Critical State

now browsing by tag

 
 

Civil workshopping: Part II

“MuiTypography-root-126 MuiTypography-h1-131″>Civil workshopping: Part II

Critical State, a foreign policy newsletter by Inkstick Media, takes a deep dive this week into what factors may lead an army to fracture instead of launching a coup.

Inkstick MediaAugust 10, 2022 · 1:15 PM EDT

In this March 21, 2011, file photo, a Syrian soldier steps out of the burned courthouse that was set on fire by anti-government protesters in the southern city of Daraa, Syria. In March 2011, Daraa became the first city to explode against the rule of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Hussein Malla/AP/File

This analysis was featured in Critical State, a weekly foreign policy newsletter from Inkstick Media. Subscribe here.

When a state builds a standing military, it is forging a promise in blood: In exchange for pay, privilege, and weapons, the armed forces will become synonymous with the state, fighting to preserve it against internal and external threats. Indeed, 75% of the time when a state falls to armed rebellion, it is because forces outside the military take up arms. Coups, where the military itself seizes the state, constitute just over 13% of armed takeovers. But in 11.2% of cases, it is the splintering of the military itself that causes the rebellion, leading to open conflict among the formerly unified armed agents of the state.

When a personalist regime falters, or when foreign support for a national unifying figure is withdrawn, it opens the possibility that some portion of the military will go directly into rebellion, instead of trying to assert itself as the new head of a collapsing government.

State breakdown and Army-Splinter Rebellions,” the new paper by Theodore McLauchlin from which those above statistics are drawn, looks at what factors can lead an army to fracture instead of launching a coup. Examples of this include the breakdown of military unity in Lebanon in 1976, of Libya and Syria in 2011, and in conflicts beyond that. When a personalist regime falters, or when foreign support for a national unifying figure is withdrawn, it opens the possibility that some portion of the military will go directly into rebellion, instead of trying to assert itself as the new head of a collapsing government.

“My findings show that regimes that protect themselves well against coups are far from invulnerable to military disintegration,” McLauchlin writes. “Instead, their armies can fall apart in a different way: when soldiers directly launch civil wars.”

Even in cases where army rebellions fought and quickly won control of the state, McLauchlin distinguishes rebellions from coups based on the preparation and form of action taken. If any army prepares for and wins a short war, that’s distinct from an army seizing the government all at once. The choice to rebel matters, in part because of what it shows about the government being rebelled against.

In personalist regimes, those centered around authoritarian figures and molded to the preferences of such a leader, it is likely that the leader has taken considerable effort to coup-proof the military. If potential rebel leaders are kept away from the capitol and locked out of positions that would allow them to organize openly and claim to represent the whole of the military, then building power and networks gradually, while avoiding surveillance, lets the rebels prepare for a rebellion on their own terms.

“Personalist rulers are not only likelier to lose power violently when they lose power (Geddes, Wright, and Frantz 2014, 321), to engage in international conflict (Weeks 2012), and to have ineffective armed forces (Talmadge 2015),” concludes McLauchlin. “They are, additionally, especially prone to the direct resort to rebellion through army-splinter rebellions.”

Because personalist regimes are increasingly common, it is worth understanding their propensity to violence, the limits of their ability to achieve political aims with that violence, and how risky it is that when they collapse, it will come not with a smooth transition of power but instead a new, potentially lengthy war, one sparked by defection among armed forces.

This paper offers a warning to authoritarian regimes, and also a word of caution to foreign backers who would arm them. If the weapons handed over are left in the hands of a military prone to shatter, any peace kept by threat of violence is only at best a mirage.

Related: Civil workshopping: Part I

Critical State is your weekly fix of foreign policy analysis from the staff at Inkstick Media. Subscribe here

Civil workshopping: Part I

“MuiTypography-root-134 MuiTypography-h1-139″>Civil workshopping: Part I

Critical State, a foreign policy newsletter by Inkstick Media, takes a deep dive this week into how structural factors preserve leadership changes after civil war that put women in positions of political power in sub-Saharan Africa.

Inkstick MediaAugust 3, 2022 · 2:45 PM EDT

Somali Parliament member Fawzia Yusuf H. Adam discusses with guests at her home in Mogadishu, Somalia Saturday, July 17, 2021. The woman who broke barriers as the first female foreign minister and deputy prime minister in culturally conservative Somalia now aims for the country's top office as the country moves toward a long-delayed presidential election.

Farah Abdi Warsameh/AP

This analysis was featured in Critical State, a weekly foreign policy newsletter from Inkstick Media. Subscribe here.

Every civil war is a failure of governance. The causes can vary — the factions that emerge and the grievances expressed span the whole of the human condition — but for a state to collapse to the point where people take up arms against it requires more than a routine political dispute. In the aftermath of a civil war, along with efforts at demobilization and reconciliation, is the opportunity for deep rebuilding of society and government, with the hope that whatever new arrangement put in place can better meet the needs of citizens without collapsing into armed violence again.

One possible change is more gender equitable distribution of leadership. In “Power in the Post-Civil War Period: The Effect of Armed Conflict and Gender Quotas on Women in Political Leadership Positions,” authors Cosima Meyer and Britt Bolin look at how structural factors preserve post-war changes in leadership in sub-Saharan Africa.

“In a first step, a pipeline must be established to develop women's political careers and prepare them for leadership positions. … The civil war itself can create the conditions for the establishment of such a pipeline that allows women to claim political positions that they did not hold before.”

“In a first step, a pipeline must be established to develop women's political careers and prepare them for leadership positions,” the authors write. “The civil war itself can create the conditions for the establishment of such a pipeline that allows women to claim political positions that they did not hold before.” 

That power, borne of necessity and capability, can be undermined after a conflict, as men previously in power or looking to return to some prior status quo work to exclude women leaders proven in the war. In the process of creating a post civil war settlement, however, legal measures can acknowledge what was already proven in war.

 “In a second step, a legal framework is necessary to develop a pipeline for women's political careers and secure its effects. A gender quota serves as such a legal regulation that can help to secure the institutional hold on power,” the authors write. 

By looking at the number of women serving in cabinets in the years after a civil war, the study tracks not just the existence of women in leadership but the cultivation and sustained networks supporting that leadership.

"Our research," the authors write, “promotes our understanding of post-civil war situations and of the conditions under which women retain broad political power. Our theory implies, at least in post-conflict situations, that a quota is not enough to secure high levels of women's executive-level representation long term. This is achieved in tandem with post-civil war situations in which institutional destabilization has changed the political landscape and first enabled women to gain a foothold in political leadership positions.”

When women are excluded from leadership pre-conflict, valuable perspective and understanding of the problems facing a country is lost, as are perspectives that could point to better policies to mitigate harm. 

There’s still much more research in this space to be done. As Meyer tweeted, “What are, for instance, the effects on substantive representation? Are women more likely to hold certain ministerial positions? And who are those women in power?”

Leadership is not everything, but descriptive leadership in a democracy ensures that the people are represented closer to their actual composition. With a post-conflict change in leadership composition and quotas in place, the authors found a long-term impact of durable representation.

Critical State is your weekly fix of foreign policy analysis from the staff at Inkstick Media. Subscribe here

Where wolves: Part II

“MuiTypography-root-134 MuiTypography-h1-139″>Where wolves: Part II

Critical State, a foreign policy newsletter by Inkstick Media, takes a deep dive this week into the politics of wildlife management. The political right tends to campaign on the visceral impact of wolf attacks, but tangible improvements to rural life could offer a counter argument.

Inkstick MediaJuly 27, 2022 · 3:00 PM EDT

A Mexican gray wolf is seen in Eurkea, Montana, on May 20, 2019.

Jeff Roberson/AP/File 

This analysis was featured in Critical State, a weekly foreign policy newsletter from Inkstick Media. Subscribe here.

When wolves are exterminated from an environment, their wake is marked by abundance. For farmers, that abundance comes in unattacked livestock, but for drivers on rural roads, that abundance is a deadly one. Deer, freed from predation, multiply, devouring crops and gardens and crossing roads, sometimes killing drivers in the process.

Reintroducing wolves, often framed as a naive environmental act, changes that abundance. Wolves will on occasion eat the occasional cow or pig or other domesticated animal left near a forest. But more importantly, wolf predation will reduce the size of herds of deer, rebalancing the environment into an ecology that can support both prey and predators.

Last week, Critical State dove into the world of wolf attacks, and how the political salience of such visible animal action leads to electoral benefits for right-wing parties. Much of that political power comes from the visibility of the attacks. When a wolf kills a farmer’s cow, the farmer can point to the cow corpse and then blame animal reintroduction for his woes.

Related: Where wolves: Part I

What is missing from this picture, what is essential to our understanding of animal populations, is the way wolves can reduce danger. The dead cow is visible; the deer culled in the woods that never causes a car accident is invisible. In “Wolves make roadways safer, generating large economic returns to predator conservation,” authors Jennifer Raynor, Corbett Grainger, and Dominic Parker demonstrate that, while it is harder to observe, the benefits of predation on an environment is still quantifiable.

“About 1 million [Deer Vehicle Collisions] occur every year in the United States, causing 29,000 human injuries, 200 human fatalities, and nearly $10 billion in total economic losses,” the authors write. “Europe experiences similar problems, with a lower frequency of collisions with ungulates (such as deer and moose) but a higher rate of fatalities and injuries.”

The reintroduction of wolves reduces the harm from deer in two ways: by reducing the number of deer, and by changing how deer interact with the environment, largely by scaring them out of the roads and trails that wolves like to use.

Deer populations have flourished in the wake of exterminated wolves. The reintroduction of wolves reduces the harm from deer in two ways: by reducing the number of deer, and by changing how deer interact with the environment, largely by scaring them out of the roads and trails that wolves like to use.

Looking at changes in deer-vehicle crashes in Wisconsin, the authors find that “Across the 29 counties with wolves present, these savings generate a $10.9 million aggregate reduction in  [Deer Vehicle Collisions] losses each year.”

Quantifying the value of predators is hard, because the harms of unchecked prey only flourish in their absence. Reintroduction of apex predators species like wolves allows for a deeper understanding of the benefits from living in a complete ecology, rather than a fractured one.

The benefits of such predation come strongest in rural areas, where the harms are also most visible. “This finding may help dampen political polarization around wolf reintroduction that generally pits rural and urban voters against one another,” the authors write. While research has shown the right can campaign on the visceral impact of wolf attacks, the tangible improvements to rural life from reduced deer populations and deer collisions could offer a counter. The wolves cannot campaign for their economic benefit, but armed with this data, politicians could.

Critical State is your weekly fix of foreign policy analysis from the staff at Inkstick Media. Subscribe here

Where wolves: Part I

“MuiTypography-root-134 MuiTypography-h1-139″>Where wolves: Part I

Critical State, a foreign policy newsletter by Inkstick Media, takes a deep dive this week into the links between wildlife conservation and voting trends. "Wolf attacks, and campaigning on them, is a durable and recurring feature of the far-right in Germany," Kelsey D. Atheron writes.

Inkstick MediaJuly 20, 2022 · 3:15 PM EDT

Afd's top candidate Tino Chrupalla follows the first forecasts on the outcome of the election at the Alternative for Germany party, AfD, election event in Berlin, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021. 

Michael Probst/AP

This analysis was featured in Critical State, a weekly foreign policy newsletter from Inkstick Media. Subscribe here.

Conserving the natural world means conserving natural predators within it. In Europe broadly and Germany specifically, conservation efforts have seen the reintroduction of wolves to forests and, in turn, wolves venturing beyond forests to hunt domesticated livestock in rural hinterland. How people live with nature, from passive habitat destruction that eliminates predators to campaigns to allow them a return alongside prey populations, is a political question, though it’s often not seen as such.

The reemergence of wolves, and with them, wolf attacks provides a series of discrete events whose effect on voting can be studied and measured. Which, in “Wolf Attacks Predict Far-Right Voting,” is precisely what authors Bernhard Clemm von Hohenberg and Anselm Hager do.

“To explore the connection between wildlife conservation and voting behavior, we study the reemergence of the wolf in Germany. After the species had become extinct in much of Western Europe before or during the 20th century, conservation efforts have recently allowed the wolf to make an impressive comeback."

“To explore the connection between wildlife conservation and voting behavior, we study the reemergence of the wolf in Germany. After the species had become extinct in much of Western Europe before or during the 20th century, conservation efforts have recently allowed the wolf to make an impressive comeback,” the authors write. 

While wolf attacks may call to mind the eaten grandmothers of a "Red Riding Hood," the actual impact is more precisely felt by a farmer trying to protect their three little pigs. It’s the impact of wolves on livestock, and in turn on rural jobs and livelihoods, that is the most persistent factor in far-right campaigning after wolf attacks.

“Using a municipality-level panel of voting behavior, we find that communities that witnessed wolf attacks are significantly more likely to vote for the radical right AfD, which espouses climate-skeptic and anticonservationist positions,” the authors write. 

One such ad run by AfD paints the farmers as part of the environment now threatened by efforts at biodiversity. These ads are reaching people through Facebook, Twitter, and the manifestos of the party itself. Wolf attacks, and campaigning on them, is a durable and recurring feature of the far-right in Germany.

In evaluating electoral performance, the researchers looked at federal, state, and local elections, and contrasted the performance of the far-right AfD with the environmental-left Green party. Wolf attacks had a minimal to mildly negative effect on Green party performance, but a significant and observable factor in AfD vote share. This was most pronounced at the state level, but was persistent in federal and local elections, too.

“The common interpretation of such findings is that witnessing environmental issues first hand leads to attitude change. However, this coin may have a flip side: Experiencing wolves killing livestock in one’s vicinity increases the likelihood of voting for far-right, conservation-skeptical parties,” the authors write. “Since these parties often oppose measures against climate change, this may lead to a perplexing backlash effect of policies intended to help the environment.”

The electoral impact of wolf attacks isn’t inherently a case against reintroducing wolves, or preserving existing wolf populations. But it should suggest that politics adapts to such actions. A proactive policy that aimed to protect farmers from livestock loss could take efforts to mitigate attacks on livestock, in turn protecting other environmental policies from opportunistic right-wing backlash.

Critical State is your weekly fix of foreign policy analysis from the staff at Inkstick Media. Subscribe here

Ladder theory: Part II

“MuiTypography-root-134 MuiTypography-h1-139″>Ladder theory: Part II

Critical State, a foreign policy newsletter by Inkstick Media, takes a deep dive this week into the nature of American public support for cyberattacks — responses depend largely on the harm done and who launched it.

Inkstick MediaJuly 13, 2022 · 2:30 PM EDT

A woman walks with a power plant in the background, in Vinnytsia, Ukraine, March 16, 2022. 

Rodrigo Abd/File/AP

This analysis was featured in Critical State, a weekly foreign policy newsletter from Inkstick Media. Subscribe here.

On March 3, I joined millions of strangers watching a video feed streamed from Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. The power plant was under assault as part of the just over a week-old Russian invasion, and the video showed flashes of light from explosions and gunfire. It was the stuff of war, transmitted over the internet, to an international audience worried about what might happen next.

The biggest risk to the reactors was disruption of maintenance and operation, followed by the explosives used in the fight. But there was also another ominous threat, carried in the same medium as the camera streaming the attack. What if the internet itself was used as a vector for an attack, disrupting or sabotaging controls and causing harm?

“Cyberattacks” is a big category, and one that doesn’t easily map onto a vocabulary of explosives and ramparts, flanks and missiles. But they’re real all the same, and can cause tangible, physical harm, like the Stuxnet worm did when it increased the spin rates of Iranian centrifuges to cause them to break.

In “Hitting Back or Holding Back in Cyberspace: Experimental Evidence Regarding Americans’ Responses to Cyberattacks,” authors Marcelo Leal and Paul Musgrave demonstrate that the American public supports a range of responses to cyberattacks. This range depends a great deal on the harm from the attack and the nature of who launched it.

While the public won’t actually be making the decisions about how to respond to a cyberattack, political leaders will be responding with that public sentiment in mind, so Leal and Musgrave set out to discover what that sentiment actually is.

“Our findings demonstrate that the effects of an attack matter for the public’s evaluation of its severity and how to respond,” Leal and Musgrave write. “This relationship, however, is not linear.”

Harsher retaliations were selected when the scale of harm increased, with deaths and lots of deaths eliciting the most drastic calls for retaliation, while surprisingly billions of dollars of economic damage was also seen as warranting the same retaliation as several deaths. Notably, the reason given for an attack and the entity targeted, like a business or a hospital or the military, mattered less for retaliation than the fact of the attack itself.

“Support for more severe retaliatory options rises in a curve as evaluations of attack severity increase."

Marcelo Leal and Paul Musgrave

“Support for more severe retaliatory options rises in a curve as evaluations of attack severity increase,” the authors write. “There is no bright line between a severe and a less-severe attack; rather, both evaluations of attack severity and preferences over retribution are usefully conceived of as continua.”

This range of response matters a great deal, because the public will have some expectations of how the government should respond, but won’t have the same elaborate theorizing around it as people in the room.

“Policymakers should be aware that the public prefers cyber retaliation but supports escalation only conditionally,” write the authors. “In general, the public prefers to respond to cyberattacks with cyberattacks, but there is some pressure for harsher responses as the severity of an attack increases, especially if the aggressor is a US citizen.”

Related: Ladder theory: Part I

Critical State is your weekly fix of foreign policy analysis from the staff at Inkstick Media. Subscribe here

Ladder theory: Part I

“MuiTypography-root-134 MuiTypography-h1-139″>Ladder theory: Part I

Critical State, a foreign policy newsletter by Inkstick Media, takes a deep dive this week into why the destruction of drones is treated as less of an attack.

Inkstick MediaJuly 6, 2022 · 1:45 PM EDT

A woman walks past a new anti-US mural on the wall of former US Embassy portraying the interception of Global Hawk US drone by Iran in Persian Gulf, after an unveiling ceremony in Tehran, Iran, Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019.

Vahid Salemi/AP

This analysis was featured in Critical State, a weekly foreign policy newsletter from Inkstick Media. Subscribe here.

On June 20, 2019, the military of Iran shot down a US Navy-operated RQ-4 Global Hawk drone.

The incident had many of the ingredients to transform from a single shootdown into a broader war: The drone was high profile and expensive, and tensions between Iran and the US had escalated since President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the Obama administration negotiated Iran deal. Ultimately, however, it was the specific nature of the Global Hawk being a drone that kept its destruction from serving as the opening salvo of a broader war.

It is one thing to launch a war to avenge the death of a human. It is a much different problem to start a war to avenge the loss of some equipment.

But that’s not the end of the story. “Wargame of Drones: Remotely Piloted Aircraft and Crisis Escalation,” by Erik Lin-Greenberg and published in the Journal of Conflict Resolution, goes beyond intuition to offer a compelling look at why the destruction of drones is treated as less of an attack.

Related: Absurd lines: Part I

“Relative to the loss of an inhabited platform to hostile action, the loss of a drone should be less escalatory for two reasons,” Lin-Greenberg writes. “First, it is less likely to elicit an instrumental desire to degrade a rival’s military capabilities. Second, it is less likely to trigger emotions like anger that contribute to aggressive, risk-acceptant behavior.”

Real-life incidents of this style of deescalation exist. The Global Hawk is likely the highest profile, but in 2015, Turkey shot down a Russian drone and then, a month later, an inhabited Russian plane, providing a grim A-B test; the drone shootdown was met with no response, while Russia launched retaliatory airstrikes after the plane was shot down. But wars, or near-wars, are already messy and ethically fraught, making them poor testbeds for theory.

Related: Absurd lines: Part II

Wargames have no such limitation, and so Lin-Greenberg fielded games with national security professionals, randomly varying if in the game the aircraft show down had crew onboard or if it was just a drone. While much of prior scholarship focused on whether or not the loss of a drone would spark a new conflict, initiating a war, Lin-Greenberg’s research here emphasized what happens in an ongoing war if a drone is shot down.

In the scenario, teams were told that a reconnaissance plane had been shot down by Ketunia, a fictional country bordering the equally fictional land of Dakastan. Half of the participants were told that the target was an old MQ-1 Predator drone. The other half were told it was an MC-12 Liberty intelligence aircraft, complete with a four-member crew, killed in the scenario. 

As expected, the officers and game players who were told that a drone was shot down shrugged it off, treating it not as the grounds for a bigger war while still elevating the alert of forces. For those told it was a crewed plane, plans pivoted immediately to harrowing machines to recover, if possible, the remains of the dead.

Concludes Lin-Greenberg, “The deliberations of actual national security practitioners immersed in realistic crisis scenarios reveals that escalatory retaliation can be avoided after drone losses primarily because decisionmakers see little need to degrade a rival’s ability to conduct future attacks and because the loss of a machine does not trigger strong emotional reactions that can elicit more risk-acceptant behavior.”

Critical State is your weekly fix of foreign policy analysis from the staff at Inkstick Media. Subscribe here

Absurd lines: Part I

“MuiTypography-root-134 MuiTypography-h1-139″>Absurd lines: Part I

What role does humor play in migration studies? This week's Critical State, a foreign policy newsletter by Inkstick Media, takes a deep dive into how joke-telling among Syrian refugees serves a vital social and political function.

Inkstick MediaJune 22, 2022 · 1:00 PM EDT

In this photo from 2019, Gasan, a 25-year-old Syrian, gives a hair cut to 31-year-old Ali from Baghdad, Iraq, in the overcrowded Moria refugee and migrant camp, Lesbos island, Greece.

Petros Giannakouris/AP

This analysis was featured in Critical State, a weekly foreign policy newsletter from Inkstick Media. Subscribe here.

What is a border to an island but a joke? The sea already bounds the space, a clear and tangible delineation between where a person can travel on foot and where they must swim or boat instead. For refugees and migrants arriving in the Greek isle of Lesbos in 2015, walking to shore meant crossing a border and stepping into the non-place of a refugee camp while waiting for paperwork that would formally expel their arrival from the island and grant them passage elsewhere.

Related: Troubled geography: Part I

Jokes serve vital social and political functions, letting the joke-tellers safely comment on their predicament without necessarily inviting the ire of powerful people around them.

That the stakes of migration are high makes the process and the mechanisms of state no less absurd. In “Laughable borders: Making the case for the humorous in migration studies,” Anja K. Franck of the University of Gothenburg looks at the function and role of humor among Syrian refugees. Franck argues that humor is an underexplored component of migration studies. Jokes serve vital social and political functions, letting the joke-tellers safely comment on their predicament without necessarily inviting the ire of powerful people around them. To be stateless is to be, at a minimum, at the mercy of those the state entrusts to your paperwork.

Franck’s research trip to Lesbos did not begin as one about humor among migrants but became one through observation. Franck and her colleagues made casual conversation with a group of Syrian refugees who had arrived by sea a day earlier, and the conversation turned to a proposal from the European Commission for the UN to use force against smugglers of refugees.

“Forgive me, but your policies are a little stupid, don’t you think?” one of the men in the group joked to Franck. Franck notes, “he continues to smile while observing our reaction: ‘I mean, how can you fight smugglers through bombing small rubber dinghies full of refugees?’ We all laugh and shake our heads in response. Because, obviously, you cannot.”

Related: Troubled geography: Part II

The refugees — many of whom had the means to get passage out of Syria during the civil war — joke about being greeted on the beach by an American woman handing them bananas, as though the solution to their plight was a volunteer with a mid-afternoon snack.

Throughout her description of the experience, the dignity of the people is juxtaposed with the absurdity of events through humor. The refugees — many of whom had the means to get passage out of Syria during the civil war — joke about being greeted on the beach by an American woman handing them bananas, as though the solution to their plight was a volunteer with a mid-afternoon snack.

The research method leaned heavily on the merits of “serial hanging out” on an Aegean island, observing and interacting with the people taking a big gamble on the mercy of states. It’s a good setting for exploring the hurdles of turning flight from war into state legibility.

Writes Franck, “Rather than clinging to suffering as if it was the only means of understanding migrant experiences, we can thus learn a great deal from recognizing migrants’ laughter and from analyzing what it tells about the contours of power that are so central to critical readings of contemporary border regimes.”

Borders are a tool of ordering the world — of deciding where and against whom violence is deployed. If we tell the story of borders as only tragedy, of only violence, we miss the fuller picture, especially of those corralled by borders joking about the predicament. Waiting for an expulsion certificate that grants passage to where a person wants to go is absurd. Laughing at that fact makes it easier to live with the absurdity.

Critical State is your weekly fix of foreign policy analysis from the staff at Inkstick Media. Subscribe here

Troubled geography: Part II

“MuiTypography-root-134 MuiTypography-h1-139″>Troubled geography: Part II

How did changes in US gun policy contribute to the rise in gun violence in Mexico? This week's Critical State, a foreign policy newsletter by Inkstick Media, explores the reasons behind rising gun violence in Mexico.

The WorldJune 15, 2022 · 12:30 PM EDT

A police officer guards the area as investigators comb the site where more than a dozen people were believed to have been gunned down by armed men on Sunday, in San Jose de Gracia, head of the municipality of Marcos Castellanos, in Michoacan state, Mexico, Monday, Feb. 28, 2022. 

Armando Solis/AP

This analysis was featured in Critical State, a weekly foreign policy newsletter from Inkstick Media. Subscribe here.

A gun is a material fact, embedded in an ecosystem of supporting material facts. At the moment of violence, this long supply chain is irrelevant, but without it, the gun would never arrive at the moment of violence in the first place. When someone picks up a gun to do violence, they can only do so because people before them have made the gun’s parts, ammunition, and market availability, converting metal plastic and engineering it into a machine for igniting gunpowder and hurling metal into a human body.

Related: Troubled geography: Part I

To talk about gun violence is to talk about the whole of that process, the creation and distribution of guns and ammunition, and how that creation puts weapons in the hands of those who mean to do harm.

To talk about gun violence is to talk about the whole of that process, the creation and distribution of guns and ammunition, and how that creation puts weapons in the hands of those who mean to do harm. While the specifics of who does the harm, and for what ends, in what circumstances, can all vary and are worthy of study, the unifying factor in gun violence is the availability of guns.

Related: Democracy, interrupted: Part I

The murder rate in Mexico shot upward in the mid-2000s, after decades of decline. In “Why did Mexico become a violent country?,” David Perez Esparza, Shane D. Johnson, and Paul Gill look at the rise of gun violence in Mexico, and specifically examine how much of that change is downstream from changes in United States gun policy.

The US, through a series of policy changes starting in the Bush administration, has expanded both the production and the flow of guns.

The US, through a series of policy changes starting in the Bush administration, has expanded both the production and the flow of guns. The Assault Weapons Ban, a 1994 measure that prohibited the sale of semi-automatic weapons, expired in 2004. The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, a 2005 law that protected gunmakers from liability, further lowered the legal and financial risk to gunmakers. This is to say nothing of the variability of state law that in many states loosened restrictions for purchasing weapons. These laws, plus the massive expansion of gun manufacturing aimed at a civilian market, created the conditions for a massive influx of guns into Mexico.

Related: Democracy, interrupted: Part II

With guns easily available in US border states, the specific nature of gun-enabled crime in Mexico changed, built around the heavier and more rapid-fire weapons that came up for sale.

With guns easily available in US border states, the specific nature of gun-enabled crime in Mexico changed, built around the heavier and more rapid-fire weapons that came up for sale.

Write the authors, “since the mid-2000s there has been an increase in crimes that benefit from having access to an illegal firearm, such as extortion and kidnapping.” This change came alongside a change in targeting, with mayors and the Mexican Army itself subject to direct attacks from criminal enterprise in Mexico. The authors note that “organized criminal groups did not use high caliber guns until 2005,” and point to studies which “suggest that there has been a dramatic increase in mass shootings and criminal attacks on public figures (e.g., authorities, candidates, and political activists) since the mid-2000s.”

A free and open market for guns in the United States, paired with a massive upswing in production, fed well into existing criminal pathways in Mexico for smuggled weapons, legally purchased, to reshape the form and caliber of violence in the country.

ADD CITATION HERE

A free and open market for guns in the United States, paired with a massive upswing in production, fed well into existing criminal pathways in Mexico for smuggled weapons, legally purchased, to reshape the form and caliber of violence in the country. 

It’s a reminder, too, that one country’s political expedience may cause an open wound on its neighbor.

Critical State is your weekly fix of foreign policy analysis from the staff at Inkstick Media. Subscribe here

Troubled geography: Part I

“MuiTypography-root-134 MuiTypography-h1-139″>Troubled geography: Part I

This week's Critical State, a foreign policy newsletter, takes a deep dive into the dynamics and forces that led some to radicalization in Northern Ireland.

Inkstick MediaJune 8, 2022 · 1:30 PM EDT

In this Wednesday, April 7, 2021 file photo, a firework explodes as Nationalist and Loyalist rioters clash with one another at the peace wall on Lanark Way in West Belfast, Northern Ireland. 

Peter Morrison/AP/File

This analysis was featured in Critical State, a weekly foreign policy newsletter from Inkstick Media. Subscribe here.

When a political crisis gets bad enough that it erupts into violence, an armed and radicalized force can appear seemingly from nowhere. The creation of this force poses two equally important questions: What makes people decide to take up arms against a government? And, just as crucially, what makes people in similar circumstances decide not to?

Related: Civil warcraft: Part I

Or, as authors Emma Ylitalo-James and Andrew Silke put it, the answer to these two questions “depends not just on developing a better understanding of terrorists, but equally on developing a fuller understanding of compatriots who share many of the same traits, characteristics and contexts, but who did not progress to involvement in terrorism.”

Their work, “How Proximity and Space Matter: Exploring Geographical & Social Contexts of Radicalization in Northern Ireland,” involved interviewing 17 former paramilitary members and 12 paramilitary sympathizers who, despite their inclinations, did not join in the violence. It’s a study of the dynamics and forces that lead some to radicalization, but not all.

By focusing on people in Northern Ireland, the researchers were able to draw on both a long history of paramilitary violence complete with cohorts of supporters who did not participate in the violence. At the same time, the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 marked a formal end to the conflict if not all the tensions, and meant that people could speak more openly of the violence as past tense.

Related: Civil warcraft: Part II

One of the findings from the study, when talking to people who join a paramilitary force, is that they did so because the specific geography of their home encouraged it. In some cases, this was because the particular block they lived on was on the direct boundary line between a Protestant and Catholic area.

In other circumstances, the British government’s policy of homogenizing neighborhoods to mitigate conflict meant relocating families. One former member of the Ulster Freedom Fighters noted that “there were an awful lot of protestants were living in them houses but them protestants were pushed out to make way for nationalists to move in — they were saying well that will happen to us. They’ll push us out.”

Being even a block or two away from the front line meant thinking about the conflict differently, or at a minimum not acting as though always under imminent threat.

As much as close proximity to a real or perceived front line drove radicalization, being even a block or two away from the front line meant thinking about the conflict differently, or at a minimum not acting as though always under imminent threat.

This was reflected, too, in the way that the physical and personal geography of life for the paramilitary members became confined to the areas they felt safe. Going out meant only going to bars and clubs vetted and frequented by the same faction, and often doing so among members of one’s own specific paramilitary unit, where trust and cohesion could offer a sense of security. This was often compounded by direct experience of loss, either friends or family, which, for many, cemented a path into seeking justice through armed violence.

For those who did not radicalize into paramilitary participation, one participant said regular contact through soccer created community beyond that focused on sectarian violence.

For those who did not radicalize into paramilitary participation, one participant said regular contact through soccer created community beyond that focused on sectarian violence. Others pointed to distance from conflict flashpoints, overriding work and university obligations, and even already being in mixed communities. 

A geography that prevents neighborhoods from becoming enclaves or front lines can reduce spaces for conflict.

The authors ultimately focused on geography, personal experience of violence, and social isolation as the significant factors determining if people primed for radicalization end up following through. A geography that prevents neighborhoods from becoming enclaves or front lines can reduce spaces for conflict, personal distance from the tragedy of violence can lessen proclivity to take part in it, and a community across sectarian lines (or at least one forged outside sectarian identity) can all steer people away from violent radicalization.

Critical State is your weekly fix of foreign policy analysis from the staff at Inkstick Media. Subscribe here

Civil warcraft: Part II

“MuiTypography-root-134 MuiTypography-h1-139″>Civil warcraft: Part II

In this week's Critical State, a weekly foreign policy newsletter by Inkstick Media, Kelsey D. Atherton takes a deep dive into insurgency and counterinsurgency in urban warfare.

Inkstick MediaJune 1, 2022 · 4:00 PM EDT

In this Dec. 5, 2016, file photo, Syrian army soldiers fire their weapons during a battle with rebel fighters at the Ramouseh front line, east of Aleppo, Syria. 

Hassan Ammar/AP/File

This analysis was featured in Critical State, a weekly foreign policy newsletter from Inkstick Media. Subscribe here.

When insurgency erupts in a state, how it operates and endures hinges largely on where it feels threatened. The history of insurgency in the 20th century reads like a history of rural rebellion. That is where insurgent forces like Mao’s communists or the Mau Mau in Kenya were able to operate for a long time. But, argues Anthony King in “Urban insurgency in the twenty-first century: smaller militaries and increased conflict in cities,” those 20th-century wars had major urban campaigns. Instead, they just ended in defeat for the insurgents because state security forces could use superior numbers and coordination to quash urban rebellions.

Related: Civil warcraft: Part I

Being able to occupy, hold, and control cities, or at least parts of cities, gives insurgents a powerful base of operations to acquire, maintain, and wield more advanced weaponry.

King’s work looks at insurgency and counterinsurgency as a kind of arithmetic of brutality. For insurgents looking to oust a local government, operating in cities where the government is, especially capitals, is a path to victory. Suppose the insurgency is instead trying to drive out a foreign occupier. In that case, the ability to attack its bases in cities and threaten violence more distantly can allow them to increase the costs of continuing occupation. To some extent, all of this can be threatened through rural operations. But being able to occupy, hold, and control cities, or at least parts of cities, gives insurgents a powerful base of operations to acquire, maintain, and wield more advanced weaponry.

Related: Democracy, interrupted: Part I

To counter that, King points to the success of massive deployments of security forces, especially relative to the size of the city being contested. In Algiers in 1957, for example, the low estimate of security forces was 14,000 among a population of 900,000 or a ratio of 64 to 1. (Algiers may have had twice as many security forces, halving that). By contrast, in 2013, Syria’s government only had 7,000 security forces to Aleppo’s population of 1.5 million, which is 214 to 1. King argues that this goes a long way to explain the slow and brutal course taken by Syria in the years of the siege. 

Related: Democracy, interrupted: Part II

While it is unlikely that many modern states will revert to conscription-heavy models in the face of new insurgencies, there’s an alternative to increasing the number of bodies patrolling and fighting: proxy forces.

“Partnerships with local state, militia, or irregular forces have played an increasingly important role in urban conflict…"

Anthony King, author of "Urban insurgency in the twenty-first century: smaller militaries and increased conflict in cities" 

“Partnerships with local state, militia, or irregular forces have played an increasingly important role in urban conflict, providing additional mass,” King writes. “Weaker states fighting for their sovereignty, such as Iraq, Syria, and Ukraine, have been increasingly forced to mobilize irregular troops.”

Understanding the labor needs of military efforts makes it easier to understand how and why they reach out to other groups of “armed friendlies” to bolster their numbers and fighting power. Urban warfare is dangerous and increases the shape of conflicts to come. While security forces, like armed militias or patrolling local police, may be unwilling to risk harm to themselves in the same way as professional soldiers, when the opportunity arises to inflict violence against perceived enemies, well, there can be strength and protective anonymity in numbers.

Critical State is your weekly fix of foreign policy analysis from the staff at Inkstick Media. Subscribe here

Civil Warcraft: Part I

“MuiTypography-root-134 MuiTypography-h1-139″>Civil Warcraft: Part I

This week in Critical State, a foreign policy newsletter by Inkstick Media, Kelsey D. Atherton takes a deep dive into cruelty as a category for analyzing violence in conflicts.

Inkstick MediaMay 25, 2022 · 5:15 PM EDT

Relatives and friends of Jacobo Alberto Perez, one of the five young people who was killed by unidentified gunmen last Saturday, carry his coffin during his funeral in Buga, Colombia, Monday, Jan. 25, 2021. 

Juan B. Diaz/AP

This analysis was featured in Critical State, a weekly foreign policy newsletter from Inkstick Media. Subscribe here.

Burned as it is into the mind of US history students, the American Civil War is an outlier in the field, with its most meaningful divisions being geographic and ideological. Civil wars before, and especially after, have instead occurred among heterogeneous populations, with fault lines inscribed in blood much closer to the combatant’s homes. Closer, more intimate violence, carried out by small bands of fighters with infantry rifles, is distinct from imagined movements of mass formations and is much closer to the reality of civil wars and experienced by most people.

Related: Managing the aftermath: Part I

To better understand this kind of violence and the strategic logic and social impact behind it, the University of Oxford’s Samuel Ritholtz examines cruelty as a category for analyzing violence in conflicts. Defined as “the intentional infliction of pain and/or suffering,” cruelty sits as related to but distinct from other categories of violence, like atrocity and brutality, because what is essential for cruelty is that the intent is there, but the violence is optional.

Cruelty can have an outsized role in warping the political outcomes during or after a conflict.

Cruelty can have an outsized role in warping the political outcomes during or after a conflict. This is partly because it can, if done in public, leave witnesses, who must now continue with their lives, somehow aware of the capacity for cruelty inherent in the armed group they just witnessed. Moreover, Ritholtz writes, “There is a psychosocial harm to witnessing cruelty that has an impact on social relations and environments.”

Related: Managing the aftermath: Part II

Studying cruelty as both harm and future threat of harm can help understand why some people and governments accept otherwise unreasonable terms, all in the name of making cruelty stop.

Studying cruelty as both harm and future threat of harm can help understand why some people and governments accept otherwise unreasonable terms, all in the name of making cruelty stop. Ritholtz turns to the Colombian civil war to ground this theory in observation. “Within Colombia, brutal and cruel acts of violence are considered their own repertoire of violence known as sevicia (sometimes written in English as “saevitia” after its Latin origin), which is defined by courts as excessive cruelty and the multiplicity of trauma,” Ritholtz writes.

Since so much of the Colombian Civil War played out as insurgency and counterinsurgency fighting, it’s possible to look at acts of violence done and see if they fit a standard pattern, like raiding a village known to house guerillas, or an unusual one, like torturing villagers because it’s assumed the village houses rebels. Still, no evidence can be found to support that. That act of cruelty followed by brutality serves a political purpose for the soldiers by convincing them partly that the violence inflicted was justified. 

“Cruelty is an act that harms physically, psychologically, and socially. When applied to violence, it violates a person's integrity at the corporeal and ontological levels,” Ritholtz writes. 

in establishing a new political order, cruelty constrains the possibility of politics through violence means.

All armed conflict is violence, but understanding the role of cruelty in shaping, escalating, and warping specific kinds of violence makes it a useful framework, especially for civil wars. In other words, in establishing a new political order, cruelty constrains the possibility of politics through violence means. 

Critical State is your weekly fix of foreign policy analysis from the staff at Inkstick Media. Subscribe here

Democracy, interrupted: Part II

“MuiTypography-root-134 MuiTypography-h1-139″>Democracy, interrupted: Part II

Critical State, a foreign policy newsletter by Inkstick Media, takes a deep dive this week into how misogynist beliefs within political leadership can build an authoritarian coalition within a democracy.

Inkstick MediaMay 18, 2022 · 12:00 PM EDT

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the media during a joint press statement as part of a meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, Monday, May 2, 2022.

Michael Sohn/AP

This analysis was featured in Critical State, a weekly foreign policy newsletter from Inkstick Media. Subscribe here.

To describe the geopolitics of the worst since 2015 is to tell a story of misogyny as a political ideology at scale. This is no more clearly embodied than in the words and actions of former US President Donald Trump, but he was just one among a whole wave of authoritarians riding misogyny to power and then using the state to do violence against women — and anyone or anything perceived as feminine.

How do the specific misogynist beliefs of a given party leader bend and build an authoritarian coalition within democracy to subvert them?

Last week, we took a close look at a paper examining how a far-right party advanced its misogynistic agenda through alliances with center-right parties against the perceived excesses of a liberal state. This week, we’re taking a closer look at how the specific misogynist beliefs of a given party leader can bend and build an authoritarian coalition within democracy to subvert them.

Related: Democracy, interrupted: Part I

In “The Misogyny of Authoritarians in Contemporary Democracies,” Nitasha Kaul examines the speech and policies of a swath of leaders across the globe, all of whom exemplify misogyny in rhetoric and action despite coming from a wide variety of religious and ethnic backgrounds. Kaul specifically examined Trump, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte, and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The list alone likely conjures a sense memory of some off-putting speech or tweet, utterances that made the misogyny clear.

Related: Discourse of justice: Part I

When misogynist leaders lean heavily on the work of the state, we see some of the more sweeping policies done in the name of restoring an imagined past to the present.

What is equally compelling from an academic understanding of the “how” of misogyny for power are the examples of proactive policies, done in the name of women, especially girls and children. It is in this space, where misogynist leaders lean heavily on the work of the state, that we see some of the more sweeping policies done in the name of restoring an imagined past to the present.

Related: Discourse of justice: Part II

Prime Minister Modi launched the “Save the daughter, Educate the daughter” scheme in 2015 “to address the declining child sex ratio in India and 'change mindsets regarding the girl child,'" Kaul wrote. Despite rhetorical promises of a sweeping government initiative, Kaul continues, “Four years later, data released by the government showed that its main aim was publicity: over 56 percent of the funds allocated under the scheme from 2014 to 2019 were spent on 'media related activities.'” Therefore, for Modi, the program worked to demonstrate his government as rooted in a proactive paternalism, despite the majority of the funding going to awareness of the campaign, rather than concrete action beyond it. This curated image of Modi as a strong protector, in both domestic policy and in matters of war, allowed Modi to retain office in the February 2019 election, despite high unemployment creating a favorable climate to vote incumbents out.

Ultimately, misogyny in power should be seen as its own political project.

Ultimately, Kaul writes, misogyny in power should be seen as its own political project, one through which right-wing authoritarians “gain political legitimacy by weaponizing misogyny in the figures of their leaders, in the projects they build, and in the policies that they execute.”

Treating misogyny as an ideology, rather than merely an attitude that fills the void of other political failures, makes the mechanisms by which it operates more obvious. Because as much as reactionary politics claims the mantle of an ideal and biologically determined past, the ideology is a modern phenomena, designed to shape and constrain the future. 

Critical State is your weekly fix of foreign policy analysis from the staff at Inkstick Media. Subscribe here

Democracy, interrupted: Part I

“MuiTypography-root-134 MuiTypography-h1-139″>Democracy, interrupted: Part I

This week in Critical State, a foreign policy newsletter by Inkstick Media, writer Kelsey D. Atherton takes a deep dive into how the reactionary populist party Vox came to power in Andalucia riding a wave of misogyny — in the name of equality.

Inkstick MediaMay 11, 2022 · 3:45 PM EDT

VOX party leader Santiago Abascal applauds supporters before making a speech during a rally by the extreme right wing party VOX in Madrid, Spain, Saturday, March 19, 2022. 

Paul White/AP

This analysis was featured in Critical State, a weekly foreign policy newsletter from Inkstick Media. Subscribe here.

When the reactionary populist party Vox came to power in Andalucia in Spain, it did so riding a wave of misogyny in the name of equality. This strategy, which has allowed Vox to form coalitions in regional and national governments with other right-wing parties, has helped transform what might have been a fringe player in a plurality system into a significant force in local politics, one wielded as a cudgel against the institutionalized improvements made by the left in the name of equality.

Related: Discourse of justice: Part I

“Opposed to what it calls the dictadura progre — the ‘dictatorship of the progressives’ — Vox claims to be the sole party representing the traditional (‘authentic’) values of the Spanish people,” write authors Alba Alonso and Julia Espinosa-Fajardo, in “Blitzkrieg Against Democracy: Gender Equality and the Rise of the Populist Radical Right in Spain.”

One way that Vox took up this mantle was protesting existing laws on gender-based violence — specifically by using those laws to show “how gender equality policies had gone ‘too far’ in Spain and to portray feminism as part of the establishment.”

One way that Vox took up this mantle was protesting existing laws on gender-based violence — specifically by using those laws to show “how gender equality policies had gone ‘too far’ in Spain and to portray feminism as part of the establishment.”

This strategy was paired with claims that Spanish women face special threats from foreign men, a challenge Vox believes should lead to stricter immigration policies. Paired, the policies express a patriarchal control over women framed as protection from hostile forces, and treat inequality as a past issue already solved, one that current laws go beyond.

Related: Discourse of justice: Part II

By looking at party manifestos, agreements made with other center-right parties to hold and share power once elected, and policies implemented when in power, Alonso and Espinosa-Fajardo offer a clear picture of how the party turned its beliefs into action, and in turn used that to undermine and dismantle existing gender protections in the country.

Like many far-right parties claiming a populist mantle, Vox turned to trends showing a declining birth rate as cause for both criminalizing abortion and banning immigration.

Like many far-right parties claiming a populist mantle, Vox turned to trends showing a declining birth rate as cause for both criminalizing abortion and banning immigration. In addition to ending abortion, Vox argues “that public resources for these services should be entirely reoriented to protect the life of the 'unborn' and the 'freedom' of women to be mothers.” This framing, hardly confined to one reactionary party in Spain, imagines a generous state for mothers as an alternative to abortion care and access to reproductive rights. That the generosity of the state is linked to ending care — rather than paired with the continued right to bodily autonomy — reveals the hollowness of claiming the change as an expansion of freedom. (It is, as the authors follow up, also a policy perspective that restricts the right to parenthood to exclusively heterosexual couples.)

In its work attacking existing legal frameworks for gender-based violence, Vox has rhetorically attacked the government caseworkers responsible, the government data used to document claims, and the entire concept of a gender frame for understanding violence.

In its work attacking existing legal frameworks for gender-based violence, Vox has rhetorically attacked the government caseworkers responsible, the government data used to document claims, and the entire concept of a gender frame for understanding violence. Public faith in the data collected by the government has made the Spanish public resistant to some of these attacks, but the party persists in calling for an end to funding any organization promoting gender equality. 

Vox regularly frames “equality policies as part of an allegedly ‘totalitarian’ project,” the authors write. “By fostering an atmosphere of general distrust toward institutions, professionals, and [civil society organizations], Vox actively delegitimizes critical components of the equality architecture and pushes for significant — and unprecedented — setbacks.”

Vox in Spain follows a path taken by many radical reactionary wings in democracies, which treat inequality as an issue settled in the past, and modern interventions as attacks on traditional families.

Taken altogether, Vox in Spain follows a path taken by many radical reactionary wings in democracies, which treat inequality as an issue settled in the past, and modern interventions as attacks on traditional families. Understanding the mechanisms of reactionary policy masquerading as a defense of freedom is essential to limiting its success.

Critical State is your weekly fix of foreign policy analysis from the staff at Inkstick Media. Subscribe here

Discourse of Justice: Part II

“MuiTypography-root-134 MuiTypography-h1-139″>Discourse of Justice: Part II

Critical State, a foreign policy newsletter by Inkstick Media, takes a deep dive this week into how acts of love and care take on a political dimension in life after violence.

The WorldMay 4, 2022 · 1:45 PM EDT

Flowers lay on a symbolic casket that represents a victims of Colombia's civil conflict, and carries the Spanish words: "Saul. I don't forget. We miss you," at Bolivar square in Bogotá, Colombia, Monday, April 9, 2018. 

Fernando Vergara/AP

This analysis was featured in Critical State, a weekly foreign policy newsletter from Inkstick Media. Subscribe here.

How do people carry on in the wake of violence? Much of international relations looks at the how of violence, at the ways and means of doing harm and shaping politics through it. The aftermath of that violence is then a fixed point, full of broken bodies and broken people, the harm done treated as a narrative end.

The study of love and care as emotions and as having an impact of their own suggests there is much more of a political dimension to life after violence.

Related: Discourse of justice: Part I

But human experience is much broader than that. The study of love and care as emotions and as having an impact of their own suggests there is much more of a political dimension to life after violence. In “Taking Love and Care Seriously: An Emergent Research Agenda for Remaking Worlds in the Wake of Violence,” authors Roxani Krystalli and Philipp Schulz strive to bring discussions of love and care into the broader academic discourse over how to understand people’s reaction to violence through practices that sit outside of furthering violence.

Last week, we looked at how a human rights discourse is used to advance political claims by Colombians who are excluded from the state. Krystalli and Schulz’s work on love and care, too, features interviews with the victims of violence in Colombia.

“Talking to you is political work. Talking to people all day — victims, state officials, the public — that is political work…"

“Talking to you is political work. Talking to people all day — victims, state officials, the public — that is political work. I talk to people about being displaced, about losing everything,” a victim leader in Bogotá’s Rafael Uribe neighborhood told the authors. “Then I talk to people about the struggle (la lucha) to deal with all these entities. Talking to hundreds of students, from Universidad Nacional, from Spain, from Sweden, that's work. Knocking on doors all day to see if people have all the forms they need, if they have medicine, if they have services. That's work, political work.”

Related: Managing the aftermath: Part I

As the authors' document, there’s a space for conversations about harm and healing, but what can be more challenging  for people is to express the loss of meaningful bonds forged by the conflict. The authors interview a former guerilla who said she experienced greater camaraderie and brotherhood among her former unit than she ever did with her siblings. It’s a loss felt acutely after demobilization.

The sense of disconnection from community and purpose after demobilization takes on a political dimension.

This sense of disconnection from community and purpose after demobilization is not uncommon among returned soldiers. But for the former guerrilla interviewed, it takes on an additional  political dimension when she feels that she cannot publicly express that aching loss of no longer serving with her former unit because it might give people the impression she longs for a return to violence, or it might suggest that she sees the war as still unsettled. This same sentiment is reflected in the other theater of field research, interviewing former child soldiers pulled into war in Uganda. Demobilization, even demobilization from a horrific force, means breaking the bonds of purpose and camaraderie that held the formation together in the first place.

Related: Managing the aftermath: Part II

In the wake of violence, people can heal and pursue politics through the lens of care.

“In more practical and applied ways, then, taking love and care seriously also carries the potential to craft more careful policies and programs in (post-)conflict and transitional settings,” conclude the authors, noting that an emphasis on the interdependence of people in and after war offers an alternative framework to just thinking about individuals. In the wake of violence, people can heal and pursue politics through the lens of care. Politics then becomes love by other means.

Critical State is your weekly fix of foreign policy analysis from the staff at Inkstick Media. Subscribe here

Discourse of justice: Part I

“MuiTypography-root-134 MuiTypography-h1-139″>Discourse of justice: Part I

Critical State, a foreign policy newsletter by Inkstick Media, takes a deep dive this week into the ways in which human rights discourse is politics by other means.

Inkstick MediaApril 27, 2022 · 2:00 PM EDT

Protesters hold a banner with a message that reads in Spanish: "Duque, stop the massacres," directed at Colombia's President Ivan Duque, as they march to Bolivar Square in Bogotá, Colombia, Wednesday, May 12, 2021.

Fernando Vergara/AP

This analysis was featured in Critical State, a weekly foreign policy newsletter from Inkstick Media. Subscribe here.

The durable end of an armed conflict comes first through the negotiation of a ceasefire, and second, through the ways in which the government in power handles that peace. Civil war is violence, experienced, and the former fighters in a conflict may be willing to pick up arms again if they see the worst of their enemies walking free afterward. Transitional justice can address this, by allowing post-war regimes to reconcile the harms of the past, but it can fail if the victorious side after war instead reneges on its promises.

Human rights discourse is politics by other means.

When that happens, aggrieved parties can take action in the name of human rights, changing the politics of the country and demanding more durable change. Human rights discourse is politics by other means.

Related: Unmaking modern strategy: Part I

Such is one conclusion from “The Popular Appeal of Human Rights Activism: Reimagining Transitional Justice as a Political Struggle,” an upcoming paper by Frank Richard Georgi. Georgi looks to human rights discourse as a way for marginalized groups to do politics, and bend a bad status quo toward a more workable future.

Georgi contents that “human rights defenders imagine transitional justice in terms of a larger political struggle that exceeds justice for past atrocities,” and that this struggle can be seen in three tropes: “Truth as the frontier of political confrontation with right-wing elites, the ‘rights-defending victim’ as a form of popular subjectivity and political underdog, and liberal overhaul of corrupted democratic institutions.”

This makes human rights discourse a complicating factor in conversations around populism, as the universal language of human rights is used to call for and contest rights on a popular basis.

This makes human rights discourse a complicating factor in conversations around populism, as the universal language of human rights is used to call for and contest rights on a popular basis. It is also an argument against populism as solely a term to describe movements among the political right, which claim popular appeal to attack elites and also narrow the scope of who gets counted and benefits from being a citizen. If marginalized people adopt universal language of inclusion to assert their right in a political space, that is not an elite-driven phenomena but rather a genuine and inclusive understanding of populism.

Georgi’s study is focused on Latin America broadly and Colombia narrowly, where resistance to governments of the right have been a staple of multiethnic coalitions for years. While right-populism focuses on the obligation of the state to a select portion of the population, with boundaries tightly policed, Georgi sees human rights discourse as contesting the space by demanding a multiethnic polity under the protection of law.

Related: Unmaking modern strategy: Part II

“[T]he political struggle of Human Rights Discourses] does not defy pluralism and liberal institutions — as postulated in prevalent populism research — but, quite the contrary, defines legality and basic rights as the horizon of their struggle against unbounded, authoritarian rule,” Georgi writes.

The idea is explained even more concisely by Martin, a lifelong activist, who answers Georgi’s question about the goal of transitional justice as "¡Democracia!" Or, as Georgi puts it, marginalized groups using the language of human rights to demand change are calling for a “'different democracy,' where people can disagree without being stigmatized or killed, where the rights of Indigenous people and Afro-descendent communities are as respected as the land claims of small peasants and workers’ rights.”

Critical State is your weekly fix of foreign policy analysis from the staff at Inkstick Media. Subscribe here

Unmaking Modern Strategy: Part II

“MuiTypography-root-134 MuiTypography-h1-139″>Unmaking Modern Strategy: Part II

Critical State, a foreign policy newsletter by Inkstick Media, takes a deep dive into the typology of disobedience and patterns of behavior that recur between and through wars.

Inkstick MediaApril 20, 2022 · 3:15 PM EDT

Israeli armor moves along northern point of Syria during the Yom Kippur War of October 1973.

File/AP

This analysis was featured in Critical State, a weekly foreign policy newsletter from Inkstick Media. Subscribe here

War is a thing humans do. Not just in the sense of war as part of the human experience, but in the emphasis on humans, plural. Armed and coordinated conflict is a group process, and sustaining violence long enough to achieve political objectives, or at least reach a ceasefire, requires humans to coordinate together over time and space. As modeled and abstracted, the soldiers and officers making decisions in a war often respond uniformly or, in some simulations, only break from orders when faced with rout and a collapse of morale in the field.

Related: Unmaking modern strategy: Part I

Understanding the ways in which soldiers challenge orders offers insight into militaries as a collection of humans, rather than a raw instrument of the state.

Disobedience in war, though, is a much larger part of the story than just what happens to toy soldiers when the dice on a leadership test roll come up bad. Understanding the ways in which soldiers challenge orders, from outright refusing to follow to modifying plans based on local assessment of the situation, offers insight into militaries as a collection of humans, rather than a raw instrument of the state.

In “The Diversity of Disobedience in Military Organizations,” Eric Hundman offers a typology of disobedience, patterns of behavior that recur between and through wars. Under this categorization, resistance to top-down orders can come as defiance to the order, refining the order, grudging obedience to it, or exit from the military.

“Fundamentally, the categories of disobedience I identify are all linked by a subordinate's choice to resist explicit military orders that he judges to be somehow inappropriate,” Hundman writes. “This is a crucial point: orders themselves are not objectively appropriate or inappropriate. Instead, subordinates receive orders, decide what they mean, and only then judge their appropriateness.”

Related: Archetypes of autocracy: Part I

Soldiers are, fundamentally, not drones, and the ability to consider and disagree with orders means orders cannot just be issued on the assumption that they will be perfectly executed.

One example is Israeli paratrooper commander Ariel Sharon’s decision to lead forces across the Suez canal in the 1973 Yom Kippur war — a decision that led to both military success and a personal mythology around Sharon that would go on to fuel his post-war political career.

In looking at how individual choices, especially but not only of officers, change the dynamics of war, Hundman can reconcile two competing impulses in understanding war. The first is that of war as a mechanistic clashing together of forces, dictated by raw numbers of people and weapons. The other is that war is full of narratives of individual action taken in the name of or despite given orders. One example is Israeli paratrooper commander Ariel Sharon’s decision, in defiance of his superiors, to lead forces across the Suez canal in the 1973 Yom Kippur war, a decision that led to both military success and a personal mythology around Sharon that would go on to fuel his post-war political career.

Related: Archetypes of autocracy: Part II

What’s most important in the study of disobedience, however, is the way in which militaries adapt because of it. This can include efforts to convince soldiers of the correct course of action, punishments to stave off disobedience, or even fostering a climate where refinement in the name of victory is actively rewarded.

“Do attempts to prevent coups, for instance, prevent innovations in military procedures from being adopted throughout the organization?” Hundman asks. “Does more desertion tend to improve cohesion in the military organization by removing those who tend toward disloyalty?”

Military failure can be read as a singular phenomena, but if it’s instead understood as a dynamic process with many moving parts, it’s easier to see how struggling militaries improve or how successful militaries stumble as a conflict drags on.

Military failure can be read as a singular phenomena, but if it’s instead understood as a dynamic process with many moving parts, it’s easier to see how struggling militaries improve or how successful militaries stumble as a conflict drags on. War isn’t just a thing humans do, it’s a thing humans have to continue to choose to do, over and over again.

Critical State is your weekly fix of foreign policy analysis from the staff at Inkstick Media. Subscribe here

Managing the aftermath: Part II

“MuiTypography-root-134 MuiTypography-h1-139″>Managing the aftermath: Part II

Critical State, a weekly foreign policy newsletter by Inkstick Media, takes a deep dive this week into the how atrocities committed in Ukraine may make it politically untenable to bring the war to a close.

Inkstick MediaApril 6, 2022 · 12:30 PM EDT

A Ukrainian serviceman walks amid destroyed Russian tanks in Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, Wednesday, April 6, 2022. 

Felipe Dana/AP

This analysis was featured in Critical State, a weekly foreign policy newsletter from Inkstick Media. Subscribe here.

War is a fractal nightmare, a violent horror that contains within it an infinite series of smaller horrors, all intricately detailed. This week, the world is learning of the Bucha massacre, civilians shot in a Russian-occupied town outside of Kyiv and then their bodies left, according to satellite footage, to rot in the street for weeks. The massacre is public because the invading army pulled back from its position, letting Ukraine retake control of the town.

Related: Managing the aftermath: Part I

The likeliest outcome for Russia’s war on Ukraine, at this point, remains a negotiated ceasefire and settlement. But getting to that can be hard, especially in light of atrocities, like the Bucha massacre, committed against civilians during the war. 

Related: ‘They were shooting and shooting and shooting’: Ukrainian survivor shares harrowing account of atrocities in Bucha

What does it mean when the surest way to prevent further atrocities is to end a war, but the atrocities themselves make it politically untenable to bring a war to a close? That’s a question at the heart of “Negotiating Peace with Your Enemy: The Problem of Costly Concessions,” a paper by Valerie Sticher and published in the December 2021 Journal of Security Studies. 

The article builds on the simple idea that negotiating in war is different from ordinary bargaining situations. “Conflict party members not only care about their own benefits but also want to avoid rewarding the negative behavior of their opponent,” Sticher writes.

Concessions are both essential for negotiated ends to war and also easy cudgels with which hardline opposition can bludgeon leaders.

Both parties may ultimately be served by that war’s end, but if one leader is seen as too lenient against an enemy, the leader negotiating peace may in effect be sacrificing their political future and, if the domestic opposition is great enough, possibly their life. Concessions are both essential for negotiated ends to war and also easy cudgels with which hardline opposition can bludgeon leaders.

Leaders will bring with them their own preferences for negotiating an end to the war. If a leader has built their appeal on nationalism and hatred of the outsider, they may be less inclined to settle than one who came to power on a more universalistic platform. But leaders are constrained not just by their preferences, but by those of their constituents, whether voters in a democracy, military elites, or even the cadre leaders of aligned militias not formally in the chain of command. 

Related: Reliable death tolls from the Ukraine war are hard to come by — the result of undercounts and manipulation

To get the country on board with a ceasefire, a leader has to trust that the terms will be politically acceptable domestically in order to ensure a peace sticks and is not immediately overthrown.

Whatever the constituency, to get the country on board with a ceasefire, a leader has to trust that the terms will be politically acceptable domestically in order to ensure a peace sticks and is not immediately overthrown.

“In some situations, unpopular concessions can be a bargaining tool: if leaders can credibly demonstrate that they are constrained by their constituents, the other side may consider additional concessions to reach a deal,” Sticher writes. This comes with a big caveat: "If concessions are unpopular on both sides, this will likely lead to a situation where no agreement is acceptable to the constituents of either side, and by extension not acceptable to the leaders themselves.”

Ultimately it is war itself that raises the costs of concessions, and makes it harder for parties to reach the bargaining table.

Ultimately it is war itself that raises the costs of concessions, and makes it harder for parties to reach the bargaining table. Every peace may be negotiated with an enemy, but unless one party is determined to negotiate at gunpoint, terms decided before the shooting starts can be likelier to stick.

Critical State is your weekly fix of foreign policy analysis from the staff at Inkstick Media. Subscribe here

Managing the aftermath: Part I

“MuiTypography-root-134 MuiTypography-h1-139″>Managing the aftermath: Part I

Critical State, a foreign policy newsletter by Inkstick Media, takes a deep dive this week into humanitarian needs in wartime. Policymakers and practitioners need to start adapting now to handle wars on the scale expected in the future, according to authors Brittany Card, Rob Grace, and Tarana Sable.

Inkstick MediaMarch 30, 2022 · 1:00 PM EDT

A man carries an elderly woman as people continue to leave Irpin, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, March 8, 2022. 

Vadim Ghirda/AP

This analysis was featured in Critical State, a weekly foreign policy newsletter from Inkstick Media. Subscribe here.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is, in the dry parlance of defense planners, an instance of a major power attacking a medium power. The war continues to grind on, with Ukraine’s military resilient and Russia’s struggling more than expected, and unfolding as every war does into a major humanitarian crisis. As the military complexes of the United States, China, and Russia look for battlefield lessons from Russia’s military adventure, authors Brittany Card, Rob Grace, and Tarana Sable argue that humanitarian policymakers and practitioners need to start adapting now to handle wars on the scale expected in the future.

Related: The company and the state: Part I

The modern complex of humanitarian organizations are largely a post-war creation, adapted from constituent parts and built in the wake of World War II into what exists today.

The modern complex of humanitarian organizations are largely a post-war creation, adapted from constituent parts and built in the wake of World War II into what exists today. What Card et. al. suggest is that the humanitarian enterprise is in a kind of prewar space too. The wars fought since 1945 have been horrific, and many 21st century wars exceeded the scale of violence of high-profile conflicts like Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but even with those caveats, nothing in living memory has matched or exceeded the challenges of humanitarian provision in a world war. 

Related: The company and the state: Part II

Humanitarian corridors can let some civilians trade the peril of life under siege for the peril of life as a refugee, but access may be impossible if the besieging power refuses it.

One major hurdle expected is that, increasingly, more of the population of the world lives in cities. As sieges from Aleppo to Mariupol have shown, urban terrain confers some immediate tactical advantage to defenders, and it also encourages besieging powers to devastate the urban environment. Humanitarian corridors can let some civilians trade the peril of life under siege for the peril of life as a refugee, but even access to humanitarian corridors may be impossible to get if the besieging power refuses to allow it.

One research participant told the study that “Humanitarian access ‘would indeed be extremely challenging, especially from a UN-related humanitarian response, because it is intrinsically tied to member state interests, to member state political will, and the bodies that go along with it. How the UN system is set up is that a certain group of member states have a large say on how things happen.’”

Indeed, the exact structure of the UN, built to secure the post-war peace, could be the hinge around which another world war breaks. Another participant told the study that a “large-scale conflict between P5 Security Council member states ‘is an existential threat to the order of what has governed humanitarianism. It’s a major collapse of the foundations we take for granted.’”

The present balance of humanitarian provision to victims of war hinges on agreement or at least acquiescence of great powers to such acts of mercy.

The present balance of humanitarian provision to victims of war hinges on agreement or at least acquiescence of great powers to such acts of mercy. What can be done in the event that acquiescence is lacking? 

Militaries should plan for humanitarian relief at the same time that they plan for war.

One suggestion is to ensure that militaries plan for humanitarian relief at the same time that they plan for war. Another avenue to explore is preparing for relief work with analog tools, like paper maps and radio-to-radio connections, in case global communications are destroyed or disrupted in a major war. Whatever form the planning might take, the authors argue that for relief work to continue in the event of a world-shaking war, the people responsible for delivering relief should prepare advance plans to ensure that at least some comfort gets through to those in need.

Critical State is your weekly fix of foreign policy analysis from the staff at Inkstick Media. Subscribe here

The company and the state: Part II

“MuiTypography-root-134 MuiTypography-h1-139″>The company and the state: Part II

As Russia continues to bombard Ukraine, Germany continues to buy natural gas from Russia, citing domestic need. Critical State, a weekly foreign policy newsletter, takes a deep dive this week into how and why countries trade with their enemies during war.

Inkstick MediaMarch 23, 2022 · 2:30 PM EDT

Long exposure photo shows cars and trucks driving on a highway in Frankfurt, Germany, Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022. 

Michael Probst/AP/File 

This analysis was featured in Critical State, a weekly foreign policy newsletter from Inkstick Media. Subscribe here.

Even as the European Union and the United States continue to sanction Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, some economic exchange remains untouched. Germany continues to buy natural gas from Russia, citing domestic need. While Germany is not a direct party to the war, it has shipped weapons to Ukraine following the invasion, while at the same time funding Russia through gas purchases.

Related: The company and the state: Part I

It is an odd state of affairs, but not unprecedented. In a paper published in International Security last summer, Marija Grinberg examines the commercial policy of the British Empire during World War I, to better understand how and why countries trade with their enemies in war.

“Britain continued to trade with its enemies until October 1, 1918 — one month and eleven days before the Armistice,” Grinberg writes. “In fact, Britain started the war with restrictions on the export of only 20 percent of the goods that it ultimately prohibited from reaching the enemy. Even after a year of fighting, by the end of August 1915, around half of the products that would eventually be prohibited were still allowed to be legally traded with enemy states.”

Related: Echoing WWII rescue efforts, ethnic Russian researchers in the US support Ukrainian scholars

Countries have to balance meeting existing domestic needs with the concern that they are supplying enemies with militarily useful goods.

To understand why countries will trade goods when they are trading blows, Grinberg suggests countries have to balance meeting existing domestic needs with the concern that they are supplying enemies with militarily useful goods. This has a temporal dimension: The longer countries are at war, the more they will restrict trade, as a way of reducing the capacity of enemies to convert that trade into useful military tools.

The most immediate example would be a prohibition on selling guns to the enemy at the outbreak of war, but as the war drags on, this might expand to include the material components for making guns and ammunition, and eventually to include tertiary economic activity that could be used to buy the material for making guns from elsewhere.

Related: Saudi Arabia says it's not responsible for high oil prices

Cutting off trade from an enemy carries with it the hardship of denying the benefits of that trade to one’s own nation, which can impact everything from material on hand to tax revenues.

Secondly, Grinberg argues that the durability of trade with foes in wartime suggests that the existence of economic interdependence between countries might just mean trade continues during war, rather than the loss of trade ties being seen as a factor limiting the likelihood of war. Cutting off trade from an enemy carries with it the hardship of denying the benefits of that trade to one’s own nation, which can impact everything from material on hand to tax revenues. 

One way this theory can be observed in practice is in the British government's handling of machine guns at the start of WWI.

“Interestingly, machine guns were not prohibited from trade at the beginning of the war, as there was a wide consensus that they were useful only in wars of attrition, not in maneuver warfare,” Grinberg writes. “ Thus, carriages and mountings for machine guns were forbidden from export at the start of the war, but not machine guns themselves.”

The nature of the war, as well as the change in expectations of how quickly it could be won, changes trade policy.

Export of British machine guns to Germany was banned on Feb. 3, 1915, at the same time that the government prohibited the sale of heavy machinery for digging trenches and fortifications. The nature of the war, as well as the change in expectations of how quickly it could be won, changed trade policy.

This durability of trade despite the existence of a shooting war suggests that trade ties alone are not much of a deterrent to future wars, especially not between major powers. Smaller states, dependent on one large neighbor, would suffer disproportionately from a halt in trade if they launched a war against that larger neighbor, though it’s the same to consider smaller states already deterred from a war of aggression by the imbalance in strength.

Related: ‘I have a need’: How Zelenskiy’s plea to Congress emphasized shared identity with the US

During war, the strong will trade what they can, and the weak will purchase what they must.

In this, we can riff on Thucydides: During war the strong will trade what they can, and the weak will purchase what they must.

Critical State is your weekly fix of foreign policy analysis from the staff at Inkstick Media. Subscribe here

The company and the state: Part I

“MuiTypography-root-134 MuiTypography-h1-139″>The company and the state: Part I

Critical State, a foreign policy newsletter by Inkstick Media, takes a deep dive this week into how the East India Company claimed sovereignty for itself through war.

Inkstick MediaMarch 16, 2022 · 2:15 PM EDT

Lord Michael Bradourne, the new Governor of Bengal, accompanied by Lady Doreen Bradourne, was accorded a warm reception when he arrived in Calcutta, to take over from Sir John Anderson, the retiring governor. Lord and Lady Bradourne during their state drive through Calcutta, on Nov. 28, 1937. 

AP

This analysis was featured in Critical State, a weekly foreign policy newsletter from Inkstick Media. Subscribe here.

The role of the East India Company (EIC) in modern state formation is hardly unchartered territory. The company, chartered in 1600, was both an extension of the power of the British crown and also an agent free to act beyond it. From the start, the EIC could call upon the Royal Navy for its own purposes, and over the course of the next century, it gained more and more ability to function in a way we might expect a nation to operate. The EIC gained the ability to raise its own ships and soldiers in 1661, as well as the freedom to set or break peace.

As of 1677, the East India Company could mint its own money.

Related: Archetypes of autocracy: Part I

“In 1669, the Company was granted control over Bombay (which had been gifted to Charles II by the Portuguese in his dowry), which was the first mention of sovereignty in the charters: ‘Cede Bombay together with all the Rights, Profits, Territories and Appurtenances thereof, and as well the Property as the direct, full and absolute Dominion, and Sovereignty of the said Port and Island.’ As of 1677, the Company could mint its own money,” writes Swati Srivastava.

Srivastava is the author of “Corporate Sovereign Awakening and the Making of Modern State Sovereignty: New Archival Evidence from the English East India Company,” a paper published March 4 by the Journal of International Organization. In it, she outlines how the East India Company claimed sovereignty for itself through war, and in turn, these claims forced a reckoning within the chartering state, one that ultimately resolved in the favor of the sovereign power of the company over the state, rather than the autonomy of the company-state within the state.

Related: Archetypes of autocracy: Part II

The EIC was built around seeking profits from the spice trade and ended up ruling over a population twice as numerous as that of the sovereign who chartered it.

The East India Company’s exploits are almost fantastical to describe — that a company built around seeking profits from the spice trade ended up ruling over a population twice as numerous as that of the sovereign who chartered it. Through victory in a war against local Mughal ruler Siraj ud-Daulah in 1757, the East India Company came to be the sovereign ruler in Bengal, adding the tax revenues from a population of millions to its sources of revenue.

In making a claim to the tax revenues as exclusive to the Company, and not due in proportion to the Crown as well, the East India Company provoked parliament. This claim became the site of a series of fights between the company and parliament about the very nature of the Company’s sovereignty, especially as it related to the authority that had granted it rights and privileges in the first place. 

“While eliminating the use of nonstate actors for sovereign functions was critical for institutionalizing nonintervention norms among late modern European states,” writes Srivastava, “the EIC's history underscores that states also confronted nonstate actors as sovereign rivals that could no longer be left unchecked.”

Massive companies can wield tremendous power beyond the control of the state, enough as Srivastava’s research shows to establish their own independent claims to sovereignty based purely on the company’s success at military conquest. This research complicates a tidy understanding of sovereignty as flowing from the state down, and instead shows that such a modern understanding of power had to be actively fought for by the state, in order to subordinate rivals to its monopoly on force.

Critical State is your weekly fix of foreign policy analysis from the staff at Inkstick Media. Subscribe here

Archetypes of autocracy: Part II

“MuiTypography-root-126 MuiTypography-h1-131″>Archetypes of autocracy: Part II

This week's Critical State, a foreign policy newsletter, takes a deep dive into how autocrats stay in power through the repression. Too much repression can lead to a people's revolt whereas not enough can result in military coups.

Inkstick MediaMarch 9, 2022 · 12:15 PM EST

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a ceremony marking the start of the judicial year at the Supreme Court in Caracas, Venezuela, Jan. 27, 2022.

Matias Delacroix/AP/File

This analysis was featured in Critical State, a weekly foreign policy newsletter from Inkstick Media. Subscribe here.

Last week on Deep Dive, we looked at how leadership transitions within autocracies can shift the balance between managed hybrid autocracy and concentrated personalist rule. This week, we’ll talk about how the degree and style of repression by an autocrat can signal strength or weakness to internal security forces that may otherwise orchestrate a coup.

Related: Archetypes of autocracy: Part I

These strategies of court politics, which appear opaque to outsiders, shape the court of nations and governments.

Autocrats often feel immovable until they aren’t. The forces that keep a single leader in play can, as we saw last week, be subject to a delicate balance of power by other elites. They can also, instead, be the result of a single leader using loyalists to successfully undermine and purge rivals. These strategies of court politics, which appear opaque to outsiders, shape the court of nations and governments. They can also influence the flow of information to a central autocrat, which must then act on internal information in the absence of external and public assessments.

In “Tenure through Tyranny? Repression, Dissent, and Leader Removal in Africa and Latin America, 1990–2006,” authors Christian Davenport, Babak Rezaee Daryakenari, Reed M. Wood argue that “incumbents are vulnerable to coup d’ état when government repression is perceived as weaker than would normally be expected for a given challenge. By contrast, removal via revolution becomes increasingly likely when repression dramatically exceeds the levels that would normally be warranted given the extant challenge.”

When an autocrat is focused on staying in power, they have to calibrate repression in a way that mitigates both a risk of popular overthrow and prevents being ousted by the coordinated action of other elites.

In other words, when an autocrat is focused on staying in power, they have to calibrate repression in a way that mitigates both a risk of popular overthrow and prevents being ousted by the coordinated action of other elites, most especially those responsible for the military and other state security forces.

Related: Undemocratic shifts for state control: Part I

When the repression is heavier than anticipated, it can motivate stronger showings by protesting masses, who interpret the repression as a sign that the regime is insecure and desperate to hold on to power.

For their research, Davenport et. al. looked at 69 African and Latin American states between 1990 and 2006. (Notably, a group that excludes any nations with nuclear arsenals). In their work, the authors found that harsh repression of public protest is a tactic used by autocrats to keep the support of military leaders, noting instances when militaries have gone out of their way to crack down on protest beyond what political leaders ordered. Conversely, when the repression is heavier than anticipated, it can motivate stronger showings by protesting masses, who interpret the repression as a sign that the regime is insecure and desperate to hold on to power.

Related: What does ‘legitimacy’ mean: Part I

“Consequently, leaders exist between a proverbial rock and a hard place: too much repression against dissent leads to ouster by the people; insufficient repression leads to removal by the military.”

Christian Davenport, Babak Rezaee Daryakenari, Reed M. Wood

“We argue and demonstrate that overresponding to dissent is useful for preventing coups but can backfire and produce moral outrage that leads to revolution,” Davenport et. al write. “Consequently, leaders exist between a proverbial rock and a hard place: too much repression against dissent leads to ouster by the people; insufficient repression leads to removal by the military.”

The way protests and information about them can spread through social media can spur greater mobilization, unless those narratives too can be countered by the state apparatus.

Related: ​​​​​​What does ‘legitimacy’ mean: Part II

One limitation noted by the authors is that their work is limited to an era of only minimal internet penetration, and largely predates modern social media. The way protests and information about them can spread through social media can spur greater mobilization, unless those narratives too can be countered by the state apparatus. Firewalling in a population can further tip the hands in favor of repression, as it not only limits the reach of protestors and media outside state control, it also leaves organizers used to online communication scrambling to adopt pre-internet tactics. 

Critical State is your weekly fix of foreign policy analysis from the staff at Inkstick Media. Subscribe here

Archetypes of autocracy: Part I

“MuiTypography-root-134 MuiTypography-h1-139″>Archetypes of autocracy: Part I

Critical State, a weekly foreign policy newsletter, takes a deep dive this week into how and when power in regimes concentrates into the hands of a single individual.

March 2, 2022 · 4:00 PM EST

Chinese President Xi Jingping speaks during the opening session of the US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogues at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, Monday, June 6, 2016. 

Saul Loeb/AP/Pool

This analysis was featured in Critical State, a weekly foreign policy newsletter from Inkstick Media. Subscribe here.

Like other forms of government, autocracies exist on a spectrum of power sharing relationships. Some autocracies, while having a singular public face, feature a head of state checked internally by the heads of powerful institutions and factions which cannot easily be displaced. In other autocracies, a single leader outmaneuvers other elites and concentrates power in a form of personalist rule. While externally an autocrat checked by an elite may appear indistinguishable from an autocrat in full control of the state, the distinction matters, and can be seen in some forms of risk-taking behavior.

Related: Undemocratic shifts for state control: Part I

That’s at least one argument suggested in a forthcoming paper by Andrew Leber and Matthew Reichert of Harvard University and Christopher Carothers of the University of Pennsylvania. (Full disclosure: I have collaborated with Leber as part of Fellow Travelers Blog). Leber, Carothers, and Reichert argue that when an “old guard” of “retired leaders, party elders, and other elites” of a previous generation “retain oversight capacity over their incoming successor, he or she is less likely to overturn power-sharing arrangements and consolidate individual power.”

While some regimes are founded around a dictator or equivalent figure, other governments become more personalist as power-sharing arrangements among entrenched elites get undermined and broken down.

The key question posed by the research is about how and when power in regimes concentrates into the hands of a single individual. While some regimes are founded around a dictator or equivalent figure, other governments become more personalist as power-sharing arrangements among entrenched elites get undermined and broken down.

Related: What does ‘legitimacy’ mean: Part I

The old guard are crucial to Leber et. al.’s argument. They’re the difference between a leader and a leader’s regime, as combined years of experience and their own networks of patronage and loyalty give these established figures sway over future events. This power could be formal, through a legal structure like a guardian council, or it could be informal, like cultivated personal loyalty of subordinates.

What is crucial is that an old guard — as a collection of powerful figures — have the tools and experience to constrain the power of an autocrat, but the old guard must often have trust and coordination in order to do it.

What is crucial is that an old guard, as a collection of powerful figures, have the tools and experience to constrain the power of an autocrat, but the old guard must often have trust and coordination in order to do it. In using China’s three post-Mao leadership transitions as a guide, the authors outline how a power-sharing agreement came into force after the death of a highly personalist leader, a system that was durable for over three decades.

Related: What does ‘legitimacy’ mean: Part II

When Hu Jintao, an outgoing unpopular leader was unable to retain personal power or authority in 2012, he was succeeded by Xi Jinping, who promised sweeping changes that his predecessor had failed to deliver. The elites that had checked Hu in his early years of rule were old, and often retired, leaving space for a leader to consolidate power. After consolidation, Xi launched sweeping anti-corruption purges, but as the authors argue, that should be seen as a consequence of his concentrated power, not a cause of it.

The outward appearance of abrupt policy changes can stem from internal yet opaque power structures, rather than just the shifting moods of an all-powerful autocrat.

What the research shows, more broadly, is that the outward appearance of abrupt policy changes can stem from internal yet opaque power structures, rather than just the shifting moods of an all-powerful autocrat. Personally consolidated power can give a leader freedom to act, but it can also insulate them from dissenting elite opinion. When it comes to matters as serious and fraught as launching wars, personally consolidated power can present a crushing liability.

Critical State is your weekly fix of foreign policy analysis from the staff at Inkstick Media. Subscribe here

Undemocratic shifts for state control: Part I

“MuiTypography-root-134 MuiTypography-h1-139″>Undemocratic shifts for state control: Part I

Critical State, a foreign policy newsletter by Inkstick Media, takes a deep dive this week into the sudden proliferation of undemocratic shifts in state control that has reignited a series of debates about coups.

The WorldFebruary 23, 2022 · 5:00 PM EST

A man holds a portrait of Lt. Col. Paul Henri Sandaogo Damiba who has taken the reins of Burkina Faso, in Ouagadougou, Jan. 25, 2022. 

Sophie Garcia/AP/File 

This analysis was featured in Critical State, a weekly foreign policy newsletter from Inkstick Media. Subscribe here.

With six attempted or successful coups in Africa in 2021, and the military takeover in Burkina Faso in January, the sudden proliferation of undemocratic shifts in state control has reignited a series of debates about coups. What causes them? Are they predictable? We’ll investigate new research on these questions this week and next in Deep Dive. 

Related: What does ‘legitimacy’ mean: Part I

Military officers most involved in deposing democratically elected leaders were, not so long ago, at one or another US military base being lectured about the importance of civilian control of the military.

One topic that comes up frequently in discussions involving military coups is the training backgrounds of the coupists. It seems that, with remarkable frequency, the military officers most involved in deposing democratically elected leaders were, not so long ago, at one or another US military base being lectured about the importance of civilian control of the military. US military training of foreign officers, which ostensibly counts reinforcing democratic norms among its many goals, appears at first glance to have, at best, little effect on the likelihood of a trainee to be involved in a future coup, and at worst makes it much more likely that they will be involved.

In a new article in the Journal of Peace Research, however, political scientists Theodore McLaughlin, Lee Seymour, and Simon Pierre Boulanger-Martel dig a bit deeper into the data to see whether there are any variations in coup outcomes across the wide range of foreign training the US offers.

Related: What does ‘legitimacy’ mean: Part II

McLaughlin et. al. have put together a new dataset of all international military training programs the US ran between 1999 and 2016. The data allows them to take a broad look at the massive US effort to train members of foreign militaries. The US ran 34 different training programs during the period covered by the database, which taught over 2.3 million pupils. Even if you leave out the country-wide programs the US conducted in Afghanistan and Iraq, you’re still left with 971,054 people trained over that period. 

A close study of IMET and the Counterterrorism Fellowship Program in 2017 showed that the presence of either program doubled the likelihood of a military coup in that country.

One of those 34 programs that has come in for particular scrutiny from scholars and activists is the International Military Education & Training programs (IMET). A close study of IMET and the Counterterrorism Fellowship Program in 2017 showed that the presence of either program doubled the likelihood of a military coup in that country. The authors of that study extrapolated their results to US foreign military training programming generally, arguing that IMET’s focus on inculcating norms of civilian control of the military and respect for democratic processes means that if IMET graduates are doing coups, then surely graduates of all the other programs are doing coups as well.

The correlation between IMET programming and coup attempts remains strong, but the relationship does not hold for any other US-led foreign military training program the researchers track.

Yet McLaughlin et. al., looking at all those other programs, find a different result. The correlation between IMET programming and coup attempts remains strong, but the relationship does not hold for any other US-led foreign military training program the researchers track. Even the Regional Centers for Security Studies programs, which, like IMET, take on as trainees the class of senior officer most likely to be involved in coups, do nothing to increase the likelihood of military coups in recipient countries. In short, there is something in particular about IMET that is either attracting or creating coupists.

This result suggests two things. The first is that the idea of inculcating democratic civil-military norms in a classroom setting — a core goal of IMET — is likely a pipe dream. At the very least, we don’t understand how to do it yet. The second, more optimistic, conclusion is that reformers in and out of government trying to limit the negative spillover effects of US training programs can train their fire on IMET. Understanding the role that program plays in producing coup-committing graduates would be a major step forward in lessening the harms produced by US military outreach.

Critical State is your weekly fix of foreign policy analysis from the staff at Inkstick Media. Subscribe here

If not police, what? Part II

“MuiTypography-root-126 MuiTypography-h1-131″>If not police, what? Part II

This week in Critical State, a foreign policy newsletter by Inkstick Media, Sam Ratner takes a deep dive into the history of Freedom House, a Pittsburgh-based Black-led nonprofit hired in 1968 to offer ambulance services in some of the predominantly Black neighborhoods around the city.

February 16, 2022 · 5:45 PM EST

A Pittsburgh police officer stands in a downtown Pittsburgh intersection Sunday, May 31, 2020.

Gene J. Puskar/AP

This analysis was featured in Critical State, a weekly foreign policy newsletter from Inkstick Media. Subscribe here.

Last week on Deep Dive, we looked at an example of how local security arrangements can clash with efforts to achieve what some police reform advocates present as a timeless ideal of policing. This week, we’ll look at new scholarship on a community that considered how policing was actually working for them and decided they could come up with something better. 

Related: If not police, what? Part I

Freedom House ambulance services were seen as a way to eliminate the role of police in at least one aspect of Black life in Pittsburgh.

In 1968, the city of Pittsburgh contracted Freedom House, a local Black-led nonprofit, to offer ambulance services in some of the predominantly Black neighborhoods around the city. Thus began a signal success in American medical history. Freedom House (no relation to the democracy-rating organization) set new standards in the US for paramedic training and performance — standards that were then adopted around the country. “These Black paramedics,” writes lawyer Tiffany Yang, whose recent Washington Law Review article on Freedom House is our focus this week, “were among the first in the country to deliver an electric shock to a patient's heart in the field, intubate a patient on the street, or use Narcan to reverse an overdose.” Their medical innovations, Yang argues, were the result not just of a desire to improve ambulance service but also to eliminate the role of police in at least one aspect of Black life in Pittsburgh.

Related: Struggle for self-determination: Part I

Yang traces the history of ambulance work to before Freedom House, when emergency medical response was one of the public duties that fell to police to perform. That practice, which Yang terms “ambulance policing,” was a public health mess across the board. Police had little first aid training, and so even in the best case scenario they focused on transporting patients to hospitals in the backs of paddy wagons rather than providing care at the scene. When they did provide care, according to a study done in 1971, they did the wrong thing 62% of the time — not great. Often, they didn’t care about health outcomes at all. One Pittsburgh resident remembered watching police draw a chalk outline around someone who was still alive. He pointed out that the person was alive and a police officer responded, “Yeah, but not for long.”

Related: Struggle for self-determination: Part II

As bad as ambulance policing was for the population at large, it was noticeably worse in Black neighborhoods.

As bad as ambulance policing was for the population at large, it was noticeably worse in Black neighborhoods. Police violence against Black people was rampant in 1960s Pittsburgh — over the course of a few months in 1965, police killed two Black Pittsburgh residents who posed no threat to them, and beat and choked another. The everyday racism of the Pittsburgh police force drew many protests from the Black community, and it created a well-justified wariness of calling for police, no matter the situation. In addition, police resisted entering Black neighborhoods, especially on calls that did not involve violence. Medical emergency calls often went unanswered. With a police holding a near monopoly over ambulance services, that meant Black people were denied access to even the limited emergency medical attention the police provided in white neighborhoods. 

In short, Freedom House created a form of emergency health provision for the Black community wholly separate from the carceral logics of the police.

Freedom House offered a solution to that problem, and an effective one. Whereas the police rate of inadequate care was 62%, Freedom House’s was just 11%. It also offered a solution to the broader problem of mixing policing with emergency medicine. Freedom House ambulances were not in the business of arresting their patients, but instead responded to crises with an eye toward producing the best health outcomes. When patients were intoxicated, Freedom House dropped them with the Salvation Army instead of in jail. When police started to withhold 911 calls out of jealousy that they were losing the emergency medicine beat, Freedom House got police radios to make sure they heard every call. In short, Freedom House created a form of emergency health provision for the Black community wholly separate from the carceral logics of the police.

Freedom House showed the plausibility and value of stripping away parts of what were once seen as natural police functions and finding new and innovative ways to better provide those services to the whole community.

Of course, those logics struck back. In 1974, Mayor Peter Flaherty announced his intention to defund Freedom House and expand ambulance policing. His argument was telling: Ambulances were a “public safety function” and therefore by rights belonged to police. There was widespread community outcry, but by 1975 Freedom House was shut down and a police-run city ambulance system covered the whole city. Eventually, that program would be supplanted by a civilian EMS system, which rejected police involvement in emergency medicine on the grounds of persistent police failure to provide adequate care. Though Freedom House only survived for seven years, Yang makes a compelling case that it offers a clear refutation of the argument put forward by Mayor Flaherty and many others before and since, that questions of public safety are somehow naturally the province of police. Instead, Freedom House showed the plausibility and value of stripping away parts of what were once seen as natural police functions and finding new and innovative ways to better provide those services to the whole community.

Critical State is your weekly fix of foreign policy analysis from the staff at Inkstick Media. Subscribe here

If not police, what? Part I

“MuiTypography-root-134 MuiTypography-h1-139″>If not police, what? Part I

Critical State, a weekly foreign policy newsletter by Inkstick Media, takes a deep dive into one of Kenya's alternative security provisions and an effort to increase police accountability.

The WorldFebruary 9, 2022 · 4:15 PM EST

A Kenyan police officer talks on his phone inside the compound of the command center in Malindi, Kenya, Thursday, Nov. 22, 2018. 

AP

This analysis was featured in Critical State, a weekly foreign policy newsletter from Inkstick Media. Subscribe here.

One of the questions advocates of police abolition get asked most often is “if someone burgles my house, who will I call if there aren’t any police?” That specific question is absurd — few police anywhere in the world will actually get your stuff back after your house has been burgled — but the questions underneath it are worth contemplating (and abolitionists have spent a long time contemplating them). What does a world without police look like? How is the provision of day to day security organized when the state is not making an effort to determine who will and will not experience physical violence in a community? People all over the world and in various time periods have come up with answers to those questions, some more successful than others. This week and next on Deep Dive, we’ll look at recent research on alternate forms of local security provision in areas that, if you asked police, they would say are “underpoliced.”

Related: What does ‘legitimacy’ mean: Part I

One modern site of alternative local security provision is the outskirts of many major cities, where population density is high but city services tend not to reach. A new article in the journal African Affairs by researcher Kamau Wairuri tracks a particular instance of conflict about security provision under those conditions, in the urban periphery of Nairobi, Kenya. Wairuri’s account is particularly notable because it describes a conflict between a form of alternative security provision and an effort to increase police accountability in much the same way that police reform (as opposed to abolition) movements have urged around the world.

Related: Polish border police push back migrants at Belarus border

In 2013, a Kenyan police constable known popularly as Katitu shot and killed a young man named Kenneth Kimani in the Nairobi township of Githurai. Katitu claimed that Kimani was a thief, and that shooting the young man was all part of his police duties. Kimani’s family disputed the charges, and filed a complaint about the killing with Kenya’s Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA). The IPOA investigated and sided with the family, recommending that Katitu be prosecuted for murder. Shortly before his arrest in 2014, Katitu then shot and killed another man he accused of being a thief: Oscar Muchoki, Kimani’s older brother and an important witness against Katitu in his murder trial.

Related: What does ‘legitimacy’ mean: Part II

The work of the IPOA, then a new organization in Kenya, had not led to an embrace of a new era of police accountability in Githurai.

Katitu was arrested shortly thereafter, and Githurai erupted. Mass protests shut the neighborhood down, and eventually the paramilitary Special Service Unit was called in to brutally end the uprising. These protests, however, were not to oppose the police killing of Kimani and Oscar. Instead, they were in defense of Katitu, and an expression of outrage at the false but widely held perception that he had been arrested for killing Oscar. The work of the IPOA, then a new organization in Kenya, had not led to an embrace of a new era of police accountability in Githurai. Rather, it heightened the tensions between the IPOA’s vision for policing and the reality of security provision for people in Githurai.

Related: Sweden’s gun violence rates have soared. But this Swedish city is bucking that trend.

Wairuri spoke to 33 Githurai residents who observed or participated in the protests to better understand why they took place and what people hoped to achieve. What they told him illuminates a great deal about both alternative security provision and the problems faced by police reform efforts that see “police accountability” as their ultimate goal. 

Wairuri’s interlocutors described a security situation in Githurai in which people relied on vigilantism to get redress for crimes.

Wairuri’s interlocutors described a security situation in Githurai in which people relied on vigilantism to get redress for crimes. The state had crushed a local vigilante group in the years before Katitu’s killings, so people had turned to a kind of hybrid institution: police vigilantes. These were people employed as police who acted to resolve disputes and seek redress informally rather than through formal legal processes. In many cases, these informal forms of dispute resolution involved significant violence, but many people saw the violence as legitimate because it offers a method of quick, public redress that Kenyan courts cannot produce. Katitu was a leading police vigilante in Githurai, and when he was arrested, many saw it not as a victory for police accountability but as the removal of a quasi-state figure who was, if not accountable, at least responsive to their needs.

One virtue of the discourse around police abolition, as opposed to reform, is that it is rooted in the lived reality of existing security arrangements, many of which already function outside the structures of conventional policing.

The protests, then, were not against the concept of police accountability but, as Wairuri writes, “against the interference of a state that has failed to protect people in the local security management systems that people see as effective and efficient.” The vision of police reform articulated by IPOA failed to engage with the forms of security provision actually present on the ground in Githurai. When police reform efforts attempt to enact an idealized form of policing without understanding the constellation of formal and informal institutions that produce most peoples’ security arrangements, they run the same risks that IPOA faced in the Katitu case. One virtue of the discourse around police abolition, as opposed to reform, is that it is rooted in the lived reality of existing security arrangements, many of which already function outside the structures of conventional policing.

Critical State is your weekly fix of foreign policy analysis from the staff at Inkstick Media. Subscribe here

​​​​​​​What does ‘legitimacy’ mean: Part II

“MuiTypography-root-134 MuiTypography-h1-139″>​​​​​​​What does ‘legitimacy’ mean: Part II

Critical State, a weekly foreign policy newsletter by Inkstick Media, takes a deep dive into how state institutions lose their relationships with citizens during civil wars — with a focus on Afghanistan.

Inkstick MediaFebruary 3, 2022 · 11:45 AM EST

Afghan police arrive at the site of an attack at Kabul University in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Nov. 2, 2020. 

Rahmat Gul/AP

This analysis was featured in Critical State, a weekly foreign policy newsletter from Inkstick Media. Subscribe here.

Last week on Deep Dive, we looked at new research on how people who have lived through civil wars evaluate their options when it comes to postwar governance. The experience of developing community organizations under rebel rule, it seems, makes it both easier for communities to develop their own alternate governance solutions in peacetime and more difficult for the central government to compete with local offerings. But what happens with questions of legitimacy when conflicts are ongoing? Does the presence of violence, rather than just the presence of rebels, affect how state institutions are perceived?

Related: What does ‘legitimacy’ mean: Part I

Those questions are at the core of a recent article in the Journal of Politics, written by political scientists Annekatrin Deglow and Ralph Sundberg. They wanted to investigate how state institutions lose their relationships with citizens during civil wars. To do this, they researched perceptions of Afghan local police between 2007 and 2012, drawing on a large-scale survey that recorded responses from 31,720 Afghans over 360 districts throughout the country. 

More violence means less faith in police.

Using the survey, Deglow and Sundberg measured the relationship between people’s self-reported confidence in their local police and the level of violence taking place in each respondent’s district around the time they took the survey. The statistical results Deglow and Sundberg found are about what you’d expect (although it represents one of the first major statistical efforts to confirm this finding): More violence means less faith in police. Specifically, increased conflict intensity led to less belief that police are effective in fighting crime, less belief that they are procedurally fair, and less trust overall. 

Related: Two decades of war and daily life in Afghanistan

What is the mechanism that causes police to lose legitimacy in the face of increased civil war violence?

Yet it actually isn’t obvious why that should be the case. On one hand, sure, police say they are there to reduce violence, and so when violence increases their credibility takes a hit. On the other hand, however, if police are doing an effective job of local dispute resolution or crime deterrence, there is no clear reason for citizens to shun those services just because national-level forces have brought higher levels of violence to the area. What, then, is the mechanism that causes police to lose legitimacy in the face of increased civil war violence?

With no resources to expend on community dispute resolution and every reason to become a divisive force in communities, police who are converted to counterinsurgent forces see their approval ratings suffer.

Deglow and Sundberg posit that the explanation lies in how police respond to increased insurgent violence. The Afghan National Police, as trained and equipped by US and NATO forces, was both a policing and a counterinsurgency organization. The balance between those roles shifts in a given district depending on the scale of the conflict in that district. As the conflict grows more intense in a district, police units cease whatever community roles they served before to fight a brutal war, one in which community members they might have served before often end up on the opposite side. With no resources to expend on community dispute resolution and every reason to become a divisive force in communities, police who are converted to counterinsurgent forces see their approval ratings suffer.

Legitimacy is won and lost not by the overall popularity of the national government or the insurgency, but by the local-level decisions of institutions.

In some ways, this finding is like a refraction of the conclusion in Part I of this Deep Dive. In that piece, local governance structures durably separated themselves from the central state in order to sustain themselves through conflict. In this one, national governance structures undermine their own local relationships by being unable to separate their local roles from the national-level conflict they are drawn into. In both cases, legitimacy is won and lost not by the overall popularity of the national government or the insurgency, but by the local-level decisions of institutions.

Critical State is your weekly fix of foreign policy analysis from the staff at Inkstick Media. Subscribe here

What does ‘legitimacy’ mean: Part I

“MuiTypography-root-135 MuiTypography-h1-140″>What does ‘legitimacy’ mean: Part I

What does it mean for a government to gain or lose legitimacy? Critical State, a foreign policy newsletter by Inkstick Media, takes a deep dive this week into the legitimacy of Ivory Coast's government following a civil war.

Inkstick MediaJanuary 26, 2022 · 4:30 PM EST

Government soldiers wait on a helicopter at the airport in San Pedro, southwestern Ivory Coast, Friday Jan. 10, 2003, before heading to an area near Grabo, also in the southwest, where government forces are fightng rebels.

Christophe Ena/AP

This analysis was featured in Critical State, a weekly foreign policy newsletter from Inkstick Media. Subscribe here.

One of the most difficult parts of a statebuilding enterprise to conceptualize is the idea of legitimacy. Actually becoming a state is pretty straightforward. Do other states recognize you as a state? Congratulations, you’re in the club of states, available for offers of international trade! Whether your state institutions are legitimate in the eyes of your putative citizens, however, is more difficult to track. If people pay taxes, are they doing it because they are invested in the project of the state, or just because they fear the coercive consequences if they do not? If people seek alternative dispute resolution systems rather than using government courts, is that due to lack of confidence in the court system or simply the presence of a strong alternative for certain types of cases? These kinds of questions are crucial both for rulers trying to gauge the strength of their governments and for citizens trying to make decisions about which forms of governance they will utilize in their lives. To that end, this week and next on Deep Dive we’ll look at new research on measures of government legitimacy and what it means to gain and lose legitimacy.

Related: Foundations of international relations: Part I

Rulers fear a loss of legitimacy primarily because such losses can lead to rebellions. Conversely, rebels seek legitimacy as a source of both martial support and acceptance of their capacity to govern.

Most legitimacy discourse is, directly or indirectly, about civil war. Rulers fear a loss of legitimacy primarily because such losses can lead to rebellions. Conversely, rebels seek legitimacy as a source of both martial support and acceptance of their capacity to govern. The assumption backing that discourse is often that questions of legitimacy grow in salience up until the height of a civil war, and then fade as the war is resolved. A new article in the journal Comparative Political Studies by political scientists Philip Martin, Giulia Piccolino, and Jeremy Speight upends that sequencing by investigating what happens to government legitimacy after the civil war ends.

Related: Foundations of international relations: Part II

People who had lived in rebel-held areas had significantly more negative views of state institutions and civic obligations – and more positive views of extra-legal anti-state action – than those who had lived in government-held areas during the wars.

Martin et al. focus on Ivory Coast, which fought two civil wars between 2002 and 2011. During the war, large swaths of the country were governed by rebel forces known as the  Forces Nouvelles (FN). There were a number of political shifts over the course of the years of conflict, but in the end, leaders associated with the FN won the second war and took over the national government. On paper, it seems like people who embraced FN governance during the conflict would be enthusiastic about this outcome – state institutions transitioning into the control of the people they built relationships with during the war. Yet, when Martin et al. conducted a survey in Ivory Coast in 2018, they found that people who had lived in rebel-held areas had significantly more negative views of state institutions and civic obligations – and more positive views of extra-legal anti-state action – than those who had lived in government-held areas during the wars.

Mande respondents — an ethnic group largely supportive of the FN — are actually substantially more supportive of extra-legal anti-state action than members of other ethnic groups.

One way to explain this counterintuitive finding would be to say that ethnic politics, rather than geographic politics, best explains the Ivorian system and that surely co-ethnics of the pro-FN government in formerly FN-held areas support the government. It turns out, though, that when you disaggregate the data by ethnicity, results are fairly similar across ethnic groups. Indeed, the most significant point of ethnic difference is that Mande respondents – an ethnic group largely supportive of the FN – are actually substantially more supportive of extra-legal anti-state action than members of other ethnic groups. That is, disaggregating the data by ethnicity only makes the original finding more compelling. Similarly, variations in poverty levels, religion and gender do not account for the differences found in views of state legitimacy.

People interviewed by the researchers expressed disappointment about the gap between what they expected the government to be able to deliver to them after an FN victory and what has actually been accomplished.

Instead, Martin et al. suggest alternative theories for why respect for government fell in FN-controlled areas. One in particular will be familiar to students of civil wars: unmet expectations. People interviewed by the researchers expressed disappointment about the gap between what they expected the government to be able to deliver to them after an FN victory and what has actually been accomplished. Postwar reconstruction in FN-held areas has been limited, especially compared to the soaring fortunes of FN-associated leaders who have taken over the national government. Only 31% 0f respondents from FN-held areas said that they felt their local economy had improved since 2011.

Once you live under rebel governance, it becomes difficult to return to the idea that the state is the only — or even necessarily the primary  — source of governance.

Such disappointment is certainly enough to reduce belief in state institutions, but it does less to explain support for extra-legal anti-state actions. That, Martin et al. argue, is the result of the ways communities under rebel control during the war expanded their definitions of legitimacy and governance. Once you live under rebel governance, it becomes difficult to return to the idea that the state is the only – or even necessarily the primary – source of governance. Instead, extra-legal systems of dispute resolution and mutual aid become available to fill in governance gaps, whether those gaps come from rebels or the state itself. In their survey, Martin et al. found that people who engaged in collective action – say, joined a local council or volunteered on a community project – while their community was occupied by the FN were both more likely to have continued involvement in collective action after the war and less likely to approve of the government. Even with the war over, wartime experiments in self-governance continue to provide a competitor to state power in northern Ivory Coast. 

Critical State is your weekly fix of foreign policy without all the stuff you don't need. It's top news and accessible analysis for those who want an inside take without all the insider bs. Subscribe here

Protest projection: Part II

“MuiTypography-root-135 MuiTypography-h1-140″>Protest projection: Part II

In this week's Critical State, a foreign policy newsletter by Inkstick Media, Sam Ratner takes a deep dive into new research on what happens when Chinese political prisoners make an appeal to an international audience.

Inkstick MediaJanuary 19, 2022 · 3:15 PM EST

Activists shout slogans to mark anniversary of death of Chinese Nobel prize winner Liu Xiaobo outside a district court in Hong Kong, Monday, July 13, 2020. 

Vincent Yu/AP

This analysis was featured in Critical State, a weekly foreign policy newsletter from Inkstick Media. Subscribe here.

Last week on Deep Dive, we looked at some of the unintended consequences for domestic protest movements of being observed by international actors. This week, we’ll look at new research on what happens when domestic protesters very much intend to be observed by the outside world.

Related: Protest projection: Part I

If you are being held in custody by a government because that government perceives you as a political threat, then it is near impossible to appeal to that government’s sense of legal responsibility to gain your freedom.

The whole concept of a political prisoner is, in some basic sense, internationalized. If you are being held in custody by a government because that government perceives you as a political threat, then it is near impossible to appeal to that government’s sense of legal responsibility to gain your freedom. Jailing political prisoners rarely seems absurd to the government doing the jailing. To international audiences, however, the logics of power preservation behind jailing political opponents are often painfully obvious. For that reason, many political prisoners make direct appeals to international audiences in hopes of aid in securing their release.

Related: Struggle for self-determination: Part I

Wei Jingsheng was released as part of China’s effort to win the competition to host the 2000 Olympics, and credited international pressure for helping achieve his freedom. Liu Xiaobo, conversely, died incarcerated despite winning a Nobel Peace Prize.

In a recent article in International Studies Quarterly, political scientist Jamie Gruffydd-Jones takes up the question of what happens once those appeals go out into the world. Gruffydd-Jones studies China, and the focus of his article is on political prisoners there. Chinese dissidents like Wei Jingsheng and Liu Xiaobo have gained international fame and recognition for both their activism and their roles as the faces of China’s carceral approach to deterring dissent. Yet, as Gruffydd-Jones notes, despite both being international causes celebres, Wei and Liu’s stories ended very differently. Wei was released as part of China’s effort to win the competition to host the 2000 Olympics, and credited international pressure for helping achieve his freedom. Liu, conversely, died incarcerated despite winning a Nobel Peace Prize.

Related: Struggle for self-determination: Part II

Drawing from a database of Chinese political prisoners who between 1994 and 2017 who have sought local, national, or international attention for their cases, researcher Jamie Gruffydd-Jones coded whether each case was highlighted by international human rights groups, major international media outlets, or the US State Department.

Gruffydd-Jones takes a data-driven approach to understanding why some international awareness efforts produce results like the campaign for Wei, and why some end in failure. Drawing from a database of Chinese political prisoners who between 1994 and 2017 who have sought local, national, or international attention for their cases, he coded whether each case was highlighted by international human rights groups, major international media outlets, or the US State Department. He then compared the level of international attention each case received to its outcome – namely, were the prisoners released before completing their sentences.

International attention does help free Chinese political prisoners, but only if it comes early in the process.

The answer is that international attention does help free Chinese political prisoners, but only if it comes early in the process. Early international publicity made it 70% more likely that a prisoner would be released before they had been sentenced. Once a Chinese court passed down a sentence, however, the effect of international publicity disappeared. If anything, attention from abroad after a prisoner had been sentenced actually reduced their chances for early release. 

International pressure has also become less effective over time in China.

International pressure has also become less effective over time in China. The effect of all forms of international pressure was higher between 1994 and 2007 than between 2008 and 2014, but the change in the effect of State Department involvement is particularly striking. Up until 2007, being mentioned by the State Department made it slightly more likely that a Chinese political prisoner would receive early release. Since 2008, the impact of a State Department mention is unambiguously negative. As China has grown economically stronger, it appears, its resistance to pressure on human rights issues — especially from the US — has increased.

Naysayers who suggest that any outside pressure will result in the Chinese government merely doubling down on repression to save face appear, at least in pre-sentencing cases, to be wrong.

Gruffydd-Jones’ study is, ultimately, good news for human rights activists. It offers strong evidence that even the most powerful human rights abusers can be pressured to do the right thing in the correct circumstances. Naysayers who suggest that any outside pressure will result in the Chinese government merely doubling down on repression to save face appear, at least in pre-sentencing cases, to be wrong. The fact that such a shift occurs at sentencing suggests that the limits to international pressure have more to do with domestic political structures than with the strategies used by outside advocates.

Critical State is your weekly fix of foreign policy without all the stuff you don't need. It's top news and accessible analysis for those who want an inside take without all the insider bs. Subscribe here

Protest projection: Part 1

“MuiTypography-root-133 MuiTypography-h1-138″>Protest projection: Part 1

Critical State, a foreign policy newsletter by Inkstick Media, takes a deep dive into why protests led to military interventions in Bahrain, Syria, Libya, and how those interventions played out.

Inkstick MediaJanuary 13, 2022 · 11:15 AM EST

In this Friday Jan. 20, 2012, file photo, anti-Syrian regime protesters gather at a square as they hold an Arabic banner, center, reading, "Hey, the miserable, the tyrant, what else," during a demonstration at the mountain resort town of Zabadani, Syria, near the Lebanese border. 

AP/File 

This analysis was featured in Critical State, a weekly foreign policy newsletter from Inkstick Media. Subscribe here.

Most protests are directed against a fairly immediate authority. When you march on a picket line, you’re protesting to get more leverage over your boss. When you and your neighbors fill up your downtown chanting “Black lives matter,” you’re protesting (in part) to get more leverage over your local government and police department. But protests have other audiences, many of which are farther away – physically and conceptually – than the people the protest is aimed at. This week and next on Deep Dive, we’ll look at new research about how protest movements impact third parties.

Related: Foundations of international relations: Part I

Sometimes the audience that takes an interest in your protest isn’t even in your country. That happened to Arab Spring protesters in a variety of different ways. People around the region looked at early protests in Tunisia and took inspiration. Then Twitter took an interest and decided that it was the hero of the protests. In the end, though, for many protesters, it was foreign governments that were among the most effectual audiences for their protests. For protesters in Bahrain, Syria, Libya, and Yemen, that meant military interventions by foreign powers in response to their protests, most of which have had devastating consequences. 

Related: Foundations of international relations: Part II

Though the uprisings were aimed at securing concessions from governments, the reality of the near-simultaneous uprisings throughout the region changed not just the situation of each individual country but the entire regional order.

In a new article in the journal International Politics, political scientist Shamiran Mako develops a theory about why protests led to interventions in those four countries and why those interventions played out the way they did. In Mako’s telling, though the uprisings in each country were aimed at securing concessions from that country’s government, the reality of the near-simultaneous uprisings throughout the region changed not just the situation of each individual country but the entire regional order. Each individual movement on its own did little to change the international structure, but when they all rose at the same time it upended the regional balance of power.

All of a sudden, regional powers could intervene not just at the level of the state but with the elements of the coalition of groups that, in normal times, formed the state.

With the regional balance of power up in the air due to the protests, Mako argues, regional powers saw opportunities to meddle in their neighbors’ affairs in ways that were not possible before. Because the legitimacy of so many governments had been called into question, all of a sudden regional powers could intervene not just at the level of the state but with the elements of the coalition of groups that, in normal times, formed the state. 

In Yemen, for example, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the Saudi-led regional group responded to protests by trying in 2011 to broker a transition that would remove dictator Ali Abdellah Saleh and replace him with another GCC-oriented leader. In a situation where Yemen was the only country in the region undergoing transition, the GCC effort might have succeeded, since there would be little reason for other parties to upset the balance of power. As negotiations continued in the post-Arab Spring era, however, other players joined and initiated or increased their support for other Yemeni factions. Qatar and Turkey backed groups associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, and Iran directed some resources to the Houthis. By 2015, with the Houthis gaining ground militarily and Saudi Arabia responding with direct military intervention, the promise of democratization in Yemen had faded almost completely. Instead, the country had become a battleground for factions seeking to stake or expand their claim to a piece of the new regional order being born. 

Basically, chaos is a ladder, but ladders go both up and down. Foreign powers pay particular attention to domestic social movements because, when successful, they create moments when the rules of the international game can change.

Basically, chaos is a ladder, but ladders go both up and down. Foreign powers pay particular attention to domestic social movements because, when successful, they create moments when the rules of the international game can change. In the Arab Spring, the pace and scale of the rule changes created incentives for regional and world powers to target states that could be profitably be divvied up into factions. For people in those states, who began protesting hoping to resolve the contradictions in their societies, the effect of foreign intervention was often disastrous. 

Critical State is your weekly fix of foreign policy without all the stuff you don't need. It's top news and accessible analysis for those who want an inside take without all the insider bs. Subscribe here

Foundations of international relations: Part II

“MuiTypography-root-133 MuiTypography-h1-138″>Foundations of international relations: Part II

How do philanthropic foundations get involved in international climate policy — and what kinds of reforms do they favor? Critical State, a foreign policy newsletter by Inkstick Media, takes a deep dive into this question this week.  

Inkstick MediaJanuary 5, 2022 · 3:15 PM EST

Philanthropist Bill Gates attends the World Leaders' Summit "Accelerating Clean Technology Innovation and Deployment," at the COP26 Summit, in Glasgow, Scotland, Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021. 

Jeff J. Mitchell/AP/Pool

This analysis was featured in Critical State, a weekly foreign policy newsletter from Inkstick Media. Subscribe here.

Last week in Deep Dive, we looked at research on the role foundations do (or, perhaps more accurately, do not) play in democratization around the world. This week, we’ll look at an issue area where the philanthropic arms of the worlds’ super rich claim to have a greater impact: climate change. 

Related: Foundations of international relations: Part I

Capitalism has not yet produced its first green billionaire, and maybe it never will.

In some ways, climate is a natural area for foundations to work in. For one thing, the uber rich are outrageously more responsible for climate change than the average human. Even aside from the carbon footprint of private jets, vanity space programs, and other trappings of supervillainy, the fact remains that even the most low-key billionaire burned a lot of carbon to get where they are. Capitalism has not yet produced its first green billionaire, and maybe it never will. If foundations are meant to turn the assets of the super rich into good for the world, climate work offers an opportunity to mitigate some of the harms that generated those assets.

Related: Glasgow summit pledge to phase out fossil fuel subsidies faces an uphill battle

For another, it is largely the interests of the super rich that will be affected by climate mitigation efforts. With their funders’ skin in the game, foundations have an extra incentive to insert themselves into international climate action. It’s that impulse that political scientist Edouard Morena wrote about in a recent article in the journal International Politics. Morena dug into the archives to track how foundations involved themselves in international climate policy and what kinds of reforms they favored. 

He found that foundations in the US (where they play an outsized role in policymaking compared to the role of foundations in other democracies) played two key roles in bringing international climate action to the point it is at today. The first, arguably positive, is that foundations worked diligently to bring the US into dialogue with the rest of the world about climate and to keep it at the table. The US — the largest historical carbon emitter in the world and still a massive contributor to fossil fuel output — has long been reluctant to consider the kinds of reforms that are necessary to avert ecological catastrophe. Dating back to the 1980s, longstanding US foundations like the Rockefeller Foundation funded efforts that created key climate organizations like the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change secretariat (UNFCCC). The Rockefeller Brothers Fund acted as behind-the-scenes dealmakers to protect the IPCC and UNFCCC from fatal interference from US government figures that had an interest in climate denial. 

Related: World leaders pledged to end forest loss. What will it take?

In the late 1990s, the structure of US philanthropy in the climate space began to change.

In the late 1990s, however, the structure of US philanthropy in the climate space began to change. The rise of Silicon Valley and the gobs of cash that came with it brought new players to the table. The Gates’ and Moores were no more eager to pay taxes than the Rockefellers or Fords had been, so a new generation of foundations was born. These new foundations, however, had a different political bent than their predecessors. Still interested in climate issues, they wanted to pursue action on climate through programming that emphasized, rather than limited, capitalist approaches. The “greed is good” method of climate mitigation sought to find technological and market solutions to emissions issues, hoping that the prospect of getting rich on green energy would drive transformational innovation. These approaches were hugely influential — by 2012, the five foundations that most backed these approaches accounted for $350 million of the $450 million being spent annually on climate mitigation philanthropy.

Market-based approaches to climate mitigation demand much less change to the US economic structure than the top-down approaches advocated by progressives, and there is little to suggest that they will yield the same emissions reductions that more drastic reforms could produce.

The advocates of this new approach worked diligently to freeze out activists who argued for more drastic, government imposed curbs on carbon emissions. A 2015 publication by a coalition of “greed is good” advocates lumped together climate deniers and “climate idealists… frustrated with the progress made to date… in light of the necessary emissions reductions required” as equally dangerous to the movement to limit climate change. Their spending power and their targeting of more progressive voices has, Moreno found, served to keep the interest of the US (and, by extension, its billionaires) front and center in the climate debate. Market-based approaches to climate mitigation demand much less change to the US economic structure than the top-down approaches advocated by progressives, and there is little to suggest that they will yield the same emissions reductions that more drastic reforms could produce. As people in the US and around the world become more concerned about climate change, and appetite for drastic change increases among the average person, the role of foundations involved in climate advocacy in protecting the interests of billionaire funders should not be overlooked.

Critical State is your weekly fix of foreign policy without all the stuff you don't need. It's top news and accessible analysis for those who want an inside take without all the insider bs. Subscribe here