Commonweal: No More Nukes: An Exchange

Author: Michael Desch

Speaking to attendees of the Vatican’s November conference on “Perspectives for a World Free from Nuclear Weapons and for Integral Development,” Pope Francis “firmly condemned” even “the very possession” of nuclear weapons. In short, he judged not just nuclear war but also nuclear deterrence anathema. Supporters of his view hailed the pope’s statement as “historic” and a “big hit” to the efforts of nuclear powers such as the United States to stop the global momentum swelling behind last summer’s Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. With 122 votes in support of the treaty in the United Nations, and the pope’s imprimatur, are we at last on the eve of the postnuclear millennium?...…

The National Interest: From Hanoi to Kabul

Author: Michael Desch

America's foreign-policy difficulties are multiplying, from Asia to the Middle East. Faced with the prospect of losing in Afghanistan, the president on the recommendation of his military advisers (and reversing a previous stand) has announced a new, notably vague and apparently open-ended “strategy” that includes sending additional U.S. troops. And he promises to “win,” without really explaining how we will know if we have won...…

Big Think: Why the Real North Korea Threat Isn't Its Nuclear Weapons

Author: Michael Desch

Friendly neighbors and wide oceans. That, in a phrase, is America's fallback security plan. It happens to be a very effective security plan, says Michael Desch, although you wouldn't know it by listening to politicians. Their squawking about threats to America are more the result of what President Eisenhower called the military-industrial complex and America's history of interventionist foreign policy. Case in point: North Korea. The hermit kingdom's nuclear weapons are a defensive strategy, not an offensive one. Kim Jong-un is a rational actor who wants his family to stay in power, not risk the complete erasure of his country. …

ISSF: Forum on the Gender Gap in Political Science

Author: Michael Desch

Dawn Langan Teele and Kathleen Thelen raise challenging and important questions about the gender gap in publications in top political science journals. 2 At Security Studies we are grateful for the opportunity to reflect on our own history in representing women in the pages of our journal. Teele and Thelen are right—women have been underrepresented—but there is some cause for optimism. From its entirely male dominated founding nearly 30 years ago, the journal has made great strides, though there remains more to do, and we encourage ISSF readers with ideas on this issue to communicate with us or members of the editorial board and team...…

The American Conservative: America’s (Dis) Regard for its Soldiers and Veterans

Author: Michael Desch

The American people and their leaders have been swooning for years over the boys and girls in uniform. Our national crush on the armed forces reflects in part symptoms of lingering collective post-9/11 traumatic stress syndrome. The al Qaeda attacks represented the deadliest terrorist strike in American history, and that incongruous bolt of death and destruction from the blue skies of an otherwise lovely fall day compounded our terror. Our armed forces rushed to protect us after the attack and then quickly visited righteous retribution on the perpetrators and their Taliban allies in Afghanistan...…

CNBC.com: What Chairman Mao can teach the world about North Korea

Author: Michael Desch

Pop Quiz: Which Asian despot (hint: he was responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of his country-men and had launched a surprise attack against U.S. military forces on the Korean Peninsula) said these crazy things about nuclear war, clearly making his country unfit for their possession: "We have a very large territory and a big population. Atomic bombs could not kill all of us…. We would still have many people left."...…

The National Interest: Is America Being Crushed by the Weight of the World?

Author: Michael Desch

Since the end of the Cold War and the breakup of the Soviet Union we have been living in the era of American primacy. Primacy, of course, is just a euphemism for empire. The early 1990s ostensibly inaugurated a “new American Century,” with the United States bestriding the planet like a colossus. On both the left and right, policy elites fretted that absent American leadership the world would devolve into a Yeatsian “Second Coming” of anarchy, chaos, bloodshed and destruction...…

US News: America First, or Trump?

Author: Michael Desch

The camel is an animal famously said to have been built by a committee. The same could be said of Donald Trump's much-anticipated foreign policy speech for the Center for the National Interest, one of the few remaining bastions of foreign policy prudence inside the Beltway after the last quarter century of bipartisan global hyperactivism...…

CNN.com: Boots on the ground? There are people in them

Author: Michael Desch

This week's New York Times investigative piece on the likely suicide of Navy Cmdr. Job W. Price, the commander of SEAL Team Four in Afghanistan and another casualty in America's longest war, should remind us that when we talk about putting boots on the ground, they are filled by flesh-and-blood men and women...…

CNBC.com: Why you shouldn't panic about North Korea's H-bomb

Author: Michael Desch

The web is atwitter in response to North Korea's claim to have exploded a hydrogen bomb — essentially an atomic bomb on steroids — and the international community is wondering what to make of this latest development in Hermit Kingdom. Last month, the mercurial leader Kim Jong Un abruptly canceled the Beijing leg of the tour of his all-girl rock and roll band Moranbong; this month he's promising to up his Armageddon game. What should we make of this?...…

Foxnews.com: Saudi Arabia vs. Iran: America's Shia problem

Author: Michael Desch

Saudi Arabia's execution of Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr on charges of terrorism exposes both the fragility and the brutality of the Saudi regime.  The Shia represent only about 15% of Saudi Arabia’s population and they feel persecuted by the dominant fundamentalist Sunni regime.  They are increasingly speaking out and protesting, as was the recently executed Shia Sheikh, but unlike in Yemen or Lebanon, Saudi Shia have for the most part not taken up arms.  As with the House of Saud's pandering to Sunni fundamentalist Wahhabi clerics, repressing Saudi Shia may shore up their domestic power in the short-run, but it is likely to backfire over the longer run, undermining both Saudi and U.S. national interests in the process...…

Public Intellectuals in the Global Arena: Professors or Pundits?

Author: Michael Desch

What is a public intellectual? Where are they to be found? What accounts for the lament today that public intellectuals are either few in number or, worse, irrelevant? While there is a small literature on the role of public intellectuals, it is organized around various thinkers rather than focusing on different countries or the unique opportunities and challenges inherent in varied disciplines or professions. In Public Intellectuals in the Global Arena,…

CNN.com: Is Putin more realistic on Syria than Obama?

Author: Michael Desch

President Barack Obama took advantage of the fact that both he and Vladimir Putin were in Paris for this week's multilateral climate talks to give the Russian President some strategic advice about Russia's military intervention in Syria. The advice is particularly timely since Turkey, America's NATO ally, shot down a Russian plane last week near the Turkish-Syrian border...…

CNN.com: Does Clinton's strategy for beating ISIS add up?

Author: Michael Desch

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered a polished and effective speech on her strategy for dealing with ISIS on Thursday at the Council on Foreign Relations. As with her recent testimony before the House Benghazi Committee, she came across as reasonable and in command of the many facets of the wickedly complex problem of global terrorism...…

The American Conservative: How Popular Is Peace?

Author: Michael Desch

The rhetorical muscle-flexing at the Republican debate at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California in September made Sunday afternoon at Venice Beach seem like a convention of “girly men.” The contenders engaged each other in verbal feats of strength over foreign policy, vying to establish who would be the most Reaganesque, or George W. Bushesque, in reasserting America’s role as global strongman...…

Technique Trumps Relevance: The Professionalization of Political Science and the Marginalization of Security Studies

Author: Michael Desch

I explain here the disconnect between our discipline’s self-image as balancing rigor with relevance with the reality of how we actually conduct our scholarship most of the time. To do so, I account for variation in social scientists’ willingness to engage in policy-relevant scholarship over time. My theory is that social science, at least as it has been practiced in the United States since the early twentieth century, has tried to balance two impulses: To be a rigorous science and a relevant social enterprise. The problem is that there are sometimes tensions between these two objectives. First, historically the most useful policy-relevant social science work in the area of national security affairs has been interdisciplinary in nature, and this cuts against the increasingly rigid disciplinary siloes in the modern academy. Second, as sociologist Thomas Gieryn puts it, there is “in science, an unyielding tension between basic and applied research, and between the empirical and theoretical aspects of inquiry.” During wartime, the tensions between these two impulses have been generally muted, especially among those disciplines of direct relevance to the war effort; in peacetime, they reemerge and there are a variety of powerful institutional incentives within academe to resolve them in favor of a narrow definition of rigor that excludes relevance. My objective is to document how these trends in political science are marginalizing the sub-field of security studies, which has historically sought both scholarly rigor and real-world relevance...…

ND Magazine: Show Some Restraint

Author: Michael Desch

In a presidential debate with a sitting vice president, a candidate from the other party distanced himself from the activist foreign policy of the previous administration in favor of a more restrained approach to the world. “I don’t think our troops ought to be used for what’s called nation-building,” he declared. The candidate also warned that America’s overwhelming power was both a blessing and a curse. As he explained, “Our nation stands alone right now in the world in terms of power, and that’s why we have to be humble.”...…

The National Interest: Don't Worship at the Altar of Andrew Marshall

Author: Michael Desch

I first met Andrew Marshall, the longtime director of the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment (ONA), in the mid-1990s. The occasion was one of the late Harvard professor Samuel P. Huntington’s “Strategy and National Security” conferences at the Wianno Club on Cape Cod. A number of Huntington’s students, including Eliot Cohen, Aaron Friedberg and my Olin Institute for Strategic Studies colleague Stephen Rosen, were also Marshall protégés—alumni of St. Andrew’s Prep, as they referred to themselves—having spent some of their careers under his tutelage in the ONA...…