Monthly Archives: November 2012

Liberal Nationalists and Liberal Internationalists on the Use of Force

US Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice

US Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice

The US United Nations Ambassador, Susan Rice, has come under increasing fire from Senate Republicans over her remarks surrounding the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi last month. In several television appearances, Ambassador Rice (following the information she had been provided by the administration based on “preliminary intelligence”) said that the attack was the result of protests over an anti-Muslim film. More detailed analysis later proved that the attacks used the cover of the protests but were in fact premeditated attacks by Islamic militants.

Blogging at Duck of Minerva last week, Josh Busby asks “Why Does John McCain Hate Susan Rice?” In doing so, Busby notes that Susan Rice has more in common with McCain than other potential nominees. Rice has been a strong proponent of American intervention in Libya, Syria, and Darfur. And she has advocated using military force in support of American interests and to prevent atrocities abroad.

Busby argues that liberal internationalists have more in common with neoconservatives like McCain, George W. Bush, and others, than they do with other realists like John Kerry. As Busby writes,

Where realists are quite conservative about the prospects for using force in defense of the country’s values, both liberal internationalists and neocons are optimistic about the ability to remake the world in the image of the United States. That is what makes them both liberal. Indeed, neoconservative is a misnomer. They really should have been called liberal nationalists. Where they differ from liberal internationalists is on means. Liberal internationalists prefer multilateral instruments to address foreign policy problems whereas neocons prefer national ones.

That distinction is an important one, and one that students often miss. Often assuming that realists are more likely to support the use of force and liberals less likely, we sometimes conflate the tendency to use force with the motivation for it. From this perspective, realists would likely oppose the use of American military force in Afghanistan and Iraq, because no clear national interest is at stake. By contrast, such wars could be supported by liberals because, from their perspective, the use of force to establish a more democratic international order is morally justified.

Perspectives become more complicated when we move from the abstract to the real world. Does the United States have a national interest in Libya? In Syria? In Rwanda? Should the lack of a national interest preclude us from intervening to prevent crimes against humanity, such as was the case in the 1994 Rwandan genocide?

What do you think? Should the US military be used in support of humanitarian intervention or to establish democracy abroad? Or should the United States limit its involvement to areas where it has a clearly defined national interest? Take the poll or leave a comment and let us know what you think.

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Pedagogy: Using Rubrics to Cut Grading Time

We’re reaching the end of the semester, the time when faculty frequently become overwhelmed by the amount of grading at hand. Between term papers, final exams, oral presentations, and other graded assignments, this is easily the busiest time of the semester. But using rubrics can cut the amount of time spent grading student work. A rubric is a tool that lists the factors of student performance that will be evaluated and the criteria for each level of performance on an assignment. Rubrics provide a structured way to think quickly but comprehensively about student work. It also permits the instructor to provide clearer feedback to students.

Sample rubrics are available from the Department of Political Science at Skidmore College, Southern Utah University, Delta State University, and the University of Richmond. The RCampus Gallery also maintains an extensive collection of rubrics. Try using one and see if it cuts your grading time.

Weekly Quiz: Test Yourself on This Week’s Events

The weekly quiz is now live. Good luck!

Climate Change and the Logic of Collective Action

The Atlantic’s Christopher Mims and Stephanie Gruner Buckley this week published “5 Charts About Climate Change That Should Have You Very, Very Worried.” They note that recent reports by the World Bank and the Central Intelligence Agency provide further evidence of the threat posed by climate change. These threats range from rising sea levels, severe flooding, drought, and fire to terrorism, civil war, and massive food shortages. The picture they paint is bleak.

Indeed, this has been a trend in recent coverage of climate change. Indeed, the its publication, the World Bank said its aim was to shock people into action by sharing the devastating scenarios that accompany climate change. Blogging at Huffington Post, Edith Lederer argues that Superstorm Sandy might motivate greater action on the part o the United States in addressing climate change.

US leadership would likely be welcomed. A new round of climate change talks are set to begin in Doha next week, and there is hope that—unlike in previous rounds—negotiators may be able to reach agreement on legally binding greenhouse gas reductions by 2015. Without active US participation, agreement appears unlikely, and any agreement would likely be ineffective. At the same time though, as Jordan Weissmann points out at The Atlantic, the United States alone can’t stop climate change. Chinese participation is also vital.

And this gets at the heart of the issue. The scare tactics of the World Bank and others is unlikely to compel significant movement on the part of negotiators. Two fundamental principles mitigate against the possibility.

First, global climate change is a classic example of a collective goods dilemma. All states will benefit from an agreement on climate change, regardless of whether or not they cut their own emissions. Given this, there is little incentive for states to agree to cut their own greenhouse gas emissions. Rather, the incentive is to free ride on the efforts of other states to cut theirs. But as each state responds to these incentives in the same way, the effectiveness of any agreement is undermined, and the collective well-being of all peoples (and of each individual state) is undermined.

Second, the costs and benefits of greenhouse gas emissions is unevenly distributed. While the global north is historically responsible for the vast majority of greenhouse gas emissions, the global south bears the disproportionate cost associated with climate change. Again, this makes it less likely for countries like the United States to cut their greenhouse gas emissions.

Despite a handful of voices claiming the contrary, the problem with reaching agreement on climate change has never been scientific uncertainty about the impact of climate change. Rather, it’s about interests and trade-offs  Reaching agreement on climate change thus requires rethinking the cost-benefit analysis and the payoff structure for action or inaction.

What do you think? Will negotiations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and address climate change be successful? Or is the bleak scenario painted by the World Bank and others likely to emerge? Take the poll or leave a comment below and let us know what you think.

Pedagogy: The Future of Higher Education—The United States in Comparative Perspective

The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development last week released its Education at a Glance 2012 report. The annual report included a ranking of the “most educated” countries in the world. The top five were:

  1. Russia (54% of the adult population aged 25 to 64 hold a college degree).
  2. Canada (51%)
  3. Israel (46%)
  4. Japan (45%)
  5. The United States (42%)

Several items stand out about the United States’ rankings. First, while a relatively high proportion of its population has a college degree, the rate of growth in college degrees is relatively slow. The growth rate in post-secondary degree holders in the United States is increasing by about 1.3 percent per year, about 1/3 the OECD average growth rate of 3.7 percent, suggesting other countries could overtake the United States in the near future.

Second, while the United States ranks fifth overall, it falls to 14th if we only consider young adults (aged 24 to 34) with a college degree.

Finally, education remains unevenly distributed in the United States. We know that the likelihood of earning a college degree increases with the education level of the parents. Students whose parents hold a college degree are far more likely to earn a college degree themselves. However, in the United States this pattern is far more pronounced. Indeed, according to the report, the odds that a young person in the United States will be in higher education if his or her parents do not have a college degree is just 29 percent—one of the lowest levels among all OECD countries.

Finally, the OECD report notes that the individual cost of attaining a college degree in the United States is higher than in almost every other OECD country.

All interesting points to consider as we continue to discuss the future of higher education in the United States.

Weekly Quiz: Test Yourself on This Week’s Events

The weekly quiz is now live. Good luck!

Iran’s Ongoing Nuclear Ambitions

Satellite image of Iran's Fordow nuclear enrichment facility.

Satellite image of Iran’s Fordow nuclear enrichment facility.

The International Atomic Energy Agency on Friday warned that the Iranian government continues to make progress in its effort to boost uranium production and refinement in the country. It noted that Iran has, in the past three months, completed installing new centrifuges in a secret nuclear facility and has refused to provide the IAEA with opportunity to monitor its activities. The IAEA also believes that Iran is trying to destroy evidence of previous nuclear enrichment activities ahead of scheduled IAEA inspections.

International efforts to monitor and prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons materials have to-date focused on several resolutions of the UN Security Council, and on international negations between the United States, China, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, and Germany (the so-called P5+1 group) and Iran.

Against the international backdrop, the Israeli government continues to threaten unilateral action against Iran to prevent it from developing a nuclear weapon, raising the stakes for all parties involved.

The primary challenge, though, is that there appear to be few good options in dealing with Iran. Economic sanctions are already in place and are having a devastating effect on the Iranian economy. There was a glimmer that the sanctions may force the Iranian government back to the negotiating table, but it is not clear whether or not that would happen before Iran developed a nuclear capacity, fundamentally altering the nature of international negotiations.

Covert efforts, including the deployment of computer viruses targeting Iranian nuclear facilities, have appeared to slowed Iran’s progress but have not stopped it altogether.

And a military strike against Iran could create broader challenges in the region, undermining support for US efforts in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and creating uncertainty in global oil markets, threatening the global economic recovery.

What do you think? What is the best option to deal with Iran’s nuclear ambitions? Should the United States continue to support international efforts at a negotiated settlement? Should it support Israeli proposals for a military strike despite the economic threat posed by such an option? Take the poll below or leave a comment and let us know your thoughts.