Resources for Learning International Relations

textbkcov-long-0205971369For 2013-14, as in the past year, I plan to blog only sporadically while posting material useful to students using my textbook International Relations. The most recent is a Portuguese and Spanish glossary translating the book’s key terms (i.e. the major key terms in IR). Thanks to Emile Phaneuf for contributing this resource. Other resource now available on this site are:

Global Challenges in 2030 — Essays by IR scholars Joseph S. Nye Jr., Beth A. Simmons, Shibley Telhami, John Gerard Ruggie, Charli Carpenter, Andrew Moravcsik, Daniel W. Drezner, and Michael W. Doyle. [Navigate forward through posts from the intro page.]

Careers in IR — “How will this class help me land a job?”

My current list of Wars in Progress

And of course past blog posts relating current affairs to IR themes will remain on the site as well.  By the way, I’m always happy to hear from students anywhere in the world who are using the book.  (Contact info.)

The Next War to End

One of the interesting aspects of the decline of armed conflict in recent decades is the geographical shrinkage in the area of the world affected by actual shooting wars in progress. This pattern continues with the most recent war to end, in the Philippines, at the far eastern end of the zone of conflict stretching from west and central Africa to south Asia.

Kachin soldiers Jan 20 2013 AFPThe war likely to end next is Burma [Myanmar]. The government there has taken substantial steps toward democracy after decades of authoritarian military rule (including massacres of protesters more than once). Around Burma’s borders are ethnic groups who carried on armed conflict with the government. All the major groups have now reached cease-fires except one, the Kachin in the north next to China. Their war had been suspended for 17 years under an earlier cease-fire that broke down in 2011. (Note: peacekeepers help maintain cease-fires, but the Kachin conflict had none.) A recent government offensive greatly weakened the Kachin position, and now the sides seem close to reaching a cease-fire, according to a report from last week’s negotiations. The next round of talks are to take place before April 10. Both China and the United States would like Burma’s wars to end comprehensively; China could send refugees home, and would gain economically from Burma’s development, and the United States wants a successful transition to democracy there. In the past month, only “sporadic” clashes have taken place, and if a cease-fire agreement is reached I will take Burma off my list of wars in progress.

I had thought the next war to end would be far west of the arc of conflict, the last real outlier geographically — Colombia. It is the last war in the western hemisphere, the last remnant from a bygone era when most of Latin America was up in flames with leftist armed insurgencies, rightist militias, and great-power meddling. What remains today, in Colombia, is a weak guerrilla force sustained by cocaine revenues and losing its recent battles with the government. Peace talks are underway, and one of these months Colombia might reach a cease-fire. Until then, they fight while they talk.

The East Asian peace has been noted as a key component of the world’s overall pattern of declining violence.  The end of wars in the Philippines and (potentially) Burma would extend that peace southwest, with favorable implications for ending the little war in southern Thailand.  (Then, on to India, where small-scale Maoist insurgencies continue.)

Wars begin with a bang and end with a whimper, at least the media attention paid to them does. Cease-fire agreements that could end longstanding wars in places like the Philippines, Burma, and Colombia may seem like small potatoes compared with the outbreak of a new war. But the shrinkage of the world’s zone of war is a big deal, expanding whole regions of the world where a new norm of not fighting active wars is gaining traction.


The World’s Most Important Wars Today

My recently-updated list of 14 wars in progress worldwide is a mixed bag, so here is a short list of the most important to pay attention to.

aleppo 2012 jameslawlerduggan.com1. Syria. Fighting is going on every day in multiple locations; armed forces face each other along many front lines; heavy weapons such as artillery and air power are in use regularly. This is the most lethal war now in progress, with the latest UN estimates suggesting 70,000 killed in two years. The ongoing rate of deaths is not diminishing. The war has also created the world’s worst current refugee emergency (donate here to help).

Syria also is the most important war strategically in world politics. Like in the old Cold War days, the United States and Russia are backing opposing sides in a war, the rebels and the government, politically and with weapons (the rebels being supplied by Gulf states, not the United States itself). If that weren’t enough, the war is a proxy for the Sunni-Shi’ite divide, with Syria’s government allied with Iran and Hezbollah while the rebels are allied with Saudi Arabia and other Sunni states.

The Syrian war has been stalemated for so long, with neither side able to defeat the other, that the casualty and refugee numbers just churn on month after month. However, in the past few months there has been a shift of momentum toward the rebels. There are no known serious peace negotiations going on. Whether the Assad regime can continue to last, and for how long, are question marks hanging over the war — are the questions of what happens after the government falls (not necessarily the end of fighting).

2.  Afghanistan/Pakistan. The war is a mess, with two governments, lots of armed groups, and abundant outside military forces. Nonetheless it is much less lethal than the Syrian war. In 2012, the Afghan war killed fewer than 5,000 people, two-thirds of them civilians. The war has strategic importance as the international community’s biggest military deployment (NATO and others joining with U.S. troops). With the international force drawing down and largely departing by next year, concerns if the war does not continue to abate include a new rise of Islamist radicalism, and potentially even a threat to Pakistan’ s nuclear weapons.

3.  Congo. A new peace agreement has just been signed for the troubled eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Whether it will take hold or last is anyone’s guess. A few months ago, the Rwanda-backed rebel group M23 went on the offensive and seized the key town of Goma. However, under international pressure they left the town and fighting has been sporadic since then. What distinguishes the Congo war is its length and persistence, along with the extreme poverty of the country, which magnifies war effects through disease, malnutrition, and other indirect effects. Eastern Congo hosts one of the UN’s two largest peacekeeping operations (a troubled mission over the years) and is a major focus of human rights activism.

Note: Congo is not, as NY Times Africa correspondent Jeffrey Gettleman claims, “the world’s worst war.”  It is just the worst war that he has reported on for years and personally seen how horrible it is. But every war is the world’s worst war if you’re in the middle of its atrocities. By an objective assessment of levels of fighting, deaths, toll on civilians, atrocities, sexual violence, refugee flows, and the like, Syria rather than Congo is currently the world’s worst war.

4.  Somalia and Mali. In each country, al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamists challenged a recognized government and seized substantial parts of the country’s territory. In each, an internationally sanctioned force including African troops went in and defeated the Islamists, although fighting continues in both. The difference is that turning around the military momentum took about a decade in Somalia and about a month in Mali — the 21st-century French army accounting for the difference. Can these governments be strengthened and their economies developed so that al Qaeda in Africa becomes no more than a nuisance?

5.  Israel/Palestine. Right now, this conflict has one of the lowest levels of lethal violence of the world’s armed conflicts. And even back in November when Israel and Hamas were blasting each other with airstrikes and rocket attacks, the casualty levels were much lower than in the Syria war (and, unlike Syria, did not grind on for months on end). The importance of the Israel/Palestine conflict, however, is its symbolic importance in a region destablized by the Arab Spring revolutions.  It is the world’s longest-running armed conflict at 60+ years.  The current lull in violence should not inspire complacency, as the unstable mix could blow up at any time and even spread to other countries. Only U.S. leadership would seem to offer any hope of resolving the key conflicts between Israel and Palestine, but what U.S. president wants to spend capital on what may be a hopeless cause?

In the big picture, even the war in Syria is relatively small-scale. At the moment, the rate of killing in warfare worldwide remains, as it has for about a decade, historically low. If the world can find its way to a solution in Syria and continue to draw down the war in Afghanistan, and if no new big wars start in the meantime, the world’s low levels of war could drop even lower. It’s another reason, if we needed one, to redouble efforts on the Syria problem.

Wars In Progress – Update

I’ve updated my “wars in progress” list (here) for use in my textbook update (Goldstein/Pevehouse International Relations, 10th edition update for 2013-2014).

There were no major changes in the state of the world’s wars. Syria became more lethal, with some tens of thousands killed last year. The Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia each saw flareups of fighting that have since abated somewhat. But Afghanistan became somewhat less violent, and Iraq remains far less violent than five years ago.

I added Mali to the list of wars in progress. Although the major French intervention succeeded quickly, there will probably be ongoing fighting for quite a while in the north of Mali.

I removed the Philippines from the list, as no regular fighting is taking place there anymore.  The government is still hunting down a few terrorists in remote places.

Several scary episodes of interstate skirmishing — actual military clashes between regular state armies — have taken place in recent years. These have occurred in India-Pakistan (most recently), Sudan-South Sudan, Cambodia-Thailand, North Korea-South Korea, and Israel-Lebanon, among others. In each case, although several people were killed, the situation did not escalate and some kind of cease-fire was restored. Even in a tense standoff such as Sudan and South Sudan, if there is a generally successful cease-fire and occasional breaches of it do not escalate to open fighting, the war is not “in progress” and not on my list.

In the big picture, the Uppsala world battle-deaths estimates remain at historic-low levels for the 11th year (since 2002, with 2012 being not recorded in the Uppsala data yet but certainly not that different from 2011). The levels of war deaths worldwide in each of the past 11 years are  lower than in any year since the 1950s. (America, however, had its decade of war during the world’s decade of peace, but is now joining the trend.) Will 2013 continue this decade of peace or bring new large-scale wars?

Jobs in Education and Research

Here’s part four or four, for those of you whose New Year’s resolution is to get a job in International Relations… This is the “Careers in IR” section from my textbook (Joshua S. Goldstein and Jon C. Pevehouse, International Relations, 10th ed. 2012-2013 Update).

educ bob krist corbisSUMMARY
Jobs in teaching and research offer freedom to pursue ideas and work with colleagues, but require years of schooling.

People follow various paths to an interest in teaching and researching in the field of international relations. Your own professor or instructor is likely to have a unique story about how he or she became interested in international affairs.

One advantage of an academic and research career, whether at a teaching-oriented institution or a large research university, is intellectual freedom. One can spend a career approaching a variety of topics that are interesting and constantly evolving, that may involve travel abroad for fieldwork, and that may let you network with hundreds of colleagues interested in similar topics.

Most research positions (e.g., in think tanks) are different in two respects. First, these jobs often give more direction to an individual in terms of the research to be performed. Second, there is little or no teaching involved. Still, for those interested in IR research, such jobs can result in a wider dissemination of one’s work to a broader audience that often includes policy makers.

To teach IR at an advanced level or to perform research for think tanks and government agencies usually requires an advanced degree—nearly always a masters degree, often a doctorate (Ph.D.). Masters degree programs often take between one and two years, while a Ph.D. in international relations usually takes a minimum of five years. Often, students take time off between their undergraduate and graduate educations to travel internationally or get work experience to hone their interests. Of course, many students never return to extend their education if they find a job that allows them to achieve their personal and career goals.

Finally, in completing most advanced degrees, a large amount of self-direction is necessary. Coursework is only one part of masters or Ph.D. programs: a thesis is also required. Writing a thesis requires you to work on your own time schedule, balancing other duties (such as work as a teaching or research assistant) that can easily crowd out your own work. Many who complete the coursework for an advanced degree do not finish their thesis or take many years to do so.

Whether one wants to pursue an advanced degree for the purposes of teaching in an academic setting or engaging in applied research, there are important skill sets to develop. First and foremost is critical thinking. Scholars and researchers must consider many alternatives as answers to questions, while being able to evaluate the validity or importance of those alternatives. Second is writing. Before, during, and after producing a thesis, writing is a key skill for academics and researchers. Finally, think about developing a set of applied skills to use as a toolbox while analyzing questions. The contents of this toolbox might include other languages to facilitate fieldwork abroad. It could include statistics and data skills to facilitate quantitative analysis. Or it could include mathematics to use game theoretic models. No matter which tools you emphasize, specialized skills will help you answer research questions, whether as part of the academy or in a private or governmental research organization.


  • The Chronicle of Higher Education (weekly). Online at
  • American Political Science Assoc. Earning a PhD in Political Science. 4th ed. Washington, D.C., 2004.
  • Ernest J. Wilson. Is There Really a Scholar-Practitioner Gap? An Institutional Analysis. PS: Political Science and Politics, January 2007.

Jobs in Nongovernmental Organizations

Part three for those of you whose New Year’s resolution is to get a job in International Relations… I’m posting the “Careers in IR” section from my textbook (Joshua S. Goldstein and Jon C. Pevehouse, International Relations, 10th ed. 2012-2013 Update).  This is the third of four parts:  Government and Diplomacy; International Business; Nongovernmental Organizations; and Education and Research.

afp redcross vladimir valishviliSUMMARY
Jobs in NGOs provide personally rewarding experiences for those willing to work hard for a cause, but pay poorly and are hard to obtain.

Nearly 30,000 NGOs exist, and that number grows daily. Thousands of individuals are interested in working in these organizations. Although all NGOs are different, many perform multiple functions: working in developing countries regarding a variety of issues; public outreach at home and abroad; lobbying governments to change their policies; designing projects to solve problems and attempting to find funding for their implementation.

Working for an NGO has many benefits. Workers often find themselves surrounded by others concerned about the same issues: improving the environment, protecting human rights, advancing economic development, or promoting better health care. The spirit of camaraderie can be exhilarating and rewarding.

While working for an NGO can be extremely rewarding personally, it is rarely rewarding financially. Most NGOs are nonprofit operations that pay workers meagerly for long hours. Moreover, many smaller NGOs engage in a constant fight for funding from governments, think tanks, private foundations, or individuals. The process of fundraising can be quite time consuming.

Despite the large number of NGOs, relatively low pay, and long hours, finding a job with an NGO can be difficult. One key is to be specific. Try to narrow down your interests in terms of substantive areas (e.g., human rights, environment) and/or geographic region. Also think about whether you want to work in your own country or abroad. Positions abroad may be more rewarding but are in lower supply and higher demand.

NGOs are looking for selfstarters. Most have little time and few resources for training.  Basic office skills (e.g., computer expertise) are essential, but employees also need to cover a range of duties every day. Anything and everything is in your job description. Writing and communication skills are key, especially when fundraising is part of the job. Foreign language skills also matter since many NGOs maintain or work with field offices abroad.

Often, NGOs ask potential employees to volunteer for a period while they train, before being hired. Increasingly, some companies place workers in an NGO or volunteer opportunity for a price. By paying to work, you can gain a probationary period to develop your skills and familiarize yourself with the operation so as to become efficient before going on the payroll.

Finally, in cities where NGOs cluster (e.g., Washington, D.C.), personal networks play an important role in finding good opportunities. Workers often move from one organization to another. For this reason, many volunteer or accept jobs with NGOs not in their immediate area of interest to gain experience and contacts, which can help future career advancement.


  • Sherry Mueller. Careers in Nonprofit and Educational Organizations. In Careers in International Affairs. 7th ed. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown School of Foreign Service, 2003.
  • Richard M. King. From Making a Profit to Making a Difference: How to Launch Your New Career in Nonprofits. River Forest, IL: Planning/Communications, 2000.

Jobs in International Business

For those of you whose New Year’s resolution is to get a job in International Relations, I’m posting the “Careers in IR” section from my textbook (Joshua S. Goldstein and Jon C. Pevehouse, International Relations, 10th ed. 2012-2013 Update).  This is the second of four parts:  Government and Diplomacy; International Business; Nongovernmental Organizations; and Education and Research.

intlbiz andersen-ros brandx gettySUMMARY
Jobs in international business offer high pay, interesting work, and demanding hours for those with language and cultural skills.

As the pace and scope of globalization have accelerated, opportunities to work in international business have blossomed. For many large companies, the domestic/global distinction has ceased to exist. This new context provides opportunities and challenges for potential employees.

Careers in international business offer many advantages. Business jobs can pay substantially more than those in governments or NGOs and can open opportunities to travel extensively and network globally. Foreign-based jobs mean relocation to another country to work and immerse oneself in another culture.

However, such a career choice also has potential costs. Many jobs require extensive hours, grueling travel, and frequent relocation. As with any job, promotion and advancement may fall victim to external circumstances such as global business cycles. And these jobs can be especially hard on families.

International opportunities arise in many business sectors. Banking, marketing (public relations), sales, and computing/telecommunications have seen tremendous growth in recent years. These jobs fall into three broad categories: (1) those located domestically, yet involving significant interactions with firms abroad; (2) domestic jobs working for foreign-based companies; and (3) those based abroad, for foreign or domestic firms.

One key to landing in the international business world is to develop two families of skills: those related to international relations and those related to business operations. Traditional MBA (Masters in Business Administration) and business school programs will be helpful for all three types of jobs, yet for jobs based abroad, employers often also look for a broader set of skills taught in economics, political science, and communications. Thus, not only  traditional business skills, but language and cultural skills, are essential. Employers look for those who have knowledge of a country’s human and economic geography as well as culture. Experience with study abroad, especially including working abroad, can help show an ability to adapt and function well in other cultures. Strong analytical and especially writing abilities also matter greatly to employers.

Research also helps in landing a job. Employers often look for knowledge of a particular industry or company, in order to make best use of an employee’s language and cultural skills. Of course, while experience in non-international business never hurts, be mindful that the practices, customs, and models of business in one country may not apply well abroad. Crosscultural skills combined with substantive business knowledge in order to translate the operational needs of companies from the business world to the global realm are highly valued.


  • Edward J. Halloran. Careers in International Business. 2nd ed. NY: McGraw-Hill, 2003.
  • Deborah Penrith, ed. The Directory of Jobs and Careers Abroad. 12th ed. Oxford, UK: Vacation Work Publications, 2005.

Jobs in Government and Diplomacy

For those of you whose New Year’s resolution is to get a job in International Relations, I’m posting the “Careers in IR” section from my textbook (Joshua S. Goldstein and Jon C. Pevehouse, International Relations, 10th ed. 2012-2013 Update).  This is the first of four parts:  Government and Diplomacy; International Business; Nongovernmental Organizations; and Education and Research.

Jobs in government and diplomacy offer team players the chance to affect policy, but require patience with large bureaucracies.

Both governments and intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) play key roles in international relations and employ millions of people with interests and training in IR. Despite differences between careers in IGOs and governments, there are numerous similarities. Both are hierarchical organizations, with competitive and highly regulated working environments. Whether in the U.S. State Department or the UN, entrance into and promotion in these organizations is regulated by exams, performance evaluations, and tenure with the organization. Another similarity lies in the challenges of being pulled in many directions concerning policies. Governments face competing pressures of public opinion, constituencies, and interests groups—each with distinct policy opinions. IGOs also deal with interest groups (such as NGOs), but an IGO’s constituents are states, which in many cases disagree among themselves. Many employees of IGOs or governments thrive on making decisions that influence policies. Both work environments also attract coworkers with deep interests in international affairs, and the resulting networks of contracts can bring professional and intellectual rewards. Finally, jobs in governments or IGOs may involve travel or living abroad, which many enjoy. However, promotion can be slow and frustrating. Usually, only individuals with advanced degrees or technical specializations achieve non–entry level positions. It can take years to climb within the organization and the process may involve working in departments far from your original interests. In addition, both IGOs and governments are bureaucracies with formal rules and procedures, requiring great patience. Employees often express frustration that initiative and “thinking outside the box” are not rewarded.

SKILLS TO HONE The key to working in IGOs or government is to get your foot in the door. Be flexible and willing to take entry positions that are not exactly in your area of interest. For example, the State Department is only one of many parts of the U.S. government that deal with IR. Do not assume that to work in foreign affairs, one must be a diplomat. Foreign language training is also important, especially for work in large IGOs with many field offices. The ability to work well in groups and to network within and across organizations is an important asset. People who can strengthen lines of communication can gain support from many places in an organization. Finally, strong analytical and writing abilities are extremely important. Both IGOs and governments deal with massive amounts of information daily. The ability to analyze information (even including mathematical or computational analysis) and to write clear, concise interpretations will make one invaluable.

Shawn Dorman. Inside a U.S. Embassy: How the Foreign Service Works for America. 2nd ed. Washington, D.C.: American Foreign Service Assoc., 2003.
Linda Fasulo. An Insider’s Guide to the UN. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005.

Benghazi — Truth vs. Politics

Call me old-fashioned but I still believe that truth and falsehood exist; that with some effort a nation’s policymaking and political establishment can determine one from the other; and that any nation that fails to do so when it comes to foreign policy — with such huge stakes and so many lives on the line — puts itself in mortal danger. I guess it’s my Realist streak.

Once upon a time, and here I reveal how old I am, American foreign policy managed, not always but often, to rise above politics. There was this quaint concept called the “bipartisan consensus” with its poetic mantra, “Politics stops at the water’s edge.”  The many erroneous or wrong-headed policies of the time generally came out of ignorance, especially of new developments in a changing world, rather than willful disregard of facts. It took a while to realize that nuclear weapons were not just very big artillery shells, that Vietnam was not the same kind of war as WWII, and that China and the Soviet Union might both be communist but not necessarily allied, for instance.

In the past decade or so, however, facts and truths seem to have gone out of style altogether. Partisan politics drives everything. Foreign policy discussions play out without questioning the underlying assumptions even when the latter are totally unfounded. And this is not happening just on minor or obscure issues, but the most important ones. When we invaded Iraq (leaving aside whether that was such a bright idea), the number of troops needed to occupy the country could be calculated based on past experiences, such as the forces that successfully kept the peace in the Balkans just a few years earlier. But when the head of the Army, Eric Shinseki, provided that number, the political leadership just pushed him aside and said, oh no, we don’t like that number, we’ll do it with far less. The result was a costly disaster for U.S. foreign policy.

Another example: political leaders and the public assume that levels of violence and threat in the world are increasing, when in fact hard evidence shows the opposite to be true (see my book). As a result, the USA spends more on the military than during the Cold War, spending that is helping drive the country into deep debt and economic malaise. It’s not just that we can’t afford it, but that we don’t need it. Yet political leaders talk on about the need to keep up military spending to face these terrible new threats. And speaking of new threats, our political leaders constantly harp on the threat from a rising China, conveniently forgetting that China has not fought a single military battle in 25 years. Not one. Why? It’s not in their national interest. Do we Americans remember that old concept, “national interest?”

Now comes the latest doomed stand for Truth — the dispute over the attack on our consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Was it a protest against the anti-Muslim video that went wrong and turned violent?  Or was it a premeditated attack by al Qaeda timed for the anniversary of 9/11?  This debate goes on and on and on, the Energizer Bunny of inane foreign policy discussions.  Politicians and media, please just shut up and listen!  We know the answer!  It’s not a debate, it’s not a mystery, and it’s not exactly either of the above stories.

We’ve known the full story for at least six weeks, since New York Times reporter David Kirkpatrick published it after interviewing the eyewitnesses and participants in Benghazi. Yes, published it not in a fly-by-night blog or a partisan rag, but in the New York Times. Does anybody read it anymore? “To those on the ground, the circumstances of the attack are hardly a mystery,” he wrote.

And this is what happened:  A local prominent Islamist armed militant group called Ansar al-Shariah has openly operated in Benghazi for some time. They are radical Islamists like al Qaeda, but are focused on local aims, not global attacks on America. “Other Benghazi militia leaders who know the group say its leaders and ideology are all homegrown,” wrote Kirkpatrick. Because Libya does not have good governance yet, after the overthrow of its longtime dictator Moammar Gaddafi last year, there are many of these armed militias roaming around and controlling various territories within the country.

Last September 11, without a thought to the meaning of that date and without prior planning, the members of Ansar al-Shariah watched news coverage of a protest in Cairo against the offensive anti-Muslim video. They became enraged, grabbed their automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, and attacked the American consulate. The hundreds of attackers overwhelmed the defenses and burned the building. U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens was inside and died of smoke inhalation.

In the context of Libya, it was not such a strange action — a similar attack hit the Italian embassy in 2006 after a perceived Italian insult to the prophet Mohammed. But it did not in any way represent the Libyan people. After the attack, Libyans in Benghazi who realized they’d lost a great friend in Ambassador Stevens were outraged at Ansar al-Shariah, marching on its headquarters and throwing its members out.

Was it a terrorist act? Sure. A protest gone wrong? No. Was it a premeditated attack timed to 9/11? No. A spontaneous reaction to the video? Yes. An al Qaeda plot? No. Mysterious and complicated? No!

And by the way, what does any of this have to do with our UN ambassador Susan Rice, who repeated CIA talking points on Sunday talk shows (points that had omitted references to Ansar’s phone calls, in which they bragged to their ideological cousins in “al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb” [North Africa], so that Ansar wouldn’t know we’re listening in)?

Author Tom Ricks (The Generals) went on Fox News recently and offered that  the Benghazi story had been “hyped” by Fox. They booted him off the air instantly. Ricks has also been making the media rounds in the wake of the Petraeus sex scandal, arguing that we should assess generals based on how well they fight wars, not their private lives. (His take is that Petraeus was a good general but that the same can’t be said for a lot of our other top brass who led us through Iraq and Afghanistan.)

Personally I’m ready to lay off the sex scandals, the political talking points, the ideological certainties, and have an adult conversation about some big issues our country faces. Like the war that’s still going on in Afghanistan. Like the defense budget. Like the Arab uprisings in Libya and across the region that have left unstable places groping their way toward democracy and prosperity. Unstable places where maybe an ambassador gets killed trying to help — but that’s not even the main point. Let’s start from facts and look to the big picture.

The world’s first published Realist was the Chinese military advisor Sun Tzu in ancient times (The Art of War). His idea of the best general was not the one who had the good character to resist sexual temptation, nor the most brave or aggressive one, nor the most cautious one. It was the general who could cooly calculate the costs and benefits of each course of action. And realize the other side was doing the same thing.

Costs and benefits. National interest. Fact-based assessments. Bipartisan consensus. These are the best elements of Realism, a school of thought that has many deficiencies but some enduring strengths as well. I’m not a Realist overall, but we could use a dose of it right now.

Back to the UN

Lost in the current focus on the Gaza conflict is the vow of the Palestinian Authority to seek an upgrade in the UN General Assembly from observer status to “nonmember state.” That campaign is supposed to start November 29. Israel calls it “unilateral” and has threatened drastic actions, and the U.S. Congress threatens to cut off funding to the UN if it happens.

These reactions are way over the top for an action that would make little tangible difference to the Israeli-Palestinian relationship (which has much bigger problems currently, if you hadn’t noticed). We’re talking about the status held by the Vatican, giving Palestine modest rights to participate in some international bodies. Mostly it would give the moderate Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, something to show for his moderation after being sidelined in recent days by far more radical factions, primarily Hamas.

Are folks freaking out because Palestine would have the word “state” next to its name? Silly. The two-state solution, a Palestinian state living side by side with Israel, is supported at least in theory by the Israeli government, the Palestinian government, the Europeans, Russians, Chinese, Americans, the UN…  Who am I leaving out here?  (Oh right, it’s opposed by Hamas and the other radical groups shooting missiles at Israel. ) So if you favor a two-STATE solution, why not put STATE next to Palestine?  Nobody will die — which is more than you can say for current policy.

I supported using the UN to address the Palestine issue a year ago, when it sought full membership. If we had passed a resolution then affirming the two-state solution, we might have headed off some of the trouble now engulfing Israel and Gaza. If we use the UN now and support Abbas, we might get ahead of the next wave of troubles that’s sure to hit.

In a recent interview I talked about the UN and peace, so in preparation for the upcoming “nonmember state” discussion at the UN I’m posting it here.

Note:  After completing the “Global Challenges in 2030” series, there wasn’t much of the semester left, so I’m blogging irregularly while focusing on a couple of book projects.