About Tanja Venstad

The Lady’s Not for Turning: Paying homage to the Iron Lady of IR

On October 10, 1980, Margaret Thatcher stated to her fellow Conservative party members that “To those waiting with bated breath for that favourite media catchphrase, the U-turn, I have only one thing to say. You turn if you want to. The lady’s not for turning.”

Margaret Thatcher was the British Prime Minister from May 1979 to November 1990, winning the three consecutive general elections to become the first woman to lead a major Western democracy.  Lady Thatcher was so influential in British politics that she even got her own “-ism.”  Yeah, that’s right, there is such a thing as “Thatcherism.” Don’t you wish you were that cool?

Thatcherism represents a belief in free markets and a small state.  Government should be restricted to defense of the “realm and currency,” and individuals should be left to exercise their own choices and take responsibility for the rest of their lives. During her time as Prime Minister, Thatcher worked to privatize state-owned industries, lower taxes, cut back heavy industry, and encourage the rise of the free market economy.  Critics say that her work in office led to the destruction of traditional working-class communities, which caused a more divided society.  With regards to international affairs, Thatcher partnered closely with President Ronald Reagan (they were sort of like BFFs) to push free-market conservatism.  She led Great Britain through the Falklands War of 1982 and championed the fight against the spread of communism.

But there could be no Thatcherism without the woman herself.  She has been described as “headstrong, obstinate and dangerously self-opinionated.” Her steadfast opposition to communism even earned her the nickname Iron Lady.  And while she may have divided opinions during her political career, there is no denying that she was a “truly formidable prime minister whose policies defined a political generation.”  And you know you’ve made it when your life gets turned into a movie, and you are played by Meryl Streep.

I have always been a big fan of Lady Thatcher.  I won’t go so far as to say that Maggie is the reason why I am an IR major, but I will say that she was an incredible politician who greatly impacted the world.  Her legacy is seen in all aspects of British society, from the free market economic system to crumbling housing market.  And while I can’t say that I completely agree with her on everything, such as her strong opposition to European integration, I do admire her conviction and refusal to bend to public and political pressure.  Whether she was leading her country through war, staring down the threat of communism, or raising her two young children, Margaret Thatcher was a badass.  Don’t believe me?  Check this out.

For more information on the life and work of Margaret Thatcher, head to bbc.co.uk/news and enter “Margaret Thatcher” in the search bar at the top.  Or use any of these helpful links:

http://www.margaretthatcher.org/essential/biography.asp
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-22067155
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-11518331
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-22074250
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-22079683
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-10378091
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-10377842
http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/people/margaret_thatcher

For a look at the local reaction to her death, see this segment from USC’s ATVN.  I am featured in this story, but that is so obviously not why I mentioned it here.  #AnnenbergFamous

Meet Professor Brian Rathbun

Many of you probably already know about this wonderful blog called The Duck of Minerva. If not, the next time you’re zoning out in class, I suggest you give this blogspot a little peruse (of course, not to take Glimpse from the Globe’s place in your heart).

But what you may not know, is that here at USC, we have an IR professor who is a regular contributor to The Duck.  He focuses “on world politics from an academic perspective.”  Our very own Professor Brian Rathbun (a.k.a. The Rath) has been writing for the blog since 2011; mostly pieces satirizing the IR profession and occasionally a piece about recent developments in world politics.  Rathbun states that he “likes to understand something after it has happened” and doesn’t like to “prognosticate” current events (see Foreign Policy blogs for that).  Unusual for a blogger, but a nice deviation from the norm in my opinion.

Rathbun divulged that what he likes about writing for The Duck of Minerva is that it’s something different.  The material he writes for the blog can’t be published in an academic journal, and he claims “no one will read it if I put it on my website.”  The Duck gives him a more creative outlet and a built-in reader-base.  His most recent pieces include, “Nation’s international relations reference librarians despondent as Game of Thrones returns“, “Citing academic literature, NRA calls for proliferation of weapons for children of all ages,” and “International Relations Fetish on the Rise.” And we cannot forget to mention his series “Stuff Political Scientists Like.”

But when Professor Rathbun is not contributing his opinions to the blogosphere, you can find him working on his new book on the elements and processes of diplomacy.  Branching off from his interest in cognitive psychology, Rathbun is taking a closer look at the “true choice” of the diplomat during negotiations.  The inspiration for this topic came while his wife was working as a diplomat, prompting him to figure out why diplomacy is so important to the conduct of international relations.  “Many theorists tend to view diplomacy very structurally; that is, if you’re powerful, you get what you want, and if you’re not powerful, you don’t get what you want.”  But, Rathbun argues  if that’s true, then you could stuck any two diplomats in a room and get the same outcome.  But as we all know, that is not how it often works.

His other books include Partisan Interventions: European Party Politics and Peace Enforcement in the Balkans (Cornell University Press, 2004) and Trust in International Cooperation: The Creation of International Security Institutions and the Domestic Politics of American Multilateralism (Cambridge University Press, 2012).  The former focuses on how the domestic political disputes regarding humanitarian intervention differed between the United Kingdom, France, and Germany. While the latter looks at partisan debates in the United States over the creation of  international organizations, looking specifically at the League of Nations, the United Nations, and NATO.

So whether he’s poking fun at those of us who sometimes take IR a little too seriously or working hard on his eagerly anticipated new book–all while teaching at least two classes per semester–Professor Rathbun seems to be having a great time.

If you are interested in contacting Professor Rathbun, email him at brathbun@usc.edu or visit his office in VKC 330.

Prof. Rathbun teaches the following courses in Fall 2013:
IR 369 Contemporary European International Relations
IR 521 Introduction to Foreign Policy Analysis

Is Norway Even in the European Union?

The committee [1] stated that the EU and its “forerunners” have contributed to “peace and reconciliation, democracy, and human rights in Europe” over the past six decades.  The Nobel panel cites Europe’s impressive work at integration since World War II; the introduction of democracy in Greece, Spain, and Portugal; the end of much of the division between the East and the West during the Cold War; and the on-going process of stabilization in Balkans as reasons for awarding it this honor.

It is true that Europe has become more integrated since WWII and there have been no wars on the European continent since then.  However, Mats Persson (Open Europe) reminds us that “the first people to be part of the big epic moments in the European reconciliation were national politicians, not so much people in European institutions” [2].

And Europe did bring democracy to Greece, Spain, and Portugal as a condition of their entrance into the EU.  But, democracy itself should not be the criteria for entrance.  The Eurozone is still suffering for the decision to ignore economic deficiencies of those countries upon entry to the EU.  The eurozone crisis drags on due to the ill-advised acceptance of Greece, Spain, and Portugal into the EU.

The assertion that the EU stopped the Soviets from invading Western Europe during the Cold War, which is something many of those who support the award are arguing, is absolutely ridiculous.  According to Nigel Farage, MEP and leader of UKIP, “the Cold War was about NATO and the nuclear deterrent.”  It had “absolutely nothing” to do with the EU, which didn’t actually exist until 1992 (after the official end of the Cold War).  [2]

While the EU has helped stabilize Eastern Europe to a certain degree, we cannot forget that the massacre at Srebrenica [3] occurred on Europe’s watch and that the Balkans is still very unstable.  Democracy does not necessarily mean stability.  Instability and violence is right in Europe’s backyard; and they have yet to do something about it.

The fact is that the eurozone crisis has made Europe more divided and fragile than it has for decades.  Recently, Chancellor Merkel was greeted in Greece by protestors dressed as Nazis.  That does not sound like behavior befitting an international organization that just won the Nobel Peace Prize.

It is also worth noting that the committed in Oslo awarded President Barack Obama the peace prize when he had very few achievements to his name.  It seems to me that the Nobel committee has started awarding these prizes as an endorsement for those individuals and organizations that it approves of or that it believes will likely one day do something to warrant this prize. Thomas Kirchner in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung warns that the Nobel committee “must be careful if it wants its decisions to be taken seriously for much longer” [4].  And Dutch eurosceptic Geert Wilders queries, “What next?  An Oscar for van Rompuy?”

In my opinion, the Nobel committee made this award a little hastily.  There have to be other people and/or organizations in this world more deserving of this prize than the EU.  I believe the Nobel Peace Prize should be earned before it is awarded.  But, hey, maybe the Nobel committee was hoping that this million-dollar prize could be used to bail out the eurozone.

[1] http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/2012/press.html
[2] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-19924216
[3] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-18101028
[4] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-19936165

Office Hours: Professor Laurie Brand

In March 2011, a few teenagers painted revolutionary slogans on a school wall in Deraa, a city in southern Syria. They were arrested and tortured by local law enforcement, sparking demonstrations. Security forces opened fire on the demonstrators, killing several, which prompted nationwide protests demanding President Bashar al-Assad’s resignation. The government responded harshly to crush the dissent, sending tanks to Deraa and hitting homes in the city of Homs with rockets and mortars. By August 2012, the fighting had reached the capital city of Damascus and a second major city, Aleppo. This prompted the military to launch a large-scale offensive to regain control from the rebels. Refugees have been flooding into neighboring countries, mostly to Turkey in the northwest, but also to Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq. Millions more have been internally displaced due to the intense fighting. The government soon began bombing many major cities, targeting security facilities. Government officials have blamed the bombings on terrorist groups linked to al-Qaeda. There is no proof that this is the case, and the Free Syrian Army claims that the government planted the bombs to discredit the opposition. There are known Islamist militants operating in Syria and the al-Nusra Front has claimed responsibility for several of the bombings. There have been reports of massacres carried out by government loyalists, but the government claims no responsibility and points the finger at the terrorist groups. The International Committee of the Red Cross assessed the Syrian conflict as a “non-international armed conflict”. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-19331551)

Recently, Syria has sent shells rocketing across the border and into Turkey, killing citizens. The Turkish parliament has authorized military action, yet Ibrahim Kalin, a senior advisor to the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, states, “Turkey has no interest in starting a war with Syria…but Turkey is capable of protecting its borders and will retaliate when necessary.”

Civil unrest continues in Syria and the international community seeks ways to address an escalating situation. Professor Laurie Brand, an expert on the international relations in the Middle East and North Africa, provides insight into the situation:

Q: How much do you think the Syrian uprising was influenced by the Arab Spring? Was this a spillover?

A: “…I think had the president … not met [demands for reform] with just the most meaningless and scornful responses, I think that it’s clear that … had there been any kind of a good faith move…I don’t think this would have happened…If [the Syrian people] had seen some measure of positive response, I don’t think they would have engaged in this kind of opposition, but it was the excessive violence and…though I think that the broader context does play a role, I also think that the regime…brought a lot of this on themselves.”

Q: Focusing more on the Turkey-Syria relationship, it seems to me that there’s been a gradual deterioration of relations between the two. Are you surprised by the recent cross-border shelling?

A: “…it’s not surprising for several reasons that we’re seeing cross-border shelling. It hasn’t reached, and hopefully it won’t but one doesn’t know, the point of what we would call ‘extended engagements’ but there are several things at work. One is that from the beginning Turkey was the first major refuge for Syrians fleeing the fighting. So you had Turkey playing a role in hosting a growing number of Syrian refugees, so…the animosity between the two states emerged…the Free Syrian Army basically [has] their headquarters in Turkey and a number of meetings for various configurations of the opposition [are] also being hosted by the Turks. So clearly the border becomes an important point of negative contact between the two. The other element is that the Free Syrian Army…[has] managed more successfully in the northwest of the country to, at least temporarily, claim areas as under their control, and that’s the area that borders Turkey. So to the extent that the Syrian government is seeking to try and dislodge them or defeat them, that’s going to be the area that they are most likely to go after.”

Q: Was this a planned attack from the Syrian government to draw Turkey into the conflict?

A: “…there have been a number of instances of Syrian shells falling on the Turkish side, but it was the first time last week that there were actual casualties…so while the Turks had…watched warily before, once you start having your own citizens…killed, [Turkey] has a responsibility toward [its] own citizens, and they have to do something. As I understand it, there is a great deal of support in Turkey for greater vigilance…certainly not yet for any kind of all out invasion into Syria. I don’t think that’s what the Syrians want. I’m guessing that the fact that you have shells falling across the border has more to do with imprecision in the actual shelling than it does with Syria trying to pick a fight with the Turks. The last thing they need at this point is a NATO force invading their country from the north. The Syrians are not, I can’t imagine that would be something they’re actually courting. To me if they’re thinking logically, and maybe some…are not thinking logically, maybe they just want to put the Turks on notice…[to not] be supporting the Free Syrian Army, but just assuming that there wouldn’t be support in Turkey for any larger intervention. And that may be an accurate calculation, but I think it’s a very dangerous one to be making at this point.”

Q: How likely do you think it is that NATO and/or the UN will intervene in some way?

A: “…as long as the Russians and/or the Chinese maintain their position there is not going to be any sort of UN action, as was the case with Libya. The only other entity that could put some sort of force together would be NATO. The Libyan intervention, I think, didn’t go as was planned (in the end yeah Qaddafi was overthrown, but it went on much longer than anyone anticipated). Syria is much more problematic than Libya in terms of geography, size of population, concentration of population, and the efficiency of the Syrian army…had NATO not intervened I think it was very clear that the rebels would have been defeated in Libya…with that experience as backdrop, I think it was very instructive for NATO, so it’s difficult for me to imagine a NATO intervention. If you could stand back as an analyst, interested in the role that conflict in one region can have in spilling over, you can actually see the dynamics of a spillover, and that’s very scary. If this becomes a wider configuration, if Lebanon [and southern Turkey] get drawn in more fully…and Iraq is not fully stable…there is also the possibility of some kind of spillover and interaction there. Jordan is clearly very concerned [about the spillover], and the United States has sent all of these troops and advisors regarding how to deal with refugees and how to deal with the possibility of perhaps use by the Syrians of their chemical weapons capability. It’s possible that if this does take on more of an ‘extra-Syrian’ character that one could see some sort of intervention, but if it remains largely limited to inside Syria, I think that the international actors who are concerned in one way or another have demonstrated that they are not willing to become involved militarily.”

Since this interview was conducted (Wednesday October 10, 2012), Turkey has impounded a Syrian jetliner on the suspicion of carrying Russian munitions. There have been rumors that Syria has been sending planes over to the border (in preparation for an attack?) and that the Turkish government is growing weary of supporting the rebels from behind the scenes.

What will happen next remains to be seen; however, I think it is safe to say that this conflict is not going to be resolved any time soon. There are too many actors, both within and outside of Syria, and the complexity of the situation will not help bring about a quick resolution. Despite efforts to negotiate a ceasefire and contain the situation, it does not look promising. Syria’s revolution may soon become Turkey’s war.

The Westphalian Imaginary

As students of international relations, we are all familiar with the Westphalian system.  The traditional story is as follows (in greatly simplified form):

The Thirty Years’ War was a struggle between two main parties.  On one side were the “universalists” and on the other were the “particularists”.  The universalists were the members of the Habsburg dynasty who advocated absolute control over Christendom.  The particularists were those who rejected overlordship and upheld the right of all states to full independence.  The particularists won, and the great Peace of Westphalia was signed, which formalized the principles of state sovereignty, autonomy, and equality.  The Peace of Westphalia marked the transformation of the international system into a system that would respect a states’ authority over its defined geographic area and freedom from outside interference in its domestic affairs.  The Westphalian system has been the primary structure of the international system since 1648, but reached its peak, or “Golden Age”, in the nineteenth century with the rise of nationalism.

International relations theorists adopted the view of the winners and three main tenants of the treaty are defined as enduring characteristics of the international system:

  1. All states have a right to sovereignty and political self-determination
  2. All states are legally equal
  3. One state (or a group of states) cannot interfere in the affairs of another

The Westphalian settlement has formed the normative structure of the modern world order for the past four centuries.  However, in the past twenty years or so, it has been suggested that the Westphalian system is in decline.  One can observe the gradual shift from the state-centric Westphalian system to one (which has yet to be defined or labeled) which includes strong non-state actors such as the European Union, terrorist groups, NGOs, etc.

But my question is: how can we be moving into a post-Westphalian system when the Westphalian system never existed?

The Westphalian system is a construct that has guided international relations for hundreds of years.  But I believe that we have never actually experienced a true Westphalian system.

First, let’s look at the Thirty Years’ War.  Common IR rhetoric tells us the story written above.  It’s clear that this was a complex conflict with a variety of actors, motivations, and goals.  But if one examines the war more closely, the Habsburgs did not start the war because they wanted to expand their power.  In fact, the other actors (France, Denmark, and Sweden) in Europe were trying to diminish the Habsburg’s role and aggressively expand their own territory.  The war began as a conflict between the Habsburg’s and the German princes; the other powers jumped in claiming to be fighting oppression, but really hoping to increase their landholdings.

So, if the war was not fought in the name of defending national sovereignty, then our interpretation of the peace treaties cannot be right.  IR scholars tend to read the treaties as concerned with issues of sovereignty and reordering the European system.  However, the peace treaties dealt primarily with freedom of religion and religious practices within states.  None of the states involved in the war were concerned with losing their sovereignty, but rather with reshuffling the balance of power in their favor.  No great revolution in the way we conceptualize sovereignty actually occurred.  The hierarchical system that was in place before the Thirty Years’ War, endured after the war and after the peace treaties.  The idea of an international “system” is an 18th century construct that was then used to analyze past events.  The Peace of Westphalia is a major turning point, not because the peace treaties themselves said anything about the principles of sovereignty, territoriality, and autonomy, but because of their implications for the development of IR theory.

Also, the Westphalian system has more exceptions than rules.  I can name hundreds of instances in which the sovereignty of one state was violated by another: recent intervention in Libya, the European Union, the First Gulf War when Iraq invaded Kuwait, Soviet satellite states during the Cold War, colonization of the Americas, Asia, and Africa…I could go on forever.  The point is, if we insist that the principles of sovereignty, territoriality, and autonomy are the three foundational principles of international system, why do we break our own rules so often?  Could it be because our fixation on the Westphalian model is preventing us from seeing the world as it really is?  We cannot claim that we operate in the Westphalian way when we conduct our international relations as exceptions to the Westphalian model.

But just because the Westphalian system is imaginary does not mean that it is not important.  Whether it exists or not, the Westphalian model has guided international relations for over four hundred years.  The basic notions of sovereignty, territoriality, and autonomy are the foundations upon which we have structured our world.  And this story that we are told about the Westphalian system makes sense.  The Westphalian model offers a simple, arresting, and elegant image of our world.  And we’re reluctant to accept that the lens we have constructed, the lens through which international relations has been studied for years, is just that: a lens.  The recent discourse on the “decline” of the Westphalian system is relevant only in the theoretical sense.  IR theory tells us that it’s important to understand we are moving to a post-Westphalian world; but in actuality, we were never even in a Westphalian system.

For further reading, see: 

Krasner, Stephen D., “Compromising Westphalia”, International Security, vol. 20, no. 3 (Winter, 1995-1996), pp. 115-151.

Oseander, A., “Sovereignty, International Relations, and the Westphalia Myth”, International Organization (55, 2001).

Strange, S., “The Westfailure System”, Review of International Studies, vol. 25, no. 3 (1999), pp. 345-354.

Gross, L., “The Peace of Westphalia, 1648-1948”, American Journal of International Law (53, 1959).

Darel Paul, “Sovereignty, Survival and the Westphalian Blind Alley in International Relations”, Review of International Studies, volume 25, issue 02; April 1999, pp 217-23.