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.