Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Future of Communications: A Reflection on Blogging in International Relations

Being a concise and articulate writer makes all the difference when writing thesis papers, editorials, or publishing a book in any field of study. But when the medium through which one communicates is a non-traditional one, standard approaches to writing are slightly altered. Over the past semester, I have learned that blogging is one such medium that does not adopt conventional writing techniques when addressing an audience. It is a virtual medium that allows a writer to do so much more with an idea rather than argue it in carefully contrived sentences and paragraphs. Blogging incorporates various tools and ideas with traditional writing techniques that expand upon ideas and engage the audience. This semester, I chose to address critical topics in international relations pertaining to global politics and security studies in my blog. My interests in state relations and how they affect global security and political climates has lead me to publish numerous research papers as an undergraduate here at USC, but never before had I discussed these issues through a blog. I was able to address issues pertaining to uranium enrichment in Iran, the remilitarization of Japan, in-depth analysis of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s website, and a closer look at Dr. Francis Fukuyama through more non-traditional presentation methods that colored my arguments and engaged my audience.

As a novice blogger, I believe (and hope) that in my first time blogging, I was able to expose my audience to a wide range of topics in international relations through engaging essays that served to inform and stimulate. When blogging, part of the experience should be attracting one’s audience to actively participate in the discussion topic of the essay, as if to invite readers to edit an essay as they go along. This, I believe, is the mark of an excellent blog.

I do believe that more could have been done to make this blog better. Blogging allows authors to use a variety of tools to add visualizations and effects within a blog post that serve to further engage the audience and make the blog more appealing. I feel that this blog did not take advantage of all the tools available and perhaps overused, or misused, certain tools in the blogging world. More could have been done to make this blog aesthetically pleasing and more visually engaging, without overwhelming the reader. Nevertheless, I am satisfied with the way this blog turned out, and hope that you, the reader, enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Francis Fukuyama: The "Last Man" is the Perfect Candidate

The tradition of awarding honorary degrees is one of the best opportunities for a university to make a statement. By awarding these degrees, universities can embody their principles and missions through an individual who reflects all the ideal qualities that the university upholds. These individuals are chosen for various reason, among them being contributions to their field of study, profession, community, or the awarding university itself. When considering a candidate for an honorary degree, a host of different guidelines exists, dependent on where one is and who is awarding the degree. In the field of international relations, one individual immediately comes to mind as I browse through my list of my most influential scholars: Francis Fukuyama. Dr. Fukuyama represents all of the qualities set forth in these guidelines and is worthy of praise for actions not specified. He has shown steadfast dedication in all of his endeavors, whether it be service to his government, students, or fellow theorists in international politics. But more importantly, Dr. Fukuyama has provided political scholars with various means by which the field of international politics might develop or alter. For this, I believe we must evaluate Dr. Fukuyama, seriously consider him as a candidate for an Honorary degree in literature from the University of Southern California, and perhaps shed the fact that he is long overdue for some serious recognition.

Universities will often grant honorary degrees to individuals for a variety of reasons. James Freedman, in Liberal Education and the Public Interest, notes that given the primary purpose of the ceremony, “the reason had to be to celebrate distinguished and sublime achievement” (118). And Freedman certainly does not stand alone in agreeing on the basic nature of the conferral of honorary degrees. Looking, for example, at the guidelines for conferring honorary degrees on the USC Honorary Degrees website, “the honorary degree is given: to honor individuals who have distinguished themselves through extraordinary achievements in scholarship, the professions, or other creative activities, to honor alumni and other individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the welfare and development of USC or the communities of which they are a part, to recognize exceptional acts of philanthropy." Honorary degrees, in essence, are a way in which an academic institution can recognize and reward outstanding and unique achievements, beyond standard expectations, that aid the institution in educating future students, add to the richness and evolution of a field of study, or demonstrate outright charity and goodwill. These conditions emphasize the most important reasons why scholars should recognize those that have contributed to the advancement of their field or community.

Beyond these guidelines, others have developed different criteria as means by which ones worth can be measured. The question arises as to whether or not, given the guidelines, these nominees are truly worthy of such an honor. Have they really done something extraordinary out of unmotivated passion and interest, or is there a deeper intent? Mike Martin is one who has addressed such questions by examining professionals in order to provide institutions with better means by which to evaluate nominees. In his work, Meaningful Work: Rethinking Professional Ethics, Martin brings to light the fact that, “personal ideals motivate professionals” (18). Given this, Martin divides professional achievement into three categories: craft, compensation, and morals(21). A noteworthy professional, according to Martin, is one who exhibits expertise and creativity, authority and power, and integrity within his/her field. It is in these ways that a nominees worth and achievements might be fully understood and assessed in order to avoid honoring those who might not be so praiseworthy.

Martin makes a good case for evaluating nominees, but I feel there is one aspect of a nominee that is often overlooked, as a minute guideline under which a degree may be given. Too often, individuals are recognized for unanimously applauded actions rather than being honored for something perhaps even more praiseworthy: stimulating academic thought. Giving out degrees to those who have not done anything unique or original, but rather simply perform exceptional actions others have previously executed, detracts from the meaning of the degree. Simply put, in the words of Freedman, the tradition of conferring honorary degrees, “it is a practice rich in opportunity as well as ripe for abuse”(117). Though there are many ways in which this practice might be abused, to me, Freedman suggests that part of this abuse is giving degrees to those who have not done anything truly original, or even handing out honorary degrees too often. But when it comes to engaging one's peers and audience in rigorous academic debate, I believe this is where nominees such as Fukuyama reside: he may be a scholar with controversial worldviews and political opinions, but nobody can deny the fact that his work and contribution to international relations, as a professional and academic, has sparked some serious thinking among young scholars today.

For a man who is not widely talked about among scholars and professionals, and whose career has produced very little biographical information, Francis Fukuyama is one of the more contributing professionals in international relations. His professional career has consisted of various different activities and positions in the realm of international politics, making him one of the more versatile scholars in his field. Dr. Fukuyama originally received his B.A. in Classics from Cornell and completed his Ph.D. in Political Science from Harvard. Shortly after, Fukuyama was a member of the Political Science Department of the RAND Corporation from 1979-1980, then again from 1983-89, and from 1995-96. Dr. Fukuyama later went on to work for the US Department of State and later became the Deputy Director of European political – military affairs, which, at the time, was crucial role in the State Department. Perhaps one of his most notable positions was when he served from 1981-82 as a member of the US delegation to the Egyptian-Israeli talks on Palestinian autonomy, in which he contributed tremendously towards providing agreeable solutions to, what was then, a very serious international issue.

Dr. Fukuyama’s work has also veered into other categories of interest concerning politics. Most notably, under President George W. Bush, Fukuyama was a member of the President's Council on Bioethics from 2001-2005. During this time, Fukuyama worked on addressing issues in regards to medical research (such as developments in medical technology and controversial research proposals), legislation concerning those in medical professions, and various debates over the production and mass manufacturing of biological and chemical weaponry. Fukuyama has also always been consistent in furthering his contributions and considerations in the realm of academics and debate. In August 2005 Fukuyama, together with a number of other prominent political thinkers, co-founded The American Interest, a quarterly magazine devoted to the broad theme of "America in the World". Much of Fukuyama’s recent work resides within this publication, but it’s significant in that it is one of the few truly bi – partisan publications that deals with international affairs and domestic politics. His contributions during his professional career were diverse and astute, and Fukuyama proved to be an undeniably valuable asset to the various groups for which he worked – providing shrewd insight and perspectives on events and concerns of critical importance.

There is one feature about Fukuyama of which critics like Mike Martin might take close note. Within his piece, Martin discusses the personal ideal aspect behind one’s profession. He illustrates the fact that certain individuals go beyond the tangible rewards of a profession to seek deeper rewards. Using physician Albert Schweitzer as his example, Martin notes this phenomenon, “Schweitzer regarded his work as worthwhile beyond the paycheck it provided, as meaningful in terms of his ideals of caring for clients, colleagues, and the wider community (16). I believe Martin would agree that Fukuyama fits right in with the Schweitzers of academia. As a theorist, Dr. Fukuyama is known for being a neoconservative, and throughout his career, has taken numerous criticisms for his stances on critical issues. But unlike some, he is respected for his ability to observe and seriously consider beliefs and methods counter to the neoconservative doctrine. Fukuyama has even gone so far as to rescind on earlier statements or views he formerly held either because more recent data disproved his original basis or a more convincing argument swayed him. This is one of Fukuyama’s best attributes as a political scholar, and fits perfectly with one aspect of the mission statement set forth by USC's Code and Ethics, “We nurture an environment of mutual respect and tolerance. As members of the USC community, we treat everyone with respect and dignity, even when the values, beliefs, behavior, or background of a person or group is repugnant to us.” Fukuyama is the epitome of a scholar who retains a solid set of core beliefs, but does not let his entire worldview become dominated one rigid set of values. Though some of his neoconservative stances may find disfavor with more widely recognized (and published) scholars within his field, Fukuyama is able to transform topics with shared perspectives into forums for intense, analytical and critical examination.

Perhaps the single greatest argument in favor of Fukuyama’s nomination for an honorary degree, and a prime example of his flexibility as a critical thinker, is his most controversial argument to date. In 1992, Fukuyama published his most recognized work, The End of History and the Last Man: an expanded version of his 1989 thesis entitled “The End of History?” which was published in the international affairs journal The National Interest. In his thesis (and book), Fukuyama argues that the end of the Cold War signaled the end of the progression of human history, “What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government”(2). This thesis was not only a bold statement at the time, it flew in the face of decades of theory and practice upon which modern international relations was based. Fukuyama was essentially arguing that with the dismantling of the Soviet Union, the ideological forces that instigated conflict over the course of history were now gone – replaced by the triumph of the “Western ideal”(1). Democracy had triumphed over communism, and the result was the victory of the West and the eventual spread of democracy, resulting in a surge in democratic states. With no opposing form of governance or ideology in place, Fukuyama asserted that universal democracy would eliminate any possibility of acute international conflicts.

What made Fukuyama’s thesis so important was that it stirred up one of the largest debates still surrounding international relations today. Scholars simply could not reconcile the fact that human history, as we knew it, was over. The outcome resulted in arguments in favor and against Fukuyama’s assertion – a debate that continues today. Arguments in favor of Fukuyama note a variety of patterns that clearly support his thesis. First, Freedom House, an organization that tracks and monitors democratic states around the world, noted that since 1900, 65% of the worlds countries now practice some form of democracy. Second, democratic peace theory clearly holds weight: the number of (democratic) states entrenched in domestic violence or political strife has decreased significantly since the end of the Cold War. Last, wars that have emerged post – Cold War have been fought primarily between states that were non – democratic. Not only does this provide more weight to democratic peace theory, it also suggests the course of history as a result of the triumph of Western liberal democracy.

However, though many in academia side with Fukuyama, other scholars and intellectuals strongly disagree with Fukuyama’s thesis and ideology. Arguments against Fukuyama’s thesis have mainly developed out of utter shock at such a claim, but they present a list of plausible counters. Political scientist Samuel P. Huntington, in his essay and book, "The Clash of Civilizations," argues that the temporary conflict between ideologies is being replaced by the ancient conflict between civilizations. The dominant civilization decides the form of human government, and these will not be constant. Marxists, such as Perry Anderson, are also among some of Fukuyama’s fiercest critics, stating that the triumph of democracy has not essentially ended history because a pure form of social democracy does not exist. What is meant is that even within democracies, issues of poverty, corruption, sexism, racism, and ethnic tensions exist and could trigger a host of crises, thus, democracy has not solved the world's problems and is not a completely, universally accepted form of government. Other critics, such as Jacques Derrida have been especially outspoken against Fukuyama's claims, stating Fukuyama is simply a symptom of "Specters of Marx", further claiming, "... instead of celebrating the ‘end of ideologies’ and the end of the great emancipatory discourses, let us never neglect this obvious macroscopic fact, made up of innumerable singular sites of suffering: no degree of progress allows one to ignore that never before, in absolute figures, have so many men, women and children been subjugated, starved or exterminated on the earth"(4). The most recent and relevant counter, however, notes the emergence of Islamic Fundamentalism, stating that it is similar in nature to the rise of communism and fascism in the 20th century. Though it may not be as imperialistic in nature as communism was, Islamic Fundamentalism represents a counterforce to democracy and "Western ideals." The main principle is that The End of History and the Last Man has bred an arena for intense debate over the future of history itself. It is also the first thesis to propose such a drastic claim as to the end of history. Regardless of whether or not Fukuyama is right, his thesis and contributing essays have stirred numerous discussions on bioethics, the fate of history, US foreign policy, and crisis management, all of which are indisputable reasons for recognition.

Institutions such as USC might wonder why an individual such as Fukuyama should be recognized. As Freedman notes, “honorary degrees are, of course, one of the ways in which universities advertise themselves”(125). Conferring and honorary degree alerts the general public as to the qualities and characteristics upheld by the institution and also serves to connect the university to a notable or popular figure, sometimes in order to increase the prestige of the university. USC’s Honorary Degree guidelines stipulates this in its fourth criteria, conferring degrees, “to elevate the university in the eyes of the world by honoring individuals who are widely known and highly regarded for achievements in their respective fields of endeavor.” It would be quite a shame for USC to pass up the opportunity to recognize Francis Fukuyama, quite simply because of what has already been stated. Fukuyama may not be extremely popular, and his political ideology is not agreeable with many, but Fukuyama is recognized as a figure in international politics who has reinvigorated intense discussion over relatively overlooked subjects. Though his critics claim he is uncertain of his political doctrine, citing his recantation of modern neoconservativism, and that his major contributing works are poorly argued and highly debatable, any institution, especially USC, should keep in mind that one simple fact: Francis Fukuyama has required of his audience to step back and re-evaluate how we approach international politics. His claims may be slightly extreme, but to ignore their ultimate consequences and how they have shaped the way we perceive international relations today would be nothing short of a total disgrace.

Upon receiving an honorary degree, the recipient's commencement speech is crucial, not only because it demonstrates to students and the community the character of the recipient, but also because it exemplifies why the university selected the recipient in the first place. If Fukuyama were to receive an honorary degree in literature from USC, I believe his commencement speech would be nothing short of a reflection of his character and persona as a scholar: one that would force his audience to carefully consider his words and re-evaluate their own opinions on a critical issue at hand. To this, I believe that Fukuyama's speech would address the fate of US relations and the state of the international system. Though an ex-neoconservative, Fukuyama still follows a more Wilsonian agenda, believing that the US should use its capabilities to promote democracy throughout the world, especially in areas where it could be extremely effective and efficient, but only using military force as a last resort to accomplish this. Fukuyama believes the US should promote its ideals through economic and political development and stimulation, thereby coming to understand the inherent nature of a country and its structure and culture. By doing this, Fukuyama believes the US can ultimately become a better participant in the international system and appropriately play the role of the last remaining hegemon: working to develop states and relationships rather than maintain overbearing dominance. Fukuyama would most likely point to the war in Iraq and the fate of US-China relations as cases in point for his speech, arguing that if the aforementioned measures are not taken, the fate of relations for the US in the Middle East and with the next up and coming superpower (China) could deteriorate and the US could once again find itself in a power struggle for ultimate supremacy, resulting escalated tensions and open conflict. Thus, I believe Fukuyama's commencement speech would be one of serious advisement to his student audience. He would remind graduates that the fate of the world will eventually be in their hands, and that as scholars, they must keep an open eye and mind to what occurs around them in order to avoid indoctrinating their beliefs to a rigid, provincial belief system. Fukuyama reminds us that the course of human history is uncertain, but that by carefully analyzing current events and seeing situations from multiple sides, we can better understand our neighbors and fellow man, and I believe this is the perfect way to send graduates out into the world: open-minded and full of confidence.

Fukuyama embodies all the qualities that an institution such as USC should look for in a nominee. His accomplishments as a professional, theorist, and professor have been tremendous in the development and content of his field. As the USC Mission Statement states, “The central mission of the University of Southern California is the development of human beings and society as a whole through the cultivation and enrichment of the human mind and spirit.” There is no doubt in my mind that Fukuyama has done exactly this, by providing a career marked with valuable service to his country, government, students and colleagues. He has made his colleagues and students think about pressing issues affecting contemporary politics and has served as a model scholar who, to follow the old saying, considers all sides of the argument. Finally, Mike Martin notes, “... though personal ideals are focused outwardly on public good, they allude to ideals of character”(21). If this is true, what better way for an institution to advertise its ideals than by honoring a person like Francis Fukuyama as the embodiment of everything for which that university stands. After all, academic institutions (at least in my opinion) should strive to honor those who stimulate academic maturation and enlightenment, and Francis Fukuyama is one such scholar who has done nothing but that.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Online Revalation: One Website's Quest to Inform and Expose

When surfing the web, most people are likely to be informed of the state of international affairs via websites of popular news organizations or through links on Google or Yahoo. It is rather troubling to see that even today, critical issues in international relations are taking a backseat to more mundane topics. Even when these topics are addressed, most websites concentrate their efforts on un-nerving topics regarding war and nuclear arms, or apply their own interpretations to skew readers’ perspectives. However, there are a few websites that devote their purposes towards identifying important issues in international relations and creating forums for discussion from all perspectives. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace serves as the best example of a website that focuses on addressing a wide range of topics in international relations, ranging from regional security to poverty to peace and conflict studies. It is a home for experts to share their insights on current events, and a springboard into the world of international peace studies for students, embodying the quality to which websites should strive when discussing the world of global relations.

Like any website or online medium, however, there is much room for improvement of the Carnegie Foundation’s site. The strongest points of this site are the organization and quality of content. It utilizes a host of experts and different publications while providing links when information is not available. Organization is simple, yet the only drawback is that subsections of certain links are organized rather poorly, detracting from the professional look of the site. The main problems with the site are its obvious bias towards a selective audience and design. However, these problems can be fixed easily: if the design of the site is structured more fluidly, organized by type of link, given a different look (color, template) and geared towards a larger audience. If changes such as these are made, the Carnegie Endowment’s website could become one of the most visited sites for international relations scholars, and perhaps serve as a highly recognized source for international news.

The purpose of The Carnegie Endowment’s website is rather obscure at first glance, but is eventually uncovered. The site’s purpose, as stated in the About section, is simply to act as an informing body on matters in international peace and security studies and propose solutions, “The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing cooperation between nations… through research, publishing, convening, and on occasion, creating new institutions and international networks.” It achieves this through the use of articles and insights on a list of topics in international relations. The most popular topics addressed are its programs regarding China, Global Policy (which covers issues from democracy to non-proliferation to regional studies), Russia and Eurasia and a host of others. The site does well in bringing its selected matters to light and providing its readers with all the information possible on its programs. It uses many resources when addressing pertinent issues. Among these are websites of newspapers, foreign policy journals, such as Foreign Policy Magazine, and other centers for the study of international affairs. It also employs experts and staff members who regularly comment on current events. However, one initial criticism, as previously mentioned, is that though the site encourages utilization by all types of visitors, there nevertheless seems to be an underlying bias towards a preferred audience, namely, those in academia. There is a feeling that these people are the only ones who should be allowed to discuss the subjects on the site. The Resource links list only options for “Policymakers” and “Students/Professors.” If one were simply curious as to how others viewed international affairs, the inclusion of specialized sections might be intimidating or exclusive. It is here where the site could consider a small, initial revision (which turns out to be a significant drawback) to make it seem more open to the general public.

The design of any website is crucial in making the first impression. The general look and feel can either compel a visitor to continue exploring the site or turn them away at first glance – something that many consider important to the overall quality of a website. The Webby Awards criteria states, for design, “Good visual design is high quality, appropriate, and relevant for the audience and the message it is supporting. It communicates a visual experience and may even take your breath away.” The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace is a very simply designed site, but its simplicity, in terms of aesthetics, can be seen as a weakness. Perhaps it is a matter of personal opinion, but since the site is geared towards discussing international peace and conflict prevention, it seems like a more serious look would be appropriate. Ultimately, the aesthetic qualities of the site fall short of this criteria. The appearance conveys a less than professional message with a purple heading juxtaposed with a beige background. This bland design draws away from the depth of the content and intention of the website, making it appear more amateur than it really is. The consequence of its plain design is that visitors might not take its content as seriously as it should be, a fact that is crucial in determining the quality of the site as a whole. Likewise, the layout also seems too standard and plain for such a reputable foundation. Though easy to use, the layout offers no use of animated graphics and is not as stimulating as it could be. The simplicity of the layout also seems to be a drawback to navigating the site. Because sidebars, subsections and main articles are arranged side-by-side in boxes, it can be a bit overwhelming, visually, as visitors are bombarded with clusters of information on one page. Variation in color or font could better distinguish the sections of each page, but the site fails to utilize this feature.

When conducting research or searching for articles, organization of a site can make all the difference in offering visitors easy use. Structurally, this website is organized in such a way that users can achieve ease when searching and navigating the content. As one browses through selected articles and columns, it is clear that the intended audience of the site is clearly those in academia, be they students, professors, or researchers in the field. As such, because this is a site to be used for informative and research purposes, the layout offers multiple options for searching topics, such as the “Doing Research?” box on the right side of the home page. This feature offers three topic descriptors in the form of drop-down bars, “select a TOPIC”, “select a REGION” and “select an EXPERT”, all of which can be used to conduct either a general or specific search. The navigation bar at the top of the page clearly outlines the various sections of the site into six distinct sections, and some of the tabs even have pop – up menus that appear when one drags the cursor over the section title. However, when one goes to a specific section of the website, certain listings or topics are arranged in a way that makes the page look asymmetric and visually disorganized. Take, for example, the programs section, where all the main topics are arranged in two columns, one larger than the other, and some topics have subsections, such as the Global Policy section. The disproportionate aspect of this particular page makes it look a bit messy, and as Web Awards states in their award – winning criteria for structure, “Sites with good structure and navigation are consistent, intuitive and transparent. They allow you to form a mental model of the information provided, where to find things, and what to expect when you click.” But the mediocre organization of subsection pages is the only mishap in terms of organization. Even if a visitor is confused by the layout of page, the Carnegie site does a good job of incorporating sidebars on the right-hand side of the page to offer an outline of the content. Because of the relative ease with which one can move through the site, the topics of discussion and events of importance are clearly expressed, thus avoiding any ambiguity. Nothing is being missed when presenting the site’s message, and it further exhibits the efficiency with which the site executes its intention.

Perhaps the strongest attribute of the Carnegie Endowment site is the content. Various topics are constantly under the scope, and coupled with the clarity of presentation, the depth of information is excellent. The Experts section provides information on contributors to the site, where each expert receives their own link to a biography page, adding a more personal feel to the interactivity between publisher and visitor as one can learn about a contributor’s background and personal views. The site also does an excellent job of presenting its content and subjects through a publications page, which features books, articles and columns written by experts. Publications are always up to date, such as this month’s featured book on the Iranian nuclear situation, “In Iran’s Nuclear Ambitions" by Iranian-born security expert Shahram Chubin. The book, "provides a rare look into the motivations, perceptions, and domestic politics swirling around Iran … [Chubin] argues that the central problem is not nuclear technology but rather Iran’s behavior as a revolutionary state with ambitions that collide with the interests of its neighbors and the West.” What makes the latter areas the strongest is simply that they are abundant with information and links. It is almost impossible for visitors to not find information on a topic because there is an assortment of documents, columns, articles, editorials, and publications with different opinions on crucial topics in the field of peace and security studies. Providing articles with different perspectives is a highlight of the site because it exhibits a lack of academic bias, adding to its credibility. The clarity and quality of the publications further contribute to the site's effectiveness. Articles, such as a recent one addressing Chinese Market Reforms, are concisely summarized, presenting all the important facts and opinions, “China’s market reforms have led to a boon in economic choice, but the nation faces ever-widening and sometimes violent social unrest… senior associate Albert Keidel explores the consequences of a rapidly changing economy on China’s record of unrest”. Summing up the message of its publications allows for quick access to information, while backing up summaries with PDF files of the publication provides resources for those who choose to explore topics in further depth. This fact demonstrates that the website can be used as a means for casual exploration or in-depth analysis and research. The versatility of presentation of the content proves to be the highlight of this website.

What is critical to achieving a great website is not just the content, but also the interactivity with its audience. Again, the Webby Awards criteria makes a point of stressing how essential good interactivity is to establishing a reputable website, “Good interactivity is more than a rollover or choosing what to click on next; it allows you, as a user, to give and receive… Interactive elements are what separates the Web from other media”. International relations is an ever – evolving field. Thus, international relations websites must allow visitors to not only absorb updated information, but also contribute. The Carnegie site succeeds in doing so with regular online discussions and events addressing modern issues, such as this month’s featured event “Reframing China Policy Debate 1: Is Communist Party Rule Sustainable in China?” This debate is the first in a series addressing how an evolving Chinese economy can operate efficiently under communist rule. A key point to note is that if one misses and event, there is a solution: “Visit regularly for transcripts, summaries, and audio of recently held events.” Offering copies of previous debates helps the site retain visitors and provides ways in which one can become involved in the Endowment itself. But one should not feel confined to scheduled debates as the site encourages communication between staff/experts and visitors. If one was so inclined, one could even email an expert with questions or points of discussion. For those in academia, there are no limitations to who can join and take part in contributing to the exploration of topics discussed. But note that those in “academia” are the focus here. Reading through the events page summary located at the top of the main section, one reads, “Due to space limitations, all are by invitation only,” which immediately tells a visitor that participation is contingent on invitation. Though this keeps the quality of the debates within the academic realm, it does not reach its full audience potential. Again, this overall flaw in bias also affects the interactivity and could use vast improvement, along with incorporating a larger audience

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace is a website that has a lot of room for improvement, but is an overall well-structured, content-rich site that provides a forum for information and discussion on topics in international peace and security studies. It is highlighted by a core of prestigious experts and contributors that provide articles and academic publications with multiple perspectives on current events, allowing visitors to formulate their own views on certain topics. Geared towards becoming a resource base for student researchers and a discussion forum for international relations scholars, the level of professionalism and quality of intelligent publications strengthen the perception of the site. If it merely revises its overall look and attempts to include a more wide range of people as its audience, it could very well become an excellent source for information on international relations for people at all levels of education. After so many years of exposure to a select few, the field of international relations might finally have a medium through which it can reach all people, and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace just might be that medium.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

A Lesson Learned: Approaching Solutions To Arms Proliferation

So far in this blog, I explored the consequences of arms proliferation as it relates to a possible nuclear Iran and the effect of Japanese remilitarization on regional relations in Asia. It is an undeniable fact that though these issues may not be on the front page of the newspapers today, they could have major implications in the near future if not addressed today. Recently, I came across two blogs that deal with issues of arms security and international diplomacy pertaining to Asia and the Middle East. While both blogs contained strong points on the issues of nuclear proliferation, deterrence, and arms control, I couldn’t help but question some of the points being made as to how significant these issues are and how to solve them.

The idea of more countries developing weapons and nuclear arms capabilities is daunting at the least. But the question remains as to how to deter states from these practices or prevent them. In his blog, Security Dilemmas, University of Puget Sound professor Seth Weinberger proposes restrictions on international aid to solve the problem. However, I commented that in the cases of Iran and North Korea (to which he refers), this is not necessarily the best option; the point is that to find a solution, one must examine other factors affecting the event and consider the faults in a solution before implementing it.

Others believe that these nuclear issues have no serious consequences or threats. The blog United Nations, Global Values and the Individual argues that a nuclear Iran is not a threat, simply because if one were to talk to an Iranian, one would find out that Iran’s intentions are not what we perceived. My response to this was simply that the basis for this argument is flawed. One cannot assume Iran’s intentions based on a conversation with a stranger: this provides no academic or analytical thought into the matter. When exploring issues of great consequence and sensitivity, various methods of analysis and strategy must be implemented to obtain an effective resolution, while keeping an open mind to all possibilities or perspectives; being close-minded or stubborn can only equate to failure.

Monday, September 11, 2006

A New Rising Sun: The Debate Over Japanese Remilitarization

Japan is one of the most powerful states in the world when it comes to economic power and political and diplomatic influence. However, it lacks any form of military strength. Since Japan'’s defeat by the United States and Allied forces at the end of World War II, Article 9 of the revised Japanese constitution strictly prohibits Japan from having a standing military or engaging in war, “the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes… land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained.” However, the recent climate of the international system is somewhat driving Japan to rethink Article 9 and consider the possibility of remilitarization.

There are numerous reasons why Japan feels it should rearm. First, there are proximate threats to Japan'’s security, mainly the potential threat of a strategic strike from North Korea, who launched the Taepo Dong missile in 1998 over the Japanese mainland. Second, China is gaining economic, political, and military power. China is the biggest threat to Japanese hegemony in Asia, as more states in the region look to China for long-term economic relations. Moreover, with China'’s military and economic might rising, Japan'’s sustained dispute with China over the Taiwan Strait and other territories lying between the two could now swing in China'’s favor, given that Japan'’s only form of military support is the United States, who has little interest over the disputed territories. Finally, this alludes to the largest reason for remilitarization: eliminating dependency on the U.S. for protection. After 50 years under U.S. protection, Japan seeks to establish its own identity in the international system, devoid of any ties or dependencies on the United States. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is facing growing demand for Japan to step out of the shadow of the United States and develop its own national security policy in order to promote its international role, commensurate with its economic capabilities.

Nevertheless, there are also concerns surrounding the prospects of Japanese remilitarization. The largest concern is strictly trepidation of a return to Japanese imperialism. China and Korea worry that in an effort to unify Asia and subdue tensions in the region, Japan might be on its way towards another expansionist policy. The other major concern is that Japan is so technologically advanced and well – funded that there might not be any limits to its military development. If this is true, Japan could be the next nuclear state with weapons capabilities that could easily surpass those of China or Korea. If Japan goes nuclear, the political climate in Asia will worsen and grow cold, and the prospect of war will increase drastically.

Japan must take into account its neighbor’s' and allies' concerns over its desire to rearm. Though remilitarizing could improve Japan'’s security, political influence, power and image in the international system, it could also alarm many states based on Japan'’s military history and potential. If Japan wishes to stabilize relations in Asia and avoid confrontation, perhaps remilitarizing should be done gradually, with the avoidance of nuclear development. Any drastic measures to rearm will most certainly lead to open confrontation between Japan and China or Korea. With so much to gain, yet even more to lose, the fate of relations in Asia, and the world, rests largely on Japan’'s decision to remilitarize, and it is a decision that will not be made easily.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Iran's Deadline Passes: How a Minor Setback Could Mean a Major Problem

In the ongoing struggle to combat terror and establish alliances with newly democratized states in the Middle East, the United States has yet again run across another major obstacle that lurks ominously in the face of relations between the United States and the Middle East. According to a report by CNN, Iran failed to comply by the United Nations’ August 31st deadline to halt uranium-enriching operations, as the United States and others feared Iran was conducting these operations with the intent to build nuclear arms. The BBC reported that in a meeting with United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, Iranian President, Ahmadinejad, Ayatollah Khamenei, stated that Iran would not halt uranium enrichment projects, assuring Annan that they were strictly for energy-related purposes. Though Ahmadinejad constantly reassured Annan of Iran’s intents, some doubt still lingers among international leaders over the real purpose of Iran’s uranium enrichment projects. But the larger question arises over what the fate of the world’s “nuclear situation” will be. With Iran on the brink of developing the technology capable of producing nuclear arms, scholars in the field of international relations and security studies wonder how the world will respond to another nuclear power, especially one who’s relations with the Western states is anything but peaceful.

There are two major issues that scholars are re-examining in the wake of Iran’s inactions. The first is the security issues involved with another country gaining nuclear arms, especially in the world’s most hostile area. With eight countries now in control of nuclear weapons and many more in the process of developing nuclear capabilities, international relations scholars wonder how the prospect of another nuclear state will affect relations within the Middle East, where most of the major conflicts in the world are now taking place, and how it will affect the international system as a whole. Even with the signing and approval of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, many states still actively pursue the manufacturing of nuclear arms in the face of international opposition, increasing tensions and heightening, according to some, the chances of conflict.

The other main issue involved is the strength of the United Nations as an international mediator and governing body. It has long been debated amongst international relations scholars whether or not there is any form of international law. Though the United Nations is recognized as the closest thing to a governing body amongst states, many believe that it has little jurisdiction over enforcing codes of conduct or regulations. UN regulations are not recognized by non-member states (and therefore do not constitute international law), and even in peace-keeping operations, United Nations forces are restricted in their actions when facing hostilities, which many believe is a sign of ineffectiveness. But the question arises as to what alternatives to the United Nations can be found that is universally recognized and possesses regulations by which nearly all major states can abide.

The fact is, however, that Iran’s refusal to stop uranium enrichment is not as minor as one might think. Allied and Western states want their security and interests in the Middle East secured, and Iran wants the freedom to continue its operations. However, the implications to this event are far more significant. What international relations scholars must take into consideration is the possibility of an escalated conflict. As of now, this conflict is merely gestating: waiting for a trigger event that could see the deployment of US and allied troops into Iran, elongating the United States’ already lengthy campaign in the Middle East. If war in Iran comes, this will no doubt spell disaster not only for the United States, but also the United Nations. If the UN cannot find some way to strengthen its presence and voice on the matter and gain unwavering support to get Iran and allied states to negotiate on the issue, and if Iran does indeed possess nuclear arms, this could develop into a conflict that nobody ever imagined could occur, nor one that anybody hoped to see.