Categories
Fall 2020 RA Posts

“We Didn’t Start the Fire”… But We’re Not Putting It Out, Either: The COVID-19 Pandemic Seven Months On

By Mary Trimble
October 29, 2020

Trimble_102920_map

If you have whiplash from this week’s, this month’s, or even this year’s news cycle, you’re far from alone. The sheer volume of events, that in any other year would dominate cable news for weeks at a time, is enough to leave one’s head spinning and inspire a rather morbid verse of “We Didn’t Start the Fire” (“Ayatollah’s in Iran, do we have a COVID plan?”). 

Here’s a quick recap of what has happened in 2020 so far: the assassination of an Iranian general and its fallout (remember that?), an impeachment (almost forgot to include that one), a hotly contested election, a pandemic (which created an economic recession), protests for racial justice, the passing of a legendary supreme court justice, a subsequent nomination fight, and the President of the United States being diagnosed with a potentially fatal respiratory disease (see “pandemic,” above) which, by the way, could have triggered a constitutional crisis. It seems like the only constant in this year— and the thing that has affected all of us, somehow (even scholars in the Ivory Tower)— has been the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Naturally, TRIP asked international relations (IR) scholars to try to untangle the Gordian Knot that is the state of 2020. In the fourteenth edition of TRIP’s Snap Polls of IR faculty, 706 IR scholars responded to questions about the upcoming election, foreign policy, and, of course, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Because covering all of their responses would probably require several thousand words and a few degrees that I don’t have yet, we’ll deal here only with scholars’ responses on the pandemic (the people with the degrees have covered the rest of it in this article in Foreign Policy). In Snap Poll XIII, in May 2020, scholars weighed in for the first time on COVID-19 and the US and international response (see the full results here, my take here, and RA Maggie Manson’s analysis of protests in the COVID-19 era using Snap Poll XIII data here). 

It goes without saying that much has changed in our understanding of COVID-19 and governments’ containment and mitigation policies since May. Europe and the United States have, for the most part, emerged from a “strict lockdown,” with limited success (and some are locking down once again in the face of a significant second wave). Scientists are scrambling to develop a vaccine, but with flu season approaching and COVID-19 cases rising to record-breaking levels around the world, it doesn’t seem like 2020 is going to end much better than how it started (and it started with the threat of WWIII). 

The last six months seem to have been enough to convince most scholars of the serious implications of a pandemic. While in 2017, the overwhelming majority of IR faculty did not believe that infectious diseases were currently a major concern or would become one in the next ten years, this time around, 75% of scholars believed that “the spread of infectious disease poses a major threat to the United States.” (For what it’s worth, this survey was in the field prior to news of the President’s COVID-19 diagnosis.) 

To that end, scholars also chimed in on how they felt governments and institutions had managed that threat. Whereas in May, 63% approved of the World Health Organization’s handling of the pandemic, in Snap Poll XIV, only 55% responded that the response had been at least “somewhat good,” with 32% saying their response had been “somewhat bad.” Perhaps this dip is simply a function of there still being a pandemic all these months later, or perhaps President Trump’s steady drumbeat of negative rhetoric on WHO, including withdrawing US funding from the organization, has penetrated the zeitgeist. 

Scholars had a resoundingly dismal review of the US response. Nearly 87% of respondents believed that the US had done a “very bad job dealing with the coronavirus outbreak.” They were much more bullish, however, about the EU’s handling of the outbreak, with roughly 72% saying that the EU had done a “somewhat good” or “very good” job managing the virus. 

It’s clear that the Trump Administration has been dismissive of the virus, downplaying the health threats associated with the disease, discouraging public health measures like mask-wearing and social distancing (including and especially at the rallies and events the President has held throughout the pandemic across the country and at the White House), and opposing lockdowns and school closures. In contrast, EU officials have consistently acknowledged the threat of the virus, even when there wasn’t a clear, pan-European consensus about how to handle it.

However, it’s also true that the EU didn’t have immediate (nor consistent) success at handling the virus, by their own admission. Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, scolded member states on March 26, 2020, for their failure to coordinate their responses. “And when Europe really needed to prove that this is not only a ‘fair weather Union’, too many initially refused to share their umbrella,” she said, referencing border closures throughout the Schengen Area and widespread stockpiling of medical supplies by national governments in the early days of the outbreak that disadvantaged other members, including Italy, which was the first European country to see a severe outbreak. Let’s not forget, too, the “corona bonds” crisis that once again pitted Northern and Southern European states against each other. 

Yet, in midsummer, when Europe seemed to be past the worst of the virus, the US was seeing its highest case numbers so far. It seemed clear that, at least by the numbers, the EU had gotten something right. Today, the picture is hazier. 

As of October 16th, the EU/European Economic Area (which includes the EU-27 and Norway, Liechtenstein, and Iceland) and the UK reported 198,886 deaths (that’s roughly 40 deaths per 100,000). On the same day, the US reported 217,987 deaths total as a result of the pandemic (around 68 deaths per 100,000). In the last week, both the US and the EU have seen significant spikes in the rolling average of new cases. On October 22, the EU and UK saw a 7-day rolling average of 125,571 new cases (25 new cases per 100,000, roughly four times higher than at the peak of the first wave in the spring), and the US reported a rolling average of 59,699 new cases (roughly 18 per 100,000) just under its existing high watermark.

Newsweek reported last week that certain countries in Europe, including Belgium and Spain, have surpassed the US in the number of deaths per one million people. (Moreover, on October 22nd it was announced that former Belgian PM and current Foreign Minister, Sophie Wilmès, was admitted to the ICU after testing positive for the virus.) These numbers suggest that, while perhaps the EU had things under control during the summer, that is no longer true. 

Let’s unpack this seeming contradiction in scholars’ opinions and the situation on the ground. First, this poll was in the field between Sept. 16 and 24. At this point, both Europe and the US were experiencing an uptick in cases, but it was much more significant in the United States. We’ve already established that things were looking better in Europe over the summer, while stateside it was nothing but bad news. US scholars are probably also over-exposed to US news, so perhaps no or little news from the EU was taken as de facto good news. So, scholars may have answered based on general and lingering impressions from the situation over the summer. If only to have a reason to use the word “zeitgeist” again, it’s worth reiterating that President Trump’s rhetoric, which has been so consistently at odds with science and public health recommendations, may have contributed to a panic that made anything look better by comparison, even to highly educated, extremely reasonable IR scholars.

IR scholars got it (mostly) wrong this time, it’s true. In fairness, public health science is not necessarily their area of expertise. More importantly, their miscalculation highlights all that we don’t know about this pandemic— the US and the EU took very different tacks in handling the virus and ended up in roughly the same situation. Here, however, is what we do know: masks work, social distancing works, hand washing works. Let’s do those things. 

The election is rapidly approaching, and scholars predict that a Biden administration would be vastly different to a second Trump administration in its policy on global public health, among other foreign policy concerns (they predict, too, that Biden would be more effective at achieving those goals). Perhaps that means more collaboration with the EU and others for the development of a vaccine, data sharing, or something else. Beyond that, though, it’s evident that we are far from free of this pandemic, here or across the pond. What’s worse: perhaps we need to evaluate and adjust our and scholars’ standards for what constitutes “success” and “failure” in the context of a pandemic before we have any hope of putting out this fire. 

Mary Trimble is a sophomore at the College hoping to double major in European Studies and French and Francophone Studies. Mary began work at TRIP in February 2020. She is also an associate news editor for The Flat Hat student newspaper and a Tribe Ambassador with the Office of Undergraduate Admissions. Her interests include US-EU relations, national identity, and the rise of populism and far-right nationalism in the US and abroad.

Categories
Fall 2020 RA Posts

MENA Integration: Legacies & Suggestions

By Maggie Manson
September 23rd, 2020

In the TRIP 2017 Faculty Survey, scholars in Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon were asked “What are the three most important foreign policy problems facing [Respondent Country] today?” A significant issue that was present in each country’s top three response options was the issue of regional disintegration, with 100% of scholars noting this issue in Egypt, 60% in Jordan, and 25% in Lebanon. Regional disintegration refers to a lack of cohesion or shared identity between states in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Regional integration has been very important in the ancient and modern political history of the MENA, and the region’s current lack thereof is clearly an issue of great importance to scholars in Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon.  To understand the extent and importance of this disintegration, I’ll analyze past attempts at regional cohesion throughout  MENA, possible reasons for current disintegration, and offer my thoughts on what a potential regional conglomerate could look like in the future. 

Lebanon 2017 Faculty Survey Responses
Jordan 2017 Faculty Survey Responses

Historic integration of the region stems from the first Islamic state: the Rashidun Caliphate, which ruled the region from 632, after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, to 661 CE. The three other most prominent Caliphates include the Umayyad, Abbasid, and Ottoman Caliphates, with the Ottoman being the last, collapsing in 1923 under the pressure of Western interference post-world war one. The roots of modern regional integration in the MENA begin in 1928 with the founding of the Islamist group: the Muslim Brotherhood, founded by Egyptian teacher Hassan al-Banna. The organization rejected western influence and imperialism, seeking the rise of a free Islamic state as the solution to regional instability. However, with the rise of the Free Officers Movement in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood was coopted by the movement as they provided support for the 1952 coup d’etat but then were forcibly secularized once Free Officer Gamal Abdel Nasser came to power. Nasser’s political movement of Pan-Arabism, which integrated concepts of Arab nationalism and socialism, advocated for unity between Arab states against western influences. While the movement originated from the Syrian Ba’ath Party, it was popularized by Nasser who made Pan-Arabism policy in Egypt and helped to spread the movement throughout the region through diplomatic partnerships and alliances with other MENA countries. With the fall of Nasser in 1970, the subsequent end of Pan Arabism, and extensive foreign intervention in the region, a fractured MENA has emerged and scholars in three of these countries clearly see this as a significant foreign policy issue.

Previous bodies that have strived to create unity between Arab or MENA states include but are not limited to the Arab League, the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Maghreb Arab Union,  the Pan-Arab Free Trade Agreement, and the Agadir Agreement. The Arab League¹ was founded in 1945 with the primary goal to strengthen relationships and coordinate policies between the MENA countries. The goals of this body have not been achieved due to two major roadblocks; arguments over leadership, and conflicts between member countries due to the large scale of the group. The Gulf Cooperation Council(GCC)², a smaller more homogenous group,  was founded in 1981 as a political and economic alliance between Gulf states. The GCC can be seen as one of the most successful regional bodies in the MENA, due in part to the close geographic proximity, similar governments, and similar socioeconomic situations of member states. The Maghreb Arab Union³, founded in 1989, sought to achieve policy coordination, a shared identity, and free movement of people, goods, and services between member states. It was ultimately ineffective in achieving these goals due to Morocco-Algeria tensions, Libya-Mauritania tensions,  and the continuing issue of Western Sahara sovereignty. The Pan-Arab Free Trade Agreement, founded in 1997, aimed to decrease barriers to trade between countries to improve their economies, but despite increasing inter-regional trade, it ultimately had little impact on each of the countries’ individual economies. The Agadir Agreement founded in 2004 acted as a free trade agreement with the main goals included establishing free trade between member states and eventually creating a Mediterranean-European Free Trade Area by cooperating with the EU. These goals have not been achieved due to member state conflicts and blockades to a free trade area by the US. 

Regional Membership of Surveyed Countries

In recent years any semblance of regional integration can be seen to be split down the middle with many states in the MENA taking sides in the Iran v. Saudi proxy conflict, that has primarily played out in the Yemeni civil war. To provide context for this regional rivalry, Iran (a majority Shia Islam country) and Saudi Arabia (a majority Sunni Islam country) have an ongoing sectarian-based conflict that has yet to devolve into all-out warfare directly against each other but has resulted in neighboring countries picking sides and regional meddling in order to exert influence. The Arab Spring uprisings in a few countries have exerted significant influence over this proxy conflict, as they have often acted as battlegrounds for this conflict to play out. In Bahrain, Syria, and Yemen, Iran and Saudi Arabia have aided and armed opposing sides of each uprising, arguably contributing to the escalation from protest movements to full-blown civil wars in some cases. This rivalry is also another major barrier to full regional integration that will need to be overcome to foster future collaboration. 

The future of MENA regional integration may look grim, but there remains great potential for strong economic regional cooperation. A key economic suggestion for overcoming historical obstacles to large-scale collaboration would be for Arab countries to work on coordinating a cohesive trade policy for intraregional and interregional trade. Intraregional trade policy should focus on essentially eliminating all tariffs, quotas, and non-tariff barriers to trade between these countries, while still fostering some protection of vulnerable industries within the region from competition with more developed countries on global markets. Any Arab trade conglomerate would hopefully not advocate solely for protectionism which would be to their detriment, but instead, advocate for strategic protectionism that still allows consumers access to global markets, but still allows Arab industries to compete (think infant industry protection- A. Hamilton). Additionally, Arab states should strive to form a strong voting/negotiating coalition among them for World Trade Organization rounds/ ministerial conferences in order to approach these meetings with common regional stances, allowing them to actually pass rules/treaties that favor Less Developed Countries/benefit the region. Solutions across economic dimensions do not necessarily solve the barrier to integration that is the Saudi/Iranian rivalry, based on religious/cultural divides. However,  I believe that focusing on full economic integration first would help eliminate barriers to further integration such as the aforementioned conflict and commitment problems, as well as facilitate future collaboration through issue-linking and regulating repeating interactions between states. There is still much work to be done in order for these states to actualize integration, but the legacies of the Caliphate, Pan-Arabism, and contemporary economic collaboration, regional integration is both possible and realistic in the Middle East and North Africa.

¹Member countries include Algeria, Bahrain, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, UAE, and Yemen

²Member countries include Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE)

³Member countries include Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, and Tunisia

Member countries include Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen

Member countries include Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, and Tunisia

Maggie Manson is a junior at William & Mary, majoring in International Relations and Middle Eastern Studies.  She began working at TRIP in September 2019. Her research interests include Border Disputes, Colonialism, Global Development, International Security, Middle Eastern Politics, Nuclear Politics, and Political Islam. On campus Maggie is Assistant Chair of Administration for the Undergraduate Honor Council, a research assistant for Professor Grewal’s Armed Responses to Mobilization Or Revolution (ARMOR) project, and Political Correspondent for the Flat Hat student newspaper.

Categories
RA Posts Summer 2020

#TRIPWrapped: TRIP Summer 2020 in Review

By Morgan Doll, Zenobia Goodman, Maggie Manson, and Mary Trimble
September 3rd, 2020

This summer, the TRIP team has been working as hard as ever in a remote work environment! While we miss the GRI porch, we are happy to be staying safe from afar and grateful for zoom meetings that have kept us in touch. Our biggest news is that we said goodbye to Project Managers Emily and Eric, and welcomed our amazing new PM’s: Irene and Alex. Emily will be moving on to pursue her Ph.D. at Cornell University and Eric will be working on his Ph.D. in Political Science at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Alex and Irene will be joining us from the University of California, San Diego where Irene completed her Masters of International Affairs, and Alex finished her Masters of Public Policy. We are so excited to welcome them to the team! 

Summer during the time of Coronavirus

Working at TRIP this summer certainly looked very different than a typical summer, but despite physical distance, TRIP was as socially connected and productive as ever! With RA Zenobia revamping our social media presence, and RA Maggie managing our blog, TRIP’s online presence was very prevalent. Over the course of three months, RAs worked on and published eight blog posts that covered pressing topics such as global perspectives on racism, academic views on the COVID-19 pandemic, and the effect of the pandemic on protest movements. RAs were able to stay connected digitally through weekly Zoom Meetings with our PM’s and often with our Primary Investigators where we brainstormed questions for our upcoming Think Tank survey, discussed social media and blog post ideas, and talked about life in the middle of a pandemic. Telework may have presented its own challenges, but as seen in the projects below, TRIP was able to adjust to a new work environment and thrive! 

For TRIP staying connected has always been an important part of our work. This became even more important during the COVID-19 pandemic. We realized that in order to stay connected with the W&M community and people around the world, revamping our social media strategy was imperative. This summer we began using our platform to promote Bridging the Theory-Practice Divide in International Relations. This gave our research assistants a chance to interact with our Twitter followers! We also created an Instagram for TRIP (@trip_wm). We used our Instagram to introduce our RAs and interact with TRIP Alumni and researchers in a more casual way. This began with the introduction of “Why TRIP Wednesday” where our RAs introduced themselves and gave insight on why TRIP was the place for them and has evolved into a platform where we simply keep others informed on upcoming TRIP activities. Revamping our social media was a great way to stay connected during the COVID-19 pandemic and we can’t wait to see where our social media journey takes us! 

TRIP has a new book!

This spring, we released the long-awaited TRIP Book: Bridging the Theory-Practice Divide in International Relations. This book uses TRIP data gathered over a fifteen-year period to analyze the structural divide in the academy’s ability to influence policy. Each chapter discusses a different issue including human rights, the environment, trade, and nuclear strategy from the viewpoint of scholars, and is followed by a response from policymakers. This conversation is both important and unique, and we are excited to bring the questions we ask every day at TRIP into the world by means of this book.

To help promote the book and meaningfully engage with its content as RAs who have been a part of compiling this data, we each read and reviewed a different chapter. Maggie focused on the nuclear strategy  chapters, Mary tackled the chapters addressing human rights and interstate conflict, Morgan looked at trade and the environment , and Zenobia worked on foreign aid. Maggie was even able to ask questions to the authors of one of these chapters, Michael Desch and Paul Avey, who described their process of working with TRIP data as follows: “We have been fortunate to have worked with TRIP on multiple projects. TRIP data is an invaluable tool for understanding broad trends in the discipline and the nature of the academic-policy gap. There is still a lot to be learned from what they have collected.”

Check out our tweets at @TRIP_survey!

How Think Tanks are influencing IR research 

After completing the journalist survey in the fall, we began compiling a list of Think Tanks to survey next. Our sample consists of the 76 most influential International Relations Think Tanks based in the U.S. including Brookings Institution, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Heritage Foundation, Council on Foreign Relations, Cato Institute, and Human Rights Watch. We chose to undertake this project because think tanks often serve as the middle ground between academics and the public. The people who conduct research at think tanks are not necessarily academics, even though some might be, and they are not journalists either. Rather than reading a lengthy article from an academic journal, the average person might be more likely to read a piece on a specific issue published by a think tank as it is more easily accessible and understandable. Thus, think tanks serve an important role in synthesizing academic knowledge and shaping the conversation on International Relations and current events. Our job as RAs was to gather contact information of the employees at these think tanks and decide whether or not to include them in our survey sample.

What’s Next?

Fall 2020 will certainly be a semester unlike any other. We are sad that we won’t be able to plant ourselves in our old corners of the Scotland Street houses, attend GRI events, or chat with our co-workers in the kitchen as we make our fourth cup of coffee of the day. Yet, this summer showed us that at GRI and at TRIP, the show can and must go on. This fall, we will work remotely to continue to build a sample for our newest survey, this time of staff at US-based NGOs and advocacy groups. Hopefully, that work will be done by the end of the semester so the PMs and PIs can begin drafting the questions for this survey. Like always, TRIP is interested in how these groups engage with academic knowledge in international relations, how they think about their own research, and what they consider to be “academic.” 

While this summer may not have looked exactly like we had imagined it would, we are so thankful for the opportunities and experiences TRIP and the Global Research Institute have provided us with and we can’t wait to see what is to come this fall!

Morgan Doll is a junior at the College of William and Mary majoring in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. She started working as a Research Assistant for TRIP in September 2019. On campus, Morgan is a member of Camp Kesem William & Mary and Kappa Alpha Theta Women’s Fraternity. Her interests include human and civil rights, law, and decision making.

Zenobia Goodman is a junior at the college, majoring in International Relations with a concentration in Global Education. She has worked at TRIP since the Spring semester of 2019. On campus, Zenobia is a member of the International Relations Club, a classroom assistant for a group of kindergartners, and a member of a social sorority. She is interested in human rights violations and global development issues.

Maggie Manson is a junior at William & Mary, majoring in International Relations and Middle Eastern Studies.  She began working at TRIP in September 2019. Her research interests include Border Disputes, Colonialism, Global Development, International Security, Middle Eastern Politics, Nuclear Politics, and Political Islam. On campus Maggie is Assistant Chair of Administration for the Undergraduate Honor Council, a research assistant for Professor Grewal’s Armed Responses to Mobilization Or Revolution (ARMOR) project, and Political Correspondent for the Flat Hat student newspaper.

Mary Trimble is a sophomore at the College hoping to double major in European Studies and French and Francophone Studies. Mary began work at TRIP in February 2020. She is also an associate news editor for The Flat Hat student newspaper and a Tribe Ambassador with the Office of Undergraduate Admissions. Her interests include US-EU relations, national identity, and the rise of populism and far-right nationalism in the US and abroad.

Categories
Book Reviews RA Posts Summer 2020

A Student Responds: Foreign Aid and the Theory-Practice Divide

By Zenobia Goodman
August 14th, 2020

Chapter Six of “Bridging the Theory-Practice Divide in International Relations” on Foreign Aid immediately captured my attention as a student interested in pursuing a career in International Development after graduating from William & Mary. Understanding foreign aid has become increasingly important due to the complexity of the topic caused by differentiating agendas between researchers and practitioners/ policymakers.

According to Christina Schneider, the Chapter’s author, there is a greater demand for linkages between scholars and the policy community in the international development community compared to other international relations subfields. Using TRIP survey data of IR Scholars, the table below shows the high demand for more research that is policy-relevant and related to major world events.

So how do we fill this gap?

Chapter Six touches on the different approaches between scholars and researchers in the field of Foreign Aid. Here are the three main takeaways from Chapter Six.

    • Though both quantitative and qualitative methods are valued by IR scholars, overwhelming, more IR scholars employ qualitative analysis.  The TRIP survey found that scholars are more likely to employ qualitative research methods over quantitative research methods for policy purposes.  The table below shows the distribution of methodological approaches used by IR scholars.  But more information is needed to understand the type of methodological approaches practitioners are in need of.
    • Increasing linkages between scholars and practitioners is not impossible! Schneider notes that policy practitioners and IR scholars do use the same methodological approaches. Improving transparency can help “increase the usability of academic research for Policy purposes” (92). An example of this is AidData: AidData employs both academic and policy workers to collaborate surrounding the behavior of development projects in areas such as China and India. Transparency seems to foster a relationship of trust and ease between different fields.

  • Differences in incentive structures are still an obstacle. Academics research doesn’t always line up with current events that need immediate attention. In addition, developing a research plan and implementing it can take up to 2-5 years, when policymakers may need it in less than a year to address current problems.

Chapter Six of the book was very interesting and insightful for understanding the application of research in developing foreign aid policy. There has been a lot of progress in reducing the gap over the years, however, work still needs to be done. The Chapter opened up my perspective on the needs of the international development community, and how my education at William and Mary and my experience at TRIP can help better understand the relationship between the academic and the policy worlds. 

Check out my tweet thread summary of Chapter Six on Foreign Aid on our Twitter: @trip_irsurvey 

Preview or buy Bridging the Theory-Practice Divide in International Relations from Georgetown University Press here: bit.ly/Bridging-G

Zenobia Goodman is a junior at the college, majoring in International Relations with a concentration in Global Education. She has worked at TRIP since the Spring semester of 2019. On campus, Zenobia is a member of the International Relations Club, a classroom assistant for a group of kindergartners, and a member of a social sorority. She is interested in the human rights violations and global development issues.

Categories
Book Reviews RA Posts Summer 2020

A Student Responds: Nuclear Strategy and the Theory-Practice Divide

By Maggie Manson
July 24, 2020

In their chapter in the new book edited by our TRIP Principal Investigators (Susan Peterson, Ryan Powers, and Michael J. Tierney) and Daniel Maliniak, Paul C. Avey and Michael C. Desch aim to solve the question of why the discipline of international security, specifically nuclear strategy, has become less policy-relevant following the Cold War. They argue that a decline in policy-relevant academia, evidenced by the decline in the proportion of journal articles with policy prescriptions, can be attributed to modern research being presented in formats that are not easily accessible for policymakers to interpret and use.

The authors find an increase in the proportion of WMD and Arms Control articles that employ quantitative analysis, rather than qualitative, which they argue is indicative of the lack of accessibility of recent nuclear research and the professionalization of IR as a field.

While the results of this chapter are interesting, I have some further questions about the applicability of these findings to the reality of nuclear politics in the Trump era. Generally speaking, nuclear research doesn’t lend itself towards quantitative methods because there is a significant lack of case studies where nuclear weapons were employed offensively (there’s exactly one, the U.S. use of nuclear weapons against Japan near the end of WWII). While aspects of nuclear politics such as hedging, proliferation, and the nonproliferation regime can be understood through quantitative analysis of real-world events, the ultimate puzzle of what factors might lead to the use of nuclear weapons cannot be solved using quantitative methods.

While the argument of the chapter may have held up in previous post-Cold War years, I believe that there is a different reason for a lack of policy relevance in the era of the Trump Presidency. The authors argue that academic work doesn’t make its way into the policy process because of inaccessible methods, however, in the case of the Trump administration, it seems that his staff often purposefully ignores expert opinion. Trump has stated many times throughout his campaign and presidency that we as a country need to be more unpredictable in our actions on the world stage. Unpredictable actions cannot coexist with well-informed policy rooted in academic findings, especially in the realm of nuclear politics. So in the Trump era, it may not in fact be that research is not well understood by policymakers, but that it is altogether ignored.

According to Snap Poll XI, a majority of scholars find Trump’s strategy of unpredictability to be highly ineffective. So why does Trump insist upon this tactic, ignoring expert opinion?

TRIP_SP_2020_Jul_24

I believe that it is not because of the inaccessibility of academic work, but instead his lack of respect for expert opinion. Avey and Desch’s argument may correctly explain the theory-policy gap in the nuclear realm pre-Trump, but I think that there is a more important factor preventing the current administration from engaging with academic material: their lack of appreciation for experts altogether. This chapter and argument are extremely compelling, so I asked the authors how they think it holds up in the Trump era.

  1.   How do you think your argument holds up in the Trump Era?

We think that the argument holds up reasonably well. If professional incentives lead nuclear scholars to turn inward to only study narrow questions amenable to certain techniques or theoretical approaches, then much of what we as scholars produce won’t be particularly relevant. There’s a lot of important questions today – from arms control to nonproliferation, to nuclear force modernization and strategy – that scholars can contribute to. It is important to put the problem at the center of analysis and then use the best approach available to answer the question. Policy practitioners are smart and can understand sophisticated approaches. But if the question and approach are not relevant to their problem set they’ll be even less likely to engage with academics. It is also incumbent on us to identify factors that policy can influence and present findings in a clear and consistent manner.

Different administrations will vary in how much they use social science work and approach experts. At its most senior levels, the Trump administration may be particularly skeptical as you note. Scholarship that is relevant may struggle to have influence across multiple administrations. The important point for us is that if the work is not relevant then there is almost no chance that it has influence.

  1.   What are your thoughts on John Harvey’s policy response to your chapter?

We thank Dr. Harvey for taking the time to engage our argument. We agree with much of what he said, not least because he notes that our assessment is “on the mark.” His response, as he notes, reinforces and extends our points. For example, he tells the story of how Ted Postol and Sally Ride failed to achieve faculty status at Stanford. For Harvey, the problem was that “they were not doing the traditional business of  academia (i.e., abstract knowledge production advancing a narrow field of study); they were working on real-world problems.” He later adds that “it was not easy to convince young social scientists and regional specialists to devote a portion of their time to policy-relevant research when prospective [academic] employers looked down on it.” Harvey highlights how disciplinary boundaries and approaches can inhibit engaging practical issues. This gets to the heart of our concern about disciplinary incentives marginalizing policy-relevant scholarship. We hope that this is changing in our field today, but we see reasons for concern. We also agree with his emphasis on time: policymakers have little of it and it matters when you introduce an idea. Scholars must be attentive to both of these factors if they work to engage practitioners.

  1.   How does your argument fit into the limits of nuclear politics research?

There are several challenges to nuclear politics research. To highlight just two, you rightly raise the challenge of small numbers and there are major secrecy issues surrounding nuclear weapons strategy and programs. This highlights the importance of our argument. Professional incentives to only study questions that are amenable to certain techniques or access can prevent scholars from exploring key issues. This is not, and we want to emphasize this, an argument against careful research and method, or an appreciation of the limits of what we can claim based on the available evidence. Our point is that if the balance moves too far in one direction then important questions will go unasked. Scholars will conduct ever-narrower studies on issues that aren’t relevant or transferrable to policy problems.

  1. What was your experience like working with TRIP data?

We have been fortunate to have worked with TRIP on multiple projects. TRIP data is an invaluable tool for understanding broad trends in the discipline and the nature of the academic-policy gap. There is still a lot to be learned from what they have collected.  

Preview or buy Bridging the Theory-Practice Divide in International Relations from Georgetown University Press here: bit.ly/Bridging-GUP

Maggie Manson is a junior at William & Mary, majoring in International Relations and Middle Eastern Studies.  She began working at TRIP in September 2019. Her research interests include Border Disputes, Colonialism, Global Development, International Security, Middle Eastern Politics, Nuclear Politics, and Political Islam. On campus Maggie is Assistant Chair of Administration for the Undergraduate Honor Council, a research assistant for Professor Grewal’s Armed Responses to Mobilization Or Revolution (ARMOR) project, and Political Correspondent for the Flat Hat student newspaper.