What My Students Think on Some International Issues

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.)

5 thoughts on “What My Students Think on Some International Issues

  1. Resolved: Even though all bank crisis have resulted from too large exposures to something perceived as “absolutely safe”, and none from too large exposures to what was perceived as “risky”, banks must hold much more capital when lending to what is perceived as “absolutely safe”, than when lending to what is perceived as “risky”

    Please, put it to a vote… reading it slowly!


  2. I would’ve paid good money to hear informed, intelligent, quick-on-their-toes students debate whether the state is the chief cause of the reduction of violent death.

    What are the other leading hypotheses.

    1. 1) Humanitarian revolution, esp. post-Enlightenment
      2) Rise in opportunity costs of conflict due to globalization & economic development
      3) US military hegemony rather than the state per se

      1. My woefully under-researched impressions of these hypotheses:

        1) Seems overly romantic that a combination of poetry and “parchment barriers” could effectively deter large-scale bloodshed.
        2) This seems like one of the most plausible alternatives to states as violence-suppressing institutions.
        3) According to Pinker, the decline in violence is much older than US hegemony..

      2. I agree w/ you on #1 and #3 (as well as a closely related hypothesis that nuclear weapons are responsible for the decline violence), and on #2 I also agree that this is the most plausible counterhypothesis. The problem is that a number of different factors seem responsible for the trend, and it’s hard to quantify how much each contributes. Over the last 70 years, for instance, we’ve seen a much greater decline in interstate war than in intrastate war, even though there is no global state. But 70 years is a short period on Pinker’s scale. Even so, sovereign, territorial states haven’t really been around much longer than 500 years, according to Hendrik Spruyt. Within that time frame, 70 years isn’t trivial.

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