The CSS Blog Network

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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Mediation Perspectives: Spoiler Alert – How Governments Can Undermine Peace Agreements

Pacman figure made with 9mm Parabellum cartridges about to eat the peace sign. Courtesy of Ragnar Jensen/flickr

Mediation Perspectives is a periodic blog entry provided by the CSS’ Mediation Support Team and occasional guest authors. Each entry is designed to highlight the utility of mediation approaches in dealing with violent political conflicts.

Most armed conflicts since the end of the Cold War have been civil wars. In contrast to wars between states, civil wars last longer – on average for seven to ten years – and usually end in some kind of settlement. Such settlements can result in mere ceasefires or, in more ideal cases, power-sharing agreements and genuine attempts to deal with the root causes of conflict. Yet one in two civil war settlements fail and violence reoccurs. Today’s blog provides one explanation for why this rate is so staggeringly high – the ‘spoiler’ role played by governments.

In most cases, peace deals in civil wars are signed when warring parties are weak, particularly the government. Military stalemate, exhaustion, and external pressure may encourage belligerents to settle at the negotiating table. Under such circumstances, a settlement is likely to be a compromise that still threatens some actors’ power, worldview and interests. As a result, they may try to undermine or ‘spoil’ the agreement in a way that allows them to reap the benefits they consider favorable, while not paying its designated price. The benefits may include retaining state power, gaining international or domestic recognition for committing to peace, continued exploitation of resources, and maintaining patronage networks, among many others.

Given these benefits, the underlying reasons why peace deals aren’t complied with are thus plentiful. Yet the media, as well as academia and its ‘spoiler theory’, all too often focus on the violent breaches of a peace and attribute blame to the rebel group. But since being a ‘spoiler’ works both ways, we’re left with a glaring question: How do governments impede or violate peace agreements and what non-violent means do they employ towards that end?

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Autocrats United? Electing the African Union’s Peace and Security Council

Grafitti of Snipers, courtesy Am AMISOM Public Information/flickr

This article was originally published by IPI Global Observatory on 5 April 2016.

The Peace and Security Council of the African Union (PSC) is the most important African institution for the day-to-day management of peace and security issues facing the continent. It is the PSC, for example, that coordinates the AU’s conflict management strategies, decides when to authorize peace operations, rules on how to interpret “unconstitutional changes of government,” and determines when to impose sanctions against recalcitrant AU states.

Yet, at the last AU summit, under the headline banner: “2016: African Year of Human Rights,” African states elected arguably the most authoritarian cohort of countries ever to sit on the PSC. What consequences this will have for peace and security on the continent, as well as the AU’s relations with its principal external partners, remains to be seen.

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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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