With a nihilistic wild man in the White House, it is time for America’s diplomats to embrace their historic rebelliousness.
Donald Trump has only been president for a few months, but he has already done more to debase United States foreign policy than any chief executive in memory. He has gutted the State Department, purging its senior leadership and vowing to slash its budget by over one-third. He has scuttled the Trans-Pacific Partnership, condemned the North American Free Trade Agreement, called the North Atlantic Treaty Organization ‘obsolete,’ and threatened to defund the United Nations. He has harangued or otherwise insulted U.S. allies like German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe while cozying up to dictators like Russian President Vladimir Putin and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. He has flip-flopped on such crucial matters as the ‘one China policy’ and the ‘two-state formula’ for Israeli-Palestinian peace. He has ratcheted up tensions with North Korea, approved an ill-thought-out mission to Yemen, and launched massive but ultimately meaningless assaults in Afghanistan and Syria. Worst of all, he has issued two executive orders banning refugees and immigrants from several Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States, a move that has gravely damaged America’s image abroad and inflamed anti-American sentiment across wide swaths of the globe. When almost one thousand U.S. diplomats signed a “dissent memo” protesting the travel ban, White House spokesman Sean Spicer responded with an ultimatum redolent of his boss’s petulance, intolerance, and authoritarianism: “Either get with the program or get out.”
Using a cross-national data set covering the end of the Napoleonic Wars to the year 2000, Alexander Downes and Lindsey O’Rourke have produced a fascinating analysis of foreign-imposed regime change in international relations replete with new quantitative results. The question these two political scientists address is this: When a state tries to change the leadership and domestic institutions of target states does this policy of foreign-imposed regime change lead to more peaceful relations or more conflictual relations between the intervener and the target? Downes and O’Rourke argue that “overt and covert [foreign-imposed regime changes] do not improve relations between intervening and target states. Often, they become worse” (85). This essay examines this argument and raises questions about the statistical evidence supporting it.
Richard Hofstadter’s famous catch phrase, the “paranoid style in American politics,” should be buried with a stake in its heart. As someone who has tried to hammer in the stake for several decades, I can’t help noticing that the term has again risen from the grave as in a horror movie populated, not by vampires, zombies, and terrified teenagers, but by Donald Trump, superficial pundits, and terrified liberals and radicals. Application of the ‘paranoid style’ to Trump and his followers began in 2015 and has continued unabated. Some of Trump’s conservative defenders have retaliated by calling his critics the true paranoid stylists.
NATO is a unique alliance in world history, outlasting its original purpose of deterring the Soviet Union and, in so doing, demonstrating the persistence of the shared values and interests among its members. Donald Trump is a unique president, rejecting past practice, procedures and principles. The interaction between NATO and this president in just a few months has upended decades-old assumptions about the transatlantic alliance and the presidency.
In 2004, Daniel Sobelman wrote a monograph for the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies on the “new rules of the game” between Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Hezbollah. The book described how both organizations had adapted their military positions following the IDF withdrawal of 2000 to maintain the status quo. Two years later, this argument on the stability between the two sides was challenged by the summer war that saw Hezbollah and the IDF fighting for 34 days. But since then, the border between Israel and Lebanon has witnessed a rather stable environment–by Middle Eastern standards.
What does the election of Donald Trump mean for the making of foreign policy? On the campaign trail, candidate Trump said that experts were terrible—he was talking about China policy at that moment—and he asked if it would be so bad if he didn’t bother with them. As President, Trump seems determined to test that challenge in real time, leaving behind a string of foreign gaffes and reversals from Taiwan to NATO in less than 100 days in office. Americans who voted for Trump are so far not inclined to hold him responsible for these blunders, in part (one must assume) out of sheer stubbornness. But there is a more disturbing possibility at work: voters in the United States refuse to hold Trump accountable for his errors because they do not know enough to realize they are, in fact, errors.
Robert Jervis once claimed that “states sometimes fail to deploy threats that would benefit them and on other, probably more numerous, occasions employ threats that provoke rather than deter.” If so, the field of international politics has done a remarkably poor job of accounting for the latter types of threat. For one, provocation has remained an elusive term.
Charles Mahoney sets out to answer the question “why do some markets for private defense services function efficiently while others are characterized by companies that regularly underperform and shirk their obligations?” (31) This is a puzzle with clear policy implications for governments around the world who may want to efficiently utilize private military and security companies (PMSCs).
More than just answering that question, Mahoney is interested in building theoretical explanations that serve as the basis for future academic work on PMSCs. To do this he uses the building blocks of market structure and a principal-agent framework. His central argument is that…
One of the most common words associated with the candidacy and then presidency of Donald Trump has been ‘unprecedented.’ The President himself has even tweeted it, although his spelling (“unpresidented”) occasioned some ridicule. We hear that Trump has an unprecedented amount of billionaires in his cabinet, an unprecedented number of business conflicts of interest, an unprecedentedly long list of unfilled government positions so far into his term, an unprecedentedly high security budget to cover his weekend trips to Mar-a-Lago, and so forth. Commentary on Trump’s approach to international law has been no exception, stressing its unprecedented or at least highly unusual character. Candidate Trump threatened to “cancel” the Paris climate change accord, “break” the North American Free Trade Agreement, and defy international and domestic legal prohibitions on torture “in a heartbeat.” 
A refreshing look at re-conceptualizing the concept of polarity, Benjamin Zala’s “Polarity Analysis and Collective Perceptions of Power: The Need for a New Approach” attempts to offer a new approach in bypassing the definitional, conceptual, and measurement confusions plaguing research on polarity. Seeking to methodologically distance itself from the traditional scholarship on polarity, which revolves around distribution of resources/material capabilities, positional analysis, and hegemonic behavior, Zala proposes an approach that concentrates on perception, agency, and performativity. The author’s proposal, to a strong extent, contrasts the body of literature produced after the end of the Cold War, which brought about the expansive debate over unipolarity, with the debate ranging from modes of counterbalancing, to traditional considerations, to soft-balancing, to scholarly disputes over durability/stability, to the peacefulness and structural coherence of the new unipolar system. Zala’s concern is to provide the theoretical justification for a shift in the operationalization of polarity from explanatory and positional considerations based on capabilities and resources to an ordering concept where status is privileged over capabilities. The author’s attempt at such theory-development revolves around two general approaches: 1) utilizing the notion of perception to qualify status and polar ordering, and 2) offering a case study from the Cold War when the U.S. attempted to restructure the bipolar system into a tripolar configuration by elevating China to polar status.