Category Archives: international organization

How The Middle East Got That Way: Fromkin Used History to Explain Politics

If you haven’t read A Peace to End All Peace, add it to your summer reading list immediately. David Fromkin, a professor of International Relations at Boston University is a prolific author and scholar whose book provides a historical look at the creation of the modern Middle East–with an eye toward geography, conflict, and the decisions taken post-WWI the shaped the regions storied history.

In a Foreign Affairs review of the book, John C. Campbell writes that “Fromkin’s history is made by men rather than impersonal forces.”


Fromkin wrote about other seminal issues in 20th century international relations, such as the origins of the Great War, post-war relations and reconstruction, and the fate of key theoretical constructs such as idealism and realism, as embodied in institutions and programs:

In 1995, he wrote “In the Time of the Americans: F.D.R., Truman, Eisenhower, Marshall, MacArthur — the Generation That Changed America’s Role in the World,” in which he argued that after World War II Americans were given a rare second chance to correct the shortcomings of Woodrow Wilson’s one-world idealism.

As Richard Reeves wrote in The New York Times Book Review, “The United Nations is Wilsonian; NATO represents the kind of big-power peace enforcement envisioned by T.R.”Among Professor Fromkin’s other books were “Europe’s Last Summer: Who Started the Great War in 1914?” (2004), which the journalist Avedis Hadjian, writing for, called “a fast-paced, gripping guide through the complex set of reasons and emotions that led to the 20th century’s seminal conflict”; and “The King and the Cowboy: Theodore Roosevelt and Edward the Seventh, Secret Partners” (2008).

Tagged , , ,

Geek out with the Architecture of Legislative Bodies.

Of course the UN General Assembly Hall is recognizable, but what does its semi-circle shape mean? Apparently, its one of the oldest–and a neoclassical go to for fostering consensus and democratic engagement.

The architecture of a legislative body tells a lot about how governance works in each respective body. A new book by Max Cohen de Lara and David Mulder van der Vegt explains, including their methodology:

To answer that question, we spent six years collecting the architectural layout for each one of those buildings. We’ve published our findings in our book “Parliament.” By comparing these plans in detail, we wanted to understand how a political culture is both shaped by and expressed through architecture. Organized as a lexicon, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, the book for the first time allows a comparison of all national parliaments in the world.We found a clear pattern. Although each of the 193 United Nations member states has a parliament of some kind — albeit with varying degrees of democracy — their plenary chambers have a very limited number of shapes. Most surprisingly, these buildings have hardly changed since the 19th century.

Source: These 5 architectural designs influence every legislature in the world — and tell you how each governs – The Washington Post

The regional parliament of Nordrhein Westphalia, Germany

Also, don’t miss the website for the book, Parliament, to see schematics of a number of UN Member State’s legislative body, and even the UN in Geneva and interactive photos, facts, and more. Great stuff for policy geeks, parliamentarians, and designers interested in civic engagement and proxemics.

Tagged , , ,

Ranking Diplomatic Networks 

Brazil ranks no. 7. China some in third, France second, and the U.S. is number one in a ranking all other G20/OECD nations. Kudos to the Lowy Institute, Australia’s leading think tank for creating this interactive visualization of diplomatic connections. Have fun exploring connections.

The Global Diplomacy Index visualises the diplomatic networks of all G20 and OECD nations, allowing users to view and compare some of the most significant diplomatic networks in the world. The interactive map highlights gaps and concentrations in diplomatic networks, and indicates strengths and weaknesses in geographic coverage and geopolitical reach. The Index ranks each nation in terms of its diplomatic network against other G20 and OECD member nations, and allows users to select and compare countries’ diplomatic networks, as well as diplomatic representations by city.



The Agency of Multilateral Organizations | Duck of Minerva

Can governments make IGOs do their bidding? To sum up, Tana Johnson of Duke and author of Organizational Progeny: Why Governments are Losing Control over the Proliferating Structures of Global Governance (does that give away the answer?):

In short: just as competitive politics and checks-and-balances are widely considered desirable at the domestic level, they have a role to play at the international level too. That’s especially true on a crowded planet where many of our most severe problems and most treasured aims don’t neatly coincide with lines on a map. Seen this way, international bureaucrats inject healthy competition in international politics, making it less likely that national government officials will grow too complacent or narrow in speaking for the interests of the public.So yes, international bureaucrats can diverge from the wishes of member-governments. And for regular people like you and me, there are some very good reasons to welcome the dynamism, competition, and push-and-pull that this injects into international politics.

Source: The Agency of Multilateral Organizations | Duck of Minerva

Tagged , ,

Booklist | Best Diplomacy Books of 2015

Add these 2105 books that focus on the history, practice, and key issues in diplomacy to your reading list:


Worldmaking: The Art and Science of American Diplomacy by David Milne – the most important rethinking of American foreign policy, dividing key thinkers between artistic and scientific approaches

Realpolitik: A History by John Bew – unraveling a German contribution and distinguishing it from the realist school of thought

The Guardians: The League of Nations and the Crisis of Empire by Susan Pedersen – explores the first grand attempt at international governance and a failed attempt to outlaw war

The Deluge, by Adam Tooze – an original take on the interwar period as power gravitated from Europe to the US

ISIS: The State of Terror by Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger – the must-read book to understand the Middle East disruptor

King John: England, Magna Carta and the Making of a Tyrant by Stephen Church – commemorating the 800th anniversary of a foundational doc

Kissinger: 1923-1968: The Idealist by Niall Ferguson – making the case that he cannot be ignored as a major diplomatic strategist, an effort to “revise the revisionists

Kissinger’s Shadow: The Long Reach of America’s Most Controversial Statesman by Greg Grandin – on his institutionalizing failures, using intuition over facts, and forming the foundation for neoconservative missteps

Red Team: How to Succeed By Thinking Like the Enemy by Micah Zenko – avoiding groupthink by thinking like the other side

The Power of the Past: History and Statecraft by Hal Brands (Editor), Jeremi Suri (Editor) – what can policymakers really learn from history?

Hubris: The Tragedy of War in the Twentieth Century by Alistair Horne – a longtime writer of military history isolates a key factor

Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age by Sherry Turtle – how technology makes it harder for us to be together, diminishing empathy

The New York Review Abroad edited by Robert B Silvers with introductory updates by Ian Buruma – around the world in 27 essays


Global Economics

Inequality: What Can be Done? by Anthony Atkinson – to follow up on Piketty’s big idea last year, how about a solution?

The Looting Machine: Warlords, Oligarchs, Corporations, Smugglers, and the Theft of Africa’s Wealth by Tom Burgis – revealing how Africa sits at the bottom on of the global industrial chain

Digital Gold: The Untold Story of Bitcoin by Nathaniel Popper – from a global joke to a movement and new currency

Economics Rules: The Rights and Wrongs of the Dismal Science by Dani Rodrik – taking on the dismal science in the form of a defense


Country Focus


Global Rules: America, Britain, and a Disordered World by James E. Cronin

Killing a King: The Assassination of Yitzak Rabin and the Remaking of Israel, by Dan Ephron – a murder that didn’t make peace inevitable or settle the big Israeli debate

Stalin: New Biography of a Dictator by Oleg V. Khlevniuk, translated by Nora Seligman Favorov

Empire’s Crossroads: A History of the Caribbean From Columbus to the Present Day by Carrie Gibson

How the French Think: An Affectionate Portrait of an Intellectual People
by Sudhir Hazareesingh

The Invention of Russia: The Journey from Gorbachev’s Freedom to Putin’s War by Arkady Ostrovsky

The Unravelling: High Hopes and Missed Opportunities in Iraq by Emma Sky

The Real Politics of the Horn of Africa: Money, War and the Business by Alex de Waal


Finally, take a look and James Lindsay’s complication of ten American foreign policy influencers who died in 2015. Happy New Year!

Tagged ,

Making Political Sense of Star Wars

Yes, Star Wars doesn’t make a lot of sense when viewed through the lens of international relations, even if it is fun to see the political-geek-meets-nerd-world analysis by Seth Masket, a political science at the University of Denver.
Episode I featured a two-minute depiction of life in the Galactic Senate in an attempt to demonstrate the Old Republic’s dysfunction. That scene also revealed that Lucas doesn’t understand how legislatures function, what bureaucrats are, why legislative parties form, the function of the media, etc., but it still attempted to show institutional behavior.
Episode III contained a subplot in which the Emperor sowed discord in the government by appointing a plainly unqualified and inexperienced Jedi to the Council. This is all about institutional competition and the challenges of separation of powers.
Episode IV, of course, was all about the executive branch’s accretion of power at the expense of the legislature, which of course led to a violent rebellion headed by ousted senators. There were a farm boy and some robots, but that was a subplot
Note: Masket’s blog, Mischiefs of Faction, is now hosted by VOX.
Tagged ,

WSIS+10 Update


Why should you care about the next multilateral negotiation process? At one point in 2012 some called this process an Internet “takeover”–but former lead negotiator Ambassador David Gross, now repressing an industry association, sees modest progress.

Here’s what’s at stake. Will the Internet remain a free and open global platform that drives economic opportunity and helps people exercise human rights, including the freedom of expression and assembly? Or will it splinter under the control of various governments, serving as a tool that repressive regimes use to deny citizens these very rights?

via Charles H. Rivkin in HuffPo

Take a look at this background on the Ten-Year Review of the World Summit on the Information Society, that led up to the December 2015 meetings. And you can see more from the dipolomatic trenches via these hashtags: #WSIS10 #digitaldivide #netgov #WSIS

How did the December 2015 meetings end up?

The final document almost completely rejects the multilateral model, which is mentioned once. Instead it repeatedly endorses the more inclusive “multistakeholder” approach to Internet governance proposed by the United States, the European Union and developing nations like Brazil and India. This model promotes a management system based on the consensus of civil society, businesses, academic institutions, engineers and governments.

“To their credit, negotiators fought off the worst proposals, and recognized that our human rights to privacy and expression, and access to information and digital security tools, remain under threat,” Mr. Micek said.

Still, China appears satisfied that the document recognized “a leading role” for governments in cybersecurity matters relating to national security — one of China’s top objectives — and that it refers to the United Nations Charter, which enshrines principles of state sovereignty and nonintervention by the United Nations in domestic affairs.

via Dan Levin, “At U.N., China Tries to Influence Fight Over Internet Contro” NYT


Looking at the COP21 Negotiations

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, President-designate of COP21, and Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate change Christiana Figueres (L) attend the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21) at Le Bourget, near Paris, France

Some key takeaways from the negotiations that concluded yesterday in Paris, called “the world’s greatest diplomatic success” by the Guardian, “a big, big deal” by This Week, and “the treaty that dare not speak its  name” by National Review.

The Document

  • The final agreement includes at least seven key elements, as parsed by NYT reporters, namely temperature increase, forests, financing, transparency, fossil-fuel reserves, loss/damage, and 5 year contributions. (Analysts are still breaking down the full implications post hoc, but this brief by Michael Levi of CFR is helpful.)
  • In true diplomatic form, one word (“shall” instead of “should”) nearly derailed the entire process.
  • If you haven’t explored how these negotiations work before, you need to know that brackets “[” and “]” are an essential tool in the negotiations, and part of the game. For the full post-game analysis, including samples of the language as it evolved through the past weeks–see Deconstructing Paris–an essential blog.


The Players

  • President Obama has demonstrated that his critics may be correct–he does have a master plan and can achieve it–and demonstrated his global diplomacy mastery in Paris.
  • And a key negotiator-in-chief behind Paris, Christiana Figueres, is a Colombian who heads the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change secretariat; her strategy is explored in the New Yorker profile last August.
  • Bill Gates stepped up to marshall a new coalition from Silicon Valley–but also reaching out to India–and led to a $2B investment in R&D for clean energy.


The Process

  • Indaba, a negotiation strategy of the Zulu and Xhosa peoples of southern Africa may have played a role in fostering large-group consensus. It involves gathering red lines from all interested parties–thus speeding up the process to agreement.
  • An article published in Nature used game theory to explore a possible negotiated outcome. Were they right?
  • The agreement is not binding. Does that matter?
  • Jargon, vocabulary, or technical know-how. Whatever you call it, here are the terms to know.
  • Sometimes skilled negotiations don’t work–because negotiators are influenced by their psychology and can prioritize fairness over a rational offer–and ultimately walk away from a deal. (David Victor, Lab of Law and International Regulation, UCSD)


Civil Society

  • Two New Zealanders created  #COP21Tracker, the worlds largest Google Doc (?) to follow the diplomatic negotiation process
  • @ParisAgreement also provided helpful analysis, in 140 characters or less, of course
  • Follow a rag tag group of students on the Duke to Paris Facebook page as they try to make sense of the process
Tagged , ,

An Interview with Bill Gates on the Future of Energy – The Atlantic

Do high-stakes international negotiations work?

What does a very smart and committed person like Bill Gates think about them? In the upcoming Paris UN Climate Change Conference in December 2015  member states are expected to achieve consensus–even though major breakthroughs are not guaranteed–on a path forward to address this challenge facing the global commons.

Here is what Gates said an interview today in The Atlantic:

It’s good to have people making commitments. It’s really good. But if you really look at those commitments—which are not binding, but even if you say they will all be achieved—they fall dramatically short of the reductions required to reduce CO2 emissions enough to prevent a scenario where global temperatures rise 2 degrees Celsius. I mean, these commitments won’t even be a third of what you need.And one of the interesting things about this problem is, if you have a country that says, “Okay, we’re going to get on a pathway for an 80 percent reduction in CO2 by 2050,” it might make a commitment that “Hey, by 2030, we’ll be at 30 percent reduction.” But that first 30 percent is dramatically, dramatically easier than getting to 80 percent. So everything that’s hard has been saved for post-2030—and even these 2030 commitments aren’t enough. And many of them won’t be achieved.

Source: An Interview with Bill Gates on the Future of Energy – The Atlantic

Tagged ,

Set on Repeat: UN Security Council Reform

Even though the story isn’t new–how UN Security Council reform can’t ever seem to get off the ground–the challenges facing this most powerful of all UN bodies are:

David M. Malone, a veteran Canadian diplomat and now rector of United Nations University, calls it “a crisis of relevance.” The Security Council has been unable to end the conflict in Syria for five years and it has been adrift in the face of a civil war in South Sudan. It has remained largely silent on what could amount to crimes against humanity in Yemen as a Saudi-led coalition backed by the United States conducts a campaign against Houthi rebels that has also killed hundreds of civilians. And it has been unable to stop the Russian seizure of Ukrainian territory; even a move to set up a tribunal to prosecute those who downed a Malaysian civilian aircraft over eastern Ukraine was vetoed — by Russia.

Several Council diplomats — and Mr. Ban — are increasingly exasperated by the inability of the Security Council to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. The United States has repeatedly vetoed measures dealing with the conflict. It helped defeat a French-led effort to set a deadline for the creation of a Palestinian state.

Source: Calls Grow at U.N. for Security Council to Do Its Job: Keep the Peace – The New York Times

Wonder how reforms ought to be undertaken so as to assuage US fears? Read this from Kara McDonald and Steward Patrick at CFR.

Tagged ,