A Case for Modest Military Force in Syria

I wanted to explicate briefly a case for the modest application of military force in Syria, just because it seems that the blogosphere and opinion pages are over-representing arguments to do a lot or to do nothing. In a way this might be viewed as a counter to Eliot Cohen’s argument that “Syria will require more than cruise missiles.”

It goes something like this: Let’s assume that the Assad regime made an intentional choice to use chemical weapons. If so, let’s further assume they are doing so because they have determined chemical weapons are modestly more effective than conventional weapons to kill militants or to dissuade people from supporting the militants. They believe this will modestly increase the odds of regime survival.

If those assumptions are valid, then it could be rational to believe the modest application of military force—say cruise missiles against regime targets—might be useful. Such a use of airpower need not be decisive, it need only to modestly decrease the odds of regime survival. In other words, airpower needs to cost the Assad regime more than chemical weapons buy.

But shouldn’t we care about dead Syrians no matter if they die from chemical warfare or conventional weaponry? Yes, we should. But it seems likely the Assad regime has determined indiscriminate violence is necessary for regime survival. This means that only regime change as a policy has any possibility of stopping indiscriminate violence. And regime change only can stop indiscriminate violence if you believe that post-Assad, Syria will be relatively stable. It seems like 1980s Lebanon is the more likely analogy, particularly since many of the exact same players would have very similar incentives. This means further, that if you believe stability must be imposed by an outside presence, just as in 1980s Lebanon, the cost of peacekeeping to preserve stability is likely to be very high for outside powers.

Protecting Syrians from chemical weapons might be a distinct, worthwhile goal from protecting Syrians more generally. First, deaths from chemical weapons might be especially unpleasant. Second, it is very plausible that chemical weapons might disproportionately kill civilians (they drift into homes) and disproportionately kill kids (less exposure to kill than an adult). Third, if reasons one and/or two are valid, then it might be useful to attempt to delegitimize this class of weapon more broadly. If that is the case, it might be worthwhile to exert modest force (“cruise missiles”) even if it fails to alter the Assad’s regime’s calculation, so long as the force signals to other states that there might be costs to chemical weapons use. If you believe the Assad regime might have “priced in” the possibility of U.S. military action in the event of CW use, then compelling a change in behavior becomes more difficult, but dissuading future actors might still be a possibility.

A few final points on compellance. To be successful, it is important for Obama to signal that if Assad stops using chemical weapons, then the United States will cease punitive strikes. Otherwise, if Assad believes future U.S. military action is inevitable, then he has no reason to cease chemical weapons use. Often in compellance situations, there may be reputational concerns, but since the Assad regime says it is not using chemical weapons in the first place, it should be easier to back down on future chemical use.

There are a lot of assumptions built into this analysis, and if the Obama administration concludes some of the planks of this argument are not present, then this case for moderate military action quickly collapses. But if you believe the assumptions above, U.S. military power may be appropriate to prevent additional chemical weapons use.

Speculation on India-Pakistan Violence

Overnight 5 Indian soldiers were killed and another injured in an ambush along the Line of Control separating Indian- and Pakistani-administered Kashmir. Since 2003, the Line of Control has witnessed a mostly intact ceasefire. Indian officials publicly claim that some of the attackers were in Pakistan Army uniforms. People are angry, with some calling for the end of the ceasefire. What happened and why did it happen?

What happened? Without being overly pedantic, and in no particular order, it seems like three possibilities are most likely:

  • A group of mujahideen got lucky, and except for whatever “steady state” support provided by the Pakistan Army, the Pakistan military was not a major player in the episode. The reports of a Pakistan Army uniform are either incorrect or are reports of a uniform procured second-hand.
  • A local commander, in an action coordinated with militants, decided to take action with limited approval from senior commanders in Rawalpindi.
  • Rawalpindi, perhaps on its own initiative or perhaps responding to a request from a local commander, authorized the action.

I think we can dismiss as unlikely that the civilian Nawaz Sharif government authorized the action. More on that later.

Why did it happen? Again, a few possibilities.

  • No real reason. This really only makes sense under the “militants get lucky” scenario.
  • Something vaguely to do with Afghanistan, where India also suffered an attack against its consulate in Jalalabad on Saturday, August 3. As with past attacks against Indian interests in Afghanistan, there is widespread speculation that Pakistan was involved in the Saturday attack. For the longest exposition of a link between Afghanistan and last night’s LoC violence, see Praveen Swami’s post today. I think the connections are tenuous, though in the long run, if you assume a finite supply of Pakistani jihadists and if the war in Afghanistan is winding down, it certainly is possible that more will go east from Pakistan than north.
  • A tit-for-tat for an alleged Indian commando raid that snatched five men from Pakistan’s side of the Line of Control earlier this month. For the longest exposition of this hypothesis, see a different Praveen Swami post today. This might be consistent with other, recent rounds of cross-LoC violence, which also had this tit-for-tat feel.
  • Someone is trying to sabotage any peace process that might be brewing between Nawaz Sharif and Manmohan Singh. Indian and Pakistani diplomats were supposed to resume talks early next month, with an eye toward a planned meeting between Sharif and Singh on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly at the end of September. Such “spoiling” behavior has also been characteristic of past peace processes.

What is clear is that starting with the Jalalabad attack on Saturday and the LoC attack last night, it’s been a bad few days for India-Pakistan rapprochement.

The Gestation of a New Indian Strike Corps

Indian newspapers have variants of this headline today: “India to create new Army corps along China border.” (For example, here and here.) And I think to myself, man, am I getting old? I swear I read this story like ten times now. So, I decided to go look. It might only be interesting to those that track Indian security issues closely, but I think glimpsing the news stories over the years on the new Indian strike corps gives you a little bit of a feel for the Indian bureaucratic process at work. It’s not pretty, but it’s not absurd either. A proposal is generated. It moves forward. Questions are asked. It goes backward. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. More after the jump for those that care. Continue reading

Women and IR Blogs: Equally Likely to Blog, Less Likely to Study IR

By Suparna Chaudhry and William Nomikos

A couple of weeks ago, Barbara Walter and Taylor Marvin over at Political Violence @ a Glance asked why so few women in IR blog. They offered four potential explanations for the dearth of women in this part of the blogosphere: a lack of tenured women employed by elite research universities, imbalances in invitations to participate in blogs, outright sexism as a deterrent to blogging, and, finally, a low willingness of women to participate in blogs. At the Smoke-Filled Room, 3 out of our 12 bloggers are women or, looking solely at those who have IR as a concentration, 2 out of 9. Neither figure reflects equality in any real sense and so, given our existence as an exclusively graduate student blog, we wanted to dig a bit deeper into the mechanisms Walter and Marvin offer. Ultimately, we suggest that the lack of female bloggers in IR and, in particular, female graduate student bloggers, is a direct result of extreme gender imbalances that exist within graduate political science departments where two-thirds of students studying International Relations are male and only one-third is female.

In a related post, Jeremy Pressman asks whether the high percentage of tenured, male faculty in IR programs might just be a reflection of students in top PhD programs. To see if the paucity of female bloggers in international politics is just a reflection of the low number of women studying these topics in the top PhD programs, we looked at the distribution of women studying international relations and comparative politics across 17 schools (Top 20 schools selected non-randomly). Though the initial post did raise a question about the paucity of women specifically in IR, a look at some of the prominent blogs in the field such as The Monkey Cage, Duck of Minerva & Political Violence @ a Glance shows that posts are often made by comparativists as well.

Proportion of Each Gender by Subfield

Figure 1: Proportion of men and women studying International Relations, Comparative Politics, and Political Science in Top 20 Political Science Departments.

As Figure 1 shows, there is no paucity of women studying comparative politics. In fact, across the 14 schools that listed subfield interests for their doctoral students women have virtually equal representation (about 47%). Data from International Relations paint an entirely different picture. Only 33% of IR graduate students at these 14 schools are women. These numbers are especially stark compared to the gender balance across subfields. As we can see, women remain underrepresented in graduate programs in political science (39%) but much of this is due to one subfield—International Relations (American Politics is about equal; Political Economy, Methodology, and Political Theory are all skewed somewhat toward men).

Histogram of Proportion of Women Studying IR

Figure 2: A histogram of the distribution of the proportion of women studying International Relations at Top 20 Political Science departments.

Digging deeper, we can see from Figure 2 that only 2 schools have more women than men studying IR. And only 4 out of the 14 have at least 40% women. By contrast, 13 out of the 14 have at least 40% men studying IR. Clearly, a serious imbalance exists, which, in turn might lead to fewer women—in graduate school and in academia more broadly—blogging.

But, might it be the case instead that women are simply more reticent to post on and join blogs? This could be due to various potential causal mechanisms. First, foreign female students may not feel as comfortable voicing their opinions, especially if English is not their first language. However, since foreign male students are likely to face a similar language barrier, it may be the case that different cultures prescribe different norms of behavior, in particular with regard to the role of women in public and political life. It is perhaps the interaction between cultural differences and gender differences that makes international women more hesitant to blog. Second, looking beyond foreign students, it is also possible that women’s reticence to post, regardless of the geographical location of their prior education, could also have something to do with their classroom experiences, something that we are unable to capture just by looking at the distribution of women in PhD programs.

Relatedly, might IR blogs simply post about topics that women do not study? A 2006 TRIP survey of 1,112 IR faculty throughout the United States revealed certain dissimilarities between men and women in their status in the profession, approaches to teaching and scholarship, “Women study substantively different issue areas. Higher percentages of female than male faculty study international organization (+6%), international political economy (+3%), international law (+2%), the environment (+2%) and human rights (+1%). Higher percentages of men, in contrast, study U.S. foreign policy (+13%), international security (+6%), IR theory (+2%), and comparative foreign policy (+1%). These findings are consistent with evidence from the broader field of political science. The APSA divisions with the lowest female representation include international security and arms control, international collaboration, foreign policy, conflict processes, and international history and politics (Gruberg 2007). Indeed, fewer women are found in the field of IR than in American and comparative politics (Sedowski and Brintall 2007).” If our blogs are actually focusing more on such topics, then it is possible that some women may feel deterred to post about topics such as international organizations, law and so on, for fear that it may not generate enough interest. This perception could also be related to what is considered as “popular” or prominent in mainstream media, which tends to focus more on security and conflict-related topics, rather than topics related to international and non-governmental organizations and political economy.

Furthermore, Walter and Marvin, using the experience of Political Violence @ a Glance, suggest that it might be the case that fewer women are asked to join blogs. While this might be the case (the invitation process at the Smoke-Filled Room was similarly uneven), it seems more likely that this might also simply be a product of the imbalance that already exists. Additionally, as a blog, the Smoke-Filled Room has not faced any sexist attacks. Nonetheless, we acknowledge that these attacks occur and may serve as a deterrent for women. At this time, however, we are hesitant to draw any conclusions about how this could affect membership of our blog specifically and IR blogs more generally.

Nonetheless, we find little evidence that women are less likely than men to blog. Admittedly, the aforementioned factors, which might deter women from blogging, might reinforce the difficulties caused by the paucity of women in graduate programs but we doubt that these factors alone have pushed women out of the blogosphere. Let’s hypothesize that women and men are equally likely to blog. Let’s also posit an alternative hypothesis that men are more likely than women to blog. Given the structure of graduate departments, what is the probability that the Smoke-Filled Room would select 3 or fewer women out of 12 bloggers (or 2 out of 9 IR bloggers)? Given this probability, how confident do we feel in rejecting the null hypothesis that women and men are equally likely to blog? A very low probability (p<0.05, by convention) would suggest that it is unlikely that women joined the Smoke-Filled Room at such a low rate by chance.

To calculate this, we ran 10,000 simulated draws of bloggers from a pool of the 17 graduate schools for which we collected data. In 24% of these draws did the Smoke-Filled Room select 3 or fewer female bloggers (see Figure 3). When we restricted the sample to simply IR students (data from 14 schools), we found that in 40% of the draws, the Smoke-Filled Room selected 2 or fewer female IR bloggers (see Figure 4). We would not reject the null in either case at traditional levels. Therefore, we cannot conclude from the small number of female bloggers at the Smoke-Filled Room that women are less likely than men to blog. The reason is, quite simply, that the distribution of women in graduate programs and, in particular in IR, is so skewed toward men that it is difficult to find enough women to join blogs. The simulations reflect this fact as well. In fact, in a staggering 87% of the simulations, the Smoke-Filled Room selected more male than female IR bloggers.

Simulated Draws of Bloggers (Full Sample)

Figure 3: Histogram of simulations of draws from all Political Science students for bloggers for the Smoke-Filled Room. X-axis indicates number of women selected to join blog.

Simulated Draws of Bloggers (IR only)

Figure 4: Histogram of simulations of draws from only International Relations students for bloggers for the Smoke-Filled Room. X-axis indicates number of women selected to join blog.

Thus, the evidence suggests that women are not less likely to blog than men are. These findings align with our own experiences at the Smoke-Filled Room where our female bloggers, though fewer in number, have been just as active as our male bloggers. Indeed, the blogging process, even within International Relations, does not seem to be inherently flawed and sexist. Yet, as Walter and Marvin correctly point out, women do blog in smaller numbers than men do. Why? Our data gathered from Top 20 Political Science departments revealed a tremendous gender imbalance among PhD students of International Relations–33% are women, 67% are men. As our statistical analyses imply, the biggest problem appears to be structural gender imbalances within PhD programs. As we write, it is possible that issues such as women’s reticence to post, sexism on the Internet, the nature of topics discussed on IR blogs, and a smaller proportion of invitations going out to women could potentially reinforce the effect of structural imbalances, resulting in so few female bloggers. Nonetheless, the heart of the issue is analytical prior to the blogosphere and lies with the existing structures of graduate departments around the country. If we wish to foster a more equal blogging community in International Relations, it is there we should begin.

The authors would like to thank Guadalupe Tunon and Niloufer Siddiqui for their help with this post. You can follow Suparna on Twitter here and William here.

Let’s Not Forget the Good News: Croatia Joins the EU

With the ongoing conflict in Syria, Southern Europe’s financial difficulties, growing social unrest in Turkey and Egypt, and much else, it seems that “good news” often gets too little attention. Less than two decades after the end of some the most violent and brutal fighting in human history, Croatia just became the 28th member of the European Union. This is a triumph of the Croatian people’s will, international mediation, post-conflict institution building, and international organizations (though not all would agree with the latter assessment). Indeed, Croatia’s accession is merely another step in the rebuilding of the former Yugoslavia: the previous step was Slovenia’s accession and adoption of the Euro, the next steps will include the membership of Serbia, Macedonia, and Montenegro. Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo, those “irredeemable” hotbeds of violence from the 90s, have remained free of fighting for over a decade, without any indication that conflict will recur.

But, for now, this is Croatia’s moment alone. The failures of post-conflict institution-building  in Afghanistan and Iraq loom large over the international community’s collective conscience, as well they should. However, these experiences shouldn’t cloud the massive successes elsewhere. This week, we celebrate one of these success as Croatia joins the EU and cements its status as a 21st century liberal democracy. A remarkable trajectory for a country sadly often known solely for its achievements in strife rather than liberty. Congratulations, Croatia, and welcome to the European Union.

For more of his thoughts on the role of international actors in post-conflict societies, follow William on Twitter.

Is Syria’s Civil War A Result of Too Little ‘Bandwidth’ in Washington?

A commonly heard refrain about why the Obama administration has not done X or Y in [insert global troublespot name here] is that there is just not enough bandwidth. Richard Haass, discussing how Iraq distracted us from other more pressing priorities with Diane Rehm, said, “Presidents only have so much bandwidth.” 

The administration’s mouthpieces are also fond of the web 2.0 metaphors in discussing U.S. relations with the world. Benjamin Rhodes on Africa: “[There’s bandwidth in] the relationship for a lot of cooperation, even when we have difference, and even within the Syria issue, there’s that bandwidth. And that’s the message that the leaders wanted to send.” Even Obama himself has employed the notion of freeing up “national-security bandwidth.”
Huh? I understand that there are only so many hours in the day. Bandwidth is treated by its users as a finite and depletable resource, like political capital or canola oil, that should be used prudently. But part of me feels this “bandwidth” metaphor is a cop-out. When are presidents’ in-boxes ever empty? Juggling the breakup of the USSR, Tiananmen Square massacres, South Africa overturning apartheid, an invasion of Iraq, a follow-up no-fly zone in that country’s north, and an economy crumbling around him, George Bush Sr. still found time to send U.S. forces into Somalia to save lives in a place barely anybody at the time had heard of and which was of zero strategic interest.
All of which is to ask: Have scholars ever tried to code “bandwidth” in any systematic fashion? In other words, is it possible to examine the number of other pressing issues (e.g. immigration reform, healthcare, SARS outbreak, etc.) an administration is juggling at the same time? If there are more than, say, a dozen, that might cause the system to short-circuit and lead to paralysis. Do we intervene less overseas or lean more isolationist when bandwidth is low? Discuss.

What We’re Reading