Cluster II: Ideas, Beliefs, Narratives, and Worldviews in International Relations

Politics of Peace and Security

This project follows from my earlier research on anti-base protests. My interviews with U.S. and host government policymakers, military officers, and peace activists produced different narratives about the role of overseas military bases.  Are military bases instruments of war that perpetuate insecurity and militarization, or do bases provide defense and regional stability as argued by many US policymakers? Reflecting on this question, I investigate how and why (peace) activists and “mainstream” policymakers often come to such radically different conclusions about peace and security. Although many factors might shape one’s beliefs about the world (class, race, gender, religion, parents’ political affiliation), I highlight how activists’ and policymakers’ worldviews are shaped by different socialization processes. This in turn leads individuals/groups to embrace particular assumptions about the world which result in different meanings and policy conclusions about peace and security.

I am also interested in examining how activists challenge the dominant security discourse offered by the state as activists adopt what closely resembles a critical perspective of international relations. Activists seek freedom and emancipation from the static logic of power politics and look towards human rather than national interests. I tested my argument examining contentious politics over the construction of a large naval base on Jeju Island which was published in European Journal of International Security.

If funding is available, I’d like to conduct surveys and/or interviews tapping into the ideas and beliefs of both peace activists and policymakers. Military bases provide just one avenue for exploring different conceptions of peace, security, justice, and power. Similar questions can be raised on the following topics:

  • NATO
  • Missile defense
  • Nuclear (non)-proliferation
  • Climate Change

Of all the issues, nuclear policy and non-proliferation seem to be the most promising with greater funding opportunities and robust discussion among those in the policy and activist community over nuclear policy. Why do some activists and policymakers subscribe to nuclear zero, and why do others still believe in the utility of nuclear weapons and the role of deterrence? Are individuals dogmatic in their views, and for those who have shifted their position over time (former Defense Secretary William Perry and Senator Sam Nunn are good examples), why did they do so? What do past and current  debates over nuclear policy tell us about individual and collective ideas/beliefs about nuclear weapons and how beliefs shift over time?  My hypothesis is that the politics of peace and security (including nuclear deterrence) and the formation of nuclear beliefs extend from different worldviews regarding the nature of existing power relations and the legitimacy of the state. These worldviews themselves are shaped by socialization processes within activist and bureaucratic circles leading to the development of different “tribes”.  Central to these ideas are concepts such as discourse, narratives, and cognitive beliefs.  

The Development of International Relations Thought in the Philippines and the Transnational Diffusion of Ideas

This is my proposed Fulbright project which taps into my interest in the diffusion and spread of ideas. Some of the ideas draw on a book chapter I wrote about the transnational diffusion of liberal ideas in the late 19th century through the illustrados (Philippine intellectuals) studying in Europe. It also taps into the disciplinary drive for a more pluralistic IR that takes into account issues of race and gender. Since I’m based in Manila for two years, I wanted to better understand how IR is studied and taught in the Philippines.  Is there a Philippine school of IR, and if not, why. Should the Philippines (or fill in with any other country) even strive for an indigenous school of IR?

Narratives of Restraint and Grand Strategy

I’ve exchanged hundreds of emails and memos with Will Walldorf about foreign policy restraint and the future of liberal internationalism as a guide post (or grand strategy) for American foreign policy. I was initially interested in tracking when narratives of restraint began (re)emerging in foreign policy discourse, as well as tracing discourse on the demise of the liberal international order, especially after Trump’s election in 2016. From discussions with Will and reading several books/articles on this topic (which have grown exponentially), I’ve reflected on debates among advocates of US restraint; American primacy; and/or liberal internationalism (LI), respectively. None of these categories slot neatly into traditional IR perspectives. Realists can claim with equal validity their support for restraint, primacy, and liberal internationalism as a realist approach to IR. Will and I are exploring how one might converge restraint and LI narratives, paying greater attention to domestic politics.  We published a piece in Washington Quarterly which reveals the domestic political challenges to implementing a grand strategy or restraint. We are discussing how the Chinese threat narrative in US foreign policy feeds into the new “Cold War” of US-Sino relations.

Relevant Publications:

• Activists, Alliances, and Anti-U.S. Base Protests (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011
• “Realism, Critical Theory, and the Politics of Peace: Lessons from Anti-base Movements on Jeju Island.” European Journal of International Security 3(2): 235-255.
Living in an Age of Mistrust: An Interdisciplinary Study of Declining Trust in Contemporary Society and Politics and How to get it Back [with Matthew Green, eds.] (New York: Routledge, 2017)
“Philippine National Independence, 1898–1904.” In Stephan Haggard and David Kang, eds., East Asia in the World: Twelve Events that Shaped the Modern International Order (Cambridge University Press).
• “Domestic Hurdles to a Grand Strategy of Restraint.” Washington Quarterly (with Will Walldorf) 42(4): 43-56.

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