Writing Armageddon

Writing Armageddon
Furious writing or writing furiously?

Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Last Post of 2015: Hardliners, Accommodationists, and the Steps to War framework.

First, let me give thanks to all who have followed the initiation of this blog. The goal of Stohasmoi is to provide newly minted academics in international relations, and especially the peace science tradition, with a place to present some thoughts on the scientific study of international relations. It is also a place for them to provide running commentary for current events, or ideas relevant to political science as a discipline and politics as a living practice. 2016 shall bring more contributors, a more diverse set of contributors, and more posts.

In this post, my last for 2016, I would like to talk a bıt about how the Steps to War framework combines two venerable explanatory stories of war in an interesting way and raises the possibility of a labor intensive but fascinating project. The Steps to War Framework for the study of the causes of war was developed by John Vasquez and the late Paul Senese, and enriched and evaluated by Douglas Gibler, Brandon Valeriano,  Michael Colaresi and William Thompson, Susan Sample,  and others. The modular character of the framework has permitted the consilience of work on specific steps (territorial issues, rivalry, alliances, military disputes, and mutual military buildups) with work on domestic factors that influence and are influences by war (public attitudes to torture, regime type).

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Does Central Asia face an ISIS threat?

After recent ISIS attacks in Paris, Beirut, and Sharm el-Sheikh, a more visible presence in Afghanistan, and the arrest or killing of alleged members in Uzbekistan and the North Caucasus, some are raising the question of whether Central Asia - a neighbor to much of the instability - is at risk from ISIS or an ISIS-type rebellion. The question is an important one given the rapid pace of ISIS expansion and the inability of the international community to dislodge ISIS from countries where it operates.

Nevertheless, I argue first that there is no short-term ISIS threat to Central Asia, a view supported by a well-researched study on the subject. Second, that the question misidentifies the causes of ISIS expansion - which is anarchy, not proximity. Third, that much of the information about ISIS and Islamism in Central Asia is of dubious quality and propagated by governments who have both an incentive and a history of manufacturing foreign threats. Lastly, I argue that Central Asia does face a long-term threat from an ISIS-type insurgency. However, that threat arises from the very actions the Central Asian governments use to combat the alleged Islamist threat today.

Obtained from NY Times: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/06/17/world/middleeast/map-isis-attacks-around-the-world.html

Monday, December 14, 2015

History as a Guide for the Future

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" goes a famous saying. It's hard to miss some variant of the phrase being employed when policymakers are asked to make a decision on a suddenly pressing issue. The traditional study of international relations, defended by intellectual giants like Hedley Bull is based on this motto, relying heavily on historical analogies and examples. Perhaps most importantly, American policymakers favor the use of history as a guide to the present over other methods employed by social scientists.

But how useful is history - referring specifically to the use of analogous cases as a basis for policy recommendations - in helping us understand or explain current events? Does Syria have the potential to become the new Iraq? Will Russia become...well, a Russia, but from a few centuries prior? I argue that history is of limited utility to the present for two reasons. First - and this reason is oft-repeated in the quantitative literature - is that any historical act is idiosyncratic, a function of unique individual, historical, cultural, and political forces, and therefore unlikely to be present in the same form ever again. Second - the reason I will focus on - is that each political decision is probabilistic and uncertain, enacted by individuals with free will, who not only could have made a different decision, but perhaps would have if given multiple opportunities to make a choice.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Student Activity: Diplomacy

As part of my course in Introduction to International Relations and course in Diplomatic History courses, I had my students engage in sessions of the game Diplomacy online (via the Web Diplomacy system). It worked so-so and I think I prefer the in class session. Students are required to write a response paper (1-2) pages based on a targeted question linking the game to concepts in class.

I think that this is fine with a class of 15-20 people, which is too large for the in class session, but not so large that you will have inactive players (a problem in this game). Though if you assume that inactive players are countries following isolationist policies or with domestic troubles, they might have some interesting things to write in their papers.  I also found interesting the commonalities and difference between the end states of the world among the different sessions.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Russo-Turkish Crisis and conflict dynamics

Over the last few days the brewing Russo-Turkish conflict over events in Syria took a deadly turn. Turkish air-defenses shot down aRussian SU-24, that was conducting bombing runs in the Turkmen inhabited parts of northern Syria. Russia claims it was hitting ISIS(DAESH) targets, while Turkey has long claimed that the attacks hit anti-Assad Turkmen rebels. The two pilots bailed out of their burning aircraft, but one seems to have been shot dead by the Turkmens (technically a crime under international law) while the other has been rescued.

This military interstate dispute (MID) was bound to happen due to the opposition between President Erdogan of Turkey and President Putin of Russia over the policy each pursues in Syria, and due to the proximity of Russian military operations to Turkey. Many have voiced the fear of escalation that might lead to war.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Highlights from Peace Science Society Meeting

I was not able to post much on this blog due to having to travel to the Peace Science Society North American Meeting at the University of Mississippi. During the travels the Paris attacks happened, and I can assure you we were all rather shocked at them (me a bit less since we had something like this happen in Ankara less than a month ago). I am not planning to post something on that because frankly I consider it bad science to analyse events as they are happening. The quest or relevancy is an important one, but it can easily undermine the more important quest of scientific rigor. And in the social scientific fields, at least in my opinion that is the priority.

Peace Science  was great, and I had the chance to meet a lot of friends and colleagues. I was not able to enjoy all of the meeting due to a hick-up in flight plans, but from the stuff I got a chance to see the following stood out.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Monday Blog reposting

As part of my job every Monday I scour some of the political science blogs to disseminate to my students interesting pieces of academic writing. My three go to sources are The Duck of Minerva, The Monkey Cage, and Relations International .

I see no reason to use it to also bring to attention some interesting posts by academic on current topics. This week four posts caught my attention.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Thinking about Politics Part III:So where does this lengthy discussion leave us?

In Part I of this discussion I did a small review of the book "The Reactionary Mind". In Part II I developed the ideas that the book engendered in me. In this part I sum it up.

Thinking about Politics Part II:The Fundamental Political Divides

In the previous post I reviewed my reaction to the book The Reactionary Mind, and discussed how despite its problems it planted fertile seeds in my mid. Here I explore them. This is long people.

Thinking about Politics Part I: A Bad Review of a Bad Book

(This is a piece of opinion, written on the moment of inspiration. It is thus one that is not scientific, nor well edited, not well structured. Much of what I write here might be wrong-headed. Opinion often is. I once more remind readers that I am terrible at orthography)

Part I: A Bad Review of a Bad Book

Sometimes reading a really bad book can engender in one good ideas. Corey Robin’s “The Reactionary Mind” is a bad book. It is not a bad book because of its central thesis, that what we call “Conservatism” is a deeply radical ideology committed to hierarchy that arose in reaction to the egalitarian demands unleashed by the French Revolution. It is not a bad book because from what I can glean from the author’s writings Robin is a committed Marxist. It’s a bad book because a brilliant thesis is badly serviced by a pastiche of articles that masquerade as chapters. However, exactly because there is brilliance in it, it is one of those bad books that cannot help but lead you to some fruitful thinking.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Spoiling Termination: Renewed US-Russian Rivalry and Rivalry Termination

Spoiling Termination: Renewed US-Russian Rivalry and Rivalry Termination
by Konstantinos Travlos

Russian direct intervention in the Syrian civil war in support of the government of President Assad is just the newest in a series of military and diplomatic moves by President Vladimir Putin in his pursuit of “strategic security” against the USA and the liberal democratic ideal they stand for in the world. While it is an open question how much these moves can really be called a new Cold War, or how much they actually challenge the predominance of the US in material capabilities or US interests (see here and here), I feel few would question that we are seeing a resurgence of the US-USSR positional strategic rivalry. May-haps at a smaller scale, but still one that covers large areas of the globe (Middle East, Eastern Europe, potential East Asia).

Some have welcomed this Russian challenge to the US as a corrective counter-balance to the aggressive foreign policy of the administration of President G.W. Bush. They see it as a potential force for peace. This narrative of course ignores the multiple qualitative and quantitative findings that balance of power systems foster conflict and war, as opposed to inhibiting them. It also does not fit the timeline.