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/

Jul 18

Best Map of the Global Drug Trade

I have been researching the drug trade in Latin America this year, and recently came across this map of the global drug trade by Eduardo Asta, who created it in 2014. This particular map has now been published in the Atlas of Design, which celebrates the best maps produced in the world, and is published every two years. Although the map is in Portuguese, the images are so clear, and the cognates so similar, that it should be easy for any English speaker to decipher the map. One of the points that the map makes abundantly clear is the scale of the cocaine trade between Latin America in Europe. While in North America we tend to focus on the drug war, and the flow of drugs across the U.S. Mexican border, it’s important to remember that this is one part of a truly global trade. The European market for cocaine is almost as large as that in the United States. The Caribbean also plays a key role in the transport routes that bring cocaine from the Andes to the U.S. East Coast, but U.S. media coverage of the drug trade focuses almost exclusively on the Mexican border. The map also shifts our perspective on the drug trade by emphasizing the critical role that Afghanistan and Asia play in the global heroin trade. Finally, Africa receives little attention in discussion of the global drug trade, but it has a massive market for amphetamines. To me, this map is a beautiful work of design, which visually conveys an immense amount of information without succumbing to clutter.

If you are interested in maps of the drug trade, look at this map of the Mexican drug cartels in 2015, and this collection of maps on the Brazilian drug trade. You can also read my post on the terrible massacre in Coahuila, Mexico.

Shawn Smallman, Portland State University

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2015/07/best-map-of-the-global-drug-trade/

Jul 10

Countries and Climate Change

I’ve posted before about how climate change will impact south Florida, and other areas that are particularly vulnerable to climate change. Still, how well would different nations respond to global warming? If you’ve ever asked that question, you can find an infographic with a ranking here. The map seems to place great emphasis on state capacity, rather than only measuring the direct impact of climate change.

Prof. Smallman, Portland State University

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2015/07/countries-and-climate-change/

Jul 04

Nuclear Aftershocks: A Documentary Review

Photograph of an original painting by Gary Sheehan. Depicted is his version of the scene when scientist(s) observed the world's first nuclear reactor (CP-1) as it became self-sustaining. Source: Wikipedia Commons

Photograph of an original painting by Gary Sheehan. Depicted is his version of the scene when scientist(s) observed the world’s first nuclear reactor (CP-1) as it became self-sustaining. Source: Wikipedia Commons

In my “Introduction to International Studies” class this spring I showed the video “Nuclear Aftershocks,” which my library had in its Streaming Video database, under “Films on Demand.” This 56 minute documentary begins by discussing the Fukushima nuclear disaster, and the global impact that it had. The work also includes the voices of experts who argued that only nuclear power can provide sufficient non-carbon energy to meet the world’s future needs. The video then shifts to the United States, and the Indian Point reactor, which is located dangerously close to New York City. According to the documentary, the plant also supplies about a quarter of the electricity required by the city. The film finishes by returning to Fukushima, and the challenges that Japan faces in cleaning up the disaster, a process that will take decades. Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2015/07/nuclear-aftershocks-a-documentary-review/

Jul 01

Charles King, “The Decline of International Studies”

Charles King has an outstanding article in Foreign Affairs titled “The Decline of International Studies.” The core of his argument is that cuts to federal funding programs (especially “Title 6″ funds for regional studies) have saved the U.S. government little money, but have cost much expertise in International Affairs. He also argues that the government is increasingly supporting only research tied to security issues. He also provides evidence that college students are taking fewer language classes than in the recent past. Perhaps equally significant, he also points out that many scholars of “International Relations” do not themselves have a good command of a foreign language. Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2015/07/charles-kings-the-decline-of-international-studies/

Jun 25

Dutch Ruling on Climate Change

A Dutch court has required that the government impose mandatory carbon cuts. This is not the first such suit, as others are pending elsewhere in Europe. This article by Lauren McCauley describes the ruling, and the impact that it is likely to have. Environmental groups are now planning to bring similar suits across the globe.

Prof. Smallman, Portland State University

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2015/06/dutch-ruling-on-climate-change/

Jun 22

New Course on Digital Globalization

Globalization Flyer, Winter 2016. The image of Snowden comes from the Freedom of the Press Foundation, which published this photo under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License at https://pressfreedomfoundation.org/about/board/edward-snowden

Globalization Flyer, Winter 2016. The image of Snowden comes from the Freedom of the Press Foundation, which published this photo under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License at https://pressfreedomfoundation.org/about/board/edward-snowden

Now that classes have ended, of course I am excited to work on my course for next winter, when I will be teaching a fully online class on Digital Globalization. The course will be asynchronous, and students may be able to choose the content areas that they wish to focus on: Security, Crime and Privacy; Transformation, Business and Education; or Culture and the Individual. When students login to the course they will take a quiz, which will suggest which area they might want to focus on, and whether they might want to do a group or individual project.

Here is my flyer, which I created using Canva. This is a great way to create visually attractive posters and course flyers. It’s also free, so long as you download your own photos, which the site makes easy to do. The site also has some free photos to use as well. I have no affiliation with Canva; I just want to share a cool tool. See www.canva.com

For a whimsical take on digital globalization (set to the tune of “Video Killed the Radio Star”), please see this music video “Digital Life,” by Amy Burvall of History Teachers. The video starts with the Marshall McLuhan quote, which I’ve stolen for the flyer.

Prof. Smallman, Portland State University

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2015/06/new-course-on-digital-globalization/

Jun 12

MERS in South Korea

Photo of Korea from space by NASA, and obtained from the CIA World Factbook.

Photo of Korea from space by NASA, and obtained from the CIA World Factbook.

I have blogged about MERS before on this site, but this disease has faded from the news for the last year, until the most recent outbreak in South Korea. Middle East Respiratory Syndrome is an infectious disease caused by a corona virus, in the same manner as the SARS outbreak of 2003. The disease first appeared in Saudi Arabia in 2012, and has continued to circulate there since. In Saudi Arabia the virus has seemed to spread particularly well in a health care setting. While a number of infected people –many of whom have been health care professionals- have carried the virus to other countries, in every case the outbreak has been contained. The outbreak in Korea has been different because of its scale –eleven people have died and over three thousand have been quarantined- and speed.

South Korean citizens have criticized the government for responding too slowly to the outbreak. One person, for example, broke voluntary quarantine and traveled to China, where he ultimately fell ill. There is no question, however, that South Korea is now taking the outbreak seriously. Over 1,800 schools and daycares are closed, even though the World Health Organization (WHO) says that this measure is unnecessary. An entire small Korean village (approximate population 130) has been placed under quarantine with guards manning checkpoints. The authorities are tracking peoples’ cellphone location to make sure that they are remaining in quarantine, and health authorities are checking on people at their homes. At the time of this writing, it seems as though MERS may have peaked in South Korea, and hopefully will soon begin to fade. Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2015/06/mers-in-south-korea/

Jun 10

The top ten posts on the blog

Once a year, I like to look at the most popular blog posts. The blog currently receives a little under 1,700 people a month, but 80% of the people who land on the site “bounce,” which means that they leave the blog almost as soon as they arrive. There are roughly 350 people a month who read posts. Most of these people are from the United States, although there are also readers in Canada, Brazil, Great Britain, India, Kenya, the United Arab Emirates, Australia, Germany and Mexico. The top ten blog posts have certain common themes: book reviews are popular, as are posts on theory, literature and sports. I’m really not sure why the latter is the case. People are also fascinated by international mysteries.

Some of you may have also noticed that there is no longer a comment feature on the blog. Sadly, the spam filter was no longer able to deal with the overwhelming number of bots posting to the site. Sometimes there would be an attack, and I’d receive waves of posts to the blog. These would generate mass e-mail notices, each of which would ask me to approve a particular post. UNC decided to disable the comments feature, which has ended this issue, even though I miss hearing peoples’ comments on individual posts.

Here are the top ten posts, based on the most recent data from Google Analytics:

A book review of Dipesh Chakrabarty’s Provincializing Europe

Realism and Human Security: a map of U.S. Security Interests

Introduction to International Studies syllabus

A book review of Dave Zirin, Brazil’s Dance with the Devil

A book review of Eden Robinson’s Monkey Beach

What is International or Global Studies?

Witches Broom: the mystery of bioterrorism and chocolate in Brazil

Broken Arrow: lost nuclear weapons in Canada

International Studies Quiz

Map of Mexican Drug Cartels

Shawn Smallman, Portland State University

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2015/06/the-top-ten-posts-on-the-blog/

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