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Blogging Hiatus

Jun 07, 2010 by Jon Western in About Us

We have taken a hiatus from blogging on this site.  Jon, Mlada, and Charli are now regular contributors to the Duck of Minerva.  You can check us out there.  We'll be back again in the fall when classes resume in the Five Colleges.  

regarding the British election tomorrow

May 05, 2010 by Nicholas Toloudis in About Us


Here we have an analysis of tomorrow's general election by two great scholars of European politics.  They are claiming it is more important than I've told my classes it is.  We'll see.

What China can teach Latin America

Mar 01, 2010 by Eva Paus in root

Secretary of State Clinton's five-country tour of Latin America (Uruguay, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Guatemala) is happening in a context of declining U.S. economic dominance in the region. It is China's economic star that is on the rise in the subcontinent. China  has already become the largest trading partner of Brazil and Chile, and it is rapidly moving up towards that position in a number of the other countries.

Some of the smaller Latin American countries have aggressively pursued a free trade agreeement with China in the expectation that privileged access to the huge Chinese market would boost the growth of their economies. The latest country is Costa Rica which finished negotiations of a free trade agreement with China last month. In a recent op-ed piece in El Financiero, the main business paper in Costa Rica, I argue that free trade is the wrong solution for the economic problems of Costa Rica (and other Latin American countries). Instead, they should embrace the lessons that the development success of China and other Asian Tigers  offer:  a strategic and unwavering commitment to builidng the country's domestic technological capabilities. Expanded education, increased expenditures on R&D, strategic support for domestic companies to enable them to become internationally competitive, policies to maximize the spillover benefits from foreign investment in the country: Those have to be at the top of the policy agenda, not free trade agreements.

Secretary Clinton is not likely to advocate any such change in the focus of Latin America's development strategy; after all, it is the United States that has been pushing for (and signing) free trade agreements with many Latin American countries, starting with Mexico (and NAFTA) in 1994.


Sudan's Truce: A turning point or a simple pause?

Feb 26, 2010 by Jon Western in About Us

Last weekend's signing of the truce between Omar al-Bashir's government and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) rebels in Darfur is a good first step. The government will commute the death sentences of some of the JEM rebels and will release several others. The JEM will hold to a truce and the two sides will resume more comprehensive negotiations in March.

However, the problem is, as Laura Heaton from Enough Project notes, this is essentially a bilateral agreement between the government and JEM. It does not include the dozens of other rebel groups that have been fighting over the past seven years. JEM has long demanded it be considered the central voice for Darfur.

Excluding groups from peace processes is often done out of diplomatic expediency. It is easier to get a deal between two major warring groups than to open the process up to several factions. However, as we frequently see, this often creates significant downstream problems. For example, the Naivasha Agreement (Comprehensive Peace Agreement CPA) that helped end the war in Southern Sudan limited the negotiations to SPLM and the Sudanese Government. Other groups, including many fighting in Darfur since 2003, also had grievances against the government in the 1990s but were largely excluded from the CPA process. Similarly, the Kosovar Albanians had hoped to get support from the international community for their grievances against Slobodan Milosevic in 1995 but were shut out at Dayton. In both instances, unresolved conflicts between governments and aggrieved groups ultimately led to additional violence.

To mitigate against this potential in Darfur, the Obama administration has been working with other international negotiators to unite a disparate group of other factions under the umbrella of the Liberation and Justice Movement (LJM) and negotiating a parallel track between the LJM and the govenrment. It seems we may see a similar truce between the government and LJM in the coming days.

The question, of course, is how will the JEM respond to the joint track with LJM -- especially if a final agreement includes government power sharing with Darfuris. Who will represent Darfur? Furthermore, not all of the other factions have joined forces under LJM. What happens if they balk? And, how will the government respond if there are outliers in the process?

Finally, neither the first track between the government and JEM nor the second track between the government and LJM include a wide range of civil society groups. To be sure, a cease fire is the first step, but the long-term sustainability of any cease fire as well as successful post-conflict transitioning will require the active participation and incorporation of civil society groups into the process. But, if they are shut out from the beginning when the initial power-sharing rules and structures are parceled out, it's hard to see how they will be able to join the party later.

Global Challenges: Migration Conference, March 5 - 6

Feb 25, 2010 by Jon Western in Five College Events

Mount Holyoke College's McCulloch Center for Global Initiatives will host the conference Global Challenges: Migration March 5-6 in Gamble Auditorium in the Art Building at Mount Holyoke College. The event will bring together scholars from different fields, perspectives, and countries to address the political and ethical dilemmas that migration poses for communities and states throughout the world.


The conference will begin Friday, March 5, at 8 pm with a keynote address by Aristide Zolberg, Walter P. Eberstadt Professor of Political Science at the New School for Social Research in New York City. His talk is titled “Why Not the Whole World: Ethical Dilemmas of Immigration Policies.”

On Saturday, March 6, panel discussions will begin at 8:30 am on the topics of Security and Migration, Political Economy of Migration, and Citizenship and Political Engagement. The nine panelists will include Fiona Adamson, senior lecturer in international relations, School of Oriental and African Studies at University of London, on “Long-Distance Conflict, Diaspora Mobilization, and International Security,” and Erik Bleich, associate professor of political science at Middlebury College, on “Free Speech or Hate Speech: The Danish Cartoon Controversy in the European Legal Context.”

“Migration is one of the volatile issues in politics today, whether in the United States, Europe, or the Middle East,” said Kavita Khory, acting director of the McCulloch Center and organizer of the conference. “It excites deep passions and fears, revealing anxieties about economic and political security that transcend territorial boundaries. Unfortunately, so many debates about migration lack any sense of history or comparative perspectives. We are convening a group of scholars who will engage in precisely the kind of historically informed analysis that is required for sound policies. It is a rare and exciting opportunity for students to participate in a conference with some of the most prominent scholars in the field, whose work they are reading this semester in a course on migration taught by several Mount Holyoke faculty.”

MHC’s Jon Western, Five College Associate Professor of International Relations; Calvin Chen, associate professor of politics; and Joan Cocks, professor of politics, will serve as moderators and discussants of the panels. The panel presentations will be published.

The conference will end with concluding remarks at 3:45 pm. All events will take place in Gamble Auditorium and are free and open to the public.

Is Sovereignty the Worst Organizing Principle -- Except for all the Others?

Feb 20, 2010 by Mlada Bukovansky in root

The IMF has changed course and legitimated capital controls (under certain circumstances).  Former IMF chief economist Simon Johnson (among others) bemoans Greece's inability to devalue its currency (given that it is locked into the Euro) in light of its balance of payments difficulties:

"If Greece still had its own currency, everything would be easier. Just as in the case of the United Kingdom since 2008, the Greek exchange rate would depreciate sharply. This would lower the cost of labor, restoring competitiveness (as in Asia after 1997-98) while also inflating asset prices and thereby helping borrowers who are underwater on their mortgages and other debts.

But, with Greece and other troubled euro-zone economies (known to their detractors as the PIIGS: Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, and Spain) having surrendered monetary policy to the European Central Bank (ECB) in Frankfurt, their currencies cannot fall in this fashion. So Greece – and arguably the PIIGS more generally – are left with the need to curtail demand massively, lower wages, and reduce the public-sector workforce. The last time we saw this kind of precipitate fiscal austerity – when countries were tied to the gold standard – it contributed directly to the onset of the Great Depression in the 1930’s." 
Countries around the world are responding to the financial crisis by (to the best of their variable ability) favoring domestic industries and abandoning free trade commitments.  And the Lisbon Treaty, the latest contribution to the shape and form of the European Union, has, for the first time, added a withdrawal clause -- a way to leave the EU.  Before, there was no institutionalized opt-out.  Oh, and let's not forget that China's rise to world power has been accompanied by consistent insistence on the sacrosanct nature of sovereignty.  Is this a random assortment of observations?  

What if sovereignty is the best international organizing principle we can hope for?  The concept itself has evolved, its trappings have varied.  But despite that evolution it has proven itself remarkably durable.  Despite all the international and transnational institutional innovations we've manufactured in the past century or so, and despite all the outbursts of hegemonic pretense, sovereignty keeps coming back.  I don't want to sound like a dull realist saying its all about power balancing in the end.  No, sovereignty is an IDEA.  An idea that carries a lot of weight, a lot of gravity.  And yes, there is a balancing element to it, but not just balance of material power but assertion of distinctiveness, separateness.  It is a very compelling idea.  Are we stuck with it?  (Cross-posted on the Duck of Minerva).

Upcoming Speakers on International Law

Feb 11, 2010 by Jon Western in Five College Events

The Western New England College School of Law has an active International Law Society.  They have a number of featured speakers coming to WNEC in the next couple of months.  These events are free and open to the public:

Monday, February 15   Brenda Opperman, 12:15 PM - 1:00 PM
Room B.
Brenda Opperman, WNEC Law Alumna will discuss careers in international law. Attorney Opperman has worked in Iraq and other "hot spots" around the world addressing human rights issues for women. All are welcome. Refreshments will be served. Event sponsored by International Law Society and Career Services.

Wednesday, February 17, Ambassador Mark Hambley, 12:15 PM - 1:00 PM
Room D.
The Honorable Mark Hambley, former U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon and Qatar, will be speaking about Yemen as the new Al-Qaida launching pad. Please join us for an interesting discussion. Refreshments will be served. All are welcome.

Monday, February 22, Guantanamo Lawyers - Jonathan Hafetz of the ACLU, 3:30 PM - 5:30 PM
Law commons. All welcome.


"Observational Research"

Feb 11, 2010 by Jon Western in root

The World According to Realists, or "Never Go In Against a Sicilian When Death is On The Line"

Feb 09, 2010 by Charli Carpenter in root


In "World Politics" yesterday we covered the Peloponnesian War, the Melian Dialogue, and the security dilemma as an introduction to "Realism." Students played a version of the 2-person non-iterated prisoner's dilemma game, with the winners receiving candy and the person with the lowest possible grade receiving an extra credit point toward their final grade. The students learned that the incentive structure in the game is a powerful causal variable affecting outcomes: when the game is structured so as to reward rational, self-interested behavior, cooperation becomes foolhardy, even if your intentions are noble. Realists would say this reflects the nature of the international system under anarchy.

Then again, game theory also predicts that if you do change the parameters of the game you change the possible outcomes. The clip above from The Princess Bride demonstrates the basic idea of the game theory, and also how changing the nature of the game is the beset way to get what you want. But there's many a slip between cup and lib -- between manipulating perceptions within the context of the same parameters and changing the game itself. Unfortunately, realists are not optimistic about the latter happening unless a world government is established.

The Second Scramble for African Resources

Feb 09, 2010 by Eva Paus in root

China's aggressive and strategic pursuit of natural resources in Africa over the last decade is well known. Less well known, and more recent, are Brazil's investments in Africa to secure access to the continent's natural resources, particularly in Mozambique and Angola. An article in today's Financial Times provides some interesting details.....

Along with increased foreign direct investment has come a remarkable increase in trade between the Brics and African countries. The Brics accounted for 4.3 percent of the continent's trade in 1993 and for 19 percent in 2008. The projection for 2030 is 50 percent!

Obama's lesson in audience costs

Feb 01, 2010 by Jon Western in root

One line that caught my attention in President Obama's Q/A with the House Republicans last Friday was his rationale for toning down the demonization of one another. He argued, for example, that when Republicans portray him as someone out to destroy the country (i.e., health care reform is a Bolshevik plot), it radicalizes their constituencies and ultimately limits their ability to engage in any bipartisan efforts with him to deal with the country's problems -- lest they be accused of being an accomplice with a socialist.

Audience costs don't come as a surprise to many of us in IR. James Fearon's 1994 APSR piece articulated the concept and suggested that because democracies would likely have higher domestic audience costs than authoritarian regimes, they would be able to make more credible threats. Michael Tomz has elaborated on the theoretical mechanisms and developed stronger empirical evidence showing how audience costs actually shape and constrain elite behavior. Focusing on national security issues, Tomz finds that domestic audiences are concerned with reputation and credibility and routinely punish leaders who say one thing but do another thing.

I found it interesting that Obama made these references last Friday -- the same day Tony Blair defiantly testified before the British Iraq Inquiry. Audience costs don't constrain elites who are true believers like Blair who continues to hold that Saddam Hussein posed an existential threat to global society. He told the Inquiry: "I believe he was a monster, that he threatened not just the region but the world."

But, I've argued that domestic audience costs did have an effect on Bush's U.S. domestic mobilization for war against Iraq. The legacy of a decade of demonization of Saddam Hussein throughout the 1990s opened the political space for President Bush and the Neocons to maneuver the US towards a preventive attack on Iraq. Several of the Democrats who voted to authorize the war in Iraq in October 2002 were clearly uncomfortable with their vote, and yet, they feared a public backlash a month before the mid-term elections. That backlash wouldn't have happened without their own participation in the decade-long rhetorical conditioning that Saddam Hussein posed an existential threat to the United States -- they couldn't oppose war with Iraq without the risk of seeming to coddle a tyrannical dictator hell-bent on destroying America.

Obama's caution -- that demonization of your political opponent could very well box you in -- is certainly worth noting whether it pertains to domestic politics or international diplomacy.


Jan 28, 2010 by Jon Western in M&Cs Study Break

Tinariwen --  from the refugee camps of southern Algeria to the deserts of Libya and Mali, once former rebels -- but always musicians.  Welcome back from your break.... 

Macro made easy....

Jan 26, 2010 by Jon Western in M&Cs Study Break

...and fun.  No more excuses for not understanding the Keynsian multiplier:


Congratulations to "Kinshasa Symphony"!

Jan 22, 2010 by Jon Western in M&Cs Study Break

I posted a short clip from Claus Wischmann and Martin Baer's documentary of the “Kinshasa Symphony” a while back.  Wischmann and Baer were just notified that the full length version will premier at the 60th Berlin International Film Festival “Berlinale
Special” on February 17th 2010, 21:45h (rerun February 18th, 18:00h, Cubix 8)
This is a beautiful project about the only symphony orchestra in central Africa - the “Orchestre Symphonique
Kimbanguiste.”   The film will be shown in cinemas all over Germany later this spring.  I hope it migrates over here to the US soon.


Yemen as the New "Al-Qaida" Launding Pad

Jan 22, 2010 by Jon Western in Five College Events

World Affairs Council of Western Massachusetts presents an Instant Issues Brown Bag

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Ambassador Mark G. Hambley

Yemen as the New "al-Qaida" Launching Pad:  Can it Be Salvaged and at What Cost?

Mark Hambley, former US Ambassador to Lebanon and Qatar, served more than three years as the U.S. Consul in Sanaa in the 1970's. More recently he has been engaged to liaise with some of the Yemenis held at the Guantanamo prison complex and has visited Yemen on a series of private missions several times over the past two decades.

One Financial Plaza Community Room - 3rd floor.  1350 Main Street (Corner of Main & Court) Springfield.  Free admission to students.  Bring a lunch or $10 for sandwich, chips and drink.  (RSVP to cmelcher@worldaffairscouncil.com.)