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At the end of the term, I always hold team debates in my introductory international relations course. After each team has presented, I hold a “just-for-fun” vote of the class on each resolution. This term, I had them debate the following resolutions. Some of the results surprised me, particularly since I try to craft reasonably balanced debate propositions.

Resolved: That NATO should send military aid to Ukraine to deter Russian aggression and stabilize the country.

The class voted against this resolution, 75%-25%.

Resolved: That the principal reason for the decline in violent death rates over history is the rise of the territorial state.

The class voted in favor of this resolution, 51%-49%.

Resolved: That the optimal level of U.S. counterterrorism expenditure is much lower than it is now.

The class voted in favor of this resolution, 87%-13%.

Resolved: That the World Trade Organization should incorporate labor and environmental regulations with loss of trade preferences as a sanction for defection from them.

The class voted against this resolution, 56%-44%.

Resolved: That for most countries, floating exchange rates are clearly superior to fixed ones or to currency unification.

The class voted in favor of this resolution, 100%-0%. (First unanimous vote I’ve ever seen.)

Resolved: That transnational advocacy networks make little difference in the human rights practices of authoritarian regimes.

The class voted in favor of this resolution, 77%-23%. (Due to an odd number of teams, I took the “con” side of this debate. The other students whipped me.)

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“The state,” wrote sociologist Max Weber, “is a relation of men dominating men.” I agree. Furthermore, no human being should dominate another human being. Therefore, the state should not exist.

But I’m not an anarchist. How can that be? We have to distinguish between “governments” and “states.” Anarchy is the absence of formal government, and I do not advocate the abolition of formal government.

Governments of all sorts are all around us. Companies and nonprofits have boards of directors with the authority to decide policies for their organizations.

“Very well,” the anarchist may say, “but they do not have direct coercive authority over their members, which is what I oppose.” Yet other “private governments” do have coercive authority of some kind: private security and arbitration companies.

“Very well,” the anarchist may say, “but they do not have a territorial monopoly over the legitimation of the use of coercion, which is what I oppose.” Yet any kind of supposedly private security and dispute resolution system will end up having a territorial basis. Imagine that, per David Friedman’s Machinery of Freedom, you and I are represented by different dispute resolution agencies, A and B, respectively. We end up in a dispute, and we call in our agencies. How will they resolve the dispute? By themselves settling on a third arbitrator. Therefore, any competitive private justice system will end up becoming a single, connected network, with a definite process for appeals beyond a single agency. That network is a territorial monopoly over the legitimation of the use of coercion: a formal government.

“But then what if two networks come into conflict?” the anarchist may respond. “Then you are committed to a global network, a global government, which is obviously undesirable.” Actually, a global government of this kind already exists to some extent and seems obviously desirable. Global governance includes organizations adapted to serve specific dispute resolution functions: the World Trade Organization’s Dispute Settlement Mechanism, various international investment tribunals, United Nations peacekeeping (which the evidence suggests works very well when invited by both sides in a dispute), and so on. Global governance does not constitute a world state, because it exists at the pleasure of the contracting parties: any government may secede from the WTO or the UN whenever it wishes. Yet it is a kind of highly decentralized, functionally differentiated “world government.”

“Very well,” says the anarchist, “I may concede that a loose governance network is necessary, but I still think that membership in the `primary’ dispute settlement agency should be non-territorial. You shouldn’t automatically have to deal with a particular court because of where you live.” Yet territorial exclusiveness is the way that dispute settlement has always evolved historically. There must be a reason for that. If nonterritorial coercive governance has never been stable for long periods (e.g., medieval Iceland and contemporary Somalia), then on what basis can anyone confidently predict that nonterritorial governance must be superior to territorial governance? Only a constructivist rationalist, Adam Smith’s “man of system,” who thinks he can design a new society from scratch, could be confident that some idealized legal system could efficiently replace the only one any of us have ever known. And if we are men of system, then we might as well design a centrally planned economy while we are about it. You can’t confidently claim that anarcho-capitalism will work, while sneering at the idea that socialism ever could.

So if government refers to some kind of integrated, territorially exclusive system by which security can be provided and disputes settled, I advocate government — of a particular kind. But what then is a state, and how does it differ from a government?

If government can be a (more…)

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I delivered this brief talk to a Model UN conference at Dartmouth on March 28. Here is the text of my remarks.
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My topic for tonight is “The Right to Self-Determination in International Law and Practice.” The right to self-determination is one of the most controversial concepts in international relations today. The government of Russia has cited it as a justification for its annexation of Crimea following a doubtfully free and certainly unfair referendum in that territory. The government of Catalonia has cited it in its effort to hold a truly democratic referendum on independence from Spain later this year. What does the right to self-determination mean in international law? And how well does international practice actually conform to international law?

The right to self-determination of peoples is found in the original United Nations Charter, which states among its purposes, “To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace.” The two original UN human rights instruments, the ICCPR and ICESCR, also guarantee the right of self-determination to “all peoples.”

But what is a “people”? That was left undefined. The UN developed a list of “non-self-governing territories” whose status was to be monitored. Originally, the right to self-determination for these territories was not meant to include a right to immediate independence. Article 73 of the original UN Charter merely provides that member states administering non-self-governing territories ensure their “political, economic, social, and educational advancement,” and assist the “progressive development of their free political institutions.”

In the 1940s and 1950s, anticolonial movements emerged in Africa and Asia to fight for immediate independence, and frequently faced stiff military opposition from their imperial masters. The major colonial powers gradually realized that they could not prevent many of their territories from claiming independence. Only in 1960 did the UN adopt the “Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples.” This resolution affirmed that the right of self-determination meant that every non-self-governing territory was to have a chance to decide its own political status, whether integration with the metropole, a status of “free association” with the metropole, or independence.

The criterion for determining whether a territory belonged on the list for decolonization was that it be “geographically separate” and “distinct ethnically and/or culturally from the country administering it.” This criterion has come to be known as the “salt water test”: only if a territory is separated from its metropole by salt water does it have the right to self-determination under international law.

Clearly then, the right to self-determination under international law was never meant to be applied to secessionists in the classic sense. It was a tool for decolonization. This fact does not mean that secession is illegal under international law, only that member states of the United Nations are not required to give secessionist regions the opportunity to determine their own political status. Russia’s justification for its forcible seizure of Crimea is therefore wrong.

International law itself is merely the creation of the governments that happen to exist on the globe. It would be surprising if existing governments were to set up a legal framework for their own dissolution. The “salt water test” is morally arbitrary, and it does not seem to have any rationale in conflict prevention or reduction.

There is another concept of the right to self-determination: a moral concept. Last year, (more…)

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Today Vladimir Putin signed a treaty with the self-styled independent government of Crimea, annexing Crimea to Russia. I did not see this coming. It is an unprecedented deviation from the post-World War 2 international norm that force and the threat of force shall not be used for conquest. Article 2 of the United Nations Charter states: “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.” When Saddam Hussein invaded and annexed Kuwait to Iraq, the UN Security Council swiftly and unanimously approved sanctions, and when Hussein did not withdraw, authorized the use of force to expel his forces. Other de facto annexations have happened — Russia has occupied Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transnistria, and Armenia has occupied Nagorno-Karabakh — but in none of these cases has annexation been formalized. There have been other conflicts over disputed territory — China-India, Somalia-Ethiopia, and Britain-Argentina, for instance — but in all these cases there was a legitimate dispute over proper ownership of the territories involved. By contrast, Russia had previously guaranteed to respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine, in exchange for obtaining the latter’s nuclear weapons. Finally, all secessions between 1945 and 2007 were widely recognized only with the consent (however begrudging) of the rump state. Kosovo’s independence was an important — some would say “dangerous” — deviation from this pattern in 2008.

Russia’s annexation of Crimea therefore sets a dangerous new precedent. It threatens to return the world to an environment in which the “strong do what they can, and the weak suffer what they must,” with adverse repercussions not just for Russia and Ukraine, but for the whole world. Russia under Putin bids fair to become a pariah state.

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Russia’s annexation of Crimea, de facto or de jure, is likely to spur violence in the peninsula. “Crimean Tatar representative” in Lviv, Ukraine Alim Aliyev is quoted as saying, “Tatars will launch a guerrilla war against the Russian forces if they do not pack up and leave the region.” While he could be communicating a mere bluff, I wouldn’t count on it, and I doubt Putin will either. Crimean Tatars currently have a low risk of secessionist insurgency, because they are just 12% of the region’s population, but they also see themselves as the indigenous population of the region and deny any other ethnic group’s claims to a homeland in the region. For those reasons, and because of a history of repression at the hands of Stalin, Crimean Tatars support Ukrainian sovereignty over Crimea and reject the small ethnic Russian majority’s claims. If Russia effectively annexes Crimea, Tatar violence is likely to flare up. While the massive Russian military will be able to crush organized resistance, I doubt Putin wants to create another Chechnya, with the attendant risks of future terrorist attacks on Russian civilians.

Steve Saideman and Bill Ayres’ research suggests that irredentism is rarely consummated because it requires an infrequent coincidence of interests: a minority that wants to be rescued and a powerful state willing to pay costs to rescue it. Rescuing Crimea is likely to have significant long-term costs for Russia, and if Putin acts rationally, he will prefer a negotiated settlement permitting a military withdrawal from the peninsula over any kind of annexation.

In other news: the Crimean referendum will have two options: annexation by Russia and independence. Rejecting both and remaining within Ukraine is not an option for voters.

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Does a civil war in Mozambique significantly affect my interests? I say no. Most of my students seem to think yes. On my intro IR final essay exam, I asked a question about what the theory of hegemonic stability would predict about future environmental and human rights politics. I wanted to see whether students could differentiate between the public-goods characteristics of those two sets of issues. The theory of hegemonic stability says that the existence of a global hegemon is a necessary condition for the provision of global public goods.

To review, a public good is a good that is non-excludable for all those who enjoy it. In other words, you can’t exclude a non-contributor (“free rider” in the jargon) from enjoying the benefits of the good. (There’s also a non-rivalrousness condition, but it is irrelevant to the “problem” of public goods.) Because it is non-excludable, people have an incentive to free ride, and the good won’t generally be provided unless individuals can be somehow coerced or otherwise incentivized to contribute. Since the world is an anarchy, there is no power that can coerce sovereign governments to contribute to global public goods. But if there is one very large, powerful state in the world, it may derive disproportionate benefits from the public good, making it willing to contribute something (probably still less than optimal) toward its provision.

So are there any global public goods? I think so. Preventing the ozone hole is a pretty clear example. CFC emissions depleted the earth’s ozone layer, resulting in more harmful ultraviolet radiation on the earth’s surface. Everyone in the world derived significant benefit from banning CFC emissions, but individual countries had no incentive to enact bans on their own, so the U.S. government successfully led the way toward global cooperation in banning CFCs.

But what about human rights? If a government is repressing its subjects — killing them extrajudicially, torturing them, “disappearing” them without trial — are subjects of other governments harmed as well? Possibly. Repression might create refugee flows across borders, or raise the risk of a civil war that could threaten neighboring states. More instability might reduce economic output, marginally negatively affecting trade relations and prosperity in other countries. But at most, human rights protection is a regional public good, not a global one. Moreover, the “externalities” (spillovers) are small relative to the direct, private benefits of human rights protection. The people who lose the most from repression, by far, are those actually being repressed.

Since human rights protection is not a global public good, the existence of a hegemon should make no difference as to whether the good will be provided. Currently, the U.S. government does take an interest in protecting human rights abroad, via the “responsibility to protect” doctrine. (Cynics may say the U.S. takes more of an interest in protecting human rights abroad than it does protecting them at home.) Would China do the same if it were hegemonic? Doubtful, to say the least. Moreover, while the U.S. still enjoys military hegemony around the globe, it is not even close to being an economic or demographic hegemon, so its military hegemony is unlikely to explain the government’s interest in promoting human rights abroad.

The broader lesson: the mere fact that something is a good, even a normatively desirable good, does not make it a public good, one subject to market failure.

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I recently held team debates in my introduction to international relations course on a variety of topics. Here are the topics the students debated, along with the “pro” and “con” “prompts” I provided them.

  1. Resolved: That the coming power transition between China and the U.S. appreciably raises the risk of war between the two powers over the next 40 years.
    Pro: Joshua Keating
    Con: Lynn White
  2. Resolved: That the best way for governments to prevent civil war is to boost security and credibly threaten to punish rebellion harshly.
    Pro: Barbara F. Walter
    Con: Ted Gurr
  3. Resolved: That the optimal level of U.S. counterterrorism expenditure is close to zero.
    Pro: Mark Thompson
    Con: John Mueller and Mark Stewart
  4. Resolved: That democracy promotion programs can make the world a safer place.
    Pro: Steven Brooke & Shadi Hamid
    Con: Christopher Coyne
  5. Resolved: That liberalizing trade, investment, and immigration, not foreign aid, is the best way for Western countries to promote development abroad.
    Pro: William Easterly
    Con: Dani Rodrik
  6. Resolved: That most developing countries have little bargaining power vis-`a-vis multinational corporations.
    Pro & Con: Shah M. Tarzi
  7. Resolved: That transnational advocacy networks make little difference in the human rights practices of authoritarian regimes.
    Pro: Emilie Hafner-Burton
    Con: Margaret Keck & Kathryn Sikkink

How would you come down on each of these resolutions? What do you predict my students thought? (I held a vote of the class after each debate.)

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Do you more about international relations than an intro student at Dartmouth? Prove it! Here are a few questions from a recent midterm I gave my students. The first commenter to get all of these right will win a paperback copy of my book, Secessionism.

1. What usually happens to public support for a war in the U.S. over time?

2. In general, why do civil wars tend to last longer than interstate wars?

3. What two general solutions have scholars discovered for collaboration problems (the Prisoner’s Dilemma)?

4. Give an example, general or specific, of an international issue that the “Battle of the Sexes” game can model well.

5. In any bargaining situation, which side has the greater power?

6. Suppose there are two or more theories that appear to explain equally well a phenomenon of interest, such as the democratic peace or a decline in the rate of violent death over time. How can you determine which of the theories is actually the best explanation?

UPDATE: Just to be clear, you may try more than once if you get one wrong the first time. :)

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All 50 states ban the direct sales of motor vehicles from manufacturers to consumers. The politics of this regrettable policy are clear: auto dealers are powerful political players in every state, while only a few states actually have manufacturing facilities. Banning direct manufacturer sales benefits dealers while hurting manufacturers and consumers.

State governments continue to insert themselves into the contractual relationships between car manufacturers and dealers, typically to the ostensible benefit of the latter. The New Hampshire Senate recently passed a bill regulating the terms and conditions of dealer contracts with manufacturers, prohibiting manufacturers from requiring dealers to alter the appearance of their showrooms, for instance. (Disturbingly, the state director of Americans for Prosperity in New Hampshire supports the bill.) The bill is actually unlikely to change any “balance of power” between automakers and auto dealers. Automakers will simply respond by vetting potential dealerships far more closely and perhaps charging higher franchise fees. The onus of this response is likely to fall more on new dealerships than on incumbents. So the real losers from the bill are going to be potential entrants into the car dealer industry and, of course, consumers.

These are not the only examples of “state protectionism,” in which state governments adopt laws meant to reduce competition from out-of-state businesses for the benefit of local incumbents. Some states still prohibit certain out-of-state direct-to-consumer wine shipments. Regulatory barriers can accomplish the same ends. States have widely varying regulations on insurance products, making regulatory compliance a huge barrier for a company trying to market a standard policy in multiple states. For a long time, major life insurance companies lobbied Congress to adopt a national life insurance regulatory regime, pre-empting state laws. They were opposed by local life insurance agents, for whom knowledge of and compliance with distinctive state regulations were a significant source of competitive advantage. In the end, no national legislation materialized, but Congress authorized the formation of an interstate compact, essentially a contract among consenting states that sets up a single insurance regulator. More than 40 states have joined the Interstate Insurance Product Regulation Commission, which regulates life insurance and annuities.

Such state protectionism potentially runs afoul of the so-called “dormant commerce clause” of the U.S. Constitution. The commerce clause allows Congress to regulate trade among the several states. By implication, then, states are presumptively prohibited from burdening interstate trade, unless authorized by Congress. Unfortunately, courts have been reluctant to scrutinize state economic regulations that have an essentially protectionist character, although especially blatant discrimination against out-of-state imports has been overturned. (more…)

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Theorizing Medieval Geopolitics
Theorizing Medieval Geopolitics: War and World Order in the Age of the Crusades by Andrew A. Latham (Routledge, 2012) offers a constructivist interpretation of late-medieval European states and warfare. Latham describes his approach as offering an “explanation-what” or “property” theory rather than an “explanation-why” or causal theory. He is interested in clarifying the nature of the medieval “corporate-sovereign state” and the ways in which medieval European societies conceived of and legitimized war. Rather than studying the late-medieval period merely as a staging ground for the development of the modern state, as Hendrik Spruyt does in his interesting book The Sovereign State and Its Competitors, Latham explores the logic internal to the late-medieval system, perceiving the transition from high-medieval feudalism to early-modern absolutism as a gradual one. (He therefore rejects what he calls “the Westphalian rupture” and explicitly endorses both the stateness and non-feudality of pre-Westphalian polities, whether city-states, empires, or kingdoms.)

Constructivism in international relations refers to a broad research paradigm emphasizing the roles of shared international culture, ideas, and values in constraining state actors. It rejects both the “power politics” theorizing of neorealism and the materialism of Marxism. Of course, in one sense the late-medieval period is a “most likely” case for constructivism, as one could hardly deny the role of ideas in buttressing the power of the Catholic Church or provoking the Crusades. But apparently some have tried. Latham successfully shows that realist views prioritizing interests over ideology in explaining the Crusades (e.g., opportunities for looting) are inconsistent with current historical knowledge.

At other points, though, Latham’s obdurate refusal to consider the role of interests annoyed me. In explaining why the medieval kingdom came to prevail over the city-state, the principality, the bishopric, and the city-league, his account boils down to the claim that medieval political philosophy viewed the kingdom as “more legitimate” (90-91). Technological change plays no role in the explanation, and power politics is only begrudgingly and indirectly acknowledged (96).

Latham could also be clearer about the role that his ontology of war can play in general causal theories of international relations. Defining war as an “institution” composed of “deeply embedded intersubjective beliefs” (48) does nothing to bridge the distance between this kind of project and rationalist approaches to war. Why aren’t “norms” (or if one prefers, “deeply embedded intersubjective beliefs”) best thought of as variables in a utility function? (Realists would still not be happy with this, of course.)

The first 50 or so pages of the book bog down heavily in the IR literature. For someone like me largely uninterested in the paradigm bun-fights, the more interesting part of the book comes later. I learned something about the demise of feudalism (it was remarkably early, 13th century at the latest) and something about how Thomist and other late-medieval political philosophy differed from the prior Augustinian tradition (more optimistic about the state’s ability to promote the common good). Medieval historians are unlikely to find much new here, but for political scientists, Latham’s book does a service in synthesizing the up-to-date historiographic literature on the diplomacy and warfare of the period.

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