• Global Sporting Parity or Global Money Grab? FIFA Adds 16 More Teams to the World Cup Final in 2026

    Among the stranger bits of global governance is the fact that some areas of governance are dominated by non-governmental organizations. Among the most famous is the governance of world football, or soccer as we call it in the USA.

    The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) is the organization that controls the sport of soccer for most of the world. While technically FIFA is a Swiss sporting organization, in practice it is a complicated organization that is a federation of the soccer associations of its 211 member states. FIFA is a federal organization with its members divided into six regional confederations (Africa, Asia, Europe, North and Central American and the Caribbean, Oceania, and South America) that govern regional competitions. The members are not nation-states, but the local national soccer associations that govern soccer in their respective countries. While some of these national associations are controlled by governments, many are private. In this sense, FIFA is an NGO that is made of up layers of other NGO’s.

    FIFA organizes international tournaments and manages relations between member associations. These tournaments generate massive revenues running well into the billions of dollars. Soccer is the only truly global sport enjoyed by masses around the world. It has an outsized impact on the global sporting psyche.

    Following a series of corruption scandals over the awarding of the World Cups in 2018 (to Russia) and 2022 (to Qatar), FIFA saw a number of senior officials arrested by a variety of national governments. The media ran wild with reports of the scale and scope of the corruption that greased the wheels of the sport.

    As an NGO, FIFA is ultimately accountable to its members, the national associations. At the same time, it is also subject to national laws in various member states that have strong anti-corruption laws. After decades of famously corrupt decision-making, FIFA sought to turn the page and make a fresh start.

    The expansion of the World Cup Final to 48 total teams means lots more money flowing to FIFA, but it also alters a hugely popular 32-team format. The fact that FIFA kept the length of the tournament the same, but added 16 teams also increase the already grueling pace of the tournament and creates logistical problems for host countries. It also dilutes the value of the regional tournaments as now nearly a quarter of the members will make the Final.

    So, what will the result of this change be? Who knows. It certainly means more soccer teams make the tournament, but it remains to be seen if this simply creates more brutal matches where football giants like Germany and Brazil destroy the smaller countries like Iceland.

    Regardless of the outcome, there is not likely to be any change in world football. FIFA has governed the world’s most popular sport since 1904, predating most of the rest of our global governance architecture. Private governance may not have much accountability, but it makes for great television.



    1. When we think about global governance, we normally think of intergovernmental organizations created by nation-states. How does an NGO like FIFA exercise power in the international system? How is it capable of enforcing its rules on the national associations?
    2. FIFA is a private association and its members are national associations and is thus operating in many different legal environments. In spite of this, FIFA leaders were arrested and some have pled guilty to corruption in various courts around the world. How does this complexity show the problems of applying national laws to international actors?
    3. How would the governance of world football be different if the global governance were managed by nation-states through an IGO? Would such a distinction matter in practice?

  • The Year in Review, 2016

    Being a blogger has a significant drawback. What you write gets recorded for posterity. So when you look back on writings a year ago and evaluate your predictions, it can be a humorous experience. Or a horrifying one.

    At the start of 2016 I made some general predictions about the course that the year was likely to follow. While some predictions were on target, these mostly had to do with instability and conflict. Many of my more optimistic notes were off the mark. Like most pundits, I missed the major swing in the attitudes of voters in the global North against globalization and global governance.

    In reality, 2016 was a very interesting year for those who are interested in international relations. Sovereignty, that core of the Westphalian international system that has seemed under threat since dawn of the era of modern globalization after the Second World War, came back with a vengeance.

    Voters in the North, the region that had driven globalization (for better or for worse) rejected global governance in several key elections. In Great Britain, the British people narrowly opted to leave the European Union, ending membership in one of the most influential international organizations.

    Voters in the United States, the nation that created much of the existing global governance architecture, rejected globalization and internationalism and elected a President, Donald Trump, who campaigned openly for a wholesale rejection of the existing system of international institutions. For the nation most clearly associated with globalization to select a president who repudiated most existing trade agreements and openly questioned continued American security commitments through organizations like NATO brought into question the entire system of global governance as it currently exists. While it remains to be seen just how much of the rhetoric of the campaign applies in practice, the fact that a repudiation of the liberal international order that has kept the peace since 1945 was a winning campaign position has leaders around the world worried.

    While liberal internationalists worry, political realists rejoice. The return of great power politics makes everything old new again. As Russia asserts its influence through the base use of force and a rising China militarizes the South China Sea, the realist assumptions of power balance and the primacy of force look to be a much stronger part of global political rhetoric than at any time since the end of the Cold War.

    2016 saw a great many horrors. While terrorism on the streets of Europe and North America garnered a great deal of media attention, it was merely a rounding error compared to the bloodbaths in other regions of the world. The (increasingly inappropriately labeled) Islamic State (IS) group saw defeat after defeat on the battlefield and turned to franchising out attacks against soft targets. Iraq and Syria saw the largest numbers of deaths, but the attacks took place on four continents. While the military power declines, their power to disrupt is increasingly their only means of remaining relevant.

    The Civil War in Syria set new standards for cruelty as Russia and Syria moved to crush the last resistance in Aleppo. While reports are still hard to verify, reputable non-governmental groups and the United Nations all claim that the siege of Aleppo was ended in large part through the deliberate attacks against civilian infrastructure, most despicably the targeting of hospitals and aid workers. If the accusations of human rights violations are confirmed, the list of war crimes will be long.

    While there are many other conflicts (Yemen, Libya, Central African Republic, etc.) that involve death and destruction, the international focus given to the Civil War in Syria put the credibility of the United Nations to the test there as in few other places. In 2016, the UN was found wanting. Despite repeated efforts and unprecedented rhetorical criticism, the UN was largely ineffective in progressing peace in Syria. At the start of 2017 a coalition of Russia, Syria, Iran, and Turkey appears to be the dominant force in setting the terms of a victor’s peace. While this does at least offer some prospect of an end to the Civil War in Syria in 2017, it is not a good precedent for the international resolution of future conflict.

    One of the clear positives of 2016 was the continued work of non-governmental groups around the world. Provision of relief supplies following natural disasters (as well as human-generated ones) remains a staple of NGO activity, but innovation in many other areas continued. Private development programs, mixed public-private partnerships, and all manner of other combinations of state and non-state efforts continued around the world. Some worked, some failed, but while state and IGO efforts struggle, NGO’s often fill the gap in key areas.

    For all the bad news of 2016, there were also bright spots. The Rio Olympic Games successfully let the world set aside its problems for a few weeks to celebrate national pride through the healthy avenue of sport. For all the predictions of disaster, and the turmoil in Brazil’s domestic politics, the Olympics gave the world a pleasant summer break from bad news.

    Moving into 2017, the world faces many challenges, but for the student of international relations it should be another very interesting year. Current events should unfold in a way that shows just how important the broader international community is in the lives of individual people.

    And for an international relations blogger, things will never be dull.



    1. Since the end of the Cold War many scholars have argued that sovereignty was gradually eroding and that the Westphalian system was potentially being replaced by a post-Westphalian system based on mixed governance. 2016 seemed to see a resurgence of sovereignty at the core of national behavior. Did 2016 show a shift in the bigger trend, or was it just a blip in the continued shift away from sovereignty as the most important element in international relations?
    2. In 2016, the prediction that things would be nasty and brutish seemed the safest bet. Is that also true for 2017? Or did 2016 resolve the issues that caused much of the conflict in the system?
    3. Realist explanations for international relations were popular in 2016. Are the assumptions that realism makes about international relations really the right lens through which to look at 2016? Or do other approaches offer better explanations of the behaviors of states in 2016?

  • Arms Race or Arms Rhetoric? Does the rhetoric of a new arms race mean a return to a MAD world?

    It took only hours for the world to take a trip back in time. Barely had word of Vladimir Putin’s statement that Russia would “enhance” its nuclear arsenal reached the world news websites when President-Elect Donald Trump tweeted that the US would “strengthen and expand” its own nuclear arsenal. While these statements are merely words without clear policy proposals, they do raise the specter that deteriorating relations between Russia and the United States present a potential for a return to a nuclear arms race.

    During the Cold War, such language was normal. Expansion of nuclear arsenals was a key feature of the early Cold War and modernization of the arsenals was a recurring theme until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Since the end of the Cold War, the rhetoric on nuclear arms has largely been about reducing the number of weapons deployed by both sides.

    A return to nuclear competition would raise interesting questions for international relations. The use of nuclear weapons has been seen as a serious violation of international norms. No country has used nuclear weapons against an enemy since the United States used two atomic bombs against Japan in the last days of the Second World War. In spite of this taboo, nuclear weapons were a critical factor in Cold War competition.

    Among the key elements of the Cold War balance of power was the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). MAD was a state of affairs in which it was impossible for any party to a conflict to win the conflict. No matter how devastating a first strike was, the retaliation would still wipe out the attacker. The logic being that no country would risk a war if the likely result was annihilation not just of the countries involved, but potentially human civilization itself. So long as both sides had enough weapons, deliverable by means that could survive a first strike, then no superpower war was going to happen.

    In short, MAD argued that lots of weapons was good. Lots of weapons deterred an enemy from fighting a war against you.

    Many scholars criticize the logic of MAD, in particular because it relied on all parties to calculate in a rational way from a shared set of premises. It also required a willingness to end the world if the other side struck first. MAD would be a suicide pact if it ever failed.

    For the generation that came of age after the Cold War ended, this is all ancient history. Misters Trump and Putin are old enough that the Cold War is part of their upbringing. Putin made his career in the former Soviet KGB and Donald Trump came of age in the height of Cold War tensions in the 1950’s and 60’s. These men remember living in a MAD world.

    The United States and Russia maintain large nuclear arsenals, but these are small compared to the massive arsenals that were deployed during the Cold War. It remains to be seen if the vague rhetoric of effectiveness and enhancement lead to real changes in the number and types of weapons deployed. Russia is in the middle of a significant upgrade of all of its armed forces, including its nuclear weapons. The United States is at the start of a plan drawn up under President Obama to develop and deploy a new set of nuclear weapons starting in the 2020’s. So both countries have already started on the modernization path.

    But modernization had been partly due to the shrinking arsenals. For fewer weapons to deter, they must be modern weapons. The idea of both modernization and an expansion of the arsenals raises questions about whether the general trend towards fewer weapons will continue.

    Time will tell whether the two leaders’ words will translate into actions. The increase in rhetoric also reminds us that we never really stopped living in a MAD world. The large arsenals retained by the US and Russia exist to deter each other, but also China, India, and a handful of rogue states like North Korea.

    For now, it might be useful for students of international relations to start reading up on the Cold War.




    1. Deterrence works when a country is convinced that a potential opponent has both the capability and the will to successfully resist an attack and deal a serious blow in response. How do countries know what other countries capabilities are? How do they determine an opponent’s political will?
    2. We often treat nuclear weapons as something different from other weapons of war. Is this a reasonable distinction to make? Is there something morally or practically different about nuclear weapons?
    3. If the United States and Russia modernize and expand their nuclear arsenals, what impact is this likely to have on the other great powers of the world? Will countries such as China and India feel the need to expand their arsenals? Will countries like Brazil, South Korea, and Japan have to develop and deploy nuclear weapons? What kinds of factors will impact these countries’ thinking?


  • Beginning of the End? The Syrian Army completes its recapture of Aleppo

    The battle has raged for years and the former economic hub of Syria has been turned to rubble. After all this time and all this death, the fighting seems to have slogged to a bloody, but decisive end. The Syrian Army, backed by Russian troops and irregular militia forces from Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah have crushed the last rebel resistance in the city.

    While the remnants of the rebel forces withdraw under a temporary cease-fire, civilians fleeing the fighting tell nightmarish stories of events during the final days of the conflict. A relatively new phenomenon in the annals of war has emerged as a number of people in the rebel-held areas posted videos to social media saying goodbye or asking for help as the government forces closed in.

    The final push in Aleppo has been accompanied by severe criticism of the Russian and Syrian governments for alleged human rights abuses, including war crimes such as the deliberate targeting of hospitals and civilian aid workers. The closing day of the conflict saw frequent reports that the militias fighting on the Syrian government side were lining up men of fighting age and killing them in the streets regardless of whether they had been rebels.

    Whether these stories are true or not, there is no question that the Russian and Syrian governments have paid scant attention to the niceties of the laws of war. While that may result in condemnation in European capitals, it has ended the fight in Aleppo.

    It remains to be seen if the end of the siege of Aleppo is the beginning of the end of the wider conflict. While the government forces were retaking Aleppo, the city of Palmyra was retaken by ISIS in a significant symbolic defeat for the government. Rebel fighters vowed to fight on, but Aleppo had been the last urban center they had controlled. The fall of Palmyra and the use of foreign militias shows the weakness of the Assad government, so it is not clear that it has the power to continue to push on multiple fronts.

    In spite of the challenges, events seem to be turning against the Syrian opposition groups that are not affiliated with ISIS. Aleppo was their last urban center and this defeat pushes them into smaller towns and the countryside. Foreign support has gradually diminished over the past year and the loss of Aleppo signals that the rebel cause may be lost. The resolve shown by the Syrian regime and its Russian and Iranian supporters has shown the tepid support of America and its European allies to be far less reliable.

    ISIS remains a serious threat. In spite of Russian and Syrian rhetoric, their forces have largely ignored ISIS, focusing instead on destroying the moderate rebel groups. The fight against ISIS in Syria has largely been carried out by the US and its European allies through air strikes, with the main push against ISIS taking place in Iraq.

    It is likely that the Syrian Civil War will continue. Having crushed the rebels in Aleppo, the Syrian government continues its advances. ISIS fights on in spite of losses in Iraq and gradual attrition from American and European air strikes. The moderate rebel groups have withdrawn from Aleppo, but they still hold substantial territory in the north of Syria. Conflicts such as this can be very hard to end. All sides have an incentive to fight on. ISIS has an ideological obsession fueling its fighters. Moderate rebel groups hear of the mass killings of suspected rebel sympathizers after the fall of Aleppo (true or not) and fear what will happen if they surrender. The government has no incentive to negotiate when it is winning the war. So the fight may drag on.

    In spite of the incentives to keep fighting, the fall of Aleppo still opens a door. With no real chance of defeating the government, the rebels may seek terms to end the war. In a strong position, the Syrian government may decide that reconciliation starts with an end to the conflict that does not include a massacre. International backers of the rebels may see no point in supporting a conflict that is doomed to fail and may push for peace that lets them walk away without further wasted resources. ISIS will fight on, but they will gradually be ground down under sustained pressure if the other parties make common cause against it.

    While major victories make peace possible, it requires a sustained will on the part of all parties to make it happen. We will see in the coming weeks if that will is present.




    1. Russia and Syria are accused of war crimes and the use of brutal tactics in the conflict. But these tactics also worked. While it remains to be seen if the victories are sustainable, does the Syrian government’s survival and growing momentum suggest that those who follow the niceties of international law in wartime are making a mistake in doing so?
    2. With the fall of Aleppo, the rebel groups have taken a serious blow to their odds of winning the conflict. Given the low likelihood of success, why would they continue to fight? What aspects of the conflict lead the rebels to continue to fight in spite of the likelihood of losing? How does this fit into models of political behavior based on rational decision-making?
    3. Does the internationalized nature of the Syrian Civil War make finding peace harder under these circumstances? Would the rebel groups be more likely to seek peace if they lacked foreign backing? Would the government be more likely to seek peace if it did not have foreign backing? What does this tell us about the role of outside intervenors in the end of civil wars?


  • Who Cares About a Phone Call? Donald Trump, China(s?), and the Useful Fiction of Unrecognized States

    Anyone who has followed the antics of American politics this year has probably gotten used to periodic furors over Donald Trump doing or saying something that is outlandish and unconventional. So when he takes a phone call from the leader of a country that no US leader has taken a call from since the 70’s, it seems like it should barely register in people’s minds.

    Except that this particular antic struck an international nerve and has led to deep concern even among countries that are not directly involved.


    A big part of the concern is that the phone call with Taiwan highlights something that always makes leaders in the international community nervous. It calls attention to the useful fiction of unrecognized states.

    Nation-states are the core of the international system. They are enshrined in international law as the highest organizational units in a system that consists of many actors. Critical to legal status of the nation-state is that it is sovereign: there is no higher authority within its borders. And that is the rub: Who decides what those borders are and who controls what’s inside them?

    Territory is a critical part of sovereignty because it defines the borders within which a nation-state has legitimate authority. Two states cannot be sovereign over the same piece of land at the same time. So, when control over territory is contested, states get very serious and tensions can escalate very quickly. This is true even when the specific incident of the moment is small.

    National self-determination is also an important principle. Nations should have the right to determine for themselves if they are to be ruled by their own nation-state. While this sounds great in theory, it leads to complications in practice. Nasty, hard to resolve complications.

    The idea of unrecognized states is thus an important, useful fiction in international law. Entities can exist that have all of the characteristics of nation-states but are not recognized as such by the international community. The lack of recognition fudges the issue of control of territory by pretending it does not exist. The useful fiction can limit the potential conflict between states, at least as long as all sides accept the status quo.

    Taiwan is among the most famous, and most dangerous of these useful fictions. Under generally accepted international law there is one China, a geographic entity ruled by the People’s Republic of China (PRC). This nation-state is recognized as governing all of mainland China and the island of Formosa. On the island of Formosa is the generally unrecognized state of the Republic of China, more commonly referred to as Taiwan. Taiwan retains a claim to be the legitimate government of all of China, but no one recognizes this. This has led both Taiwan and the PRC to agreement in principle on the “One China” concept, but disagreement on who the “real” government of that One China is.

    This is not a trivial problem. Taiwan is a vibrant democracy that has developed its own political and economic system and has little desire to be governed by its authoritarian counterpart. The PRC does not accept the potential of independence for Taiwan and even the election of governments that had discussed independence has led to the PRC ratcheting up economic and political pressure on the island’s government. To break from the One China principle is to argue that China is no longer sovereign over Taiwan, a position that the PRC is unwilling to accept.

    So, when the US president-elect seems to set aside the One China policy and take a direct call from the president of Taiwan, this seems to imply American recognition of Taiwan as an independent state. That overturns the status quo and angers the PRC.

    While Taiwan is the most famous, there are lots of unrecognized states out there. A week ago, this blog wrote about the division of Cyprus and the unrecognized state of Northern Cyprus. Somaliland and Puntland are relatively stable unrecognized states within the internationally recognized, but failed, nation-state of Somalia. The list could go on and on.

    It is international recognition that defines who is accepted as a nation-state in the international system. This makes questions of recognition key. And it makes states very, very prickly when issues related to recognition arise.

    This is why a phone call can become a major international issue. The Westphalian system depends on mutual recognition with states only being recognized when the community at large accepts them. When someone looks like they might muddle the status quo, states can get very angry, very quickly. And small things can quickly impact much larger ones.




    1. In an anarchic system with no higher authority, what role does mutual recognition play in determining legitimacy among the community of states? Why does the anarchic nature require that such a system be based on this mutual recognition?
    2. In many cases, unrecognized states are those that seek independence from another state. In the case of the One China principle, both parties claim the whole of the territory. If Taiwan were to abandon the One China principle and begin working towards a separate independence, would this weaken the PRC’s opposition?
    3. Mutual recognition underpins the entire system of international law under the United Nations, but new nation-states have been created through splits from the larger state on numerous occasions. (Ex: South Sudan, East Timor, Eritrea, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, etc.) Why does the PRC resist the recognition of such a small part of the whole when countries around the world have accepted national self-determination for their groups?

  • Foodies Before it was Trendy: Two Global Food Icons Die at Age 98

    Two men you have probably never heard of died just over a week apart. Both men were 98 years old and both played a significant role in world food. The results of their efforts are among the clearest and simplest examples of how basic, daily items can become part of globalization that impacts the lives of billions.

    Peng Chang-kuei is a name that you have probably never heard. But if you have eaten at an American Chinese food restaurant, you have probably eaten the dish that he invented: General Tso’s Chicken. Peng’s invention of an Americanized Hunan dish is a staple of American Chinese restaurants from your local campus food court to Peng’s original restaurant in New York.

    Peng was the banquet chef for the Kuomintang government that was defeated in the Chinese Civil War and forced to retreat to the island of Formosa in 1949, leading to the creation of the nation of Taiwan. In the early years, Taiwan maintained a tricky diplomatic balance, arguing that they were the legitimate government of all of China in spite of being unable to challenge the People’s Republic of China’s government on the mainland.

    During this early period, Peng was the man responsible for feeding the diplomats that came to Taiwan. To welcome the American Seventh Fleet, he prepared a banquet that included a new dish: General Tso’s chicken. In 1971, Peng retired from his duties and moved to New York where he opened the iconic Peng’s restaurant. Henry Kissinger became a regular and this led to steady flow of diplomats and other notables to the restaurant. General Tso’s chicken was a regular menu item, but American tastes required a significant change from the original: lots more sugar. The result is the General Tso’s chicken that several of you who are reading this may have had for lunch.

    Globalization can sometimes come full circle. After have created an Americanized version of a Hunan dish, the result was a dish that did not suit the tastes of people actually from the Hunan province. But as China opened to the world and traditional (some would say “real”) Chinese food has spread, General Tso’s chicken has been taken up and various examples of the “real” recipe have begun to appear as Hunanese chefs try to show what a traditional version might be like.

    If Peng’s creation shows how local foods can be coopted to fit markets in other regions, Michael Delligatti’s invention shows how a basic food for the masses can become a global icon. Few food items are more iconically American than the Big Mac. The center of McDonalds menu for almost four decades, the Big Mac traveled the globe as McDonalds spread the American style of fast food to every continent.

    Delligatti faced fierce resistance from the McDonalds corporate office at first, but when he eventually sold them on the idea, the Big Mac became a key part of the McDonalds brand. And when that brand travelled, the Big Mac travelled with it. Under various names around the world that particular American burger with its special sauce, lettuce, cheese, on a sesame seed bun has become part of the food landscape.

    McDonalds has become so widespread that the Economist Newspaper created a “Big Mac Index” to compare the value of international currencies. So many countries have the same hamburger that the relative price of the burger makes for an interesting comparison.

    From exile in Formosa to American style Chinese restaurants around the world, and back to his home in Hunan, Peng Chang-kuei’s influence shows how the simplest of things can have a global impact under the right circumstances. From a chain of burger shops across the US to the global face of American cultural globalization (love it or hate it) McDonalds spread Delligatti’s creation around the world. Together, two men you’ve never heard of helped to shape the global diffusion of ideas about food. It is a rare thing to change what a couple hundred million people had for lunch.




    1. We often see globalization as a big, conceptual part of our lives. These two men show how small things that fit into daily life can also be part of globalization for billions of people around the world. What other examples exist of this kind of cultural diffusion under globalization? How do these kinds of activities compare to the big activities like trade deals and the flow of persons?
    2. In a giant world of powerful nation states, immense institutions, and complex networked connections, it is often easy to set individuals aside and forget that individuals can have a powerful impact on outcomes. What are some other examples of individuals who have had a global impact? In a world of powerful, often impersonal forces, can individuals still change the world?
    3. Globalization has brought many small things into the lives of billions of people around the world. We often speak about a world in which globalization has become so widespread that it cannot be reversed or changed. Is this view of globalization accurate? Could globalization be rolled back in spite of how powerful it has become in the lives of billions of people around the world.


  • Still Failing After All These Years: Cyprus Peace Talks Fail… Again

    The longest running conflict that you have never heard of looks likely to continue. In 1974 the island of Cyprus was divided when a coup backed by Greece led to an invasion by Turkey and the partition of the island into a Greek Cypriot south and a Turkish Cypriot north.

    While we tend to think of intractable partitions as something that is a holdover from colonial times, the situation on Cyprus shows that well-established nation states can still hold territorial grudges. The internationally recognized government of Cyprus is a member of the European Union and the United Nations, and technically is the government of the entire island. The Turkish-backed government in northern Cyprus is recognized by only a handful of countries and remains in international legal limbo. Efforts by the United Nations to resolve the conflict have failed in recent years as neither side is willing to give ground on issues of historical grievance.

    Cyprus raises interesting questions about what makes a nation-state in the modern era. International law and the de facto recognition of the international community recognized that the nation-state of Cyprus is the legitimate government of the entire island. In spite of this, the separate entity of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus continues to exist and to exercise control of the northern portion of the island.

    The dispute over control of the island is a particularly complex one. In 1974, a Greek-backed coup displaced the existing government and led to a conflict between two NATO member states that were both allied with the West in the Cold War. The resultant stalemate emerged, in part, because large-scale war between two NATO members was not a tolerable outcome to the wider alliance. The result was a frozen conflict in which a clear resolution was impossible. Military resolution was not an option and there was no political will to resolve the conflict.

    In the year 2000, the EU opted to accept Cyprus as a member in spite of the partition of the country. In 2004 a UN-backed peace agreement was put to the voters on both sides of the line of partition. Turkish Cypriots accepted the agreement but Greek Cypriots rejected it, leaving the conflict frozen.

    In 2016 negotiations neared an agreement for the re-unification of the island and there were hopes that the long-running conflict would end. Unfortunately, the negotiations failed, largely along the same lines that have led to the failure of past agreements: the redress of historical grievances.

    The result is that the status quo rules. A de facto state exists in Northern Cyprus that is not recognized by the international community. This state exists in international limbo in spite of the fact that a majority of its citizens preferred reunification the last time it was offered. Neither side has any desire to pursue a military solution and diplomatic solutions have now repeatedly failed. For the moment it appears that Cyprus will remain divided for the foreseeable future, leaving a frozen conflict between two NATO states simmering in the Eastern Mediterranean.



    1. Cyprus is a strategically important island, but it is not at the center of an active military conflict between Greece and Turkey, who remain allies under NATO. Why would two NATO allies maintain a conflict between them that damages their relationship? What elements of the Cyprus conflict make it worth the political risk?
    2. Diplomatic recognition is highly valued, but why? If Northern Cyprus is a de facto state, why does diplomatic recognition matter so much? What difference does it make if the international community does not recognize the country?
    3. The United Nations system is built on the idea that sovereign member states cannot be divided or dissolved except by agreement. At the same time, national self-determination is a basic right of peoples around the world. How does this right of self-determination square with the principle of sovereignty? If the people of a particular region want to be a nation-state, what right does the international community have to deny them recognition?

  • Why We Care About a Dead Dictator: Fidel Castro as Master of Soft Power

    Fidel Castro was a controversial figure and raises heated discussions whenever people of different ideological leanings discuss his influence on the world. A key element of this controversy is his role on the world stage and how he is seen by people around the world. While strong opinions abound, an interesting part of the discussion is this: Why do we care?

    In conventional power terms, Fidel Castro was just another dictator in just another small, poor state. His regime was brutal in its repression of dissidents and it forced over a million Cubans into exile. But he replaced a brutal dictator of the right and his regime was not any more brutal than dozens of others from across the political spectrum. His country remained impoverished, but dictatorships of left and right have economic records just as bad. In material terms, Fidel Castro is nothing special and yet his death is a major global event.

    The answer is that Fidel Castro was a master of soft power before we had coined that term. He correctly saw his place in a changing world and positioned himself to use the tools that he had to preserve his government in the face of opposition from a much more powerful adversary.

    Love him or hate him, Castro was good at political survival. He used this to lead a successful leftist revolution against an unpopular and brutal government. This victory came at a critical time in the twentieth century: the period of decolonization that followed the collapse of European imperialism. This meant that the Cuban revolution was not an isolated event, but just one of many revolutions against governments that were seen as relics of colonialism, in Cuba’s case, colonialism by the United States.

    The Cuban Revolution included a strong propaganda effort designed to highlight the economic and social changes that followed. A true revolution, the result overturned the economic and social order in the country. The stated goal was a more equal society, one in which central planning and a command economy would promote development and improve the lives of the average Cubans. While typical of revolutions of the left, Castro was a charismatic and capable propagandist and his revolution was portrayed as an ideal of colonial resistance.

    The United States had become the leader in the Western block of nations during the Cold War and had taken on the role of leading the managed decline of the colonial system. Wars of national liberation fought against both colonial masters and the governments they put in place where they withdrew voluntarily were common. The Cuban revolution took place at the height of these conflicts and was seen as a victory against Western imperialism.

    Castro was well aware that the United States had the material capability to invade Cuba and remove him from power if they chose to do so. Castro’s revolutionary reordering of the economy significantly damaged American interests. Given the nature of the Cold War and America’s history of intervention in the Caribbean, Castro had good reason to fear American action against him even before the failed invasion at the Bay of Pigs.

    To respond to the potential threat from a much stronger enemy, Castro sought ties to the only other global superpower: the Soviet Union (USSR). Castro’s ideology was already consistent with the authoritarian communism of the USSR and the Soviets longed for a secure base in the Western Hemisphere. Mutual interest made the alliance a sensible one and it was this alliance that preserved Cuba against American intervention.

    The Soviet alliance did not come without dangers, as the Cuban Missile Crisis very nearly led to a nuclear war between the superpowers, but the result of that miscalculation was to move the superpowers into an accommodation. Following the Crisis, the US pledged not to invade Cuba in exchange for the Soviets pledging not to move nuclear weapons to the island.

    The result of this was the preservation of the Castro government, although at the cost of US economic sanctions. In a world where anti-colonialism was at its peak, this was seen as a victory of a revolutionary power against a much larger foe. For the USSR this narrative aided their appeal to other newly independent states. For Cuba, this was a chance to be seen as a leader in the growing movement of former colonies to chart their own path in the world.

    The Cuban Revolution became a symbol of victory against oppression. Real gains in education and healthcare were highlighted while economic stagnation was hidden by huge subsidies from the USSR. The brutal repression of dissidents was largely ignored by intellectuals in the West and seen as a necessary evil in most anticolonial movements. The result was the development of an image of Cuba as an ideal to be emulated around the world.

    This reputation was boosted with the use of Cuban troops and training in support of revolutionary movements around the world, especially in Latin America. Cuba intervened in African conflicts, including sending troops to support left-leaning governments in Africa, most notably in Angola. Cuban-trained doctors were sent around the world to provide aid in countries around the world.

    The end of the Cold War put a significant dent in Cuba’s reputation. Anti-colonialism had waned as a force in international politics. The USSR’s demise led to the end of subsidies and a significant decline in the national economy. A temporary reprieve came with the rise of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and a series of exchanges where Cuban doctors and internal security advisors were sent to Venezuela in exchange for hard currency and deeply discounted oil sales.

    Despite the challenges of the post-Cold War period, the legend of Fidel Castro remained a powerful symbol for left-leaning leaders around the world. The image of the charismatic leader standing up against a superpower and winning remained strong right up to the end. Castro was among the last of his generation still alive. Among his fellow revolutionary leaders, only a few remain to attend his funeral and none even come close to matching Castro’s global stature. Until the end, the soft power of the legend of Fidel retained its potency.

    A controversial figure, Castro showed how deft diplomacy and careful image-building combined with effective management of alliances can build and maintain national power far outside of what its material capabilities would seem to allow. Love him or hate him, he died as one of the best known figures of his generation.



    1. Castro pursued a mix of hard and soft power approaches to preserve his government. Would the soft power approach, focusing on his reputation as an anticolonial revolutionary, have been successful without the hard power alliance with the USSR? Would the alliance with the USSR have been enough without the development of the symbolic power of the Cuban Revolution?
    2. We often shy away from examining international relations in terms of the individuals in positions of power. Can we understand something like the myth of the Cuban Revolution without considering the personal characteristics of the person at the center of it? Can we see the soft power of the Cuban Revolution if we don’t consider the person at the center of it?
    3. In the world of the twenty-first century we have largely moved past the anticolonial struggles of the mid-twentieth centuries, largely because most of the former colonies have been independent for more than a generation. Does the march of time make the power of revolutionary symbols weaker today than they were in the past? Is the symbol of the Cuban Revolution likely to survive the death of its centerpiece?

  • Another Crack in the System: Russia Withdraws from the ICC

    This blog has noted the threat to the international system of legal responsibility for crimes against humanity from the withdrawal of countries from the International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICC was created to provide international accountability for those who would otherwise escape justice for the worst crimes under international law. The withdrawal from the Rome Statute that created the ICC by a handful of African states has weakened the system and raised the prospect of a return to impunity.

    Now the first of the major powers has joined the move to the door. Russia has formally withdrawn from the ICC treaty and declared the ICC a failed institution. The impact of this is mixed. Russia was not a participant in the ICC. The Russian government had signed the treaty but never ratified it. Discussions of ratifications had come in fits and starts over the years, but there was no expectation that Russia was about to formally join. Formal withdrawal of its signature is thus a mainly symbolic gesture: Russia is rejecting the system of international accountability designed to bring justice to those who are guilty of crimes against humanity.

    If Russia had no obligations under a treaty that it had signed, but not ratified, why did they make the effort to withdraw? On Monday, the ICC issued its report on Crimea, the Ukrainian territory annexed by Russia in 2014. In this report, the ICC gave the stamp of formality to what everyone already knew: the 2014 conflict that ended with the annexation of Crimea was an international armed conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Russia has consistently claimed that they did not invade Crimea. They argue that Crimean separatists rose up and threw out the Ukrainians and Russia only annexed the country at the request of these separatists. Most of the rest of the world saw the conflict as an effort by Russia to regain the old imperial territory. The ICC report gives formal, legal backing to the Ukrainian argument that the invasion and annexation was Russian revanchism.

    The symbol of withdrawal from the ICC is a signal to other nation-states of Russian seriousness about their actions within their sphere of influence. Russia continues to support pro-Russian separatist movements in the eastern regions of Ukraine. Russia continues to occupy a large part of the Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia following the 2008 Russo-Georgian war. Russia also occupies the Transnistria region of Moldova. Many of the smaller states in what Russia refers to as its “near abroad” have to balance a fear of resurgent Russian territorial claims with a desire for economic and political links with Europe. Withdrawing from the ICC sends a signal to these states that Russia will not be slowed down by the niceties of international law. It also signals the EU that Russia is not afraid of the reputational costs of rejecting one of their favorite international legal institutions.

    While the symbolic power is important, there is little practical impact. Russia had not ratified the Rome Statute, so it did not participate in the ICC. Russia was just one among several of the major powers to refuse to ratify the treaty. The United States, China, and India all remain outside the ICC system. Russia is also not the only one to have signed the treaty only to withdraw before ratification. The United States signed the treaty in 1998 under President Bill Clinton, but the signature was withdrawn by President George W. Bush in 2002 after the start of the War on Terror.

    The impact of Russian actions is probably minor, but coming after announcements of withdrawal by several African states, the move signals a potential shift in global opinion against the ICC. Other African states are considering withdrawal and the President of the Philippines has indicated a desire to withdraw from the treaty following the Russian announcement.

    International law depends on the willingness of states to enforce it. The rule of law at the international level depends heavily on the symbolic power of the law, rather than on an enforcer. The gradual erosion of the support for the ICC matters, and will continue to matter if the trend towards withdrawal continues. In a world of growing conflict, where we see violations of human rights in Syria, Iraq, South Sudan, and other states with growing frequency, the erosion of a system of accountability for perpetrators raises serious concerns about the protection of basic human rights.




    1. Most of the major powers remain outside of the ICC’s jurisdiction. Only the EU members remain in the system. If the ICC’s rules do not apply to most of the major powers, are African states right to argue that only the weak states are subject to international justice and that the strong can do as they will without fear of being held accountable?
    2. The cost to Russia of withdrawal from the ICC is almost entirely reputational. But does the withdrawal of the United States in 2002, just after launching the War on Terror and just before the Iraq War, limit the costs? With only the EU as a major power backer of the ICC, is there any meaningful cost to Russian withdrawal?
    3. The ICC was meant to provide international justice to the perpetrators of the worst crimes. With these crimes becoming increasingly common in conflicts around the world, has the desire to provide justice been swamped by the increasing frequency with which these crimes are committed? Do we still care as much when war crimes cease to be rare?

  • Global Governance of Climate Disruption: COP22 Seeks Progress in Implementing the Paris Agreement

    It was supposed to be a simple conference that focused on beginning the implementation of the Paris Agreement that emerged from the COP21 conference last year. One hundred and ninety-three countries signed the agreement and over a hundred have ratified it. In theory this paves the way for the implementation of the agreement and moves towards tighter global governance of greenhouse gas emissions.

    And then the United States elected a guy named Trump. The American election results raised serious questions about the commitment of the United States to the Paris Agreement.

    Global governance is always hard. Nation-states are sovereign and they exist in an anarchic international system in which no outside power can legitimately coerce them. At the same time, there are many problems which cannot be resolved by any single nation-state acting alone. Environmental issues are among the most obvious examples of problems that require international cooperation in order to offer a chance at resolution.

    Climate disruption by human activity takes place at a global level. While there are debates about the extent and impact of this, the dominant position among nation-state governments is that human activity is creating disruptions to the climate. This is the source of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and its annual Conference of the Parties (COP) meetings. In the face of a perceived global challenge, the only answer is global governance.

    And that is where the agreement stops. There are vast differences of opinion among nation-states about how to respond to climate disruption. Developing states seek substantial transfers of wealth from developed countries to support sustainable development efforts. Developed countries seek concrete limits on greenhouse gas emissions. While a general framework exists, the details are complex and often murky. Further, there is no concrete mechanism for enforcing the agreements under the UNFCCC such as the Paris Agreement. The costs for failing to honor commitments are only reputational.

    Environmental global governance is thus a giant collective action problem. You cannot deny the promised benefits to all of the world’s nation-states if you reduce climate disruption. So each state has an incentive to defect from its commitments as long as it will receive the benefits regardless of what it does. Skip the costs, but get the benefits. It is hard to resist that logic.

    The Paris Agreement reflected widespread recognition that climate disruption was caused by the actions of human beings and that the best way to minimize the damage it causes is to reduce greenhouse gasses. By signing the Paris Agreement at COP21, 193 nations agreed that this was the best approach available.

    Included in the signatories was the United States. Under Barak Obama, the United States has largely pursued a policy that supported the UNFCCC, including the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015. The challenge is that the United States did not ratify the Agreement and implementation has begun only through executive action. When Donald Trump was elected president, the United States chose a candidate that has denied the basic assumptions of the UNFCCC and promised to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.

    As the world’s largest economy and one of a handful of global powers, the United States is a significant player in greenhouse gas emissions and a critical source of funds for the sustainable development aid promised to developing states. It appears unlikely that a Trump Administration will honor these commitments.

    Does this mean that the Paris Agreement is doomed to fail? Not at all. Global governance does not depend on any single state, not even the biggest economic power. The US has sat out climate agreements before. The Kyoto Agreement was signed, but never ratified and the US never carried out its commitments. Despite this, the UNFCCC kept meeting and continued to act to provide global governance of climate disruption. The United States is important, but the climate regime carries on without it.

    As the COP22 meeting carries on, we see that most parties carry on with implementation efforts in spite of the potential challenges of a changed US position. Whether this commitment translates to actual reductions in greenhouse gasses and whether this will have any impact on climate disruption will be seen over the course of the coming decades. Meanwhile, global governance efforts carry on.



    1. A key problem of global governance is gaining general agreement on the terms of what is to be governed. Given the nature of the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement, has this problem been solved in global governance of the environment? Or does the trivial contribution of greenhouse gasses by most states in the world mean that they effectively agree without ever having to worry about costly compliance?
    2. Global governance suffers from a powerful enforcement problem: no actor can coerce states to comply with these agreements. What tools exist to convince states to honor their commitments to the Paris Agreement? Would an American withdrawal from the agreement change how any of these tools work?
    3. If nearly all of the countries that have signed the agreement ratify it and implement its provisions, the United States would effectively be a free-rider, getting benefits of the agreement while not paying its costs. What effect would such free-riding by the US have on wider American diplomatic and political efforts?
  • Trumped: The World Reacts to the Surprise Winner of the US Presidential Election

    The people of the United States generally care about who wins their elections. It makes sense, they are choosing their leaders. But the relative power and global role of the United States makes American elections something that the rest of the world pays attention to as well. And when Americans deliver a shocker, the rest of the world does worry about what that might mean for global politics.

    American elections are weird. We brag about being a leader among democratic nations, but our institutions include some unusual elements. Our single-member, plurality districts make it possible for candidates to win with less than half of the vote and push us into a system dominated by two large parties. Our electoral college allows for the potential that a candidate can win even if they finish second in the popular vote. Our First Amendment guarantees of free speech and our long primary cycle mean that our campaign season takes forever compared to most other democracies. Finally, many Americans choose not to vote at all.

    In 2016 the world got a heavy dose of American strangeness. The nominee of one of the parties was a trash-talking reality TV star. The nominee of the other had a long career in politics, but was generally un-liked and dogged by issues of corruption. Donald Trump, the reality star, campaigned as an agent of change. Radical change. Questioning free trade deals, globalization of production, and the impact of competition on American workers is standard populism of the type heard on a regular basis around the world, and fairly familiar ground. Abandoning treaty commitments, encouraging nuclear proliferation, and violating the laws of war to kill the families of terrorists were all sharp deviations from normal political discourse.

    With the Trump victory, world leaders are worried. The entire global economic and security order rests on the idea that nation-states will honor their commitments. America designed this system. To have a candidate, especially the winning one, argue for tearing it down raises serious questions about the stability of global politics.

    The leader of the United States matters. America plays a major role in international politics. The person who is in the most powerful position does set the agenda for America’s foreign policy. At the same time, the world often misjudges new presidents. Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize only to end up disappointing many world leaders as time passed.

    In the end, democracy can be messy. The United States is hardly alone in having unexpected electoral outcomes. For European leaders, the election of President Trump is worrying as much for the boost it gives to far right movements as it is for any likely policies of Trump himself. The vote for Brexit, the growing power of far right nationalists, a general tide of xenophobia and anti-Muslim sentiment among EU members have all raised the specter of a new direction in the politics of the world’s oldest democracies.

    In the cosmopolitan world of the global power elite, these ideas were supposed to be remnants of the past: ideas for the fringe. Voters seem to see this differently. But do these voters see the potential damage these ideas pose to the postwar international system?

    Time will tell what President Trump’s foreign policy legacy will be. It will be shaped as much by the will of other voters in other countries, with their own votes for or against the populism of the far right and left, as by his own desire to move politics in a new direction. The same ties that make America’s election matter to others, makes the elections of others matter to America.



    1. Democracy is held up as the best form of government by countries of the West. Even authoritarian regimes often seek validation through rigged elections. But democracy also means accepting when people make decisions that might present problems. Does the shift in the mood of electorates in Europe and America raise questions about the validity of the idea that democracy is a good system for choosing leaders?
    2. While America is important in the world, most people are mainly impacted by the actions of their own, local leaders. In practice, just how much does it matter who the President of the US is to most of the people of the world?
    3. It is often argued that political leaders will act in predictable ways because they face a common system of incentives. For example, neorealists argue that states act to maximize power, regardless of who their leaders are. Does the election of a person like Donald Trump raise questions about the response of specific leaders to incentives? Or is a President Trump likely to forget most of his campaign promises and pursue a foreign policy that looks very much like the policies of his predecessors?

  • The Black Tent for Aleppo? All sides step up the fighting, with civilians caught in the crossfire

    The Mongols are reputed to have used a system of colored tents to warn the people of cities they were besieging of their fate. They began with a white tent, offering passage out of the city if the city surrendered. Then they erected a red tent, indicating that if the city surrendered, only the men would be killed. In the end, the black tent would be set up and this meant that no one in the city would receive mercy.

    As fighting increases around Aleppo, the international community fears that we may be seeing the setup of the black tent. The Russian and Syrian governments have stated that the cease-fire of last week was the last chance for civilians and rebel fighters to leave the city and pass through safe corridors to other parts of the country. As fighting resumed this week, we have seen intensified attacks by all parties to the conflict, with the pace of fighting growing.

    No one knows for sure how many civilians remain in Aleppo. Scattered reports indicate that there was little trust of the Syrian government offer of safe corridors. Those with a will to leave have also largely left a city that is gradually being reduced to the world’s largest pile of rubble. As the fighting increases and presses further into the city, civilians continue to die.

    The international community continues to make all of the appropriate noises about international law. The United Nations continues to provide statements and press releases. World leaders condemn the danger to civilians and call for a return to negotiations. To little avail. Civilians continue to die. The parties to the conflict continue to fight on with virtually no effort at negotiations. Russia has escalated its military presence in the region, sending a naval flotilla to the region that includes their only operational aircraft carrier. Rebel fighters have continued to fight to regain lost ground and to hold off the government forces.

    And thus the Syrian Civil War drags on. As the death toll grinds on towards half a million people and nearly two-thirds of the population is now displaced, the conflict shows no signs of ending.

    While this is a terrible human tragedy, a question that is rarely asked should occur to any student of international relations: Does the international community have a place in ending this conflict? Should the international community just let the war play out, in spite of the horrors it creates?

    On one hand, there are international humanitarian treaties that protect human rights. In some cases, there is an international responsibility, but these focus primarily on genocide and the deliberate killing of civilians. The problem in Syria is that there is a war going on and war kills many more civilians than it does soldiers. It also changes the rules a state must follow. The United States and the allies firebombed the German city of Dresden in order to clearly demonstrate to the German population that they had lost the war, not because it was militarily necessary. The United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japanese cities to send a clear message to Japan that it had no hope of winning the war. History is replete with horrible things done in wartime by good guys as well as bad guys. So, if war is hell, there is little that the international community can do, short of ending the war.

    Sovereignty argues against international intervention. All nation-states are sovereign. No outside country can intervene in the internal affairs of other states, and no state can legitimately coerce other states. The Syrian Civil War is a war within the Syrian nation-state for control of that nation-state. Outsiders are obliged to leave the internal issues to the Syrians unless the Syrians ask for help.

    The issues are more complex than those two arguments suggest, but they show how even simple concepts can lead to very different answers to the question of the appropriate role of the international community. And I haven’t even mentioned costs and benefits of acting yet.

    The Syrian Civil War is an especially hard problem, but it illustrates one of the most basic tensions in international relations. The international system is an anarchic system of sovereign nation-states. Nation-states jealously guard that sovereignty. This creates a powerful pressure to avoid interfering in other states, lest your own state be on the receiving end of intervention by others.

    The problem is that a strict adherence to sovereignty means we have to stand by and watch the kind of horrors that we see in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, South Sudan, Myanmar, and so many more places. As the world becomes more globalized, with information flowing more freely, it is harder to ignore the horrors in other parts of the world without willful ignorance. Only time will tell if this changes how we see the balance between sovereignty and human rights in the future, but it is a question that we cannot ignore indefinitely.



    1. Wars like the Syrian conflict are relatively rare, but they are extremely devastating when they happen. Does the rarity of these conflicts mean that they should have special, different rules than more general, lower level problems within states?
    2. The civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has been raging longer, and has killed more people than the civil war in Syria. Does this suggest that there is a “conflict fatigue” that sets in and prevents us from paying attention to conflicts, even horrible ones, after they have been around for a relatively long period?
    3. The Syrian Civil War has become heavily internationalized and involves a large number of competing factions on at least three sides (government, “moderate” rebels, and ISIS.) How does the large number of actors impact the ability of the international community to promote peace?


  • All international politics is local. Just not usually this local

    International trade agreements are always difficult to negotiate. While most countries at least pay lip service to the idea that free trade is a good thing, very few actually seek to put this into practice. After years of negotiation, the Canada-EU trade pact (called the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, or CETA) was nearly blocked by the Belgian region of Wallonia, highlighting why trade is a difficult subject for negotiation.

    The European Union (EU) acts as single entity in most trade negotiations, representing all of its member states. But the EU is an intergovernmental organization and cannot bind its sovereign members without their consent. This means that each member state must ratify the agreement through its own domestic political institutions.

    That is where Wallonia comes in. Belgium is a federal state, with the French-speaking southern region of Wallonia being one of the two main regions. The other region is Flanders, the Dutch-speaking northern region of the country. In Belgium’s federal system, each region has a say in international agreements.

    And that is where things got messy for CETA.

    Trade is an especially complicated political issue. Markets work, in part, through creative destruction. The efficient and innovative win out, in part by out-competing weaker firms. In the long run, this tends to make markets more efficient, produce innovative goods and services, and make everyone better off. The problem is that the short run can be messy. The losers in the market go out of business, wiping out jobs and often creating disruption in the process. Those who are on the losing end of the disruption (or who don’t like disruption) can use the political system to protect their interests.

    Political leaders, especially leaders of democracies, have a hard time refusing the demands of groups that prefer protection and closed markets. The costs of closed markets are diffuse and show up largely in invisible things: higher prices and reduced consumer choice over time. The benefits of closed markets are easy to see: the factory down the street stays open.

    The Walloons feared that CETA would open the EU market to Canadian goods and services that might compete with companies based in Wallonia. This might undermine the policies of the regional government that are designed to protect local industries. So, the Walloons moved to block CETA. They had the institutional power to do it, and they used it to negotiate concessions from the national government in Belgium.

    Wallonia agreed to accept CETA, but they extracted concessions in exchange.

    Before you get mad at tiny Wallonia for gumming up the works just to get a special deal, remember that this is exactly how international negotiating works. Sovereign states cannot be coerced into compliance with agreements they make. They must voluntarily go along, so you have to negotiate until a mutually acceptable solution is reached. Weak states have to leverage their positions as best they can. And that is what Wallonia did. They leveraged their power in the domestic political institutions of Belgium to get the best deal they could. The EU institutions that require ratification by all member states gave Wallonia power (through those Belgian institutions) over the whole EU, if only briefly.

    The perils of CETA show us that institutions can matter in complicated ways in international relations. The domestic political institutions of the EU member states (Belgium in this case) mixed with the institutions of the EU to create a specific set of conditions to give one particular group power over the whole. These kinds of institutional combinations happen frequently in international relations, and are part of why global governance is difficult to achieve.



    1. CETA is a trade agreement between a group of countries united in an economic union through an intergovernmental organization and a single country. How would the challenges change if the negotiations were between two nation-states?
    2. Multilateral negotiations often involve large groups of countries. This presents significant challenges to coordination and cooperation. How does the decision by a group of countries to negotiate a common position through and IGO change cooperation and coordination problems when dealing with a country outside the IGO?
    3. Wallonia did not maintain their opposition for very long. What were the potential consequences for Wallonia if they had stuck with their opposition and actually stopped CETA from going into effect?

  • Isolated Cases, or the Return of Impunity: South Africa and Burundi Withdraw from the ICC

    The International Criminal Court (ICC) was meant to solve the problem of impunity for those guilty of crimes against humanity and war crimes. After the brutal genocides in the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and Burundi, the ad hoc system of international tribunals was widely seen as insufficient to provide international justice. The ICC was supposed to create a permanent court that would try such cases. Broad membership would mean that the community of states would collectively police the system of international justice, detaining individuals under indictment and surrendering them for trial.

    The ICC suffered some serious problems in the start of its life with the United States and Russia signing the treaty, but not ratifying it (the United States formally withdrew its signature). Other major powers, notably China, India, and Turkey, refused even to sign the treaty. So the coverage of the ICC was limited from the start.

    In spite of this, the ICC has largely served the function for which it was intended, seeking international justice in cases of the worst violations of international law. The main complaint against the ICC is that its cases have not treated all violations of international law equally. All of the court’s indictments to date have been in Africa. This has led African political leaders to see their counterparts (and sometimes themselves) as unfairly targeted by the Court.

    These complaints came to a head last year when South Africa, normally a staunch proponent of international human rights and a leading country in African regional governance, refused to arrest Omar al-Bashir, the President of Sudan under his outstanding ICC arrest warrant. The South African courts ruled that South African law required that President al-Bashir be arrested, but President Jacob Zuma refused to carry out the arrest. While this created a controversy at the time, it reflected a strong regional consensus among political leaders that African diplomacy required doing business with individuals under ICC indictment.

    South Africa has now take this logic forward and decided that it can no longer uphold its commitments to the ICC. The ICC treaty allows for withdrawal, and South Africa has begun the legal process (domestic and international) of walking away.

    An anarchic international system lacks a central enforcement power. There is no actor that can bind states to international laws. The system of international justice depends on states to enforce its rules. This creates a complex set of compliance problems. While the general understanding of crimes against humanity is widely shared, the devil is always in the details. When the system relies on broad consensus, it can be hard to act when consensus is lacking.

    If the withdrawal of African states from the ICC spreads, this will threaten the credibility of the ICC system. The idea behind the ICC was to create a universal court to tackle the worst crimes when states failed to do so. But only just over half the world’s states signed and ratified the treaty, the wholesale departure of all or most of a region’s states will be a serious blow to the goal of universalism.

    The fate of the ICC may not hang in the balance. There is strong commitment in many of the signatory states for the Court. But the ability of the Court to tackle the worst crimes will be irreparably damaged. And international justice will take a significant step backward.



    1. All of the ICC’s prosecutions to date have been of Africans. Does this, in and of itself, show a bias against the continent and its states within the ICC system? Or does it reflect a broader relationship of power within the international system?
    2. Fewer than forty individuals have been indicted by the ICC for crimes under its jurisdiction since the Rome Statute entered into force in 2002. With so few people charged in this time, does it matter if the ICC were to be weakened to the point that it collapsed?
    3. International law is notoriously hard to enforce. What lessons does the weakening of the ICC regime teach us about the challenges to maintaining a system of international jurisprudence? Do these lessons teach us something about legal processes in other issue areas such as trade treaties, fisheries, and other areas of international law?

  • A Quiet Meeting Strikes a Blow against Climate Change

    You’ve probably never heard of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) gas, but it was just the focus of a major international agreement, signed by nearly 200 countries. The agreement signed in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, agreed to make significant reductions in the emissions of HFCs, a gas commonly used in appliances like refrigerators and air conditions.

    HFCs are an important industrial gas used in a range of applications related to cooling and refrigeration. They are efficient and effective, but also happen to be a significant greenhouse gas. HFCs are much rarer than carbon dioxide (CO2) but they have a much more powerful heating effect when in the atmosphere. This makes HFC reductions an important part of the Paris Agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to reduce the human contributions to climate change.

    The deal is somewhat controversial as it does not apply to all countries evenly. Developed states agree to reduce the emissions by 85% in a series of stages starting in 2019 with a final target date of 2036. Developing states will be split into two groups, with a freeze on HFC use beginning in either 2024 or 2028.

    The Kigali Agreement is an extension of the Montreal Protocol that ended the use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), the chemicals that HFCs replaced. CFCs were widely used, but were linked to ozone depletion. In 1987 the Montreal Protocol was among the earliest international climate agreements.

    As with many international agreements, the implementation of the Kigali Agreement depends on the willingness of nations to abide by their commitments. The need for three tracks for phasing out HFCs shows that there was disagreement on timing of the implementation. Like past climate agreements such as the Kyoto Protocol, the agreement is largely enforced by reputational costs due to defection.

    Like many similar agreements, the negotiations are also generally the purview of professionals. Few people in most countries were aware that the Rwanda meeting was taking place. Still fewer knew the details of the negotiations. The domestic political context for all 197 signatories will be different and this will impact the degree of commitment of future leaders to these commitments.

    But success or failure lie in the future. For now, the diplomatic momentum of the Paris climate talks seems to be pressing on. Coming in November, the 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP22) in Marrakech, Morroco.



    1. Climate change issues require widespread agreement and participation by many different kinds of states. How is this reflected in the commitments required in the agreement? What aspects show how concessions were given to some states to gain their support?
    2. Most average citizens are unaware of the detailed content of (and sometimes the existence of) most climate agreements. To what degree do such agreements pose domestic political problems for democratic states? Can international treaties, committed to largely out of the public eye, be reconciled with democracy?
    3. Climate change is often framed as a collective action problem. It is easy for nation-states to ignore their commitments in the hope that other states will pay the cost of providing the benefits. Are collective action problems especially difficult to solve in an anarchic system? Or are they just like other cooperation and coordination problems?