Monthly Archives: September 2012

All Diplomacy is Local

Pascal Lamy, Director General of the World Trade Organization

Pascal Lamy, Director General of the World Trade Organization

In an interesting piece published in The Globalist yesterday, Pascal Lamy, the director-general of the World Trade Organization argued that all negotiating is domestic. Lamy asserts that, particularly in the context of the global financial crisis, there is little reason for optimism regarding global diplomacy. According to him,

The “Westphalian shield” allows all nations to dismiss any requirements coming from the global system to safeguard humanity’s longer-term survival as acts of interference in its internal, national affairs. The shield of sovereignty was not to be pierced.

This is an interesting concession from the man who oversees the World Trade Organization and, at least until recently, had been desperately trying to bring the United States, the European Union, and other major economies to agreement on a new round of trade liberalization. Indeed, Lamy’s argument raises a couple of interesting questions for students of global politics.

First, how do domestic politics and international diplomacy interact? There’s a rich literature on two-level games in international relations dealing with this topic, suggesting the relationship is not as simple as we might like to think.

Second, what is the basis for cooperation in international negotiations, particularly international economic negotiations? For liberal IR scholars, the gains from trade outweigh the costs, so we should prefer liberalization to non-liberalization. But the failure of the WTO to conclude the Doha Round (and the Seattle Round before that) suggests that states do not always behave in ways that the theory suggests they should.

Finally, how does the sovereignty of states, the “Westphalian shield” as Lamy terms it, undermine the prospects of international diplomacy? Realist IR scholars have long asserted that the presence of sovereignty creates an anarchic international system in which cooperation is difficult to maintain. In this context, collective goods problems frequently emerge. What’s interesting about Lamy’s position is the degree to which he appears to have embraced the realist framework.

What do you think? Does the anarchic system of the international system undermine the possibility of cooperation in economic relations between states? If so, how can we explain the general trend of greater cooperation and coordination between states since the end of World War II? Does the global financial crisis affect the calculation of states in new ways? Let us know what you think.

Pedagogy: What Our Students Should Know

There has been considerable debate in recent years over the value of a liberal arts education. This story from The Atlantic  illustrates the general tenor of the debate. On one side, critics are calling for dramatic reform, asserting that we need less liberal arts education and more practical training in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and business fields. On the other side, defenders assert that liberal arts education facilitate both human development  and develop practical skills.

In any economic downturn, students (and their parents) rightly become concerned about post-graduation job prospects. As department chair, I’m regularly asked “What will I/my son/my daughter do with a degree in political science after they graduate? What kind of jobs are there?” Fortunately, my department regularly tracks our graduates, so I can answer those questions. A concrete answer grounded in data provides some reassurance, necessary in light of hostility expressed by some of our elected leaders.

The traditional purpose of a liberal arts degree was to develop the skills essential to taking part in civic life. This includes many of the top skills desired by employers: oral and written communication, teamwork, critical thinking, and so on. Indeed, the National Association of Colleges and Employers annual Job Outlook Survey asks employers to rate the importance of candidate skills and qualifications every year. According to the 2012 results (which have not shifted dramatically in recent years), the top in demand skills are:

  1.  Ability to work in a team structure
  2. Ability to verbally communicate with persons inside and outside the organization
  3. Ability to make decisions and solve problems
  4. Ability to obtain and process information
  5. Ability to plan, organize, and prioritize work
  6. Ability to analyze quantitative data
  7. Technical knowledge related to the job
  8. Proficiency with computer software programs
  9. Ability to create and/or edit written reports
  10. Ability to sell or influence others

These are precisely the kinds of skills our students are developing in the major. However, they often have a hard time articulating the specific skill set. As political science educators, we should be signaling how we are developing these skills in our students. Our responsibility as educators is to make the development of these skills clearer for our students. When they enter the job market, they should be confident in the skills they have.

Merging Missions: A New Commonwealth Foreign Policy

British Foreign Secretary William Hague

British Foreign Secretary William Hague

The British and Canadian governments yesterday announced plans to launch a network of shared diplomatic missions. This initiative is intended to expand the reach of both countries, to counter the perceived growing influence of the European Union in global diplomacy, and to reduce the costs of maintaining missions around the world. It is hoped that Australia and New Zealand will join the initiate to create a network of “Commonwealth diplomatic missions.”

The current proposal, announced by British Foreign Secretary (and noted Eurosceptic) William Hague on Monday, would see Britain use Canadian diplomatic facilities in locations where there is currently no British mission, and vice versa. Hague hinted yesterday that this could lead to closer cooperation between the two countries moving forward. Canada and Australia already have a similar agreement, known as the Canada-Australia Consular Services Sharing Agreement, under which citizens of one country can receive consular assistance from the diplomatic missions of the other country.

The US Embassy in Brussels

The US Embassy in Brussels

All of this raises the question: What exactly do embassies and foreign missions do, anyway? The Council of American Ambassadors has an interesting list, written by Philip Lader, the US Ambassador to the Court of St. James (Great Britain). Generally, these services fall into three categories.

First, diplomatic missions provide assistance to home country nationals. An American living in Belgium, for example, might visit the US Embassy to register the birth of a child, obtain a social security number, or renew a passport. The diplomatic corps also provides limited assistance to Americans detained for committing a crime while abroad. In crisis situations, the diplomatic mission may also be called upon to evacuate personnel from the country during an emergency.

Second, diplomatic missions provide assistance and information to foreign nationals about the home country. Again, the American mission in Belgium might provide information about immigration to the United States, process requests for visas. Its staff might also perform public outreach (sometimes referred to as public diplomacy) by, for example, meeting with local schoolchildren or hosting events on American holidays.

Finally, but perhaps most importantly, diplomatic mission are expected to represent the interests of the home country in dealings with the host country. The US diplomatic mission in Belgium, for example, would engage in negotiations with the Belgian government across a wide range of issues, including trade, security, or other issues. US diplomatic staff would meet with personnel from the Belgian government to press US interests, and to hear Belgian concerns about US policy. In extreme situations, the US ambassador could be recalled by the US government (or expelled by the host government) to demonstrate dissatisfaction with a policy or decision.

What do you think: Does the proposed linking of British and Canadian diplomatic missions in selected locations sound like a good idea? How do you think it might affect British and Canadian foreign policy, if at all? Should other countries, like Australia and New Zealand, join the initiative? What dangers, if any, do you see in such a proposal? Let us know what you think.

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Libya: The Drivers of Democratization

Pro-US Protester in Libya

Pro-US Protester in Libya

In continuing developments in Libya, protestors on Friday stormed the headquarters of Ansar al-Sharia and the Sahaty Brigade. Both groups were believed to be involved in the recent attacks on the US Consulate in Benghazi.

Anti-American protests continue to reverberate across the Middle East in response to a trailer for the controversial film The Innocence of Muslims. The trailer—which makes B-movies look like Academy Award material by comparison—was apparently shot to promote a film which (given the quality of the acting, thankfully) was never made. Nevertheless, many protestors believe the film was produced and that it mocks the Prophet Mohammed.

While protests against the film continue in many parts of the Islamic World, in Libya, the protests now appear to have a different message.

Pro-US Protester in Libya

Pro-US Protester in Libya

Protestors there have taken to the streets there to demand justice for the killing of US Ambassador Chris Stephens last week. Many have carried signs like those here.

There appears to be reason to believe that Libya has, as the BBC put it, “bucked the Islamist trend.” While democratization has been a boon to the Muslim Brotherhood and other fundamentalist Islamist political parties in Tunisia and Egypt, in Libya there appears to be much less support for fundamentalist parties.

There is a rich tradition in political science of exploring why some countries move towards liberal democracy while others do not. Common theories center on one or more of the following variables: wealth (gdp per capita), education (especially female education), a free market economy, social equality, a civic culture, cultural values, foreign intervention, and even age distribution. Unfortunately it is not clear yet why (or even if) Libya is moving towards liberal democracy while its neighbors are not. At a minimum, though, the contrasting experiences of Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt will likely provide interesting case studies for comparativists moving forward.

What do you think: What drives democratization? Will Libya sustain its move towards democracy? Or will the trend reverse?

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Presidential Politics and US Foreign Policy

Republican Presidential Nominee Mitt Romney.

Republican Presidential Nominee Mitt Romney.

Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney last week sparked a new controversy when he criticized President Barak Obama’s response to the ongoing crisis in the Libya. On Tuesday, just hours after US Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stephens and three other Americans were killed in an attack by Islamic militants against the US Embassy in Benghazi, Romney asserted that the United States should not apologize for American values to appease Islamic extremists.

However, Romney soon came under intense criticism, including criticism from within his own party, for distorting the chain of events in Libya and appearing to try to score political points from the tragedy. The statement Romney referenced in his comments was apparently issued by the US Embassy in Libya before the attack which killed Stephens and his colleagues, in an effort to diffuse the growing crisis there. That statement, which was not approved by State Department or Administration officials in Washington before its release, read in part, “We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.”

Because of missteps during his recent trips to Great Britain and Israel, Romney’s foreign policy credentials were already under suspicion. And following his statements on the Libyan attacks, Romney suffered even more criticism. In its coverage, CBS News asked, “How Badly did Romney Botch His Response to Libya Attack?” Their answer: pretty badly. A growing chorus of critiques from key Republican figures has been heard. Among those chiming in have been Steve Schmidt, senior campaign advisor to John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, John Sununu, former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan, chair of the House Homeland Security Committee Peter King (R, NY). Others, like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House John Boehner have been silent.

However, it remains to be seen how Romney’s misstep will affect the presidential election. Obama was already polling ahead of Romney, following the closure of the convention season. And there’s an old belief in presidential politics that foreign policy doesn’t win an election. Still, with the campaign season growing short, Romney would likely better be served focusing on the domestic economy rather than developments in the Middle East if he hopes to best Obama come November.

What do you think: Was it a mistake for the Romney campaign to release its statement? Will it affect the November election? Or will the electorate focus on domestic issues instead?

The Paradox of Democracy in US Foreign Policy

There’s a famous saying that we should “be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it.”

A car burns outside the US Embassy in Libya on Tuesday.

A car burns outside the US Embassy in Libya on Tuesday.

Last week was a difficult one for the US foreign policy establishment. On Tuesday, the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was stormed by militants, who killed the US Ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens, and three other American personnel. Stevens had worked closely with the rebel movement that overthrew Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi in last year. Fluent in French and Arabic, he was, in many ways, the ideal US representative to the troubled region.

It is now believed that the attack was launched by Islamic militants who used ongoing protests against the United States in Benghazi as cover to launch their operation. But the protests which were initially exploited to cover the operation have since spread. By Friday, US, German, and British embassies in Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Tunisia, and Yemen were the scenes of often violent protest by demonstrators who objected to an obscure online video produced by an American mocked the Prophet Mohammed as a womanizer, child molester, and ruthless killer.

The growing protests have been strongest in countries which experienced the Arab Spring, where longstanding dictatorships were overthrown and replaced with fledgling democracies. The leaders of those countries must play a dangerous balancing game. While seeking to retain good relations with the United States, they must also keep an eye on reelection campaigns. When Anti-Americanism runs high, one of the two competing goals has to give.

This tension marks an interesting turn from the historical foreign policy of the United States. During the Cold War, the United States was often criticized for supporting dictators who, while not democratic, were certainly anti-communist. While the promotion of democracy often remained an ideal objective of US foreign policy during the Cold War, in many cases, such as that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the United States was willing to overlook democracy for a firm commitment to anti-communism. Now, the emphasis on democratization has raised new questions arising from the competing demands faced by the fledgling democracies in the Middle East. How do we reconcile those demands?

What do you think? How should US foreign policy engage with democratically-elected governments expressing anti-American sentiment? What is the most effective way to engage with governments like those of Libya, Egypt, and Afghanistan, where leaders balance a desire with closer ties with the United States against popular expressions of anti-Americanism? And more fundamentally, what role should the promotion of and support for democratization play in US foreign policy? Let us know what you think.

Pedagogy: On the Merits of Map Quizzes

As a rule, Americans have an appalling knowledge of basic global geography. Studies by National Geographic and the US Department of Education both present an alarming picture of Americans’ geographic knowledge across a wide range of ages. Among the most dramatic findings were that:

  • Only one-half of Americans 18-34 could find India on a map.
  • Only one-third of Americans could find Iraq on a map.
  • Only 25 percent could find Indonesia on a map.
  • Similarly, only 25 percent could find Iran or Israel on a map.
  • Only 12 percent could find Afghanistan on a map.
  • Twenty percent believed Sudan was in Asia.

Further, their lack of knowledge rarely presents a concern to them. The National Geographic survey found that more young Americans believe it is “not too important” to speak a second language than believe it is “absolutely necessary,” and only 22 percent hold a passport

Hardly surprising then that we wind up struggling to understand and deal with global issues, as Miss South Carolina USA’s now infamous example illustrates.


To combat this alarming trend, I’ve adopted a couple of tactics in my classroom. First, I regularly give map quizzes, which focus students to spend time learning basic geography. There are many online study aids which will help students practice, such as MapQuiz, LizzardPoint, or any of dozens of other sites that offer similar features. At a minimum, students should have some knowledge of state locations, though some instructors may also consider including major cities or other geographic features like lakes, rivers, and mountain ranges.

Second, I regularly include maps illustrating locations in my lectures, and connect our discussion of other issues to geography. Simply requiring students to learn where countries are for a quiz does not encourage them to retain this knowledge for later. By bringing geography into other issues, students come to recognize the importance of geographic literacy. But it all starts with knowing where countries are.

Weekly Quiz: Test Yourself on This Week’s Events

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