• Reformists Win! But Will it Matter? – Iran’s Mix of Democracy and Theocracy Sees Gains for Reformist Leaders

    Iranian elections appear to have returned a significant victory for the reformist faction of the Iranian government. In the first election since Iran was accepted back into the global community with the implementation of the nuclear deal with the US and its partners, reform-minded candidates appear to have won a majority in the Majlis, Iran’s legislature. Reformists also made gains in the Assembly of Experts, the religious body that selects the Supreme Leader when the current leader dies or steps down.


    The results show that reform factions have gained ground since the dominance of the hardline factions began to decline as Iran’s economy collapsed under the weight of international sanctions. The nuclear deal and the hopes that it will bring economic growth have enhanced the power of the reformists at the expense of hardliners.


    But what does this mean in a country like Iran? The Iranian system is an unusual combination of democracy and theocracy. While these elections were generally free and fair at the level of the ballot-box, only candidates that passed a test of religious appropriateness were allowed to appear on the ballot. Further, the Supreme Leader holds significant power and is not directly elected by the people. Power is also divided into the Majlis, which functions like a traditional legislature as found in many countries, and the Assembly of Experts, which is a small body (its exact number varies, but is currently 88) that is primarily responsible for the oversight of the Supreme Leader. The Assembly selects a new leader when the old leader dies or steps down.


    Democracy comes in many forms around the world. While representative government is common, the details are often modified to fit local traditions. In many parts of the world, democratic institutions may also show the influence of the former colonial power that ruled the area. Iran represents an unusual attempt to fit theocracy, which normally requires that people be coerced to conform to the teachings of whatever faith the government follows, with representative government. We normally think of democracy as being linked to the freedom to act as we see fit so long as we don’t infringe on the rights of others, the common view of rights in the West. But in Iran, representation is bounded within the limits of religious conformity.


    A great deal of ink can be spilled over whether democracy and theocracy can coexist. No country has been able to marry this kind of peculiar mix of coercion with liberty successfully for long. Most people point to the coercive aspects of Iran’s government as an example of how its democracy is not truly “democratic”. Despite this, we do see an odd openness in the elections, even if the candidates are filtered by the state.

    Around the world, domestic political institutions seek to solve the problem of governing. The specific structure of these institutions vary widely. The victory of reformists in Iran gives them the opportunity to strengthen the case for their unusual institutions as a way to wed representative government to religious conformity.




    1. Given the limited power of the Majlis in Iranian foreign policy, how much can we expect Iranian policy to change after these elections?
    2. Western countries often speaks of democracy promotion as one of the major goals of foreign policy. Does the kind of democracy practiced in Iran fit what the Western states mean when their leaders speak of democracy? How does Iran fit into measures of democracy (The Polity Project, Freedom House, etc.) that are used to describe the various countries of the world?
    3. If Iran is a partial democracy, what does that mean for how IR theories like the Democratic Peace would apply? Does being part-democratic mean that behavior will follow the democratic model? Or does a country have to be fully democratic in order to fit into these explanations of state behavior? How would you go about testing your answer to that question?
  • When Growth Makes You Backward: The Jat Water Dispute and Economic Development

    The Jat community represents a group that was relatively high status in the old caste system and was thus ineligible for the affirmative action benefits that were put into place after independence. These programs were intended to level the playing field for the lower caste groups and especially for the dalit or “untouchable” castes. Discrimination against the lower-caste groups was so powerful that it was considered to be impossible for such group to receive equal treatment without government intervention.

    Democracy depends on the principle that all persons are equal before the law. A system in which some groups were considered unequal was incompatible with post-independence India’s efforts to be a model for a diverse post-colonial democracy. The success of Indian democracy has amazed many. The incredible diversity of the Indian population creates many challenges for ensuring the equal rights of citizens. India used its system of affirmative action to create quotas for dalit representation in schools and, most importantly in the present context, access to government jobs. 40% of the jobs in government are reserved for the classes considered “backward” by the standards defined in the Indian constitution.

    The problem for present-day India is that the rapid economic growth has brought social change and a shift in the sources of economic prosperity. The Jat class was generally prosperous because they were land-owning farmers under the caste system. With industry and services becoming the path to wealth, the advantages of owning farmland have shrunk significantly. As the source of their economic power declined in importance, the Jats have seen their prosperity decline in spite of their caste status. As this prosperity has declined, resentment of the benefits that others of lower caste, but similar economic circumstances receive. As economic outcomes have become more important, the benefits of being “backward” have grown.

    It is this situation that has led to the protests in India in the past week that have cut water supplies to New Deli. Jats are demanding that they be reclassified as a “backward” group. This may seem odd, but the desire to be seen as lower status will bring access to many government benefits, including quotas for jobs in government service. The Indian government has been reluctant to do this because the Jats are just one of many groups that could benefit from being reclassified in this manner. To change the status of the Jats risks opening the door for other groups to make the same demands.

    In response to delays, the Jats turned to extra-legal action. Legal protest did bring attention, but no policy changes. The lack of change led to more radical elements of the Jat community to damage the water supply infrastructure to the city of New Deli. The hope was that the threat of more damage would help sway political opinion. The crisis ended in anticlimax as the government agreed to review the demands of the Jat activists and the activists allowed the army and police to begin repairs to the water system. Like many conflicts arising from a complex mix of factors, this one may be difficult to resolve in the long-term.

    The experience of the Jats of India is not unusual among groups living in countries experiencing economic development. The creative destruction of the marketplace disrupts old patterns of life and creates new ones. A caste whose wealth and position was the result of agricultural land ownership loses power and influence as wealth begins to be generated by other sources. The pattern of disruption that took place over a century and a half in the West is taking place at a much faster pace and in a global context. This has increased the potential pressure on groups to respond. Indian democracy has proved to be capable of resolving these kinds of problems, albeit imperfectly. In state with less solid institutions, these disruptions can threaten the stability of the state. As the disruption to water supplies in New Deli show, even in stable states, things can turn ugly as people struggle to adapt.



    1. The caste system is unusual among states seeking economic development. What other kinds of social and economic factors could contribute to a group being impacted negatively by economic development?
    2. India is a democracy and (at least theoretically) must respond to the will of the people. China has experienced similar disruptions in its economic rise. Does the authoritarian nature of the Chinese government make it simpler for the state to push through economic development policies? What does your answer say about the ability of democracy to provide benefits to developing nations as they grow economically?
    3. The Indian state is incredibly diverse, and can work in very complex ways. In spite of this, Realist scholars would argue that the domestic system of the Indian state was irrelevant and that in international affairs, India will seek to maximize power just like any other state. Looking at India and China, how would a realist compare these two large, rapidly growing countries in terms of power maximization? Could a realist compare the two without looking at their domestic political economies?
  • Politpop: Ukraine Uses Eurovision Song Contest to Highlight Russian Invasion and Annexation of Crimea

    In a world of violent conflict, terrorism, and tensions over territory, the Eurovision Song Contest seems like a place of cheesy peace. But every year there is at least one controversy that stirs the political pot. In 2014, the Austrian selection of Conchita Wurst, the drag show persona of the artist Thomas Neuwirth, angered many conservatives across Europe. That Conchita went on to win the contest was widely hailed as a step forward for the acceptance of LGBTQ communities across Europe and a rejection of the radical right.

    The selection of a Crimean Tatar singer, whose song focuses on the forced deportation of the Tatars under the Soviet Union in 1944 (which Ukraine has labeled a genocide), is widely seen as a swipe at Russia. The Russian invasion and annexation of the Crimea in 2014 and the simultaneous support of rebel movements in Eastern Ukraine has left the two countries in a tense stand-off for two years. The acceptance of the international community for the first seizure of territory by force in Europe since the 1940’s has left the Ukrainians with few options to reverse the military situation on the ground. As the tension simmers, relations between the two remain dangerous and the present low-level of conflict could return to full-scale war at any time.

    In this environment, symbols matter. While Ukraine lacks the power to reverse Russian expansion at its expense, it can deploy soft power to garner sympathy among the populations of other European states. The Eurovision song contest is one of the few pan-European cultural institutions, providing a rare moment in which to remind Europe of the situation in its eastern regions.

    While no one is likely to die, and “1944” is unlikely to win the contest, the power of the media to communicate messages is a potentially powerful tool. An international community that needs Russia to cooperate in finding peace in Syria and eventually in defeating the Islamic State group has largely accepted the forced annexation of the territory of one UN member state by another member state. Thucydides’s dictum that the strong do what they will and the weak suffer what they must seems to hold strongly in the world of 21st Century power politics. But the government of the Ukraine is determined not to let their European neighbors forget that the weak still have a voice. Even if that voice is reduced to singing a corny pop ballad in order to be heard.



    1. Since the end of the Second World War, the “norm of non-conquest” has generally meant that states have not successfully been able to forcibly seize and annex the territory of other states. While there are exceptions (Tibet being the most notable) this norm has largely been supported by the international community. Does the invasion and annexation of the Crimea by Russia represent a weakening of the post-World War Two international order and its rejection of conquest as a tool of national policy?
    2. Russia denies that it invaded the Crimea, claiming that the military forces that entered the country were not Russian, but were local militias and Russian volunteers. The subsequent annexation was supported in a referendum managed by the pro-Russian forces. This clouded the nature of the conflict and created a muddled environment. Would the international community have accepted the outcome as readily if the invasion had been an overt one rather than a more muddled one?
    3. Russia has annexed the Crimea and the international community has largely accepted this action. With Russian control firmly entrenched, can calling attention to the issue through events like the Eurovision Contest have any practical effect on the situation on the ground?
  • Tensions Rising Over South China Sea: China Deploys Advanced Air Defense Systems to Disputed Islands

    There are no subjects for international disputes that are more contentious than the question of territory. Control of geographic space by nation-states is one of the most critical subjects in international relations. Territory is among the most common causes of military conflict and among the hardest to resolve. When multiple countries are involved, the problem becomes vastly more complicated, and more dangerous.

    China has sparked international outcry by placing advanced air defense systems on Woody Island, an island in the disputed Paracel Island chain that is claimed by multiple countries in Southeast Asia. China has been expanding military facilities on the island for several years, but this is widely seen as a significant escalation in tensions. Numerous countries in the region have expressed deep concern about the militarization of the island and the potential danger this represents for efforts to resolve the border disputes peacefully.

    At the heart of these questions lies a serious problem of identifying who controls what territories in the oceans. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) governs territorial rights and economic control in the oceans. UNCLOS sets standards for determining the drawing of international borders, but it also suffers from one of the central problems of international law: a lack of enforcement power.

    The Convention allows disputes to be addressed by either the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLS) or by the International Court of Justice (ICJ). As an alternative to the two judicial bodies, countries can seek arbitration of their disputes. The problem that countries face is that these bodies can rule, but they cannot enforce their rules. States that refuse to accept these rulings, or even to participate in the proceedings can ignore the rulings of these bodies.


    Multilateral negotiations had failed to resolve the border disputes and the Philippines opted to invoke the arbitration clause of UNCLOS in 2013. This triggered a formal dispute resolution process designed to find a mutually agreed solution based on competing interpretations of the rules under UNCLOS. China has rejected the Philippine position and has generally refused substantive participation in the arbitration process.

    In the absence of a legal resolution to the claims, several states have continued to develop small islands into footholds in the island clusters and have send fishing and research vessels into the waters to enforce their claims. While the Chinese bases are the largest, all of the parties to the territorial disputes have established some permanent presence. The United States regards the area as international waters and has made several high profile overflights of the Chinese base on Woody Island as well as making close passes with US Naval vessels.


    In the past two years, tensions have accelerated as bases have expanded and the number of ships in the region rises. The addition of an advanced air defense system at Woody Island marks a major escalation in the defense capabilities of the island, a move that the Chinese government must have expected would raise tensions.


    The risk of war in the region remains low in spite of the tense relationships. Of the disputing parties, China is overwhelmingly stronger in military terms. No other states want a war they could not win. Most of the rest of the world just wants stability in the region, which is home to several vital international shipping lanes.


    While the risk of war is low, the prospects of a solution to the territorial disputes seems unlikely at any time in the near future. With China’s rejection of the formal, legal process there is no likely resolution from international legal bodies. And even if the international panels were to offer decisive rulings, there is no global government to enforce them. It is likely that we will be discussing the tensions in the South China Sea for many years to come.



    1. The South China Sea is a vital region for trade as well as having significant potential reserves of oil and natural gas. States have a strong interest in controlling this kind of territory. If this area was an out-of-the-way wasteland, would states work so hard to try and control it? What influence does this kind of geographic context have on the potential for conflicts between states?
    2. China is a powerful regional hegemon. In the past, the international community generally accepted that such powers would control “spheres of influence” in the areas close to them. Does the international legal framework mean that we reject spheres of influence today? Or does the lack of an enforcement mechanism simply mean that only states willing to suffer reputational costs of ignoring international law will be able to maintain such spheres?
    3. The United States has largely focused on areas of the world other than Asia. In focusing our military power elsewhere and stepping back from our regional alliances from the Cold War era, has the US created the conditions for China to assert its claims? Or does China’s rise make the increased aggressiveness inevitable?
  • Regional Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific: The ASEAN-US Sunylands Summit

    Monday, February 15 marked the start of an unusual type of international summit meeting. The ASEAN-US meeting at the Sunnylands resort in California is a meeting of the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the United States. A meeting between an intergovernmental organization and a non-member nation-state is a bit unusual. For the meeting to be hosted by the non-member state makes it even more so. In spite of the unusual nature of the meeting, all parties hope that some significant issues related to trade and security can be addressed.


    Global governance is often a patchwork of different kinds of institutions, and the ASEAN-US summit is an interesting example of this process. Most importantly, it shows how there can be significant differences in governance mechanisms in different regions of the world.


    ASEAN was founded in 1967 to promote regional economic development as well as regional security and stability. While this may sound similar to other regional organizations such as the European Union (EU) and the African Union (AU), the history of ASEAN has led to an organization with a very different structure. The ten current member of ASEAN (Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia) reflect a tremendous diversity in size, population demographics, government types, cultures, and alliance ties to major powers. This diversity has led to a powerful respect among ASEAN states for the sovereign rights of the members. While the EU has a great deal of power housed in the European governance institutions, ASEAN has only a tiny bureaucracy. While EU citizens may appeal the rulings of domestic courts to EU courts, ASEAN member states leave the judicial process to the national level. While both the EU and AU seek to promote democracy, ASEAN member states include democracies (such as the Philippines and Indonesia) and authoritarian states (such as Myanmar, Vietnam.)


    ASEAN has become a significant part of regional governance in the Southeast Asia, but it lacks a regional hegemon among its members. This can make dealing with regional hegemons such as China difficult. This is especially true when issues of sovereignty and security are in play, as they are in the South China Sea.


    The ASEAN-US Summit comes at a time of transition in the region. China’s increasingly aggressive assertion of its territorial claims have raised security concerns that were long dormant. For many years, economic interests were the focus of the region. The US and ASEAN member states will discuss security and territory in the South China Sea, but they will also want to keep such discussions limited enough that they do not lead to an angry response by China. This can be a delicate balancing act in which the United States focuses on trying to push territorial disputes into a United Nations (UN) legal process and the ASEAN states simultaneously seek to keep American security interest focused on the region.


    Just when you think that things were complicated enough, the ASEAN-US summit will almost certainly discuss the progress of ratification of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) signed last summer and now working its way through the domestic legal procedures in the various signatories. The US and four of the ten ASEAN countries have signed the TPP and the nuts and bolts of how to move forward on economic integration under the TPP, but without upsetting the balance in ASEAN will be a matter of interest to the members.

    The regional governance picture is Asia is a complicated one, but it is likely to be important. There are two rising powers in the Region: China and India. In addition, the declining hegemon of the post-Cold War world still has significant interest in the area. While the EU and AU offer region-wide governance institutions, Asia has no equivalent organizations. ASEAN, the TPP, and other regional groupings that are in place and planned for the future provide a patchwork of governance. This will not change at the ASEAN-US summit, but when considering the developments that will come out of the meeting, it helps to keep the big picture in mind.



    1. Why did Asia not develop regional governance institutions like those in Europe and Africa? What is it about the history and politics of the region that limited the formation of pan-Asian regional IGO’s?
    2. The TPP promises to bring deeper economic integration among its member states. With the US in the TPP, but several ASEAN members out of it, what challenges does the TPP pose to economic integration within ASEAN? Can the two work side-by-side? Are there other examples of this mixed organizational membership?
    3. This blog post argues that the regional governance architecture in Asia is unusually fragmented compared to other regions. Is that really true? How does the regional architecture of Africa, Latin America, or Central Asia compare to that of Asia?
  • Friendly but Wary: The Visakhapatnam International Fleet Review and the Asian Naval Balance

    From February 4 – 8, India hosted an impressive event that brought together ships from over 50 navies and showcased the modern military power of several Asian nations. Fleet reviews are formal ceremonies with a long tradition. Originally a means of a ruler inspecting the fleet’s readiness for war, modern fleet reviews have been more about cooperation and expressing the shared experience of the seafarers of all nations. An added bonus is that navies have the opportunity to show off their modern military equipment and affirm their role in the regional balance of power.


    As a country with an extensive coastline and global trading interests, naval power matters a great deal to India. Its regional rival, China, is spending growing sums on expanding and modernizing its naval forces. The growing ability of China to project power in the waters of Asia, combined with aggressive efforts to assert control of the South China Sea, raise concerns for India. China and India fought a brief war in 1962 and a series of border skirmishes in the decades that followed. While both countries have largely focused on trade since the last major skirmish in 1987, each also recognizes the power potential in the other.


    While a war between China and India is highly unlikely, both states prepare for the possibility. The appearance of the Indian nuclear ballistic missile submarine (SSBN), INS Arihant, was seen as a reminder to the Chinese of the development of an Indian nuclear deterrent. China’s four SSBN’s have thus far provided an advantage in the regional competition. The development of an Indian SSBN force will provide India with a nuclear force that can absorb a potential first strike and retaliate against an aggressor.


    While the fleet review brings nations together in shared celebration of naval traditions, it is also useful to remind potential rivals of the state of the balance of naval power in the region. While both India and China trail far behind the United States in their ability to project power, both also note that the shrinking US Navy leaves a power vacuum in Asian waters. And the balance of power abhors a vacuum.


    1. Why would potential military competitors come together in the same international ceremony? What roles do ceremonial events like this have in international diplomacy?
    2. We normally think about the military balance as being solely between global powers like the United States. It is easy to forget about regional competition and the regional balance of power. What does the expansion of the nuclear arsenals of regional powers in Asia tell us about how the security dilemma influences the behavior of states?
    3. Does the construction of a nuclear deterrent that can survive a first strike make the likelihood of nuclear conflict between countries more or less likely? How does a second-strike weapons system play a role in deterrence?

  • The Indecision’s Buggin’ Me: The UK, the EU, and the perils of multilevel governance

    There are days when you have to think that David Cameron, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (UK), must walk around humming the tune to the classic song by The Clash: “Should I stay or should I go now?” This question is taking on an increasing significance in the politics of the United Kingdom as well as raising significant issues about the future of the European Union (EU).

    It is the EU that the UK is considering leaving behind. The Conservative Party of Prime Minister Cameron promised to hold a referendum on EU membership in the last election campaign and the party is determined to honor its promise. The referendum is scheduled for this summer, and comes at a time of increasing concern about the ability of the EU to tackle pan-European problems such as immigration and border security. While Britain is often considered one of the most important members of the EU, it is not inconceivable that the people of the UK could vote to leave the Union.

    The problem for the British is that the decision on whether or not to leave the EU reflects another dilemma noted by The Clash: “If I go there will be trouble; An' if I stay it will be double.” To stay in the EU is to accept a growing centralization of power in key areas such as banking and financial services. This is seen as dangerous to a country that is home to the City of London, one of the world’s financial centers. The growing integration of the Eurozone Countries required to support the single currency creates a large block of EU member states with a shared interest in central management of the currency, including shared risk. This is a growing concern to a UK that has remained staunchly loyal to the Pound. Non-Eurozone EU members may be required to pay some of the costs or regulating and supporting the Euro even though they do not use the currency.

    While staying in the EU carries risks, so does choosing to leave. The UK is deeply integrated with the rest of Europe. To leave the EU means devising a whole new set of rules for working with the countries that remain in the Union. The process will be made more difficult as the EU will not be inclined to make the process easy. An easy exit for the British might inspire other EU members to consider leaving. If the process is painful and expensive for the UK, no other states are likely to want to take the trouble.

    At the core of the problem is one that faces every nation state in the twenty-first century: How much sovereignty should be surrendered to a higher organization in order to solve collective problems?

    The EU was created in the 1950’s as a means of ensuring that the states of Europe were bound so closely together in economic and political terms that they would never again fight a major war against each other. With the Second World War still sharp in Europeans’ memories, the cost seemed worth paying. In the shadow of end of the Cold War, numerous former Soviet satellite states clamored to join the EU to secure their newfound independence. Solving the problems of shared governance required that states make binding commitments, but the cost was seen as worth the price. The process was not painless. States disagreed on the nature of the Union, sometimes ferociously. Sometimes consensus was impossible, such as in the case of the drive to make the Euro the currency for all EU members. The states who wanted the Euro moved ahead and those that did not kept their old currencies.

    This summer, the British people will have an unusual chance. They will have the chance to vote on the degree to which they are willing to let an international organization govern their nation-state. The EU referendum is a rare chance to watch a debate over the role of regional organizations in global governance: is the sacrifice of sovereignty worth the cost to the people of the UK? The debate will progress in an open society with freedom of expression and a vibrant media. This offers an unusual opportunity for the world to watch as a free people discusses what it means to be a sovereign state in a world of global governance.



    1. The UK is a democratic state with representative institutions and a free media. How does this type of domestic government impact how the UK makes its decisions about whether or not to stay in the EU? How does this show the role of domestic institutions in resolving international issues?
    2. How do larger issues of recent years (the Eurozone crises, migrants, Russian aggression on the EU’s eastern border, etc.) impact the political context of the vote this summer? Would the outcome of the vote be different if there were no ongoing crises?
    3. The EU is very unusual in the depth of integration between its members, but there are many examples of regional economic agreements that are “lighter” versions: they have fewer rules and fewer formal institutions. Organizations like NAFTA, MERCOSUR, ECOWAS, etc. all provide some degree of economic integration, but voting on membership in these organizations by the general public almost never happens. What might be the result of more direct, popular participation in these decisions? For example, how would a referendum on the Trans Pacific Partnership change the likelihood of the US ratifying the treaty?
  • Dashed Hopes: Syrian peace talks put on hold, show difficulty in getting warring parties to the table while conflict rages

    Peace talks aimed at ending the civil war in Syria were suspended today after it became clear that the sides were unable to get the talks off the ground. Incompatible demands and an uptick in fighting make the peace talks untenable at the present time. The failure of this round of talks shows the difficulties that face peacemakers in internationalized conflicts.

    Among the most significant problems facing international mediators is the large number of groups involved in the conflict. Rebel groups are divided into numerous, separate groups that include secular nationalists, Kurdish groups, an Al Quaeda affiliate, and a range of Islamist opposition groups of varying degrees of radicalism. The IS organization is the largest group, the best equipped, and the one that has the broadest vision, hoping to use its base in Syria and Iraq to build a global Caliphate. Against all of these groups stands a pro-Assad coalition of Syrian government forces, Hezbollah militia fighters from Lebanon, Iranian Quds force volunteers, and Russian military forces. Add the international coalition fighting IS forces and you have a chaotic situation that involves over a dozen countries and even more groups fighting on the ground.

    The negotiators probably wish they were herding cats. It would be easier.

    In any civil war, peace can be elusive when some, or all parties feel that they may achieve their goals on the battlefield. Even if continued fighting simply increases the likelihood that they will succeed, they may continue fighting. For peace to be possible, the sides must come to see peace as the preferred alternative to conflict. That has been a hard situation to reach in the Syrian civil war. For years the opposition groups saw the gradual retreat of the Assad government’s forces back to bases in the coastal regions. While progress was slow and painful, the war seemed to be going their way. Russian intervention, both the direct military force deployed in the form of air power and support forces and the supply of state of the art military equipment has rejuvenated the Assad forces. Now it is the opposition’s turn to be in retreat and Assad’s turn to see peace as worse than continued war. Benefitting from the chaos, IS is happy to let all sides bleed each other to death while it consolidates its hold and trains more fighters. The sporadic attacks by Western powers have had little effect on IS combat power and the Russian and Turkish attacks on IS opponents among the other opposition groups have strengthened IS in the face of its opponents.

    It is difficult to see how any peace is likely under the current conditions. While peace would benefit the Syrian people (most notably the 12 million who have been forced to become refugees) the majority of factions involved in the fighting prefer to continue the war. While we wait for events to move on and hope that the sides will come to see peace as in their collective interest, we can only watch and hope that the resumption of talks on February 25 has more success that the talks that ended today.



    1. Russia is a country that is smaller, poorer, and has less capability to project power than the United States. In spite of this, Russia has intervened vigorously in the conflict deploying ground, air, and naval forces to the region. Why would Russia spend such a great volume of blood and treasure to support the Assad regime? What interest does Russia have in the conflict?
    2. The Syrian Civil War is an example of an “internationalized” civil war: a war that has drawn outside nation-states into the conflict. Would it be easier for Syrians to resolve their conflicts and end the war if the conflict had not become internationalized? If only Syrians were involved with the conflict, would the war be over by now?
    3. International organizations exist to solve problems of global governance. The United Nations exists to help maintain international peace. Despite this, it seems that the international community is powerless to end the Syrian Civil War. How does the nature of the international system make it especially hard for the United Nations to promote peace in cases like this? If the international system were organized on different principles would international efforts to promote peace be more effective?
  • Forced into the Shadows and now Lost: 10,000 migrant children disappear in the EU

    Fleeing violent conflicts on two continents, refugees from the Middle East and North Africa have made the dangerous crossing into Europe seeking a better life for themselves and their families. Unfortunately for some, the nightmare of displacement and loss has not stopped even after they have reached the European Union (EU).


    Europol, the EU’s law enforcement agency, has released a report stating that over 10,000 refugee children who entered the EU without the company of family members in the last few years have gone missing. It is impossible to tell how many of these children have fallen prey to organized criminal gangs or human traffickers, but Brian Donald, Europol’s Chief of Staff stated that it was reasonable to assume that a larger percentage of these children had become victims.


    In 2015, the NGO Save the Children estimated that 26,000 unaccompanied child refugees entered the EU. The actual total of unaccompanied children is unknown (different organizations disagree on the total by wide margins) but 10,000 is a significant proportion of the total.

    The potential for thousands of children to have become victims of human traffickers highlights the significant challenges of managing large-scale humanitarian crises. Global governance of the flow of refugees remains imperfect. Even in Europe, with the EU serving as a powerful and well established regional governance institutions, has been unable to cope with the flows of people in the past year.

    Control of the movement of persons is a key element of sovereignty, and one that is often closely protected by nation-states. At the same time, international humanitarian law requires that refugees receive aid and asylum. National politics can also play a strong role as political leaders in democratic Europe must answer to electorates who fear larger numbers of foreigners entering their countries. Sluggish economies and deep-seated fears over security have made refugees unwelcome even in states like Sweden that have a long history of humanitarian aid. The combination of large refugee flows and uneven government responses has left a gap in the global governance response, a gap which criminal organizations are happy to exploit.

    Laws remain largely national institutions, being enforced by national governments. While Europol helps to establish an EU-wide set of legal standards and to promote cooperation, harmonization of domestic laws in criminal affairs is mixed. Human traffickers and other criminals make their living working around the gaps created in this structure.

    We may never know how many children fell into the hands of human traffickers as a result of the ineffective international response to the ongoing refugee crisis, but history tells us that we can expect the total number of children lost to grow so long as the underlying conflicts that drive people to flee persist, and national governments still hope that sovereignty can serve as a shield to make them someone else’s problem.


    1. In many nations, there have been powerful political movements opposed to humanitarian aid to refugees in their countries. In the absence of these powerful domestic movements, would it be simpler for national governments to overcome the cooperation problems inherent in international cooperation to handle refugee issues?
    2. The EU is among the most integrated regional governance organizations. If they have difficulty promoting law enforcement cooperation across borders, what does that suggest about less integrated regions such as North America? Does the degree of integration make cooperation over the international implications of domestic legal matters simpler? Or do the more complicated rules create more potential problem areas?
    3. When there are clear benefits to cooperation between states, as in policy to cope with refugee flows, why does it remain so difficult for states to cooperate? Why do domestic political leaders seem so firmly set against cooperation?