Tag Archives: war

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

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

My Enemy, My Friend? Why the Islamic State May Be the Best Thing to Happen to Iraqi Kurdistan

Watching the sudden and (to Western eyes) unexpected unfolding of the Islamic State and its territorial gains in Iraq has been fascinating. The dynamics have been heretofore unpredictable – a few weeks ago a conflict scholar asked on a social media forum whether ISIS (as it was then known) would bother with the Kurds in Iraqi Kurdistan or concentrate on Baghdad. The consensus at the time was that the Kurdish peshmerga, battle-hardened from years of war, were probably too much for this new upstart force and that the Islamists didn’t really want to rule the Kurds anyway.

Turns out we were wrong. While the Islamic state has been pushing south towards Baghdad, it is also pushing east towards Erbil and Kirkuk, the heart of Iraqi Kurdistan. And along the way it’s been doing pretty well, by press accounts, in battling what had been Iraq’s most organized and formidable military force. The popular explanation for this, which may be true, is the imbalance of heavy weaponry (tanks, armored vehicles, and artillery) between the Islamic State forces (which have taken significant quantities of these weapons from the dissolving Iraqi military) and the Kurds (which have few if any heavy weapons). This looks bad right now for the Kurds – but it this crisis may contain the seeds of their greatest victory.

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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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Stopping Wartime Sexual Violence?

This post is cross-posted at the Polity Blog, in promotion of my recently published Gender, War, and Conflict (Polity Press, 2014).

It was a coincidence that Gender, War, and Conflict was formally published on the eve of the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence, held in London. The Global Summit, as its webpage described, was meant to shatter the culture of impunity towards wartime rape, take practical steps toward decreasing it, provide support to survivors, and change attitudes of apathy.

This ambitious summit was attended by public figures like Hilary Rodham Clinton and Angelina Jolie, as well as by scholars of wartime sexual violence like my colleagues Amelia Hoover Green and Marsha Henry, among others. While I sat this one out at home in Florida, I followed its progress on Twitter and read news coverage as the summit looked to “write the last chapter in the history of wartime rape.”

Scholars writing from the Summit expressed a combination of hope – given the amount of high-profile political capital being devoted to the cause – and despair – given the long, complicated, and important history of social science research into wartime sexual violence that was largely ignored at the Summit. The biggest complaint I have seen and read is that the Summit’s policy-world and advocate speakers have a commitment to the social cause of ending wartime rape without a matching commitment to knowing and understanding the history of wartime rape, the conditions of possibility of the crime, the significations of rape in conflict, and the gendered contexts in which wartime rape is committed.

In other words, the advocates at the Summit understood that war rape is a terrible crime in which women are disproportionately victimized. But there is more to it, and scholars have been trying to communicate that in order to improve policy analysis, and, hopefully, policy solutions. While the summit is over and the media has moved on to its next target, I think that this point is still a very important one. Continue reading

Drugged to Kill?

A militant group is considering a move from drugging to electroshock therapy to promote awareness and functionality in its spies and its killers. For more than half of the organization’s history, it has been using stimulants to provide its militants with the alertness and motivation to fight. The stimulants are in the food, in chewing gum, in drinks, often without the knowledge of the militants consuming them. These stimulants have been a key part of motivating the militants to work, fight, and kill, but the leaders of the group are concerned that it is not enough – and other drugs aren’t working as well as they had hoped. They have been exploring more radical programs of DNA-based injection and now shocks to the brain.

The leaders describe the shock program as “non-invasive” but “complicated” especially in terms of knowing “what to turn on and what to turn off.”  A Harvard Medical School professor suggested that the shock process “seemed to work” to increase awareness and motivation among militants even though there is “almost no data” about long term effects. Concerned with “performance issues,” the militant organization continues to drug its militants, and is working on the sustainability of the shock program.

That militant organization is the US military.

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