Oct 01

Climate Change and the Middle East

Image of Yemen from the CIA World Factbook, Yemen.

Image of Yemen from the CIA World Factbook, Yemen.

I’ve blogged before regarding the argument that a disastrous drought helped to feed the conflict in Syria. It’s worth revisiting the topic, however, based on a report edited by Caitlin Werrel and Francesco Femia at the Center for Climate and Security.The report, “Climate Change and the Arab Spring,” was published in February 2013, and makes the argument that climate change was a key factor in the Arab Spring, although that is not to say that it caused the uprisings. The essays in the collection clarify the truly global factors that underpinned this event, from declining wheat production in China, which undermined food security in the Middle East, to the “transcendent challenges” created by climate change globally.

The link between drought and warfare is not new. This linkage, for example, may help explain the collapse of classical Mayan civilization in the 9th century in the Yucatan peninsula and Central America. The Mayan city-states faced both an epic drought, and -based on the archaeological record- widespread warfare perhaps beginning around 800 AD (Michael Coe, The Maya, 162-163, Jared Diamond, Collapse, 172-174). The historical connection between drought and conflict is a deep one. Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2015/10/climate-change-and-the-middle-east/

Sep 24

Thucydides and China

Over the last 15 years a veritable cottage industry has arisen to describe similarities between 1) contemporary East Asia and Europe before World War One and 2) the potential for conflict between the United States and China, based on the work of Thucydides. Often scholars make both points, which is the case with Graham Allison’s recent article in the Atlantic. While the topic may not be new, it is no less significant for that reason. Allison makes this comparison based on a historical study done by his team for the Belfer Study at Harvard. I won’t summarize the results here, because I’d encourage you to view the presentation itself, but suffice it to say that there are reasons for serious concern. If Allison’s team is correct, the odds of war are higher than for peace, although conflict is not inevitable. For any nation in the region (see my book review of Malcom Fraser’s Dangerous Allies)  the current situation should be worrying. While the United States is currently preoccupied by Russia’s actions in Europe, Allison states that the greatest threat remains a conflict with China. The reason that so many authors write about the parallels with World War One is that conflict is likely to come about less from malice and planning than coincidence and misinterpretation. Scholars have often spoken about Europe “sleepwalking” into World War One. While it is easy to condemn that long-ago generation of statesman, diplomats and leaders, its more discomfiting to ask how current leaders would respond to a similar challenge. For all these reasons, I strongly recommend Allison’s piece in the Atlantic.

Shawn Smallman, Portland State University

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2015/09/thucydides-and-china/

Sep 15

Extensive Reading Assignments in the International Studies Classroom

Guest Blog Post:
Kimberley Brown
Portland State University

Extensive reading involves a high level of independence for the reader. Texts are assigned and students read on their own, frequently using study questions or reader-response guides. The primary purpose of this type of assignment in a typical lower division undergraduate course is to encourage students to read heavily using a text that draws them in. This post describes one extensive reading assignment used in some sections of our introductory course. The text is The Blue Sweater. It is a memoir written by a women actively engaged in numerous development ventures, who ultimately created her own outreach organization: the Acumen Fund. The title comes from her finding a sweater she had worn as a child in the US being worn by a young child in Africa. The cycle of the sweater’s travels begins her memoir.

I chose to encourage students to become familiar with an individual who chose to make a difference. Her perspective on the power of business ventures to ensure independence and self-help is less represented in many globalization texts than critiques of neo-liberal strategies and was chosen specifically for this reason.

The full APA citation is Novogratz, J. 2009. The Blue Sweater. New York: Rodale Press. Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2015/09/extensive-reading-assignments-in-the-international-studies-classroom/

Sep 12

No Coup in Brazil

A couple of weeks ago I was walking down the street at Portland State University, and I ran into one of my favorite colleagues, who has studied Latin America’s militaries throughout a very long career.

“I’m getting rumbling from the boys,” he said.

“What boys?” I asked. “The military?”

“Your boys,’ he said, because of my work on the Brazilian military. “They’re not happy.”

“A coup?” I said. “It will never happen.” He cocked his head skeptically.

“The younger generation will never accept it,” I said. “This is not 64. They won’t put up with it. The United States won’t either. No nation in the Americas would accept it. Besides, think about it,” I said. “Brazil is in a terrible economic situation. If you were the generals, would you want to take power now?’ He nodded at this, but I felt that perhaps he wasn’t fully convinced. Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2015/09/no-coup-in-brazil/

Sep 11

Quiz on Digital Globalization

I’m teaching a class on Digital Globalization this winter quarter at Portland State. The course will be fully online, thanks to great support from Vince Schreck, a course designer in OAI, and Linda Absher, the librarian who has tracked down countless documentaries to use as streaming videos, and helped to locate other key resources. Over the first six weeks the students will explore three main topics (Digital Culture; Transformation and Institutions; Security, Privacy and the Nation-State) before spending three weeks on individualized study. The final week of the course will consist of students sharing a Digital Artifact, such as a slideshow or video. I always learn far more from my students than they learn from me, and that’s particularly true with these final presentations. I’ve been working on a brief quiz on digital literacy, which takes five minutes to complete. Are you a cyber expert, who knows about Bitcoin, the Dark Web, the Sharing Economy, MOOCs, Wikileaks, Snowden, and social media? You can take the quiz here to find out.

Shawn Smallman, Portland State University.

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2015/09/quiz-on-digital-globalization/

Sep 07

Globalization, Internationalization, and English for Academic Purposes

Kimberley Brown
Portland State University
Guest blog post

Many campuses in the US and Canada have formalized comprehensive internationalization plans that call for increased numbers of international students on campuses, augmented numbers of outbound study abroad students, and expanded partnerships with universities around the world. International Studies Programs may have a unique role to play in these efforts on their respective campuses. If you have an ESL program for incoming international students, you may want to consider an on-campus partnership that allows advanced ESL students to use the academic theme of globalization in their courses and to collaborate with your students in your classes.

Recently two former students (who both completed their BAs in International Studies and their MAs in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) decided to use our textbook in Japan and Mexico for advanced level students in their English for Academic Purposes courses. Another MA student, heading off to teach EAP in Germany for a year, chose to work through basic globalization concepts covered in our introductory course and to write a brief reflection on the link between globalization and English for Academic Purposes. His goal in Germany is to introduce globalization concepts in his high level academic English courses that he will be teaching. Chen (2012) looks at the ability of the content area of globalization to serve as a way to introduce students, who are a few terms away from becoming matriculated students at their respective institutions, to the discourse of higher education. Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2015/09/globalization-internationalization-and-english-for-academic-purposes/

Sep 01

Ghost Fleet: a book review

F35 on training flight. Wikicommons. U.S. Navy ID number ID 110211-O-XX000-001

F35 on training flight. Wikicommons. U.S. Navy ID number  110211-O-XX000-001

P.W. Singer and August Cole have written a techno-thriller based on a Chinese invasion of Hawaii, in a strange replay of Pearl Harbor. As with Tom Clancy’s work, there are multiple points of view, moral black and whites, and the technology is at times as much of a star as the main characters. Yet this work creates a pessimistic twist to Clancy’s upbeat vision. In Ghost Fleet America’s reliance on technology makes the country so vulnerable to attack that it must draw (spoiler alert) on irregular warfare tactics that its armed forces learned fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq.

There is a contradiction within this work. At times some scenes come across as unrealistic, and the analysis of international politics seems simplistic. Some plot devices, (another spoiler alert) such as the discovery of new resources leading to a surprise invasion, are so common in the genre as to be exhausted. In contrast, the focus on technology is all too convincing, and this detailed look at possible scenarios for future warfare (the book has extensive endnotes) is fascinating. The work is also carefully plotted, and the climax is deftly handled. Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2015/09/ghost-fleet-a-book-review/

Aug 15

Map of Japan’s demographic decline

When Kim and I wrote the first edition of the textbook, the external reviewers asked for a number of important changes, one of which was to include more demographic information. In the second edition, we continued to draw on demography, which particularly informed our discussion in the conclusion regarding future trends in global affairs. Demographic information can be dangerous if over-simplified, and it is often cited by cultural conservatives who fear the impact of migration. Still, demographics is perhaps the most reliable means to look into the future, whether it be to foresee the decline of francophone communities in Canada outside of Quebec and New Brunswick, or the enduring power of France, which has a brighter demographic future than many European states. The major global demographic trend in the world today is towards demographic decline amongst developed nations, even as Africa’s population climbs sharply. Some nations, such as Taiwan, have birth rates that are shockingly low. Of course, there are also advantages to population decline, particular regarding environmental issues. With a smaller population there is less demand for energy and other key resources. In the short term, however, most nation-states that have aging populations will face significant economic challenges, from how to fund the pension system, to the declining number of taxpayers to service the national debt. Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2015/08/map-of-japans-demographic-decline/

Aug 01

Maps and the South China Sea

With the possible exception of Ukraine, there is perhaps no place in the world today so likely to see a localized conflict expand into a global war as the South China Sea. Business Insider has recently published a collection of maps that seek to explain tensions in the area. The maps themselves were originally produced by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, which has done an important service by documenting the economic, political and geographic issues that are shaping geopolitical tensions throughout the region. Therese Delpeche, who sadly passed away in 2012, argued in her important book, Savage Century: Back to Barbarism, that the political situation in Asia now resembles that in Europe in 1914. This idea was not new, and has been controversial within Political Science, but after reading her work it is difficult not to see historical parallels. For anyone who wonders why these ocean waters have engaged so many different nations, these nineteen maps explain what is at stake. The maps would also be a great teaching tool in an “Introduction to International and Global Studies” class.

For a critical look at U.S. policy in the region, and its implications for Australia, please see my review of Michael Fraser’s Dangerous Allies. For a broader look at the issue, please see my book review of Robert Kaplan’s work, Asia’s Cauldron.

Shawn Smallman, Portland State University

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2015/08/maps-and-the-south-china-sea/

Jul 26

War and the limits of theory

Image of the Persian Gulf from the CIA World Factbook

Image of the Persian Gulf from the CIA World Factbook

This week an anonymous author wrote a brief article in the New York Review of Books that is attracting a lot of attention. All that we know about the writer is that they have worked as an official in a “NATO country” and that they have a great deal of experience in the Middle East. The central idea of the piece is that our current social science theories utterly fail to explain the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria. As the author argues, there is a rich literature on guerrilla warfare, which is based on more than a century of experience. ISIS has violated everyone of these rules -don’t engage in fixed position warfare; don’t violate the social norms in the communities in which you exist- and yet ISIS still moves from success to success against vastly greater forces.

Like most observers, the author of this piece has been stunned both by the sheer speed of ISIS’s success, and its ability to change the rules of the game. The author makes the point that observers often assume that what is needed is more information, but perhaps that is not the case. Maybe the real problem is our analytical frameworks. Maybe we don’t know what we thought we know. Certainly, the complete failure of U.S. policy in Iraq raises questions about every aspect of U.S. counter-insurgency doctrine. Of course, one could also point to the deeply flawed rationale for the invasion of Iraq in the first place. Still, perhaps the conceptual problem is even larger than this, and speaks to the overall weakness of social science theories as they are applied to the region. The author makes the point that to see an equally stunning success against all expectations you might have to look to the Vandal conquest of North Africa in the dying days of the Roman Empire. This is an engaging analogy, although historians might quibble with the need to reach so deeply into the past. Even so, the larger point is that our current social science models governing what are sometimes called “small wars” don’t seem to be working well to understand this current conflict.

One might question whether our understanding of small wars is to Eurocentric. Still, most of the authors of foundational texts -Mao, Ho Chi Minh and Che Guevara- were not Western. A counter-argument might be that ISIS may yet collapse as quickly as it emerged on the scene. Perhaps ISIS appears to be rewriting the rules only because there has not been enough time for it to pay the price for violating them. Perhaps ISIS has not yet had enough time to fail, and its collapse will be as quick as its rise. Still, if ISIS continues to thrive over the next few years, then the author is correct that something fundamental is wrong with our understanding of these conflicts. In that case, theorists and strategists will need to fundamentally question everything about our current understanding of irregular warfare.

If you are interested in the theory of war, I strongly recommend Ann Hironaka’s Neverending WarsI used the book in my “Foundations of Global Studies Theory” class, as a key security studies text. I am often frustrated by much of the existing literature in security studies, which still overemphasizes conventional conflict, and relies too much on Realism as a theoretical approach. In an era of terrorist organizations, cyber-warfare, Anonymous, and drug cartels, much of this theoretical literature is in danger of becoming dusty. Hironaka’s work is interesting because it focuses on civil war, the dominant form of conflict in the world today, and draws on insights from Sociology. Her central argument is that the international community unintentionally propagates these conflicts, an idea that is relevant to many existing conflicts globally.

Shawn Smallman, Portland State University

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2015/07/war-and-the-limits-of-theory/

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