Sunday, November 13, 2005
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Why aren't IR scholars paying more attention to Al Qaeda?
Marc Lynch, blogging at Abu Aardvark, says that international relations journals aren't paying enough attention to Al Qaeda:
Lynch posits that this is because the leading paradigms used to explain international relations are unsiuted to explain Al Qaeda:
Kevin Drum is appalled: "I know it takes a while for people to change gears, but you'd sure think terrorism might have captured just a little more attention among IR types by now, wouldn't you?"
[So what's your takeaway point?--ed. I think Lynch is overstating the problem, but it does exist. Whether this is important depends on whether you believe that Al Qaeda really does represent the greatest threat to U.S. power and interests over the next decade.]
UPDATE: Lynch responds here. And Ethan Bueno de Mesquita makes some excellent observations in the comments.posted by Dan on 11.13.05 at 05:58 PM
Dan, your description of the grand strategy report is somewhat misleading. There are 14 mentions of insurgency/ counter insurgency, 20 mentions of words with Jihad (e.g. Jihadism, Jihadists, etc), 36 mentions of words with Islam (Islamists, Islamism, etc) and 61 mentions of words with terror (counter terrorism, terrorists, terrorism). I understand that some of these are used together but you get the point. A whole section of the report tries to establish what the causes of terrorism are, why it's important, and how to fight it. By contrast, China, the other major subject of the study, is really only described by one word (China) or two if you count Chinese, hence the disparity. Yes, the report says East Asia (and therefore China) is the biggest challenge but the threat of WMD terrorism is also fully addressed. Ranking in terms of priority is not the same as neglect.posted by: Tom Wright on 11.13.05 at 05:58 PM [permalink]
You nailed this one, Dan. Lynch is a hack. He had a post on his blog about a month ago about the irrelevance of realism that was basically incendiary nonsense. One can and should criticize realism in useful and important ways. Lynch just appears to have something out for it.
As for this post, Lynch's exlusion of *International Security* by lumping it together with *Foreign Affairs* and *Washington Quarterly* as "policy-oriented journals" is frankly bizarre. In fact, it suggests to me that Lynch has never actually picked up an issue of *International Security*.posted by: irprof on 11.13.05 at 05:58 PM [permalink]
Hmmm. I made a similar point about turnaround time in the comments. I disagree that Marc is a hack - he's not - but, as I've said to him, he does seriously underestimate the amount of work in pipeline about terrorism.
Maybe many IRs are looking for a Diplomatic career and summits and since Al-qaeda dont accept embassies... Also fighting(note this word) against Al-qaeda does have a great deal of military saying and that doesnt runs well with some IRs...
This a disputed quote so they'll go both:
A nation that draws too broad a difference between its scholars and its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards, and its fighting done by fools.
"The nation that will insist upon
Alright, he's not a hack. I retract that, but his post reveals that he has very little knowledge of the security side of the international relations field. That's a problem for somebody trying to evaluate IR theory's contributions to understanding al-Qa'eda.posted by: irprof on 11.13.05 at 05:58 PM [permalink]
DD's point about journal lag times is a critical one. Nearly all of the journals mentioned have largely (thankfully) eschewed thought-pieces in favor of more systematic empirical work. That work takes time to do, and lots of time to do well -- and all that has to happen *before* anything gets submitted to a single journal. Even DD's (optimistic) eighteen months story is from submission to publication; it's not unusual for a project to take at least a year or two of work prior to *that*.
(As an aside: I wouldn't call Marc a hack, but I'd take more seriously comments about those journals from someone that has actually published in them...).
My other point is, what gives IR property rights over the issue of terrorism anyway? I'd argue that most of the best work on terrorism right now is being done by young scholars (Ethan Bueno de Mesquita, David Siegel, etc.) that are closer to comparative politics than IR. Moreover, my reading of most IR theory is that it is woefully ill-suited to address the topic, whereas the sorts of things that comparativists study (collective action, mobilization, factionalism, identity politics, etc. etc.) are probably exactly where we ought to start on the topic.posted by: The Pooka on 11.13.05 at 05:58 PM [permalink]
Another point Dan neglects to address is that, given the "outside the paradigms" argument made by Fukyama and Ikenberry, the rise of AQ terror threats creates an important novel opportunity for IR people.
It has often been correctly said of economics that the field is "imperialistic" in the sense of being aggressive in responding to opportunity to apply its analytical tools. In reframing the issue that provokes this thread, the question is: why isn't IR more like economics in exploiting a relevent, new opportunity? Does any other field of scholarship have a better, more appropriate skill-set? No. (Now, maybe it needs to re-tool?) Hence the mystery.
Dan's engagement with this mystery - whether satisfactory or not (ie, "it's in the pipeline, stupid" or in other venues) - stands as a necessary one, neglected at your peril.
I don't know what Lynch's critical judgement is, but I don't think ideological bias can be ruled out. Truly, the Democratic Party is in the same protracted state of denial that IR seems to manifest. The fact that IR academics is dominated by non-conservatives is documented in the latest issue of Foreign Policy, with a piece on the field. Obviously, if the avalanche of responsive studies Dan expects materializes, the "bias" claim is mitigated (if not falsified).
I say, stay tuned - Dan Drezner is.posted by: T J Olson on 11.13.05 at 05:58 PM [permalink]
Umm, hasn't al Qaeda operated as a major concern even before 9/11? I have no idea if Lynch's methodology is accurate but to rationalize any paucity of publications with an 18 month turnaround seems to speak to intellectual rigidity in the IR sphere. A google search for "al Qaeda operations timeline" gave several timelines of operations going back to 1993! The plot to blow up 11 jets simultaneously was to occur in early 1994. Or what about the embassy bombings in Aug of 1998. It has been seven years since then and no one has considered changing their research focus?!posted by: anonymous on 11.13.05 at 05:58 PM [permalink]
Dan's points re the slow pipeline, etc., are well taken, but overall his tone suggests that he is in the camp that believe al-Queda is not a major, long-term security threat to the United States. Fair enough, so are plenty of IR scholars.
On the other hand, the national security establishment largely DOES think that we face a major, long-term, existential-level threat from Islamic extremism. If IR scholars disagree, they still need to engage and write about the issue if they want to convince policymakers to change their minds.
I teach at one of the military institutions, and here, "jihadism" is seen as THE security issue our officers need to know about in the first half of the 21st century. China and other nation-states hardly figure.
By not writing about "the GWOT", the IR field is rapidly becoming irrelevant to the education of U.S. national security professionals, as defined by those professionals.
I'd love to have sober, skeptical work to assign from IR scholars who have unimpeachable credentials as security experts. So much of the literature that's out there is either written by leftist, anti-US, Middle East studies types and thus not likely to be assigned here, or comes from equally skewed conservative polemicists.
The point about the lag time and the time it takes to reorient is valid. I also agree that it takes time produce good scholarship, especially on something novel. But what's understated is how the prevailing ideas about what's important shape what work is funded, published, or, let alone engaged. The peer review process, essential as it is, depends on established scholars to pass judgments on new work. Hardened preferences about what is important has the potential to exclude work even of acceptable quality--my favorite dismissal of AQ was to the effect "AQ may be able to make us miserable but they can't balance."(!) Also, as mentioned, since it takes a great deal of effort to cover new empirical territory the most likely source of new work will be graduate students looking to make original contributions. The ability of graduate students to take on the system (essentially) is severely proscribed. (Most of the time constraints on graduate students serve the greater good, writing as one, but not in this case.) The best way to make it in IR academia is to find an established framework and do something sound and somewhat original within it. Writing about AQ means ruffling the feathers of realists, liberal IR theorists, and constructivists alike--the latter if you believe that there just might be a material element to AQ's emergence. While no whining is intended, those graduate students who choose to take on the subject face (for now) at best miniscule funding, scattered recognition of the importance of the problem, and the need to challenge some cherished assumptions of the dominant camps in the field. Even very good work on the subject may not be enough.posted by: William Brenner on 11.13.05 at 05:58 PM [permalink]
Still true: the dominant weapon, by orders of magnitude, remains the nuclear weapon. (Maybe bioweapons will prove to be equally fearsome, but not yet.)
Can someone please give me a rigorous definition of a hack? I work for a policy organization (Yikes!) and I would like to know whether I qualify.posted by: Abu Tabkah on 11.13.05 at 05:58 PM [permalink]
Can someone please provide me with a rigorous definition of a hack? I work for a policy organization (Yikes!) and I would like to know whether I qualify.posted by: Abu Tabakh on 11.13.05 at 05:58 PM [permalink]
I think one thing the entire conversation is missing is that, to a large degree, IR doesn't really do real world stuff-it does theory. I had a similar experience to Lynch's a few years ago when I went to Bosnia to work as a peacekeeper there. Going to an academic library, I found that IR isn't really the place to learn about, well, IR. I learned what I wanted to know from politicians, generals, and (mostly) journalists.
The experience really made me question the entire purpose of the field of IR; if not to be experts in IR (and at the time, Bosnia was by no means the most important issue in IR, but it was pre-Iraq War, and it was AN issue), then what do they do?
My assumption is that IR is generally a field more akin to philosophy than to, say, country studies (or history, or whatever). We don't look to philosophers to find out what to do about Al Quaida, or Bosnia, or XX, why would we look to IR scholars? (frankly, this strikes me as a bit strange, but it seems to be about right...).
Steveposted by: Steve on 11.13.05 at 05:58 PM [permalink]
Steve's question is a good one. I tend to distrust theory of any kind in this area, seeing it as liable to mislead people not already familiar with foreign relations and as irrelevant to people who are. At the same time "liable" does not mean "certain"; I'm sure IR theorists are capable of coming up with ideas of real practical use. I'm not sure what the relation of this outcome's probability and the volume of academic discussion of a specific foreign affairs issue is.
Here is another question to consider. It appears as if academic discussion (like public discussion) of al Qaeda, terrorism and so forth has to date focused on its relation to us. the United States or at least the developed world. But it occurs to me that the relation of Islamist terrorism to government and society in predominantly and partly Muslim countries is at least as important to most Islamists. Is it as important to Western IR specialists?
Just as an example, there are few subjects that arouse Muslim passions around the world as reliably as the Palestinian question. Let's acknowledge this as a fact, and ask why it should be. There are many Muslims enduring much worse treatment than the Palestinians today, whether from nature (Sumatra, Pakistan) or human action (Darfur). Settlement of the Palestinian problem would bring to Muslims in Indonesia or Morocco no tangible benefit at all. Few Muslim governments -- and certainly none outside the Arab world -- feels able to demand anything of the Palestinians as far as the terms they ought to accept for a settlement, giving Palestinian leaders with almost no means of physical compulsion tremendous moral authority in countries hundreds and even thousands of miles away.
My point does not have to do with whether this situation is good or bad. I cite it only an an example of a striking and important fact of international relations among Muslim countries, one that bears on the role of Arabs in setting the agenda for other Muslim peoples, on Muslim sympathy for terrorism, on the qualified nature of nationalism in at least some Muslim countries -- but bears on America's relations with Muslim nations only incidentally. And the question is, given that the most important thing about an issue like this may not be how it affects the United States (or at least how it affects the West in general) might it not tend to be neglected by the American academic IR community?posted by: Zathras on 11.13.05 at 05:58 PM [permalink]
Using UMI/Proquest and the limiters Keyword: Al-Qaeda (numerous spellings), degree: PhD, and subject: political science , produced a total of 4 PhDs from the Rand Graduate School, Fletcher, Texas A&M, and the University of Alabama.
Replacing keyword: terrorism for al-Qaeda and subject: INTERNATIONAL LAW AND RELATIONS for political science produced 74 PhDs. Of these, 23 came out after 2001. Of those 6 were produced from PhD granting IR programs listed in the Top 20 according to the Peterson et al article in the current Foreign Policy -- 3 were produced at the Fletcher School, 2 at the University of Minnesota, and 1 from MIT.
Now, of course, there likely is a lag effect as Professor Drezner and others point out. What will be truly interesting in the next few years is to see how many candidates that work in this field will receive tenure track positions at leading research universities.posted by: Michael N on 11.13.05 at 05:58 PM [permalink]
International Security, more than just "theory-oriented," has actually been one of the most important journals in the field -- in theory as well as policy. There's been a number of good pieces on the war on terror, with Audrey Kurth Cronin's piece, "Behind the Curve," having already been anthologized in some security studies readers a number of times. I think, too, given the administration's anti-terror direction, many analysts of Al Qaeda may tend to forget that great power politics still continues in the background, which is an interesting point Mark Helprin touches on somewhat in his critique of the Bush Doctrine in the current Commentary Magazine symposium. As the research from those disserations begins to enter the pipeline, there'll be a lot more theory-driven research on Al Qaeda, transnational theories of non-state threats, and so forth -- then the balance between traditional topics and the newer terror-related research areas will even out a bit.posted by: Donald Douglas on 11.13.05 at 05:58 PM [permalink]
did anyone forget about bob pape's bookposted by: dan kimerling on 11.13.05 at 05:58 PM [permalink]
As the author, evidently, of 3 out of only 25 articles counted in this study, I have to say I think the study is somewhat misleading. There is lots of work being done on terrorism of late. I can personally attest to this due to the 15-25 terrorism manuscripts I am reviewing every year for journals. As others have pointed out, part of the problem is that it takes time for work to get published. Moreover, not all, or even most, of the work I see, as Chris Zorn pointed out, is being done by IR scholars, though some of it is.
In IR there is interesting theoretical and empirical work on terrorism being done by the likes of Andy Kydd, Barbara Walter, Bob Powell, Quan Li, Todd Sandler, Navin Bapat, Steve Shellman, Peter Rosendorff, Robert Pape, and others. There are, as Chris mentioned, several of us on the comparative side also working on terrorism. In addition to the two already mentioned, this group includes people like Barry Weingast, Rui di Figueiredo, David Laitin, Jim Fearon, Mia Bloom, etc. (apologies to anyone I left out).
There is also a group of economists working on terrorism, partially encouraged by Marty Feldstein's post-9/11 call to arms to the economics community. Among the most interesting, in my view, are Alberto Abadie, Eli Bermann, Alan Krueger, Claude Berrebi, Esteban Klor, Greg Hess, Brock Blomberg, Joao Faria, Walter Enders, Kostas Drakos, etc.
Almost all of the scholars I have mentioned have websites with published and working papers easily available.
I would, lastly, note that the speed and quality of research on terrorism has been hampered by data availability. The most commonly used data sets cover only transnational terrorist events. This includes al Qaeda, but excludes important attacks by groups like the IRA, ETA, Hamas, LTTE, and others. Moreover, there are essentially no good measures out there of counterterrorism efforts or expenditures, which is obviously a vital control variable in most studies of the determinants of terrorism.
There is, evidently, a giant new data set (over 70,000 observations I'm told) housed at the new, Homeland-security funded, center for excellence in terrorism studies at the University of Maryland. However, I'm also told by the people there that they will not be sharing these data with scholars outside of their consortium for another 2 years. I'm not sure if this is because the data are not yet ready (they seem to be, since the people at the Center seem to be analyzing them) or because they want "first dibs". In any event, data problems are seriously hampering progress and this new data source is eagerly awaited.posted by: Ethan Bueno de Mesquita on 11.13.05 at 05:58 PM [permalink]
Ethan's point about data is, of course, an undercurrent of my original post. The data collection challenges associated with terrorist acts are, by their nature, among the very toughest in the social sciences.
FWIW, the Maryland database is getting support from DHS, NIJ, NSF, and other sources for various parts, and is being run by Gary LaFree and Laura Dugan in UMD's criminology department. It is based on the Pinkerton data -- which go back to 1970 or so -- and ought to be hitting the street soon.
That raises the point that there is some interesting, strong work on terrorism being done in criminology (and, to a lesser extent, sociology) as well, by folks like Laura and Gary, Rick Rosenfeld, Donald Black, Mathieu Deflem, and others (again, apologies for those omitted). Most of these tend to adopt a social control/deviance perspective on the topic, which, IMO, is probably also a better approach than that championed by many IR scholars.
posted by: The Pooka on 11.13.05 at 05:58 PM [permalink]
This is a very interesting discussion, and while I think that while Lynch's methodology may be flawed, I'm not so convinced his conclusions are. When I was a graduate student at Duke, I did some research for Bruce Jentleson on this issue. He published a piece in International Security called "The Need for Praxis: Bringing Policy Relevance Back In," (International Security, Vol. 26, No. 4; Spring 2002), which argued that academic political science was not sufficiently engaged with the policy issues that are really important. For example, most of the "best" academic journals had not published a single article dealing with international terrorism in the 3 years prior to 9/11. ISQ had one article which concluded international terrorism was waning. In the five years prior to 9/11, the academic presses had published four books on those issues. The trend holds for looking at PhDs and conference papers as well. (Read the article to see the methodology) However, the policy community was thinking about these issues, indicating some degree of disconnect between the academy and the policy world. Even if academics are now reacting to 9/11 by focusing on these issues, why weren't we thinking about them before the attack? While it's not fair to argue that terrorism should have been the number 1 priority of the academy before 2001, it's not enough to wait until a problem becomes critical either. We as a scholarly community need to be trying to anticipate the major threats to national and international security, and trying to be more policy relevant.posted by: Seth Weinberger on 11.13.05 at 05:58 PM [permalink]
Out of curiousity -- and using the same methodology as I used previously (above) -- I decided to look at the numbers for dissertations dealing with terrorism for the period prior to 2001. 26 were completed between 1991 and 2000 with 3 being written at Tier 1 IR schools (1 Fletcher, 1 Columbia, 1 MIT). Between 1976-1990, 24 dissertations were written with 3 coming from Tier 1 (1 Yale, 1 Fletcher, 1 MIT). One would expect that those periods (post-Munich, post-Entebbe and post-Gulf War 1) would spur interest in the subject.
Maybe this is a matter of insufficient faculty skill sets on hand at Tier 1 schools, or lack of funding opportunities for grad students to explore the subject, but Seth's post above on policy relevance makes some sense at least impressionistically from the data above. 5 out of 11 of the Tier 1 dissertations came from Fletcher which is policy friendly and 3 came from MIT which also seems to favor policy issues (Van Evera's GUIDE TO METHODS FOR STUDENTS OF POLITICAL SCIENCE strongly urged for policy relevance and policy prescriptive work as Seth Weinberger mentioned above).
Now, all of the above said, I agree Ethan Bueno de Mesquita that comparativists and others are engaged firmly in this endeavor (and should be, particularly with relevant regional and language backgrounds). I'm just surprised that this topic has not spurred more interest at Tier 1 IR schools.posted by: Michael Noonan on 11.13.05 at 05:58 PM [permalink]
Just to follow up on Michael Noonan's post, let me provide some of the statistics from the "Praxis" article that I researched for Jentleson:
In the years 1998-2001, seven dissertations were published that were at all related to terrorism (only one at a "top 25" research university).
At the 2001 American Political Sciene Association annual meeting, after examining five potentially relevant sections (International Collaboration, International Security, International Security and Arms Control, Domestic Sources of Foreign Policy, and Conflict Processes) and their 101 panels (with an average of 3 papers per panel) only 2 papers dealt with terrorism in any meaningful way. At the 2001 International Studies Association meeting, only 20 of 2,000 papers had terrorism as a primary focus.posted by: Seth Weinberger on 11.13.05 at 05:58 PM [permalink]
One additional thought related to my post above is that even if one feels that terrorism and conflict with Islamic extremism is not where the *real* security threat lies, the fact is that the global hegemon has officially chosen to believe that "jihadism" is a major threat, maybe even THE threat, and is orienting its foreign policy behavior and defense capabilities accordingly. That in itself ought to be of interest to the IR community.posted by: AnIRProf on 11.13.05 at 05:58 PM [permalink]
Hmmm. I seem to remember being on a panel at the 2001 ISA (which was held in the spring) that dealt with issues of empire and having a discussion about whether our analysis suggested that the major threat to American primacy would be transnational Islamicist movements. Of course, none of us were writing about terrorism, per se, and none of this discussion appeared in any of our papers.posted by: Dan Nexon on 11.13.05 at 05:58 PM [permalink]
To take AnIRProf's observation a bit further, if "complex irregular warfare" -- IISS's term -- is now the preferred means to counter high-end "conventional" military power, then the study of this sort of "doctrinal" diffusion seems like a real "meat and potatos" security studies subject of exploration. There has been some PhD work tangential to this (Ivan Toft and Michael Fischerkeller (sp?)come to mind), but it does not seem to be the norm. I'd be curious if anyone has any empirics or "anecdata" on work currently in the pipeline.
While Bueno de Mesquita makes a fair point, it is also interesting to note how few of the scholars he mentions have any public prominence. They're mostly only known to a few other political scientists. The sole IR scholars who seem willing to publicly put their money where their mouths are on policy issues are a few of the security types who came up in the Cold War (Walt, Jervis, Mearsheimer, Snyder, Posen, Betts, Wohlforth) and their students (Daryl Press, Tom Christensen, and Bob Pape, for instance). This was also true in the run-up to the Iraq war. Relevance should mean more than just publishing a highly specialized article in a highly specialized academic journal.posted by: Anon on 11.13.05 at 05:58 PM [permalink]
"Relevance should mean more than just publishing a highly specialized article in a highly specialized academic journal."
Interesting comment. FWIW, I disagree; we don't hold physicists, engineers, mathematicians, etc. to that standards, so why political scientists?
But, perhaps that (the larger question of the definition and importance of "relevance" for scholars of international politics) is a topic Dan would like to take up on another occasion...
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