Tag Archives: international relations

Blogging in IR: Reflecting Divides in the Discipline

flags-waving-in-the-windI’m at the annual meeting of the International Studies Association meeting in Toronto this week. Last night, I attended the annual bloggers’ reception, where several outstanding blogs were recognized. The awards, organized by Duck of Minerva, are quickly becoming a key event at the ISA’s meeting.

Political Violence @ a Glance was recognized as the best group blog, with The Monkey Cage recognized as runner up. Dart Throwing Chimp was the best individual blog. Nuclear Diner was the best new blog. And Daniel Drezner was awarded a special achievement award for his work in contributing to the developing of blogging in international relations.

All of the awards were well-earned, and I encourage you to check them all out. But I was also struck by the relative lack of attention paid to the international political economy side of the discipline. Historically, IR has been divided into two main subfields: international relations, which tends to focus on security issues, and international political economy, which tends to focus on global economics. A massive conference like the ISA draws IR scholars and practitioners from both sides of the discipline. But it’s striking how little connection there often is between the two groups.

This is unfortunate. Just as the most interesting and important questions are unlikely to be successfully addressed by a single disciplinary field, so too the biggest questions in IR would likely benefit from the insights provided by both subfields. Climate change, for example, is both a security and an economic question. So why are we so bad at working beyond the (sub)discipline?

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Hollywood Meets International Relations

Scarlet Johansson, Oxfam SodaStream's Global Ambassador.

Scarlet Johansson, Oxfam’s SodaStream’s Global Ambassador.

Scarlett Johansson quit as an Oxfam Global Ambassador last week, amid growing concerns about her connection with the Israeli company SodaStream. Johansson had held the post with Oxfam for more than eight years, drawing attention to the impact of natural disasters and helping in the organization’s fund raising efforts. But Johansson’s ties to SodaStream, which has a factory in an illegal Jewish settlement of Maale Adumim in the West Bank, had drawn criticism.

Johansson’s statement, issued Wednesday, said that she had “respectfully decided to end her ambassador role with Oxfam,” adding that “She and Oxfam have a fundamental difference of opinion in regards to the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement. She is very proud of her accomplishments and fundraising during her tenure with Oxfam.” Oxfam responded with a statement declaring that Oxfam “respects the independence of [its] ambassadors” but noting that “Ms Johansson’s role promoting the company SodaStream is incompatible with her role as an Oxfam Global Ambassador.”

Johansson countered, maintaining that “SodaStream is a company that is not only committed to the environment but to building a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine, supporting neighbours working alongside each other, receiving equal pay, equal benefits and equal rights.”

Johansson has been critizied as naïve and irresponsible for endorsing SodaStream. But many of the company’s Palestinian employees argue that a boycott of SodaStream and other Israeli companies could have unintended negative impacts on their ability to earn a living.

It’s not the first time that a celebrity has come under fire for their position a global issue. Less than a month ago, Dennis Rodman’s trip to North Korea—under the self-promoted label of “basketball diplomacy”—was rounding criticized. But many A-listers have used their celebrity to draw attention to important global issues. Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Matt Damon, and others have all used their star power to draw attention to issues they feel strongly about.

What do you think? What are the advantages and disadvantages of Hollywood stars campaigning on global issues? Do you think that their celebrity helps or hurts their causes? Why? And with respect to this case, was Johansson right to terminate her relationship with Oxfam in favor of her ties with SodaStream? Why?

The Australian Military Scandal(s) and Feminist IR Theory

Lieutenant General David Morrisson, Chief of the Australian Army

Lieutenant General David Morrisson, Chief of the Australian Army

Blogging at Duck of Minerva, Megan McKenzie raises some very interesting questions this week about the Australian military scandal. In the past couple of weeks, members of the Australian Defense Force have been accused of secretly videotaping sex without permission and streaming it other soldiers and, in a separate indecent, several soldiers were accused of emailing explicit and degrading descriptions of female soldiers. And to make matters still worse, these recent incidents follow on scandals last year that prompted the Australian military command to “rid the force of sexism” following another sandal last year.

The Chief of the Army, Lieutenant General David Morrison issued a public video statement condemning the actions of the soldiers engaged in these activities and telling them to “find something else to do with your life… Those who think that it is OK to behave in a way that demeans or exploits their colleagues have no place in this army. On all operations, female soldiers and officers have proven themselves worthy of the best traditions of the Australian Army. They are vital to us maintaining our capability now and into the future. If that does not suit you then get out. You may find another employer where your attitude and behaviour is acceptable but I doubt it.” The complete video (just over 3 minutes) is available on YouTube.

General Morrison continues, calling on innocent members of the armed forces to “show moral courage” and take a stand against such behavior in their ranks.

But as MacKenzie notes in her blog this week, Morrison’s video marks an important departure from previous efforts that tend to define such activities as the individual behavior of “a few bad apples.” Instead, Morrison contends that the culture and values of the military should be incompatible with such actions, and that individual soldiers should leave if they feel they cannot accept this. In doing so, MacKenzie observes that,

He may not realize it, but Morison also moves to redefine Australian militarised masculinity when he says that he doesn’t believe that toughness can be built on humiliating others and that all members of the force should ‘show moral courage’ and take a stand against such behavior. It may not seem like a big deal, but shifting the way that courage and toughness are defined could mean more than any grand declarations to rid the military of perpetrators. He also talks about the band of brothers AND sisters- making a concerted departure from a particular masculine image of the force.

There is always room for cynicism at a time like this, but here’s hoping that a thoughtful, prompt, and meaningful reaction to activities that have been brushed off for too long as ‘par for the course’ within defense and defence forces around the world may show times are changing.

Writing for the Sydney Morning Heard, Rachel Olding goes slightly further, describing General Morrison as an “unlikely feminist hero” and summarizing similar sentiments expressed by other Australian personalities.

What do you think? Do General Morrison’s comments represent a new, more feminist orientated way to approach the question of professional behavior in the military? Will he be successful in his efforts to shift the culture within the Australian military? And what might we learn from the Australian example? Take the poll or leave a comment below and let us know what you think.

The International Studies Association: Blogging the IR/IPE Divide

I’m attending the International Studies Association meeting in San Francisco this week. One of the highlights of this year’s ISA was the ISA Bloggers Reception, at which the first winners of the Duck of Minerva’s IR blog awards were announced. The winners, all outstanding blogs definitely worth following, were:

The Most Promising New Blog was awarded to Political Violence @ a Glance, which was also recognized as runner up for best blog entry for “Is Wartime Rape Declining on a Global Scale? We Don’t Know—And It Doesn’t Matter.” 

Best Blog Entry went to John M. Hobson, blogging at The Disorder of Things, for “Eurocentrism, Racism: What’s in a Word?” 

Daniel Drezner received the award for best individual blog, while at The Disorder of Things, was named the best group blog.

The event was a great deal of fun, and I particularly enjoyed being able to put faces to all the blogs I regularly read. But the awards also highlighted a fundamental—and I think problematic—divide in the International Studies community: the division between the International Relations/International Security and the International Political Economy communities. As an IPE scholar, I was struck that none of what I consider to be the best IPE blogs were even nominated for the Duck’s awards. And at the ISA more generally, I’ve been struck by the degree to which the two communities rarely interact with one another.

And yet we recognize intuitively that the two fields are closely connected. Just as the major issues of our day—climate change, the global financial crisis, terrorism, political instability, ecological crises, and so on—cannot really be understood, let alone solved from a single disciplinary perspective, so too can we not hope to understand the dynamics of global politics from either the IR or IPE subfields alone. 

Pedagogy: The International Relations of Star Wars

The Battle of Hoth

The Battle of Hoth

Over the past week there has been an outstanding exchange at the Duck of Minerva blog exploring the international relations and military strategy of Star Wars.

It all started when Wired Magazine’s Spencer Ackerman explored the Battle for Hoth.  His analysis carried real world implications for counterinsurgency strategy, most notably observing that religious fanatics should never be placed in wartime command, and hegemonic powers tend to underestimating an insurgency’s ability to keep fighting.

The comments on Ackerman’s post are worth reading in their own right. One, for example, reads,

Have you even served with the Imperial forces? Sure it’s easy to take potshots from your military blog in some no-name star system while the fleet and its legions fight the rebel insurgents, but combined space/air/ground operations are a lot messier than any infographic could ever portray.

Even with the Empire’s full spectrum dominance of the battlespace, you can’t just leverage fleet assets which are optimized for ship-to-ship combat into a large scale ground invasion force. A Star Destroyer might have more firepower than the entire militaries of less advanced worlds but you still need a proper ground assault ship to support infantry landings.

Unfortunately, the do-nothing blowhards in Coruscant couldn’t get funding for the promising alternative designs from Sienar Fleet Systems and we ended up (as usual) with Kuat Drive Yards’ overpriced, overdue, and underperforming AT-AT mess.

Others continue in a similar vein. Then we get the Duck of Minerva’s responses.

First, we have Robert Kelly examined the five biggest strategic errors of the Empire, with a hat-tip to counterinsurgency strategy.

Then Steve Saideman considers the command structure of the Empire from the principal agent problem, drawing important lessons for Nato strategy in Afghanistan.

Finally we get Patrick Thaddeus Jackson examining the challenges post by the Empire’s command structure and the weakness of its military strategy against the Rebel Alliance. In doing so, he explores the tradeoff between material and ideological interests in foreign policy.

Outstanding stuff. Great fun, and an interesting way to use pop culture to think about global conflict.

The (New?) Obama Foreign Policy

President Obama's 2012 Acceptance Speech

President Obama’s 2012 Acceptance Speech

Now that the US presidential election is behind us, several bloggers have turned to ask, “What’s next for US foreign policy?” It’s a fair question, particularly given how little attention was paid to foreign policy during the presidential campaigns.

Bloggers from across the internet have offered their take. Examples include Mark Goldberg, who blogs at the UN Dispatch, and David Bosco at the Multilateralist.

To be clear, several key questions about President Obama’s second-term foreign policy remain outstanding. These include:

  1. Who will serve as Secretary of State? By all accounts, Hillary Clinton has done an outstanding job as Secretary of State. But she has made her intention to step down clear. Some have cited John Kerry, who currently serves as the Foreign Relations Committee Chair in the US Senate as a possible successor, but to date President Obama has not been particularly forthcoming about his intentions.
  2. How will the Arab-Israeli peace process move forward? It was clear during the election that there was no love lost between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It’s also painfully obvious that there has been little progress in addressing the issue during Obama’s first term. Yet historically presidents have often pivoted to foreign policy during their second terms, seeking to establish a lasting presidential legacy. Making significant progress on the Palestinian question would certainly do that. But it’s not clear how Obama might do that.
  3. Will our political leaders start talking about climate change? Both presidential campaigns were remarkably silent on the question of climate change, particularly given the entrée to discuss the question provided by the impact of Sandy on the US Northeast. The marginal shift towards the democrats in the Senate provides reason to hope that climate change may at least make it back on to the national agenda.
  4. What to do about Iran? Iran’s nuclear ambitions didn’t disappear. In fact, it seems likely that Iran’s path to progress in nuclear technology is moving forward, and many observers believe Iran will acquire develop a nuclear weapon within the next four years. Sanctions have been effective in isolating the country and severely weakening its economy. But will the Obama administration support the more aggressive action so strongly favored by Netanyahu? And what would the impact of such action be across the region?
  5. Will there be any change to our Pakistan policy? Drone strikes are highly unpopular in Pakistan but remain an effective way of weakening the strength of militant Islamic groups in the Waziristan region.
  6. How will we respond to developments associated with the Arab Spring? It’s now been two years since the Arab Spring started, bring massive change to the Arab world. Longstanding dictatorships in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen fell. Protest movements emerged in countries from Algeria to Kuwait. The ongoing crisis in Syria remains a key contemporary challenge. And, of course, the tragedy in Benghazi rocked the foreign policy establishment. There are many outstanding questions, but perhaps none is more profound that whether or not democratization in the Arab world will result in increasing radicalization or moderation.
  7. Will the Global Economic Crisis come to a close or continue to drag on? The economic crisis in Greece appears to be continuing, and the European Union is cutting economic forecasts. The US economy appears to be headed towards an exceedingly slow economic recovery which, while better than continued economic depression, does little to improve the outlook or give reason for heady optimism. How will the global economy affect US foreign policy? Can the United States work with its (economic) allies to improve the state of the global economy? Or will we continue along the current trajectory?

What do you think? What are the most pressing foreign policy issues facing the Obama administration in its second term? Leave a comment below and let us know your thoughts.

Pedagogy: Using Film to Teach International Relations

Dr. Strangelove

Dr. Strangelove

For today’s millennial students, film can provide a powerful way to illustrate key themes in global politics. By getting students to apply the theories and ideas discussed in the classroom to fictional cases, students are encouraged to engage with the material in new ways. We move up Bloom’s taxonomy, away from simple remembering and understanding to higher order applying, analyzing, and evaluating. And importantly, using film can often bring a topic to life in a way that a traditional lecture might never achieve.

Alexander Spencer outlines four ways in which faculty can use film in the classroom: (1) to portray historical events; (2) to debate controversial issues in global politics, like terrorism and genocide; (3) to examine cultural narratives; and (4) to explain and critique IR theories. Each use has value.

The Battle of Algiers

The Battle of Algiers

Selecting the right film is obviously important. There are countless documentaries, but here I’m really interesting in thinking about fictional works. Blogging at Foreign Policy, both Stephen Walt and Daniel Drezner each offer their top ten films on foreign policy. Interestingly, the two scholars share just two films on their top ten lists: Cassablanca, which provides outstanding insights into resistance and colonialism, and Dr. Strangelove, the classic parody of cold war nuclear strategy. Fred Kaplan at Slate Magazine provides a longer list that covers some surprising oversights from Walt and Drezner—films like The Godfather, Burn!, Goodbye Lenin!, and High Noon. And Although somewhat dated now, Robert Gregg’s text International Relations on Film (Lynne Rienner Press, 1998), provides and extensive bibliography of films with IR themes. Collectively, the three lists provide a veritable who’s who of films on IR.

However, knowing which film to show is different from knowing how to show a film. Simply walking into the classroom and starting the movie is rarely an effective way to ensure student engagement. Students may enjoy the movie, but are they learning what you want them to learn? Are they engaging? Are they merely watching, or are they thinking?

Before selecting the film, think about what you are hoping to achieve. Which concepts or ideas are you hoping to illustrate? What learning outcomes are you hoping to achieve? You should also start thinking now about how you will measure those outcomes. How will you know if your students have learned what you hoped they would learn? What activity will you use to measure their understanding and engagement? And how will you integrate the film into the rest of your course content? You should also think about whether or not you need to show the film in its entirety. Can you achieve your goal by selectively utilizing shorter clips from the film(s)?

Before you show the film to your students, you should prepare them. Simply turning the movie on will ensure your students merely watch the movie without engaging with it. Ask your students what they already know about the film, if anything. Explain why you are showing the film. Tell them about the ideas or concepts that will be illustrated in the film. For some films, you may also need to provide some historical background to the events portrayed in the film. The Battle of Algiers is much more engaging (not to mention understandable) if students have some context for French colonialism and the anticolonial movement in Algeria.
You may consider providing a handout to your students, giving them a specific task to complete while watching the film. Perhaps you ask them to follow a specific character, look for examples of a specific theme or theory, or identify a specific event. Providing a handout to your students also signals that this will not merely be a time away from teaching, but that they are expected to follow and engage with the film.

After the film, be sure to have some kind of debriefing. You may want to provide the students with an opportunity to come to terms with their own ideas and understandings before moving to a more general class discussion (think-pair-share is useful for this). Alternatively, if you lack the time to have a debriefing immediately after the film, you could ask them to provide a written reaction to the film by the start of the next class, and then hold a short discussion to start your next class period. If you ask students for a reflection paper, it is important that you provide a response prompt that focuses the paper on the course material you hope to explore. Failing to do so, you will likely receive many papers in which students discuss whether or not they liked the movie.

How do you use films in the IR classroom? What films have you found effective? Please share your experience.