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Weekly Links

By Sarah Bakhtiari

Twenty Four Stairs, Denver. By Thomas Hawk.

Twenty Four Stairs, Denver. By Thomas Hawk.

Taiwan is breaking new ground in Asia. Asian democracies have elected 11 female presidents or prime ministers from 1945-2011, all of which had links to a former male politician or democracy movement leader. Taiwan is poised to elect its first woman president without any such ties. Read more about why their January 2016 elections are the most important in twenty years.

South Korean President Park Geun-Hye urged North Korea to embrace cooperation and openness at her September address to the United Nations General Assembly, espousing hopes for a someday-unified Korea. But what are North Korea’s options regarding unification? Andrew Kydd outlines why waiting for North Korea to collapse is a bad idea, and how the United States could reverse China’s position against unification.

Meanwhile, the Middle East continues to pose unending challenges for the U.S. Barbara Walter and Kenneth Pollack argue, however, that some of those challenges—like the Mid-East’s civil wars—are not unlike civil wars around the world in the last hundred years. Next steps for the U.S.? Leverage the corpus of scholarship on the causes of civil wars, their proliferation, and their resolution.

Russia’s angle in Syria? It’s simple; Russia’s filling the great-power void left by the U.S. Who else is trying to fill power vacuums in the region, and do they know what they’re doing?

Bridging the academic-policy gap is a hot topic (see posts here, here, and here, with summary here, for example). Oliver Kaplan is doing his part to reach out to the practitioners—here’s his interview (in English and Spanish) with a local Columbian peacebuilder on the FARC peace negotiations, and Kaplan’s take on the real prospects for peace.

U.S security assistance is often opaque to outsiders—the Center for International Policy’s Security Assistance Monitor, however, documents all of this information for public consumption. In conjunction with the Latin America Working Group Education Fund’s new advocacy guide on migrant rights and human rights, civil society advocates are better able to navigate the complex landscape of government accountability and oversight.

Here’s how the Pentagon got its way on the Iran deal. But some claim that the Iranian nuclear agreement will open up a lot of business for U.S. arms manufacturers. Let’s see

U.S. forces are still on the hunt for Joseph Kony, leader of ill-repute for the Lord’s Resistance Army. How goes the fight five years on, and with whom has the U.S. allied?

Gender & Posts @PVGlance

By Will H. Moore


A good looking cup of coffee. By Aurimas.

Back in 2013, Taylor Marvin and Barbara F. Walter asked Where Are All the Female Bloggers? and identified three plausible explanations:

  1. Barriers to Entry (e.g., a PhD)
  2. Men are invited more often than women
  3. Hostile ad hominen commentary may deter women

Back in March Joe Young and I joined the editorial team here @PVGlance, and one of our tasks is to reach out to authors of recently published research that we believe will be of interest to our readers and invite them to submit a post.

I recently got to wondering about the gender distribution of the invitations Joe and I had sent along with the submission rates. So I dug into our spreadsheet and had a look. Here is what I learned:

During March – August 2015, Joe and I contacted the authors of 55 recently published research articles.

What is the gender distribution?  I divided authorship into three categories: male only, female only, and mixed. Here are the invitations:

  • Male Only:   71% (39 of 55)
  • Female Only:   24% (13 of 55)
  • Mixed:   5%  (3 of 55)

I am sure you’ll agree, that ain’t awesome. I have not tried to determine the baseline given “our pool,” in part because Joe and I have never discussed what journals we would eyeball to identify potential authors to contact. That is, I am not sure what “our pool” is. Further, doing so is a bunch of work.

Regardless, even if 71% of the articles published in “the pool” have been written by men, Joe and I can do better. We clearly have fallen victim to plausible explanation #2.

But what of the submission rate? To date, 11 of those we contacted have said they would submit (or think about submitting) a post, but have not yet done so. That leaves us with 44 authors who either submitted a post or declined to do so. Fifty-five percent (24 of 44) of the authors we contacted accepted our invitation and submitted a post. We hope you enjoyed reading them.

Turning to plausible explanation #3, authors have many reasons to decline an invitation to draft a post for @PVGlance. As such, we cannot back out evidence in support of #3 from a difference in submission rates across our gender categories (to say nothing of small samples, and so on). But I looked at it nonetheless. Here it is:

  • Male Only:   62% (16 of 26)
  • Female Only:   45% (5 of 11)
  • Mixed:   67% (2 of 3)

Recall that 55% of authors accepted the invitation. So the male only and mixed gender authors have, to date, exhibited a slightly higher rate of accepting the invitation.

What should one take from the different submission rates? It could well be indicative of the hostility women tend to confront online, or it might be small sample noise. And it may be the case that the women we have contacted have greater second shift responsibilities than the males we have contacted (which itself might be small sample, or systematic, though academic couples appear to have progress to make on that front). The reader can likely think of other possibilities I have not raised.

As for the second hypothesis, invitations is something I can impact. I plan to pay more attention to gender as I continue to scour Tables of Contents for interesting work that might make a nice post @PVGlance.

The Rebel Group You Build is the Political Party You Get

Guest post by Jennifer Raymond Dresden


Fishing boat off the coast of Mozambique. By Steve Evans.

In recent weeks, Mozambique celebrated a major milestone in its recovery from decades of violence when the country’s last known landmine was destroyed. Mozambique had been one of the most mined countries in the world, with over 170,000 mines spread across more than 1,000 minefields. These were the product of the struggle for independence from Portugal and a 16-year civil war between the Frelimo-controlled government and the rebel group Renamo that ended by peace agreement in 1992. Removing them all has taken years of work (including some by mine-sniffing rats).

Yet proclamations that the country can finally move on from its history of violence must ring hollow for many. Since 2013, Renamo has been engaged in a low-level insurgency that has disrupted major transportation routes and sent civilians fleeing to neighboring Malawi. Negotiations temporarily paved the way for last year’s elections to go forward, but Renamo’s leader, Afonso Dhlakama, subsequently rejected the results and the remainder of the agreement has gone unimplemented amidst renewed tensions.

Renamo has justified its return to violence by proclaiming the illegitimacy of Frelimo’s political dominance. Since independence in 1975, the formerly Marxist-Leninist party has governed Mozambique. Despite the introduction of democratic institutions at the end of the civil war, Frelimo has continued to firmly control both the presidency and the legislature. Though it performed well in early post-conflict elections, Renamo has lately seen a rapid decline in its political fortunes and in 2009 Dhlakama took just 16.4% of the presidential vote. Having evidently determined that its prospects for electoral victory are slim, Renamo decided to once again introduce violence as a strategy of pressuring the government.

These events have their roots in the war that ended more than twenty years ago. For electoral competition to be sustained over time, a country needs both an incumbent and an opposition that are capable of mobilizing popular support across repeated election cycles. Since control of the state gives an incumbent the advantage, the abilities of the opposition are particularly important.

In research recently published in Conflict Management and Peace Science, I find that whether an incumbent party wins repeated elections following armed conflict is determined in part by the capabilities gained by rebels while the fighting is ongoing. All groups engaged in civil war develop skills, organizational structures, and resources in order to pursue their desired outcome. Some capabilities, such as fighting skills, are largely useful only in the context of violence. Others, such as mobilizing support from local civilians, can be converted from military to electoral use once the shooting stops and campaigns begin. Groups with these convertible capabilities are likely to have greater success in post-conflict elections than those whose capabilities were more exclusive to war. The difference in the fates of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in Sierra Leone and the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) in El Salvador illustrates the point. The former has never won a seat in parliament, while the latter eventually won control of the presidency.

While there are many types of convertible capabilities, rebel political organization plays an especially large role. When a rebel group develops a separate political wing during war, the likelihood that the incumbent party remains in office twenty years later drops from 75% to roughly 50%. Rebel groups that institutionalize political interactions with civilians before the conflict even ends are well-positioned to present a serious electoral challenge in the future. The effects become more complex in conflicts with multiple rebel groups and where rebels’ convertible capabilities are less institutionalized, but the broader point tends to hold: rebel groups without convertible capabilities will have a difficult time making the transition from militarized opposition to political opposition and are unlikely to unseat the incumbent. A government that could not dominate the battlefield may still be able to dominate the ballot box.

This is at the heart of Renamo’s problems in Mozambique. During the war, Renamo built an organization that was highly centralized and Dhlakama generally prevented the growth of autonomous power centers. Accordingly, the group had no separate political wing and thus few political operatives with the networks and skills to build a party. In the first two elections after its transformation into a political party, Renamo was able to attract enough voters discontented with Frelimo to make the contests competitive. It did not, however, have the organizational capacity to sustain their loyalty when those elections did not actually lead to a change in power.

The return to violence has been an effort to re-write the terms of peace. In the long run, however, even such a “do-over” would be unlikely to lead to a Renamo electoral victory. The party would have to overcome the thirty-year legacy of an operational structure forged in the crucible of civil war. With authority still so concentrated with Dhlakama himself, those hoping for Frelimo’s defeat in future elections shouldn’t hold their breath.

Jennifer Raymond Dresden is a PhD candidate in the Department of Government at Georgetown University.

Islam, Religiosity, Politics, and Support for Anti-US Violent Extremism in the Arab World

Guest post by James A. Piazza 


The Mosque of Kairouan in Tunisia. By Jean-Marc Rosier from

Islam is routinely depicted as a violent religion in US political discourse and Muslims are widely regarded by the American public as prone to violence and extremism. Despite statements by both President Obama and former President Bush maintaining that Islam is a peaceful faith and that radicals who carry out attacks in its name are distorting true Islam, mainstream journalists, pundits, multiple presidential hopefuls, town hall meeting attendees, and even comedians have stated that violence is at the core of Islamic religious doctrine and practice, and that devout Muslims are pre-disposed to support violence, particularly against the United States. A 2014 Pew survey shows that the American public largely shares this view of Islam and Muslims. Around half of Americans, according to the Pew survey, believe Islam encourages violence more than other religions, and 62 percent report being “very worried” about the rise of Islamic extremism in the world.

Is it the case that Islamic religiosity makes individuals in the Muslim world amicable to violent extremism? Using data provided by the Arab Barometer III project – a rich public opinion survey of around 14,000 respondents conducted in 12 Arab countries from 2012-2014 – I was able to find an interesting answer to this question. In the Arab countries surveyed, Muslims exhibiting higher levels of personal religiosity are significantly less likely to agree with the statement, “The United States’ interference in the region justifies armed operations against the United States everywhere.” However, Muslim respondents who expressed support for a greater influence of Islam in politics are significantly more likely to regard political violence against the United States to be justified. This suggests that politics, not piety, is a driver of violent extremism among Muslims.

The Arab Barometer III data includes survey responses from residents of Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Palestine, Sudan, Tunisia, and Yemen. I looked at two main attributes from the survey to determine respondent religiosity: whether or not respondents described themselves as “religious” and whether or not they reported attending Friday prayers (Jumu’ah) regularly. I also looked at four indicators of respondents’ attitudes about the role of Islam in politics. These included their voting preference for Islamist religious parties in national elections, whether they supported the implementation of Islamic government in their home country, whether they supported political rule by Muslim clerics, and whether they believe democracy contradicts Islam.  Finally, I created a new attribute from the data in Arab Barometer that I term “non-political” Muslim. Non-political Muslims are those respondents who identify as religious and attend Friday Prayers but are ambivalent about Islam’s role in government and political life.

Around 36 percent of Muslim respondents to the Arab Barometer described themselves as religious, while around 47 percent reported attending Friday Prayers each week. Opinions about Islam and politics vary in the survey.  Around 48 percent of respondents supported Islamist political parties in elections, while support for the other elements of political Islam range from a high of 40 percent (clerical rule) to a low of 25 percent (supporting the implementation of Islamic government).

Figure 1 presents the core findings. On average, 15.6 percent of respondents to the Arab Barometer III survey “strongly agreed” that armed operations against the United States are justified given the legacy of US intervention in the Arab World. However, only 14.3 percent of self-identified religious respondents agreed; in contrast with the 15.6 percent of non-religious respondents. Respondents who regularly attend Friday Prayers were no more likely than the average respondent to support anti-US political violence. These difference might seem small. However, because the survey is quite large, and the margin of error is narrow (±.8 points), the differences are statistically significant.

Figure 1.  Percentage of Arab World respondents that agree with statement, “The United States’ interference in the region justifies armed operations against the US everywhere.”  N = 14,000.  Margin of error = ± 0.8


As Figure 1 demonstrates, individuals in favor of a larger role of Islam in politics were significantly more likely to view violent attacks against the United States as justified than pious Muslims. Respondents favoring the Islamist political party in the most recent election were no more likely to approve of anti-US violence than the average respondent, but they were more than a point more likely to do so than devout Muslims. Respondents who support the idea of Muslim clerical governance and who believe democracy and Islam are incompatible are around 2 points more likely to support anti-US attacks than the typical respondent, and are 3 points more likely than devout Muslims. Polled individuals who support implementation of Islamic government were around 3 and 4 points more likely to view violent attacks against the US as justified than the average respondent and pious Muslims, respectively. However, religious Muslims who eschew the injection of Islam into politics – the so-called non-political Muslims in the sample – were between 1 and 4 points less supportive of anti-American violence on average than their “political” peers in the survey.

These results are only for Arab Barometer survey respondents who expressed “strong support” for armed operations against the United States. It makes sense to focus on such individuals as they would, in theory, be most likely to act upon their beliefs. However, if respondents expressing lower levels of support are also included in the totals, the general pattern holds. Pious Muslims were significantly less likely to support violence than both fans of political Islam and the general population.

As a further check, I also conducted some multivariate statistical tests holding constant other respondent attributes that might affect attitudes about violent extremism. These include gender (male), educational level, income, marital status (married), age, whether or not they live in urban areas, follow political news, have spent time in the West, use the internet weekly, and what country respondents are from. The multivariate models produce similar results: being a religious Muslim reduces support for anti-U.S. armed operations by 1.3 percent on average, all other attributes being equal. Non-political Muslims are 1.7 percent less likely to support attacks.  Individuals who back Islamist political parties and who support Islamic government are around 0.9 percent more likely to approve of anti-American attacks while those who advocate clerical rule or who believe democracy is incompatible with Islam are 2.8 and 3.7 percentage points more supportive of military operations against the United States, respectively. Again, these are small changes, but they demonstrate statistical significance.

These results, which are consistent with other analyses of Muslim public opinion, underscore the political, rather than the religious doctrinal, nature of public support for violence in the Muslim World. They help to separate Islam from Political Islam. Moreover, the results challenge a viewpoint, held by radical Islamists and critics of Islam alike, that Islam and extremist political violence are inseparable.

James A. Piazza is Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at The Pennsylvania State University.

Colombia: Never Again?

By Oliver Kaplan for Denver Dialogues

Demonstration against the FARC guerrilla group held in Madrid and in 130 cities around the globe simultaneously, Feb 4, 2008. By Camilo Rueda Lopez.

Demonstration against the FARC guerrilla group held in Madrid and in 130 cities around the world simultaneously, Feb 4, 2008. By Camilo Rueda Lopez.

With the historic accord on transitional justice announced by Colombian and FARC negotiators in Havana, Cuba last week, the question arises of whether it will truly mean “never again” for a country whose past has been plagued by violence. In the deal, which is supposed to apply to all actors in the conflict—state forces and FARC rebels alike—the FARC will not automatically get prison sentences.

Instead, depending on whether they confess their crimes and cooperate with a truth commission, they will have restricted liberty and receive alternative punishments within six demobilization zones. The “maximum possible justice” (as the Colombian president termed it), surely it is not (unless by “possible” he means “politically feasible”). Nevertheless, the agreement has already been welcomed by some victims groups and begun a paradigm shift as people begin to view the resolution of the conflict as inevitable. But will it be enough for “never again” in Colombia? I offer a few reflections:

  • A good justice “balance.” According to recent cross-national research on transitional justice, the recipe that was announced is a good combo for preventing conflict recurrence, future human right abuses, and political repression. The tribunals and truth commission should help provide accountability, while amnesties should help provide stability. The agreement also appears to adhere to the doctrine of command responsibility, since severe rights violators and commanders are eligible to receive stiffer punishments.
  • Moral hazards in confessions? From what we know, it looks like fighters will fall into three categories: those who did not commit (severe) crimes (will be amnestied); those who admit war crimes (will serve alternative penalties, such as a maximum of eight years of community labor, etc.); and those who committed war crimes but cooperate “reluctantly” or do not offer full cooperation (will be punished in regular prison for maximum of twenty years). However, with the current ambiguities in what it means to be adequately forthcoming, it is not clear why the “best response” for those accused of crimes will not be to simply fib their contrition, which could make talk “cheap.” For the sake of victims, the hope is that admission of guilt in public and the possible shame that comes with it will be an adequate substitute for harsher penalties.
  • The military. The justice arrangement is also supposed to apply to state forces. It is not clear, though, how they will be punished, since it seems unlikely that they too will fulfill community service in the six holding zones. It is also still not clear how the process will handle the notorious “false positives” scandal, in which during the mid-2000s, the Colombian military has been accused of extra-judicially targeting an estimated 5,763 of its own citizens, killing mostly poor young men and dressing them up as insurgents for vacation, pay raises, and other incentives. Put in perspective, that’s almost as many casualties as the U.S. suffered in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, combined (6,856 casualties).
  • What is enough for victims? The contours of the alternative punishments could loom large in how satisfied victims may feel with the agreement. How restrictive will the living conditions be in the demobilization zones? How hard will the community work be? How much will it contribute to victims’ wellbeing? Although the International Criminal Court issued a preliminary statement in support of the arrangement, Human Rights Watch says it doesn’t have enough teeth, so it may end up being the victims’ decision if they will be satisfied and accept the pact, whatever the misgivings, in the name of peace.
  • Input from victims? Although victims groups were consulted in various roundtables during the talks, it appears there will be no direct way for them to influence the terms that were negotiated, since the Colombian President recently declared that a referendum of the final agreement would be political “suicide.” Instead, it looks like there will be a special congressional session. So, victims may be left with indirect democracy to voice any concerns.

Polls have shown a large proportion of Colombians have felt that requiring prison terms must be part of the peace agreement. But there are no polls yet about alternative arrangements or the actual terms that were hammered out now that they have been announced. So, support for a final agreement could rise after this breath of optimism and the setting of a date for the conflict to end next March.

The justice sub-agreement is truly a historic step toward justice. Hopefully it will also be a big enough step toward “never again.”

Insurgent Defection in Civil War: Lessons from Colombia for Combating ISIS

Guest post by Ben Oppenheim, Abbey Steele, Juan F. Vargas, and Michael Weintraub


A US Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle aircraft flies over northern Iraq after conducting airstrikes in Syria. By US Department of Defense.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), also known as DAESH, engages in brutal tactics, governs harshly and effectively in territory that it captures, and profits greatly from the sale of grey market oil. It presents itself as the rightful standard-bearer for political Islam – with an agenda of radical social transformation – and has drawn recruits from across the world. ISIS also projects an air of invincibility and poses a serious risk to stability in the region. Yet recent reports indicate that combatant defections from ISIS have risen precipitously in recent months. What explains this change? Could opposing forces entice others to defect as well? More generally, why do some combatants remain in their armed groups, while others abandon the fight or defect to rival armed groups?

We take up these questions in a recent Journal of Conflict Resolution article, part of a special issue on militias in civil war. (The special issue’s relevance for the fight against ISIS is discussed by the co-editors–Corinna Jentzsch, Livia I. Schubiger, and Stathis N. Kalyvas– here.) Our piece focuses on the ongoing Colombian insurgency and – while the dynamics of violence, counterinsurgency, and group indoctrination are different in Syria/Iraq – we think common elements underlie individual defection across wars.

50 Ways to Leave Your Insurgency

Combatants can abandon their armed group in a wide variety of ways. In our article we focus on side-switching and demobilization. We define side-switching as leaving an armed group to fight for another group that represents a different ideological or ethnic constituency, while individual demobilization consists of leaving an armed group and exiting the war with the promise of receiving benefits from the government, typically in exchange for information.

To explain combatant trajectories, our theory integrates combatants’ pre-war characteristics, armed groups’ behavior during war, and the warfare they face. We reason that ideologically motivated combatants and those driven by material gain are likely to differ in terms of their responses to armed groups’ training protocols and pressure by rival armed groups, with implications for combatant resilience or defection.

To study these questions we use a representative survey of ex-combatants in Colombia from the Fundación Ideas para la Paz, a Bogotá-based think tank. The data set is unique among ex-combatant surveys because it includes a subset of left-wing insurgents who were captured during combat. We use captured combatants as a baseline against which to compare defectors and side-switchers: because the captured did not choose to leave their armed group, we infer that they are comparable to those who remain active in the group.

Three key lessons about combatant defection emerge from the Colombian conflict:

1. “True believers,” those motivated by ideology, are dedicated and resilient, but are high-risk cases for defection if an armed group deviates from its core precepts.

  • Ideologically motivated combatants are more likely to resist attempts by the state and paramilitaries to encourage defection overall, but if an armed group betrays its core beliefs, these true believers are more likely to defect. In Colombia, we found that leftist insurgents who were forced to abuse civilian populations were far more likely to defect than those who were not.

2. “Mercenaries,” fighters motivated by economic opportunity, are more likely to defect overall. But armed groups have tools at their disposal to persuade even mercenaries to fight for ideals.

  • While some fighters are motivated by deeply-held beliefs, others are motivated by a potential payday, whether opportunities for a steady paycheck or loot. Mercenaries are easier to attract than true believers. But they are also more likely to abandon an insurgency if they get a better offer from the government or rival armed groups. Insurgent groups are aware of this risk and use indoctrination to help homogenize preferences and encourage group cohesion, also reducing their odds of abandoning the group.

3. Military pressure can lead to defections, but it can also lead to resilience.

  • The international coalition battling ISIS has faced strong pressure to dramatically crush the group. But so far, airstrikes seem to have had a limited effect. Given our findings from Colombia, this is not surprising: ideologically-motivated fighters dig in when military pressure increases. Shock-and-awe counterinsurgency tactics, therefore, are not likely to induce defection when recruits are ideologically driven: a core function of ideology, which appears to have been successful in the Colombian case, is to steel individuals to remain in the fight, even under tremendous pressure.

What does this mean for ISIS?

Our work suggests that the cohesion of ISIS will depend on the profile of their recruits, its own behavior during the war, and the competition it faces with other armed groups. Ideological commitment appears to be quite high among foreign ISIS fighters. Yet we do not know very much about local recruits. Previous work on recruitment shows that armed groups’ presence in a territory tends to attract recruits, which suggests that not all combatants are likely to be “true believers.” The relative composition of the group, we argue, will make different demands of ISIS as it strives to maintain group cohesion and will create opportunities for its rivals.

If ISIS engages in acts that are perceived by ideological recruits as inconsistent with its professed ideology, then ISIS is likely to face retention problems. For example, some defectors report serious misgivings about using violence against fellow Sunnis, particularly women and children. The brutal violence of ISIS also presents an opportunity for Muslim clerics to condemn the group and highlight its un-Islamic behavior, potentially encouraging some true believers to abandon the group, while deterring those who are considering joining.

If materially motivated recruits dominate its ranks, ISIS will have to commit more resources to training and indoctrination. As the group’s wealth grows, the pool of recruits may shift towards those interested in harnessing the monetary benefits of membership. Evidence from Colombia suggests that ideological indoctrination can go some way towards alleviating these combatants’ propensity to defect when the price is right. Because we know little about the indoctrination practices that ISIS currently uses for its fighters, it is difficult to know how it may seek to change them to reflect an increased potential for combatant defections.

The most credible attacks on ISIS’s ideological consistency are those that come from defectors themselves, and counterinsurgents have a lot to gain by offering them the opportunity to denounce former comrades. Ensuring their safety could encourage others to risk defection (a highly dangerous act across many civil wars), and their experiences may deter others from joining at all. Materially motivated combatants, on the other hand, may be more likely to surrender as the result of military pressure or a bigger pay-off. A mixed strategy between military pressure and safe havens for defectors might be the best option to wear down the cohesion of ISIS.

Ben Oppenheim is a Visiting Scholar and Senior Fellow at the Center on International Cooperation, New York University. Abbey Steele is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science, University of Amsterdam. Juan F. Vargas is Principal Economist CAF-Development Bank of Latin America and Professor in the Department of Economics, Universidad del Rosario
. Michael Weintraub is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science, Binghamton University (SUNY).

Weekly Links

By Patrick Pierson


Paris, France, during World War II era. Via San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive.

At Friday’s news conference, Chinese leader Xi Jinping declared, “Confrontation and friction are not the right choice.” While the rhetoric is heartwarming, we should learn from history and recognize that confrontation with China remains a real possibility.

Although it may seem like a mere issue of semantics, the legal distinction between “migrants” and “refugees” has significant implications for those individuals currently fleeing to Europe from across Africa and the Middle East. And while the migrant crisis may seem far away from American shores, Pope Francis brought the issue across the Atlantic this week during his appeal to Congress for a more thoughtful policy towards migrants in the US.

Due to frightful conflicts elsewhere in the Middle East, the struggle in Yemen has received scant media attention. However, this week the Netherlands submitted a resolution to the United Nations Human Rights Council seeking inquiry into potential war crimes and crimes against humanity. This coincides with the revelation of a planned beheading and crucifixion in Saudi Arabia of a Shiite man convicted of crimes committed during the Arab Spring protests.

Heroin has recently overtaken cocaine and meth as the number one drug threat in the US. Not surprisingly, this is partly due to increasingly sophisticated Mexican cartels.

As imperial guards attempted a coup in Burkina Faso last week, civil society demanded the reinstatement of the provisional government and continued progress towards November elections. The world should take notice of yet another instance of successful nonviolent resistance.

The call for Catalan independence continues, threatening to open a new frontier of political crises throughout Spain and the EU.

Does Vladimir Putin’s upcoming meeting with President Obama portend greater coordination towards a resolution of the Syria crisis? While certainly less than ideal, Andrew Kydd suggests this might be the best policy option moving forward.

Enough with the Pessimism about Peacekeeping

By Page Fortna


MONUSCO conducts joint operation with Congolese forces in Beni, a city in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo. By United Nations Photo.

The recent story from the New York Times about United Nations peacekeeping is typical of the pessimistic pieces one tends to see in the press. While the article acknowledged that “in some places…the presence of peacekeepers has saved lives”,  it focused overwhelmingly on peacekeeping’s ineffectiveness, and worse — places the UN failed to stop the killing, allowed civilians to be killed, contributed to the spread of disease, or actively abused the civilians peacekeepers are meant to protect.

Make no mistake, incidents of sexual abuse by peacekeepers are inexcusable and should not be whitewashed, nor should the places where peacekeepers have struggled to establish peace and safeguard civilians go unreported.

But the article leaves an impression about peacekeeping that grossly mischaracterizes its overall effects. Its failures are inherently newsworthy (“if it bleeds, it leads”), while its successes seldom make headlines. Rarely is it considered that in the war-torn places peacekeepers deploy, things would likely be much, much worse without peacekeepers present.

Fortunately, scholars (myself included) have been studying the effects of peacekeeping systematically for many years now, and study after study shows the effectiveness of peacekeeping.  We have strong evidence that:

  • the more peacekeeping troops, the fewer the battlefield deaths (Hultman et al. 2014) — that is, peacekeeping reduces the intensity of fighting; and
  • the more peacekeeping troops and police deployed, the fewer the civilian deaths (Hultman et al. 2013) –that is, peacekeeping saves civilian lives.

This doesn’t mean peacekeeping is a silver bullet – that any time peacekeepers are deployed, everything will magically be peaceful and peachy. But peacekeeping’s contributions to lessening the level of violence, protecting civilians, and maintaining peace are well established.

Yes, peacekeeping can be improved — it is perennially and woefully underfunded and understaffed. Peacekeeping troops and personnel need better training and should be deployed more quickly. Operability (and even basic communication) among contingents could be much better. And yes, missions need to crack down on any and all incidents of predatory behavior by individual peacekeepers.

There is nothing wrong with noting the need for reform. But by focusing almost exclusively on the eye-catching failures – while ignoring the larger story of the remarkable effectiveness of peacekeeping – such stories are likely to discourage the support the UN needs to improve peacekeeping’s efficacy and impact. Who would want to pour more resources into peacekeeping if it is such a failure?

But it is not a failure. The surprising thing about peacekeeping — the real story — is that, despite its many problems, it works.

The Policy Prescriptions of Pope Francis

By Barbara F. Walter


President Barack Obama meets with Pope Francis at the Vatican on March 27, 2014. By the White House.

Pope Francis has spoken surprisingly little about political violence. What he has said, however, has been powerful. In a speech on September 1, 2013, the pope spoke out against political violence by declaring that “war begets war, violence begets violence.”

This statement is simple but true. One of the best predictors of whether a country will experience civil war is whether it has experienced a civil war in the past (see here and here). There are many reasons for this. One reason is that war and violence exacerbate the conditions that contribute to war breaking out in the first place. Countries that were poor and weak to begin with become even poorer and weaker as a result of civil war. In addition, leaders who emerge victorious from civil war often do not institute the necessary political reforms to prevent renewed violence in the future (e.g., inclusive and effective governance). The decision to use violence, therefore, often creates the conditions for more violence, not less. This is true even when violent resistance is initiated with the best of intentions – to institute political reform and improve social welfare.

Is the opposite also true? Does peace beget more peace?

The answer appears to be yes. One of the best predictors of whether a country will remain at peace is the number of years since its last violent conflict. The more years of peace a country experiences, the more years of peace it is likely to sustain moving forward.

On one level, this should be no surprise. Gandhi, Mandela, and Martin Luther King, Jr. all preached – and lived – peace in the face of deeply institutionalized injustices and brutality. Each of them was able to transform their societies without the use of violence. In addition, Buddhist teachings have long emphasized that a culture of peace naturally emerges when individuals in a society choose to become peaceful, gentle, and caring. Produce peace and you get more peace. Produce violence and you get more violence.

Research bears this out. In their award-winning book on non-violent protests, Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan found that governments are less likely to use violence against protesters who themselves refuse to use violence. When protesters start throwing rocks and shooting, soldiers do the same. Peace, it turns out, really does beget peace.

As a result, the simple message of Pope Francis should resonate with those making policy in Washington DC. For the last 14 years, the United States has turned to military force to solve crises and conflicts, rather than looking towards more peaceful methods of conflict resolution. The result is that the United States has perpetuated violence rather than perpetuated the conditions for peace. If the US hopes to escape the cycles of violence we have helped to create in the Middle East, we must re-orient ourselves away from violence. If peace begets peace, we should do everything possible to build a culture of negotiation, cooperation, and dialogue. As Pope Francis stated so simply, “this is the only way to peace”.

The Problem with the Problem of Bridging the Gap

By Cullen Hendrix for Denver Dialogues

Professor Erica Chenoweth discusses the challenges of civilian peacekeeping with Mel Duncan, founding Executive Director of Nonviolent Peaceforce, as a part of the "Bridging the Academic-Policy Gap" at the Sié Chéou-Kang Center for International Security and Diplomacy at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies. By University of Denver.

Professor Erica Chenoweth discusses the challenges of civilian peacekeeping with Mel Duncan, founding Executive Director of Nonviolent Peaceforce, as a part of the Carnegie Corporation of New York-funded “Bridging the Academic-Policy Gap” at the Sié Chéou-Kang Center for International Security and Diplomacy at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies. By University of Denver.

Adam Elkus’ “The Problem of Bridging the Gap” has generated some heat among political scientists wrestling with what it means to bridge the gap between academic discourse and practical policy relevance. Dan Nexon, lead editor of the International Studies Association’s flagship journal, effectively re-blogged it at Duck of Minerva. Witty and concise, it amounts to a “medium-length polemic” (Nexon’s words, not mine) against the concept of policy relevance. While an entertaining read, the critique misses the mark. If we accept it on its own terms, the logic is persuasive. If we question its most fundamental assumption, the critique unravels.

Elkus’ critique consists of four points (if you have ten minutes, a sense of humor, and care about this discussion, please go read it):

  1. “It judges the value of academic inquiry from the perspective of whether or not it concords with the values, aims, preferences, and policy concerns and goals of a few powerful elites.”
  2. “It demands that academic inquiry ought to be formulated around the whims and desires of the people being studied.”
  3. “It makes no demands on the policymakers themselves.”
  4. “It allows questions and projects to be assigned from above rather than discovered, and substitutes political efficiency for scientific contribution as a review criteria.”

I could take issue with points 2-4, though each contains a grain of truth. But Elkus’ first point is the most important, so here it is in its entirety:

It judges the value of academic inquiry from the perspective of whether or not it concords with the values, aims, preferences, and policy concerns and goals of a few powerful elites. Why, if anything, do we judge “policy relevance” by whether or not it helps government policy elites? Surely governmental elites, politicians, think-tankers, etc aren’t the only people who care about policy! The “policy relevance” model is simply a normatively unjustified statement that political scientists and social scientists in general ought to cater to the desires and whims of elite governmental policymakers.

This definition of policy relevance is not the revealed word of the Almighty(ies). Policy relevance is a contested concept that can be defined in multiple ways. Elkus’ definition of policy relevance—seeking to inform the opinions of elite policymakers, politicians, and think-tankers in order to affect government policy—is far from the only plausible one. If we define policy relevance in broad terms, such as, “a desire to engage with the world we study, rather than to merely observe it,” the type of work that fits under the policy relevant banner expands considerably. For instance, the entire field of development economics is very applied, i.e., oriented toward affecting outcomes, even if that is not universally viewed as a good thing. Development economists often engage directly with the communities they seek to help, with or without engagement with policymaking elites. Even within the field of security studies, where Elkus’ critique would seem to have the most validity, engagement need not mean just high-level meetings at the Pentagon or on the Hill. The Sie Center for International Security and Diplomacy’s Carnegie Corporation-sponsored “Bridging the Academic-Policy Gap” project brings together academics, civil society leaders, policymakers, and ordinary citizens to discuss the ways nonviolent actors and strategies can be agents of peace in highly violent contexts. Our work ranges from dialogue and exchange with nonviolent organizers to collaborating with fisheries scientists tasked with managing critical natural resources. In these cases, our work seeks to influence and inform policy at the grassroots and/or implementation level. These projects have clear bearings on security outcomes, provided we accept a broader definition of what constitutes security studies. And we’re not alone: AidData-affiliated researchers are engaged in partnerships with USAID field officers—hardly Beltway insiders—on a wide range of development assistance-related research. I’m sure there are more examples out there, and I hope the commenters flag them.

These types of collaborations occur at the operational level and often entail thankless hours spent pouring over data and discussing practical implementation issues. As these types of activities occur far from the op-ed pages of national newspapers and don’t make for great sound bytes on news channels, it’s unsurprising they are not the first thing that comes to mind when Elkus thinks of policy engagement. Indeed, Elkus’ critique seems geared toward a particular brand of policy relevance that emphasizes media engagement. The merits of that type of engagement notwithstanding, it remains but one of many ways to bridge the gap. But, cumulatively, the type of direct engagement discussed here, outside the limelight, may be more influential.

Elkus is good to remind us that we should be critical of attempts to forward specific agendas under the banner of policy relevance. But in doing so, he forwards an overly narrow definition of policy relevance and then critiques the concept of policy relevance for being overly narrow. I am sure there are reasonable facsimiles of Elkus’ straw man—the credulous academic armed with a regression table and no understanding of actual politics—wandering around Washington. I’m just not sure they are typical of social scientists’ engagement with policymakers.


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