Interview – Bruce Bueno de Mesquita

The tread of a shoe imprinted with the word ‘predictions’, courtesy PearlsofJannah اللؤلؤ من الجنة/Flickr

This interview was originally published by E-International Relations on 28 March 2016.

Bruce Bueno de Mesquita is the Silver Professor of Politics at New York University, director of NYU’s Alexander Hamilton Center for Political Economy, and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is an elected member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was also a Guggenheim Fellow and president of the International Studies Association. He co-wrote The Logic of Political Survival (2003), The Predictioneer’s Game: Using the Logic of Brazen Self-Interest to See and Shape the Future (2009), The Dictator’s Handbook (2011), and co-authored the selectorate theory with Alastair Smith, Randolph M. Siverson, and James Morrow. He is an expert on international conflict, foreign policy formation, the peace process, and nation building. He received an honorary doctorate in 1999 from the University of Groningen and earned his M.A. and Ph.D. in political science from the University of Michigan.

How has the way you understand the world changed over time, and what (or who) prompted the most significant shifts in your thinking?

I began as a comparative politics, South Asia specialist with little formal training in international relations. Hence, when I moved into the IR arena I started from the perspective that system-level structural theories were the right way to study the subject. I stopped believing that with a set of papers I wrote in the late 1970s that highlighted the debate in the field over polarity and stability. I contended that the debates really were about how decision-makers respond to uncertainty. That led me to several conclusions that changed how I understood – or did not understand – how the international arena worked. First, since there were plausible arguments that multipolarity; that is, high uncertainty, led to cautious responses and alternatively that it led to miscalculations and misjudgments, I concluded that there was no inherent logical link between polarity and instability. Second, I concluded that variation in how states responded to uncertainty depended on who was in a leadership position and so we needed to study leaders rather than states, treating them as if they were unitary actors. I was particularly influenced by A.F.K. Organski’s Stages of Political Development (1965) in forming a view of how national decision making coalitions formed and William Riker’s Theory of Political Coalitions and his subsequent book with Peter Ordeshook. Their research exposed me to the possibility of rigorous logic as a substitute for opinion and hunches in studying politics. Grad classes with Donald Stokes also reframed how I thought about politics, especially after he exposed me to Von Neumann and Morgenstern.

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The U.S. Presidential Election and its Implications on Middle East Policy

Individuals casting their vote at the ballot box, courtesy Prachatai/Flickr

This article was originally published by the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs in March 2016.

Introduction

Amidst an unpredictable U.S. election campaign, a populist revolt against Washington’s political establishment is in the making. An increasingly frustrated electorate has handsomely rewarded New York businessman Donald Trump at the ballot box for vigorously – and at times crudely – taking on political taboos as he remains the Republican Party’s undisputed frontrunner, despite having proposed to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. This and his proposal to defeat the Islamic State group, or ISIS, by “taking its oil” have undoubtedly contributed to cementing his frontrunner status.

Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, a conservative firebrand and Tea Party favorite, has from the outset of his campaign sought to portray himself as the ultimate political outsider. This, along with his constant condemnation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPA, the U.S.-negotiated nuclear agreement with Iran, has become the signature issue of his foreign policy platform.

Before eventually dropping out of the race after failing to win his home state of Florida, Senator Marco Rubio pledged to unify the Republican Party between its traditionally business friendly elite, its conservative base and neoconservative foreign policy establishment.

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Australia’s 2016 Defence White Paper: ASEAN and the South China Sea

NUSHIP Canberra porting in Sydney, Courtesy of Crouchy69/Flickr.

This article was originally published by RSIS on 8 March 2016.

Synopsis

Australia’s 2016 Defence White Paper may indicate a future strategic policy of reactionary assertiveness with significant consequences for Southeast Asia’s security, especially in the South China Sea.

Commentary

DESCRIBED AS ‘clear eyed and unsentimental’ by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Australia’s 2016 Defence White Paper (DWP) reaffirms Australia’s strategic attention towards maritime Southeast Asia. While the 2009 and 2013 DWPs also had this focus, the 2016 DWP bluntly expresses Australia’s concerns over this area.

In the 190-page long document, Canberra pledges to increase capital investment in defence capabilities from the current AUD 9.4 billion to AUD 23 billion in 2025-26, mostly in the maritime domain. The concern is less what Australia will do with this investment than the consequences it will potentially bring to Southeast Asia, and its ASEAN grouping, in light of Australia’s reactionary assertiveness against China’s maritime ambitions in the South China Sea.

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Sanctioning the DPRK? This Time It’s All about Implementation Not Design

South Korea missiles on display.

This article was originally published by E-International Relations (E-IR) on 14 March 2016.

In the wake of the nuclear and missile tests by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) calls were renewed for further sanctions on the regime in Pyongyang. It was claimed, as it was in 2006, 2009, and 2013, that with China fully on board these sanctions had a chance of greater success in producing a cessation of the DPRK’s nuclear ambitions. The weeks of discussion between the US and China to craft the sanctions also indicated that the 2016 resolution would be a landmark agreement. Surprisingly then, in the immediate assessments, it may be that for the first time it is Russia (rather than China) that has become the ‘wild card’ regarding sanctions and the DPRK.

However, there are reasons to doubt whether extended sanctions will produce the outcomes that key players want to achieve and also how much of a step change these sanctions actually present. The reason for my caution is two-fold. First, this claim is based on a judgement that China’s interests are now more in-step with the US and other powers than they had previously been (and that Russia won’t be a problem). Second, it suggests that a key stumbling block was in the scope and scale of the sanctions rather than their implementation.

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Making Russia Think Twice about Nuclear Threats

This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 9 March 2016.

On September 11, 2013, Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, writing in The New York Times, issued “A Plea for Caution From Russia.” Putin sought to communicate directly with the American people, warning against U.S. and Western unilateral military action in Syria — in response to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons against its own citizens — without the authorization of the United Nations Security Council. Such an action, Putin warned, would be destabilizing, deepen the cycle of regional violence, and potentially throw “the entire system of international law and order out of balance.” Putin further chastised the United States for its alarming tendency to intervene militarily in overseas civil wars and implied that U.S. strategies for dealing with problem states were encouraging the spread of nuclear weapons. Putin’s plea: “We must stop using the language of force and return to the path of civilized diplomatic and political settlement.”

We know that this “plea for caution” was nothing more than an effort to protect a Russian client state dressed up in the language of political and legal principle. How else can we understand Russia’s unilateral, unsanctioned military intervention in the Syria conflict in September 2015? Cynical? Maybe, but of even greater concern than Russian hypocrisy in the Middle East is its nuclear saber-rattling in Europe and elsewhere. On this issue, it is imperative that the Kremlin heed a genuine plea for caution from the United States and reconsider its policy of using the language — and practice — of nuclear force to coerce and intimidate. This policy truly does have the potential, to use Putin’s words, to be destabilizing and to undermine the international order. And it could set in motion responses that would heighten strategic competition and risk and, in the process, damage Russia’s own interests.

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