Bridging the Theory-Practice Divide in International Relations

We are excited to share that Bridging the Theory-Practice Divide in International Relations will be published by Georgetown University Press in Spring of 2020.

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In many ways this book traces its origins to a series of conversations between faculty and students at William & Mary more than 15 years ago. The students routinely pushed the faculty to think more deeply about our discipline and our place in it. They asked why political scientists seemed to write exclusively for others in the field and to teach their students to do the same. They repeatedly asked that their coursework (and related research opportunities) be more closely linked to the practice of international relations (IR). They asked good, smart questions: Why do professors spend so much time in class teaching us about structural realism and the various flavors of constructivism? How will this help us to do better work at the State Department, World Bank, or Amnesty International after we graduate? Does any of the research done in the IR field actually shape the thinking and behavior of policymakers? What else should we study, other than political science, to affect outcomes in the real world?

We did not always have good answers to these questions because our answers were rooted in anecdotes and second-hand observations. We had plenty of theory and good evidence about war, trade, human rights, and foreign aid, but we lacked theory and good evidence about our own discipline, which are necessary conditions for social scientific inference. To address any of these questions in a serious way, we would need a more systematic approach to studying the teaching and research practices of IR scholars and we would need data on what practitioners find most useful from their counterparts in the academy.

The central question that motivates this book is whether research produced by scholars of international relations (IR) is relevant to policy and practice. In this first-of-its kind conversation across the academic-policy divide, leading IR scholars and veteran policy practitioners reflect on the nature and size of the gap across eight different issue areas within IR. This comparative study identifies two structural features that shape the academy’s ability and/or willingness to influence policy: 1) the level of uncertainty surrounding a policy problem and its proposed solutions; 2) the level of access that scholars have to policy makers. The book’s contributors also analyze two professional incentives that purportedly affect IR scholars’ research choices: 1) pressure to employ sophisticated empirical methods; and 2) few rewards for communicating research findings to the public or practitioners outside of academia. Individual chapters explore the impact of these factors on the size and nature of the theory-practice divide in trade, finance, human rights, development, environment, nuclear weapons and strategy, inter-state war, and intra-state conflict.

Pre-order the book from Georgetown University Press today!

Foreign Aid: A Realpolitik Pawn or a Tool for Change?

By Maggie Manson

November 19th, 2019

Public impeachment hearings are now underway, with the first held on Wednesday, November 13th and a second on Friday, November 15th. The House and the public are anxiously awaiting testimonies from career public servants tied up in the Ukraine scandal. Much of the inquiry into the now-infamous phone call between U.S. President Donald J. Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on July 25th has focused on the question of a quid pro quo, or if President Trump’s actions in pressuring Ukraine to investigate his political rivals constitute justification for his removal from office. However, the portions of the hearing focused on foreign aid to Ukraine can be difficult to follow. What was this aid being used for? How do scholars view aid, and how does that differ from how Trump views this aid? 

The purpose of the U.S. aid to Ukraine is simple: to assist and protect a key U.S. ally in the east from their increasingly hawkish neighbor and historical U.S. adversary Russia. This aid includes monetary and military aid that provides training, weapons, and basic provisions such as medical supplies and uniforms for the Ukrainian military. The delivery of this aid is where it gets complicated. The aid package was approved by Congress and sent to Ukraine every year since the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea. That is, until this summer when the package was withheld by President Trump for two months before it was finally released due to bipartisan pressure in Congress. This hold on the aid had many in Washington questioning the president’s motives behind this move. Why would he withhold aid from a key U.S. ally who needed it so desperately? 

An initial assumption, held by many observers, was that this had to do with Trump’s complicated yet cozy relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. This assumption was later dispelled by findings in the whistleblower report released on September 26th. The whistleblower revealed that a conversation had occurred between President Trump and President Zelensky where Trump pressured Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden, who had conducted business in Ukraine, on the basis of illegal or corrupt conduct by the young Biden. This report began to raise concerns that Trump had not only pressured a foreign leader to investigate his political rival for his own personal gain, but also had linked the request to the hold on foreign aid; as a result, many labeled this interaction a quid pro quo. 

Trump’s willingness to trade foreign aid essential to Ukrainian security for his personal political agenda shows his disregard for the important role of foreign aid in protecting our allies abroad  One might argue that he views aid simply as a means of advancing his own interests, ignoring its true purpose to aid countries in security, development, and protection of human rights. One might expect the U.S. president to treat aid with more sensitivity and less volatility, but of course Trump is not a typical president. According to scholars polled in the 2018 TRIP Snap Poll XI, this unpredictable behavior is expected from Trump, and not seen as an effective tactic.  
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While Trump’s personal motives behind this proposed exchange of aid for investigation are apparent, he isn’t the only one who views aid as a tool to advance interest. Also in the 2018 TRIP Snap Poll XI, scholars were asked how they would advise the U.S. government to respond to an increase in foreign aid spending by China. 39.01% of respondents stated that they would advise an increase in U.S. foreign aid spending to compete with China, while 33.89% of respondents would advise the U.S. government to seek to coordinate development spending in collaboration with China. 

These top two responses indicate that respondents also view aid as a strategic tool with the capacity to counter Chinese influence and advance U.S. interests. Both these scholars and Trump see the strategic benefits that aid can provide. Despite similarities, a key difference between scholarly perspectives and Trump’s view on aid is that while scholars view it as a tool for U.S. foreign policy, Trump tends to interweave personal and public objectives, often advocating for policy that advances his business and adds to his personal wealth. 

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This brings us back to the Ukraine incident. Scholars agree that aid is a necessary tool to advance U.S. foreign policy. Some might argue that Trump’s leveraging of the Ukrainian aid package was not only justified, but a normal interaction between two world leaders to achieve their policy goals. However, that argument can be disputed by the personal objectives behind Trump’s actions; investigation of a political rival is not a national objective, but rather a clearly personal motivation. In condemning Trump’s actions, one might also consider looking at broader views of U.S. foreign aid. Should we shift away from the realist view of foreign aid as an instrument to be leveraged for national interests towards a more liberal view that aid should be issued with the intention to uplift countries through economic, social, and political change? The U.S. can still advance its interests in foreign policy through greater consideration of the impact and allocation of foreign aid. U.S. interests can align with global humanitarian interests if we pave a way for using aid for good. 

Retracing Fatal Journeys: U.K. Truck Deaths and Undocumented Immigration

By Patrick Zhang

November 13th, 2019

On Wednesday, October 23rd, the police in Essex County, England found 39 dead bodies inside a container truck after receiving a call for an ambulance. The truck was found at the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, about 25 miles east of London. While the identity of these people and the reason for their deaths remained mysterious at first, the police soon claimed that the 39 people found dead in the truck trailer were believed to be Chinese citizens who were victims of human trafficking. The hasty conclusion of the local police raised concerns of the Chinese government towards the incident. As a statement by the Chinese Embassy in Britain says, “We read with heavy heart the reports about the death of 39 people in Essex, England. We are in close contact with the British police to seek clarification and confirmation of the relevant reports”. However, as the investigation went on, the police found that the people found dead in the truck were from Vietnam, not China.

Patrick1The truck in which the 39 bodies were discovered in Grays, east of London, was driven to a secure location for further investigation on Wednesday. CNN.

Despite the debate over the nationality of these individuals, the reason for their death became clear after the investigation. As the local police retraced the fatal journey of the people in the truck, they realized that this was another tragedy related to undocumented immigration. While many details surrounding the deaths still remain unclear, this incident reflects further social and human rights issues related to the inflow of migrants into the developed western countries from underdeveloped regions across the world. Reports about various similar cases suggest that the practice of smuggling migrants into developed countries has become a recurring problem in the world. 

TRIP surveys in the past years provide valuable insights into the attitudes of the academic world towards immigration issues. A 2014 TRIP faculty survey asked IR scholars from different countries in the world about their opinions towards immigration in their own country. Among all the 3731 respondents, 42.94 percent believe that immigration to their countries should be increased while 29.35 percent believe that immigration to their countries should be kept at its present level. Only 11.95 percent of the respondents believe that immigration to their countries should be decreased. The distribution of the answers to the survey shows that the IR scholars across the world generally hold a positive view of the flow of immigrants into their own countries. 

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The distribution becomes even more skewed when the question is asked again to IR scholars in the United States in TRIP Snap Poll III: Seven Questions on Current Global Issues for International Relations Scholars. 52.58 percent of the total 1335 respondents believe that immigration to the United States should be increased, while only 5.62 percent of the respondents believe it should be decreased. 

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The responses of the IR scholars in the TRIP surveys reveal the relatively positive attitude of academics towards immigration. Although the surveys did not specify undocumentedimmigrants or refugees from other kinds of migrants, they still show the shared belief among most IR scholars world that immigration should be encouraged rather than suppressed whether in the U.S. or across the world. 

However, when the question of the surveys is specified into different kinds of immigrants, the answers of the scholars did not change much. In the 2014 TRIP faculty survey, scholars across the world are asked about their attitudes towards the migration of high-skilled immigrants into their own country. 35.51 percent of the respondents chose strongly agree and 42.38 percent chose agree when they are asked whether programs that encourage immigration by high-skilled workers would benefit the economy of their country. With less than 10 percent of the respondents answering disagree or strongly disagree, the result shows that the scholars’ views of high-skilled, documented immigrants are generally positive. Contrary to the arguments by many conservative politicians that portray immigrant workers as potential competitors for local workers and threats to the local economy, most IR scholars around the world believe that encouraging high-skilled workers and documented immigration would positively influence the economy of their home country. 

Besides the positive and welcoming attitudes of the IR scholars towards high-skilled and documented immigrants, scholars from the United States also believe that the country should be more open to the refugees coming from all around the work. Question #8 of the TRIP Snap Poll VII

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asked U.S. IR scholars about the U.S. policy towards refugees. 70.54 percent of the scholars who answered the question believe that the U.S. should increase the number of refugees it accepts in light of the recent refugee crisis. In contrast, only 6.39 percent of the respondents believe that the country should decrease the number of refugees it accepts. The distribution of the answers shows that the IR scholars in the United States generally believe that the country should take more refugees and perform a larger role in the humanitarian efforts across the world. 

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In conclusion, despite the rising political debates over the government policies toward immigrants, IR scholars whether in the U.S. or across the world believe that increasing immigration would provide more benefits rather than threats to different countries in the world. More welcoming immigration policies would also contribute to humanitarian efforts by providing more opportunities for refugees across the world and prevent tragedies such as the truck deaths in the UK from happening again. The views of scholars suggest that opening up the countries to immigrants would be a win-win solution to both the local governments and immigrants across the world.

 

Gearing up for TRIP’s Foreign Affairs Journalist and Scholars Conference

by Morgan Doll

November 4, 2019

This weekend, the Teaching, Research, and International Policy Project will host a conference at William & Mary for foreign affairs journalists and scholars to discuss foreign policy journalism in the Trump era and address the goal of bridging the gap between journalism and scholarship. The purpose of this conference is to create a dialogue between academics and journalists and brainstorm ways that scholars can increase engagement with the media. It will begin with a panel discussion open to the public, titled “Foreign Policy Journalism in the Trump Era” featuring CNN analyst Susan Hennessy, Correspondent for the New York Times David Sanger, and Reporter for the Intercept Akela Lacy. Additionally, it will include three workshops each with different themes and guiding questions for journalists and scholars to interact and discuss media-academic engagement. Here at TRIP we are incredibly excited for this weekend and have been gearing up for it for months. 

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So, what topics can we expect to hear about from the attending guests?

Impeachment

It is likely that the journalists at the panel will discuss the Trump impeachment, since at least two of the featured speakers have written about/eluded to the impeachment proceedings in recent work, and impeachment seems to be on everyone’s minds lately. Since this conference will focus a lot on journalism and scholarship in the Trump Era, it would be interesting to hear how journalists predict President Trump’s impeachment and possible removal from office would affect journalism and politics leading up to the 2020 elections.

Fake News

The newer threat of fake news affects both scholars and journalists, so I would expect to hear a discussion of how skepticism of experts and the media has altered these professions and what can be done to combat fake news? What is the role of expert knowledge? How can scholars and journalists make sure they have the public’s trust?

America’s International Image

Finally, I would expect to hear a lot about how foreign affairs have changed in the Trump Era, especially concerning the unwritten principle that politics stops at the water’s edge. According to TRIP Snap Poll XI from 2016, 93.8% of IR experts agree that the United States is less respected today by other countries. It would be interesting to hear whether/how this has affected foreign policy journalism and whether journalists see this data in action when reporting abroad.

Here are some questions I have for the panel:

For all Panelists: 

  • In 2019 we surveyed journalists covering U.S. foreign policy about their views on international relations (IR) experts and expertise. Now, we would like to put some reasoning to the survey results. Do the journalists believe that the American public cares about the communication of expert knowledge?
  • My fellow Research Assistants and I have noticed that certain journals like The Monkey Cage and Lawfare employ scholarly articles in their OpEds more than traditional news sources such as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, so does the outlet that one works for affect the degree to which they use/engage with expert knowledge? Do journalists feel pressured to keep up with scholarly debates and findings in the fields that they report on, or is it simply too much to keep up with?

For Susan Hennessey:

    • How has the Russian Connection affected the way the US is seen abroad, and how has it defined the Trump presidency and American Politics today?
    • In your opinion, has the office of the presidency and presidential powers changed forever under Trump?

For David Sanger:

    • Is there a divide between policy makers and reporters in DC? Do policy makers ever listen to your opinions?
    • How important is journalism to national security? Do you ever have to balance between protecting national security interests and reporting to the public?
    • Do you think young people care about politics/national security more or less now than when you first started at the New York Times? If so, was there a specific point in time when this shift occurred?

For Akela Lacy:

    • To your knowledge, how do experts view immigration and how has that been twisted by the media and Trump Administration?
    • Is there a distinct difference in reporting about foreign affairs compared to domestic issues?

We expect to learn a lot from this conference and are excited to hear what the journalists, scholars, and the public have to say about these topics.

The panel discussion will take place this Thursday, November 7th at 5:00pm in Tucker 127A, 350 James Blair Dr. 

Chugging Along the Campaign Trail: The Future of US Foreign Policy

By Moira Johnson

October 28th, 2019

Well folks, it finally happened. If you’ve been following the democratic campaign trail, you know that we’ve finally arrived at the moment that TRIP’s been waiting for: the candidates broke the seal on foreign policy discussion. With President Trump calling for a full withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria on October 13th, the debate on the 15th was the perfect opportunity for the democratic candidates to showcase their foreign policy platforms. While the conversation was sparked by a discussion of U.S. withdrawal from Syria, which many politicians on both sides of the aisle have spoken out about, there was a schism on the debate stage.

While all candidates onstage agreed that the U.S. should work to end military engagement in the Middle East (there have been many candidates from both parties who claimed that they would work to end the Forever War), few agreed on what direction U.S. Foreign Policy should be moving in. 

In the past, TRIP has surveyed scholars about their views on effective tools of statecraft and compared their responses based on the Hawks vs. Doves spectrum:

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Hawks represent those more likely to favor aggressive action, including military intervention. Doves prefer to use other methods of engagement, such as diplomatic means. There is a large consensus across both groups when it comes to multilateral efforts, such as free trade agreements, maintaining existing alliances, and international agreements on the whole. Of course, the biggest divide is seen when it comes to maintaining U.S. military superiority. 

Made apparent by the discourse throughout the debate, the divide between Doves and Hawks no longer falls along party lines. While many of the candidates agreed that the U.S. should work to maintain its relationships and support our allies (in the case of Syria, the Kurds), there was a split in the remaining forms of military and diplomatic engagement. On the one side, centrist, internationally-focused candidates (Biden, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar) advocate for remaining committed to our allies 100%. And on the other, more isolation-inclined candidates (Sanders, Warren, and Gabbard) present a more skeptical view of U.S. engagement abroad. 

Donald Trump has also changed the Hawk-Dove binary in this sense. While he has threatened to attack countries he views as antagonistic towards the U.S. as one would expect a Hawk to do, he acts like a Dove by avoiding confrontation.  

Does this division matter anymore? Can Democrats align themselves under the banner of ending wars? Will candidates commit to bringing the troops home or will they place a greater level of importance on maintaining our allies in conflict zones? 

In 2020, no matter if you vote Republican or Democrat, the future of America’s foreign policy is most certainly on the ballot. 

 

Moira Johnson is a senior at the College, majoring in Government and minoring in Physics. She has worked at TRIP since August of 2018. Her interests include Middle Eastern conflicts, Nuclear Proliferation, and the U.S. Intelligence Community.

Don’t Chicken Out on Turkey

Peter Leonard

October 21st, 2019

The TRIP Twitter account recently had an insightful Tweet about the current situation unfolding in northern Syria. In the wake of the U.S. pulling out of the region, the door is open for a Turkish invasion.

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The Tweet emphasizes the importance of staying with allies, in this case our Kurdish allies. According to a 2017 survey, 96 percent of international relations experts believe that maintaining existing alliances is an effective approach to achieving foreign policy goals. I think the Tweet also raises another valuable question: given the importance of maintaining existing alliances, how should we treat our Turkish allies?

The U.S./Turkish relationship goes back hundreds of years. The alliance was especially important during the Cold War as Turkey, a NATO member, served as a check on Soviet influence in the Middle East. Flash forward to more recent times and one finds that the relationship is in murkier waters. In 2003, then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan did not allow the U.S. to use Turkish bases when invading Iraq. The relationship has only gone south from there.

Erdogan blamed a cleric, now living in the U.S., for instigating a 2016 failed coup attempt and demanded he be extradited to Turkey. Just before the events in Syria, Turkey went ahead with buying a Russian-made missile defense system, despite objections from both the U.S. and NATO. Now, despite President Trump’s warning of retribution if Turkey took action in northern Syria, Erdogan authorized a Turkish invasion to drive out the Kurds. The recent events beg the question of whether U.S./Turkey relations will improve or if the U.S. should back away from its Turkish allies.

Some evidence suggests that the alliance might be ill-fated and on its way out. A 2017 poll by the Pew Research Center found that 79% of Turkish respondents held unfavorable views towards the United States. Academics have a similar weariness of keeping the relationship as it stands. A 2017 TRIP poll found that a plurality of academics thought that the U.S. should not have long-term military bases in Turkey.

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If one looks at Turkey’s top priorities, it is easy to see why the relationship has soured. A 2014 TRIP poll found that Turkish scholars felt conflict in the Middle East, transnational terrorism, and immigration were the three most important foreign policy issues facing Turkey. Turkey has similar concerns today. Turkey still hosts over 3 million Syrian refugees and continuously denies Kurdish claims for independence. Most of these foreign policy interests do not line up with the United States, diminishing the common ground the countries can stand on.

Despite evidence pointing to the relationship’s demise, there are also several arguments for why the alliance remains vital. The U.S. and Turkey do have one shared goal: combating ISIS. In a 2018 TRIP poll, U.S. academics still listed terrorism as one of the top five threats facing the U.S. While the U.S. and its allies reduced ISIS’s influence in the Middle East, the group still lingers long after President Trump claimed he “beat ISIS.” Turkey could play a key role in assuring that ISIS does not make a comeback.

Perhaps more importantly, the value in maintaining a relationship with Turkey goes back to the TRIP poll linked in the Tweet. Scholars overwhelmingly agree that maintaining existing alliances is an effective foreign policy tool. Allies are hard to come by in the Middle East. Losing Turkey as an ally would mean losing one of the U.S.’s few connections to the region. Worse yet, Turkey has already shown that it is willing to be friendlier with Russia. In 2014, U.S. scholars remarked that “renewed Russian assertiveness” was still a danger to U.S. foreign policy. Russia’s recent actions in Syria and elsewhere in the region only exacerbate that threat. If the U.S. turns its back on Turkey, Turkey would be further incentivized to embrace Russia as a main ally.

The situation in northern Syria is by no means over. Another blow to the relationship came when the U.S. announced it would place sanctions on Turkey over Turkey’s invasion. Turkey may not be “in the right” in this situation, but the U.S. must tread carefully with how it treats an important NATO ally.

 

Ideology and Scholarly Insights

By Aidan Donovan

October 8th, 2019

The ideological divide between International Relations scholars varies greatly between foreign policy issues. Understanding which issues appear to stimulate strong ideological fissures allows us a measure of healthy skepticism when interpreting surveys of scholars. Consumers of academic knowledge should withhold some confidence in scholarly claims until we better understand how scholars arrive at their conclusions. On issues where ideology may cause differing views, we should acknowledge this difference when evaluating overall conclusions, particularly since IR scholars are mostly liberal.

The Teaching, Research, and International Policy (TRIP) Project’s 2017 Snap Poll includes responses from 1,395 IR scholars at U.S. colleges and universities. In our sample, 181 scholars identify as somewhat or very conservative on economic or social issues. The large sample of IR scholars allows us to examine the ideological divide within the academy and provide initial support a potential causal relationship between ideology and views on certain issues.

The divide is present on some of the issues we asked scholars to evaluate. First, we asked scholars if they approved or disapproved of “President Donald Trump’s proposed policy of withdrawing U.S. support” (1) from the Iran nuclear weapons agreement and (2) for international climate change agreements. Finally, we asked scholars if they believe that ISIS is a major threat to the United States. According to basic logistic regression models, the apparent role of ideology varies among these issues.

Aidanfall1A simple logistic regression of approval to leave the Iran Deal on conservative ideology estimates that conservative scholars are 60 times more likely to support this policy than non-conservative scholars. Ideology explains about a third of the variation in support, suggesting this may be an ideologically salient issue. Iran is a controversial country and has a complicated history with America and its allies, so American perceptions of the deal are deeply partisan.

The next step is to control for factors separate from deep-seated political ideology. The deal relaxed sanctions on Iran and frustrated Israel, an American ally. Therefore, I first controlled for individuals’ belief in the effectiveness of sanctions and maintaining existing alliances as foreign policy tools of the United States. The power of ideology increased slightly, and neither of the foreign policy controls were statistically significant. Next, I included the perceived effectiveness of international agreements and military intervention, since that is often presented as the forced trade-off here. Both of those controls are significant, but conservatives are still 28 times as likely as non-conservatives to approve of Trump’s proposal.

I want to examine different ideological perspectives, so I finally control for confidence in President Trump “to do the right thing regarding world affairs.” Conservative scholars are about 11 times more likely than non-conservative scholars to approve of Trump leaving the Iran nuclear agreement, even controlling for the policymaking controls and confidence in President Trump. 

An ideological divide is also present on President Donald Trump’s proposed policy of withdrawing U.S. support for international climate change agreements. A simple logistic regression estimates that conservatives are almost 80 times as likely as non-conservatives to support this policy. Almost half the variation in support for withdrawing U.S. support for climate agreements is explained by ideology.

I add controls for the perceived effectiveness of international agreements and international organizations and the ideology gap decreases to 54 times as likely. Belief in international organizations has a statistically significant and negative relationship with approval of this policy. This is unsurprising since the largest climate agreements, notably the Paris Agreement, are negotiated through the United Nations.

Finally, the full model controls for confidence in President Trump as well. Conservative scholars in our sample are about 26 times as likely to approve of withdrawing U.S. support for international climate change agreements than non-conservative scholars, controlling for confidence in Trump, international agreements, and international organizations. Scholars who are confident in Trump are 7 times as likely to support his climate policy. The variation between these estimates show that ideology appears to play a role in scholars’ beliefs on key questions in international affairs, even beyond their expressed political preferences.

However, the role of ideology, and its relationship with political preferences, is not consistent on all issues. A simple logistic regression between scholars’ belief that ISIS is a major threat and ideology finds no significant relationship. In fact, ideology explains less than 1 percent of their perceived threat of ISIS. A hawkish attitude, measured by confidence in military intervention to achieve U.S. foreign policy goals, appears to matter. However, even this relationship breaks down when controlling for confidence in President Trump. Candidate Trump ran on an anti-interventionist stance, but scholars with confidence in Trump are more likely to view ISIS as a major threat than those without confidence in Trump, even though ideology is statistically and substantively insignificant.

Some foreign policy issues, such as climate change agreements and the Iran nuclear deal, appear to stimulate ideological differences in how scholars view the issues and possible solutions. If ideology causes scholars to hold differing views, we must acknowledge this difference when evaluating overall conclusions. Understanding potential ideological biases of scholars allows us to more accurately compare their views. This would make data collected by TRIP and other groups far more valuable. If we can evaluate issues with an understanding of the role of ideology, we will benefit from the vast knowledge and experience of international relations scholars.
Aidan Donovan is a junior 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.

Trump’s Foreign Policy and Presidential Powers: What Do the Experts Think?

By Lucas Arnett

October 1st, 2019

Last week, an anonymous whistle-blower filed a complaint calling into question handling of sensitive information. President Trump went to “great lengths” to classify the details around a phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelensky in which the President asked his counterpart to “look into” a now discredited accusation of Former Vice President Joe Biden only a few days after announcing plans to withhold $400 million in military aid to the Ukranian government. Although Mr. Zelensky denies being pressured and Mr. Trump claims it’s just another ‘witch hunt’, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has set in motion plans for an impeachment inquiry. 

It’s no secret that Mr. Trump’s foreign policy doctrine of unpredictability has been controversial for some time, but scholars could at least agree the President had not overstepped his authority as a President. Now, following the political storm surrounding Wednesday’s events, scholars are being forced to reconsider the impact of Mr. Trump’s foreign policy in a more serious light. The Teaching Research and International Policy (TRIP) team at the College of William and Mary’s Global Research Institute (GRI), at which I am a research assistant, conducted a survey in October investigating what scholars think of Trump’s foreign policy. 

Trump’s foreign policy has never been popular. Of the 1075 scholars who responded to our survey, 81.1% believe President Trump’s doctrine of unpredictability is not an effective tactic for negotiation. Being unpredictable makes it harder for analysts to understand the President’s agenda and priorities, and it makes our allies less certain that we will come to their aid if need be. Add to that the series of semantic slip-ups the President’s made including revealing classified information to the Russian foreign minister and referring to a variety of developing countries as ‘shitholes’ and it’s not surprising that his policy is unpopular. In October of 2018, 93.2% of experts agreed that the United States is less respected internationally since the Trump administration came into power, and 99.2% of those scholars agree that’s a problem. 

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Scholars also disagree with almost every foreign policy decision Trump has made. One of the Trump administration’s first actions was to pass a budget proposal which included a drastic cut in development aid. When asked whether the United States should increase development aid to counteract Chinese influence, only 1.86% of scholars advocated for a decrease in aid compared to 72.9% advocating for an increase, and 22.07% advocating for no change. Additionally, only 6.7% of scholars think President Trump’s DPRK policy will lead to denuclearization, 93% of scholars oppose the President’s proposal to withdraw from NATO, and only 8% of scholars support the President’s decision to pull out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. 

Despite a controversial foreign policy, scholars have largely been divided on the issue of executive authority. In late 2018, 48.6% of scholars believed the President had not overstepped his foreign policy powers compared to 41.6% who believed he did and 9.8% who selected “don’t know.” President Trump’s unorthodox travel ban and a flexible interpretation of “national emergency” also were not enough to convince scholars that executive power has increased; in fact 67.9% of scholars agree Presidential power has not increased under Mr. Trump’s administration. On the grounds of abuse of power, scholars don’t seem to recognize a precedent of unpunished impeachable offenses. 

The whistleblower’s complaint incited the political straw that finally broke Congress’s back and it has certainly drawn the public’s attention, but will this be enough to convince academics that President Trump’s ineffectual, unorthodox foreign policy may be putting our country at risk? Is the President’s “lockdown” of the phone call’s transcript symptomatic of an unconventional foreign policy or an attempted cover-up of a large-scale corruption, extortion, and bribery scandal? We’ll have to keep watching. 

 

Lucas Arnett is a proud member of William & Mary’s class of 2022. He’s  interested in going into the field of International Relations, ideally starting with the Peace Corps and then settling into a calmer desk job as an analyst after a few years. On campus, Lucas is involved with the WM Debate Society, the Eco Schools Leadership Initiative (ESLI), and the Catholic church. A fun fact about Lucas is that his ancestors founded a town in the Midwest called Arnettsville, which still bears his family’s name to this day.

Spooky Scary Cyberwar

By Peter Leonard

The news has been blowing up recently with reports that Iran may have been behind an attack on a Saudi Arabian oilfield and processing facility. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was among the first to point a finger at Iran, claiming that all evidence pointed to Iran’s involvement. Now, the U.S and Iran are back on the brink of conflict in what has been a tumultuous year. With conventional warfare an unlikely option, the U.S. and Iran could be gearing up for a full-on cyberwar.

When considering the events of the past week, it is important to examine the background of the conflict to contemplate where the countries will go from here. The current tensions with Iran can be partially linked back to the United States withdrawing from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in 2018. President Donald Trump’s decision to renege on the deal frustrated scholars and policy practitioners alike. According to a TRIP poll conducted in 2017, 94% of scholars disapproved of Donald Trump withdrawing the U.S. from the nuclear agreement. 

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More importantly, the U.S. withdrawal angered many within the Iranian government. Those who had proposed making peace with the United States now had nothing to show for it. It also appeared to prove that the government’s hawkish factions had been right about not trusting the United States. As a consequence, militaristic factions in Iran became more aggressive about confronting the United States.

Here is where cybersecurity enters the picture. Scholars have said that cyberwarfare would be a major threat for years. In the same 2017 TRIP poll, scholars placed cyberwarfare as one of the top five foreign policy issues facing the U.S. today. When asked about the threat potential of cyberwarfare, 51.93% of scholars noted a cyberattack from another country was a “major threat,” compared to a minor threat or no threat at all. 

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Tying this information back to Iran, the vast majority of scholars said international agreements were somewhat effective or very effective at achieving the foreign policy goals of the United States. These statistics stand in sharp contrast to a militaristic approach. Over 79% of scholars said military interventions were either “not very effective” or “not effective at all” in achieving foreign policy goals. Clearly, this data suggests that scholars would prefer a diplomatic approach like the JCPOA over military excursions, including cyberattacks. However, it now seems like current events are trending in the opposite direction.

On June 13, 2019, Iran attacked two oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz, angering the U.S. and its allies. After saying the U.S. was “locked and loaded,” President Trump backed down from his threats to strike back, or so it seemed. More discreetly, the U.S. carried out several cyberattacks against Iranaian targets, focusing on groups that helped carry out the attack. The cyberattack was not the first time the U.S. had targeted Iran. The US/Israeli-made computer virus “Stuxnet” damaged Iranian computer programs in 2010, infecting over 200,000 computers

The difference between 2010 and 2019, though, is that Iran now has the potential to strike back. The 2019 Worldwide Threat Assessment stated that “Iran continued to present a cyber espionage and attack threat” to the U.S. The report further stated that Iran “is capable of causing localized, temporarily disruptive effects – such as disrupting a large company’s corporate networks for days to weeks.” The report refers to an example where Iranian hackers hit a petrochemical plant in Saudi Arabia, attempting to trigger an explosion. It now even seems that Russia has helped Iran improve its hacking abilities. 

As previously noted, scholars believe international agreements are more effective at resolving conflict than military interventions. However, the JCPOA is no longer on the table and it does not seem like the U.S. nor Iran are willing to renegotiate the deal any time soon. Iran’s increased technological capabilities, combined with the U.S. relying increasingly on cyberattacks instead of conventional warfare, leaves the two countries in a precarious position. A cyberwar presents high risk for low reward. Indeed, a cyberwar may just escalate to a full on war. Both countries should figure out a path forward through another diplomatic agreement, not through pernicious lines of code targeted at the other.

 

Peter Leonard graduated from William & Mary in 2019 with degrees in Government and History. He is currently pursuing his master’s degree in secondary education at William & Mary’s School of Education, as he wants to be a high school Social Studies teacher. Peter loves hiking, playing ultimate frisbee, and watching baseball (he’s been a diehard Rockies fan since birth and was raised in Colorado.) When it comes to International Relations, Peter is interested in how regime type and structure impacts how a government functions and how accountable the government is to its people.

TRIP goes to APSA

TRIP is back after a brief hiatus. Before settling into Op-Ed and Journal coding for the semester, TRIP made a detour up to Washington, D.C. for the American Political Science Association’s (APSA) annual conference. We all attended different panels, learned about interesting methods, and got to meet scholars who have worked with TRIP data.

APSA

Here are some highlights from the weekend:

Vera

This was my first APSA, and I really enjoyed it! I had the opportunity to attend several intriguing panels. One of my favorite panels was a roundtable on Nomi Lazar’s book, Out of Joint: Power, Crisis, and the Rhetoric of Time, in which the author argues that leaders construct time (both rhetorically and literally) in order to consolidate power in times of crisis. The book spoke to my personal interest in power and discursive practices, and inspired me to think in new ways. Because APSA is such a large event (the 2019 conference had about 6500 attendees!), there was a wide variety of panels and presentations spread across three hotels. The conference exposed me to ideas that I wasn’t familiar with before, such as food systems theory, which is interested in a critical understanding of how and by whom food is produced and consumed, as well as meanings attached to food. 

Patrick

 I really appreciate the opportunity to attend the APSA conference. It allowed me to communicate with researchers in the field of political science and international relations. It also provided me with the opportunity to learn about the research topics that are currently popular in academia. One of the most memorable events I attended was a panel focused on the dynamics of state-building across time and space. In this panel, scholars from different universities around the world presented their works regarding influential factors in the formation of different states. Under the division of comparative politics, this panel included researchers using both quantitative and qualitative methodological approaches and focusing on various regions around the world. 

Moira

APSA was my first ever time at a political science conference, so I had no idea what to expect going in. It was interesting seeing the relationships between scholars and policymakers play out right in front of me. At the panel hosted by William & Mary Professor Susan Peterson titled “Cult of the Irrelevant? The Influence of IR Scholarship of National Security” it was cool to see the effects of TRIP’s data dissemination efforts present in the work of policy makers. Other personal highlights included a panel titled  “The People as Swarm, Crowd, & Rabble” that discussed the diverse language invoked across different political locations and historical junctures to describe populist political movements and crossing paths with George Washington University Professor and prolific Monkey Cage contributor Henry Farrell.

Aidan

Aidan provides his thoughts on the above mentioned panel hosted by Susan Peterson:

Michael Horowitz’s optimistic counter to Desch provided a few interesting ideas. A focus on micro-change, instead of direct and high-level policy influence provides a new perspective. Utilizing outlets read by low- and mid-level policymakers, which our current project examines, may be a very effective way to involve academic knowledge in policy-making. I also think we should study the possible intersection of policy relevance and a necessary focus on quantitative methods and research design. When I look at journal articles with a policy prescription in the TRIP Journal Article Database, I find only a small difference between quantitative and all other articles’ use of explicit policy prescriptions. Just 4 percent of quantitative articles and 11 percent of all other articles include an explicit policy prescription. However, linking scholarly irrelevance to methodological focus obscures the feasibility of answering policy relevant questions with rigorous empirical methods, given the right incentives and clear communication.

Emily

I was so happy that we were able to have the RAs come up to Washington with us for this conference. I loved seeing them excited about the world of political science, and I thought we all really benefited from listening in on the ‘rigor-relevance’ debate at the Desch roundtable. I went to a few different panels on my own, and as a prospective graduate student, it was great to learn about the research going on at different universities and even meet some of the people whose work I admire. My favorite panel was on advancements in qualitative methods. Hearing about archival and field work methodologies rooted in sociology and anthropology research traditions that are being put to use in political science made me really excited about the possibilities of an interdisciplinary research agenda.

 

Finally, we would like to thank everyone who donated to TRIP for One Tribe One Day. Your generous donations gave us the opportunity to travel to DC and learn interesting new things about international relations and political science outside the classroom. These are the kinds of enlightening experiences that your donations pay for, and it is so important to our education and undergraduate research experience. Thank you!