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

By Aidan Donovan

November 17, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can we encourage evidence-driven guidance from scholars? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Mary Trimble

October 29, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MENA Integration: Legacies & Suggestions

by Maggie Manson

September 23rd, 2020

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

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

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

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

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Regional Membership of Surveyed Countries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#TRIPWrapped: TRIP Summer 2020 in Review

 

by Morgan Doll, Zenobia Goodman, Maggie Manson, and Mary Trimble

September 3rd, 2020

This summer, the TRIP team has been working as hard as ever in a remote work environment! While we miss the GRI porch, we are happy to be staying safe from afar and grateful for zoom meetings that have kept us in touch. Our biggest news is that we said goodbye to Project Managers Emily and Eric, and welcomed our amazing new PM’s: Irene and Alex. Emily will be moving on to pursue her Ph.D. at Cornell University and Eric will be working on his Ph.D. in Political Science at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Alex and Irene will be joining us from the University of California, San Diego where Irene completed her Masters of International Affairs, and Alex finished her Masters of Public Policy. We are so excited to welcome them to the team! 

Summer during the time of Coronavirus

Working at TRIP this summer certainly looked very different than a typical summer, but despite physical distance, TRIP was as socially connected and productive as ever! With RA Zenobia revamping our social media presence, and RA Maggie managing our blog, TRIP’s online presence was very prevalent. Over the course of three months, RAs worked on and published eight blog posts that covered pressing topics such as global perspectives on racism, academic views on the COVID-19 pandemic, and the effect of the pandemic on protest movements. RAs were able to stay connected digitally through weekly Zoom Meetings with our PM’s and often with our Primary Investigators where we brainstormed questions for our upcoming Think Tank survey, discussed social media and blog post ideas, and talked about life in the middle of a pandemic. Telework may have presented its own challenges, but as seen in the projects below, TRIP was able to adjust to a new work environment and thrive! 

For TRIP staying connected has always been an important part of our work. This became even more important during the COVID-19 pandemic. We realized that in order to stay connected with the W&M community and people around the world, revamping our social media strategy was imperative. This summer we began using our platform to promote Bridging the Theory-Practice Divide in International Relations. This gave our research assistants a chance to interact with our Twitter followers! We also created an Instagram for TRIP (@trip_wm). We used our Instagram to introduce our RAs and interact with TRIP Alumni and researchers in a more casual way. This began with the introduction of “Why TRIP Wednesday” where our RAs introduced themselves and gave insight on why TRIP was the place for them and has evolved into a platform where we simply keep others informed on upcoming TRIP activities. Revamping our social media was a great way to stay connected during the COVID-19 pandemic and we can’t wait to see where our social media journey takes us! 

TRIP has a new book!

This spring, we released the long-awaited TRIP Book: Bridging the Theory-Practice Divide in International Relations. This book uses TRIP data gathered over a fifteen-year period to analyze the structural divide in the academy’s ability to influence policy. Each chapter discusses a different issue including human rights, the environment, trade, and nuclear strategy from the viewpoint of scholars, and is followed by a response from policymakers. This conversation is both important and unique, and we are excited to bring the questions we ask every day at TRIP into the world by means of this book.

To help promote the book and meaningfully engage with its content as RAs who have been a part of compiling this data, we each read and reviewed a different chapter. Maggie focused on the nuclear strategy  chapters, Mary tackled the chapters addressing human rights and interstate conflict, Morgan looked at trade and the environment , and Zenobia worked on foreign aid. Maggie was even able to ask questions to the authors of one of these chapters, Michael Desch and Paul Avey, who described their process of working with TRIP data as follows: “We have been fortunate to have worked with TRIP on multiple projects. TRIP data is an invaluable tool for understanding broad trends in the discipline and the nature of the academic-policy gap. There is still a lot to be learned from what they have collected.”

Check out our tweets at @TRIP_survey!

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How Think Tanks are influencing IR research 

After completing the journalist survey in the fall, we began compiling a list of Think Tanks to survey next. Our sample consists of the 76 most influential International Relations Think Tanks based in the U.S. including Brookings Institution, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Heritage Foundation, Council on Foreign Relations, Cato Institute, and Human Rights Watch. We chose to undertake this project because think tanks often serve as the middle ground between academics and the public. The people who conduct research at think tanks are not necessarily academics, even though some might be, and they are not journalists either. Rather than reading a lengthy article from an academic journal, the average person might be more likely to read a piece on a specific issue published by a think tank as it is more easily accessible and understandable. Thus, think tanks serve an important role in synthesizing academic knowledge and shaping the conversation on International Relations and current events. Our job as RAs was to gather contact information of the employees at these think tanks and decide whether or not to include them in our survey sample.

What’s Next?

Fall 2020 will certainly be a semester unlike any other. We are sad that we won’t be able to plant ourselves in our old corners of the Scotland Street houses, attend GRI events, or chat with our co-workers in the kitchen as we make our fourth cup of coffee of the day. Yet, this summer showed us that at GRI and at TRIP, the show can and must go on. This fall, we will work remotely to continue to build a sample for our newest survey, this time of staff at US-based NGOs and advocacy groups. Hopefully, that work will be done by the end of the semester so the PMs and PIs can begin drafting the questions for this survey. Like always, TRIP is interested in how these groups engage with academic knowledge in international relations, how they think about their own research, and what they consider to be “academic.” 

While this summer may not have looked exactly like we had imagined it would, we are so thankful for the opportunities and experiences TRIP and the Global Research Institute have provided us with and we can’t wait to see what is to come this fall!

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 human rights violations and global development issues.

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

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.

A Student Responds: Foreign Aid and the Theory-Practice Divide

by Zenobia Goodman
August 14th, 2020

Chapter Six of “Bridging the Theory-Practice Divide in International Relations” on Foreign Aid immediately captured my attention as a student interested in pursuing a career in International Development after graduating from William & Mary. Understanding foreign aid has become increasingly important due to the complexity of the topic caused by differentiating agendas between researchers and practitioners/ policymakers.

According to Christina Schneider, the Chapter’s author, there is a greater demand for linkages between scholars and the policy community in the international development community compared to other international relations subfields. Using TRIP survey data of IR Scholars, the table below shows the high demand for more research that is policy-relevant and related to major world events.

Table6.1

So how do we fill this gap?

Chapter Six touches on the different approaches between scholars and researchers in the field of Foreign Aid. Here are the three main takeaways from Chapter Six.

    • Though both quantitative and qualitative methods are valued by IR scholars, overwhelming, more IR scholars employ qualitative analysis.  The TRIP survey found that scholars are more likely to employ qualitative research methods over quantitative research methods for policy purposes.  The table below shows the distribution of methodological approaches used by IR scholars.  But more information is needed to understand the type of methodological approaches practitioners are in need of.

 

    • Increasing linkages between scholars and practitioners is not impossible! Schneider notes that policy practitioners and IR scholars do use the same methodological approaches. Improving transparency can help “increase the usability of academic research for Policy purposes” (92). An example of this is AidData: AidData employs both academic and policy workers to collaborate surrounding the behavior of development projects in areas such as China and India. Transparency seems to foster a relationship of trust and ease between different fields.

Table6.2

  • Differences in incentive structures are still an obstacle. Academics research doesn’t always line up with current events that need immediate attention. In addition, developing a research plan and implementing it can take up to 2-5 years, when policymakers may need it in less than a year to address current problems.

Chapter Six of the book was very interesting and insightful for understanding the application of research in developing foreign aid policy. There has been a lot of progress in reducing the gap over the years, however, work still needs to be done. The Chapter opened up my perspective on the needs of the international development community, and how my education at William and Mary and my experience at TRIP can help better understand the relationship between the academic and the policy worlds. 

Check out my tweet thread summary of Chapter Six on Foreign Aid on our Twitter: @trip_irsurvey 

Preview or buy Bridging the Theory-Practice Divide in International Relations from Georgetown University Press here: bit.ly/Bridging-G

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.

A Student Responds: Nuclear Strategy and the Theory-Practice Divide

by Maggie Manson

July 24, 2020

In their chapter in the new book edited by our TRIP Principal Investigators (Susan Peterson, Ryan Powers, and Michael J. Tierney) and Daniel Maliniak, Paul C. Avey and Michael C. Desch aim to solve the question of why the discipline of international security, specifically nuclear strategy, has become less policy-relevant following the Cold War. They argue that a decline in policy-relevant academia, evidenced by the decline in the proportion of journal articles with policy prescriptions, can be attributed to modern research being presented in formats that are not easily accessible for policymakers to interpret and use.

wmd

The authors find an increase in the proportion of WMD and Arms Control articles that employ quantitative analysis, rather than qualitative, which they argue is indicative of the lack of accessibility of recent nuclear research and the professionalization of IR as a field.

wmd-method

While the results of this chapter are interesting, I have some further questions about the applicability of these findings to the reality of nuclear politics in the Trump era. Generally speaking, nuclear research doesn’t lend itself towards quantitative methods because there is a significant lack of case studies where nuclear weapons were employed offensively (there’s exactly one, the U.S. use of nuclear weapons against Japan near the end of WWII). While aspects of nuclear politics such as hedging, proliferation, and the nonproliferation regime can be understood through quantitative analysis of real-world events, the ultimate puzzle of what factors might lead to the use of nuclear weapons cannot be solved using quantitative methods.

While the argument of the chapter may have held up in previous post-Cold War years, I believe that there is a different reason for a lack of policy relevance in the era of the Trump Presidency. The authors argue that academic work doesn’t make its way into the policy process because of inaccessible methods, however, in the case of the Trump administration, it seems that his staff often purposefully ignores expert opinion. Trump has stated many times throughout his campaign and presidency that we as a country need to be more unpredictable in our actions on the world stage. Unpredictable actions cannot coexist with well-informed policy rooted in academic findings, especially in the realm of nuclear politics. So in the Trump era, it may not in fact be that research is not well understood by policymakers, but that it is altogether ignored.

According to Snap Poll XI, a majority of scholars find Trump’s strategy of unpredictability to be highly ineffective. So why does Trump insist upon this tactic, ignoring expert opinion?

TRIP_SP_2020_Jul_24

I believe that it is not because of the inaccessibility of academic work, but instead his lack of respect for expert opinion. Avey and Desch’s argument may correctly explain the theory-policy gap in the nuclear realm pre-Trump, but I think that there is a more important factor preventing the current administration from engaging with academic material: their lack of appreciation for experts altogether. This chapter and argument are extremely compelling, so I asked the authors how they think it holds up in the Trump era.

  1.   How do you think your argument holds up in the Trump Era?

We think that the argument holds up reasonably well. If professional incentives lead nuclear scholars to turn inward to only study narrow questions amenable to certain techniques or theoretical approaches, then much of what we as scholars produce won’t be particularly relevant. There’s a lot of important questions today – from arms control to nonproliferation, to nuclear force modernization and strategy – that scholars can contribute to. It is important to put the problem at the center of analysis and then use the best approach available to answer the question. Policy practitioners are smart and can understand sophisticated approaches. But if the question and approach are not relevant to their problem set they’ll be even less likely to engage with academics. It is also incumbent on us to identify factors that policy can influence and present findings in a clear and consistent manner.

Different administrations will vary in how much they use social science work and approach experts. At its most senior levels, the Trump administration may be particularly skeptical as you note. Scholarship that is relevant may struggle to have influence across multiple administrations. The important point for us is that if the work is not relevant then there is almost no chance that it has influence.

  1.   What are your thoughts on John Harvey’s policy response to your chapter?

We thank Dr. Harvey for taking the time to engage our argument. We agree with much of what he said, not least because he notes that our assessment is “on the mark.” His response, as he notes, reinforces and extends our points. For example, he tells the story of how Ted Postol and Sally Ride failed to achieve faculty status at Stanford. For Harvey, the problem was that “they were not doing the traditional business of  academia (i.e., abstract knowledge production advancing a narrow field of study); they were working on real-world problems.” He later adds that “it was not easy to convince young social scientists and regional specialists to devote a portion of their time to policy-relevant research when prospective [academic] employers looked down on it.” Harvey highlights how disciplinary boundaries and approaches can inhibit engaging practical issues. This gets to the heart of our concern about disciplinary incentives marginalizing policy-relevant scholarship. We hope that this is changing in our field today, but we see reasons for concern. We also agree with his emphasis on time: policymakers have little of it and it matters when you introduce an idea. Scholars must be attentive to both of these factors if they work to engage practitioners.

  1.   How does your argument fit into the limits of nuclear politics research?

There are several challenges to nuclear politics research. To highlight just two, you rightly raise the challenge of small numbers and there are major secrecy issues surrounding nuclear weapons strategy and programs. This highlights the importance of our argument. Professional incentives to only study questions that are amenable to certain techniques or access can prevent scholars from exploring key issues. This is not, and we want to emphasize this, an argument against careful research and method, or an appreciation of the limits of what we can claim based on the available evidence. Our point is that if the balance moves too far in one direction then important questions will go unasked. Scholars will conduct ever-narrower studies on issues that aren’t relevant or transferrable to policy problems.

  1. What was your experience like working with TRIP data?

We have been fortunate to have worked with TRIP on multiple projects. TRIP data is an invaluable tool for understanding broad trends in the discipline and the nature of the academic-policy gap. There is still a lot to be learned from what they have collected.  

Preview or buy Bridging the Theory-Practice Divide in International Relations from Georgetown University Press here: bit.ly/Bridging-GUP

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

A Student Responds: Interstate Conflict and the Theory-Practice Divide

by Mary Trimble

July 21, 2020

In their chapter, “Lost in Translation: Academics, Policymakers, and Research about Interstate Conflict,” Sarah Kreps and Jessica Weeks suggest that the gap between academics and practitioners in the area of interstate conflict isn’t so much a problem of demand as of supply. In other words, if academics were better at explaining their research to the policymaker, data from the 2011 TRIP survey of national security establishment shows that the policymaker would find it useful and relevant to their work.

Their data also show that where academic theories have saturated the practitioner world, like realism or “clash of civilizations” theory, they tend to be outdated or have fallen out of vogue in academia, which makes continuous sharing of scholarly research all the more important. This is an encouraging finding, because it is one which suggests an easy fix: scholars should write more op-eds for more mainstream publications, like Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, and The Washington Post’s The Monkey Cage.

While reading, it struck me that such a solution may present an opportunity during the Trump administration, for example in the Department of Defense, where there is currently significant turnover of officials in the politically-appointed upper echelons. This presents two possibilities as it relates to Kreps and Weeks’ research.

On the one hand, perennially new superiors might rely more heavily on well-informed, well-placed staffers and establishment folks, such as those in the survey sample in Avey and Desch 2014. Thus, where the national security establishment is engaging in scholarship, it may have an outsize effect in the context of the Trump administration; and if scholars wrote more well placed op-eds! What a utopia for the academia-policy pipeline.

On the other hand, with every new appointment, the work environment becomes more deeply polarized, as officials seen as disloyal are replaced with figures friendlier to the administration. One hallmark of the administration has been a disdain for expertise, and the tendency of politically appointed leadership to perform for an audience of one.  Would they be friendly to the scholarly argument, or simply to one that isn’t ideological?

In his response, Peter Feaver provides some potential answers. Theory is essential, but also often implicit: thus, a political official may never know a Foreign Policy article by an academic was the basis of their briefing, so the problem of hostility to the research is eliminated. However, Fever also notes that academic research tends to be more useful at providing context for a given scenario than concrete solutions. Theory can explain what actions states or individuals tend to take when confronted with similar scenarios, but it can’t necessarily tell you how to avoid war in the next fifteen minutes.

Feaver makes a clever suggestion, with which I agree: in the next survey, find out what policymakers are curious about in the world of interstate conflict. Perhaps academia already has the answer and need only point them to it, and perhaps it will open up new avenues for inquiry (that they can then write about in The Monkey Cage).

TRIP_Faculty_Survey2020_Jul_21

In comparing the academic and policy chapters, what emerges, for me, is an interesting question about what it is academics believe is the goal of research on interstate conflict, in real terms. In the 2017 TRIP Faculty Survey, IR scholars in international security were slightly more likely to say that their research was “basic” (done simply for the sake of knowledge) than “applied” (with a specific policy application in mind). Kreps and Weeks argue that scholars need only make their research available for it to be useful for policymakers, but the belief in that goal seems less than universal.

Preview or buy Bridging the Theory-Practice Divide in International Relations from Georgetown University Press here: bit.ly/Bridging-GUP

A Student Responds: Trade and the Theory-Practice Divide

by Morgan Doll

July 17, 2020

Edward Mansfield and Jon Pevehouse in “Trade Policy and Trade Policy Research” and Robert Zoellick in “Making International Relations Research On Trade More Relevant to Policy Officials” address the policy-scholarship divide in International Political Economy. Of articles that analyze trade in leading IR journals, “only 5 percent are coded as making an explicit policy recommendation.” While 52 percent of policymakers responding to the 2017 TRIP trade policy maker survey “reported relating arguments and evidence from social science research into their work on a daily basis,” it is impossible to tell whether specific policy recommendations by scholars have had an impact on policy decisions in practice. Mansfield and Pevehouse find, instead, that “developments in the global arena—many of which are driven by policy initiatives—are an impetus for much of the academic literature on the political economy of trade.” Zoellick in his response agrees with Mansfield & Pevehouse on the importance of history. He makes an addendum, emphasizing how transformative leaders play a role in this discussion. He points out how there are “times when political leaders resist and even block structures or systems that they believe are counterproductive” and, “in doing so, transformative leaders can create the basis for new, or at least substantially revised, orders.” In his opinion, both governments and citizens could gain a lot from scholarly contributions in policymaking.

In the current era of President Donald Trump, the COVID-19 Pandemic, and widespread anti-globalization sentiment, it is undeniable that the status quo has changed. With the Trump presidency, it seems as though policymakers are engaging even less with scholars. For example, in Snap Poll X, we asked scholars if they thought that free trade agreements between the U.S. and other countries have been a good thing or a bad thing for the United States. An overwhelming majority, 94.57% of respondents said that they have been a good thing.

TRIP_SP_2020_Jul_17

In spite of this information, Donald Trump and his advisors have increased trade protections on U.S. goods and started a trade war with China. During the COVID-19 pandemic, President Trump has withdrawn from the WHO and pressured states to re-open despite public health officials’ advice, ignoring scholarly opinion once again. However, scholars are seemingly engaging more with policymakers today by critiquing and weighing in on the current President’s decisions. When searching for scholarly articles about “Trump” and “Trade” from 2016-2020 in the SWEM Library Database, 348,135 results came up. In comparison, when searching for “Obama” and “Trade,” 322,582 results surfaced, a 25,553 article difference. TRIP Snap Poll XI, which was released in 2018, shows that 64.64% of scholars report engaging in policy advocacy at the very least occasionally.  That being said, there is no information on whether or not these scholars make explicit policy recommendations in their work, or what types of advocacy these scholars engage in.

TRIP_SP_2020_Jul_17 (1)

Zoellick’s statement about political leaders creating a revised order by blocking systems they personally believe are counterproductive is precisely what President Trump has done during his term. The Trump Presidency has defied many norms, altering perceptions of the American presidency forever. This president does what he and his political base want, without considering the consequences, on issues from trade to education and public health. A new development that we must grapple with is the fact practitioners in the sphere of international relations are not always rational actors.

In agreement with Mansfield and Pevehouse’s view that developments in the global arena often affect scholarship, the COVID-19 pandemic has encouraged scholars to question and research more about globalization, climate change, and global health. In Snap Poll XIII, 30.33% of respondents anticipated changing the focus of their research in response to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Additionally, in the 2017 TRIP Faculty Survey, 70.73% of respondents reported responding to any major world event in the last five years by increasing or decreasing their research in an issue area related to that event.

TRIP_SP_2020_Jul_17 (2)

The arguments made about trade scholarship and policymaking in chapters 8 and 9 are just as applicable to the present day. Even though these authors could not predict the future with the volatile actions of the Trump Presidency and COVID-19 Pandemic, these developments give even more context and support to their arguments about trade policymaking and scholarship.

Preview or buy Bridging the Theory-Practice Divide in International Relations from Georgetown University Press here: bit.ly/Bridging-GUP

Responses to Mearsheimer talk

By Morgan Doll, Maggie Manson, and Mary Trimble

July 7th, 2020

On Thursday, February 27, John Mearsheimer, the Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago, delivered a talk called “America’s Delusional Foreign Policy during the Unipolar Moment.” The talk was co-sponsored by the John Quincy Adams Society and the Global Research Institute. In the following weeks, TRIP Research Assistants wrote about their thoughts in response to the talk. Campus deactivation due to COVID-19 prevented us from posting their reactions until now. 

Morgan Doll’s  Response

According to TRIP’s 2017 Faculty survey, many IR scholars believe that John Mearsheimer has been one of the greatest influences on the field of IR in the past 20 years. We wanted to see how Mearsheimer’s arguments compared to what other International Relations scholars think by using TRIP data from snap polls IX, X, and XI.

  1. How effective do you think each of the following approaches are to achieving the foreign policy goals of the United States?
From TRIP Snap Poll X
From TRIP Snap Poll X

Scholars agree with Mearsheimer’s argument that the United States’ foreign policy approach of military intervention was not effective in achieving the foreign policy goals of the United States. The vast majority of scholars also agree with Mearsheimer that participating in international organizations is very to somewhat effective.

  1. How likely is war between the United States and China over the next decade? Please use the 0 to 10 scale with 10 indicating that war will definitely occur.
From TRIP Snap Poll X
From TRIP Snap Poll X

In his talk, Mearsheimer discussed how U.S. engagement with China backfired for the U.S. and led to China becoming one of the three current world powers. Mearsheimer believes that the rise of China will be a major international security concern and is unlikely to be tranquil. Interestingly enough, the majority of IR scholars think that war with China in the next decade is unlikely with 92.13% of scholars rating war with China a 5 or less out of 10.

  1. Would you support the United States withdrawal from NATO?
From TRIP Snap Poll XI
From TRIP Snap Poll XI

Mearsheimer’s focus was centered on the U.S.’s foreign policy decisions and how this has affected the state of the world today. One of his arguments was that NATO was responsible for the Ukraine crisis. Even though he is a proponent of realism, he believes that at this point all institutions and international organizations are indispensable. Especially with the resurrection of Russia as an international power, he and scholars agree that they strongly oppose U.S. withdrawal from NATO.

  1. The United States is negotiating a free trade agreement with twelve Pacific nations called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (or TPP). Do you support or oppose this free trade agreement?
From TRIP Snap Poll IX
From TRIP Snap Poll IX

Mearsheimer noted that there is a tendency to describe Trump as a realist politician. He disagrees with this notion and a lot of Trump’s policy; for example, he believes that Trump should not have pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership along with many IR scholars who oppose many of Trump’s signature foreign policy decisions. Mearsheimer additionally argued that the reason why Trump is in the White House and why Bernie Sanders is doing relatively well in Democratic primaries is because of the bad U.S.FP decisions made in recent history. American citizens are in a period where they crave more non-interventionist candidates who seek to change the present system.

 

Maggie Manson’s Response 

During Professor John Mearsheimer’s talk: “America’s Delusional Foreign Policy During the Unipolar Moment,” which corresponded with the release of his new book The Great Delusion: Liberal Dreams and International Realities, Mearsheimer outlined the basic tenets of liberalism, nationalism, and liberal hegemony. He argued that nationalism was the most powerful political ideology on the planet and that it was a sharp refutation of liberal hegemony. According to Mearsheimer, liberal hegemony, which entails the spread of democracy and the integration of countries into the international economy and international institutions, has long guided United States Foreign Policy (USFP). He described U.S. state-building in the Middle East, U.S. intervention in Eastern European democratization efforts, and U.S. engagement with China as key examples of liberal hegemony. Mearsheimer argued that these examples ultimately demonstrate the failure of liberal hegemony, on account of the power of nationalism, realism, and the overselling of individual freedoms by liberal hegemony. 

After the talk, I asked Professor Mearsheimer: “In the opposite fashion of the Bush doctrine, how would U.S. aid for dictatorships in the Arab world (as a response to a fear of Islamism) fit into this idea that USFP has centered on liberal hegemony in recent years?” My logic behind this question was that if the Bush doctrine and the idea of liberal hegemony centered on the spread of democracy, then why would the U.S. provide aid to dictatorships, and what paradigm would these actions then align with? Mearsheimer replied that he did not believe that fear of Islamism was a factor that played into the promotion of dictators by the U.S. and that extremist fears were not necessarily relevant to those considerations. When referencing Islamism I was referring to political Islam, not terrorism, so clarification on my end could’ve helped. However, he went on to say that the reason for such actions would be that the U.S. was supporting U.S.-friendly dictatorships to bolster its own interests, not democracy. While I agree that state interests could be an explanatory factor for U.S. support of dictatorships, I believe that this explanation is incomplete without factoring in the fear of the rise of political Islam that could occur through the promotion of democracy in the Middle East. Promotion of democracy would otherwise better fit the U.S.’s interests if it was not concerned about Islamism in a democratic middle east. Also, his answer appeared to be contradictory to his previous reference of the Bush doctrine as a prime example of liberal hegemony because that doctrine centered on the spread of democracy which is not reflected through the promotion of dictatorship, even if it better serves American interests. I did find Professor Mearsheimer’s talk to be extremely interesting and engaging, despite my disagreement with his answer. 

Mary Trimble’s Response

“It’s all going to be peace, love, and dope.” That was how John Mearsheimer, world-renowned realist international security scholar, characterized the U.S. policy of liberal hegemony in the post-Cold War era during his public lecture at William & Mary on Feb. 27. In his fairly comprehensive look at the relative success or failure of the U.S. project to “remake the world in its image” by democratizing nation-states, he concluded that the policies of liberal hegemony were a failure because the forces of realism and nationalism are so much more potent in the international system. After some consideration, I realized that none of what he presented was the argument I expected him to make. Despite decades of describing the world in realist terms, even outlining his own theory of offensive realism as an explanation for state aggression, he seemed, in his lecture, to assert that the U.S. was not a realist, rational actor in the unipolar moment since it was no longer constrained by balance-of-power politics and strategy. Here is, then, what I would have expected him to argue, and how it compares to what he did say.

Mearsheimer’s theory of offensive realism is predicated on the assumption that states are rational actors, and as such, try to maximize their power in the international system (which is anarchic, or without a central authority or formal hierarchy). But he didn’t start here when describing the U.S. pursuit of liberal hegemony in the unipolar moment. Rather, his assumption was that they pursued this policy based on an overwhelming belief in liberalism, rather than rational self-interest. He seemed to assign a certain moral clarity to the United States– even if the policies were wrongheaded (and resulted, according to Mearsheimer, in the longest war in the U.S. history and hundreds of thousands of casualties in the Ukraine Crisis, and in the rise of China), at least our heart was in the right place. In some ways it’s reassuring; one can almost forgive making a mess if someone was only trying to help. The U.S. does express a commitment to universal human rights, democracy as a social contract, and democratic peace. Mearsheimer argued that unipolarity allowed the United States to pursue that commitment with gusto, to create liberal hegemony in the world where the U.S. was “Godzilla surrounded by Bambi.” In his talk, he argued that unipolarity created the conditions for liberal hegemony. What I thought he would say was that the U.S. pursued liberal hegemony because liberalizing creates countries that think as the U.S. does, that engage in the international system of finance and norms like the U.S. does, and over whom the U.S. might have more influence as the head of that system in a unipolar world. Ultimately, I assumed he would say that the U.S. foreign policy in the nineties and aughts was a manifestation of the U.S. desire to maximize their power in an anarchic international system when no other power was around to stop them.

Mearsheimer pointed to the Bush Doctrine push to create liberal democracies in the Middle East as a result of the liberal hegemonic project. Maggie made an interesting point in her question to him, and in her own contribution to this post. To address Maggie’s point about the U.S. involvement in the Middle East, it seems like Mearsheimer’s own ideas of realism is the most effective at explaining various U.S. foreign policy positions in the region, not liberal hegemony defined as the univocal striving for the creation of liberal democracies. The United States has long supported Saudi Arabia as a close and relied-upon ally, despite their authoritarian rentier system and a disastrous human rights record, most infamously on gender equality and press freedom, to name only two. For another example, take U.S. support of Egypt under Hosni Mubarak, who, while maintaining a tenuous peace with Israel, ruled with an iron fist with the support of a vast police state until his ouster during the Arab Spring. Why would the U.S. support these regimes if it was all-in for liberal hegemony, as Mearsheimer asserts? In reality, it seems more reasonable that the U.S. supports its allies who stand with them (whether against Iran in the case of Saudia Arabia, or in peace and stability with its other ally Israel in Egypt’s case), and does so in a manner more realist than liberal.

Mearsheimer’s ultimate argument seemed to be that the U.S. is not a realist country, and was instead motivated by a belief in liberalism. I’m not necessarily trying to say he’s wrong, only that his argument doesn’t follow logically from his many years of scholarship in international relations. But, his willingness to continue to write, engage in discussion in publications like The New York Times or Foreign Policy and to lecture to college students like me speaks to his status as a public scholar, as Professor Peterson noted in her introduction to his lecture. The ability to think critically about the arguments he proposes, and to dispute them, when necessary, allows us to inch closer to the truth in the study of international relations.

 

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.

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

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.

 

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.

TRIP_SP_2020_Jun_29 (2)

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.