Anyone interested in getting up to speed on the state of status research in international politics should read this roundtable review. It is a testimony not only to the quality of Steven Ward’s book but also to the great distance research on this fundamental human motivation and international politics has come since the 1990s and 2000’s. No longer can scholars write articles and books with introductions lamenting the neglect of this topic. It has become mainstream. It has gone global. Contributions to the literature on status now embrace pretty much all of the methodologies and theoretical schools in international politics, and tackle nearly all subjects of interest from foreign aid and environmental cooperation to international sports.
How does a democratic (U.S.) government wield secrecy? This is the core question of Andris Banka and Adam Quinn’s “Killing Norms Softly: US Targeted Killing, Quasi-Secrecy and the Assassination Ban,” which advances a theory of how norms of secrecy can be changed to serve executive needs. Focusing on the case of targeted killing under both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations, the article provides context for the case by explaining how norms develop. The authors challenge the assumption that a change of norms requires public advocacy by arguing that official secrecy can play “an instrumental role in the process of normalizing potentially controversial shifts” (666).
When the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, the American media paid little attention to the fact that the U.S. was about to end hundreds of years of Sunni supremacy in one of the Middle East’s most important countries. Among the farthest reaching consequences of America’s introduction of democracy to the Shiite-majority country was the fact that it removed a powerful bulwark from Iran’s path to wider regional influence. The most important long-term change after the invasion was not the adoption of a democratic system in ‘the land of the two rivers,’ it was the fact that Iraq had become a weak state susceptible to foreign influence.
Canadian military export policies came to unusual public attention following Canada’s 2014 agreement to sell $15 billion worth of armored vehicles to Saudi Arabia. The deal was negotiated under the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and was subsequently given official approval, through the granting of export permits, by the Liberal Government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was elected in 2015. In the debate that ensued, the greater indignation was reserved for the Liberals, who had come to power on the promise of a return to multilateralism and re-engagement with the United Nations—a posture that raised expectations of a renewed exercise of Pearsonian internationalism  rather than of record-breaking arms sales to one of the world’s most egregious violators of global human rights standards.
Geoffrey Chapman, Hassan Elbahtimy, and Susan B. Martin test a framework for assessing the security implications of chemical weapons (CW) use in the twenty-first century in their recent Security Studies paper. The authors state that they were motivated by the erosion of a norm of disuse, commonly known as the chemical weapons taboo. In this context, they assess the strategic and tactical utility of CW by the Syrian state as part of its ongoing civil war. Two incidents of CW use are analyzed in detail; one in which a nerve agent was used and another in which gas chlorine was employed. Overall this work has important implications for a more rigorous and better understanding of the use of unconventional weapons in modern warfare.
In the ongoing saga of contemporary populism, France’s Yellow Vest movement has sounded something like the other shoe dropping. In 2016, Brexit and Donald Trump’s election shattered prevailing political orthodoxies by mobilizing populations around a potent cocktail of xenophobia, protectionism, and sovereignism. Forces with a family resemblance to these movements are calling the shots in Italy, Hungary, and Poland. Yet while France had for years been a major breeding ground of far-right ideas, it seemed, in its May 2017 presidential election, to dodge the populist bullet: Emmanuel Macron’s triumph over Marine Le Pen was widely touted as a victory of hope, tolerance, and internationalism over fear, hate, and nationalist retrenchment.Continue reading
A growing but not pleasurable sport has taken hold among people who know and care about American political history. It is trying to guess which deceased leader is spinning fastest in her or his grave over the presidency of Donald Trump.
With apologies to Tolstoy, every coercive dictatorship is coercive in its own way. This is the central claim of Sheena Greitens important and timely study of authoritarianism, Dictators and Their Secret Police. Greitens argues that dictators face not only the usual array of external threats that all leaders confront; they also face a daunting array of violent internal threats that can range from elite-led coups all the way to general popular uprisings. Different dictators perceive and prioritize these threats differently, and adjust the design of their institutions of state coercion accordingly. These different configurations of state coercion yield their own differential implications for the political choices confronting citizens and their likely behavior in response. Ultimately, Greitens argues that she can trace political behavior all the way from a leader’s perceptions of threat to the response of citizens, thus providing a theory of institutional design and evolution. She demonstrates this claim with detailed studies of the evolution of dictatorships in the Philippines, Taiwan, and South Korea, and more summary considerations of Iraq, East Germany, and Chile.
What factors would propel a conventional war into a nuclear one? Would leaders know whether their military operations were driving the other toward a decision to use nuclear weapons? If we can identify potential escalation flashpoints in peacetime, what unilateral or cooperative steps can the United States and other countries take to minimize the risks of nuclear catastrophe? These are tough questions of increasing salience as competition between the United States and Russia and China intensifies. We cannot meaningfully reduce nuclear risks among the major powers if we do not understand them. Fortunately, a number of scholars and practitioners are tackling this set of issues.
“Divided priorities: why and when allies differ over military intervention” by Ronald R. Krebs and Jennifer Spindel is an important piece of research. The authors challenge the validity of the claim that weaker allies value their patrons’ hawkish postures in distant conflicts. This claim, first put forward by Glen Snyder in Deterrence and Defense (1961), reasons that a patron’s limited foreign interventions make allies feel reassured of their own defense commitment with their patron state: if their benefactor is willing to fight for places of trivial intrinsic and strategic importance, it will surely also be willing to fight for them if the necessity arises.