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).

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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 [1] rather than of record-breaking arms sales to one of the world’s most egregious violators of global human rights standards.

Continue reading

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.[1] 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.

Continue reading

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.[1]

Continue reading

“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.[1]

Continue reading

“We need to rethink how democratic politics relate to foreign policy behavior” (444). This is how Vipin Narang and Paul Staniland describe the objective of their article, one that they achieve with theoretical sophistication and a deft grasp of the literature on the democratic difference in security studies.

Continue reading

Few issues arouse as much debate as the Iraq War. The decision to invade in 2003 was a milestone for U.S. foreign policy and Middle Eastern politics. Advocates of the war believed that the prior status quo was unsustainable, and that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s regime was a ruthless anachronism. The fact that Saddam had not abandoned his interest in so-called weapons of mass destruction made his removal all the more necessary. Critics warned, however, that regime change was not in the U.S. national interest, and that by invading the country that U.S. would set in motion events it could not control. Years of grisly civil violence seemed to vindicate their warnings. The critics took their arguments further in the aftermath, casting the war as symptomatic of a deep and enduring interventionist bias in American grand strategy.

Continue reading

The panorama of terrorism comprises not only prominent groups such as al-Qaeda and the so-called Islamic State (ISIS), but also webs of relationships among these organizations and their lesser-known allies. Around the world, terrorist groups team up for joint attacks, training, and even moral support. Although such cooperation has occurred for decades, it is only in the past several years that a wave of research on the subject of terrorist group alliances has emerged. Tricia Bacon’s scholarship, including this article, is an important part of this body of work.

Continue reading

An MQ-9 Reaper taxis after a mission in Afghanistan.

Beware the grim reaper?

Analyses of drones often generate more heat than light, but Aqil Shah’s article is a welcome change. Shah argues U.S. drone strikes do not cause “blowback” in Pakistan or anywhere else, basing his claims primarily upon field interviews conducted in Pakistan. As he summarizes, “I find no evidence of a significant impact of drone strikes on the recruitment of militants either locally or nationally” (49).

Continue reading