Trust the process: Part I

class=”MuiTypography-root-134 MuiTypography-h1-139″>Trust the process: Part I

Critical State, a foreign policy newsletter by Inkstick Media, takes a deep dive this week into the politics of patronage in Brazil.

Inkstick MediaFebruary 1, 2023 · 12:45 PM EST

Teachers representing the observatory of knowledge, protest against budget cuts for public universities outside the Ministry of Education, in Brasilia, Brazil, Tuesday, July 2, 2019. 

Eraldo Peres/AP

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

“Patronage networks” are a popular villain of political imagination, conjuring to mind cynical images of a corrupt party boss and elected lackeys indulging in extracted wealth from the public coffers. More realistically, this kind of “rent extraction” is real, where appointed government officials use the privileges and access of the job for personal profit, but it’s hardly the only story. That patronage can facilitate corruption is well known, but it remains an insufficient explanation for why patronage structures persist across political systems. 

There are benefits from political appointments, not just to the appointees, but to the provision of public goods, argues Guillermo Toral in “How Patronage Delivers: Political Appointments, Bureaucratic Accountability, and Service Delivery in Brazil.”

The paper is written as a broader contribution to the study of patronage, adding discussion of its effectiveness to a literature already rich in outlining how such systems are used for plunder. To test the assumption of benefits, Toral looked at data from local Brazilian governments, surveyed bureaucrats and politicians, and conducted over 120 in-depth interviews across seven Brazilian states.

“I argue that political appointments and connections upwardly embed bureaucrats, which provides a set of governance resources. … Depending on how these resources are used, patronage can enhance either rent-seeking or public service delivery.”

Guillermo Toral

“I argue that political appointments and connections upwardly embed bureaucrats, which provides a set of governance resources,” Toral writes. “Depending on how these resources are used, patronage can enhance either rent-seeking or public service delivery.”

Toral goes on to explain the five mechanisms of patronage that he uncovered in his research, which he calls “upward embeddedness.” The first is the bureaucrats’ increased access to material and nonmaterial resources. The second is how patronage allows for politicians to monitor bureaucrats, while the third is how it facilitates the application of sanctions and rewards. The fourth mechanism is related to how patronage aligns bureaucratic priorities and incentives, and the fifth is how patronage works to increase mutual trust. Toral explains, “The advantages of upward embeddedness are not based on distributive favoritism because most of these governance resources are not zero-sum.”

Another way to think of this is that because appointees come in by recommendation and selection from an elected executive, those appointees are bound to that leader and have access to — at a minimum — some of the executives' attention. This makes it especially worth looking at in rural municipal contexts with finite budgets and labor pools.

“In these challenging environments, the counterfactual to a political appointee is not necessarily the highly capable, autonomous, and driven bureaucrat that Weberian theories presume,” Toral writes. “Without adequate human capital and incentives, civil servants may simply lack the capacity and motivation to deliver services. In those contexts, patronage can alleviate some constraints on bureaucratic governance.”

Appointees are also at-will employees, which means that they can be dismissed or threatened with dismissal for a failure to deliver and can also be promoted for success. In Brazil, while a developed city may have an established bureaucracy capable of handling tasks, the trust between appointees and executives in a developing city can facilitate coordination. 

This effectiveness can be seen in tracked changes of school quality in Brazil, as illustrated by scores in the Basic Education Development Index following political turnovers. Quality changes with political transition indicated that previously well-connected appointees were using those connections for meaningful service provision before the election.

“For the benefits of patronage to outweigh the costs, politicians must value public service delivery, be it due to intrinsic beliefs and norms, political competition, electoral accountability, or anti-corruption institutions,” Toral concludes.

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Random rules: Part II

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Critical State, a foreign policy newsletter by Inkstick Media, takes a deep dive this week into Ahrar al-Sham, one faction in the Syrian war, and the strategies it used to manage alliances among other rebel factions.

The WorldJanuary 25, 2023 · 3:00 PM EST

In this Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014, photo, a Free Syrian Army fighter from Shams al-Shamal heads to the front line in Kobani, Syria. 

Jake Simkin/AP

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

A rebel alliance can be self-explanatory, the purity of rebellion enough to cohere together a popular insurgent front. But, in the messiness of real life, the messiness of rebellion is a hobbling force, with ideological divisions keeping apart factions that should, by all appearances, be natural allies.

In “Same Same but Different? Ideological Differentiation and Intra-jihadist Competition in the Syrian Civil War,” Regine Schwab examines Ahrar al-Sham, one faction in the Syrian war, and what strategies it used to manage alliances among other rebel factions.

While violence is certainly one strategy rebel groups can employ against rival groups, it carries a high cost. For example, ammunition used against another rebel group can't be used to fight the government both groups seek to topple. After all, ammunition is a scarce resource. Moreover, killing fighters of another rebel faction also depletes strength.

“Differentiation also has consequences for other audiences such as local civilians, prospective recruits, and external supporters,” Schwab writes.

“Local civilians suffer from rebel infighting as they might get into the crossline or be consciously targeted. Hence, they should prefer nonviolent ways of managing conflict. When groups take a large ideological distance from each other, it is easier for prospective local and foreign recruits to choose their preferred group. While nonstate external sponsors might prefer to support the most radical rebel outlet, state sponsors often choose a more moderate option.”

In Syria, ideological differentiation proved a valuable strategy for Ahrar al-Sham, especially as ISIS occupied a radical extreme of the spectrum. For people looking to combat the Assad government but not driven to the same hardline rules and beliefs as ISIS, Ahrar al-Sham was a path into the fight.

In parsing out how groups occupy ideological space, Schwab sets out two axes: a territorial perspective and a social-political outlook. Territory ranged from national or those seeking to limit the war to smaller geographic confines, and transnational, like ISIS’s vision of Syria and Iraq as both under one rule. 

On the pragmatic end of the social scale, Schwab writes, “groups prefer integration with society and see fitna (civil strife) as detrimental to their cause. Hence, they are willing to work with actors that do not share their creed.” This is in contrast to purist groups, which took an expansive definition of takfir or declaring other Muslims "infidels."

Ahrar al-Sham was able, especially in 2013-2014, to differentiate itself from ISIS by emphasizing its nationalist credentials and broader ideological umbrella. However, this was not a particularly moderate vision, as al-Sham regularly proclaimed Afghanistan’s Taliban as the model for its desired program. Yet, those same moves left it vulnerable against Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, which after the fall of ISIS, was able to supplant Ahrar al-Sham as the main rebel force in the country.

“By analyzing the puzzling case of Ahrar al-Sham that emerged both as a winner and a loser of intra-jihadist competition in Syria, the paper finds that ideological differentiation is used when military constraints or ideological similarity preclude the initiation of violence against rivals,” Schwab concludes.

Related: Random rules: Part I

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Random rules: Part I

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Critical State, a foreign policy newsletter by Inkstick Media, takes a deep dive this week into the role of sharia in northern Nigeria.

Inkstick MediaJanuary 18, 2023 · 1:45 PM EST

Muslims in Nigeria attend Eid prayers at the Kofar Mata prayer ground in Kano Nigeria, Sunday, May 24, 2020. 

Photo/AP

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

In 1999, northern states within Nigeria adopted “full sharia,” or Islamic religious law, an action possibly made to deliberately delineate the country’s Muslim north from its Christian south. Every law can be open to interpretation in ruling, execution, and standards for evidence, and the sharia adopted is not different. Where there is a dispute over interpretation, there is a discourse, and while dominant traditions and legal schools largely held sway, the debate created room for alternate expressions of religious reasoning.

In “Northern Nigerian intellectuals, Sudan, and the ‘eclectic style’ in contemporary Islamic thought,” Alexander Thurston examines a pair of thinkers actively involved and engaged in this discourse.

“Eclecticists cross or blur boundaries between sectarian camps, even as they may have their own enemies and rivals,” Thurston writes. “Within politics, eclecticism carries advantages and disadvantages for its bearers, sometimes facilitating their access to non-Muslim institutions and forums, but simultaneously exposing eclecticists to charges of heterodoxy and inauthenticity.”

While doctrinaire intellectuals abound, firmly adhering to their respective schools of thought, the experience of intellectual debate, practice, and implementation can’t be contained in a single school. Thurston notes that, while the Sunni and Shi’a divisions in Islam persist, increasingly, Muslims across the world identify as “just Muslim,” a category that includes over one-fifth of Muslims in sub-Saharan Africa.

The presence of this laity, of believers in faith broadly rather than expressly tied to a specific school of thought or doctrinal tradition, can create room for eclecticists. In his article, Thurston focuses on two specific eclectic thinkers: Aminu Ismaʿil Sagagi and Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, both from Kano, Nigeria, who attended Sudan's International University of Africa in the mid-1990s, and who have public writings on the role of sharia in northern Nigeria.

Like Islamists, with whose thoughts both men are deeply familiar, these eclecticists ask how to create a just Islamic society by using the tools of the state and the law. Yet, “eclecticists deconstruct, rather than objectify, notions such as ‘sharia,’” Thurston writes.

“The eclecticists' emphasis on exploring political possibilities rather than championing established political programmes recalls the notion of ‘post-Islamism,’ (Bayat 2013),” which eludes to the frustration-driven search for an Islamic political framework beyond the horizons of the Muslim Brotherhood and its peers.

Some of this broader deconstruction can be attributed to the intellectual climate of the International University of Africa, which attracted students from a range of traditions and actively featured a curriculum drawing beyond just the set texts of any given school of Islamic jurisprudence. It meant an expansive engagement with Islamic intellectuals and writers like Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Karl Marx, and Antonio Gramsci.

When considering Sanusi’s thinking, Thurston writes: “A central component of this framework is the idea that Islamic movements and institutions are historically conditioned rather than universally replicable.” Sanusi noted that, while sharia interpretations were expansive and progressive at the time they were first implemented, returning to the original implementation of the laws misses what was so powerful about them in the first place.

While neither of the scholars featured set out a dominant path in Islamic thought within Nigeria, both demonstrate that intellectual debate over the nature and implementation of religious law is alive and well, and capable of accommodating more perspectives than just the narrow tenets of long-established schools.

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Arctic alternatives: Part II

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Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the Arctic Council has been on hiatus. This week's Critical State, a foreign policy newsletter by Inkstick Media, takes a deep dive into the history of the council as a model of international cooperation.

Inkstick MediaJanuary 11, 2023 · 4:30 PM EST

Large icebergs float away as the sun rises near Kulusuk, Greenland, Aug. 16, 2019. The Biden administration said Friday, Aug. 26, 2022, that it will upgrade its engagement with the Arctic Council and countries with an interest in a region that's rapidly changing due to climate change.

Felipe Dana/AP/File

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

In the frozen waters and still-extant ice at the top of the world, it is easy to imagine that the environment is harsh enough for humans to leave conflict behind. While the fate of the warming North Pole is relevant to the whole of the world, international cooperation in the region, in recent decades at least, has been led by the countries north of the Arctic Circle. These eight nations, the United States, Canada, Denmark (through its possession of Greenland), Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia, joined the Arctic Council in 1996. 

The organization, which began as the Cold War ended, also consists of Indigenous Peoples as permanent participants, and has many non-member observers (like Germany and the Republic of Korea) who share a concern for the region. But following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the Arctic Council has been on hiatus, and its once exceptional nature as a durable model of international cooperation is in question.

In “Can Exceptionalism Withstand Crises? An Evaluation of the Arctic Council's Response to Climate Change and Russia's War on Ukraine,” Gabriella Gricius and Erin B. Fitz look at the history of the council and examine what, if any, of its fair-weather functionality is durable in crisis.

To start, the authors look at two distinct, compounding crises for the council. The first is climate change, which expands human activity in the Arctic while also imperiling the climate, life, and lifeways in the region. Second, the authors look at Russia’s war on Ukraine, an acute and entirely voluntary geopolitical crisis brought about by one of the council’s member states, and which has an impact on its ability to cooperate with all other countries, especially with the council.

The authors sought to understand the perception of the council’s stability. Todo so, they conducted a literature review of scholarly articles about the Arctic Council. One finding was notable specifically for what was absent.

“Although the publications included in our review largely failed to mention actual geopolitical crises, Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea had an unequivocal impact on global and Arctic politics,” the authors write. Much of the work of the council continued, even as Russia did not participate in “annual meetings of the Chiefs of the Armed Forces of Arctic States, an independent cooperative institution from the Arctic Council.”

The course of action was normal enough that Russia could assume its role as council chair in 2021, though any expectations  at preceding normally were lost with the invasion.

“Although it is likely that Arctic Council activities would have halted in response to the 2022 Russia-Ukraine war regardless of who held the chairmanship, the fact that the Council did not shut down during previous crises suggests that the other seven Arctic states viewed this conflict as a more significant, state-driven stimulus,” the authors write. While the cooperation among other states and partners is beneficial, it suggests that the institution's previous decades of smooth operation hinge largely on the absence of geopolitical headwinds. At best, they conclude, it’s the lack of dispute that has made the Arctic Council durable, rather than the council ensuring a lack of disputes.

Related: Arctic alternatives: Part I

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Arctic alternatives: Part I

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Critical State, a foreign policy newsletter by Inkstick Media, takes a deep dive this week into 21st-century US policy on the Arctic, with a focus on the language used to shape these policies.

Inkstick MediaJanuary 4, 2023 · 4:00 PM EST

A CH-47F Chinook helicopter sits nestled in the Alaska Range to offload National Park Service equipment, supplies and personnel on Kahiltna Glacier April 27, 2022. 

John Pennell/US Army/AP

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

The Arctic is one of the least hospitable places on the planet, but that has never meant inhospitable. For Indigenous people who have survived and thrived in the coldest reaches of the Northern hemisphere, the Arctic can be a world of abundance, with deep knowledge and practiced skill, making it a life-sustaining home. Yet, the Arctic is warming, thanks to human-caused climate change. It also has the misfortune of being located between the United States and Russia, two nuclear powers who have spent decades anticipating the danger of surprise war blowing in like a cold wind from the north.

In “Pulling back the curtain: coloniality-based narratives of wilderness in US Arctic policy,” Gabriella Gricius examines 21st-century US policy on the Arctic, and specifically how the language used to discuss the region constrains thinking about policy.

To start understanding US Arctic policy, Gricius examined Arctic policy statements from across the George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump administrations, all with an eye toward how the country handled anxiety over the region.

"Anxiety, here, is the ordering principle of how states interact with the world and what they must manage to feel secure. States can never solve anxiety, but they can manage it through routines and narratives," Gricius writes. 

To justify aggressive investment in and policy to control the region, successive US administrations all adopted the language of “wilderness” to justify their policies.

Here, the Arctic anxiety was threefold: that climate change is making its resources more exploitable, that the resources would go unexploited, or worse, that other nations would exploit the resources of the Arctic faster and better than the United States. To justify aggressive investment in and policy to control the region, successive US administrations all adopted the language of “wilderness” to justify their policies.

“Importantly, wilderness in the American Arctic is not diminishing in any material way. Rather, its character is fundamentally changing because of climate change from a region that was relatively difficult for extraction purposes to one that is significantly more accessible,” Gricius writes. 

While the planet is warming from human-caused climate change, the Arctic is warming the fastest, drastically changing life in the thawing north. But when US policy statements talk about the risk of a diminished Arctic, these statements largely sidestep climate change and instead highlight that reduced sea ice means easier access for drilling the ocean.

“In short, removing responsibility takes away settler blame and treats this diminishing as a blameless event rather than connecting this to capitalist and colonialist practices that are intrinsically connected to climate change. Furthermore, by treating the wilderness as a disappearing object with no subject, these policies even more so reinforce older American conservation narratives,” Gricius writes.

“This has implications for Indigenous People, who still live in Arctic wilderness, and are not diminishing with the region, but in fact require more funding, visibility, and assistance in dealing with food and energy insecurity.”

By seeing the Arctic as unsettled, and thus open for settler exploitation, US policy across administrations treats the area as an untapped resource, rather than a lived-in and inhabited place. Adopting a different policy for the Arctic, including one of preservation versus exploitation, requires a different narrative among US policymakers. To get there, presidents and analysts likely need to abandon the notion of the Arctic as available for exploitation.

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Outsourced force: Part I

class=”MuiTypography-root-233 MuiTypography-h1-238″>Outsourced force: Part I

Critical State, a foreign policy newsletter by Inkstick Media, take a deep dive this week into reasons why a government might choose to outsource its violence.

Inkstick MediaDecember 14, 2022 · 2:15 PM EST

In this file photo taken Thursday, Aug. 8, 2013, a Nigerian soldier patrols in an armored car, during Eid al-Fitr celebrations, in Maiduguri, Nigeria. Graphic new video footage from northeastern Nigeria shows the country's military carrying out abuses against civilians as part of their fight against the Islamic extremists of Boko Haram, Amnesty International said Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014. The violence against civilians constitutes "war crimes," alleged Amnesty.

Sunday Alamba/File/AP

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

The state, as we understand it, has a monopoly on force, but that doesn’t prevent the government from licensing out that power. Paramilitaries and pro-government militias can be a tool of state violence with plausible deniability for the government, even if there are provable links showing funding and direction. That deniability is a huge reason a government might choose to outsource its violence, especially if the government's formal agents, like soldiers and police, have already been condemned by the international community.

In “From Shame to New Name: How Naming and Shaming Creates Pro-Government Militias,” Lora DiBlasi examines the role of governments in creating pro-government militias, especially as a response to critique.

Di Blasi points to the experience of Nigeria, which was called out for human rights violations by Amnesty International a total of 35 times between 1996 and 1998, prompting resolutions from the UN Commission on Human Rights. In 1999, Bakassi Boys and Abia State Vigilante Group pro-government militations were stood up, which engaged in execution, mutilation, torture, unlawful detention, and election violence.

“The Bakassi Boys received orders directly from the government and had close and regular interaction and communication with government officials,” writes Di Blasi. “The government has also provided office space, paid their salaries, and equipped them for their missions. Moreover, the militia purportedly announced to their victims, ‘We are Bakassi Boys. It's a government order … The government wants you to die.’”

Despite the clear ties, the use of militias to carry out the condemned violence of the state creates an air of deniability, however flimsy, between the people doing the violence and the people directing it. If it’s a militia doing the violence, it becomes beyond the state’s control, even if the militia serves the ends of the state.

This matters especially for countries and leaders who want to enlist repression as a tool to hold power but fear international condemnation and sanction for doing so. 

“After being named and shamed, many states will be eager to avoid being chastised publicly again, as was the case in Kenya [in 1991],” writes Di Blasi. “However, not all leaders will want to end their spell of repression. An alternative solution is for states to create a separate apparatus to carry out acts of repression on its behalf, such as a PGM [pro-goverment militia]. Instead of making genuine efforts to reform their human rights practices in their country, states may instead opt to delegate violence to PGMs to escape the responsibility of subsequent human rights abuses.”

As leaders work out ways to repress while sidestepping shame, it behooves the international community to find new ways to condemn and constrain these end-runs around accountability.

As leaders work out ways to repress while sidestepping shame, it behooves the international community to find new ways to condemn and constrain these end-runs around accountability. Using proxies for violence may make the chain of causality murkier, but the effects can be seen clearly, especially when the supposedly uncontrollable militias do violence in a way that just so happens to align with the leaders saying they are powerless to intervene.

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Count me in!Related ContentInsult to injury: Part IIInsult to injury: Part IState reformation: Part IIState reformation: Part I

Insult to injury: Part II

class=”MuiTypography-root-225 MuiTypography-h1-230″>Insult to injury: Part II

Critical State, a foreign policy newsletter by Inkstick Media, takes a deep dive into how insults play out in informal settings behind highly formal events. 

The WorldDecember 7, 2022 · 3:45 PM EST

US President Donald Trump, centre left, and the Prince Charles The Prince of Wales, centre right, join other NATO leaders before posing for a formal group photo during a reception for the heads of the NATO countries, at Buckingham palace in London, Tuesday Dec. 3, 2019. 

Yui Mok/Pool/AP

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

World politics is a stage that comes with a backstage. For international leaders, the theatrics of performance before cameras and behind the podium is highly public and often tightly calibrated. But every summit and every meeting includes moments of less on-display activity. In these spaces, asymmetric rhetorical attacks, insults, jokes, and jibes can shape how negotiations play out.

In “Backstage Mockery: Impoliteness and Asymmetry on the World Stage,” Eric Van Rythoven examines how insults play out in the informal settings behind highly formal events. 

“For a higher-ranking party, impoliteness from a subordinate can be perceived as a denial of deference and esteem, and even a challenge to the hierarchy itself. For a lower-ranking party, acts of impoliteness from a superior can be perceived as an abuse of position, which foreshadows threats to their autonomy,” writes Van Rhythoven.

The pairing of status and mockery is vital because it shows that the same styles of speech can have wildly different effects depending on who is using it and how.

The pairing of status and mockery is vital because it shows that the same styles of speech can have wildly different effects depending on who is using it and how. Van Rhythoven opens the paper by discussing a 2019 incident at the 70th anniversary of NATO. In a video of the incident, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, French President Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte can be seen laughing. The audio cuts out, but several jokes about US President Donald Trump can still be heard. After the release of the video, Trump left the summit early, refusing to partake in further events with national leaders seen mocking him. 

“Conversely, the same parties can use impoliteness as a kind of friendly teasing or ‘jocular humor,’ which strengthens solidarity and the bonds of amity,” writes Van Rhythoven.

NATO was likely never in danger of falling apart under the Trump administration. However, the leaders of states less powerful than the United States were still able to, through humor, reassure each other that the alliance was more durable than the fickle moods of one particular president.

When it comes to responding to powerful states, writes Van Rhythoven, “Any act of overt ridicule comes with the risk of political, economic, or — in extreme cases — military retaliation. Weaker actors, however, can avoid retaliation by employing strategies to evade attribution.”

This could include laughing as part of a crowd or tweeting an image with plausibly deniable content. Masking intent and identity are two ways to respond without drawing direct retaliation. Backstage mockery allows the weaker party to save face while still challenging behavior. It can build solidarity between other smaller powers. And, like the video at the NATO anniversary, the mockery can be known through unofficial channels. 

“While the main audience in the backstage are the aggrieved, lower-status members, evidence of ridicule can spill over into a broader field of perception. Whether gleaned through diplomatic networks, savvy journalism, or intelligence services, reports of backstage mockery from subordinate powers can signal problems to transgressive governments—including pushback against their behavior,” Van Rhythoven writes.

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Count me in!Related ContentInsult to injury: Part IState reformation: Part IIState reformation: Part IWhen putsch comes to shove: Part II

Insult to injury: Part I

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This week's Critical State, a foreign policy newsletter by Inkstick Media, takes a deep dive into the function of insults, name-calling and other types of undiplomatic language.

Inkstick MediaNovember 30, 2022 · 4:00 PM EST

US President Joe Biden and Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, right, chat as they gather for a group photo at Castle Elmau in Kruen, near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, on Sunday, June 26, 2022. 

Brendan Smialowski/Pool/AP

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

What does it mean when a leviathan turns to schoolyard taunts? States, as superstructures made of people, are subject to actions taken by those individuals. Diplomacy is adults talking with permission to set terms. So, why might a state, or its representatives, choose to insult another state?

That’s the central question at the heart of “'Filthy Lapdogs,' 'Jerks,' and 'Hitler': Making Sense of Insults in International Relations,” in which Elise Rousseau and Stephane J. Baele examine the function of undiplomatic language.

“Our central contention is indeed that international insults constitute both at once tactical tools used to achieve interests by disrupting an interaction and modifying the payoffs associated with it and linguistic artifacts constructing and sharpening self- and other identities,” write the authors.

The paper was published in the fall of 2020, and the presence of President Donald Trump lingers heavily over the entire draft, though the authors take lengths to show his approach is hardly singular in the history of world politics. Twenty-first century leaders like Britain’s Boris Johnson and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez feature, as do giants of the 20th century like President Richard Nixon and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. There are even prior examples, such as a 19th century letter used to nudge President William McKinely toward the Spanish-American war or the 1870 telegram edited by Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, used to spark the Franco-Prussian War.

Insults have a long history in international relations, sometimes with bloody consequences.

Insults have a long history in international relations, sometimes with bloody consequences. Instead of treating these insults as irrational behavior, Rousseau and Baele instead look for the instrumental function behind name-calling.

“In the pragmatic literature, insults are considered ‘successful’ when they destabilize the target and, in so doing, create a new social situation. Therefore, insults are understood in opposition to the intuitive idea that they tend to be irrational outbursts of aggressiveness,” write the authors. “On the contrary, they are conceptualized as potentially advantageous linguistic devices that can be used tactically by individuals conducting their social interactions with broader strategic goals in mind.”

States and their agents use insults to disrupt and challenge the existing polite theater of diplomatic norms. Earlier this year, Critical State wrote about the Trump administration’s diplomacy as specifically following the beats of professional wrestling

“The international insults used to qualify the EU in the wake of the Brexit vote were also used instrumentally in a bid to shift UK national identity, and yet they tabled on much broader background discursive formations that preceded the vote,” write the authors.

These insults have both international and domestic audiences, and they can sharpen divisions while bolstering the in-group appeal of the speaker’s followers. It’s a tool in the diplomats' toolkit, though, as the authors note, when insults become a habit for world leaders, they are much easier to ignore than when they are carefully chosen and used rarely.

“In an international environment where actors seek to preserve face and material interests alike, insults are a potentially powerful linguistic instrument to gain advantages, to destabilize a rival and force him/her into a reaction, to disrupt cooperation or secure connivance, or even to alter the structure of the system,” the authors conclude.

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Count me in!Related ContentState reformation: Part IIState reformation: Part IWhen putsch comes to shove: Part IIWhen putsch comes to shove: Part I

State reformation: Part II

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Critical State, a foreign policy newsletter by Inkstick Media, takes a deep dive this week into the power and politics of collective memory when it comes to partitions. "If states told ghost stories, they would tell them of past partitions," Kelsey D. Atherton writes.

Inkstick MediaNovember 16, 2022 · 2:30 PM EST

In this September 1947 file photo, hundreds of Muslim refugees crowd on top a train leaving New Delhi for Pakistan. After Britain ended its colonial rule over the Indian subcontinent, two independent nations were created in its place _ the secular, Hindu-majority nation of India, and the Islamic republic of Pakistan. The division, widely referred to as Partition, sparked massive rioting that killed up to 1 million, while another 15 million fled their homes in one of the world’s largest ever human migrations. 

AP/Photo/File

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

If states told ghost stories, they would tell them of past partitions. Acts of partition, which span time and geography, unmake and remake states and people, often at the behest of at least one more-powerful third party. While lives may continue in partitioned states, it is not the sort of action undertaken willingly by the polity without other tension driving it to be a less-bad option. States are not living entities sharing campfire stories but instead are made up of people with historical memory. And the stories of partition are powerful in shaping how a state may react to future divisions or the possibility of reunification.

In “Connected Memories: The International Politics of Partition, from Poland to India,” Kerry Goettlich talks about partition as a memory held collectively and one where past examples in faraway lands are used as a tool for understanding and arguing about the present.

“The idea of ‘memory communities,’ likewise, does not break with the idea of a community of some kind,” Goettlich writes.

“While Western and Eastern Europeans’ memories of the Holocaust, the Second World War, and their outcomes may clash, they do so as a contest over the meaning of a series of tightly connected historical events, and ultimately as a struggle over what it means to belong to the collectivity called ‘Europe.’”

The way that people in countries in Eastern and Western Europe collectively respond to the experience of World War II shows shared events as contested memory and about memory in relation to other communities. What makes memories of partition so distinct is that they look for similarity and precedence in distant events, but events of a similar kind.

“The picture of partition that emerges from Poland to India here, however, is not one in which partitions are discrete, disconnected events, as assumed by much literature on partition, nor are memories of partition only relevant to those who experienced them,” Goettlich writes.

“Instead, the argument here is that social memories of partition traveled, and shaped how partition was seen, one way or another, beyond their original context.”

To explore this concept, Goettlich takes the partition of Poland, when from 1772 to 1795, Prussia, Austria, and Russia divided and occupied the land that had once been a distinct nation. This historical understanding of this event in the United Kingdom, while not leading to any change for Poland itself, shaped how British foreign policy approached a range of foreign policy decisions, including proposed partitions in Belgium, or how the gradual dissolution of the Ottoman Empire was to be handled.

“Only through the partition of Ireland, for example, particularly through the work of the imperial federalists,” Goettlich writes, “did it become possible for some to articulate ‘partition’ as a solution to intercommunal conflict, and to forget its negative associations with Poland.”

The story of Irish partition, in turn, echoed through the wider world. Goettlich opens the article with Ireland’s President Michael O’Higgins tying the partition of Ireland to the colonial struggles across the globe. If partition is a ghost story told by states, reunification after is a campfire song sung afterward.

RelatedState reformation: Part I

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Count me in!Related ContentState reformation: Part IWhen putsch comes to shove: Part IIWhen putsch comes to shove: Part ILeft unresolved: Part II

State reformation: Part I

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This week's Critical State, a foreign policy newsletter by Inkstick Media, takes a deep dive into what might happen should Ireland and Northern Ireland fall under one government again.

Inkstick MediaNovember 9, 2022 · 1:15 PM EST

Parliament buildings over looks the city of Belfast, Northern Ireland, Oct. 28, 2022.

Peter Morrison/AP

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

“The Irish Unification of 2024” is a one-off reference from a 1990 episode of Star Trek. But eight years before the Good Friday Accords, the episode’s acknowledgment of terrorism as a path to such a political settlement prevented it from being aired on the BBC for 17 years. In late 2022, the question is: What might happen should Ireland and Northern Ireland fall under one government again? This issue is now less science fiction and more plausible policy.

In “Irish Unity: Lessons from Germany?,” Tobias Lock examines the textbook example of national unification in the modern era. 

Following World War II, Germany’s Nazi government was driven from power, and the country was divided by the occupying forces of France, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the Soviet Union. This division followed in miniature in Berlin, which was otherwise surrounded by the Soviet Zone. The Soviet Zone became the German Democratic Republic, or East Germany, while the three other areas became the Federal Republic of Germany or West Germany. This division lasted from 1945 until 1990 when a series of changes began in 1989 and led the last government elected in East Germany to vote for accession to West Germany. The two countries have been one ever since, though many divisions from nearly half a century apart still run deep.

“The German and Irish contexts differ, however, as far as the subjects of unification are concerned: whereas the GDR was a sovereign state and ceased to exist as such on 3 October 1990, Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, which would continue to exist as a state after Irish unification,” writes Lock. “In other words, whereas German unification consisted in the absorption of one state in another, Irish unification would technically be a transfer of sovereignty over territory by one state to another.”

What unification would share is a continued international place for Ireland, which would maintain its relations as it absorbed transferred territory. If such a transfer should occur, Northern Ireland would once again be a party to the European Union, which the United Kingdom left under the policy of Brexit. 

One major structural difference is that, whereas East Germany’s parliament was able to unilaterally vote for accession, the existing “Good Friday/Belfast Agreement stipulates that Irish unification requires ‘consent, freely and concurrently given, North and South,’ i.e. two concurrent expressions of consent,” Lock writes. 

In structuring such expressions of consent, negotiators could strive to accommodate the hard-won — and already-negotiated — terms of the agreement. One way such a unification could improve upon German reunification would be ensuring that the burdens of constitutional change are not shifted entirely onto the ascending territory. 

“Constitutional reform confirmed by a subsequent referendum would have given Germans East and West a greater degree of agency over reunification, which by and large was an event that was happening to them rather than one they were actively able to shape; and it might have demanded that West Germans adapt to at least some changes to their status quo, which — in stark contrast to their East German compatriots — they did not have to grapple with,” Lock writes. 

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Count me in!Related ContentWhen putsch comes to shove: Part IIWhen putsch comes to shove: Part ILeft unresolved: Part IIThe Italian job: Part I

When putsch comes to shove: Part I

class=”MuiTypography-root-134 MuiTypography-h1-139″>When putsch comes to shove: Part I

Critical State, a foreign policy newsletter by Inkstick Media, takes a deep dive this week into the myth of "coup contagion."

Inkstick MediaOctober 26, 2022 · 4:00 PM EDT

Supporters of Capt. Ibrahim Traore parade waving a Russian flag in the streets of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, Oct. 2, 2022. 

Sophie Garcia/AP/File

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

The period from February 2021 to February 2022 saw six successful coups in Chad, Mali, Guinea, Sudan, Burkina Faso, Myanmar, and three failed attempts in Niger, Sudan, and Guinea-Bissau. If militaries, especially in neighboring countries in Africa, are experiencing similar instability, is there a greater risk to worry about?

No, argues Naunihal Singh in “The Myth of the Coup Contagion.” Instead, he writes, “Three key structural factors made these countries particularly vulnerable to coup attempts: a recent history of successful coups, low economic development, and regimes that are neither highly democratic nor highly authoritarian.”

Before diagnosing the problem, Singh walks through several possible other explanations. The first is the risk of contagion of coups, where a military seizing power in one country inspires a nearby military to take the same chance. Instead of looking for a connection in geography, Singh points to the lineage of coups in the countries in question. If the strategy has served the political needs of officers in the past, then officers can refer to that domestic precedent instead for inspiration and justification.

The second claim Singh examines is that of coups as a response to insurgent violence, especially across the Sahel. In Burkina Faso, the coup plotters specifically point to a lack of resources to fight the war as they’d like as a cause, but that dynamic is lacking elsewhere. Further limiting the role of insurgency in driving coups is that insurgent violence in the region had higher peaks in 2015 yet saw no coups related to that threat.

There is also the question of training by Western militaries, especially done by the United States. The US military is actively involved in training forces it chooses to partner with across the world, and many US training efforts with countries in the Sahel have come as part of the United States’ broader effort to fight insurgencies in the region. Some of these soldiers, trained by the US military, have participated in coups, one even dramatically leaving a months-long training by Green Berets to stage one. Singh notes, “US Africa Command does not track how often officers whom it has trained try to overthrow their governments,” but also points to the fact that between 1999 and 2016, the United States trained 2.4 million soldiers abroad, a pool large enough to include some coup plotters.

Instead, coups can largely be traced to a successful history of coups in the country,  low economic development, and weak institutionalization in either democratic or authoritarian directions. Consolidated regimes are harder to overthrow.

The security concerns that have eroded once-strong anti-coup norms are looming over all of this. “Penalties against coup making are also weak and inconsistently applied. When Western countries fail to act against coups out of fears of disrupting security relationships, they appear hypocritical, preaching the virtues of democracy but placing a low value on democracy-promoting actions in practice,” concludes Singh. “In the end, there is no substitute for clear and consistent implementation of pro-democratic and anti-coup norms, without loophole or exception.”

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

Related ContentLeft unresolved: Part IIThe Italian job: Part IPolitical theater: Part IIPolitcal theater: Part I

Left unresolved: Part II

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Critical State, a foreign policy newsletter by Inkstick Media, takes a deep dive into the beliefs of citizens of Germany and the Netherlands on the use of US nuclear weapons — especially as informed by partisan belief.

Inkstick MediaOctober 19, 2022 · 3:15 PM EDT

An F/A-18 E launches from the deck during flight training ops aboard the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford Thursday, Oct. 6, 2022, off the Virginia Coast. After years of delays and problems with new technology the US Navy's most advanced aircraft carrier embarked on it's first deployment and will train with other NATO countries.

Steve Helber/AP

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

NATO exists under the shadow of the US “nuclear umbrella.” It is, like most strategies, a kind of euphemism. What the “umbrella” does is allow the United States to guarantee that its nuclear arsenal will deter nuclear threats against other NATO members without those countries needing to develop their own weapons (though France and the United Kingdom both have their own nukes). To guarantee this, in part, the United States deploys nuclear weapons at bases in European countries, such as Italy, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Anatolian Turkey.

While the ultimate decision over whether or not to use nuclear weapons will come down to governments of host countries, and, additionally, to the US president, the people living under the nuclear umbrella have divergent opinions regarding their use, which can, in turn, shape the policy of countries hosting nuclear warheads.

In “Ideology and the Red Button: How Ideology Shapes Nuclear Weapons’ Use Preferences in Europe,” authors Michal Onderco, Tom W. Etienne, and Michal Smetana, examine the beliefs of citizens of Germany and the Netherlands on the use of US nuclear weapons, especially as informed by partisan belief.

In both countries, the researchers asked survey respondents if they support or opposed four different scenarios of possible nuclear weapon use by NATO in Europe. These were a demonstration explosion over an unpopulated area in response to a Russian conventional invasion of the Baltics; a direct use of a nuclear weapon against the Russian military in a shooting war; a demonstration detonation in response to a Russian demonstration detonation; and use against Russia’s Kaliningrad in response to a Russian nuclear strike on NATO troops.

Importantly, the authors found that in “none of the four scenarios did the willingness to use nuclear weapons exceed 24% of the population, and in two scenarios it reached only 10%”

That matches with other research indicating that European public opinion is more broadly opposed to nuclear weapons use than people in the United States. Of the scenarios, the use of nuclear weapons against Kaliningrad in retaliation to a Russian nuclear strike received the most support, approved by almost 25% of survey respondents in the Netherlands. 

“Our results indicate that right-wing voters, including those on the far-right, are more willing to consider the use of nuclear weapons."

“Our results indicate that right-wing voters, including those on the far-right, are more willing to consider the use of nuclear weapons,” the authors write. “While there are similarities between how German and Dutch voters see nuclear use, there appears to be a difference between them when it comes to centrist voters. Whereas German centrists lean toward the rest of the right in favor of nuclear use, Dutch centrists lean along with the left wing in opposing nuclear weapons.”

While the authority to use nuclear weapons ultimately rests on the US president, the continued storage of nuclear warheads in Europe is a political question left up to the countries. It suggests that those in the United States are more eager to threaten thermonuclear oblivion and share a political alignment with the right and far-right voters in NATO countries. At the same time, attitudes toward nuclear disarmament remain an international left-wing project — even in places where they have centrist appeal.

Related: Left unresolved: Part I

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Left unresolved: Part I

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This week's Critical State, a foreign policy newsletter by Inkstick Media, takes a deep dive into new scholarship that examines the broad spectrum of leftist foreign policy ideas.

Inkstick MediaOctober 12, 2022 · 3:15 PM EDT

American military personnel wait to greet US Secretary of State Antony Blinken before he boards a plane to travel to Brussels for meetings with NATO counterparts, a day after his unannounced visit to Ukraine, at Rzeszow-Jasionka Airport in Jasionka, Poland, Friday, Sept. 9, 2022. 

Jonathan Ernst/AP/Pool

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

At the heart of foreign policy is a simple question: What actions in the world will make tomorrow safer than today? As framed, the question reads primarily about nations. After all, these are the traditional foreign policy agents and the unconstrained players in the anarchic world of realism. But the question could just as easily be about national leaders, transnational alliances between elites, or the interests and desires of everyday people. Likewise, what constitutes a safer tomorrow is likely to have very different answers for an internationally minded high school student and a Saudi oil baron. The world is, in a real sense, what we make of it.

In “Left of Liberal Internationalism: Grand Strategies within Progressive Foreign Policy Thought,” Van Jackson examines the broad spectrum of leftist foreign policy ideas and how they formulate what could be seen as grand strategies to understand the world. 

“Because military-first politics are a blight on democracy, antimilitarism has always been a throughline for the American Left that informs its antiwar politics. But antimilitarism does not inherently rule out the use of force, which means it is not reducible to pacifism,” Jackson writes. Debates over the how, against who, and to what ends military force should be used is central to differentiating camps of progressive foreign policy.

In looking at the debates among the Left, Jackson finds primarily three camps, which share some language and approaches, but can differ greatly on means, ends, and underlying rationale. The first of these perspectives is “progressive pragmatism,” which starts from US foreign policy as it is and seeks to make it more equitable and just. Another is “antihegemonism,” a camp that sees the United States and US power as responsible for the far-right at home and abroad and seeks to minimize US power in order to reduce the influence of the Right in the world. Finally, “peacemaking” seeks to structure international relations through means other than the national security apparatus, especially military and intelligence agencies, relying instead on cooperative security and transnational civil society to manage conflict.

While those camps can be at odds, they often share an expansive way of thinking about security, one often missing from narrow assessments of tank numbers or warheads in arsenals.

“The human security agenda, for example, which stresses anthropogenic threats (climate change) and naturogenic threats (pandemics), has received short shrift in grand strategy literature but is instrumental in how progressives think about security; they believe foreign policy should attend to the root causes of geopolitical problems, which reside disproportionately outside the military realm,” Jackson writes.

Guiding all three camps of Left foreign policy is an understanding of some degree of greater kinship with people outside their own nation. This is crucial to all movements that seek international solidarity in a fight for a better tomorrow against reactionary forces, but how the groups define allies can be illuminating.

“In essence, all progressives claim to be global solidarists with an at least thinly cosmopolitan outlook, but that conviction can be directed narrowly at democratic governments, selectively at the working class, or universally at human beings,” Jackson writes.

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

The Italian job: Part I

class=”MuiTypography-root-134 MuiTypography-h1-139″>The Italian job: Part I

Critical State, a foreign policy newsletter by Inkstick Media, takes a deep dive this week into the prosecutor’s office in Rome, Italy. From 1975 to 1991, this office was able to use gatekeeping to shield politicians from corruption charges. When those protections ended, the stable coalition system was overturned.

Inkstick MediaSeptember 28, 2022 · 12:15 PM EDT

A view of a courtroom inside Rome's tribunal Thursday, Nov. 5, 2015, during the first hearing of a trial of involving politicians and businessmen. An Italian court began the trial of 46 politicians, businessmen and others in a still-expanding corruption probe investigating Rome's City Hall that has revealed a well-oiled system of alleged kickbacks, payoffs, and Mafia-style intimidation to gain control of millions of dollars of city contracts. 

Alessandro Di Meo/AP/Pool

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

The Italian Constitution was adopted in 1947, years after the overthrow of Benito Mussolini’s fascist state at the hands of liberating allies and Italian anti-fascist partisans. Enshrined in that constitution, and enforced in the decades since, is a principle of judicial prosecution. Because all cases were pursued, the venue where the cases are tried and charged matters a great deal, as the discretion of the prosecutor manifests not in case selection but instead in sentencing and rigor of pursuit.

In “Prosecutorial Gatekeeping and Its Effects on Criminal Accountability: The Roman Prosecutor’s Office and Corruption Investigations in Italy, 1975–1994,” Lucia Manzi looks at the particular structural role of the Rome prosecutor’s office.

This office, as the jurisdiction overseeing the seat of government, was able to use gatekeeping to shield politicians from corruption charges up through 1991. Then, following a change in the judicial philosophy of the prosecutor in charge of Rome, an end to those protections cleared the path for the Mani Pulite ("Clean Hands") corruption investigation, which overturned the stable coalition system of the Cold War and led to the political reality of the present.

“Due to its geographical location at the heart of the country's capital, where all government institutions and political parties' headquarters reside, the Roman prosecutor's office could potentially claim jurisdiction over most, if not all, criminal violations committed by elected officials and political personalities,” Manzi writes. 

The Italian judiciary is structurally independent and responsible for the appointment and advancement of its members. After the 1970s, this was by seniority, but prior to that, it hinged on evaluation by superiors, encouraging ideological homogeneity among the profession.

Confounding the hopes of those who would want to prosecute corruption was a long-standing belief among the conservative elite of the Italian legal establishment that shielded government officials from the investigation, starting with a refusal to hold fascist officials accountable under laws punishing “particularly cruel barbarity” passed after the overthrow of fascism. 

This meant, Manzi writes, “the use of gatekeeping powers to shield state agents from accountability followed a much broader logic, rooted in Italian legal positivism's traditional hostility toward the use of investigative powers against the state.”

Manzi details two prosecutions of corruption scandals by the Milan office. A 1981 look into corruption by the Italian Socialist Party, a regular feature of Italy’s governing coalitions, unearthed deeper webs of connections and Swiss bank accounts for payouts. But, looking to shield the state from accountability, the Rome prosecutor's office claimed jurisdiction, blocked the Milan team from requesting Swiss records, and steered the investigation from above.

In 1992, the Milan team pursued a similar set of leads under a different Roman prosecutor. Without interference from Rome, their corruption investigation was allowed to proceed, kicking off the start of a sweeping investigation that found all parties of Italy’s stagnant governing coalition entwined with bribery for contracts and other kinds of corruption.

Manzi concludes that the “preferences of the prosecutorial actors in charge of gatekeeping institutions may have massive implications for the quality of democracy and the rule of law.”

Related: Political theater: Part II

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Political theater: Part II

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Critical State, a foreign policy newsletter by Inkstick Media, takes a deep dive this week into all the ways in which diplomacy is a kind of performance.

Inkstick MediaSeptember 21, 2022 · 12:45 PM EDT

In this June 12, 2018, file photo, US President Donald Trump, right, meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Sentosa Island, in Singapore. 

Evan Vucci/AP/File

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

All of world politics is a stage, and all the world leaders are merely players, with their exits and entrance music. This theatricality of international diplomacy is ever-present, though it was perhaps rarely as visible as under the Trump administration. The former entertainer brought an intuitive understanding of the dynamics of professional wrestling to meetings more typically defined by intricate details of nuclear arsenals. Yet, even that official and prescribed seriousness hinges on diplomacy as a kind of performance, even if it is usually one so polite as to not acknowledge the stagecraft involved.

In “Wrestlemania! Summit Diplomacy and Foreign Policy Performance after Trump,” authors Benjamin S. Day and Alister Wedderburn focus on the particular stage of international summits. In particular, they examine how the actions, mannerisms, and choices made by former US President Donald Trump obliterated the false line between “performance” and “substance.” This is a lesson valuable for understanding the recent past, the actions of other right-wing populists, and the theatricality of international diplomacy in general.

“[W]restling is a pertinent lens through which to read international summits."

“[W]e argue that wrestling is a pertinent lens through which to read international summits,” the authors write, “which also cordon off a masculinized arena in which expansive, complex issues can be distilled into a comestible narrative, arranged into a series of symbolic set pieces, and presented to a global audience.”

Diplomats are performers in multiple senses. As agents of a distant state they stand in for the state, and in turn, represent it through their own personal actions. At summits, world leaders take this on, even if they are just heads of government and not heads of state, but especially when they are both.

At the center of Day and Wedderburn’s analysis are the events leading up to, and then following from, the 2018 Singapore Summit between Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. The authors map the preceding diplomacy like a season of wrestling. This approach allowed Trump to initiate diplomacy while simultaneously threatening North Korea with nuclear oblivion, an arc that ultimately culminated in a face-to-face meeting but no lasting achievement beyond the routine de-escalation of time.

“Our argument is predicated on the belief that even the naturalized norms of decorum that conventionally govern foreign policy actors depend for their acceptance and reproduction on theatrical modes of presentation and staging. It is important to ask how these norms might help to constitute certain actors as ‘sensible,’ ‘serious,’ and ‘statesmanlike,’ even as these actors tolerate and often authorize violence, death, and environmental degradation,” the authors write.

It is unlikely that another world leader will come to power as in sync with the rules and arcs of professional wrestling as Trump, but the theatricality of diplomacy, especially summit diplomacy, will persist. Only now, instead of real adults acting on roles they’ve unconsciously rehearsed since they were children in Model United Nations, the theatrical nature is clear to see.

“The question of whether and how to regenerate or renaturalize these norms must, therefore, be accompanied by a reckoning with performance's role in their construction, maintenance, and reproduction,” conclude the authors.

Related: Politcal theater: Part I

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Politcal theater: Part I

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Critical State, a foreign policy newsletter by Inkstick Media, takes a deep dive this week into the language and word dynamics used in plays before and after early modern revolutions.

Inkstick MediaSeptember 14, 2022 · 2:00 PM EDT

Loyalist ephemera depicting British theater in Victorian London. 

Public Domain/New York Public Library

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

All the modern world’s a stage for revolution. But before the Age of Revolutions, the notion of overthrowing a monarch and installing a new form of government altogether was the stuff of antiquity, of fiction, and of minor Italic states. For people in England in the 1600s, or France in the late 1700s, the well of revolutionary references in history was shy, with scant immediate precedent to point to, one possible predecessor for revolutionary mood could be the themes of theater.

In “The rise of prosociality in fiction preceded democratic revolutions in Early Modern Europe,” authors Mauricio de Jesus Dias Martins and Nicolas Baumard examine the language and word dynamics used in plays before and after early modern revolutions.

“Interestingly, in postrevolutionary reactionary periods, characters became stronger and less trustworthy.”

Related: Rebel alliance: Part I

“We show that prior to both the English Civil War and French Revolution, there was a sharp rise in the frequency of words associated with prosociality, trustworthiness, and sympathy vs. words related to authoritarianism, strength and anger,” the authors write. “Interestingly, in postrevolutionary reactionary periods, characters became stronger and less trustworthy.”

Plays offer a useful corpus of popular media over the eras, in part because the work of staging and incorporating existing actors into productions meant that form and style stayed relatively consistent over time. To test their method of word association, the authors first demonstrated that their tool could sort plays into tragedies and comedies, with tragedies tending toward authoritarian themes and comedies trending towards sympathy.

Bound in the study of this change in England was the English Civil War of (1642-1651), which pitted Parliamentarians against Royalists, the royal Restoration under Charles II (1660-1688), and then the Glorious Revolution of 1688, which saw an adamant Catholic Royalist driven out and replaced by a Protestant monarch much more amenable to Parliament. The Protectorate, in which Oliver Cromwell ruled not by royal right but as Lord Protector as appointed through the proto-constitutional Instrument of Government, is “in line with our hypothesis, trust, sympathy, and prosociality rose during the period preceding the Civil War,” the authors write. They continue, “Crucially, we found that in comparison with the Restoration, the [slope of trust, sympathy, and prosociality] was significantly higher in the periods before the Civil War and after the Glorious Revolution. For sympathy, the absolute level was higher before the Civil War than during the Restoration.”

In France, the authors looked at these trends from before the French Revolution (prior to 1789), during the Revolution (1789-1799), in Empires and Restorations (1804-1870), and in the Third Republic (after 1870). In plays in France through that time, the authors found “that the trustworthiness-to-strength ratio rose before the political revolutions, and declined afterward.”

The authors also checked these trends against change in gross domestic product for the respective nations, noting “our results are consistent with the hypothesis that rising living standards might contribute to the shift of psychological orientations toward cooperation.”

Looking at further research, the authors suggest these trends can be used to explore other changes in behavior, ones that don’t reach the abrupt breach of trust and violence in revolution and reaction.

Related: Rebel alliance: Part II

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Rebel alliance: Part II

class=”MuiTypography-root-126 MuiTypography-h1-131″>Rebel alliance: Part II

Critical State, a foreign policy newsletter by Inkstick Media, takes a deep dive this week into how Myanmar revolutionaries waged a war against drugs was part of a broader effort to define and demonstrate the world they were trying to build.

Inkstick MediaSeptember 7, 2022 · 3:15 PM EDT

Members of community based anti-narcotic campaigners known as The Pat Jasan shout slogans protesting against the government’s ban prohibiting the group from destroying poppy farms in Wai Maw, northern Kachin State, Myanmar, Sunday Feb. 21, 2016. 

Hkun Lat/AP

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

Revolutionaries, in form and function, frame their work as a cure for the body politic. The history of revolutions is at least as much a history of organization and skill by those seeking to overthrow political order, as it is a failure of a political establishment to cure what ails it. This failure can take many forms, variations of an existing political and social order inadequately addressing the needs, rights, and desires of a wide cross-section of people within a country. 

When revolutionaries and rebels seek to challenge that order, they can do so by addressing the harms done to the bodies of the people within it. In “Defending Society, Building the Nation: Rebel Governance as Competing Biopolitics,” authors David Brenner and Martina Tazzioli argue that the way revolutionaries treat bodies is part of how they define and demonstrate the world they are trying to build.

To understand this in practice, the authors open with the role of the Pat Jasan, a non-state movement waging a war on drugs in northern Myanmar. The Pat Jasan is linked to the Kachin Independence Organization, a ethnonational rebel movement.

“Locally, the cheap availability of opiates and methamphetamines has fueled a public health crisis among already marginalized ethnic minority populations in the context of protracted civil war,” the authors write. They then pose this question: “Why would a rebel movement involve itself in a public health campaign against drugs, especially in a context where many other armed actors fund themselves through the drug trade? And what kind of political and social orders emerge from such interventions?”

Last week, and also in March 2021, Critical State examined resource dependence and resilience among rebel groups, and how control of drug fields or smuggling routes can sustain rebellions. While there are merits and disadvantages to both direct control and functioning as intermediaries, actively destroying a resource with direct black market value must come with some benefit, or else rebels wouldn’t do it. 

"We propose that rebels engage in governing populations because sustaining and optimizing life is precisely what establishes their sovereignty in the absence of formal statehood.”

In this case, the authors argue, “rebels might not only or even primarily provide public goods in exchange for public support. Rather, we propose that rebels engage in governing populations because sustaining and optimizing life is precisely what establishes their sovereignty in the absence of formal statehood.”

The provision of material aid, from bread to shelter, can be seen across rebel groups, looking to win over a population they need against a more heavily armed and repressive central government. But governance is more than material, and the authors point to the role of justice administration and health clinics as ways in which rebels demonstrate themselves as providing government in ways the central government won’t.

By governing in direct contrast with the state, including both destruction of poppy fields and movement-operated rehabilitation camps for users, the movement provides an alternate vision and even reality of governance. Or, as the authors put it, this work molds a population “into imagined communities in direct opposition to the existing nation state.”

By forsaking the material benefits of controlling narcotics that cause direct public health harms, the rebels are demonstrating an imagined cure for body politic.

Related: Rebel alliance: Part I

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Rebel alliance: Part I

class=”MuiTypography-root-126 MuiTypography-h1-131″>Rebel alliance: Part I

Critical State, a weekly foreign policy newsletter from Inkstick Media, takes a deep dive this week into how rebel groups survive when natural disasters strike.

Inkstick MediaAugust 31, 2022 · 2:30 PM EDT

Three men huddle around their outrigger while waiting for passengers as flood waters continue to rise due to rain and high tide Thursday, Aug. 2, 2012, in Navotas City, north of Manila, Philippines. 

Pat Roque/AP

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

Wherever disaster strikes, it risks becoming a political crisis. This is partly because natural disasters are shaped and exacerbated by the policy choices of the government in place before the disaster. But it is also because the specific form and scope of a disaster can change or exacerbate the means and motivations of groups predisposed to resistance. In countries where armed resistance to the central government predates the disaster, the disaster can break the viability of armed groups. Or, it can spur more of the dispossessed and disaffected to join their ranks. 

In “When Disasters Hit Civil Wars: Natural Resource Exploitation and Rebel Group Resilience,” authors Yasutaka Tominaga and Chia-yi Lee look at the variation in rebel survival after disaster, and find an explanation directly linked to how those groups sustained themselves before catastrophe.

One of the reasons to look at rebel group relationships to resources is that it can offer clarity in otherwise confounding situations. The authors specifically highlight how rebel groups in the same country and subject to the same disaster can respond differently, noting that “after the 2012 typhoon in the Philippines, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front cooperated with the government during relief operations but the NPA remained hostile to the government.”

Rebel groups can often sustain themselves beyond the reaches of state power and repression by guarding, collecting, controlling, and selling natural resources.

Rebel groups can often sustain themselves beyond the reaches of state power and repression by guarding, collecting, controlling, and selling natural resources, everything from oil to diamond mines to opium fields. These resources are not evenly distributed, and access to them can and often does change drastically after a disaster. A mine might collapse, oil derricks may break, and crops could be washed away.

While disaster impacts the production of resources, not all rebel groups derive funding in the same way. The authors find that groups which smuggle resources are more resilient than those that tax or control directly. Direct control of resource extraction lends itself to a fixed territory and hierarchical structure, whereas transporting resources across a wider area leaves smugglers less hierarchical, more resilient, and able to take advantage of price shocks after production collapses in disaster. 

The disaster itself is a disruption to production, but so is the intrusion of the state into rebel-contested areas, as both military and relief operations can reassert control and rebind captive populations to the central government.

“Relying on stable resource exploitation strategies such as extortion puts rebels at risk when unexpected shocks occur, as their single and steady source of funding can be easily disrupted,” the authors write. “Rebel groups that earn money from ad-hoc strategies of resource exploitation such as smuggling are more robust in the face of natural disasters.”

Resilience in the face of disaster is often seen as a civil task, one focused on the general benefit of people after tragedy. This time is also a moment of political reformation, especially in light of ongoing conflicts with armed groups. Understanding what makes armed groups vulnerable, and what makes them resilient, can help governments respond to crises. Given a warming planet and increasing disruption to patterns of life, knowing the shape of rebel movements to come can help states preempt them before a crisis.

Related: Imagining empire: Part II

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Imagining empire: Part II

class=”MuiTypography-root-134 MuiTypography-h1-139″>Imagining empire: Part II

Critical State, a foreign policy newsletter, takes a deep dive this week into the ways in which memorialization in South Korea is an act of present politics.

Inkstick MediaAugust 24, 2022 · 3:30 PM EDT

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol waves a national flag during a ceremony to celebrate Korean Liberation Day from Japanese colonial rule in 1945, at the presidential office square in Seoul, South Korea, Monday, Aug. 15, 2022. 

Ahn Young-joon/AP/Pool

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

Memorials are made in the present and for the present. Monuments to the past, especially statues linked to specific historical events and persons, are active statements about what parts of the past should be remembered, by who, and in what way. Last week, Critical State looked at the way President Vladimir Putin’s commitment to an imperial understanding of Russia led him to cite the removal of Soviet statues in Ukraine as a casus belli. This week, the question of memory and empire turns to relations between South Korea and Japan.

Memorialization is an act of present politics, argues Eun A Jo in “Memory, Institutions, and the Domestic Politics of South Korean–Japanese Relations.” Eun A points to a “memory boom” that had found form in the erection of “dozens of ‘comfort women’ statues, commemorating victims of Japanese sexual slavery during World War II” across South Korea in the past decade. These statues, along with efforts since the 1990s by survivors of forced labor to win reparations from Japanese companies through courts, are acts about historical memory with a present political context.

“Today's historical disputes cannot be understood separately from the battling and intermingling domestic narratives in South Korea over its future as a postcolonial and post-authoritarian society,” Eun A writes. 

A postcolonial identity is primarily domestic and about how a country understands its relation to its former occupiers. This is the historical grounding of South Korea’s memory practices, highlighting the longevity of abuses from the 35-year Japanese occupation of Korea. But the post-authoritarian nature of South Korea is crucial to understanding why historical memory of atrocity carries weight, even when the governments formally normalized relations in 1965. In linking the abuses of authoritarian government at home to the legacy of colonial rule, protest movements in South Korea made redress for grievances historic and present into sympathetic movements.

One major shift in South Korea was the emergence of nongovernmental organizations and the fall of authoritarian rulers from power. This meant, in the late 1980s and into the 1990s, new actors in the public sphere could shape memory, whereas previously, under less democratic rulers, the security imperatives of cooperation with Japan had shaped some narratives away from past abuses.

“In this new colonial-authoritarian frame, grievances against Japan and grievances against the state were mutually supportive; postcolonial reckoning required post-authoritarian justice,” writes Eun A. “It was as new narrators entered the stage and their narratives of humiliation and shame found broader traction that, for the first time in South Korean history, collective memory truly began to bind.”

For South Korea, any path forward in politics has to reckon with public understanding of memory rather than trying to route around it in secret.

Collective memory in the post-authoritarian era has been shaped by actors outside the state, constraining both domestic and foreign policy choices taken in the name of colonial victims without directly consulting with those victims. For South Korea, any path forward in politics has to reckon with public understanding of memory rather than trying to route around it in secret.

More broadly, writes Eun A, “the plurality of memories in the public sphere may be indicative of democratic cohesion; and what should be worrisome, instead, are the proliferating attempts to rehabilitate the past in service of a thick mnemonic consensus.”

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Civil workshopping: Part II

class=”MuiTypography-root-126 MuiTypography-h1-131″>Civil workshopping: Part II

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

Inkstick MediaAugust 10, 2022 · 1:15 PM EDT

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

Hussein Malla/AP/File

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related: Civil workshopping: Part I

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Civil workshopping: Part I

class=”MuiTypography-root-134 MuiTypography-h1-139″>Civil workshopping: Part I

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

Inkstick MediaAugust 3, 2022 · 2:45 PM EDT

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

Farah Abdi Warsameh/AP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Where wolves: Part II

class=”MuiTypography-root-134 MuiTypography-h1-139″>Where wolves: Part II

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

Inkstick MediaJuly 27, 2022 · 3:00 PM EDT

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

Jeff Roberson/AP/File 

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

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

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

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

Related: Where wolves: Part I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where wolves: Part I

class=”MuiTypography-root-134 MuiTypography-h1-139″>Where wolves: Part I

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

Inkstick MediaJuly 20, 2022 · 3:15 PM EDT

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

Michael Probst/AP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ladder theory: Part II

class=”MuiTypography-root-134 MuiTypography-h1-139″>Ladder theory: Part II

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

Inkstick MediaJuly 13, 2022 · 2:30 PM EDT

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

Rodrigo Abd/File/AP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marcelo Leal and Paul Musgrave

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

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

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

Related: Ladder theory: Part I

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Ladder theory: Part I

class=”MuiTypography-root-134 MuiTypography-h1-139″>Ladder theory: Part I

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

Inkstick MediaJuly 6, 2022 · 1:45 PM EDT

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

Vahid Salemi/AP

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

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

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

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

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

Related: Absurd lines: Part I

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

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

Related: Absurd lines: Part II

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

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

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

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

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Absurd lines: Part I

class=”MuiTypography-root-134 MuiTypography-h1-139″>Absurd lines: Part I

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

Inkstick MediaJune 22, 2022 · 1:00 PM EDT

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

Petros Giannakouris/AP

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

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

Related: Troubled geography: Part I

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

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

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

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

Related: Troubled geography: Part II

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

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

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

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

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

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

Troubled geography: Part II

class=”MuiTypography-root-134 MuiTypography-h1-139″>Troubled geography: Part II

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

Inkstick MediaJune 15, 2022 · 12:30 PM EDT

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

Armando Solis/AP

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

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

Related: Troubled geography: Part I

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

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

Related: Democracy, interrupted: Part I

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

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

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

Related: Democracy, interrupted: Part II

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

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

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

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

ADD CITATION HERE

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

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

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

Troubled geography: Part I

class=”MuiTypography-root-134 MuiTypography-h1-139″>Troubled geography: Part I

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

Inkstick MediaJune 8, 2022 · 1:30 PM EDT

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

Peter Morrison/AP/File

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

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

Related: Civil warcraft: Part I

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

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

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

Related: Civil warcraft: Part II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Civil warcraft: Part II

class=”MuiTypography-root-134 MuiTypography-h1-139″>Civil warcraft: Part II

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

Inkstick MediaJune 1, 2022 · 4:00 PM EDT

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

Hassan Ammar/AP/File

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

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

Related: Civil warcraft: Part I

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

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

Related: Democracy, interrupted: Part I

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

Related: Democracy, interrupted: Part II

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

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

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

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

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

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

Civil Warcraft: Part I

class=”MuiTypography-root-134 MuiTypography-h1-139″>Civil Warcraft: Part I

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

Inkstick MediaMay 25, 2022 · 5:15 PM EDT

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

Juan B. Diaz/AP

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

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

Related: Managing the aftermath: Part I

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

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

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

Related: Managing the aftermath: Part II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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