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Great IR Thinkers: Robert O. Keohane

In 1965, Robert Keohane completed his PhD dissertation at Harvard University on the politics of the UN General Assembly. The question he tried to answer was whether institutions matter in explaining state behavior, or whether the latter could be deduced solely from the distribution of power. Over 30 years later, Keohane is still examining this question, and the ways in which he dealt with the question over the years have put him on the list of the most important political thinkers of our time.

Keohane was born in 1941 at the University of Chicago Hospitals. When he was 10, the family moved to Mount Carroll, Illinois, where he attended public school; after the 10th grade, at the age of only 16, Keohane was an early entrant to Shimer College, a small offshoot of the College of the University of Chicago, where his parents were professors.

In 1965, he took up a teaching position at Swarthmore College. In 1969, after joining the board of editors for the journal International Organization, which has since become one of the leading journals in the field, Keohane began his remarkable research collaboration with Joseph S. Nye. He moved to California in 1973 to teach at Stanford University. In 1985, Keohane returned to Harvard, where he stayed for the next decade. In 1996, he was appointed James Duke Professor of International Relations at Duke University. » More

IAEA Conference: Asking the Right Questions?

The earthquake and tsunami that hit the Fukushima nuclear plant is a long overdue wake up call. Image: Douglas Sprott/flickr

In the wake of the Fukushima nuclear accident in March, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Monday began a five-day Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Safety in Vienna. The objective, according to Director General Yukiya Amano, is to identify the ‘lessons learned’ from the accident and determine how to improve the Agency’s efforts to increase nuclear safety worldwide. To be sure, public confidence in the safety of nuclear power plants has plummeted in recent months, particularly in Japan and Germany where demonstrators have taken to the streets demanding nuclear energy be phased out.

A glance at the conference‘s stated aims and objectives, and at what the media has thus far reported, suggests that discussion of these  ‘lessons learned’ has focused on : 1) safety in nuclear installations, 2) emergency preparedness, and, 3) effective first-response to accidents.  While the savvy reader will know that the focus of international conferences can change as unpredictably as the weather, a distinct pattern is emerging.

On Monday, the conference adopted a Declaration on Nuclear Safety which expresses the participants’ resolve to enhance nuclear safety around the world. Among the measures it proposes are : 1) enhancing knowledge about nuclear safety; 2) promoting international cooperation and coordination around the issue; and, perhaps most relevantly to Fukushima, 3)  meeting the public expectation to provide “factually correct information and assessments of nuclear accidents.”

But the response to the Fukushima accident must address not just the technical and political issues that have dominated the conference so far but, moreover, how we fundamentally think about nuclear safety. What the Japanese people experienced – an earthquake, followed by a tsunami, followed by a nuclear disaster – should, in this sense, be an urgent wake up call. » More

Some Links on the Euro Crisis

One Euro? Photo: Jose Glez y Lopez/flickr

With the massive protests in Spain over the weekend and calls from respectable quarters for Greece to leave the Euro – which, as Daniel Knowles of the Telegraph succinctly illustrates (echoing Barry Eichengren’s working paper), could have genuinely catastrophic results – the future of the Eurozone is very much in question today in the world media.

Last August, Lorenzo Smaghi, writing for Foreign Affairs, offered an optimistic assessment that put a lot faith in the new financial governance structures – mainly the European Financial Stability Fund (EFSF) – implemented that summer, but that optimism now seems to have been overtaken by events.

Whereas Charles Calomiris, in Foreign Policy, was telling us in January that the Euro was dead, in the May/June print edition of Foreign Affairs, Henry Farrell and John Quiggin offered a proposal to save it – “and the EU.”

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This Week in ISN Insights…

It's week 25 on our editorial calendar, Photo: Leo Reynolds/flickr

All this week, ISN Insights takes a closer look at China’s evolving foreign relations with key states and political and economic blocs:

  • On Monday, Harsh Pant of King’s College London explains Pakistan’s growing importance to China in its effort to offset growing Indo-US ties.
  • Eddie Walsh of Johns Hopkins’ SAIS examines China’s efforts to alter the bilateral distribution of power vis-à-vis Taiwan on Tuesday.
  • Wednesday’s article from Raffaello Pantucci, of the European Council on Foreign Relations and the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, analyzes the complex nature of the strategic partnership between China and Europe.
  • On Thursday, Professor Rupak Borah discusses China’s changing role in the BRICS grouping, now that it has successfully brought South Africa into the fold.

And in case you missed any of last week’s coverage, you can read it here on: NATO and Russia’s historic opportunity for missile defense; the troubled dynamic between gender and UN peace operations; and an assessment of the western Balkans after Mladic.


‘Land Grabbing:’ Taking Stock of Two Years of Debate

The romanticization of farmland is part of the debate. Image: David M. Wright/flickr

“Whether viewed as ‘land grabs’ or as agricultural investment for development, large-scale land deals by investors in developing countries are generating considerable attention. However, investors, policymakers, officials, and other key stakeholders have paid little attention to a dimension of these deals essential to truly understanding their impact: gender.” (The Gender Implications of Large-scale Land Deals, IFPRI, April 2011).

Two years after the publication of “‘Land Grabbing’ by Foreign Investors in Developing Countries,” the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) is again setting the agenda. The idea that we should consider gender issues when evaluating large-scale land deals shows how the ‘land grabbing’ debate has matured since it started in 2009, when rich investors from powerful countries were pitted against poor farmers in developing countries.

Of course, there are still those who condemn greedy land grabbers abusing their power to deprive poor Africans of their land, on the one side, and those who hail benevolent investors lending their money to develop backward agriculture in the ‘south’ on the other. But we can also observe many shades of gray in a debate which seems to have revived in spring 2011.

A Google Timeline search shows how the 'land grabbing' debate really started in 2009. After it cooled down a bit in 2010, it seems to have revived in 2011: not yet half into the year, the bar already shows about half of the results found for 2009.

Two years into the ‘land grabbing’ phenomenon, here are some resources on the issue. » More

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