Round Up #7: Peace


“Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.”
-Albert Einstein

In discussing international affairs, we talk often of conflict, tension, disturbance, volatility. It’s somewhat more rare to talk about peace. Many times, it’s to reference a temporary respite in some long-fought struggle or a momentary compromise in a simmering confrontation. We sometimes fool ourselves into thinking that peace is simply an absence of conflict, as if it does not necessitate the coordination, skill, and concerted effort that conflict and warfare requires. In reality, peace is often infinitely harder to uphold and maintain than conflict.

There has certainly been some recognition of this shortcoming in the way that we talk about international affairs. Over the past several decades, research institutes devoted to peace have sprung up throughout the world. Peace studies is now a recognized interdisciplinary field of study. In fact, there’s a Peace and Reconciliation Studies program here at the University of Maine. Scholarly journals exist devoted to peace research and peace studies. In short, there is a growing movement to study peace with the same sophistication and depth with which we pore over conflict, confrontation and hostility.

The posts featured for this week all deal with the complex machinery of peace, in different ways and to varying degrees. The students have been hard at work on their final papers, so the blogging requirements have been somewhat more lenient these past few weeks, with students putting up optional posts as they have time. As a result, these posts cover two weeks rather than the traditional weekly round-up.

Nevertheless, we have some really great featured posts. Jennie Bailey offers a post on the likelihood that Nigeria’s newly elected president, Mahammadu Buhari, may be able to bring order and stability to that country. Hannah Cole considers the controversial “right of return” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the forms of compromises that might pave the way to a lasting peace. Cody Morgan examines the tentative agreement reached with Iran over its nuclear program and the likelihood that it survives these initial stages, creating a lasting drawing down of global tension. Vie Nadeau-Carney examines the ways that education might improve the lives of children in Pakistan and create a peaceful and more stable society for future generations. Molly Nevins examines the costly impacts of corruption on efforts to increase economic development, peace, and stability in Sub-Saharan Africa through foreign aid.

We’re nearing the end of the semester, about to start out final week of classes. Thus, our course blog will soon be coming to an end. Stay tuned for a final round-up post in which students offer an overview of what they have learned working on their topics this semester and offer predictions for the future.

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“If It Were My Home” Website

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“If It Were My Home”  is a really interesting website that allows you to examine the differences in quality of living across the world. One’s country of origin has been called a “birthright lottery,” meaning that one has no control over where they are born. How would your life have been different if you were born and lived in another part of the world? This site gives you a sense of this. It also has a tool that enables you to visualize the geographic scope and impact of disasters occurring globally.

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Round Up # 6: Transitions


“Life is pleasant. Death is peaceful. It’s the transition that’s troublesome.”                                                                                                                                              -Isaac Asimov

Studying international affairs means, almost by default, encountering a series of transitions with uncertain outcomes. This is one of the exciting and frustrating things about the field itself. No matter how much hard-nosed research and analysis we do, the nature of the enterprise means that we must temper our predictions about what might happen with a note of hesitation. Every statement we make about the future is accompanied by a “…but maybe not.”

A look around the world reveals a number of transitions, many of which are interlinked. Countries seek development by making transitions from antiquated infrastructure and vulnerable industries to more complex economic activities. Populations under the boot of dictators seek to replace them with transitions to democratic institutions (or, perhaps, fledgling democratic institutions slide back into more oppressive, hierarchical systems). Oppressive systems of discrimination based on gender, class, race, sexuality, identity and a host of other characteristics are displaced by more progressive and egalitarian alternatives. Or, as too often occurs, promising gains for marginalized are wiped out as societies slide back into past oppressive practices or create frightening new ones.

The posts for this week all capture this spirit of transition. Jennie Bailey has a great post on the recent Nigerian election and what it might mean for that country’s protracted transition to democracy. Jill Hein offers thoughts about how we ought to think about sequence aid (security v. direct aid) in our attempts to provide assistance to countries in need, focusing on Doctors Without Borders. Carman Lamb looks at the likelihood of meaningful action on droughts and deforestation by the Brazilian government in the wake of recent turbulent developments in that country. Emma Oppewall considers what an imminent political transition could look like in the country of Cuba.

Check out these great posts and a host of other interesting analyses by checking out the course blogroll. See you next week!

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Round Up # 5: Focus on our Future


“It is always wise to look ahead, but difficult to look further than you can see.”
-Winston Churchill

At the outset of this class, we laid out the reasons why anyone would undertake the complex business of analyzing international affairs. There are just so many complex and evolving situations at any given time. A kaleidoscope of cultural, political, economic, and social variables to consider and, at best, we might be able to explain a tiny fraction of what is happening in the world. No “universal laws” of international affairs exist. And to the extent we try to do so, we make them at our own peril.

Nevertheless, people can and do endeavor to understand international affairs. And one of the key reasons we do so is to sharpen the lens through which we view our possible future. As Churchill suggests above, this is complex business. When you aim to explain something which has already happened or is underway, you might arrive at a less than convincing explanation, but you’re unlikely to fail spectacularly. However, in trying to predict the future you may well end up being dead wrong. This difficulty doesn’t make the activity any less important or essential.

Typically, these “round up” posts focus on some thematic connection, but this week they are united in their orientation towards potential future outcomes. The posts highlighted this week focus, in various ways and in varying degrees on our global future.

Jennie Bailey looks at the upcoming Nigerian election, now only a few days away after being rescheduled due to concerns over instability and violence. Sydney DuEst examines the rise of “marijuana tourism” in the US and how other states might be poised to take advantage of their status as early adopters of the legalization of recreational marijuana use. Tom Hayden looks at Russia’s annexation of Crimea one year after it initially transpired and what the future might hold for the region. Molly Nevins looks at the short, troubled history of South Sudan, Africa’s newest country, and ponders whether it can emerge from its turbulent emergence to achieve some stable and less violent future. Emma Oppewall considers what sorts of political transition Cuba might undergo after the death of Fidel and Raul Castro.

All of these posts orient themselves towards vexing and complex questions in our collective future and engage in thoughtful analysis of what we might see. Check out these posts (or numerous others by consulting the course blogroll)!

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Round Up # 4: Focus on Economics


“Globalization presumes sustained economic growth. Otherwise, the process loses its economic benefits and political support.” 
-Paul Samuelson

We’re on break! Technically, the students in INA 101-Intro. to International Affairs are on break until Monday, so this is a bit of a belated post rounding up students posts from before the break (UMaine is one of the few universities in the country that enjoys a two week Spring Break). We’ll be back to our regular weekly posting schedule soon enough.

It would be impossible to have a class on international affairs without discussing the global economy. And we spend multiple weeks talking about it–first in generalities with a focus on key economic organizations, then later as we discuss topics like economic development and poverty alleviation, the global food system, etc. Economics is a central component of understanding international affairs.

In many ways, the heady initial discussions about rising globalization happening in the 1990s were happening amidst a condition of rising global prosperity. The sustained economic growth, which Samuelson references above, was largely a reality. The optimism which marked those conversations was a function that we had not yet weathered economy-disrupting major wars, a near implosion of the global economy in 2009, and numerous regional and country-level crises which globalization tended to make more, not less, acute.

Yet what remains remarkable is how many topics, seemingly tangentially related to economics, nevertheless have elements of economics at their core. Underlying economic considerations work their way into discussions of culture, security, education, language, human rights, and on and on. It would be a challenge to find a single issue discussed in the students’ blogs that in some way did not tie back, in important and consequential ways, to economics.

Thus, this week, the round-up of posts focuses on postings by the students that in some way or another tie back to economics. Cleo Barker examines Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent (controversial) suggestion that European Jews return to Israel. Monica Colman also focuses on Israel, but from an entirely different perspective, examining their advanced “desalination” program and how it enables them to retain independence and self sufficiency in the region. Kaylie Gazura looks at the American culture industry, how pop artists are achieving market dominance globally but also the ways in which these styles are being appropriated and hybridized by local artists. Amanda Livingston has this post on one British family that, through the help of social networks, was able to bring their child to the US for a necessary surgery by one of the world’s experts.

Numerous posts delve into the dark side of our burgeoning global economy. Sydney DuEst looks at the rise of powerful drug cartels in Mexico, the ways that they thrive off a global market for their product and the multi-faceted havoc that they bring domestically. Leanne Violette looks at how trends associated with globalization and environmental degradation are creating new chronic health problems globally. Lastly, Erik Stoltman asks a simple question–where does the Islamic State, or ISIS/ISIL, get its money? The answer is troubling and raises serious questions for our ability to defeat and undermine their operations.

The bottom line is this. Dig deep enough into any international issue and you’ll find an economic answer. At the very least, you’ll find an economic variable that is an important factor in your answer. See you all next week with another round of new posts.




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Round-up # 3: Focus on Security

140913-isis-militants-01_36eca3bf7c518cd8481745e9fb3f66dd“There is no such thing as perfect security, only varying levels of insecurity.”
-Salman Rushdie

For the next few weeks, our weekly round-up posts will be thematically organized, focusing on a series of blog posts on a related broad topic. This week, we focus on security. If one thinks of international affairs, perhaps the immediate topic that spring to mind is security, conceptualized in one way or another. Many of the most pressing international challenges emerge out of notions of threat, conflict, and our desperate attempts to guard ourselves against some harm or violence. Perhaps, as Rushdie suggests above, the desire for some transcendental condition of security is elusive and foolhardy.

Recent events would certainly seem to suggest so. We are assaulted daily with painful reminders of the ways in which our planet is increasingly precarious and vulnerable to the outbreak of conflict and violence. In virtually every society, including our own, we grapple with security threats and conflicts that defy easy answers. We seek strategies that will be both effective in confronting the threat and which also enable us to say that we have confronted a threat in a just or ethical fashion. Numerous students this week highlight the dangerous and volatile condition of contemporary international fairs.

Jennie Bailey examines Nigeria’s attempt to demonstrate to its own people and to important powers like the United States that it has the capability to take on terrorist groups such as Boko Haram. Vie Nadeau-Carney follows up on a recent post about the Islamic State’s deplorable treatment of children by delving in to the question of what ISIS really wants. Jill Hein examines how a policy designed to freeze the financial operations of violent non-state actors in the failed state of Somalia may end up actually empowering them. Anna Spitzfaden highlights the troubling violent attack earlier this week at a free speech event in Denmark. Matt brings us back to the domestic front, examining the challenges of reintegration into civilian society for soldiers who have grown accustomed to the lifestyle of war and the strange simplicity it provides.

Of course, there are lots of other great posts as well on a variety of topics–economics and trade, culture, international relations, language, history, and so on. Check out the blogroll to the right for other student blogposts. And in the coming weeks, look for more thematically focused rundowns of the students’ thoughtful analysis and commentary.

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Round-up # 2: Theoretical Investigations

20130117-TheoryToPractice“In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.”
-Yogi Berra

Last week, we talked about the role of theory in understanding political globalization in international affairs. The “theoretical lens” one adopts can shape or color how they interpret what is happening in the world politically (or, for that matter, culturally, economically, socially, etc.).

For instance, a “realist” might look at US foreign aid as simply another tool by which the US advances its foreign policy agenda, doling out aid and humanitarian support to countries willing to cooperate with its broader strategic security objectives. A “liberal” would view this as a strategic form of international collaboration designed to reduce or mitigate uncertainty. A “Marxist” might view such strategies as subtle ploys to sustain a deeply unequal and ineglatarian distribution of world resources and wealth. A “constructivist” might agree with any of these interpretations, but would see the outcome as socially conditioned rather than inherent in the structure of the international system, or the global economy.

In short, different theoretical assumptions lead to vastly different interpretations and explanations of why international affairs operates the way it does. Even if we look at the same phenomena, these assumptions can lead us to different analyses of how the world operates.

In this week’s round-up of student blogs, we see those different assumptions at work. Hannah Cole invokes international law to critically examine Israel’s “collective punishment” of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Jill Hein offers a great post on how international policies designed to confront lawlessness and piracy in Somalia have played a role in locking that country in the condition of a “failed state,” unable to build basic infrastructure or perform the tasks that we typically associate with statehood. Hubert Jiang shows the ways in which the 2004 “Orange Revolution” in Ukraine set in motion the current armed conflict we are witnessing in the country. Vie Nadeau-Carney examines the chilling reports that ISIS is directly targeting children in its campaign across Syria and Iraq, going so far as to utilize children with mental disabilities as suicide bombers. Anna Spitzfaden examines in more detail the most recent manifestation of anti-Muslim sentiment in Germany.

These issues, and all of the topics the students have analyzed this week, are complex and multidimensional. Utilizing theory helps us understand which aspects of the narrative are most relevant and aids us in forming a concrete interpretation of what is happening now and what might happen in the future. Feel free to check out these great posts (and others from this week–by clicking in the blogroll on the righthand side of this page).

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