Sunday, February 26, 2012

Democracy: The Devil is in the Details

Over at Howl at Pluto, LFC is critical of how much time I spend arguing against what others say about how democracy influences international relations.

Maybe Phil could consider taking an occasional break from criticizing...and focus on the particular forces that drive bad, suboptimal policy in the particular democracy known as the United States.
Kindred at IPE@UNC comes to my defense, arguing that
a regular theme is that [Phil] is skeptical of claims in the academic literature that "democracy" does this or "democracy" does that...In other words, I imagine Phil would be fine with the bureaucratic-politics-plus-interest-groups story that LFC puts forward, and nothing he wrote contradicts it.

Blood, Treasure, and Support for War

The notion that those who pay the costs of war should be least likely to support military ventures is quite old.  These days, it is often associated with Kant, though of course he was not the first to propose the idea.  In broad form, this underlies much of the thinking about the democratic peace.

But it's not actually clear that we can go from the intuitive claim that those who bear the costs of war are unlikely to support it to the conclusion that democracies will abhor war.

Friday, February 24, 2012

When do Human Rights Treaties Reduce Repression?

With the generous support of the Graduate Student Association, we were fortunate enough to have Emily Ritter come up to Buffalo this week and give a talk on that very question, based on a couple of related projects she is working on with Courtenay R. Conrad.  I'm going to do my best to summarize the argument from the first paper (available here).

Thursday, February 23, 2012

More on Negative Advertising

John Sides was kind enough to respond -- at length -- to this post of mine.  He makes several points, both in response to me and comments left on the original post of his that kicked off this discussion.

His point about experimental studies is well taken.  As I admitted in my post, this is not my area of expertise, and I was unaware of such studies.  The argument I was making applies to observational studies.

That said, I still think Sides is making a stronger argument than the evidence warrants.  Look below the fold for some thoughts as to why.  (Note to regular readers -- I'll be posting about dead bodies again soon.  Fear not.)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Zombies, Negative Advertising, and Military Buildups

(I posted this yesterday, then took it down.  This version of the post makes the same substantive point, but hopefully does so in a more careful and appropriate manner.)

John Sides likens the idea that negative advertising works to zombies -- a dead idea that just won't die (in the vein of Zombie Economics).  With the obvious caveat that I'm nobody's expert on negative advertising, I respectfully disagree.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

My American Foreign Policy Class, Part II

This set of slides completes my discussion of how the main foreign policy tools would be evaluated optimally.  Towards the end, I began to discuss not only what we would expect policy to look like if USFP simply sought to promote the national interest, and to do so as efficiently as possible, but also whether the policies we see in reality bear any resemblance to such expectations.  That's a question I'll address in far more detail in the latter half of the course, but, for now, I've argued that foreign aid disbursements actually do look a fair amount like what we'd expect if the US was setting policy optimally, while trade policy is pretty clearly suboptimal.

When is a War a War in the Eyes of the Media?

Defining "war" is no easy task.  We political scientists have a variety of definitions.*  So you certainly can't fault the media for being unaware of the esoteric debates about coding rules that take place within the academy.

What I do find a bit puzzling, though, is the internally inconsistent standards the media applies to armed conflicts.  Specifically, It seems to me that virtually any level of violence that takes place after a border has been crossed will justify using the word "war", while the standard for determining whether a state is experiencing a "civil war" seems to be just a wee bit more demanding.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

EITM 2012

Information here.  This year, it is at Princeton.

I attended EITM as a participant in 2008 and as a mentoring-faculty-in-residence in 2009 and 2010. Those were very rewarding experiences.  I strongly encourage grad students to apply.  You will be exposed to a variety of views about how to make the most of theoretical and empirical models.  You will meet a lot of great faculty and future colleagues.  And you will received detailed feedback on your research.

Review of Clarke and Primo

I've plugged the book a few times on here already.  Now that I've finished reading it, I'm going to offer a more detailed review.  And then stop bringing it up every other post.  (Probably).

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Pacifying Effects of Aircraft Carriers?

Since World War II, there has been but one war that involved two states who both possessed aircraft carriers (Argentina's Veinticinco de Mayo saw some action at the beginning of the Falklands Islands War).*

You, of course, will be familiar with this from all the books and articles you had to read for comps about the pacifying effect of aircraft carriers.

What's that?  You haven't read any such works?  But you've read all about how mutual possession of nuclear weapons prevents (or does not prevent) conventional conflict, right?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Miscellaneous Links

Below the fold.

Predictability, Rationality, and Homo Economicus

This is a follow-up to yesterday's post, which has attracted a lot of good comments.  Of course it is also a "follow-up" to many other posts I've written.  See here, here, and here specifically.  And see also this excellent post at PM's question time.

In fact, the quote "Even though one class of theorist managed to colonize formal logic first in the social science, there is no requirement that all theories expressed formally be of their ilk" sums up, quite succinctly, so much of what I've been trying to say on the topic, that I'm more than a little jealous of PM for having written it.

Though I think that one sentence really says it all, I'll elaborate a bit more below the fold.  Because accepting what it says means letting go of a deeply held belief that you've probably been conditioned to accept for years.  It's not a complicated idea, but it's one that most social scientists have a hard time wrapping their heads around.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Remarkably Predictable Human Element

One often hears that the reason we social scientists have it harder than natural scientists is "the human element."  Of course, no one ever explains what exactly this means, because apparently it just goes without saying that human beings, by their very nature, are prone to doing all manner of utterly incomprehensible, random, senseless things.*

Something along those lines may indeed constitute an important difference between the social sciences and the natural sciences.  I don't know.  But what I do feel pretty sure about is that "the human element" cannot possibly be anywhere nearly the obstacle to the social scientific enterprise as we've decided that it is. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Sanctions as a Commitment Generating Device

Sanctions are often discussed as alternative to the use of military force.  There's something a little strange about this, since we know that sanctions are often a precursor to the use of force (see here).

The simple interpretation of this association is that sanctions don't work, and when states really care about the issue, they sometimes resort to an instrument that does (read: military force).

In the American Foreign Policy class that I'm currently teaching, I present a model that provides an alternative explanation.  One that does not require us to assume, falsely, that sanctions do not work.

My American Foreign Policy Class, Part I

Nearly half of the class is going to be dedicated to assessing what USFP might look like if we believed that policy was made with no other consideration in mind but serving "the national interest" (under the assumption that such a beast exists).  There will then be a few weeks on why we might not expect USFP to actually look like this, due to various domestic political pressures.  The final third or so of the course will consist of a discussion of USFP from 1945 up through today, interpreted through the lens of the theoretical expectations developed in the first two parts of the course.

Given this approach, it would probably make more sense to wait until I've finished the entire section on optimal foreign policy before posting, but that's still a few weeks off.  So here's the first set of slides, which covers the basics of crisis bargaining, militarized coercion, and economic coercion.

Miscellaneous Links (updated again)

Below the fold.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Political Impact of Audience Costs (updated)

As I've said before, I have a number of concerns about the theoretical arguments about audience costs.  I'm not sure why I should expect voters to behave in such a way as to give rise to them, and I'm really not sure we understand what behaviors we would observe if they existed.  But let's set all of that aside for the moment and simply ask: what would the political impact of audience costs be if we thought that Tomz's experimental study accurately reflects the way real world voters vote -- at least in the US.*

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

R2P and Consistency

Anne-Marie Slaughter argues:

If you believe, as I do, that R2P is a foundation for increased peace and respect for human rights over the long term, that each time it is invoked successfully to authorize the prevention of genocide, crimes against humanity, grave and systematic war crimes, and ethnic cleansing as much as the protection of civilians from such atrocities once they are occurring, it becomes a stronger deterrent against the commission of those acts in the first place.
Dan Trombly says:

Precedent is only a deterrent if the power and will of a country to enforce that precedent at all places and times remains constant. Given that everybody knows the resources and willpower of countries supporting R2P are finite, countries will generally (and correctly) bet that repressing a local effort at regime change is a more reasonable policy than succumbing to a revolution for fear of being deposed.

I think both get it wrong in these passages, though overall I think Dan gets the better of this exchange.

Diplomacy and Cheap Talk

One of the less salient arguments in Fearon 1995 was that we should not expect wars to be averted by diplomacy.  Wars occur primarily* because of the incentive to misrepresent private information.   It is not simply the presence of incomplete information, but the fact that states have no incentive to tell the truth.**

At least, so says Fearon.

A number of scholars (see here, here, here and here) have since claimed that diplomacy does indeed have the power to prevent war.  This is sometimes framed as a criticism of the argument that cheap talk is uninformative (especially by Sartori).  I find that rather misleading, though, because what these authors are in fact arguing is that diplomatic statements are not cheap talk.