The Effect of COVID-19 on Protest

By Maggie Manson

July 1st, 2020

With the world seemingly on pause for the last few months because of COVID-19, the top priority of the world’s governments has generally been to flatten the curve and protect its citizens from the virus’s rapid spread. However, some regimes have utilized lockdowns to suppress citizen protest movements, and conversely, new movements and new forms of protest have emerged from the pandemic. In a myriad of ways, this pandemic is shaping the way people protest. 

In TRIP’s most recently released Snap Poll (XIII) results, respondents were asked a question that I find relevant to protest in the age of COVID: In your opinion, is the current COVID-19 crisis likely to increase or decrease the occurrence of domestic political violence around the world over the next 12 months? 62.46% of respondents believe that COVID-19 is likely to increase the occurrence of domestic political violence around the world over the next 12 months. While this finding speaks directly to political violence, it also suggests that scholars might anticipate an increase in civil unrest. What do these results mean in the context of protest?  Let’s take a look at four different protest movements’ role in global politics and the potential impact that COVID-19 has had on them.

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Algeria, which was mostly unaffected by the 2011 Arab Spring protests throughout the Middle East and North Africa, saw mass protests emerge on February 22nd, 2019 when the now-former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced his bid for a fifth term candidacy for president. Bouteflika had served as president since 1999, and ever since suffering from a stroke in 2013, he had been essentially incapacitated and served more as a ceremonial figure while the political elite and military ruled. A diverse group of protesters took to the streets every Friday to demand the fall of the regime, an end to the country’s widespread corruption, and an increase in economic opportunity and political freedom. The protests resulted in significant regime concessions such as constitutional reform and eventual military-prompted resignation of Bouteflika, but protests continued every Friday until the pandemic hit the country as they felt that their demands had not yet been met. While Bouteflika had been removed, the regime itself remained, and protesters were calling for a civilian, not military lead state where repression abounded. 

With 11,031 confirmed cases of the COVID-19 virus in the country since February 2020, government-mandated quarantine and curfew measures were certainly necessary and arguably effective in slowing the progression of the virus. These measures not only worked to stop the spread of COVID-19 but also to curb the momentum of anti-regime protest. Narrowly-elected President Abdelmajid Tebboune has utilized this lull to quietly arrest major protest leaders and participants, as to stem protests from reemerging once the country reopens. However it does not look like COVID-19 and subsequent repression will be able to prevent protest revival, as this movement has seen popular support by a majority of Algerians and has remained steadfast despite regime attempts at repression and granting of minor concessions to quell protests. 

In Iran, mass protests began in November 2019 in response to an increase in fuel prices and a continually stalling economy. The country has a separate macroeconomy in which students and adults work part-time as taxi/uber drivers or food delivery people in order to substitute regular income, or as a primary source of income. This system is reliant on fuel prices remaining stable and when the government unexpectedly increased fuel prices, citizens took to the streets. These price increases can be understood as being indirectly caused by U.S. withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action that provided significant sanctions relief for Iran. The U.S. has since reapplied harsher economic sanctions that have stalled the country’s economy and directly affected everyday citizens. 

While protests initially began as peaceful gatherings, they quickly escalated to violence with a high degree of international media coverage and swift suppression by the regime. A key tactic used by the government to quell protests was an internet blackout in which protestors could not post online to organize, and military/police violence that resulted in 1,000 + deaths and worked to quickly end the protests. However, citizens soon returned to the streets for a different reason, this time in solidarity with the regime following the death of General Qasem Soleimani, at the hands of a U.S. targeted airstrike. While funeral processions initially brought the government and people together, marches quickly turned back to anti-regime protest with the announcement of the Iranian military downing a Ukrainian airline plane that killed all passengers aboard, many being Iranian citizens. These anti-military and anti-regime protests continued until COVID-19 arrived. The country has so far seen 192,49 cases of the virus, and 9,065 deaths, giving the regime ample reason to enact quarantine measures to slow the spread. The regime has also used the outbreak as a reason to suppress and prevent protest, even using deadly force against prisoners protesting against unsafe conditions that could lead to COVID-19 contraction in prisons. 

Amidst the COVID-19 global outbreak, we have in some cases seen new protests emerge. In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud) joined with opposition candidate Benny Gantz (Israel Resilience Party, Blue and White coalition) to form a unity government in response to the pandemic. There had been three previous elections in which neither candidate could gain a majority or form a government. In this unity government, Netanyahu will remain PM with Gantz as Alternative PM, which has angered many of Gantz supporters who see this unity government as conceding to the ruling coalition. In response to this new coalition and ongoing corruption within the government (Netanyahu is facing several corruption charges), Israeli protestors assembled for a socially-distant protest on April 19, 2020. This anti-corruption rally demonstrated how citizens can continue to voice dissent in the wake of COVID-19 as protestors stood about two meters apart each, with facial coverings to prevent the spread of the virus as best as they could. The regime has been able to somewhat control protests as protests in April hoping to advocate against Netanyahu’s plan to annex the West Bank were told that they were prohibited from protesting in a major Tel Aviv square due to COVID-19 related regulations. However, in recent weeks protestors have been able to successfully gather, following social distancing measures to protest against the coming annexation with little pushback from the regime. 

Protests emerged nationwide in the U.S., and eventually globally after the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, by Derek Chauvin, a white police officer who knelt on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds as three other officers watched. While George Floyd’s murder may have been the spark that set off the protests, they are also addressing the unjust murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and countless other Black Americans who have lost their lives because of police brutality, white supremacy, and systematic racism. Protests like this have been seen in the U.S. before, notably after the murders of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Sandra Bland, but something about these new protests feels different

First, these protests have illuminated to a broad audience the reality of white privilege, as the recent movements contrast sharply to rallies that occurred in weeks prior where mostly white protestors called states to lift stay-at-home orders and chanted for their right to not wear a mask or to get a haircut. Many of us have had extensive time at home because of this virus to reflect on the events currently happening and educate ourselves on white privilege, what it means to be Black in America, and how we can become anti-racist. Also, the relevance of social media is greater than ever, allowing organizers to quickly disseminate information about local protests, and allowing us to share important resources such as petitions, bail funds, and contact information of lawmakers. All of these aspects have allowed the movement to gain momentum and exert significant influence in the age of COVID-19. 

However, there are notable barriers to the success of this movement, one of which is the virus, as we are seeing a sharp uptick in cases in the past few weeks. It is important to mention that many of these new cases are a result of states reopening and large gatherings that occurred over Memorial Day weekend. That being said, with a lack of social distancing measures at many protests, we will likely see an increase in the number of cases related to these events. While these new cases may be used to discredit and limit the protests, they will ultimately affect the protestors themselves who are at higher risk for contracting the virus when organizing in large groups. Another significant roadblock is the president’s efforts to repress these protests, at times calling for violence against his own citizens. The president has thus far utilized the National Guard to clear the streets of DC for a photo-op and has proclaimed that as the “law and order president” he will use all means necessary to apprehend “domestic terrorists” involved in these protests.

Each of these cases demonstrates how despite a global pandemic, citizens will find a way to protest, and that the pandemic in many ways has acted as the impetus needed to spark a movement. It will be interesting to see how these protests continue to develop in the midst of COVID-19 and how protestors will adapt to these conditions in a way that grows these movements. With 62.46% of scholars responding to the TRIP Snap Poll XIII that COVID-19 is likely to increase the occurrence of domestic political violence around the world over the next 12 months, it is clear that protests movements, violent or peaceful are here to stay.

Maggie Manson is a sophomore 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.

Pandemic Revisited: COVID-19 and the 2020 TRIP Snap Poll

by  Mary Trimble
June 29th, 2020

Back in those blissful, bygone days of early March, my fellow RA Peter Leonard wrote a blog post detailing IR scholars’ perspectives on global health, pandemic diseases, and international health institutions. Reading his thorough analysis, one feels the need to hug Peter in sympathy for how his life is about to change and knock IR scholars about the ears for seriously underestimating the gravity of global pandemics– and suggest they all buy stock in Zoom. 

Only one week after Peter wrote his blog, William & Mary announced that we wouldn’t be returning from Spring Break. Only a week after that, W&M moved the remainder of the semester online. Just a few weeks before that, my fellow RAs and I had laughed off this possibility as the ravings of an alarmist professor in what would be one of our last in-person gatherings. It goes without saying that all of our lives have been drastically altered by the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s worth addressing, then, how IR scholars’ opinions may have shifted in the face of an actual pandemic, and what that might mean moving forward.


Peter opened his post with this Feb. 24 tweet from President Trump, a useful one that allows us to take stock of where we are now, point by point: 

  • At the time of writing, the US leads the world’s case count at 2,286,457 and is set to mark the grim milestone of 125,000 deaths by the end of the day (data taken from the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center).
  • On May 29, 2020, Trump announced that the US would be withdrawing all funding from the World Health Organization, arguing the WHO is too closely aligned with China, where the virus originated and whose government initially suppressed information about the virus. 
  • The US stock market has mostly recovered after plummeting more than 30 percent in March, and as of early June the US economy was in a recession. Tens of millions of Americans are out of work as a result of the economic slowdown and shelter-in-place and lockdown orders. 

Between April 27 and May 4, nearly 1,000 IR scholars in the US responded to TRIP Snap Poll XIII, which posed questions on the pandemic and the upcoming presidential election. The results of this poll are detailed in this article in Foreign Policy, and the full results can be viewed here.

To begin, it’s worth noting that, on the subject of the WHO, roughly 63% of scholars thought the organization had been “effective” or “somewhat effective” at handling the pandemic, unsurprisingly at odds with the Trump administration’s assessment. This follows, considering Trump is extremely unpopular with IR scholars. If they were voting tomorrow, only 4.9% indicated they would vote for Trump, and in 2016, that number was only at 4%. In 2017, 40% of scholars reported having attended a protest in response to his policies, and that number rose to 60% among women. 

 IR scholars generally disapprove of the President, and have continued to hold negative views of his handling of the coronavirus crisis (only 4% would pick him in comparison to Joe Biden to handle its aftermath), but it would be unfair to suggest that scholars themselves had been ready for this pandemic. In 2014, scholars from 32 different countries dismissed pandemics as a foreign policy concern (only 3.52% listed it among their top three foreign policy concerns, and an additional 2% of scholars suggested it might be a concern in the next ten years). Based on scholars’ recent responses, however, there seems to be consensus that this pandemic has implications for US foreign policy. 

One way of analyzing foreign policy priorities is thinking about spending. When we asked scholars how the US should spend foreign assistance, a majority of scholars supported increases in US spending on economic assistance (62.55%), refugee assistance (77.2%), and, predictably, health aid (a robust 87.86%). 


It’s worth considering, however, that COVID-19 may not have much to do with scholars’ responses on aid. These numbers are fairly consistent with their sentiments in 2017. A majority of scholars (63.87%) expressed the belief that health aid improves health outcomes, and even some who thought aid didn’t improve health outcomes still suggested that the US spent too little on health aid. 


In the next question, 82 percent of scholars responded that the US spent “too little” on efforts to improve health outcomes in developing countries. It seems logical, then, that in the face of a pandemic which has ravaged even developed countries, the number of scholars wishing to increase health aid to developing countries in 2020 would improve slightly on the number of those who already thought the US was spending too little. 


If COVID-19 hasn’t swayed an already aid-friendly audience on the value of aid (in 2017 82% of scholars thought the US was spending too little on foreign aid), perhaps scholars’ opinions on the pandemic’s effect on US soft power may give us a window into how they are thinking about its lasting significance. The TRIP survey asked scholars about how the perception of the US will change among  “foreign publics” and “foreign leaders” If you are having trouble telling the graphs apart, you’d be right: Scholars had fairly similar responses as it related to both groups, generally suggesting that a negative reaction to the United States would be slightly amplified among publics as to leaders.

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A significant majority of scholars think the US coronavirus response will damage foreign elite and popular opinion  of the US as a state that “is willing to help provide global public goods,” “is widely respected in the international system,” “honors its international commitments,” and to a lesser extent, as a state “with leading science, technology and medicine sectors,” and “with unmatched material power and capabilities.” Perhaps some of these metrics may vary as a function of whether or not the US is the country to develop a vaccine, how long it takes to develop, and how freely it is shared– time will tell. In any case, these results seem significant: Scholars predict that US soft power could take a major hit as a result of its handling of the COVID-19 crisis. This must seriously impact how the United States interacts with the international system, right? 

Not so fast. Before we breathlessly herald the end of the US-led liberal world order, scholars also don’t predict this crisis will lead to a major shake-up in the distribution of world power. Perhaps 54% of scholars are skeptical because they judge the blows to US and Chinese power to be roughly equal, or don’t buy that the effects will be long-lasting. For the third of scholars who suggested that the pandemic will fundamentally alter world power politics, maybe it’s because of the US’s bungled response; maybe it’s because of China’s. Maybe, in still another scenario, those scholars predict an effective Chinese soft power offensive, with “Made in China” masks and other personal protective equipment, for example, flying all over the world in an apology by way of public diplomacy. It is, clearly, difficult to say. Perhaps the 14.27% who said they didn’t know were onto something. 

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In Peter’s blog post, he expressed his hope that “the jolt given by coronavirus helps wake up any IR scholar still sleeping on epidemics.” So did it? The results are… inconclusive. Certainly, there is no one left in the world who will emerge from this period without a keen understanding of the havoc pandemics wreak not just on global health, but also the health of global economies and political institutions. And yet, well over half of the scholars who responded to TRIP’s snap poll said they would not shift the course of their research in response to COVID-19. Only 5% said they were already researching related issues. If a pandemic like the one we are experiencing touches so much of our lives in the modern, globalized world, one wonders why IR scholars don’t seem to be jumping at the chance to ask “Why?”, “How?”, “What happens next?”, and “How can we protect ourselves next time?”  

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.

Global and Personal Reflections on Racism and the Response to George Floyd’s Murder


by Morgan Doll, Zenobia Goodman, and Mary Trimble
June 8th, 2020

As TRIP RA’s, we are encouraged to use this blog as an outlet to discuss important events around the world. Following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Deparment, and keeping true to TRIP’s international focus while maintaining roots at William & Mary, we wanted to bring three RA’s together, each with different perspectives, to address his tragic death and the worldwide protests that followed from both a global and personal perspective .

Global Perspective from Home: Morgan Doll

As an American, there is regrettably more than enough racism to pay attention to and to protest on our own soil. So much so that one can forget that racism happens on a global scale and has been happening on a global scale since the inception of the idea of race. S2:E2 of the podcast “Scene on Radio,” entitled “How Race Was Made” as part of its Seeing White series, describes how throughout human history, we have been lifting up our own cultures and ascribing other groups as “inferior” in order to justify enslaving them. The Greeks did this with the Slavs, the North Africans with the Sub-saharan Africans, etc. A major turning point in this practice was when Prince Henry the Navigator in the mid 1400’s sailed directly to Africa in order to seize black captives to work in the Americas without an African slave trading middle man. This instance signals the beginning of the chattel slavery, a practice that institutionalized systemic white supremacy; the same systemic and institutionalized racial system that America and much of the western world still experiences today.

Thus, racism has always been a global issue. While Canadians protest for George Floyd, they are also protesting for Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a 29 year-old black woman who police say fell off of her balcony after they responded to a domestic incident in her home. Widespread instances of police brutality exist against Aboriginal Australians– at least 400 instances of Indigenous Australians dying in police custody since 1991 with no convictions–  including an all too familiar story of an Aboriginal man, David Dungay, dying in police custody with his last words being “I can’t breathe.” Additionally, anti-African Immigrant sentiment, as well as anti-Muslim sentiment, has been growing in Europe for years, and the income gap between minorities and whites persists in English-speaking countries across the world from Britain to South Africa

Our international adversaries have also been vocal about America’s intrinsic racism, and rightfully so, despite their own human rights violations. China’s state-run media runs reports about George Floyd’s death painting it as “another sign of America’s decline,” while they commit genocide against the Muslim Uyghurs. Officials in Iran addressed racial injustice in America by tweeting: “If you’re dark-skinned walking in the US, you can’t be sure you’ll be alive in the next few minutes.” Iran is a known perpetrator of injustices against women, LGBTQ+, and religious minorities. This is a global problem and will require global solidarity to solve.


Global Perspective from Abroad: Mary Trimble

As a TRIP RA who has lived in Belgium for the past three years, I have been able to watch the European reaction to Floyd’s murder first hand. In Belgium, there have certainly been efforts towards solidarity with American protesters, some more successful in their execution than others. Like in the United States, social media has been an important tool for spreading the word about protests, petitions, and resources. There has also been increasing awareness from my American expat and European friends that Europe also has a racism problem that needs to be addressed in its own institutions.

Over the weekend, a Belgian train was tagged with the words “Please, I can’t breathe,” George Floyd’s final words. The graffiti was the work of the graffiti crew “1UP,” based in Berlin. The Facebook post showing a picture of the train was written in English, referring to the United States as the “Divided States.” The train company, SNCB said that while they were “sensitive to this type of message,” “tagging a train remains an act of vandalism,” and that the tag impedes the view of passengers inside the train. The reaction in the press and on social media, however, seemed positive, and a video of the train was published by the American media company, “NowThis.” A petition to allow the tag to remain on the train for “at least 100 days” received over 8,000 signatures as of Wednesday, June 3.

There was also an effort by “Black Lives Matter Belgium” to plan a protest in downtown Brussels on Monday, June 1, despite the fact that Belgium, which is still in Phase 2 of reopening after its coronavirus lockdown, does not yet allow public demonstrations. Criticism of the proposed march began immediately after it was posted on Facebook on Sunday, May 31, arguing that it put people in danger of catching the virus by flouting public health measures. Those behind the demonstration declined to make their names public, and as a result, rumors flew regarding their identity. Some suggested that the march was organized by the Nieuw Vlaamse Alliantie (N-VA), a far right party from the North. Similar to allegations that the marches in the United States were being co-opted by alt-right protesters, many here, including the anti-racism organization “Sans blanc de rien” (“Without Anything White”), asserted that the march was organized in order to draw people of color and their allies into possible confrontations with police. 

The protest was ultimately officially cancelled on Monday morning, and the organizers posted on Facebook identifying themselves as “four black women” who were “not N-VA, Nazis, or Donald Trump supporters.” However, around 50 people still gathered in Brussels’ Place de la Monnaie to protest. The police did not disrupt the demonstration, and did their best to enforce social distancing measures which are still in place. During the week, an amalgamation of racial justice groups in Brussels organized another protest for Sunday, June 7. Though it was not an “approved” protest, commune mayors in Brussels and the Prime Minister, Sophie Wilmès, agreed to tolerate the protest. On Sunday afternoon, nearly ten thousand people gathered in the shadow of Brussels’ Palais de Justice, doubling organizers’ original attendance estimates, to show solidarity with US protesters and address racism in Belgium. As the protest wound down, there were instances of looting in the upscale shopping district in downtown and clashes with police. 

Many who participated in Sunday’s protest pointed to issues of racism and police brutality inside Belgium. A petition to remove all statues of Leopold II in Brussels was launched last week and quickly gained traction on social media. The legacy of Leopold II and his personal ownership of the Congo in the 19th and 20th century has been largely unaddressed in Belgium. Modern historical estimates place the number of Congolese killed during Leopold’s colonial reign somewhere around 10 million, and it is widely considered one of the most brutal colonial regimes in Africa. The murder of George Floyd has provided an impetus to look more closely at Belgium’s exploitative history. The petition, which notes that “we do not want to erase the past, but we do want to erase any homage to this man,” will close at the end of the month, to mark the 60th anniversary of independence for the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

As an American living abroad, it has been both inspiring and disappointing to see the response overseas. Inspiring, because so many worldwide care about ending racism, discrimination, and police brutality. The murder of George Floyd has allowed introspection on the European continent as well, which is certainly long overdue. It is disappointing because, to me, it speaks to how poorly the United States is perceived on the world stage. There is a reason the women behind the BLM Belgium protest were quick to point out that they were not Donald Trump supporters. There is a reason the 1UP Facebook page called us the “Divided States.” If anything positive can emerge from this horrible tragedy, let it be that the United States works to be just that: United. United in our condemnation of racism, bigotry, and discrimination. United in our efforts to prove with every personal interaction and with every police confrontation that a black life is worth every bit as much as a white one in our own eyes and the eyes of the law. May we prove to the world, and to Europe especially, that while maintaining a multiracial democracy takes hard work, it is work worth doing. As President Obama wrote this week, “If, going forward, we can channel our justifiable anger into peaceful, sustained, and effective action, then this moment can be a real turning point in our nation’s long journey to live up to our highest ideals.”

W&M Perspective: Zenobia Goodman and Morgan Doll

When the protests surrounding police brutality and the injustices of black people in America began, I could not help but reflect upon the college town that I’ve called home for the last two years. The former slave quarters that have been turned into classrooms for students and the town that I walk through that was primarily built on the oppression of African American slaves. I found myself thinking about my educational privilege and how I can best help those in need. I then realized that a large part of fighting racial injustices, is holding those around you accountable. As an institution that was primarily built at the hands of racism and oppression, I find that we have even more responsibility in the fight to promote anti-racism. This first starts by educating one another on what it means to be an anti-racist and going from there. Acknowledging history is so important when it comes to those things, but after this the next step must always be accountability.


These recent events have brought a lot of things to light that I did not know about William & Mary. The history of the second oldest college in the United States is as disturbing as it is inspiring. The college was chartered to educate the white, elite men of the south, many of whom owned slaves, and, the college itself owned slaves who, among many other things, harvested tobacco to provide scholarships for poorer white men to attend. The beloved Wren Building was built by slaves. The college only became public after the Civil War because it gave its entire endowment — in addition to many of its students and professors — to the Confederate cause. In fact, the Civil War was the only time period during which William & Mary has closed in its over 300 year history, precisely because the College was so committed to upholding slavery and supporting the Confederacy. 

During the Jim Crow Era, the black staff was not paid a living wage and their children were not allowed to attend the college. The first black, undergraduate student, Oscar Houser Blayton, was admitted in 1963 but was not allowed to live on campus. Four years later, the first black women, Karen Ely, Lynn Briley, and Janet Brown were admitted and roomed in the basement of Jefferson Hall.

Speaking for white people in general, we might hear about efforts such as the Lemon Project and we are exposed to conversations about diversity during our Freshman Orientation. But, if I didn’t choose to take a freshman seminar on Race, Law, and Memory, I wouldn’t have known much about my black classmates’ experiences at W&M. I thought we were pretty diverse as colleges go; 59% white, 41% BIPOC. Breaking that down, our school is only 7% black. This is not representative of the demographics of our country and it is a very unsettling reality, especially given how much William & Mary benefited from African American and Black people throughout our troubled history. Additionally, the vast majority of professors are white, while the staff is almost all black; this serves a painful reminder of how the odds are stacked in this country and how important white privilege is in determining education and professional outcomes. One not only has to be open to having these vulnerable conversations, but also has to seek out these conversations to have them in a largely white environment like W&M. 

There is a lot of listening that has to be done. Higher education institutions committing to anti-racism will require drive and education by both the students and the administration, which is why ideas of requiring a diversity focused freshman seminar is one solution that is being considered. Thankfully, the recent events have encouraged students to ask questions of themselves and our administration regarding changes we would like to see in our community. In fact, student organizations banded together to raise money for the Cooperative Change Fund that raised over $30,000 in 24 hours for legal organizations that focus on policy changes and training to reduce the rate of police violence. This, in addition to the Lemon Project and other initiatives, gives me hope that we are moving in the right direction.


To donate to the Cooperative Change Fund at William & Mary, Venmo @acs_wm. All funds will be donated to Campaign Zero and the National Police Accountability Project.

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.

Zenobia Goodman is a junior at the college, majoring in International Relations with a concentration in Global Education. She has worked at TRIP since the Spring semester of 2019. On campus, Zenobia is a member of the International Relations Club, a classroom assistant for a group of kindergartners, and a member of a social sorority. She is interested in the human rights violations and global development issues.

Mary Trimble is a sophmore 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.

TRIPping up on Epidemics

By Peter Leonard

March 3, 2020

It’s hard to turn on the news and not hear about the most recent boogeyman storming through the headlines: coronavirus. The virus has spread from China to multiple countries, including Italy, South Korea, and Iran, to name a few. High-ranking officials in the U.S. are still split on where they stand on the virus. President Donald Trump Tweeted:


This Tweet flies in the face of a new CDC warning to take extra precautions when travelling. According to a top CDC official, “It’s not so much a question of if this will happen anymore but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness.”

If government actors are largely split on how they feel about coronavirus, IR scholars are less inclined to sound the alarm bells. TRIP data shows that, for the most part, IR scholars do not research disease, teach health as a security issue, or think about epidemics as major foreign policy concerns. This information confirms our suspicions in some ways– according to IR scholars, you should be much more scared of climate change than disease epidemics like the coronavirus. However, the TRIP data shows that this lack of attention to health may be a fault. Epidemics have the potential to cause a fair amount of damage, and IR scholars may not be accounting for all the negative side-effects of disease.

The TRIP Data

All of the data I gathered comes from the 2014 TRIP Faculty Survey, which can be found here. First, it is interesting to note how insignificant IR scholars see epidemics in terms of their importance for foreign policy.


When asked what the three most important foreign policy issues facing scholars’ respective countries were, only 3.52 percent of scholars globally considered epidemic disease a major concern.


The number rises a bit when IR scholars were asked about what the top concerns will be in the next ten years, with 5.12 percent of scholars responding that epidemic disease would become a major foreign policy issue for their respective countries. However, the percentage of IR scholars who worry about epidemics is still minute. Even in 2017, when the Zika virus was emerging as a plausible threat, only 6.74% of U.S. scholars said that epidemics were a foreign policy issue for the U.S.

Now, contrast the lack of worry about epidemics with data that shows IR scholars have little faith in international health institutions’ capacity to contain a pandemic disease:


Only around 35 percent of IR scholars classify international health institutions as either “very capable” or “capable” to manage the spread of disease, leaving the majority of IR scholars either neutral, unsure, or skeptical of our global health infrastructure.

Whether or not the coronavirus will reach the level of a global pandemic crisis remains to be seen. However, the virus has clearly shown how the fear of a global pandemic can wreak havoc in more areas than health. Stocks continue to drop as traders remain spooked about the effects the virus will have on the market. Coronavirus has also proven how vulnerable globalized trade routes can be; companies like Apple have had to cut their revenue expectations due to a diminished workforce and subsequent lower supply of goods. There’s even a shortage of hockey sticks thanks to coronavirus’ effect on supply chains. 

Given the economic and overall global turmoil that can spring from an epidemic, one must wonder why IR scholars do not rank it higher as a foreign policy concern. One possible explanation is that it’s not discussed enough in the field. When we asked scholars what topics they teach in national/international security courses, “Disease/global health” was the lowest ranked category.


This may be because scholars are unfamiliar with the topic themselves.  In a separate question, less than 0.5 percent of IR scholars surveyed globally named global health was their main research focus. Apathy in the form of a lack of teaching and research about epidemics in IR may beget further apathy and skepticism.

The spread of coronavirus and its accompanying shockwaves have major repercussions for IR. Countries are considering shutting their borders, the disease is hurting the international economy, and globalization is once again under the microscope. Given these major repercussions, it is important to question IR scholars’ historical lack of interest in the topic. One has to hope that the jolt given by coronavirus helps wake up any IR scholar still sleeping on epidemics. 

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.

The Need for a Balanced Strategy in U.S. Foreign Policy towards Israel

By Maggie Manson

February 26th, 2020

On January 28th, 2020, U.S. President Donald J. Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unveiled the Peace to Prosperity Plan: A Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People, also known as the Trump Peace Plan. This plan claims to provide a definitive solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict and usher in a new era of U.S. foreign policy regarding the conflict. However, the lack of Palestinian leadership present in the drafting and unveiling of the plan demonstrates a clear adherence to the status quo of a one-sided U.S. approach to the conflict that heavily favors Israel. This strategy places the U.S., a, supposed mediator of the conflict, in a staunchly pro-Israel position that undermines the prospect of peace between Israel and Palestine. 

U.S. foreign policy regarding Israel and Palestine has long been defined by bipartisan pro-Israel politics and well-funded pro-Israel lobbying by groups such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). In recent years, President Trump has doubled down on a pro-Israel stance by moving the U.S.- Israel embassy from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem, officially recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. This recognition is significant because this move essentially validates Israel’s claim to sovereignty over the city that is dually claimed by Palestine and has historically been a grey zone in U.S. foreign policy regarding the region. Trump also declared that Israeli West Bank Settlements do not violate international law, in contrast the 192 other member nations to the United Nations that  have affirmed through Resolution 446 (1979) that these settlements are in violation of international law. 

There has been increased resistance by progressives within Congress to Trump’s policies on Israel, along with increased international resistance to Israeli dominance of the region. But how do international relations scholars view Trump’s policy towards Israel, and how might U.S. foreign policy on Israel evolve in the coming 2020 presidential election? First let’s take a look at how we got where we are today on Israel. 

The Israel Lobby has been highly influential in forming current U.S. foreign policy on Israel, this lobby is constructed of groups such as AIPAC and Christians United for Israel (CUFI) that invest large sums of money towards maintaining a pro-Israel U.S. foreign policy approach. These groups utilize tactics such as letter writing, organizing conferences, distributing educational information, and drafting legislation to influence the policy process regarding Israel. In previous years the efforts of the Israel Lobby have been successful in shaping the policy positions of both Democratic and Republican opinion leaders, but recently, there has been significant pushback from a minority of opinion leaders along with shifting attitudes of public opinion on the issue. However, the relevance of the Israel Lobby in the US foreign policy process cannot be understated and will likely remain significant in influencing U.S. foreign policy towards Israel for years to come. 

Here’s what foreign policy scholars have to say about President Trump’s decision to move the U.S.-Israel embassy to Jerusalem based on the results of the TRIP 2020 snap poll XII. In one question, scholars were given a list of Trump’s foreign policy actions and asked, “have the following actions had a positive effect, negative effect, or no effect on US credibility with its allies?” One such policy action was the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. 84.94% of scholars responded that this action had a negative effect on US credibility with its allies, while only 4.32% responded that it had a positive effect.

See fifth bar from right for “Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.”

Public opinion on the issue is also shifting with a general increase in more centrist views as well as pro-Palestinian viewpoints. On university campuses there has been increased pushback to pro-Israel U.S. foreign policy in the form of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement and organized protests in which students voice their concerns with this Israel-favoring approach.

How might these realignments of opinion be reflected in the policy process in the coming years? There has been an increase in dissenting opinions against Trump’s Israel approach, notably by progressive congressional representatives such as Representative Ilhan Omar and Representative Rashida Tlaib, who have very publicly expressed sympathy with the plight of Palestine. 

Additionally, there is promise for a more balanced approach from many of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates. The majority of candidates have expressed support for a two-state solution, but a few candidates have described more detailed plans. Senator Elizabeth Warren has stated that she would support a plan that placed Jerusalem as the joint capital of both Israel and Palestine and grant both states sovereignty over the city. Senator Bernie Sanders has expressed disdain with the influence that AIPAC exerts over the US foreign policy process. Sanders has also called for Israel to return to its pre-1967 borders, which were agreed upon by Israel and the UN after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Pete Buttigieg has stated that he would approve of withholding US military aid towards Israel, especially in the event that they annexed the West Bank. 

All of these positions reflect a change from the current U.S. foreign policy on Israel and signal a possibility for significant change in US-Israel relations in the event of a Democratic presidency. Regardless of whether or not these ideas will actually be articulated in the form of policy change, it is clear that US opinions, of both the public and scholars, are shifting on Israel and we can expect to continue to see dissent of a pro-Israel approach. It will be interesting to see the extent to which the Israel Palestine conflict will be discussed in both the 2020 Democratic primary election as well as in the general presidential election.

 I certainly hope to see more discussion on the conflict in the coming debates and I am optimistic that there will be a shift in U.S. foreign policy that is more sympathetic towards Palestine in the coming future. As a Jewish American, this is an issue that has been at the forefront of my political consciousness for most of my life. After visiting Israel this past summer, I discovered the rich history, culture, and customs of the state of Israel, but I also recognized the suffering of the Palestinian people that much of this culture is built off of. This experience, partnered with an education that has exposed me to a more holistic view on the issue, has helped to develop my balanced view of the conflict which favors a two state solution in which Palestine would retain the West Bank and Gaza. 

I believe that President Trump’s rhetoric of conflating American Judaism with Zionism and Israeli nationality is extremely dangerous and an invalid way of garnering support for his pro-Israel policies. We cannot allow our leaders to continue to mobilize a historic narrative of the state of Israel, while turning a blind eye to the atrocities that Israel commits towards the Palestinian people. While it is important to craft arguments with cultural awareness and bring a degree sensitivity to discussions of the conflict, dissent towards U.S. foreign policy on Israel or the actions of Israel is not inherently anti-Semitic, and should not be blanket labeled as such. I would also argue that the influence that the Israel Lobby exerts on the US foreign policy process is detrimental to a U.S. foreign policy that is representative of public opinion on the conflict. If the US government were able to shift away from the influence of this lobby, our foreign policy would be more reflective of US interests. 

Explore more of TRIP’s Snap Poll XII data here.

Maggie Manson is a sophomore 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.

Bernie Sanders: Too Divisive for IR Scholars?

By Lucas Arnett

February 19th, 2020

After months of political debate surrounding the Democratic primary, it seemed leading up to the Iowa caucus that Joe Biden was among the favorites, both in Iowa and nationally. However, after a tumultuous week for moderates, mainstream media appears to agree that Bernie Sanders has become the candidate to watch. The question is, will his foreign policy prove as divisive as his domestic policy? 


In our latest Snap Poll released in January, we asked nearly five thousand International Relations scholars what they thought about recent foreign policy issues and the democratic candidates. Surprisingly for some, Warren received the most support, with 38% of respondents, followed by Biden and Buttigieg tied at around 17% support. Remarkably, only 5% said they would vote for Bernie Sanders.

When asked which candidates would most effectively manage foreign policy, about 40% of respondents chose Joe Biden, a full 23% more than Warren and 27% more than Buttigieg. Again, only 5% of respondents selected Bernie Sanders. And even among those, I suspect it is a lot of the same people who said they would vote for him in the previous question.


Despite recent coverage praising Sandersforeign policy in the newspapers last week and some recent gains in the polls, why is the academic community so hesitant to back him relative to the other candidates? Considering Bernie Sanders’ go-to foreign policy talking point is his opposition to the Iraq War in 2003, which experts also opposed, one would think he would be preferable to candidates like Biden who originally supported the war (although he has since expressed regret).

One explanation could be that Bernie Sanders lacks foreign policy experience. He has never served in the military, has no direct experience in International Relations research, academia, or policy, and he does not conduct diplomacy in his role as Senator. That is a leg up that Biden, who served in a diplomatic capacity as Vice President, and Buttigieg, who served in Afghanistan, have on him. If most foreign policy related think tanks, government agencies, and newspapers believe time abroad in the area of study is a critical credential a competitive candidate, why should it not be for the white house? 

However, despite his lack of experience in the real world of foreign affairs, Sanders does agree with the majority of international relations scholars and Warren, Biden, and Buttigieg (for the most part) in their support for the JCPOA, non-proliferation, cutting military spending, and avoiding unnecessary escalation and intervention, so he is not completely ignorant. 

More likely, the controversy comes from Sanders’ foreign policy beliefs on trade. He has openly opposed the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and is generally against free trade, which is a pretty unpopular opinion among scholars. In Snap Polls IV and XI, 70% of scholars said they supported the TPP, 80% supported NAFTA, and 94.6% supported Free Trade in general. In foreign policy analysis that is about as close to a consensus as you get. In International Relations and Economic theory, economic interconnectivity is one of the major incentives for peace, and scholars recognize that.

In last year’s Snap Poll, 78% of respondents indicated that they believe the respect America gets abroad is a matter of large importance, and 94% of respondents believe America’s respect in the world has diminished during the Trump presidency. Another prescient fear academics likely experience is that Sanders’ divisive views on domestic politics and controversial self-identification with democratic socialism will cast him as an ideologically driven but practically incapable Wilsonian who could further dampen the White House’s legitimacy abroad. At a time where our support is of critical importance in places like South East Asia and Iraqi Kurdistan, it makes sense that scholars would want to elect a candidate who has the ability to garner support (either from his own base or across the aisle) for intervention if necessary and the expertise required to know when to. In this light, a likeable candidate with foreign policy experience like Biden or Buttigieg would sensibly be a better option.

As Wednesday’s debate approaches, I hope the discussion of the candidate’s foreign policies does not end here. The more we discuss foreign policy, the more thoroughly we can analyze the viability of each of our candidates as future heads-of-state and commanders-in-chief, and the more we can remind the public of the importance of international relations experience.

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.

Checking the Powers of the Presidency: Where Do We Go From Here?

By Moira Johnson

February 11th, 2020

2019 ended with a (gavel) bang. Before adjourning for the year, the U.S. House of Representatives approved the articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump on the charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. President Trump now stands as only the third president in American history to have been impeached by Congress. While this is a rarity in our nation’s history, what is even more rare is the grounds on which Trump was impeached. 

The articles presented against the President, abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, were related to the foreign policy powers of the office of the President. This moment in politics allows us to evaluate an ongoing trend and present possible paths to long term solutions to these issues. 

The articles against President Trump were pursued after a formal House inquiry found evidence that the President had solicited foreign interference in the 2020 election to help his re-election bid and then obstructed the inquiry itself by telling members of the administration to ignore subpoenas for documents and testimony. 

The situation at hand harkens back to a question that has been asked quite frequently as of late: Did Trump overstep the foreign policy powers of the presidency? Data from the Teaching, Research, and International Policy (TRIP) Project shows that many International Relations (IR) scholars believe that Trump both overstepped and abused the foreign policy powers of the office.


While many scholars and politicians alike claim that the Trump administration has made unprecedented choices, the problem of overstep is not unique to the Trump administration. Accusations of an “Imperial Presidency” have been put forth since the 1970s following the expansion of the powers of the Office of the President during the postwar era. Particularly in the 21st century, the Presidency is marked by increasing foreign policy powers, regardless of party affiliation. The foreign policy powers of the President are outlined in Article II of the Constitution, but there are gaps in power made murkier by historical precedents set forth in the U.S. Court System.

Over time, Congress ceded more and more of its power to check the Office of the Presidency on the issue of foreign policy, culminating in the current situation. Congress should take back its power to check the President, as it is legally able to so long as its members believe in the powers set forth by the Constitution. Transcending party lines in the interest of maintaining the core beliefs of this nation seems reasonable, as members of Congress have a duty to educate themselves on foreign policy issues in order to best serve the interests of their constituents and the nation. 

Looking forward, there are many contemporary foreign policy issues that Congress could use to start to regain power. For example, the Administration’s targeted killing of Iranian Major General Soleimani in January occurred without the knowledge or consent of high ranking members of Congress, who historically are at a minimum informed of any major military action, covert or otherwise, before it occurs. While the President is not required constitutionally to consult with Congress about the actions of the Armed Forces, the targeted killing of a high ranking Iranian official could be considered an act of war, thus making the act  fall under the jurisdiction of Congress. 

Another likely battleground for constraint could be on the issue of the US-China trade deal that was recently approved. While not a solid solution to the ongoing trade war between China and the U.S., the trade deal serves as an uneasy ceasefire between the two countries. Many have accused President Trump of having been unconstrained by either interest groups or Congress in the process of negotiating this deal. While the American Executive side of the deal pursues a better deal for farmers, it appears that the interests of American manufacturers, retailers, and consumers were largely ignored. Per Article I of the Constitution, Congress has the power to regulate commerce with foreign nations. Lawmakers could make the case that they deserve to have more oversight into the negotiations of these agreements in order to better protect the interests of the American producers and consumers within their constituencies. 

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.

#TRIPwrapped – Fall 2019 Semester in Review

Fun Times at the Global Research Institute

Peter Leonard

One of the best parts about working at the GRI is the opportunity to attend its thought-provoking and engaging events. I was fortunate to attend several events this semester, ranging from a research showcase to a hot chocolate bar for finals. All of the events added to my positive experience at the GRI.


GRI Open House – October 7

The GRI’s Open House was a pleasure to attend not just because there was great food and people abound, but the event served as a valuable time to inform members of the community about our research. The TRIP team talked to people from all parts of campus, including President Katherine Rowe. I also had the chance to learn what the other organizations at the GRI were up to. I was especially interested in Nuke Lab, which researches nuclear proliferation, and Ignite, which focus on public health.

GRI Homecoming – October 17-19

The GRI hosted a few different events for William and Mary’s homecoming, including a series of “Lightning Talks” and a BBQ at the GRI. It was neat to see TRIP alumni talk about their experiences on the team and how the projects have evolved over time. A lot of the work we are doing now is built on the foundation that the alumni laid-out.

Fall Semester Research Celebration – November 20


I had the unique opportunity to serve as the MC for the GRI’s Fall Semester Research Celebration, which invited two members from the GRI’s assorted projects to present on their research. The event was lightning fast – presenters had three minutes to summarize their findings or risk being cut short by a gong. Two of the TRIP RAs, Maggie Manson and Morgan Doll, did a masterful job at presenting TRIP’s work and stole the show (albeit I may be a bit biased!). Powerful presentations AND pizza from Mellow Mushroom? I am now counting the seconds until the Spring Semester Research Celebration!

Foreign Policy Journalism in the Trump Era: a Panel Discussion

Maggie Manson

On Thursday, November 7th the Teaching, Research, and International Policy Project kicked off our Foreign Affairs Journalist and Scholars Conference with a panel discussion titled “Foreign Policy Journalism in the Trump Era.” The panel featured CNN Analyst and Brookings Senior Fellow Susan Hennessey, Reporter for the Intercept Akela Lacy ‘15, Correspondent for the New York Times David Sanger, and Professor Mike Tierney as the panel’s moderator. Topics discussed ranged from the unprecedented lack of press briefings by the current administration to the impact of the Trump presidency on U.S. foreign affairs. Much of the discussion tied back to the broader concept of the media serving as a conduit to the public and policymakers and how we can better incorporate academic knowledge into media discourse. 


The topic on the forefront of much of the audience’s mind was the ongoing impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. Panelists approached this topic by looking more broadly at how the Trump presidency has affected U.S. foreign relations with other countries. A common sentiment discussed among panelists was that after this administration, the next president will have to mend key diplomatic relationships that have been strained or broken by Trump. The U.S. will have to regain the trust of many of its historical allies and reevaluate its relationships with countries such as Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey that have found themselves in good standing with the current administration despite leaning authoritarian and committing human rights abuses.

The panelists could not speculate on whether or not Trump would be impeached and removed from office, but they did speak to the scale of executive power being utilized and potentially abused by this president. “You need to not just give a fair rendering of the law, precedent and long-term institutional position, but you also need to step back and situate it in the larger and unprecedented moment that we’re seeing in terms of the big, strategic positions that this White House is taking on the question of executive power,” Susan Hennessey stated. 

Another interesting topic discussed by panelists was the impact of leaks on transparency and security.  In regards to the increased volume of leaked confidential documents from the U.S. government, Hennessey and Sanger presented two divergent, yet equally thought-provoking perspectives. Hennessey argued that these leaks present a threat not only to international security and government legitimacy, but also to the personal safety of U.S. government employees. According to Hennessey, these leaks deteriorate governmental structures and legitimacy by creating a seperate, irregular channel for this information to pass through.  

Sanger countered by stating that there is a trend towards overclassification of information within the government and that such leaks actually foster transparency and hold the government accountable to its citizens. He also mentioned that at the New York Times, the process of releasing such information to the public includes active contact with relevant government agencies to ensure that the release of this information does not put any U.S. citizens or ongoing operations at risk. 

The Foreign Policy Journalism in the Trump Era panel was not only interesting and informative for the audience, but also quite engaging of student questions and diverse perspectives. It was a great start to our Foreign Affairs Journalist and Scholars Conference and a productive weekend of discussion between media and academia. Thanks to Susan Hennessey, Akela Lacy, and David Sanger for speaking on this panel!

William & Mary's Global Research Institute hosted a panel discussion on Foreign Policy Journalism in the Trump Era in Tucker Hall Thursday evening, November 7, 2019. The panel featured feature David Sanger, Susan Hennessey, and Akela Lacy in a conversation on the state of journalism and the media in the Trump era. GRI Director Mike Tierney moderated. (Skip Rowland '83)
Skip Rowland ’83

RA Perspective: Recommendations for Improving Media Uptake of Academic Knowledge

Lucas Arnett

Since I became a Research Assistant here at TRIP, I’ve been fascinated by the central question we’ve been trying to answer: how can we make academia more relevant to policy discourse? Like many undergraduate students, I’ve often found myself dragging my eyes along the fiftieth page of some journal article and struggling to remember whether this one particular old white guy identifies more with the agentic constructivist or offensive neorealist paradigmatic camp. 

However, when I finally had the privilege of sitting in on a TRIP workshop full of talented journalists and academics, many of whom have trudged through those same articles, it made me realize that I’m certainly not the only one who thinks academia can work on being more relevant to policymakers. Over the course of three hours, I heard some well-respected journalists, academics, and publishers talk about some of the reasons why we don’t often see academia in the news:

On the “demand side”, (ie journalists, publishers, etc), we discovered many reporters are a little too focused on ‘getting the scoop’, recording that perfect soundbyte, or finding the quote that fits their pre-existing opinion instead of engaging with the nuance of what academics have to say. Considering many academic journals are gated by an expensive pay-wall or feature 60-page entries, it’s not surprising journalists turn to think tanks with pretty graphics or find alternative sources of expertise. 

On the “supply side” (i.e. academia), conference attendees suggested that scholars should do better to understand that journalists don’t necessarily want 200 years of Namibian history for a story about the election. Academics should also know that even when a journalist talks to them for background, and doesn’t quote them, they are still helpful to the reporting process and need not be offended.


Reporting and research are both challenging jobs that require boatloads of effort on the agent’s behalf. However, the more we try to cut corners to make our lives easier, the more we introduce barriers to mutual understanding, and the more academia is confirmed to be an ivory tower that no one except graduate students and other academics actually read and understand. To make research more palatable and impactful, the first thing everyone should learn about is the process of knowledge production (or should I say, epistemology) on both the supply and demand sides. Stay tuned for a report next year with more details on all the recommendations and takeaways from the conference.


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.


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.  

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. 


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. 

Maggie Manson is a sophomore 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.