The workshop closed with an opportunity for reflection and discussion led by three scholars who had been asked to listen throughout the day and offer their observations—Jim Goldgeier, American University; William Thompson, Indiana University; and Sean Lynn-Jones, Harvard University. Moderator Andrew Bennett, Georgetown University, opened the discussion by asking the three for their thoughts about high-priority topics that had not been raised in the presentations and ensuing discussion, and the discussion then turned to general reflections on workshop themes.
Goldgeier pointed to an approach that had not been mentioned: the use of comparative scenario analysis as a method for generating policy-relevant research questions. He identified this as a way to think about “plausible alternative futures 5 years down the road.” By identifying common patterns within those scenarios, he suggested, one can discern potentially significant developments or trends that may drive international politics. He cited workshops sponsored by the Bridging the Gap project1 as an example of how researchers develop scenarios for this purpose.
To illustrate the value of this approach, Goldgeier noted that he and his colleagues had developed in 2006 a scenario of a global financial crisis that started in the U.S. housing and banking sectors. He explained that, in a scenario they developed for 2009, “an event in the Middle East leads to
instability in a regime that then creates instability across the region and efforts to democratize.” Such scenarios are not designed to make predictions, he cautioned, and indeed when they are used in that way, they may distract from deeper thinking about policy-relevant research questions. He believes that, although this approach is seldom used in political science, it can be particularly useful to the Intelligence Community.
Lynn-Jones began by observing that the topics covered in the workshop were “very much cutting-edge” and did not include many topics that might have been expected based on a review of the most-read articles in International Security. As examples of the latter topics, he cited nuclear proliferation and deterrence; major conventional conflict, such as with China; and terrorism. Nuclear proliferation, for instance, has recently been what he termed “a reviving area of research,” in which researchers have been offering new explanations for the phenomenon and suggesting ways to limit it in a “post-unipolar world.”
Another important topic not addressed in the workshop presentations, Lynn-Jones suggested, was the study of insurgent and military groups. Interesting recent research, he noted, has examined “what makes them tick, why they fragment, why they don’t fragment, why some like ISIS seem to come out of nowhere and become very major players.” Conducting this kind of research is difficult, he added, and such work as interviewing ISIS fighters is quite dangerous.
Focusing on the future, Thompson pointed to some very long term issues not mentioned at the workshop. With reference to Afreen Siddiqi’s presentation on forecasting water scarcity, for example, Thompson suggested that scarcity of food and energy will also be a growing problem as the effects of global warming continue to be felt. He suggested that these shortages will likely cause the most significant problems in areas near the equator and in arid regions, and some areas may run completely out of water and food. Epidemics are another source of disruption that can be foreseen, he noted. He observed that somewhat regular patterns of frequency can be seen in the recurrence of the most serious pandemics if one looks across millennia, and it is reasonable to expect another pandemic of the type that can cause “major die-offs of populations.”
Thompson also pointed to ethnic conflicts. Study of these conflicts has been hampered in the past, he asserted, by imperfect data that appeared to “suggest that ethnicity didn’t have anything to do with civil wars.” He noted, however, that more recent work focused on political discrimination has produced important advances in this area.
Finally, Thompson identified escalation of conflict as another topic on which work is needed. The structure of escalation is well documented, he said: “We know who goes to war, who wins wars, [and] who loses wars,”
but “we don’t understand what happens on the crisis battlefield” that changes a dispute into a more serious conflict.
Thompson closed with thoughts about the changing role of the United States on the world stage. Researchers in global trends, he noted, have moved toward defining the U.S. foreign policy role as “first among equals” rather than as world leader, but they have not fully explored the potential effects of a scenario in which the United States is no longer “first” and the world lacks a leader. Since 1815, Thompson argued, Great Britain and the United States have provided “governance and leadership,” which may have been intermittent and not always beneficial, but they have been a source of global stability. If the Chinese do not step into the role of world leader, he suggested, the result will be “a more region-oriented world as opposed to the global world” that has been the status quo. Such a development, he believes, would have implications for most international issues, but has not been adequately studied.
Goldgeier identified several themes he had noted across the workshop presentations. The first was that domestic and international issues can no longer be adequately studied as separate topics. “Foreign policy actions are often the result of the domestic political needs of leaders,” Goldgeier asserted, and the way power is distributed across different types of actors has been changing. He suggested that these points have been known, but that researchers have not fully acknowledged their implications. For example, he said, the discussion of nonstate actors (see Chapter 2) had demonstrated that new terminology is needed to take into account the growing role of cyberpower and the changing roles and behaviors of different types of actors. Thus, he suggested, the workshop discussions had showed that thinking in terms of “an international system dominated by great powers defined in traditional power terms and focusing on great power competition” is too limiting.
“The answers will not come from any single discipline,” Goldgeier continued. The need for interdisciplinary work and new conceptual tools has long been known, he observed, but is not yet fully reflected in current research. Political science has often drawn concepts from other disciplines, he noted, and today there is a heightened need for such interactions. He faulted two institutions for the problem. First, he observed, foundations played a major role in engaging political scientists and physicists to collaborate in addressing the risks of nuclear war during the Cold War years. They have been much slower, in his view, to sponsor the collaborations, such as between social scientists and computer or climate scientists, needed to address current problems. Goldgeier also faulted university programs
in international policy for not doing enough to bring together researchers from different disciplines to address pressing questions.
Goldgeier closed with the observation that a significant challenge in the study of policy is a “failure of imagination.” It was no secret, he observed, that the breakup of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War meant a significant loss of status for the leadership of the Russian state and its leaders. President Bill Clinton, he said, pushed for Russia to be included in the Group of Eight (G8) in part because he recognized that the Russian leader, Boris Yeltsin, needed a sign of status to compensate for the comparative strengthening of NATO. What researchers have not explored adequately, in Goldgeier’s view, is whether more concrete support for Yeltsin’s governance might have had beneficial effects in subsequent years. Similarly, he observed, the decision of other powers to wage war in Kosovo and Iraq without the authorization of the United Nations Security Council because of Russia’s expected veto undermined Russia’s perception of the value of its membership in that body. Thus, he suggested, it might have been expected that Russia would seek other ways to undermine other powers.
Goldgeier went on to say that, even when developments are expected, it can be difficult to consider the interconnections among elements of an international situation in a way that supports an effective policy response. It was well known, for example, that “the Russians wanted to be seen as equals,” he observed, but treating them as equals would have interfered with other policies the United States was pursuing.
Lynn-Jones began with some observations about the study of status. First, he pointed to the role of emotion in explaining why status matters and how it influences domestic political debates. “Disruptive influence operations succeed not when they make rational arguments,” he suggested, “but when they appeal to emotions, and people are persuaded to believe something and will not change that belief even though it is not true.”
Lynn-Jones also highlighted the importance of considering whether the study of status yields findings different from those that would emerge from the study of other variables, such as the pursuit of power, wealth, national interest, or security. Work on status, he noted, has applied such concepts as social identity theory (see Chapter 2) to international relations. He suggested that including other variables in the analysis might yield policy approaches that would produce better outcomes. “Awareness of status certainly factored into U.S. policy toward Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union,” he observed, but the resulting U.S. policies may not have been optimal. “It seems,” he suggested, that “the basic policy lesson comes out of this that you don’t want to make a state feel that it is being deprived of its status. Exercise restraint in various ways unless you can somehow dupe a state into believing that it can accept a lesser role and be satisfied with a new form of status.”
The issues of cybersecurity and information warfare call for very different strategic uses of information, in Lynn-Jones’s view, because analysis of these issues generally begins with problems, such as the decline of Internet freedom in Russia or the threat to American institutions and political processes posed by information warfare. Unfortunately, he asserted, the conceptual apparatus for addressing these problems is not well developed. “We don’t have a concept in search of a problem to solve,” he said; “we have a problem that is still looking for concepts.” Traditional analysis of deterrence, he added, is based on a dichotomy between peace and war, so that “if you want to keep the peace, you threaten some form of retaliation as soon as the other party engages in unacceptable behavior.” He suggested that this dichotomy is not relevant in the cyber world because it is the locus of continuous warfare operations. Lasting deterrent mechanisms are not available, he observed.
Lynn-Jones also said he was struck by the importance of the power of nonstate actors, although he suggested that this term is no longer adequate. These individuals and groups may be even more sensitive to status than are states, he noted, because they may have few other assets. He identified this as a very promising line of research.
Lynn-Jones also agreed with Goldgeier on the importance of interdisciplinary research and the sharing of conceptual thinking across fields, noting that such approaches are particularly important for dealing with general questions of cybersecurity, Internet governance, and information warfare. However, he cautioned that interdisciplinary efforts are not always successful. In his view, the most promising approach is to compel a group of individual researchers from different disciplines to collaborate in addressing a defined problem.
Thompson offered a few additional thoughts about status, noting that it was a prevalent research topic in the 1960s and 1970s but thereafter received much less attention. He suggested that it is valuable to study this topic now in part because it reflects a reaction to structural changes taking place in the international system. However, he cautioned that it is not a “generic entity” and that the status concerns of different states vary. “Some Russians want to go back to the USSR; some Chinese currently want regional hegemony . . . and what the Iranians want is neither of those,” he noted. He suggested that questions of status need to be interpreted within their contexts.
Thompson also urged caution in analysis of cyberwarfare. In his view, little is really known about the extent of cyberconflict, “who does it, and when.” He believes systematic analysis of the flow and structure of cyberconflict, if only for a sample period, is badly needed to support analysis.
Thompson closed with an argument for taking a very long view of history in thinking about trends and predictions. While he acknowledged that
the parameters certainly change over time, he asserted that “when you get the same outcomes repeated millennia after millennia, it is more possible to make that kind of a prediction. In some cases, long-term history can be used to make forecasts.”