Calvin and Hobbes and IR Theory

Which theory of IR immediately comes to mind upon reading this Calvin and Hobbes cartoon? Why? One of the more clever students in Intro to IR noticed that one of the character’s names gives us an obvious clue.


The answer is below the fold…

Continue reading “Calvin and Hobbes and IR Theory”

Personality Characteristics of Individual Leaders–Hugo Chavez and George W. Bush

In class on Wednesday, we’ll be analyzing the individual level of analysis in international relations. Do individuals matter? In other words, do they have an effect independent of the state and systemic levels, or do individuals lie at the periphery of international relations? Margaret Hermann–a political psychologist–has found that that leaders can be characterized based on a host of personality characteristics. Some of these are nationalism, need for power, need for affiliation, distrust of others, etc. On the basis of a composite of these characteristics, Hermann believed that leaders were more likely to have one or the other of two foreign policy orientations–independent leader, participatory leader. Watch these two clips and think about how you would characterize Chávez’s and Bush’s foreign policy orientations, respectively.

The Global Perspectives box on p. 146 in Mingst, asks the following questions:

  1. Is it personality or policies that have made Chavez popular and powerful? Using Herman’s personality characteristics, how would you classify Chavez?
  2. How has the person of Chavez augmented the power of the Venezuelan state?

The same could be asked of President Bush:

  1. Is it personality or policies that have made President Bush popular and powerful? Using Herman’s personality characteristics, how would you classify Bush?
  2. How has the person of Bush augmented the power of the US state?

US Missile Test–Sign of an Arms Race in Space?

The United States military has shot down a stray satellite via sea-launched missile. While the Pentagon insists that the episode was meant to prevent the falling satellite from becoming a potential hazard upon its descent to earth, military analysts are not persuaded. It will be difficult to disabuse those with a realist mindset that the exercise was not in response to China’s similar missile exercise in January 2007. Time Magazine’s Jeffrey Kluger writes:

sm3_missle_0220.jpgThis week, the Pentagon tried something different. On Wednesday evening, it announced that it successfully launched a sea-based missile and shot down a crippled satellite gliding 150 miles overhead, in a $60 million effort to blast it out of the sky before it could tumble home and hurt someone. It’s been a neat little feat on the part of the military planners — but that doesn’t mean they’re telling the whole truth about why they bothered in the first place.

The clay pigeon in the military’s cross hairs was an unnamed, 5,000-lb. spy satellite that was launched in 2006 and never quite got its purchase in space, suffering a malfunction almost immediately upon its arrival in orbit. Comparatively low-orbiting craft like this one tumble back to Earth faster than high-orbiting ones, as the upper wisps of the planet’s atmosphere produce increasing amounts of drag, pulling the object lower and lower. This one was on a trajectory that would have caused it to begin its terminal plunge sometime in March, sending it on a fiery descent that should have entirely — or at least mostly — incinerated it.

So why make the effort at such a complicated bit of sharpshooting just to bag a target that was coming down anyway? The Pentagon says it’s all about safety. Five thousand pounds of out-of-control satellite can do an awful lot of damage if it drops on the wrong spot. What’s more, this particular satellite is carrying a 500-lb. tank of frozen hydrazine fuel — nasty stuff if you’re unlucky enough to inhale it. Striking the ground at reentry speed, the gas could immediately disperse over a patch of ground as big as two football fields…

The more believable explanation for the duck hunt is that it’s been an exercise in politics rather than safety. Washington was none too pleased in January of 2007 when China shot down one of its own weather satellites after it had outlived its usefulness, a bit of technological sword-rattling that proved it could target any other nation’s orbiting hardware with equal ease. Beijing too made vague claims of worrying about the public weal, but Washington saw the act more as the political statement it probably was, and concluded — correctly — that American spy satellites are not quite as safe as they once were. An American shootdown would be one way to return the gesture. The timing is particularly suspicious since Russia and China issued a joint condemnation of the militarization of space only days before the Pentagon went public with its plans. While Beijing’s sudden pacifism is hardly credible after it own exercise in cosmic skeet-shooting, neither is the Washington’s insistence that there is no linkage between the two events.

Another possibility is that the Pentagon was indeed nervous about something aboard the satellite, but not the tank of fuel. Spy satellites are, by definition, made of secret hardware, and nothing so pleases one military power as the chance to seize and pick over the technology of another. Should American camera and communications components fall into the wrong hands, whatever tactical advantage was gained in developing them would be lost.

Price of Crude Oil Closes above $100/bbl First Time Ever

bartiromo.jpgWe’ll be playing the “Oil Game” in class tomorrow in PLSC250. When colleagues of mine used this teaching tool in their classes 4 or 5 years ago, the price of oil was about 1/3 of what it is today. In the clip, Brian Williams will tell you that oil reached a “record” high of $100.01 US a barrel. That’s only true if we’re talking about nominal dollars. In terms of real dollars it still has about 4 USD/bbl to go to hit the all-time high set in December 1979. Hmmm…I wonder what was happening in late 1979? Iran, Afghanistan, plus ca change…

Click here to see Maria Bartiromo report from NBC News.

“People are afraid that there is just not enough oil in the world to meet demand; demand which is coming not only from the United States but from emerging economies like China and India.”

“Who” is China? A Constructivist Approach to Security

William A. Callahan is a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars who is currently working on a project that links Chinese notions of self-identity and that country’s broader security environment.  As you may have guessed, Callahan approaches the topic from a constructivist perspective, in which issues of culture and identity are paramount.  A realist would never ask “who” is China, but “what” is China.   Here’s a snippet:

Who is China? This question is fundamental to the internal debate among Chinese elites as they grapple with national identity which, in turn, affects policy decisions…culture and history are intimately linked to China’s current foreign policy outlook.

Callahan’s book project analyzes how history, geography, and ethnicity shape China’s relations with the world. “To understand this, we must look at how China relates to itself,” he said. “China’s national security is closely tied to its national insecurities.”

One such insecurity is its shame over lost territory. Callahan cited “national humiliation maps” that outline historical China’s imperial boundaries juxtaposed with present-day borders. “These maps, which are produced for public consumption, narrate how China lost territory to imperialist invaders in the 19th century—especially Taiwan to Japan and the North and West to Russia,” said Callahan. “China lost a large chunk of territory. The humiliation—and how to cleanse it—is an important point that shapes China’s nationalism and pride.”

In fact, most demonstrations in China about any given problem usually have a historical aspect, he said, such as in 1999, when the United States bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, which was viewed in China as a humiliation similar to those of a century ago at the hands of the West.

“Idealized versions of China’s imperial past are now inspiring Chinese scholars’ and policymakers’ plans for China’s future—and the world’s future—in ways that challenge the international system,” said Callahan. This makes the study of identity politics all the more critical.

China and Japan, for example, have close economic relations but cool social and political ties. Callahan said, “China relates to Japan as an evil state, recalling World War II atrocities, such as the Nanjing massacre, and this memory has taken over the relationship.”

Notice the importance of the premise in the penultimate paragraph: that “idealized versions of China’s past” (i.e., culture and identity) are having a causal impact on China’s foreign policy.  This contrasts starkly with realist conceptions of the nature of international relations.  Below are two diagrams from Shih demonstrating the difference between realist and constructivist conceptions of security.



Notice that the impact of threats on security is not direct in the constructivist view; rather, it is mediated by culture and identity, both of which also affect each other.

The Federal Budget and Military Defense Spending

When we address Chapter 5 of Mingst, we’ll learn about the various sources of power. One of the most important, obviously, is military power. Given President Bush’s latest $3.1 trillion budget proposal, I began to wonder how much of that is apportioned to spending on the military and defense? Fred Kaplan from has done the research and has concluded the following:

As usual, it’s about $200 billion more than most news stories are reporting. For the proposed fiscal year 2009 budget, which President Bush released today, the real size is not, as many news stories have reported, $515.4 billion—itself a staggering sum—but, rather, $713.1 billion.

Is that a lot? Is it “staggering”, as Kaplan suggests? Should we be concerned with how much we spend militarily? I think the answer is yes, but in the manner of a discriminating consumer. In other words, what is our “rate of return” on that spending? Is the spending efficient and non-wasteful? Could we be just as safe and powerful if we spent 75%, or 50% of that total? A couple of data points suggest that US military spending does not give us a good rate of return and if national defense were a private industry, we’d be looking for a different supplier. First, how does US military spending compare to how much China, Russia (two potential rivals) or the European Union, or Canada, are spending on defending their states? Here’s an estimate, from the Washington-based think tank GlobalSecurity. org (which has a lot of great data related to security issues):

World Wide Military Expenditures


Military expenditures (US$)

Budget Period


$1100 billion

2004 est. [see Note 4]

Rest-of-World [all but USA]

$500 billion

2004 est. [see Note 4]

United States

$623 billion

FY08 budget [see Note 6]


$65.0 billion

2004 [see Note 1]


$50.0 billion

[see Note 5]


$45.0 billion


United Kingdom

$42.8 billion

2005 est.


$41.75 billion



$35.1 billion



$28.2 billion


South Korea

$21.1 billion

2003 est.


$19.0 billion

2005 est.

Saudi Arabia

$18.0 billion

2005 est.


$16.9 billion



$12.2 billion



$9.9 billion

2005 est.


$9.9 billion



$9.8 billion



$9.4 billion

FY06 [see Note 7]

Kaplan observes something even more interesting than the relative amount that the United States is spending–the apportionment of that spending amongst the different military services:

The “Overview” section of the Pentagon’s budget document contains a section called “Program Terminations.” It reads, in its entirety: “The FY 2009 budget does not propose any major program terminations.”

Is it remotely conceivable that the Defense Department is the one federal bureaucracy that has not designed, developed, or produced a single expendable program? The question answers itself.

There is another way to probe this question. Look at the budget share distributed to each of the three branches of the armed services. The Army gets 33 percent, the Air Force gets 33 percent, and the Navy gets 34 percent.

As I have noted before (and, I’m sure, will again), the budget has been divvied up this way, plus or minus 2 percent, each and every year since the 1960s [author’s emphasis]. Is it remotely conceivable that our national-security needs coincide so precisely—and so consistently over the span of nearly a half-century—with the bureaucratic imperatives of giving the Army, Air Force, and Navy an even share of the money? Again, the question answers itself. As the Army’s budget goes up to meet the demands of Iraq and Afghanistan, the Air Force’s and Navy’s budgets have to go up by roughly the same share, as well. It would be a miracle if this didn’t sire a lot of waste and extravagance.

Congress exposes this budget to virtually no scrutiny, fearing that any major cuts—any serious questions—will incite charges of being “soft on terror” and “soft on defense.” But $536 billion of this budget—the Pentagon’s base line plus the discretionary items for the Department of Energy and other agencies—has nothing to do with the war on terror. And it’s safe to assume that a fair amount has little to do with defense. How much it does and doesn’t is a matter of debate. Right now, nobody’s even debating.


Source for chart: Department of Defense

The USA’s Place in the World in 2016?

I posted earlier some excerpts from Daniel Drezner’s article envisioning what a post-Bush administration American foreign policy may look like, In a similar vein, here are some snippets from a piece in the New York Times Magazine written by Parag Khanna* that try to predict the nature of US power and authority at the end of 2016. The article is entitled “Waving Goodbye to Hegemony.” Do you think that the United States will lose its hegemonic status by 2016? What about the challenges from an integrated Europe and a rising China? I encourage you to read the whole article. If we have time, we will read this at the end of the semester.

But the distribution of power in the world has fundamentally altered over the two presidential terms of George W. Bush, both because of his policies and, more significant, despite them. Maybe the best way to understand how quickly history happens is to look just a bit ahead.

It is 2016, and the Hillary Clinton or John McCain or Barack Obama administration is nearing the end of its second term. America has pulled out of Iraq but has about 20,000 troops in the independent state of Kurdistan, as well as warships anchored at Bahrain and an Air Force presence in Qatar. Afghanistan is stable; Iran is nuclear. China has absorbed Taiwan and is steadily increasing its naval presence around the Pacific Rim and, from the Pakistani port of Gwadar, on the Arabian Sea. The European Union has expanded to well over 30 members and has secure oil and gas flows from 27world3-450.jpgNorth Africa, Russia and the Caspian Sea, as well as substantial nuclear energy. America’s standing in the world remains in steady decline.

Why? Weren’t we supposed to reconnect with the United Nations and reaffirm to the world that America can, and should, lead it to collective security and prosperity? Indeed, improvements to America’s image may or may not occur, but either way, they mean little. Condoleezza Rice has said America has no “permanent enemies,” but it has no permanent friends either. Many saw the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq as the symbols of a global American imperialism; in fact, they were signs of imperial overstretch. Every expenditure has weakened America’s armed forces, and each assertion of power has awakened resistance in the form of terrorist networks, insurgent groups and “asymmetric” weapons like suicide bombers. America’s unipolar moment has inspired diplomatic and financial countermovements to block American bullying and construct an alternate world order. That new global order has arrived, and there is precious little Clinton or McCain or Obama could do to resist its growth.

Remember that when I post snippets from articles, that in no way suggests that I agree with what the author is saying. I alert you to them mostly because they introduce or mention concepts, theories and ideas that we discuss in class and also to show you get you to think critically about claims and assertions made by the author(s). To which theory of international relations do you think the author is an adherent? Why? What evidence in this article can you find to support your assertion?

*Parag Khanna is a senior research fellow in the American Strategy Program of the New America Foundation. This essay is adapted from his book, “The Second World: Empires and Influence in the New Global Order,” to be published by Random House in March.

NATO Report Cites Four Most Dangerous Threats to the West

The authors of the NATO-commissioned report I mentioned in the post below have listed what they believe are the most potentially dangerous threats to international security. If you’d like, you can choose to select one of these as your blog project for the semester.

Once more, from the Guardian:

The authors – General John Shalikashvili, the former chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff and Nato’s ex-supreme commander in Europe, General Klaus Naumann, Germany’s former top soldier and ex-chairman of Nato’s military committee, General Henk van den Breemen, a former Dutch chief of staff, Admiral Jacques Lanxade, a former French chief of staff, and Lord Inge, field marshal and ex-chief of the general staff and the defence staff in the UK – paint an alarming picture of the threats and challenges confronting the west in the post-9/11 world and deliver a withering verdict on the ability to cope.

The five commanders argue that the west’s values and way of life are under threat, but the west is struggling to summon the will to defend them. The key threats are:

  1. Political fanaticism and religious fundamentalism.
  2. The “dark side” of globalisation, meaning international terrorism, organised crime and the spread of weapons of mass destruction.
  3. Climate change and energy security, entailing a contest for resources and potential “environmental” migration on a mass scale.
  4. The weakening of the nation state as well as of organisations such as the UN, Nato and the EU.

We will address the impact of environmental change on migration later in the semester when we read the work of Thomas Homer-Dixon.

NATO–Preemptive Nuclear Strike a Key Option?

We discussed in class today the use of preemptive force to respond to potential security threats and how this was a central component of President Bush’s National Security Strategy (NSS) of the United States (2002). Now, according to the Guardian newspaper, it seems that “five of the west’s most senior military officers and strategists” have insisted that NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) and the

west must be ready to resort to a preemptive nuclear attack to try to halt the “imminent” spread of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction.

Calling for root-and-branch reform of Nato and a new pact drawing the US, Nato and the European Union together in a “grand strategy” to tackle the challenges of an increasingly brutal world, the former armed forces chiefs from the US, Britain, Germany, France and the Netherlands insist that a “first strike” nuclear option remains an “indispensable instrument” since there is “simply no realistic prospect of a nuclear-free world”.

The manifesto has been written following discussions with active commanders and policymakers, many of whom are unable or unwilling to publicly air their views. It has been presented to the Pentagon in Washington and to Nato’s secretary general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, over the past 10 days. The proposals are likely to be discussed at a Nato summit in Bucharest in April.

“The risk of further [nuclear] proliferation is imminent and, with it, the danger that nuclear war fighting, albeit limited in scope, might become possible,” the authors argued in the 150-page blueprint for urgent reform of western military strategy and structures. “The first use of nuclear weapons must remain in the quiver of escalation as the ultimate instrument to prevent the use of weapons of mass destruction.”

Remember that in one of our earlier sessions we wondered aloud if there were any institutionalized norms in international relations and we thought that maybe there was a normative injunction against the use of nuclear weapons. Nina Tannenwald has written about the “nuclear taboo” but suggests that in the aftermath of WWII, officials in the US and Europe thought that nuclear weapons would come to be seen as another type of conventional weapon.

Continue reading “NATO–Preemptive Nuclear Strike a Key Option?”