By Conor Scanlon
February 20, 2019
Hindsight can be both a blessing and a curse. It can help provide insight for future decisions, but it can also point out what should have been obvious before. Studying International Relations, the students of today have the benefit of looking back at previous conflicts and outcomes to create more effective roadmaps towards solving the world’s problems. Unfortunately, every situation in the world is unique, and predicting outcomes can be a very difficult thing to do.
As a part of TRIP’s recurring Snap Polls, the team asks IR scholars a range of questions regarding the state of the International Relations academic discipline, as well as preferences and predictions regarding the world’s biggest issues. Sometimes, these scholars flex their knowledge and intuition by accurately predicting outcomes of world events. Other times, they are wrong, very very wrong.
In this second edition of the TRIP RA blog, I will be looking back at previous snap polls to see where the scholars got it right, and where they got it wrong. The purpose of this post is to take a light-hearted look back at the good and bad predictions scholars have made.
While the snap polls themselves ask many questions, it is important to note that I have only selected questions in which there is a clear right or wrong prediction made. For example, a scholar stating that they think Donald Trump would not be an effective foreign policy leader is subjective, based on one’s viewpoint and what factors they consider to be more important, so there is no clear right or wrong prediction there. With that being said, let’s get on with it.
What they got right: this is straightforward. This category will indicate predictions made that eventually ended up being true.
What they got wrong: also pretty straightforward. This category will indicate where the majority opinion was incorrect on their prediction. Perhaps they were incorrect simply based off of misreading the situation, or firmly believing in a strategy that just didn’t pan out this time.
What they got right:
One year from now, will Greece still be using the Euro? Published on May 31, 2015.
Congrats to the 65.44% that answered yes! In the beginning of 2015, the Greece Debt Crisis was starting to stir fear into EU leaders, as the far-left political party Syriza (who had been accused and associated with leaving the Euro) had just been elected and there were still fears that the government was running out of time and money. Those who voted “no” to this question probably made the assumption that Greece would eventually default on its loans, and Syriza would follow up on its alleged goal of leaving the Euro. However, in July 2015, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras signed a bailout deal which has for now held off the potential of Greece leaving the Euro.
Some analysts suggest China may be reclaiming land to build a second airstrip on Subi Reef. Please rate the likelihood of violent confrontation in the South China Sea over the next 5 years with the current number of airstrips, with 0 indicating not likely at all and 10 indicating extremely likely.
Although the spread is a bit more even between not likely and extremely likely (I think of each category as a percentage of likelihood, so 1 would be 10%, 2 would 20%, etc), 72.02% of the respondents thought there was a 50% chance or less of a conflict breaking out. The survey was published in September 2015 and it is currently February 2019 with no sign of a violent confrontation between the U.S. and China. Not only that, but China hasn’t necessarily stepped down on their pursuit of militarily building up the South China Sea (https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-05-10/china-deploys-military-plane-to-third-south-china-sea-airstrip).
What they got wrong
With which of the following obligations in the agreement do you believe Iran will fully comply?
Perhaps in the optimism of the Iran deal, scholars felt that everything would go right. Unfortunately, the world usually doesn’t work that way, especially when the agreement is between two enemies. 64.31% of scholars believed that Iran would fully comply. However, in August 2017, Iran refused to allow IAEA inspectors into research and military facilities. While the U.S. did certify that the agreements of the deal were being upheld, it was rather begrudgingly accepted by President Trump, and the State Department came out with a statement declaring that it hopes that “this doesn’t happen again” along with citing how Iran is violating the agreement.
In September 2013 the United States and Russia agreed to a framework under which Syria would relinquish its chemical weapons. According to the agreed framework these weapons would be destroyed under the supervision of international inspectors by June 30, 2014. Do you believe that Syria will fulfill its obligations under the agreement by the June deadline?
Perhaps another example of too much optimism within the academic community, the joint framework between the U.S. and Russia regarding the Syrian Civil war seemed like a step in the right direction by having two to major powers that are invested in the region come together to eliminate the use of chemical weapons (a war crime according to the Geneva Convention). 71.18% of respondents answered stating that Syria would comply with the agreement, with 10.5% saying they would actually comply by the July 30, 2014 deadline. While I cannot definitively say that the Syrian government will never comply with the agreement, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) claimed that on June 23, 2014, the last remaining chemical weapons in Syria were shipped out of the country.
However, there have been numerous reports of chemical weapons still being utilized by the Syrian government. Sarin Gas, XV and Chlorine Gas were reported to either have been developed in the country and/or being used by government forces. Once again, I cannot definitively say that Syria will not eventually comply the treaty, but given that over 4 years has passed since the agreement has taken place, I think it is safe to assume that many of the scholars got this one wrong.
Conor Scanlon is a senior studying International Relations in the St. Andrews/William & Mary Joint Degree Program and has been working at TRIP since his sophomore year (although he was in St. Andrews for his junior year.) His interests include Sub-Saharan African Development, Security and Political Risk, as well as being a genuine troll by pointing the (often occurring) mistakes of the IR academy.