It is strange how those of us who study international security benefit from the pain of others. I keep reminding myself that while 9/11 helped me get an academic job, the attack and the events that followed were not my fault. But that issue may be a post for some other time. Here I want to discuss some of the pros and cons I identified as I was going through the media circus. It is one of the many things that graduate school don’t prepare you for. Teaching in a small liberal arts college such as Haverford I cannot say that I was mentored on the question even after graduation. So I hope that such a discussion could help other. I know that I need it myself because I’m still not sure about my own position as I’m still trying to figure out whether interacting with the media is actually worthwhile. As I cannot claim to have an answer I’ll settle for suggesting some pros and cons instead of making sweeping and confident statements.
The pros of media appearances: Continue reading

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Waves of War and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Like my good friend Steve Saideman, I don’t write much about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is academically odd, given that most of my stuff has been on ethnic conflict, secessionism, and irredentism, and the whole Israel/Palestine thing falls smack in the middle of that category. It was certainly included in the data set I compiled for my dissertation, but I’ve largely avoided it since then for reasons well-known to most people in the international relations field. Israel-Palestine is the ultimate Third Rail – a viper’s nest of highly-charged, overly-emotional, moralistic arguments that are deadlocked into an endless shouting match. In that arena there is no winning, and rarely even surviving. From a rational choice perspective, staying away from this argument is a pretty obvious choice – the costs FAR outweigh the benefits.

So why am I stepping into it now? Because I wrote a review last week of Andreas Wimmer’s latest book, Waves of War: Nationalism, State Formation, and Ethnic Exclusion in the Modern World. And even though Wimmer manages to write the entire book without mentioning Israel or Palestine even once, I think the picture he puts together may hold not the solution to the problem, but the answer to why there is endless fighting and no progress towards peace.

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Maybe Iraq Really Is Vietnam?

When George W. Bush was pushing the Iraq war, the concern from some of the left was: is this another Vietnam? By “another Vietnam”, most Americans mean “a really long war with lots of US casualties that in the end we lose”. And there was fear in 2003 and 2004 that Iraq would end up that way.

The Bush administration pushed back with absurd assertions that we’d be done in 6 months and “Mission Accomplished” photo ops. Obama finally fixed the problem by pulling US troops out of Iraq a couple of years ago, at which point the “ghost of Vietnam” went away. But there is another aspect of the Vietnam debacle that I think does apply to the Iraq mess. Continue reading

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