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American Today


Scholars in Ink: School of International Service


Putting pen to paper—or fingertip to key—is one of the most fundamental responsibilities of a university professor. American University’s faculty are a prolific bunch. Each year they publish dozens and dozens of papers, chapters, and full books on subjects ranging from history to economics to the law. Faculty publications in 2010 include:

Back Channel Negotiation: Secrecy in the Middle East Peace Process
By Anthony Wanis-St. John, School of International Service

Q: What’s the main argument of your book?

A: My new book reveals that lots of international negotiations are conducted in secret, and that secrecy is needed especially early on to protect a fragile process. But the book also warns that back channels (secret negotiations) are not a substitute for transforming conflict by shaping public opinion and mobilizing communities in favor of a turn to peace.”

Q: What specifically do you mean by ‘back channel negotiation’?

A: There is plenty of historical evidence of international negotiation that relies on secrecy. There is very little systematic study of the effect of secrecy on long-term negotiation processes, so I define back channel negotiation in the book formally as ‘secret, official negotiations among the parties to a dispute that supplement or replace open, existing front channel negotiations.’ For it to be a legitimate back channel rather than some ad hoc, freelance diplomacy, a back channel needs people with an official mandate to be there. For it to be a true back channel, there should at least be the possibility of a front (or open) channel.

Q: Why has much of the Middle East peace process been so shrouded in secrecy?

A: In the Middle East, as in many violent historical conflicts, leaders spend lots of effort building up their bases by mobilizing them against an ‘enemy.’ Creating ‘enemy images’ is a relatively easy thing to do. When it comes time to explore peace however, those very same constituencies may wonder why their leader is negotiating with the enemy. A strategic turn toward peace nearly always has its detractors. The work of creating a pro-peace constituency is not one that leaders spend resources on. Therefore one strong reason for secret negotiations in the Middle East is to exclude ‘spoilers’ from the process. There are several other reasons too, relating to finding ways to explore controversial solutions with ‘the enemy’; it is also used to get around the preconditions to negotiation sometimes demanded by parties to conflict.

Q: What do you see as the near-term prospects for Middle East peace?

A: The near-term prospects are not very good at the end of 2010. The current Israeli government would be happy to see the Obama peace initiatives fail, and the Palestinians are very tired of a peace process that has seen them only lose more land to Israeli settlements. For Israelis and Palestinians, the peace process has so far only confirmed their worst fears of each other. The long-term prospects of peace depend, in part, on their leaders’ efforts to build a pro-peace coalition across enemy lines. —MU

Hyperconflict: Globalization and Insecurity

By James Mittelman, School of International Service

Q: What specifically is the main argument of your book?

A: Beneath the ongoing conflicts of our time lie the deep drivers of global security and insecurity. One of the drivers is found in the geoeconomy: the reconstitution of competition, with the development of a more belligerent form. The other driver is embedded in geopolitics, namely, the gap between the capacities of the United States and other states. The United States is the principal node in hyperpower, which exceeds the power of a territorial state.

Hyperpower includes a vast network of military bases and private security contractors, a long economic reach, dominance in the knowledge industry, technological prowess, and the wherewithal for cultural diffusion. This argument does not, however, underestimate the extent to which the United States as the lead power has profound difficulty effectively using the means at its disposal.

As a result of the confluence of these forces, insecurity is being globalized. The emergent condition portends hyperconflict—a reorganization of political violence, a growing climate of fear, rising uncertainty, and increasing instability at a world level.

Q: What do you mean by the term hyperconflict?

A: The term provides a language that recognizes global crisis and prompts questions about strategic alternatives to the present course. The prefix ‘hyper’—taken from Greek and implying excessive—opens avenues of inquiry about a historical turning point in world order.

Q: Where do we see examples of hyperconflict in the world today?

A: Case studies in the book are the defeat of the Multilateral Agreement on Investment, the Asian economic debacle in 1997–98, the Battles of Seattle beginning with protests at a World Trade Organization meeting in 1999, and 9/11 and the ‘Global War on Terror.’ This trajectory signals that different world orders are possible. Ultimately, this assessment offers an ‘early warning’ to help avert a gathering storm of hyperconflict and establish enduring peace. —MU

The Conduct of Inquiry in International Relations: Philosophy of Science and Its Implications for the Study of World Politics

By Patrick Thaddeus Jackson, School of International Service

Q: How do you present your subject matter in a student-friendly way?

A: The book was written for students, and it’s been taught to undergraduates and graduates alike.
Philosophy of science is implicated in all sorts of everyday activities, since we humans are knowledge producers. So beginning where one is, and looking at the assumptions that one is already making about how valid knowledge is constructed, is the best way to talk about the topic. I do that throughout the book, and whenever I teach this, too.

Q: What drew you to the topic?

A: ‘Science’ is a potent word in our culture, especially in the social sciences, which perpetually labor under the burden of not being secure in their scientific status. The delusion that science exclusively meant quantitative hypothesis-testing spread through political science about 75 years ago. I’ve never found this compelling because most natural sciences are richer than that in their philosophy and practice. So my initial interest in the topic was defensive: to do the kind of empirical work I find compelling, which involves a lot of informal modeling, qualitative analysis of rhetoric, and recovery of moments of historical contingency, I needed a defense against the charge that my work was less valuable, because I wasn’t doing ‘science.’ It turns out that there are a lot of ways of being scientific; my book sketches at least four of them, drawing conclusions about research design and practice from each of these different ways of doing things.

Q: What was your biggest challenge in writing the book?

A: Trying to think my way into perspectives that I do not normally inhabit. I decided that I did not want to write a ‘everybody else’s way of doing social science is wrong, so here’s mine and it’s right’ type of book, but the alternative involved providing fair presentations of implacably opposed ways of being scientific so that I could advocate a kind of respectful disagreement. Agonism without antagonism, as someone once termed it, instead of a facile unity. So I had to work very hard not just to be fair to different methodologies, but to be generous and thorough in my reconstruction of them.

I believe that I isolated the core commitments of these different ways of being scientific, which should set up focused disagreements instead of imperialistic impositions by any one methodological approach. But it wasn’t easy to think like a neopositivist or a critical realist or even a reflexive theorist, and I’m gratified that people whose work inhabits those categories approved of my reconstruction of their position. Genuine pluralism is hard; it’s a lot harder than toleration or benign neglect, since pluralism means ever-present encounter and a kind of continual unsettledness. —AF