More on Milgram’s Methods of Research

In a previous post, I introduced Stanley Milgram’s experiments on obedience and authority. We watched a short video clip in class and students responded to questions about Milgram’s research methods. Upon realizing that the unwitting test subjects were all males, one student wondered whether that would have biased the results in a particular direction. The students hypothesized that women may have been much less likely to defer to authority and continue to inflict increasing doses of pain on the test-takers. While there are good reasons to believe either that women would be more or less deferential than are men, what I wanted to emphasize is the broader point about evidence and theory as it relates to research method and research ethics.

The 'sophisticated' machinery of the Milgram Obedience Experiment

The ‘sophisticated’ machinery of the Milgram Obedience Experiment

In the video clip, Milgram states candidly that his inspiration for his famous experiments was the Nazi regime’s treatment of Europe’s Jews, both before and during World War II. He wanted to understand (explain) why seemingly decent people in their everyday lives could have committed and/or allowed such atrocities to occur. Are we all capable of being perpetrators of, or passive accomplices to, severe brutality towards our fellow human beings?

Milgram’s answer to this question is obviously “yes!” But Milgram’s methods of research, his way of collecting the evidence to test his hypothesis, was biased in favour of confirming his predetermined position on the matter. His choice of lab participants is but one example. This is not good social science, however. The philosopher of science, Carl Hempel, long ago (1966) laid out the correct approach to  producing good (social) science:

  1. Have a clear model (of the phenomenon under study), or process, that one hypothesizes to be at work.
  2. Test out the deductive implications of that model, looking at particularly the implications that seem to be least plausible,
  3. Test these least plausible implications against empirical reality.

If even these least plausible implications turn out to be confirmed by the model, then you have srong evidence to suggest that you’ve got a good model of the phenomenon/phenomena of interest. As the physicist Richard Feynman (1965) once wrote,

…[through our experiments] we are trying to prove ourselves wrong as quickly as possible, because only in that way can we find progress.

Did the manner in which Milgram set up his experiment give him the best chance to “prove himself wrong as quickly as possible” or did he stack the deck in favour of finding evidence that would confirm his hypothesis?

Ghosts of Rwanda

In POLI 1140, we have read an excerpt from Rwanda section of Samantha Power’s prize-winning book, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, in which Power assesses the reasons for the lack of response by the Clinton administration in the spring of 1994 to the developing genocide in Rwanda. Power makes many points but one of the most trenchant is that despite the apparently early decision by Clinton that he would not send US troops to Rwanda (fearful that another Somalia could ensue), many other actions–short of sending troops-could have been taken by the US government and military. Something as simple as sending planes with the capability to jam radio frequencies may have slowed down the killing and saved countless lives.

Here is a compelling and very informative documentary by PBS’ Frontline series on the events surrounding the Rwandan genocide, paying special attention to the lack of action on the part of the United Nations and the United States. Many of the ideas in Power’s book are addressed here.

Universal Jurisdiction

Today in POLI 1140, we discussed and debated the topic of universal jurisdiction. What is universal jurisdiction? Universal jurisdiction is

a legal concept that permits states to claim legal authority beyond their national territory for the purpose of punishing a particularly heinous criminal that violates the laws of all states or protecting human rights. Mingst and Arreguin-Toft (222)

The most celebrated case in this relatively new area of international jurisprudence is that of former Chilean military dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet, about whom the New York Times editorial board wrote in 2004:

Thanks to a Chilean court ruling on Monday, the day at last seems to be approaching when Gen. Augusto Pinochet, the former military dictator, will go on trial for crimes committed decades ago. General Pinochet is now a very old man, but normal feelings of sympathy would be misplaced. This trial should have begun years ago.

The long delay is entirely the result of General Pinochet’s effort to evade legal accountability. The charges concern one of the most chilling crimes of his nearly 17-year rule, an international conspiracy to hunt down and murder opponents of Latin America’s military dictatorships in the 1970’s. That plot got under way in the days when Henry Kissinger was running American foreign policy for Richard Nixon, and the the United States did too little to discourage it, even though one of the resulting murders was carried out on the streets of Washington.

Gen.Pinochet would die (at age 91) before facing his accusers.

What has prompted the recent emergence, and codification into both international–for example, Article 49 of the First Geneva Convention–and domestic–Canada’s Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act–law, of the concept of universal jurisdiction? According to one of the world’s leading human rights NGOs–Amnesty International–it is because

As genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, torture, extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances are crimes under international law, all states should investigate and prosecute the crimes before their national courts.

Recognizing that impunity exists mainly when the national authorities of countries affected by the crimes fail to act, it is important that the national criminal and civil justice systems of all countries can step in to prosecute the crimes on behalf of the international community and award reparations to victims.

Of course, there are many detractors to the use of the concept of universal jurisdiction. The aforementioned Henry Kissinger has argued the concept not only risks “judicial tyranny” and cases like that of Gen. Pinochet set a “dangerous precedent” (though Kissinger is certainly less than a disinterested figure in this case!), but that

The danger [in pushing for universal jurisdiction] lies in pushing the effort to extremes that risk substituting the tyranny of judges for that of governments; historically, the dictatorship of the virtuous has often led to inquisitions and even witch-hunts.

In class, we viewed the first ten minutes of the video below in which advocates and opponents of the concept of universal jurisdiction debated the relative merits of the idea with respect to the potential arrest of Israeli diplomats on visits to Great Britain for alleged war crimes in Israel/the Occupied Territories.

In the video, Professor Dan Scheuftan, of the University of Haifa notes

[although] International Relations is political…[the increasing use of universal jurisdiction will] politicize the legal system as well. again by radicals, usually from the extreme left using it [universal jurisdiction] as a propaganda ploy.

What do you think? Is the concept a valid tool in the fight to bring perpetrators of heinous human rights abuses and war crimes to justice, or is it more likely to be abused (than used) in the politicization and propagandization (is that a word?) of international justice?

 

Current UN Peacekeeping Operations

In POLI 1140, we spent part of last session watching major portions of the documentary, The  Peacekeepers, which explored the role of the UN is setting up and escalating a peacekeeping mission to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The documentary used a behind-the-scenes approach to analyze the issues faced by the world’s foremost IGO in implementing its mandate to “protect international peace and security”. The focus of the documentary was on the Ituri region in the eastern DRC province of East Kivu.

As the above map notes, the UN, though the auspices of its Department of Peacekeeping Operations, currently has 16 active peacekeeping missions worldwide. The former DRC mission, known as MONUC, has been transformed, in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 1925, into MONUSCO.

As of the start of this year, this is the strength of the peacekeeping force in the DRC:

  • 19,070 total uniformed personnel
    • 16,975 military personnel
    • 723 military observers
    • 1,372 police (including formed units)
  • 976 international civilian personnel*
  • 2,868 local civilian staff*
  • 588 United Nations Volunteers

Currently, in 16 DPKO-led peacekeeping operations, there are almost 120,000 personnel (uniformed and civilian) serving from 115 different countries, while approved resources for the 2012 fiscal year are almost $8 billion US.

Mind you, this is only one aspect of the world’s greatest IGO–the United Nations. Remember also that the UN is only as strong and as capable as its members states make it. Thus, when you hear somebody say “the UN did this,” or “the UN didn’t do that”, what you should remind these people is that they should be saying “the member states, which comprise the UN, did (or did not do) this, or that…”

 

Rwandan Journalists Jailed for Stirring up Ethnic Tensions

Last week in IS 302, we addressed the issue of how governments should approach the existence of ethnic division in a post-conflict setting. We saw that Rwanda and Burundi have chosen different approaches. Burundi’s leaders have decided to address ethnic grievances via assuring ethnic balance in important institutions such as the military. Rwanda’s government has chosen a different approach, endeavouring to make the society as ethnicity-blind as possible. As such, there has been a zero-tolerance policy with respect to any demonstration or acknowledgement of ethnic particularism. As a recent Amnesty International report states unequivocally:

Rwanda’s laws banning “genocide ideology” and “sectarianism” are vague and sweeping, and have been used to silence legitimate dissent. The laws were designed to encourage unity and restrict speech that could lead to hatred. However, they have had dangerous and chilling effect on Rwandan society.”

The most recent example of this “dangerous and chilling effect on Rwandan society” is news of the conviction of two Rwandan journalists of having “stirred up ethnic divisions.” As this BBC article makes clear, it seems highly likely that President Paul Kagame has been using the role of “hate media” during the Rwandan genocide to silence legitimate opposition:

Editor Agnes Nkusi was sentenced to 17 years, while reporter Saidath Mukakibibi was imprisoned for seven. Among several articles, the judge referred to one saying some Rwandans were unhappy with the country’s rulers. Prosecutors said this was “meant to stir [up] hatred and fury against the government”.

President Paul Kagame came to power in 1994, ending the genocide in which some 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered. He has recently been accused of intolerance and harassing anyone who criticises him. His government defends its tough media laws, pointing to the role of “hate media” ahead of the genocide.

The newspaper was suspended for six months last year, just ahead of elections which saw Mr Kagame re-elected by a landslide. Nkusi was found guilty of disrupting state freedom, propagating ethnic division, genocide revisionism and libel.

Theories of Ethnic Identity Formation and Ethnic Violence & Ivory Coast

In IS 309 this evening, we assessed the strengths and weaknesses of three competing theories of ethnic identity (and ethnic violence)–constructivism, primordialism, and instrumentalism. We read the following:

  • Fearon, James D. and David D. Laitin. 2000. Review: Violence and the Social Construction of
    Ethnic Identity,” International Organization, 54:4, pp. 845-877
  • Harvey, Frank P. 2000. Primordialism, Evolutionary Theory and Ethnic Violence in the Balkans:
    Opportunities and Constraints for Theory and Policy,” Canadian Journal of Political Science, 33:1,
    pp. 37-65
  • Collett, Moya. 2006. Ivoirian identity constructions: ethnicity and nationalism in the prelude to
    civil war,” Nations and Nationalism, 12(4), 613-629
  • Kaplan, Robert. D. 1993. Balkan Ghosts: A Journey through history Part I and One Chapter from each of Parts II, III, and IV.
  • Hechter, Michael. 1995. Explaining Nationalist Violence,” Nations and Nationalism, Vol 1(1), 53-68.
  • We then viewed a video on the breakdown of political life in the Ivory Coast and the descent of that once relatively prosperous west African state into civil war. The civil war was characterised as a battle between the “Muslim-populated north and the Christian-dominated south.” How accurate is this characterisation of the ethnic character of Cote D’Ivoire’s civil war?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UOjgiPMs7nc

    For information about the current political situation, in the wake of the refusal of former(?) President Laurent Gbagbo to acknowledge having lost power in elections held several weeks ago, watch these.

    Independence Referendum in Southern Sudan

    The most important international political event occurring this week is arguably the independence referendum in southern Sudan. Despite clashes a couple of days ago along the border separating the north and south, which left dozens dead, the New York Times reports that voting is peaceful. As The Globe and Mail’s Geoffrey York notes, while the referendum may ultimately lead to a new state being created in the south, the cost “has been horrific.”

    Southern Sudan has been consumed by devastating wars for most of the past half-century. An estimated 2.5 million people have perished in those wars, with atrocities on all sides that were shocking in their cruelty.

    After decades of indifference by most of the world, the irony is that Southern Sudan suddenly became a fashionable cause over the past decade. Its oil exports became lucrative, forcing the north and south to try to settle their conflict in order to protect their revenue flows. Simultaneously, there was a rapid escalation of U.S. diplomatic pressure on both sides, including the threat of sanctions – partly because evangelical Christian lobbyists had persuaded Congress that it needed to protect the south’s Christians from Muslim persecution.

    Here’s a fascinating set of maps creating by the BBC to show that the north and south of Sudan differ in more than simply ethnicity and oil wealth.

    Here’s a report from Al Jazeera about some of the important issues related to the referendum: