Top 5 by Venus in Arms – Top of 2015 (week 84)

Here below “a special edition” of our Top5. For this last post of the year we provide the Top 5 of 2015 of movies, series, blogs, books, and papers (interpreted through the length of IR and political science). Obviously, a questionable rank.

  • TV Series: As last year, our choice is for “The Americans“. The third season has widely received critical acclaim. A fantastic script and incredible actors. Plus: the Soviets, Reagan, and the KGB. What else? “Open House” (3×3) is one the best episodes ever.
  • Blogs: We have decided to create Venus in Arms in order to emulate some excellent blogs on political science and international relations. Thus, we thank again The Monkey Cage for their wonderful job (especially this year, because some friends of us have provided their contributions to the blog).
  • Papers: “Over the last 25 years, there has been a noteworthy turn across major International Relations (IR) theories to include domestic politics and decision-making factors. […] These theoretical developments, however, have largely ignored decades of research in foreign policy analysis (FPA)”. Absolutely right. This article by Juliet Kaarbo (“A Foreign Policy Analysis Perspective on the Domestic Politics Turn in IR Theory”. International Studies Review, Vol17-2, 189-216) provides an excellent contribute to the current IR debate, finally devoting attention towards foreign policy analysis.
  • Books: Ok, (maybe) this is not the best book of 2015. But it is our book! So, self-promotion at the end of the year!!!


P.S. Some vacation for us (Venice/ Morocco). Happy New Year!

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Top 5 by Venus in Arms – week 83

Christmas is coming, but it does not seem like international politics is stopping for the event. War in Syria and Iraq is still raging, with European countries taking a more active role in recent weeks. How do they get the intelligence needed for operating? Seymour M. Hersh writes about US intel sharing in the London Review of Books.

Attacked in its “homeland”, ISIS needs a constant influx of recruits. Could videogames, or Hollywood, provide examples to took at?

But problems for Western Powers are not limited to Iraq and Syria. Talibans are advancing (again) in Afghanistan, and the recent suicide attacks near an American base shows how the situation id far from improving.

In recent years, the debate in security studies has been often focusing on non-traditional military threats such as organized crime. El Salvador’s gang problem is a case in point.

Finally, what are the COIN lessons that the Rebels and Republic in Star Wars should learn from Afghanistan and Iraq?

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Top 5 by Venus in Arms – week 82 “Political Science and Star Wars”

Honoring Star Wars – The Force Awakens, here below our Top 5 of recent IR/Political Science articles on this great saga.

Patrick Thaddeus Jackson and Charli Carpenter have announced an International Studies Association 2016 Conference panel on Star Wars. They seek “paper abstracts examining the relationship between the Star Wars franchise and socio-political dynamics in the area of international security”.

Dan Drezner has illustrated how the Rebel Alliance’s victory in the Battle of Endor “was a catastrophic success”.

In another brilliant post Drezner had already expressed his concern about how the “Star Wars” narrative explicitly addresses politics. A lot of politics (as in the most recent movies) is not per se a recipe for success.

Here you’ll find a compressive list of analyses and papers by political scientists on Star Wars. Indeed, a “significant number of political scientists are nerds or geeks”. Therefore, the intersection of politics and speculative fiction proves irresistible.

Finally, one of the most famous example of such connection between political science and Star Wars. The neo-con Bill Kristol tried to Defend the Galactic Empire. Here a funny report.

As we say in Italy, “ci vediamo al cinema”….

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Top 5 by Venus in Arms – week 76

With or Without you? This week we start our Top5 by quoting Bono Vox thanks to the article by Ulrich Kühn on the controversial relationship between NATO and Germany.

From Germany to Italy: The U.S. State Department has approved a longstanding request from Italy to arm its two MQ-9 Reaper drones with Hellfire missiles, laser-guided bombs and other munitions. It is with noticing that Italy would be only the second country to be approved to buy armed drones after Britain, which has been using them since 2007
Additional details here

We have read a lot of criticism towards the Obama’s foreign policy in recent weeks. Here you’ll find a different (and more optimistic) point of view.

And here you find a (rare) positive analysis of the EU (and its the accomplishments). According to Dan Drezner: the European Union is known for two signal accomplishments: ending any chance of another Franco-German war, and bringing Eastern Europe in from the cold […] The successful integration of Eastern Europe was a political and security necessity for the European Union after 1989. And anyone who tells you differently does not understand why the European Union is important.

Finally,  much more controversial issue: craft brewers, pale ale and IPAs.

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Top 5 by Venus in Arms – week 75

What’s Russia doing in Syria? This is frequent question these days. While a clear account of operations is not necessarily easy to find, the broad picture that emerges shows how Russian military capabilities are better than previously thought.

In the meanwhile, Iraqi Kurds understood that dealing with the world’s largest democracy requires a better understanding of the decision-making processes of the latter. That is why, Foreign Policy reports, the Kurdish Regional Government are increasingly recurring to K Street lobbying.

Two interesting pieces in the past week on the “intractable” conflict in the Middle East par excellance. Natan Sachs ponders over Israeli “anti-solutionism” in the new issue of Foreign Affairs, trying to explain why accepting (and prolonging) the status quo has its own rationale.

The New Yorker features an article on what would have happened had Rabin survived its assassination attempt. Counterfactuals are always tough to make, but the thought experiment allows, if nothing else, to remember a key moment in the history of the conflict.

Preparing for the Star Wars’ episode 7, a classic (2002) “neo-con” article on how the Empire was actually not that bad at all. Sure that IR interpretation of the saga will flourish in the next few months.

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Top 5 by Venus in Arms – “Back to the Future day”

Today is October 21 2015, which is the date Marty McFly travelled 30 years into the future. So, also out Top5 is deeply affected by the “Back to the Future Day”. From an IR and security studies perspective, what about the main changes occurred in the global and strategic scenario in the last 30 years? Here below some examples for the last week.

 Justin Trudeau and his Liberal party just won the elections in Canada. A former actor became a political leader in North America. It sounds familiar.. (“Are you saying that Reagan is the President? Ah ah”)

But we have also some discontinuities with the 1980s. Look at the Afghanistan. At that time Washington supported the Islamic militias against the Soviets. Now the situation is a bit different…Here a recent report from Kunduz.

Also the Chinese global role is a huge innovative element of post-Cold War era. Here an interesting analysis of the Chinese aid in Africa. According to the article “Western pundits and policymakers continue to mischaracterize the intent and nature of Chinese development finance”.

The Middle East has been transformed in the post-bipolar content. However, the conflict between Israel and Palestine is far from being solved.  This is the question posed by Political Violence @ a glance: “Why Haven’t We Seen a Third Palestinian Intifada (Or Are We)?”

Finally, a last significant change. From a masterpiece of the pop-culture to an another: The Force Awakens trailer. In a strategic context marked by the diffusion of intra-state conflicts, transnational terrorism and growing complexity maybe we miss “clear” enemies. Such as Darth Vader

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Top5 by Venus in Arms – Week 73

First Democratic Party primary debate last night. How did candidates perform on foreign policy? Fred Kaplan argues that is was a clear win for Hillary Clinton.

Whoever becomes President, however, will face many challenges and several unsolved issues. Even in countries that have been traditionally stable. Turkey is one of these cases, as the dramatic bombing occurred a few days ago showed several cracks.

And American strategy, Adam Elkus argues on, is in a very bad state. Who killed it? In a CSI-like reconstruction, Elkus makes an accusation to the community of strategists: “the shocking plot twist in tonight’s episode of CSI: Pentagon is that we — the community of people that talk, debate, write about, and work in the making of strategy — were nonetheless accessories to the crime. How? We failed at the most critical task of all — understanding the nature of the problem and proposing solutions””. To keep in mind, for a blog/website on strategy.

We don’t know if academic research is faring much better. Jarrod Hayes discusses the state of the most ambitious objective of social sciences, prediction.

On a more practical note, but always looking at the future, future robots will be able to predict the moves of humans confronting them. This  breakthrough – somewhat disturbing for those passionate about Asimov’s I, Robot – is due to improvements in the “brain” (the algorithms of the software) of the machines.



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Top 5 by Venus in Arms – week 71

This week we inevitably start with Russia in Syria. The Aviationist provides detailed analyses of the Russian air strikes. A lot of technical stuff, ma extremely useful to understand the current situation.

Concerning Syria, here an interactive map that shows the massive disaster caused by the civil war in recent years. No more lights from above.

From air strikes to something different: Landpower. According to War on the Rocks: [Landpower] remains a central component of compelling adversaries to relent to American power, as examples around the world suggest.

Dan Drezner addresses the “conspiracy theorists of 2016“. Here his open letter to who thinks the United States is in league with the Islamic State.

Finally. Soccer. Italian Serie A. Fiorentina at the top of the league. Venus is (really, really) really proud of that! No big ambitions (it is problematic to be an hegemonic actor without the proper means), but huge satisfaction!

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Il Dilemma della sicurezza europea: Est e/o Sud?

Una grande canzone pop trash degli anni 90 aveva come ritornello i quattro punti cardinali. Da quello che leggiamo e vediamo rispetto al contesto della sicurezza europea, il dibattito pare sempre più orientato attorno a  dilemma che si lega a due direzioni possibili della bussola: l’Est e il Sud. Da dove proviene la “minaccia principale” per i paesi europei?

La prima possibile riposta riguarda il  “fronte orientale“, caratterizzato dall’esplosione della crisi Ucraina, dalla politica estera russa, dalla guerra “ibrida”, attorno alla quale tanto si è discusso. I paesi dell’Europa orientale, a partire dalla Polonia e dagli stati Baltici, sono naturalmente iper-preoccupati delle conseguenze legate al coinvolgimento militare Russo nel conflitto ucraino e ai possibili cambiamenti geopolitici nell’area. Stati Uniti, NATO ed alleati hanno cercato di rassicurarli, attraverso il  dispiegamento di forze e la creazione di nuovi strumenti ad hoc come la NATO Readiness Action Plan (RAP). Il summit in Galles aveva proprio la RAP come principale novità ed il fulcro della riflessione strategica ruotava attorno alla crisi Ucraina e al nuovamente complesso rapporto con la Russia.

Tre brevi considerazioni vanno fatte in merito al “fronte orientale” come focus prioritario dell’Alleanza Atlantica e dei paesi europei in generale.

1) Nonostante nel passato l’attenzione generale si sia concentrata sul crisis management e sulle missioni in aree di crisi, soprattutto nel contesto post 11-Settembre, la difesa collettiva rappresenta sempre il core business della NATO. Un aspetto che i membri “orientali” dell’Alleanza non fanno che ricordare.

2) A fronte di scenari complessi, minacce asimmetriche, conflitti tra gruppi armati irregolari, terrorismo, stati fragili o falliti, è in effetti “più facile” capire lo scenario ucraino dal punto di vista prettamente militare e strategico. In altre parole, per le élite politiche e militari atlantiche la difesa territoriale rappresenta un concetto più agile da maneggiare, meno difficile da interpretare (sappiamo almeno chi è l’avversario, conosciamo abbastanza le sue caratteristiche e risorse, etc.). Dopo decenni di Guerra Fredda le forze armate europee si sono dovute adattare e trasformare per affrontare contesti completamente nuovi. Un ritorno al passato, pur con le notevoli ed evidenti differenze, potrebbe anche inconsciamente essere accettato più facilmente. Anche dal punto di vista del weapons procurement, dopo anni nei quali molti si chiedevano il perché dover continuare ad acquistare mezzi da Guerra Fredda per missioni contro guerriglieri e gruppi criminali, adesso è certamente più semplice giustificare tale scelta.

3) Non tutti i paesi europei la pensano allo stesso modo nei confronti della Russia. Gli interessi economici in gioco sono enormi e la cautela si impone d’obbligo per quelle nazioni che hanno sviluppato un’ampia rete di rapporti commerciali con Mosca, a partire dal tema della dipendenza energetica. L’Italia lo sa bene.

In aggiunta a queste riflessioni generali, ora che Putin sembra orientare l’attenzione verso la Siria, dobbiamo domandarci se cambierà davvero qualcosa rispetto alla centralità del “fronte orientale” per la NATO in primis ed anche per l’Europa in generale? Che ruolo può avere in tutto ciò l’UE, che sta ripensando lo propria strategia globale? Quale direzione diplomatica prenderà l’amministrazione Obama? Che cosa emergerà dal prossimo summit dell’Alleanza Atlantica? Che cosa diranno i paesi europei che affacciano sul Mediterraneo?

Per rispondere occorre tenere presente la crescente importanza del “fronte sud” per la sicurezza europea ed atlantica. Il dramma dei rifugiati è solo l’ultima manifestazione evidente del caos e dell’instabilità nella regione. Dalla Libia alla Siria, passando per Iraq e Sahel, la multi-dimensionalità della minaccia (che lega terrorismo a network criminali, passando per l’ISIL) appare sempre più incombente.

Se Polonia e paesi Baltici sono preoccupati per la politica di Mosca [Venus in Arms rifugge la scontata e banale figura retorica dell’Orso Russo, più adatta ad altri ambiti..], Madrid, Roma e Atene non possono che far sentire la propria voce di “frontiera” di fronte dei mutamenti al di là del Mediterraneo. Gli stati europei hanno fatto pochissimo sul piano dell’aiuto allo sviluppo e hanno commesso errori strategici gravissimi accanto all’alleato amerciano negli ultimi tre lustri. Ogni soluzione d’emergenza adesso non può che dimostrarsi fallace, dall’immigrazione all’ISIL.

Per questo occorre capire in che modo il “fronte sud” possa nuovamente acquistare un peso cruciale nella riflessione strategica complessiva in ambito NATO ed europeo.

Che cosa farà l’Italia, al di là degli sforzi volti a una migliore redistribuzione del numero di profughi tra i paesi europei? Una domanda alla quale non possiamo ancora dare una riposta chiara. Di sicuro sarebbe importante evitare il ruolo del biondino  nel sopra citato duo: muoversi e affannarsi per avere visibilità senza svolgere in fondo alcun compito di rilievo.

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ViA at ISA 2016: German and Italian defense, Mafia killings, and Renzi’s foreign policy

The International Studies Association has just released the preliminary programme for its (57th) annual convention. This year the conference will be held in Atlanta, from March 16-19 2016.

Here you can find all the info on the (huge) conference.

The title of the annual convention is “Exploring Peace“. As stated in the official website:  “Traditional international studies have put a premium on war, militarized conflict, and other violence as primary phenomena for investigation. In contrast, “peace” is often defined as the absence of militarized and violent conflict, an afterthought or residual category without a distinct theoretical explanation. Yet, such a characterization lumps many disparate kinds of events and relationships together. Economic sanctions are sometimes placed in the same “non-war” category as cultural exchanges […] The focus on mitigating conflict and violence has led scholars to downplay or ignore other values such as human rights, justice, and equity that are part of many conceptions of peace. In addition, such a concentration leads away from interactions that increasingly characterize international affairs, including trade cooperation, integration, and peace building…“.

Also this year Venus in Arms will be at the ISA, presenting three papers on different issues (and surely going to support the Atlanta Hawks at the Philips Arena) . Here below the abstracts of the paper we will present there.

“Divergent paths: Understanding post-Cold War Italian and German defense policy”

F.Coticchia and F.N. Moro

Italian and German defense policy during the Cold War shared several features, from the legacies of WWII defeat, to pacifism as a key in strategic narratives, limited military expenditures and non-use of armed force in international arena. Just after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, however, Italy provided its military contribution to “Desert Storm”, while Germany refused to deploy armed forces in Iraq. Since the end of the bipolar era, the Italian troops have been engaged in operations abroad and several defense reforms (suspension of conscription, jointness of the Chiefs of staff, etc.) have been approved. On the contrary, the first German combat operation occurred in 1999, and “military restraint” has been never abandoned. Moreover, territorial defense remained at the core of the strategic approach until the mid of the 2000s while the professional model was only recently adopted. Therefore, despite similar historical, institutional, and social premises post-bipolar outcomes have been divergent. What are the explaining factors of such different pace and timing of military transformation in the cases of Italian and German defense? Through primary and secondary sources, the paper focuses on prestige and parliamentary control that together with timing/sequencing played a crucial role in shaping the two outcomes.

“Transferring violence? Mafia killings in non-traditional areas: Evidence from Italy”

F.N. Moro and S. Sberna

Violence is a key tool used by organized crime to assert its control over territory and business. Since organized crime grew increasingly mobile and moved away from traditional areas of entrenchment, several popular analyses of mafias argue that violence is bound to spread to new areas of migration. In this paper, we argue that this view overlooks two important elements. First, criminal organizations acting in non-traditional areas face a structure of constraints and opportunities that does not favor the adoption of violence as a successful organizational strategy. Second, even when violent means are adopted they might be the result of conflicts that have their roots in the territories of origin of criminal groups. We provide empirical support to these statements trough quantitative analysis of violence perpetrated by mafia groups in Italy in the period between 1983 and 2008, analyzing the link between violence in the South (where these groups have established for over a century) and areas of recent expansion in the Northern part of the country. Also, we shed light on the mechanisms underpinning violence through micro narratives about specific episodes of violence

“Explaining Renzi’s Foreign Policy: The International Effects of Domestic Reforms”

F.Coticchia and J.W. Davidson

Since becoming Italy’s Prime Minister in February 2014 Matteo Renzi has attracted a lot of attention for his domestic political reforms. Journalists and scholars have focused far less attention on Renzi’s foreign policy, however. This lack of attention is striking given some of the Renzi government’s actions on the international stage. For example, Italy has refused to participate in air strikes against ISIS in Iraq and has favored accommodation with Russia over the Ukraine crisis.Based on primary (interviews, official documents) and secondary sources, this paper will attempt to explain the Renzi government’s foreign policy. First, because Renzi is focused on domestic reform, foreign policy is an afterthought. Renzi’s government has avoided costly policies (e.g., air strikes, purchasing new F-35 fighter, etc.) because they would undercut his economic plans. Second, because Renzi’s domestic reforms anger many on the left, he has chosen a foreign policy that appeals to–or at least does not create further problems with–the left (e.g., vocally asking for anti-austerity measures in the EU during the semester of Italian presidency). Finally, Renzi lacks foreign policy experience and has chosen low profile ministers who are not political competitors.

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