• From Coup to Crackdown: A Dangerous Week for Turkish Democracy

    Coup attempts are not uncommon in the world. While far from a daily occurrence, they are frequent enough that we expect one or two of them each year. But not in a NATO member country on the border of the European Union.

    The surprise coup attempt in Turkey shook the leaders of the neighboring European Union (EU) and came as a rude surprise in the United States. The relatively quick failure of the coup, which was crushed over a single night when most of the military and security forces remained loyal to the elected government, was slight reassurance. The crackdown that has followed the coup attempt has made onlookers almost as concerned as the coup itself.

    The numbers on how many people have been caught up in the post-coup purge are not universally agreed upon, but it does appear that the total number of people arrested, fired, or otherwise sanctioned by the state exceeds 50,000. This includes a significant number of judges, teachers, members of the security forces, and bureaucrats in the national government. This purge, notably those removed from jobs without due process, raised concerns that the rule of law and democracy were being undermined.

    On July 21 these concerns were heightened when Turkey declared a three-month state of emergency and suspended several sections of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The ECHR is an important treaty that sets forth a set of core human rights values for the region as a whole. To suspend sections of the treaty is a significant departure from accepted European norms.

    For students of international relations, event like this raise a large batch of interesting questions. One of the most important is the degree to which domestic political concerns impact the commitments of states to international norms and to international law.

    Following a failed coup it seems natural that a state would want to remove potential coup sympathizers from government. It also seems natural that a state would seek to bring to justice those who participated. But how this is done matters. Authoritarian regimes, lacking the rule of law, can simply shoot or imprison people in large numbers. Countries that seek the benefits of being seen as democratic and law-abiding must pay a price in reduced policy flexibility. In theory these states must follow accepted standards of legal practice to bring perpetrators to justice.

    This calculation is even more complicated when international law is involved. As a signatory to the ECHR, Turkey has agreed to constrain itself to working within the rules. To suspend sections of the ECHR means that Turkey intends to break the rules in the interest of internal security.

    It remains to be seen how many people will eventually be impacted by the purge. It is also unclear how far Turkey will go outside of the rules of the UCHR. There are certainly reputational costs in its relations with neighbors, especially the EU. And there is that minor problem of the Syrian Civil War raging just outside Turkey’s borders. How will instability in Turkey impact the Syrian conflict and the Western intervention against ISIS? One thing is certain, students of international relations will have lots to think about, regardless of the outcome.



    1. Why do countries and their political leaders worry about the domestic government type of other states? How does government type shape state behavior in the international system?
    2. The ECHR is considered international law, but what kinds of costs are there to Turkey for violating such a law? Or is the suspension of these sections somehow different from openly breaking the law? What mechanisms in international law can answer those questions?
    3. Tukey is a NATO member and a key part of the international military effort against ISIS. How does this impact the type of pressure and the severity of pressure that states can put on Turkey for its suspension of the ECHR?

  • Philippines – 1, China – 0 but will it matter? Great Powers and Small in the Permanent Court of Arbitration

    The South China Sea represents one of the world’s simmering conflict zones. The economic, political, and military interests of a dozen nations overlap in an area that is a significant transit zone for world commerce. In recent years a rising China and a declining America have changed the regional balance of power, leaving smaller states concerned about the future.

    Power asymmetry is one of the most difficult challenges for small states to overcome. For all of the commitment to cooperation and for all the global governance architecture in the world, power remains an important dimension of the relations between states. In the case of the South China Sea, several small states, such as the Philippines face off against a large and increasingly powerful China.

    One avenue to overcome the power asymmetry is to appeal to rules of the international system that the powerful state has agreed to follow. As a signatory of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), China has agreed to abide by the terms of the law, including the acceptance of the rulings of UN legal bodies such as the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA).

    While the PCA has no actual enforcement power, China pays a reputational cost for failing to abide by its commitments. Reputational costs are lower than direct economic and military costs, but they are still an important part of international relations. If a country has not honored past commitments, there is little reason to assume it will honor future commitments. This often raises the cost of future negotiations. In extreme cases, a nation-state can be seen as a rogue state that does not play by the rules of the international order.

    In the South China Sea, the stakes are high. China had refused to cooperate with the PCA, signaling that it would not abide by the ruling even before there was a ruling. Now that the PCA has ruled decisively against China, agreeing with nearly every aspect of the Philippines’s complaint and adding a few of its own, China must decide whether the costs of rejecting a formal legal ruling are worth the benefits. With oil and gas resources as well as some of the world’s few remaining rich fisheries, the South China Sea represents a powerful temptation.

    For weaker states such as the Philippines, there are limited options for countering the actions of great powers. Bandwagoning with other small states offers some protection, but requires that the small states agree on strategy and remain united. This can be difficult in the face of carrots and sticks from the great power. Building ties with another great power can offer some hope, but only if the competing power sees cooperation with the weak state as more advantageous than cutting deals with the other great power.

    2,500 years ago Thucydides wrote that “Right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.” For small states today, this point often still rings true.



    1. If China already stated it would ignore the PCA ruling and had refused to participate in the process, why did the Philippines take the trouble to take the case to court? What advantage does the Philippines hope to gain from this action?
    2. China is a great power, but it is also a rising power. Would a declining power be as likely to act aggressively towards smaller neighbors?
    3. Reputational costs are important for states in international relations, but they depend on the willingness of other states to impose them. Given the response to even more aggressive challenges to international norms such as the Russian invasion and annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, does China expect that other nations are willing to make it pay high costs for its refusal to abide by the PCA ruling?
  • The End of an Era? Liberal Internationalists Fear Implications of Brexit Vote

    While citizens of the United Kingdom struggle to come to terms with the vote to leave the EU and its economic, political, and social implications, there is another group who looks on the Brexit vote with fear: liberal internationalists.

    Since the end of the Second World War, the international system has functioned largely on the basic principles of liberal internationalism enshrined by the United States and its Western allies in 1945 – 47. The construction of global governance architecture (the UN, World Bank, IMF, and various other organizations) was meant to promote a stable international order through the institutionalizing of cooperation.

    The basic idea was that the pre-war international system had collapsed because of a failure of nation-states to cooperate in times of crisis. The beggar-thy-neighbor policies of the Great Depression made the global economic impact significantly worse than it could have been. This laid the foundation for the growth of significant security threats from revisionist states such as Germany, Italy, and Japan. The lack of collective security allowed these threats to grow until the eventual explosion involved most of the world’s population in a devastating war that cost tens of millions of lives.

    The postwar order was designed to prevent a repeat of this process. The creation of formal institutions with a significant role in coordinating the global economic and political relationships of the anarchic international system smoothed communications and lowered the cost of cooperation. The United States paid the bulk of the price of forming the organizations, and so it had a significant say in the writing of the rules.

    The result was a system of international cooperation modeled on the American version of the liberal order that won the war. The resulting “embedded liberalism” was built into most of the global governance architecture. Social democracy was the model for global interactions: Heavy government regulation along Keynesian lines, but with a mostly free market for goods and services tied to representative government. While practice fell well short of this ideal, the basic structure of the international system was modeled on the governments of the Western block.

    The Cold War limited the globalization that resulted, splitting the world into two separate blocks with competing globalizations. Former colonial states tried (with varying degrees of success) to set their own path and to avoid being pulled into the tighter orbits of the superpowers.

    The end of the Cold War left only one system standing: that embedded liberal one.

    Today, the embedded liberal order that has kept the global peace for seven decades is under attack. The attack does not come from the outside, but from the very voters in the representative polities that created the order in the first place.

    Globalization is a rising tide that lifts all boats. Eventually and in the aggregate. Right now, there are winners and losers in the process. And the losers have a vote.

    It also turns out that the liberal international idea got fat and happy and forgot that markets exist in ideas as well as in goods and services.

    The Brexit vote has shocked the supporters of the status quo. Far right parties in European democracies have grown in strength, in a few cases even entering into government. In the United States, the Republican Party looks like a far right populist party with its selection of Donald Trump.

    Across the core of countries that created the international order that has kept the peace for seven decades and ushered in a world of unprecedented overall prosperity, those who feel left behind have rejected the status quo. If you are a liberal internationalist, that is very, very scary.

    What does this mean for international relations? The answer is that no one really knows. Those who see the Brexit vote as the beginning of the end are making broad judgements from one event. The Brexiteers won by a small margin and it is not clear just what the British exit will look like. The international system has faced serious challenges before, not least of which was the Cold War where a powerful external enemy threated the very survival of the system.

    One thing is certain: the next few years will be fun for students of international relations. We will get to watch the foundation of global politics churn in ways that will keep us on our toes. IR classes will definitely not be boring.



    1. Embedded liberalism relied on economic growth and relative prosperity in the advanced industrialized world to retain the support of the major powers in the West. Since the end of the Cold War, emerging markets have been the big gainers while the great powers have seen growth slow and income inequality rise. Does the present political upheaval in the great powers simply represent a resentment at a rebalancing of international economic power?
    2. A key part of voting is understanding issues. Yet many voters seem to know relatively little about international relations, exemplified by the rush to Google the EU the day AFTER the Brexit vote. In a world where we love to promote democracy and representative government, do these governments have a duty to do a better job of teaching the citizens about the wider world?
    3. After surprise events, people freak out. It is a natural moment of polite panic when things change and you weren’t expecting that. Is the worry over the Brexit vote and the rise of populist movements just this kind of panic, or does it represent a deeper movement on the part of citizens to question the status quo in international relations? How can you tell?
  • Its “Go” Now: The UK decides to leave the EU, and no one knows what is next

    On June 23, the United Kingdom (UK) voted to leave the European Union (EU) in an unexpected rejection of the trend towards regional governance that has been the center of European politics since the 1950’s. Euroscepticism, the idea that the gradual integration of the states of Europe into a hybrid nation-state/intergovernmental governance order is a bad idea, was once a fringe position held only by parties of the extreme left and right. Now it is the majority view of one of the EU’s largest economies. Worse for fans of the EU, the victory of the Brexiteers means that anti-EU political groups across the EU are feeling stronger than ever.

    Uncertainty is one of the constants in the international system: no actor can know what lies behind the shadow of the future. To navigate a complex, globalized world, people try to work out just how uncertain things are and what to do in response to change.

    Some aspects of the international system can become taken for granted when they seem to be certain enough for long enough. European integration has been one of these. Since the formation of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951, the path of European integration has moved in one direction: towards greater supranational governance. European nation-states have voluntarily ceded sovereignty towards a regional governance system that bound them together.

    And now that smooth course has changed, and certainty has become uncertainty once again.

    The implications of Brexit for international relations are hard to know right now, in the middle of the chaos following the vote. Does Brexit mean a general rejection of supranationalism and a return to a focus on national sovereignty among the great powers? Or will the lessons of Brexit lead to a more responsive supranationalism, one that resonates more with the people of the member nations? Right now, few people are willing to place bets on this outcome.

    For now, we can only guess what the long-term outcome will be. Political leaders in other EU states seem to have been unprepared for the “Leave” campaign to win. The initial reaction was shock and surprise. In the week since the vote, the general theme has been that Brexit will not be an easy process. The problem is that this is all new. No one is quite sure what to do. So the world watches while the Europeans try to work it all out.

    For now, students of international relations have an excellent real-world example of how domestic politics impact international politics. When the people of a democratic state reject the international status quo, they can send ripples across the entire system. The response of the system will send ripples back, impacting the people of the UK in ways that may not be easy to predict.

    Over the next weeks, months, and years, we will get to see our first example of a major power that has chosen to reverse the trend of global governance. Just what that means remains hidden by the shadow of the future. For now, we can only make educated guesses to narrow that uncertainty and hope that we are at least close to getting it right.



    1. The EU is the organization that shifted the farthest towards giving up national sovereignty to an international organization. But the UK had opted out of several key aspects of that integration (the Euro, free movement of persons, etc.) and was thus among the least integrated of the EU states. What does the decision to leave by one of the least integrated states tell us about the potential for other members to leave the EU?
    2. The EU has struggled in the last decade to cope with economic crisis and with the flow of refugees from conflicts around the world. This has pushed support for the EU lower in many countries, not just in the UK. What, if anything, does this tell us about the relationship between democracy and supranational governance?
    3. The decision to leave the EU was a complicated one that required a great deal of understanding of the EU, but much of the campaign over the Brexit referendum (from both sides) relied on appeals to emotion (especially fear) and feelings. What does this tell us about the use of democracy to make international policy decisions? Did the quality of the information available to voters match the weight of the decision they were being asked to make?