Vaccine Access and Diplomacy: the Global Response to COVID-19

By Maggie Manson

December 1, 2021


With the Delta variant of COVID-19 currently ravaging the globe and polarizing politics surrounding vaccination in the U.S., what does the future look like for vaccination of the developing world? Many experts think that country-to-country vaccine diplomacy along with the WHO-supported COVAX initiative may be the answer to widespread vaccine rollout that will get us back to some semblance of “normal.” 

Vaccine diplomacy is the practice of diplomatic exchange where one country provides access to COVID-19 vaccinations in return for diplomatic ties with the receiving country. As Dania Thafer of the Gulf International Forum puts it: “Instead of securing a country by sending troops, you can secure the country by saving lives, by saving their economy, by helping with their vaccination.” This practice has the potential to save lives by supplementing the WHO’s efforts towards global vaccine rollout which has encountered many logistical challenges, leading to slower deployment of vaccines. 

“Instead of securing a country by sending troops, you can secure the country by saving lives, by saving their economy, by helping with their vaccination” 

– Dania Thafer, Executive Director of the Gulf International Forum

The landscape of vaccine diplomacy has altered drastically since the creation of COVID-19 vaccines. Back in April 2021, China and India were engaged in a race towards the most effective and efficient campaign of vaccine diplomacy. The two countries were producing and distributing vast amounts of COVID-19 vaccines to partner countries, in an attempt to strengthen diplomatic relations and grow their spheres of influence. However, since India’s surge in cases and the emergence of the delta variant in the U.S. in March 2021, they have had to refocus their efforts and resources towards their own citizens, creating a change in the key players of vaccine diplomacy. Now, countries such as the U.S., Russia, and various European states are beginning to engage in vaccine diplomacy, while continuing to push for vaccination of their own citizens. 

The Problems with Vaccine Diplomacy 

To understand the key issues with vaccine diplomacy, it is important to look at which countries are engaging in the practice and what vaccines they are using to do so. Vaccine diplomacy leaders, China and Russia, are using SinoVac and Sputnik V, respectively. The U.S. is following behind with a mixed distribution of Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson (J&J), and non-U.S. approved AstraZeneca. Prior to halting their campaign of vaccine diplomacy to deal with their own COVID crisis, India was distributing AstraZeneca to neighboring countries. EU countries have been late to the game but have begun to engage in vaccine diplomacy by distributing stockpiles of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Back in July,  Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the UAE were sending some of their vaccine stockpiles to Tunisia, which was facing an acute COVID crisis. 

While the act of exchanging vaccines for goodwill and diplomatic ties may seem like an effective strategy to vaccinate developing nations, there are some key issues with this approach. First, the production scale of vaccines such as J&J, Moderna, and Pfizer presents an obstacle to the distribution of these vaccines. These effective vaccines are primarily produced in the U.S. and have highly sensitive transportation requirements to ensure they remain viable. The AstraZeneca vaccine, however, is being produced in Belgium, India, South Korea, and the UK, making access to the developing world more feasible. While this vaccine has not been approved for usage in the U.S., it has been authorized for individuals 18 and older by the WHO, making it a strong candidate for vaccine diplomacy. This allows AstraZeneca producing countries and those with stockpiles to engage in vaccine diplomacy. However, an access barrier still exists for countries located further away from AstraZeneca-producing countries. 

Another major issue with vaccine diplomacy is the effectiveness of certain vaccines used in the process. The vaccine efficacy of China’s Sinovac has been called into question by states on the receiving end of vaccine diplomacy such as Cambodia, Malaysia, and Thailand. Many of these recipient countries are turning to other sources and paying countries and companies for booster shots to supplement Sinovac. TRIP Primary Investigator Professor Michael Tierney had this to say on China’s vaccine rollout: “China was the first-mover using targeted vaccine distribution to support broader diplomatic goals, but rollout has been rocky and it may actually backfire if it fails to deliver safe and effective vaccines at levels promised last year.” While the faltering Chinese vaccine diplomacy campaign is of great concern for the health and welfare of recipient countries, this does present an opening for the U.S. to step in and aid these countries in getting their populations vaccinated. 

“China was the first-mover using targeted vaccine distribution to support broader diplomatic goals, but rollout has been rocky and it may actually backfire if it fails to deliver safe and effective vaccines at levels promised last year.”

– Professor Michael Tierney, TRIP Primary Investigator and Director of William & Mary’s Global Research Institute (GRI)

U.S. Response

The U.S. is now faced with the opportunity to improve global public health and strengthen diplomatic relations with a variety of strategically important countries. With the shortcomings of China’s vaccination efforts, the U.S. can target Southeast Asia, a region that has been largely encompassed in China’s sphere of influence in recent years. 

Generally speaking, scholars do not think the administration is effectively doing enough on an international scale. When surveyed in April 2020, 80.3% of IR scholars said that the U.S.’s role in coordinating the international response to COVID-19 was not effective at all. In April 2021, respondents thought that the U.S. was doing better, with 38.7% finding the U.S.’s role to be somewhat effective. However, scholars are still not impressed with the administration’s approach, with more than 50% reporting the U.S. role as either not very effective or not effective at all. 

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Additionally, the U.S. must focus efforts towards India, for both strategic reasons and a moral obligation to do so. In TRIP’s Snap Poll 15, scholars were asked if the Biden Administration is doing enough to help in regards to India’s COVID-19 public health crisis. 67.4% of scholars answered that the administration is not doing enough to help India. This piece will explore the moral implications of vaccine diplomacy later on, but with the resources available, the U.S. is equipped to do more to save lives in India and strengthen its diplomatic presence through vaccine distribution. 

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At the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly, U.S. President Joe Biden addressed the assembly and reaffirmed the U.S.’s commitment to fighting the COVID-19 pandemic through multilateral collaboration. “Bombs and bullets cannot defend against COVID-19 or its future variants, to fight this pandemic we need a collective act of science and political will, we need to act now to get shots in arms as fast as possible,” he stated in his speech, marking global public health as a top priority for the administration. He also affirmed that the U.S. is reengaged with the World Health Organization and working with COVAX, a global initiative towards COVID-19 vaccine global access. Biden also noted that U.S. vaccine diplomacy comes with “no strings attached,” a reference to reports that China and Russia have been extracting demands from vaccine recipient countries. However, the very notion of vaccine diplomacy has strings attached as vaccines are traded for diplomatic ties, even if not explicitly stated by donor countries. This situation raises important questions about the ethical implications of vaccine diplomacy. 

“Bombs and bullets cannot defend against COVID-19 or its future variants, to fight this pandemic we need a collective act of science and political will, we need to act now to get shots in arms as fast as possible.” 

– U.S. President Joe Biden at the United Nations General Assembly

Vaccine Equity: a Moral Dilemma 

Another key issue posed by vaccine diplomacy is the moral issues with the distribution of vaccines for strategic, rather than purely humanitarian reasons. The WHO initially set out to create a system of vaccine distribution centered around equity of access through the COVAX initiative. Back in February, UN Secretary-General António Guterres addressed the issue stating: “At this critical moment, vaccine equity is the biggest moral test before the global community.” However, the WHO and international actors have since failed at securing fair access to vaccines, letting down developing countries by allowing monetary incentives and intellectual property laws to determine the output and distribution of these vaccines. 

“At this critical moment, vaccine equity is the biggest moral test before the global community.”

– UN Secretary-General António Guterres

While vaccine diplomacy presents a solution for many states seeking to gain quick access to vaccines, it also leaves countries vulnerable to ineffective vaccines. Additionally, states are often tied to diplomatic conditions from vaccine donor countries. Another major problem with vaccine diplomacy is obstacles to delivery due to distance and sensitive vaccine transportation requirements that may prevent some from benefiting from the practice altogether. Some analysts have tried to decouple vaccine diplomacy from ethical considerations and view it as a solely strategic practice. However, in the context of a pandemic where peoples’ lives are at stake, this cannot be viewed as a purely diplomatic exchange, there must be pushback against this rhetoric in order to ensure a more equitable rollout of vaccines. The practice of vaccine diplomacy also brings attention to the widening inequalities between richer and poorer countries. For example, countries such as the U.S. are throwing away doses that their citizens refuse, while in poorer countries, vaccine access is incredibly limited and demand is high. Additionally, the WHO found that six times more booster shots are being administered each day in richer countries than primary doses in the developing world, an alarming statistic that further points to discrepancies between rich and poor countries. The U.S. is moving in the right direction towards redistribution as President Biden announced on September 22 that the U.S. will double its global contribution of vaccines to 1 billion doses. Thus far, the majority of U.S. vaccine donations have gone to Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Columbia, South Africa, and Vietnam.

With frightening statistics showing that vaccines will not reach the poorest of countries until 2023, it is time for countries to rethink how they are engaging in vaccine deployment. Even without a stated quid pro quo, vaccine diplomacy encourages receiving states to strengthen diplomatic ties with vaccine donor states. This along with a myriad of other ethical concerns draw doubt to the practice of vaccine diplomacy. However, for now, it might be the most efficient way of getting populations vaccinated. It is important for donating countries to note that they stand to gain more than diplomatic relations from vaccine donations to other countries. Getting the world vaccinated as fast and as fairly as possible is the only real way to gain any sense of normalcy. Otherwise, variants will continue to evolve and we will continue to be on the defensive, responding to cases rather than preventing them from the start on a global scale. 


Permeability of New Perspectives? Gender Diversity in the Field of International Relations


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By Woodie Tirfie

November 11, 2021

The primary aim of international relations (IR) scholars and practitioners alike is to study, explain, and facilitate interactions between actors in the international system in hopes of addressing global issues. As such, diversity in perspectives is vital for the field. Yet, inequities based on gender still persist in both theory and practice, and women remain underrepresented in IR theories, teachings, and policymaking processes that constitute international relations. Data from Teaching, Research, and International Policy (TRIP) Project’s 2017 U.S. Faculty Survey provides a snapshot of this imbalance, and identifies areas that can be expanded upon to be more inclusive of historically ignored perspectives. Academia ultimately influences the approaches our future professors, politicians, diplomats, and public servants will adopt in their work. To maintain an insular network of scholars today is to promote gender inequality in all avenues of political science. Ultimately, international relations cannot truly become an equitable space until scholars and practitioners address and engage with issues relating to gender and privilege in the field. 

The 2017  U.S. Faculty Survey collected data from a total of 1,632 respondents, with 479 (29.7%) identifying as female and 1,134 (70.3%) identifying as male. This imbalance in the survey data reflects the IR discipline as a whole, which is largely male-dominated due to the patriarchal nature of academia (Crawford and Windsor). In fact, in 2008, only “26% of the 13,000 political science professors in the United States” were women (Sedowski and Brintall 2007). This is a stark contrast to 1980, when women constituted 10.3% of political science faculty in the United States. However, the percentage has only increased marginally in recent years, with 28.6% of political science faculty being women (Mershon et al. 2015). This increase is reflected in the TRIP data: in 2006, women made up 23% of the survey respondents, compared  to 29.7% in 2017. The increase could be an indication of more women entering the field. However, in the 2017 faculty survey, 7.52% of women said that they were not an IR scholar, in contrast with an even smaller 3.79% of men. Thus, even though there has been an overall increase in female scholarship, the playing field is not yet equal when comparing the number of women to the number of men in the discipline.

Citation bias, which is the tendency of men to refer to and cite other men rather than women in their academic works, hinders women’s professional advancement. In “Citation Count Data and Faculty Promotion,” Amanda Murdie presents survey data collected from 55 political scientists, 68.5% of which stated that their institution used citation data “half the time,” “frequently,” or “all the time” when promoting faculty members. The emphasis that is placed on citations in the professional world means that males, who are more likely to be cited due to the citation bias, are more likely to secure higher-ranking positions. This is evident in TRIP’s data, which shows that the title of assistant professor is the most held teaching position among women (31.94%), as opposed to the rank of full professor for men (35.71%). To combat citation bias, journals should diversify the pool of reviewers to include more women. They should also adjust submission guidelines, so that works with extreme gender citation bias will be reworked to include marginalized voices, or rejected if these criteria are not met (Ainley, Danewid, and Yao 2017).

While traditional IR theory is “gender-blind,” the feminist paradigm emphasizes the role that gender, as a socially constructed identity, and plays in “shaping the process of global politics” (Smith 2018). By doing so, feminists strive to shed light on issues that mainly women face, challenge gender norms, and study the intersectionality of international relations. Knowing this, it is unsurprising that of the group of respondents who selected feminism as their primary paradigmatic approach in their studies of IR, 88.9% were women.


Data from the 2017 U.S. Faculty Survey shows that there is also a gender imbalance within the paradigms that researchers employ. The most popular paradigm among women was constructivism, at 26%; yet, this percentage was much lower among men, at 17.4%. The percentages for constructivism and liberalism were very close among men, with 16.5% of men preferring the latter. On the other hand, only 11.9% of women identified as liberal. Realism was the most popular paradigm among men (23.4%), compared to only 10.1% of women identifying with realism. What drives men towards this paradigm is unclear, but realism emphasizes power, anarchy, and rationality, which are traditionally “masculine” characteristics, and views states as the primary actors (Etten 2014). Thus, realism deemphasizes the individual and does not consider which social group is in a position of power, as well as the implications that it may have on the priorities and interests of the state, which contrasts with the nontraditional paradigms that women are more likely to adhere to.

The higher inclination of women to adhere to nontraditional paradigms in comparison to men might be attributed to the personal experiences and challenges that they have faced as a marginalized population, which in turn shape their views in the gendered field of IR. This would also explain why, among those who selected gender as their main area of research in IR, 76.5% were women while only 23.5% were men. This further emphasizes a pattern of female domination in “nontraditional” paradigms. Gender is about the roles and norms that are “intrinsically woven into and practiced in our daily lives,” and gender studies is the study of “production, reproduction, and resistance to [these norms] that produce inequality” (Boise State University). They recognize the gaps in the traditional schools of thought, and therefore wish to fill them in by adopting a more holistic paradigmatic approach.


As for the other areas of research, there were also more women scholars and practitioners in the areas of global civil society (54.5%) and international/global health (60%). When further broken down, among women, 7.1% selected human rights as their main area of research, as opposed to 3.6% of men. Similar statistics can be seen in areas of research such as development studies.

There is a common theme among these areas of research: they all specifically deal with humanitarian issues. Thus, the reason women adhere to nontraditional paradigms more than men is also applicable to the question of why they focus their research on such areas: they all analyze and deal with systemic inequities that are similar to the gender-based challenges that they as women face. Daniel Maliniak, Amy Oakes, Susan Peterson, and Michael Tierney explore this imbalance, citing Ann Tickner: “women’s status in society helps them to see women’s (and other minorities’) marginality in scholarship (Tickner 2001). It is imperative that such holistic approaches and perspectives are brought to the forefront of IR academia.

Overall, permeability of perspectives that challenge the status quo is imperative in the field of international relations. The rising number of women pursuing IR careers, as well as emergence of nontraditional contemporary paradigms, show that the discipline has the potential to become a more equitable space. Yet, the problem is still a pronounced one— as a woman in my third year of studying government and economics, the lack of diversity among my peers and in the scholarly works that I read in my courses is jolting. It is discouraging to see that a woman’s work is the topic of discussion in many of my classes only when the topic of diversity arises. When discussing the most influential and impactful authors and articles in the discipline, male scholars such as John Mearsheimer or Joseph Nye are the only names I hear. There is much room for improvement, and scholars should integrate works written by women in curricula and expand the professional opportunities available to women. It is also imperative that faculty end the cycle of insularity in IR by encouraging their students to explore marginalized perspectives in IR, so that the cycle can be broken within the new generation of scholars, policymakers, and faculty.

Introducing the Student Team!

By Maggie Manson
September 22, 2021

Meet the 2021-2022 TRIP Student Team! We are a group of passionate students with a range of experiences that are all interested in bridging the gap between international relations academia and policy.

This fall, we are working on some exciting projects while continuing to publish student blog posts. With the support of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, we are wrapping up our NGO and Think Tank staff surveys, which aim to gather information on when and how academic research on international relations is used within these organizations, as well as the views of practitioners on foreign policy topics. For the final output, we are compiling a dataset analyzing survey results, which we anticipate sharing soon.

We are also looking forward to fielding a new survey in partnership with the Sie Center for International Security and Diplomacy at the University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies this Fall.  This survey will build upon our last collaboration with Korbel, which looked at IR scholars’ perceptions of policy engagement with IR academia.

Finally, we are excited to share some of the recently published papers by TRIP affiliates: Forum: Did “America First” Construct America Irrelevant? and Does Social Science Inform Foreign Policy? Evidence from a Survey of US National Security, Trade, and Development Officials.

Over the coming months, we will be posting original blogs written by our RAs and keeping you updated on TRIP’s latest data! Here is some more information on each member of our student team:


Morgan Doll (she/her) is a senior at William & Mary majoring in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics.

“I joined TRIP in the Fall of my sophomore year of college and have not stopped working here since (including over breaks!). I was immediately drawn to TRIP because of its tight-knit environment and the many opportunities for self-led growth in this group. A fun fact about me is that I go to a local grocery market almost every afternoon when home in Richmond to get a large sweet iced tea (can you tell I’m from the South?)”




Maggie Manson (she/they) is a senior at William & Mary, majoring in International Relations and minoring in Middle Eastern Studies.

“I began working at TRIP my sophomore year (September 2019) and I am greatly interested in the policy relevancy of IR academia and improving the social impact of research. Outside of TRIP, I am currently conducting an honors thesis about the moderation/radicalization of Islamist parties in Algeria, Egypt, and Turkey after military coups. My main research interests include: the Algerian Civil War, International Security, the Israel-Palestine Conflict, Middle Eastern Politics, Military Defection, and Political Islam.”





Mary Trimble (she/her) is a junior at William & Mary majoring in French and European Studies.

“I joined TRIP in February 2020 because I was inspired by TRIP’s mission to understand how IR research relates to the policy world. I’ve done a little bit of everything on the TRIP team, from contact collection for surveys and assisting on papers using TRIP data, to writing blog posts and managing the project’s social media accounts. According to meticulously kept Letterboxd records, I have watched almost 900 movies, so in my free time, I’m probably working towards 1000.”

Twitter: @marytrimble21



Angelina Paul (she/her) is a senior at William &Mary studying Government and Economics.

“I joined TRIP because I wanted to collect data and synthesize research that looks at how IR academia is comparable to current world events. Fun Fact: I met Michelle Obama and got to ask her a question and I used to be a competitive rock climber.”

Instagram: _angelinapaul

Facebook: Angelina Paul 



Nathaly Perez (she/her) is a senior at William & Mary, majoring in government and minoring in philosophy.

“I joined TRIP because I have always been curious about the influence IR has on policymaking. Currently, I am working on coding articles in the top IR/political science journals for future use in academic research.”


Kosuru Shriya (2)

Shriya Kosuru (she/her) is a junior at William & Mary, majoring in Economics and minoring in Finance.

“I joined TRIP to learn more about how Academia and Policymaking are connected and their role in the decision-making process. It has been great to learn more about IR from an academic and theoretical perspective in order to better understand real-world events. I have worked at TRIP on contact collection, data organization, and writing a blog. Fun Fact: I can speak 5 languages!”

Social media- @shriya0024 (Instagram)


Woodie Tirfie (she/her) Research Assistant

Woodie Tirfie (she/her) is a junior at William & Mary, majoring in Economics and Government.

“I joined TRIP because I am interested in learning about the interconnections between research, academia, and the policy-making process!”

Social media: @Woodie Tirfie  (Instagram)









Minkyong Song (she/her) is a senior at William & Mary, majoring in Computer Science.

“I joined TRIP because I was inspired by how collecting and analyzing data can help people to understand research in IR. I want to apply data science to the research of political science and I look forward to doing so in this role.”

Can Neoliberalism Persist? Should it?


By Maggie Manson
August 25, 2021

With the defeat of President Donald Trump in the recent U.S. presidential election and the apparent end of “Trumpism,” a political era and ideology defined by an exclusive conception of nationalism, populism, and conspiracy; one might expect things to return to business as usual under the presidency of Joe Biden. Business as usual refers to the political phenomenon that has shaped U.S. domestic and foreign policy, as well as the greater global economy since the 1970s: neoliberalism. 

“The election of President Trump in 2016 is a key demonstration of the failings of neoliberalism.”

Neoliberalism as an economic concept can be characterized by free-market capitalism, privatization, deregulation, and societal freedom from government intervention. However, American neoliberalism has reached beyond the scope of laissez-faire economic philosophy, as it has been expanded to a paradigmatic lens for academics and policymakers to view international relations. Neoliberalism has thus contributed significantly to the consolidation of a formalized global economic market, as well as U.S. foreign policymaking in the past 50 years. While many see globalization and the dominance of neoliberal ideology as a resounding triumph for not only the U.S. but also for the greater global community, the election of President Trump in 2016 is a key demonstration of the failings of neoliberalism. 

Neoliberalism and the Presidency

The political bases of President Trump and conversely, Senator Bernie Sanders, represent anti-establishment views and appeal to their supporters using rhetoric that rejects the U.S. neoliberal status quo from opposite sides of the political spectrum. Some might argue that Trump’s election and subsequent political ideology are a rebuke of neoliberalism and the current global order, however, a more realistic assessment would be that Trump’s presidency is merely a symptom of neoliberalism. Despite his untraditional rejection of multilateralism, Trump himself is an unabashed neoliberal. While his campaign rhetoric of “America first” and his loyal base, many of whom have been left behind in the era of globalization, represent a reproach of neoliberalism, the policy actions of his administration prove otherwise. Outside of his approach to trade, Trump continually pushed for capitalist, free-market policies on a domestic and international scale, as well as engaged in a spend-heavy, neoliberalist approach to the U.S. military budget throughout the duration of his presidency. 

Consequences of Neoliberalism

Examining the key international consequences/ trends that have emerged as a result of neoliberalism is a good foundation to understanding the pushback against it. This is not an exhaustive list and it is often difficult to distinguish events as the result of neoliberalism or other global phenomena that can be examined through a neoliberalist lens. Additionally, it is equally difficult to look at these results in the context of U.S. foreign policy as this analysis often obscures what is a deliberate policy choice and what is merely an accidental, yet consequential result of neoliberalism. Despite these limitations, my interpretation of the most consequential outcomes of the neoliberal era of U.S. foreign policy is as follows. 

Neoliberalism arguably emerged as the leading U.S. foreign policy paradigm due to a key tenet of neoliberalism: globalization. The connections made through the increased financialization of the global economy, as well as the establishment of a neoliberal world order, laid the groundwork for widespread U.S. intervention following a neoliberal philosophy. 

Following the collapse of the Bretton Woods System, a new political-economic world order emerged that called for the deregulation of global markets through capital control abolition and competitive deregulation. This seismic shift away from embedded liberalism and government intervention in the international monetary system led to unprecedented economic growth by not only more developed countries like the U.S. and U.K. but also by emerging markets such as Japan and China. This hands-off approach resulted in stunning economic growth for many, but ultimately, also increased inequality for others, primarily in the developing world. 

Other significant consequences such as the increased role of private funding in international development, as well as the rise of the contractor state, have emerged as problematic policies from neoliberalism. Through funding mechanisms, the private sector has been able to exert significant influence in the development space, which presents some ethical concerns surrounding these projects. Similar to the issues presented by the privatization of development, the outsourcing of government responsibilities to the private sector has led to the creation of the military-industrial complex. This environment has resulted in a cycle that commodifies military action and violence in which an overseas deployment, that could’ve been prevented through diplomatic action, results in someone receiving a large check. 

The shared theme between these consequences of neoliberalism is the idea that human-focused policy (i.e. military and development) is driven primarily by economic incentives. Why is any of this actually bad for the United States or the world? Well, when human-centric policy is driven by cost-benefit analysis rather than a qualitative assessment of how it will impact lives, people are thus commodified and valued primarily by what they consume or produce. This is especially dangerous in policymaking as it dehumanizes issues that should focus on helping others/ preventing harm, but are now essentially economic issues due to neoliberal thinking.

Another major issue posed by neoliberalism is the global platform/ influence that has been given to anti-democratic countries with spotty human rights records. Neoliberalism, for the most part, has maintained U.S. hegemony on the global stage but has also meant the beginning of the end of U.S. unilateralism. When the U.S. decided to de-commit from the gold standard, thus throwing off the international monetary order consisting of currencies pegged to the USD, it guaranteed that it would no longer be the center of the global monetary system in the future. While the U.S. has, for the most part, retained its hegemonic position throughout the period of neoliberalism, we are now seeing the rise of a multipolar system where rising powers such as China, also exert significant influence over the global monetary relations and even global political attitudes. If China continues on its projected path of economic growth, neoliberalism might contribute to another dramatic realignment of the global order, potentially one with a non-democratic country at the helm. The rise of China as the new economic center of the neoliberal world order would afford the ruling Chinese Communist Party the platform to potentially convey anti-democratic values on a global scale.  

What the Scholars Think

Two TRIP Snap Polls demonstrate scholarly support for neoliberal governance, based on their preferences for certain presidential policies. In Snap Poll 14 (October 2020), scholars were asked “to what extent would U.S. foreign policy differ between Trump and Biden in the following areas?” with categories spanning from international trade to human rights. Results show an estimated 89.3% difference in Biden’s engagement with multilateral organizations, 83.4% difference in management of military alliances, and 66% difference in trade relations. 


High engagement and cooperation with international, multilateral organizations such as the World Trade Organization or the United Nations is a key facet of neoliberalism. Additionally, regional military collaboration, specifically with the North American Treaty Organization, works to uphold U.S. hegemonic military power as a key element of neoliberalism.  In Snap Poll 15, 93.65% of scholars grading Biden’s performance in alliances and international organizations policy between A and B+ with a mean score of 3.56 (falling between an A- and B+). From these findings, is clear that Biden’s multilateral and thus neoliberal approach ranks better with scholars than Trump’s America-first strategy. Based on scholarly approval of these neoliberal approaches, we can infer that scholars are still in favor of neoliberalism’s influence over U.S. foreign policy, especially related to military and international organization engagement.


Additionally, scholars’ predictions of a 66% difference in trade relations signal that scholars assumed Biden would take a less protectionist and more neoliberal approach to trade, in contrast to Trump’s “trade war” and high tariffs. In regards to scholar’s views on how Biden has actually performed after his first 100 days (found in Snap Poll 15), we see that 67.25% of scholars at least somewhat approve of Biden’s handling of international trade (15.67% strongly approve, 51.49% somewhat approve). These results indicate that so far, scholars approve of Biden’s neoliberal approach to international trade, and are not opposed to neoliberalism in the Biden presidency.

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In Snap Poll 14, we see that scholars tend to disapprove of Trump (compared to Biden) with 93% of scholars stating that their foreign policy views align more closely with Biden and only 4% of scholars stating that they would vote for Trump. However, the disapproval of Trump does not necessarily signal that Trump and Biden are opposites when it comes to neoliberal governance. Snap Poll 14 also shows mixed responses to the question of: “to what extent would U.S. foreign policy differ between the two in the following areas?” For economic areas such as trade and exchange rates, as well as the use of military force, there is no majority of scholars expecting significant change in Trump vs. Biden’s policies. The assumption that Trump and Biden’s approach to economic governance and military action might be similar, as well as the actions of the previous administration, show Trump’s tendencies to follow the neoliberal approach in some issue areas. 

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Here to Stay (for now)

An important question we must ask ourselves now that we have seen the ideological shortcomings of neoliberalism through some of its key consequences, should a new global paradigm replace neoliberalism? With increased pressure from the working class right and anti-capitalist leftists, is it time for the U.S. and other global adherents to rethink the ideological basis by which they govern and approach global relations? Or, despite the outlined consequences, perhaps scholars’ support for Biden’s neoliberal policies indicates that scholarly opinion is more influential than public pushback in terms of crafting foreign policy, signaling the continuance of neoliberalism. 

My analysis of these snap poll findings even in the context of neoliberalism’s problems is that they signal the continuance of neoliberalism with minimal scholarly or mainstream disapproval. However, this does not mean that future U.S. leaders will be able to sustain the neoliberal world order forever. With the potential of a bipolar world order due to the rise of China combined with popular disillusionment of the status quo post-Trump presidency, I believe that a seismic change is eventually inevitable. Arguments against development privatization, the contractor state, and the financialization of the global economy may not be widespread, but leftist political figures such as Bernie Sanders or Ayanna Pressley are beginning to call more attention to the issues with these policies and the downfalls of neoliberalism. On top of that, U.S. voters have already expressed their discontent with globalization in the 2016 election, either by voting for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary or for Trump in the general election. As noteworthy academic Professor John J. Mearsheimer once proclaimed liberal hegemony is a bankrupt strategy,” and it will be interesting to see if an entirely new ideology will eventually emerge in neoliberalism’s place. 


How Can the U.S. Turn the Global Tide That’s Moving Away From Democracy?

By Angelina Paul
July 16, 2021

International political systems have been evolving over the last five years, intensified by the immense amount of change brought about forcefully by the pandemic over the past year and a half. The debate over whether democracy or authoritarianism is the most advantageous in dealing with new and unprecedented issues has re-emerged in light of the pandemic. Each day, the world is moving further and further away from democracy, and authoritarianism is dominating.

In a recent episode of NPR’s “Consider This,” Ari Shapiro discusses how threats to democracy are growing around the world. China has aggressively heightened its restrictions on free speech by punishing protestors in Hong Kong. Vladamir Putin has tightened state control over the internet in Russia where regulations now resemble the limitations on independent media during the USSR. Jair Bolsonaro was elected in Brazil, a President who has claimed that freedom in Brazil is in the hands of the military and has threatened to use the military as a weapon if he is not reelected (NPR, Morning Edition).

This year, Freedom House found that almost 75% of people in the world live in countries that became less democratic in the past year. They also found that the U.S. is among those countries, with another report concluding that the U.S. has dropped below their “democracy threshold,” (+6) to anocracy (+5) as of December 2020. The shift away from democracy in the U.S. can be attributed to a dysfunctional criminal justice system, growing wealth disparity, and the perception of an unfair electoral process on both sides of the aisle, for opposite reasons. 

The U.S., a beacon of democracy, is falling short. As a nation whose laws and processes are based on fundamentally democratic values, the constant internal criticism of our electoral process and the legal consequences of these critiques is causing a shift away from democracy. As one of the most influential countries in the world, other nations are criticizing the U.S. for having a negative impact on global democracy, due to our poor performance upholding democratic values domestically.   

Are Autocratic Characteristics Spreading in the U.S.? 

The struggle for democracy in the U.S. is a major cause of the increasingly negative  perception of the U.S.’s impact on global democracy. In 2020, 36% of Americans said that there was not enough democracy in the U.S., and this number increased to 45% in 2021 (DPI Report). The reliability of a country’s election system is a key indicator determining its level of democracy. In the US, the public’s perception of the fairness in elections is very low. Lack of confidence in the political system stems from both sides of the political system. On one hand, there is former President Trump spreading messages that the elections were rigged due to voter fraud, backed by many GOP members in Congress. On the other hand, many Americans also believe U.S. elections are unfair due to disenfranchisement of Americans they believe should be eligible to vote. The number of disenfranchised Americans is only growing as policymakers take on voter fraud as their main priority.

Trump’s influence has emboldened lawmakers to form new legislation that tackles election fraud. Although Trump administration election officials confirmed that the 2020 election was the most secure election to date, as of March, 361 bills with new voting limitations in 47 states had been introduced. In Georgia, Texas, and Pennsylvania, state legislatures have proposed laws to restrict mail-in voting, nationwide voter ID laws, and cracking down on late ballots. The goal of these bills is to create more secure elections. The benefit here is that the rare occurrence of voter fraud, of which there have been 31 instances since 2000 in over 1 billion casted ballots, could be eliminated. The cost is that many Americans, especially disproportionately lower income groups and minority voters, would not be able to vote, reversing our country’s trend to include more Americans in the democratic process (ACLU). 

Furthermore, the cost to implement these initiatives outweigh their stated benefits. States must use taxpayer dollars to fund the costs of implementing voter ID laws, which include educating the public, training poll workers, and providing IDs to voters. For example, Texas spent almost two million dollars on voter education after its Voter ID law was passed, and Indiana spent over ten million dollars to produce free ID cards between 2007 and 2010 (ACLU). These policies threaten fundamental democratic rights, such as the right to vote and the right to free and fair elections in the United States. 

The movement towards widespread disenfranchisement is also structural. Gerrymandering laws, or the process of drawing unfair congressional districts for partisan benefit, are predicted to skew election results for the next decade in states such as Texas, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Iowa, and North Carolina (Brennan Center). Even with public sentiment favoring Democrats, the process of gerrymandering through reapportionment and redistricting of House seats is enough to cause a change in control of the House even if public opinion did not change at all. 

Gerrymandering is an overwhelmingly unfair and unpopular practice among Democrats and Republicans. It dilutes the influence of the other party, creating “safe districts” where the overwhelming majority is either Democrat or Republican. In 2016, only 17 races out of 435 had a margin of less than 5%, displaying the detrimental effect of gerrymandering on political competition. Essentially,  it has extinguished genuine political competition, disincentivizing leaders to collaborate across party lines. When a Congressional Representative is elected to represent a district that is 80% Democratic or Republican, there is no incentive to compromise with the other party, and gridlock is inevitable. Furthermore, there is little incentive to vote if you are affiliated with the minority party in an uncompetitive district, disempowering and distorting citizens’ votes. Democracy is about fair representation, healthy competition, and bipartisan collaboration. Practicing Gerrymandering has ruined the integrity of a fair and equal democracy in the US. 

Is the U.S.’s Reputation Affected By Its Perception as a Threat to Democracy?

According to global perception, the U.S. has a significant impact on the international shift away from democracy. This past year, the Democracy Perception Index found that 44% of people around the world identified the influence of the United States as a threat to democracy, which ranked higher than the influence of Russia, China, or any other specific country. Overall, respondents from 53 countries agreed that the fifth largest threat to democracy worldwide is America’s influence. The United States’ closest allies, such as Austria, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, see the U.S. as having more of a negative impact on democracy. 

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Figure from DPI report

The data amplifies the concern of many countries that the U.S. has a net negative impact on democracy worldwide. According to V-Dem, in 2021, 68% of the global population now lives in autocracies, and we are now in the “third wave of autocratization,” meaning that the third global shift towards the decline of democratic regime attributes is currently taking place. Now, autocratizing nations include 25 countries or 34% of the world’s population. In a 2019 TRIP survey, IR scholars were asked for their predictions for the future, and 57% of the respondents expected there to be fewer democracies in the next five years.


Figure from Future of the International Order Survey

Since the Cold War, the United States has always served as a role model for democracy. Our struggles to maintain the key aspects of democracy within our own country has had a snowball effect on the rest of the world. Not only does the U.S.’s domestic strife affect worldwide democratization, but it may be impacting our standing and respect with other countries on the global political stage. 

The American public agrees that it is important to have good standing abroad, with 87% of U.S. adults surveyed agreed that respect for the U.S. abroad is vital and 95% of international relations scholars also answering that it is important that the U.S. is respected. There is even bipartisan agreement that the U.S. needs to be respected abroad, with only an 8% gap between Democrat and Republican respondents, and the findings indicated that regardless of partisan affiliation, respondents agree that the U.S. is less respected abroad than it was in the past. 

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Figure from Pew Research Center

However, TRIP data shows IR scholars who identify as Republican are 14% less likely than Democrat-affiliated scholars to say America’s standing on the international stage is on the rise. Instead, they believe that the U.S.’s reputation has not changed in the post-Trump era. This is not a new trend. Pew Research notes that partisan-affiliates are more likely to believe the U.S. standing abroad is improving under an administration where the president is from their party.

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Figure data from TRIP Snap Poll 14

DPI reported that in 2021, there was a positive turn in favor of the U.S.’s influence on democracy. Many respondents who had previously seen the U.S. as a massive threat to democracy had changed their opinions. A 20% increase of German respondents’ answered that the U.S. has a net positive effect. This positive turn on the data in 2021 “of the US’s global influence on democracy has increased significantly around the world since the Spring of 2020, from a net opinion of +6 to a net opinion of +14,” (DPI Report). The report asserts that this positive increase in 2021 can be attributed to the election of President Biden. 

Is the Biden Administration Enough to Reverse the Anti-Democratic Wave?

Many IR scholars attribute the increase to the “Biden effect.” Since the 2020 election, the U.S. has had a positive influence on democracy worldwide, as many countries such as Germany and China see President Biden as a bigger champion of democracy than former President Trump. The perception of the U.S. as a positive influence on democracy is tied to our standing abroad, especially with our allies. A 2020 TRIP snap poll found that IR scholars strongly agree, with over 92% responding that foreign governments would be more willing to cooperate with the United States under a Biden administration than under a Trump administration.

Although experts agree that America’s global reputation is on the upswing after the 2020 election, the aftermath of the pandemic is still unfolding in many countries, and in others the pandemic is still in full swing. V-Dem predicts that the pandemic will have direct effects on global levels of liberal democracy in the long-term, with the consequences for worldwide democracy extending into the next decade. 

The question now is whether the “Biden effect” alone is strong enough to increase democracy worldwide. It’s still uncertain how much Biden can do to shift the world away from autocracy, and the Biden administration is receiving not much pressure from the American public to prioritize promoting democracy abroad. Pew Research reported that only 20 percent of American adults cited “promoting democracies abroad” in other nations as a top foreign policy goal, ranking last in a group of 20 foreign policy issues. 

President Biden has acknowledged the decreasing confidence in democracy worldwide. He expressed at the Munich Security Conference that because the U.S. is extremely influential abroad, we need to be a role model for other countries. Thus, the Biden administration must fix the aspects of democracy under attack in our own nation, such as addressing the increasing disenfranchisement of Americans and political extremism. In order to persuade other countries that democracy works, we must set a good example by first fixing our domestic problems, demonstrating to other nations that democracy is the best way forward. 


Foreign Interference in Elections: What Can Be Done?

By Morgan Doll

December 18, 2020

Foreign interference in the 2020 U.S. Presidential election was on many people’s minds after what happened in 2016. Just weeks before the election, news surfaced that Iranian operatives were threatening votes in Alaska and Florida that “they’d better vote for President Trump or else.” A few days later, a Russian hacking group was alleged of conducting cyberattacks on U.S. government infrastructure where they broke into at least two counties’ government servers accessing voter data. Reports show that efforts by foreign adversaries are unlikely to have affected the actual count of votes, but they were able to create doubt about the conduct of the election and spread false information to influence voters.

Foreign interference in U.S. elections is nothing new to our history. France historically sought to influence American presidential elections by appealing to the American people against the Federalists during the 1700s. In 1940, Great Britain wanted the United States to join the war to help boost their odds of winning. Since FDR was more supportive of the war effort than his opponent, British agents spread propaganda about FDR’s opponent to ensure a pro-war win. Interference is not just an issue in the United States; it is prevalent throughout the Western world, and globalization plays a huge role. As our world becomes more interconnected, foreign actors have more of an incentive to have the right candidate for them in office. For example, if one candidate supports trade policies that would favor certain countries, then those countries would have an incentive to elect the candidate that would help them economically. But the United States is no victim either. The U.S. government is notorious for interfering in Latin American elections to prevent left-leaning governments from coming to power.

Given the international-domestic nexus of foreign interference, how should the United States best protect their elections and ensure that the American public is confident in the current election system?

Where to start to protect our elections

The act of election interference defies the main principle of international law that countries must “respect the political independence and socio-economic and cultural integrity of every state.” NATO has clear rules on election interference stating that “cyberattacks and election interference will be regarded as a violation of the Article 5 mutual defense provision,” which encourages NATO allies to respond collectively against an attack on one of their members. Additionally, because cybersecurity is a crucial aspect of election interference and international security today, many see the issue primarily as an international one that needs to be met with an international response. 

"President Trump Attends the NATO Plenary Session" by The White House is marked under CC PDM 1.0. To view the terms, visit
“President Trump Attends the NATO Plenary Session” by The White House is marked under CC PDM 1.0. To view the terms, visit

Countries often respond to the threat of election interference through international measures such as economic sanctions, but many countries have also responded domestically by creating agencies within the country to combat foreign election interference and outlawing campaign donations from foreigners. In response to the spike of Russian active measures in the 2016 election, President Trump signed an executive order in 2018 that would place sanctions on any foreign entities proven to interfere in U.S. elections.  Other countries such as Australia, France, Japan, and Canada decided to limit or prevent foreign donations to specific parties and candidates. Sweden created a government agency to increase awareness surrounding threats of misinformation, and made a manual for the public to combat influential activities by foreign powers. The United States, similarly, has worked to toughen America’s election infrastructure, and the FBI along with the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency have kept up a drumbeat of regular bulletins about what they call the latest intelligence about prospective election cyberthreats. It seems as though these measures have been somewhat effective, considering how quickly the intelligence community was able to catch the interference by Iran and Russia before the election.

What do IR scholars think?

In Snap Poll XIV, we polled I.R. scholars to see how a handful of U.S. policies would affect the probability of interference by foreign governments in future U.S. elections. 79% of scholars said that enhanced cybersecurity measures for election infrastructure and enhanced counterintelligence efforts would decrease the probability of interference. 70% of scholars said that enhanced election finance laws would decrease the probability of interference. 67% of scholars said that deterrent threats of diplomatic isolation would have no effect, while 47% of scholars believe that deterrent threats of retaliatory economic sanctions would have no effect. The least effective measure chosen by scholars was deterrent threats of retaliatory military force, as 61% said there would be no effect and 14% said this would increase the probability of interference.

From these findings, we can see that scholars believe domestic leaning, defensive policies, like election finance laws, infrastructure, and counterintelligence efforts would be more effective than international leaning, retaliatory policies, like threatening cyberattacks, military force, and economic sanctions. Thus, while foreign election interference may seem like a primarily international issue, a combination of domestic policies and international cooperation might best combat this issue in future elections.

An anonymous essayist in the late 18th century who signed his name as “National Pride” wrote, “if the choice of a President of the United States is to depend on any Act of a foreign nation, farewell to your liberties and independence.” Foreign interference in elections will only become a bigger issue as globalization increases and technology advances, so countries should begin building their defenses now, and world powers like the United States should be punished for interfering in smaller countries. 

 "Barack Obama and Joe Biden on Election Day - November 6th" by Barack Obama is licensed with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit

“Barack Obama and Joe Biden on Election Day – November 6th” by Barack Obama is licensed with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit
Morgan Doll is a junior at the College of William and Mary majoring in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. She started working as a Research Assistant for TRIP in September 2019. On campus, Morgan is a member of Camp Kesem William & Mary and Kappa Alpha Theta Women’s Fraternity. Her interests include human and civil rights, law, and decision making. Skills: Foreign Language (Spanish)

It Matters What Scholars Think (and Why They Think It)

By Aidan Donovan

November 17, 2020

Washington Post and Foreign Policy have published findings from TRIP surveys about presidential elections, impeachment, and American foreign policy strategy. Consensus support for a particular position among international relations (IR) scholars might be a strong rationale for policy action. We know that policymakers demand and utilize academic work under certain conditions. On the supply side, there is a push within the academy to increase the rewards for producing policy-relevant research. It matters what scholars think about international issues. The challenge is that the reasoning behind consensus positions within the academy is often masked by political differences and the format of traditional survey research.

Scholarly research is useful to policymakers when the underlying logic is coherent and when policy prescriptions are clear. Policy relevance is stronger when many scholars have similar scholarly suggestions. In areas where there is a consensus among scholars, we should attempt to understand the underlying reason(s) for scholarly agreement. Understanding the logic of their positions, and whether this is consistent among scholars, is just as important as the conclusion.


For example, 83 percent of scholars opposed President Trump’s decision to leave the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) with Russia. Some scholars likely believe that the treaty is an effective security tool, while others may view the treaty as ineffective (given alleged non-compliance) but view the departure as an unnecessary provocation.  Scholars’ consensus opposition is clear, but the survey does not provide information on how each of the scholars reached this conclusion. Policymakers can also learn from scholars on topics where there is not a consensus, such as the effectiveness of economic sanctions. It would be worthwhile to know if scholars consider the same or different factors in evaluating the effectiveness of economic sanctions.

It is hard to learn from IR scholars without understanding why they think the way they do.

Learning from scholars can be challenging because scholars are overwhelmingly liberal, compared to a more divided electorate and policy community. In our 2017 Snap Poll, only 11 percent of scholars identified as conservative on economic or social issues. Almost two-thirds (62 percent) of international relations scholars self-identify as both economically and socially liberal. Survey questions and interpretations should reflect the complex relationship between ideology and expertise.

Scholarly credibility to speak on important issues needs to be accompanied by a coherent rationale for their consensus. On many issues, it is hard to know if the IR consensus is rooted in expert evaluation or political preferences. We asked scholars in 2017 whether President Trump’s unpredictable behavior has been an effective negotiation tactic, as he suggested in the campaign. Just 8 percent of liberal scholars say this has been effective, yet 45 percent of conservative scholars say it has been an effective negotiation tactic. There is both some theoretical support for projecting unpredictability or irrationality and a lot of skepticism from prominent scholars such as Stephen Walt. However, we are unable to determine whether theory and evidence, or politics, explains conservative scholars’ more favorable perspective on President Trump’s international negotiations.

“As a bargaining technique, the madman theory has a certain logical coherence to it … but the key lesson is that there is little or no evidence that the madman theory of diplomacy actually works” — Stephen Walt

The effect of politics on scholarly attitudes is exemplified by questions on the U.S. foreign aid budget. We asked in Snap Poll X (2017) whether the U.S. is spending too little, too much, or the right amount on foreign aid. The question did not mention any politicians by name, so respondents are more likely to report their genuine views on U.S. foreign aid. IR scholars overwhelmingly support greater spending on Aid. Overall, 82 percent of scholars thought the U.S. was spending too little and just 4 percent thought the U.S. was spending too much. Just 2 percent of liberal scholars and 16 percent of conservative scholars thought the U.S. should spend less on foreign aid. IR scholars supported increasing aid and opposed reducing aid regardless of political ideology. 

Do you think the U.S. is now spending too little, about the right amount, or too much on foreign aid? (October/November 2017)

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When we ask scholars to evaluate Trump’s performance specifically, just 3 percent of IR scholars report that he has done as well or better than Obama on “development and foreign aid” even though the U.S. aid budget as a whole has been consistent across administrations. The president’s rhetoric on aid and development may be somewhat significant in aid effectiveness, but the single biggest difference is that we are now asking about Trump (an especially unpopular figure among scholars) specifically. The average aid budget during Obama’s second term was $49.5 billion. The average aid budget from Trump’s first two years in office was just three percent lower at $48 billion. Aggregate aid has essentially been steady despite President Trump’s isolationist rhetoric. We asked in September 2020 whether Trump has done as well as or better than Obama on a list of issues, including “development and foreign aid.” Just three percent of scholars reported that Trump has even been equally as strong as Obama on this issue. Not a single self-reported Democrat answered affirmatively, and just 6 percent of Independents and 16 percent of Republicans did as well. A partisan-proof result is expected since Republican scholars are nearly evenly split between supporting Biden and Trump in the upcoming general election. The most likely explanation for these diverging results is that scholars considered their negative opinion of President Trump in evaluating his performance on foreign aid. If we asked the general 2017 question on the US foreign aid budget, we would likely find that substantive attitudes on aid have not changed much in three years.

Can we encourage evidence-driven guidance from scholars? 

Providing value-neutral questions and response options can encourage more substantive, and less political responses. In Snap Poll XI (2018), we asked scholars if the powers of the U.S. president have increased under President Trump, compared to the three previous presidents. This is potentially value neutral because a strong executive is not necessarily good, bad, liberal, or conservative. Liberal scholars were just slightly more likely than conservative scholars to answer that the president’s powers had increased under President Trump. Among conservative scholars, 5 percent say presidential power increased a lot and 15 percent say it increased somewhat. Among liberal scholars, 7 percent say presidential power increased a lot and 26 percent say it increased somewhat. 

Have the powers of the U.S. president under President Trump increased a lot / somewhatremained the same, or decreased a lot / somewhat compared to the previous three administrations?


The poll also asked scholars if they thought President Trump overstepped the foreign policy powers of the Office of the President. While liberal scholars were only slightly more likely than conservative scholars to say that President Trump increased the power of the president, liberal scholars were overwhelmingly more likely to say that he overstepped his foreign policy powers. Just 13 percent of conservative scholars said President Trump overstepped his foreign policy powers, compared to 47 percent of liberal scholars. Scholars seem to be capable of putting aside their political values at times, but the question asked makes their political perspective more or less relevant to their responses. 

It may be reasonable to assume that substantive knowledge and experience does, on average, make scholars more liberal. However, liberal substantially outnumber conservatives in a variety of fields. At least 80 percent of academics in english, history, and psychology are liberal, suggesting that self-selection may explain IR scholars’ liberalism as much as their subject-matter expertise. Conservative scholars will therefore be in the minority among academics on most political topics. Scholars as a whole could benefit from investigating whether observed divides are substantive or political when conservative scholars are in clear disagreement with the rest of the IR academy.

TRIP surveys of scholars, journalists, and think-tankers strive to gather expert opinions rather than politically-driven responses. Therefore, our survey questions must be designed in a way that intentionally attacks the issue of ambiguity in survey interpretation. Questions must be carefully worded to cue political beliefs and reactions only when intended. In our most recent snap poll, we asked scholars the following question: “Regardless of the substance of their foreign policy agendas, how effectively you believe each candidate would be in achieving his respective foreign policy goals over the next four years.” The phrase “regardless of the substance of their foreign policy agendas” reminds respondents to take each candidate’s goals as a given, which should produce more substantive responses regarding the candidate’s foreign policy capabilities. 

Additionally, multiple-choice questions could be supplemented with open-ended questions requiring explanations allowing researchers to understand the underlying reasoning to their scholarly advice. Scholars are roughly split between thinking the threat of economic sanctions would decrease or have no effect on the probability of election interference from other countries. We know that scholars are also split on the effectiveness of sanctions overall. Asking for an explanation could elucidate if those the overall wariness toward sanctions, or something specific to election interference, is driving skepticism of the efficacy of using sanctions to discourage election interference. The University of Chicago Booth School of Business Economic Experts Panel is a useful guide. The survey provides on-the-record respondents the opportunity to explain their answers and identify their confidence level and the school tracks responses over time to allow for track-record evaluation. This methodology incentivizes substantive and thoughtful response and discourages and identifies unsound beliefs. 

Expert surveys are a useful way to synthesize the research and impact within peer-review academic literature and to highlight analysis that may be useful to policymakers and voters. The success of survey responses in fulfilling this role is directly related to the proportion of each response that is a product of subject matter expertise and experience (instead of personal beliefs and ideology). TRIP surveys recognize the importance of careful wording and interpretation and the majority of IR scholars undoubtedly seek to provide impartial responses. Nonetheless, the academy could benefit from surveys that provide stronger incentives for careful reflection and substantive response. Policymakers need to be careful in using the results of expert surveys as justification for action in cases where the underlying logic is not clear. If scholars come to similar conclusions based on different reasoning, policymakers need to understand the differences and how each might apply to the present (real-world) situation. Surveys like TRIP can encourage policy relevance in the academy by incentivizing substantive and sufficiently-detailed responses that are directly useful to policymakers and politically-active citizens. 

Aidan Donovan is a senior at the College of William and Mary, majoring in Economics and Government. He has worked as a Research Assistant for TRIP since February of 2019. His interests include law and economic policy, and he is particularly interested in understanding how scholars think and communicate with policymakers and the public.

“We Didn’t Start the Fire”… But We’re Not Putting It Out, Either: The COVID-19 Pandemic Seven Months On

by Mary Trimble

October 29, 2020


If you have whiplash from this week’s, this month’s, or even this year’s news cycle, you’re far from alone. The sheer volume of events, that in any other year would dominate cable news for weeks at a time, is enough to leave one’s head spinning and inspire a rather morbid verse of “We Didn’t Start the Fire” (“Ayatollah’s in Iran, do we have a COVID plan?”). 

Here’s a quick recap of what has happened in 2020 so far: the assassination of an Iranian general and its fallout (remember that?), an impeachment (almost forgot to include that one), a hotly contested election, a pandemic (which created an economic recession), protests for racial justice, the passing of a legendary supreme court justice, a subsequent nomination fight, and the President of the United States being diagnosed with a potentially fatal respiratory disease (see “pandemic,” above) which, by the way, could have triggered a constitutional crisis. It seems like the only constant in this year— and the thing that has affected all of us, somehow (even scholars in the Ivory Tower)— has been the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Naturally, TRIP asked international relations (IR) scholars to try to untangle the Gordian Knot that is the state of 2020. In the fourteenth edition of TRIP’s Snap Polls of IR faculty, 706 IR scholars responded to questions about the upcoming election, foreign policy, and, of course, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Because covering all of their responses would probably require several thousand words and a few degrees that I don’t have yet, we’ll deal here only with scholars’ responses on the pandemic (the people with the degrees have covered the rest of it in this article in Foreign Policy). In Snap Poll XIII, in May 2020, scholars weighed in for the first time on COVID-19 and the US and international response (see the full results here, my take here, and RA Maggie Manson’s analysis of protests in the COVID-19 era using Snap Poll XIII data here). 

It goes without saying that much has changed in our understanding of COVID-19 and governments’ containment and mitigation policies since May. Europe and the United States have, for the most part, emerged from a “strict lockdown,” with limited success (and some are locking down once again in the face of a significant second wave). Scientists are scrambling to develop a vaccine, but with flu season approaching and COVID-19 cases rising to record-breaking levels around the world, it doesn’t seem like 2020 is going to end much better than how it started (and it started with the threat of WWIII). 

The last six months seem to have been enough to convince most scholars of the serious implications of a pandemic. While in 2017, the overwhelming majority of IR faculty did not believe that infectious diseases were currently a major concern or would become one in the next ten years, this time around, 75% of scholars believed that “the spread of infectious disease poses a major threat to the United States.” (For what it’s worth, this survey was in the field prior to news of the President’s COVID-19 diagnosis.) 

To that end, scholars also chimed in on how they felt governments and institutions had managed that threat. Whereas in May, 63% approved of the World Health Organization’s handling of the pandemic, in Snap Poll XIV, only 55% responded that the response had been at least “somewhat good,” with 32% saying their response had been “somewhat bad.” Perhaps this dip is simply a function of there still being a pandemic all these months later, or perhaps President Trump’s steady drumbeat of negative rhetoric on WHO, including withdrawing US funding from the organization, has penetrated the zeitgeist. 


Scholars had a resoundingly dismal review of the US response. Nearly 87% of respondents believed that the US had done a “very bad job dealing with the coronavirus outbreak.” They were much more bullish, however, about the EU’s handling of the outbreak, with roughly 72% saying that the EU had done a “somewhat good” or “very good” job managing the virus. 


It’s clear that the Trump Administration has been dismissive of the virus, downplaying the health threats associated with the disease, discouraging public health measures like mask-wearing and social distancing (including and especially at the rallies and events the President has held throughout the pandemic across the country and at the White House), and opposing lockdowns and school closures. In contrast, EU officials have consistently acknowledged the threat of the virus, even when there wasn’t a clear, pan-European consensus about how to handle it.

However, it’s also true that the EU didn’t have immediate (nor consistent) success at handling the virus, by their own admission. Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, scolded member states on March 26, 2020, for their failure to coordinate their responses. “And when Europe really needed to prove that this is not only a ‘fair weather Union’, too many initially refused to share their umbrella,” she said, referencing border closures throughout the Schengen Area and widespread stockpiling of medical supplies by national governments in the early days of the outbreak that disadvantaged other members, including Italy, which was the first European country to see a severe outbreak. Let’s not forget, too, the “corona bonds” crisis that once again pitted Northern and Southern European states against each other. 

Yet, in midsummer, when Europe seemed to be past the worst of the virus, the US was seeing its highest case numbers so far. It seemed clear that, at least by the numbers, the EU had gotten something right. Today, the picture is hazier. 

As of October 16th, the EU/European Economic Area (which includes the EU-27 and Norway, Liechtenstein, and Iceland) and the UK reported 198,886 deaths (that’s roughly 40 deaths per 100,000). On the same day, the US reported 217,987 deaths total as a result of the pandemic (around 68 deaths per 100,000). In the last week, both the US and the EU have seen significant spikes in the rolling average of new cases. On October 22, the EU and UK saw a 7-day rolling average of 125,571 new cases (25 new cases per 100,000, roughly four times higher than at the peak of the first wave in the spring), and the US reported a rolling average of 59,699 new cases (roughly 18 per 100,000) just under its existing high watermark.

Newsweek reported last week that certain countries in Europe, including Belgium and Spain, have surpassed the US in the number of deaths per one million people. (Moreover, on October 22nd it was announced that former Belgian PM and current Foreign Minister, Sophie Wilmès, was admitted to the ICU after testing positive for the virus.) These numbers suggest that, while perhaps the EU had things under control during the summer, that is no longer true. 

Let’s unpack this seeming contradiction in scholars’ opinions and the situation on the ground. First, this poll was in the field between Sept. 16 and 24. At this point, both Europe and the US were experiencing an uptick in cases, but it was much more significant in the United States. We’ve already established that things were looking better in Europe over the summer, while stateside it was nothing but bad news. US scholars are probably also over-exposed to US news, so perhaps no or little news from the EU was taken as de facto good news. So, scholars may have answered based on general and lingering impressions from the situation over the summer. If only to have a reason to use the word “zeitgeist” again, it’s worth reiterating that President Trump’s rhetoric, which has been so consistently at odds with science and public health recommendations, may have contributed to a panic that made anything look better by comparison, even to highly educated, extremely reasonable IR scholars.

IR scholars got it (mostly) wrong this time, it’s true. In fairness, public health science is not necessarily their area of expertise. More importantly, their miscalculation highlights all that we don’t know about this pandemic— the US and the EU took very different tacks in handling the virus and ended up in roughly the same situation. Here, however, is what we do know: masks work, social distancing works, hand washing works. Let’s do those things. 

The election is rapidly approaching, and scholars predict that a Biden administration would be vastly different to a second Trump administration in its policy on global public health, among other foreign policy concerns (they predict, too, that Biden would be more effective at achieving those goals). Perhaps that means more collaboration with the EU and others for the development of a vaccine, data sharing, or something else. Beyond that, though, it’s evident that we are far from free of this pandemic, here or across the pond. What’s worse: perhaps we need to evaluate and adjust our and scholars’ standards for what constitutes “success” and “failure” in the context of a pandemic before we have any hope of putting out this fire. 

Mary Trimble is a sophomore at the College hoping to double major in European Studies and French and Francophone Studies. Mary began work at TRIP in February 2020. She is also an associate news editor for The Flat Hat student newspaper and a Tribe Ambassador with the Office of Undergraduate Admissions. Her interests include US-EU relations, national identity, and the rise of populism and far-right nationalism in the US and abroad.

MENA Integration: Legacies & Suggestions

by Maggie Manson

September 23rd, 2020

In the TRIP 2017 Faculty Survey, scholars in Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon were asked “What are the three most important foreign policy problems facing [Respondent Country] today?” A significant issue that was present in each country’s top three response options was the issue of regional disintegration, with 100% of scholars noting this issue in Egypt, 60% in Jordan, and 25% in Lebanon. Regional disintegration refers to a lack of cohesion or shared identity between states in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Regional integration has been very important in the ancient and modern political history of the MENA, and the region’s current lack thereof is clearly an issue of great importance to scholars in Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon.  To understand the extent and importance of this disintegration, I’ll analyze past attempts at regional cohesion throughout  MENA, possible reasons for current disintegration, and offer my thoughts on what a potential regional conglomerate could look like in the future. 

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Egypt 2017 Faculty Survey Responses
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Lebanon 2017 Faculty Survey Responses
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Jordan 2017 Faculty Survey Responses

Historic integration of the region stems from the first Islamic state: the Rashidun Caliphate, which ruled the region from 632, after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, to 661 CE. The three other most prominent Caliphates include the Umayyad, Abbasid, and Ottoman Caliphates, with the Ottoman being the last, collapsing in 1923 under the pressure of Western interference post-world war one. The roots of modern regional integration in the MENA begin in 1928 with the founding of the Islamist group: the Muslim Brotherhood, founded by Egyptian teacher Hassan al-Banna. The organization rejected western influence and imperialism, seeking the rise of a free Islamic state as the solution to regional instability. However, with the rise of the Free Officers Movement in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood was coopted by the movement as they provided support for the 1952 coup d’etat but then were forcibly secularized once Free Officer Gamal Abdel Nasser came to power. Nasser’s political movement of Pan-Arabism, which integrated concepts of Arab nationalism and socialism, advocated for unity between Arab states against western influences. While the movement originated from the Syrian Ba’ath Party, it was popularized by Nasser who made Pan-Arabism policy in Egypt and helped to spread the movement throughout the region through diplomatic partnerships and alliances with other MENA countries. With the fall of Nasser in 1970, the subsequent end of Pan Arabism, and extensive foreign intervention in the region, a fractured MENA has emerged and scholars in three of these countries clearly see this as a significant foreign policy issue.

Previous bodies that have strived to create unity between Arab or MENA states include but are not limited to the Arab League, the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Maghreb Arab Union,  the Pan-Arab Free Trade Agreement, and the Agadir Agreement. The Arab League¹ was founded in 1945 with the primary goal to strengthen relationships and coordinate policies between the MENA countries. The goals of this body have not been achieved due to two major roadblocks; arguments over leadership, and conflicts between member countries due to the large scale of the group. The Gulf Cooperation Council(GCC)², a smaller more homogenous group,  was founded in 1981 as a political and economic alliance between Gulf states. The GCC can be seen as one of the most successful regional bodies in the MENA, due in part to the close geographic proximity, similar governments, and similar socioeconomic situations of member states. The Maghreb Arab Union³, founded in 1989, sought to achieve policy coordination, a shared identity, and free movement of people, goods, and services between member states. It was ultimately ineffective in achieving these goals due to Morocco-Algeria tensions, Libya-Mauritania tensions,  and the continuing issue of Western Sahara sovereignty. The Pan-Arab Free Trade Agreement, founded in 1997, aimed to decrease barriers to trade between countries to improve their economies, but despite increasing inter-regional trade, it ultimately had little impact on each of the countries’ individual economies. The Agadir Agreement founded in 2004 acted as a free trade agreement with the main goals included establishing free trade between member states and eventually creating a Mediterranean-European Free Trade Area by cooperating with the EU. These goals have not been achieved due to member state conflicts and blockades to a free trade area by the US. 

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Regional Membership of Surveyed Countries

In recent years any semblance of regional integration can be seen to be split down the middle with many states in the MENA taking sides in the Iran v. Saudi proxy conflict, that has primarily played out in the Yemeni civil war. To provide context for this regional rivalry, Iran (a majority Shia Islam country) and Saudi Arabia (a majority Sunni Islam country) have an ongoing sectarian-based conflict that has yet to devolve into all-out warfare directly against each other but has resulted in neighboring countries picking sides and regional meddling in order to exert influence. The Arab Spring uprisings in a few countries have exerted significant influence over this proxy conflict, as they have often acted as battlegrounds for this conflict to play out. In Bahrain, Syria, and Yemen, Iran and Saudi Arabia have aided and armed opposing sides of each uprising, arguably contributing to the escalation from protest movements to full-blown civil wars in some cases. This rivalry is also another major barrier to full regional integration that will need to be overcome to foster future collaboration. 

The future of MENA regional integration may look grim, but there remains great potential for strong economic regional cooperation. A key economic suggestion for overcoming historical obstacles to large-scale collaboration would be for Arab countries to work on coordinating a cohesive trade policy for intraregional and interregional trade. Intraregional trade policy should focus on essentially eliminating all tariffs, quotas, and non-tariff barriers to trade between these countries, while still fostering some protection of vulnerable industries within the region from competition with more developed countries on global markets. Any Arab trade conglomerate would hopefully not advocate solely for protectionism which would be to their detriment, but instead, advocate for strategic protectionism that still allows consumers access to global markets, but still allows Arab industries to compete (think infant industry protection- A. Hamilton). Additionally, Arab states should strive to form a strong voting/negotiating coalition among them for World Trade Organization rounds/ ministerial conferences in order to approach these meetings with common regional stances, allowing them to actually pass rules/treaties that favor Less Developed Countries/benefit the region. Solutions across economic dimensions do not necessarily solve the barrier to integration that is the Saudi/Iranian rivalry, based on religious/cultural divides. However,  I believe that focusing on full economic integration first would help eliminate barriers to further integration such as the aforementioned conflict and commitment problems, as well as facilitate future collaboration through issue-linking and regulating repeating interactions between states. There is still much work to be done in order for these states to actualize integration, but the legacies of the Caliphate, Pan-Arabism, and contemporary economic collaboration, regional integration is both possible and realistic in the Middle East and North Africa.

¹Member countries include Algeria, Bahrain, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, UAE, and Yemen

²Member countries include Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE)

³Member countries include Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, and Tunisia

Member countries include Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen

Member countries include Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, and Tunisia

Maggie Manson is a junior at William & Mary, majoring in International Relations and Middle Eastern Studies.  She began working at TRIP in September 2019. Her research interests include Border Disputes, Colonialism, Global Development, International Security, Middle Eastern Politics, Nuclear Politics, and Political Islam. On campus Maggie is Assistant Chair of Administration for the Undergraduate Honor Council, a research assistant for Professor Grewal’s Armed Responses to Mobilization Or Revolution (ARMOR) project, and Political Correspondent for the Flat Hat student newspaper.