Researching covert action is not easy.  States pursue such operations to influence events without revealing their handiwork.  Doing this successfully requires limiting the number of officials in the know, and enforcing secrecy measures to avoid leaving an incriminating paper trail. The documentary record is deliberately porous as a result, which complicates any effort to test theories about the logic of covert action.  Nonetheless, creative and enterprising scholars have produced a number of excellent studies in the last few years, proposing new arguments about the causes of covert intervention, and the effects on international politics.[1]

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MOAB

Inter arma…

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”[2]) 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.” [3]

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