Saturday, November 23, 2013


I'm taking a break from posting through the end of the year. Best wishes to all readers for a good remainder of 2013.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

P.M. linkage

[note: last post before break]

-- China loosens its one-child policy.

-- Akash Kapur reports (paywalled) on the impact of development (or 'development') on an Indian village, and Pankaj Mishra critiques (paywalled) Perry Anderson's The Indian Ideology.

-- The Nation has a database compiling civilian casualties caused by ISAF and Afghan government forces' operations in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2012. (H/t FP's AfPak [now renamed South Asia] Daily Brief, which says that the total is in a range between about 2,800 and 6,500.) This is quite a bit less than Taliban-caused civilian casualties -- which does not excuse them, of course.

-- Latest UN estimates on global child mortality: available via this page.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


From NYRB (Oct. 24): Malise Ruthven reviews (h/t) Akbar Ahmed's The Thistle and the Drone.

A brief excerpt:
Ahmed argues...that the acts of terror or violence directed at the U.S. or its allies are set off as much by revenge based on values of tribal honor as by extremist ideologies.... It seems fair to argue, as Ahmed does, that the values of honor and revenge inherent in the tribal systems contribute to jidahist extremism, and that by ignoring this all-important factor the U.S. has been courting disaster.
But according to Ruthven, Ahmed sees the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) as "countertribal." Anyway, RTWT.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A modest proposal

When a major natural disaster strikes, like the recent typhoon in the Philippines, the U.S. military responds. On one level, that's good. On another level, however, it becomes grist for the rhetorical mill of those who argue that the U.S. is an indispensable provider of global public goods and that any cutback in its military posture would leave a vacuum that no one would fill.

What if the U.S. pushed for the creation of a multilateral Disaster Relief Task Force to be operated either as a freestanding entity or under the auspices of an international organization (it could be the UN, but wouldn't necessarily have to be)? That way, when a disaster strikes, the multilateral task force would be the main responder, not the U.S. military. That would, among other things, weaken the case of those who argue that the U.S. global military posture cannot or should not be reduced in any way.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Continuing on the Bangladesh theme...

...J. Ulfelder, here, on its fragile, 'unconsolidated' politics.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Klein on the ACA...

...and why Landrieu's bill will hurt it.

"We will go to Mars together" -- not

I recently bought Srinath Raghavan's 1971: A Global History of the Creation of Bangladesh. I rarely shell out for hardcover books, so I'm planning to read it properly, probably during my upcoming blogging break. For now, though, I've been dipping into it, reading passages here and there. On p.83 I found this:
Visiting India in the summer of 1969, Nixon reiterated to Indira Gandhi his commitment to India's economic development. "We will go to Mars together," he assured her.
India has just launched a Mars mission -- alone.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Quote of the day is almost certainly true...that the U.S. government, and all other governments,...base their foreign policies on the notion that these policies advance their national interests. This information does not help us analytically, however, for the concept of national interest is anything but a sure guide to policy. In fact, except within very broad limits, the national interest is no guide to policy at all. Within these limits -- which are not trivial but are not very discriminating either -- national interest means whatever different people want it to mean. As a symbol for justifying actions and for rallying or mobilizing support, the notion of national interest has considerable power.... As an analytic concept from which one can deduce or predict behavior, however, the concept has very little utility.

-- Robert A. Packenham, Liberal America and the Third World (pb, 1976), pp. 323-24 (footnotes omitted)

Added later:
from R. Aron, Peace and War, trans. R. Howard & A.B. Fox (1966), pp.91, 93:
Not only are the historical objectives of political units not deducible from the relation of forces, but the ultimate objectives of such units are legitimately equivocal.... The plurality of concrete objectives and of ultimate objectives forbids a rational definition of "national interest".... The theory we are sketching here tends to analyze the meaning of diplomatic behavior, to trace its fundamental notions, to specify the variables that must be reviewed in order to understand any one constellation. But it does not suggest an "eternal diplomacy," it does not claim to be the reconstruction of a closed system.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Verdict in Bangladesh border guards case

A civilian court in Bangladesh, in a trial criticized by human rights groups (with some reason, it would appear), has sentenced 152 people to death in connection with the violent 2009 mutiny by members of the Bangladeshi Rifles (since renamed the Bangladesh Border Guards). [H/t FP Morning Brief, 11/6] 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Nowhere to go but up

A couple of things I've seen recently in the blogoshere led me to take a look at an article called "Decolonizing International Relations: Perspectives from Latin America," International Studies Review, Sept. 2012.

The author begins by saying that "the aim of this paper is to think differently about International Relations (IR) by thinking differently about the Americas." The author writes "as a Latin Americanist, and as such...bring[s] a particular geographical and disciplinary perspective to the question of power in the region, drawing on the 'coloniality of power' perspective developed by Latin American academics."

I suppose that could be interesting, provided the perspective is lucidly explained for those unfamiliar with it.

But then my eye fell on this passage, in which the author is approvingly discussing Inayatullah and Blaney's book International Relations and the Problem of Difference:
[Inayatullah and Blaney] show how ideas such as sovereignty and just war -- keystones in the edifice of IR -- are grounded in an understanding of the world which writes such ideas as universal without acknowledging that they emerged from a particular social milieu.
Let's put 'just war' aside and focus on sovereignty. How is the idea of sovereignty "grounded in an understanding of the world" which fails to acknowledge that it emerged from "a particular social milieu"? Virtually every intro IR textbook informs its readers that the idea of sovereignty (as the term is used in contemporary international law and relations) emerged from a particular milieu -- i.e., Europe during a particular era (whose precise dates one might argue about) -- and then eventually spread beyond the milieu in which it originated. No doubt the spread of the idea and institution of sovereignty was historically tied up in various ways with European imperialism, but are people not aware that the most vociferous proponents of state sovereignty and its corollary of noninterference in internal affairs are the states that emerged from the processes of decolonization in the nineteenth and then the mid-twentieth century? Try telling any leader of an Asian, African or Latin American country that the idea of sovereignty is a tool of the 'coloniality of power' because it is a European idea pretending to be a universal one. Chances are you'll be greeted with a shrug or a quizzical look and then politely asked to leave.

Things get worse with this:
...the notion of European superiority was caught up with the Peace of Westphalia, which allowed the birth of the modern nation-state to be heralded as a social advance and confirmed the nation-state as a 'natural' and desirable social model....
Actually the Peace of Westphalia had very little (indeed I would say nothing) to do with the "birth of the modern nation-state," which was a long process that did not reach its end-point until well after 1648. How much Westphalia even had to do with sovereignty is highly debatable, but sovereignty and "the modern nation-state" should not be treated as the same. As for the Peace of Westphalia allowing "the birth of the modern nation-state to be heralded as a social advance and confirm[ing] the nation-state as a 'natural' and desirable social model," I think that is little better than gibberish.

A glance at the rest of the article suggests that it gets somewhat better, but then, starting from such a low point, it has nowhere to go but up.

Friday, November 8, 2013

More on 'the nuclear taboo'

After reading the comment (by Hank) on the preceding post, I punched "nuclear taboo + Tannenwald" into Google, and the first thing to come up was a two-page summary of a 2005 article by her. I'm not sure exactly who wrote the summary, but here's the link (pdf).

The nuclear taboo is defined as a "normative belief that the first use of nukes is an 'unthinkable' policy option" (the quote is from the link).

There are at least two questions that can be asked about this:

1) Should this belief be held -- i.e., if people hold this belief, is it a good thing that they do? -- or is it preferable to view nuclear weapons in the same general light as other weapons, subject to the same kinds of legal/moral analysis as other weapons?

2) Is this belief actually held by publics (and/or policymakers), or not?

The article whose abstract I linked in the previous post is concerned, or so I gather, with question #2. Hank's comment raised issues pertaining to question #1. It's worth keeping in mind that these are different questions -- they may both be worth asking, but they are different.

P.s. (added later): Hank's comment was not out of place, inasmuch as the last line of the preceding post suggested that I think the answer to #1 is: yes, the nuclear taboo is a belief that should be held (whether it is actually held or not).

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Survey evidence on 'the nuclear taboo'

An article from last February in APSR, of which I've read only the abstract, concludes, based on an "original survey experiment," that the U.S. public "has only a weak aversion to using nuclear weapons and that this aversion has few characteristics of an 'unthinkable' behavior or taboo."

The cite is: Press, Sagan & Valentino, "Atomic Aversion: Experimental Evidence on Taboos, Traditions, and the Non-Use of Nuclear Weapons," Am. Pol. Sci. Rev. 107:1 (Feb. 2013):188-206.

What to make of this? Hard to know without having read the article, but one (elitist) inference might be that this is further evidence of the U.S. public's backwardness (for lack of a better word) when it comes to security issues.      

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Notes to readers

(1) The "recent comments" widget, which displayed comments on the sidebar, has apparently stopped working, so I've removed it. (One can still make comments, of course, so this is not that big a deal.)

(2) There will be one more post here, I think, and I will then be taking a break from posting. On my return from the break I'll likely be switching this blog to another platform.   

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Frank Wess 1922-2013

The great jazz saxophonist and flutist Frank Wess has died (h/t HC). The WaPo obit mentions that Wess's first flute solos in the Basie band, before the flute was a widely used instrument in jazz, caused the flute's use in jazz to shoot up; everywhere you looked, "here come the flutes," said Basie.

Also, this interesting tidbit from the Post obituary:
Mr. Wess was an Army musician during World War II and, at age 20, was leading a 17-piece band. "We were sent to Africa in 1942," he recalled in a 2005 interview with the All About Jazz Web site. "When we got down there, the first gig we played was for the Americans, the Germans and the English. Can you believe that? They were all dancing together."
That Wess had a gorgeous sound on both sax and flute was confirmed for me last night, hearing some of his tracks on the radio. I saw him play in person once, many years ago. RIP.