Normative Narratives


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The (Real Beginning of the) End of Team America World Police Part 3(? 4? 5?, I’ve Lost Count…)

I started my narrative on this topic with a two-part political and economic analysis of current U.S. Defense Policy. I then wrote a piece on the true cost of the war on terror, and more recently a piece on how Europe’s shrinking military expenditure is hurting it’s credibility as a meaningful security partner to the United States. Current U.S. military policy has long been an issue affecting America’s fiscal space, constraining resources for social programs which compromise our future growth prospects and social mobility, thereby perpetuating rising inequality in America. At the heart of the matter is the uneven proportion of Global Security expenditure that America pays. Today, President Obama signaled he is of similar mind on the subject.

“Taken together, the president’s words and deeds added up to an effort to move the country away from the perpetual war on terrorism envisioned by his predecessor, George W. Bush, toward a more limited campaign against particular groups that would eventually be curtailed even if the threat of terrorism could never be eliminated.

‘Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue,’ Mr. Obama said. ‘But this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. That’s what our democracy demands.’

Mr. Obama rejected the notion of an expansive war on terrorism and instead articulated a narrower understanding of the mission for the United States. ‘Beyond Afghanistan, we must define our effort not as a boundless ‘global war on terror’ but rather as a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America,’ he said.

‘Neither I, nor any president, can promise the total defeat of terror,’ Mr. Obama added. ‘We will never erase the evil that lies in the hearts of some human beings, nor stamp out every danger to our open society. But what we can do — what we must do — is dismantle networks that pose a direct danger to us, and make it less likely for new groups to gain a foothold, all the while maintaining the freedoms and ideals that we defend.’”

“As our fight enters a new phase, America’s legitimate claim of self-defense cannot be the end of the discussion,” Mr. Obama said. “To say a military tactic is legal, or even effective, is not to say it is wise or moral in every instance. For the same human progress that gives us the technology to strike half a world away also demands the discipline to constrain that power — or risk abusing it.”

“The changes reflect a conclusion by the White House that the core of Al Qaeda has been decimated by years of strikes and the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. But in the speech, the president said that the threat had evolved in a complicated mosaic of dangers from affiliated groups and homegrown terrorists, like the bombers who attacked the Boston Marathon.”

As is to be expected, Republicans were critical of Obama’s realistic, transparent, straightforward and even-handed speech:

“Speaker John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, issued 10 questions to the president in reaction to previews of his speech. “Is it still your administration’s goal to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat Al Qaeda?” he asked. “If you are scaling back the use of unmanned drones, which actions will you be taking as a substitute to ensure Al Qaeda’s defeat? Is it your view that if the U.S. is less aggressive in eliminating terrorists abroad, the threat of terrorist attacks will diminish on its own?”

Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the top Republican on the Intelligence Committee, was sharper in reaction. ‘The president’s speech today will be viewed by terrorists as a victory,’ he said. ‘Rather than continuing successful counterterrorism activities, we are changing course with no clear operational benefit.'”

First to address Senator Chambliss, are you sir a moron? how could the winding down of the war on terror have “no clear operational benefit”? Does making a military mission less costly both in dollar terms and American lives have no effect on the operational benefit of The War on Terror? Not to mention the impact on public opinion of the U.S. abroad (which is directly related to terrorism). Or do you not consider the costs of an operation unless the money is going to those lazy “takers”? (i.e. any social program the G.O.P. will fight tooth and nail). If anything, we should have much sooner reconsidered the operational benefit of the War on Terror in the first place (which has been marginal at best, as highlighted by recent sectarian violence in Iraq).

Speaker Boehner’s questions are more substantive; I have actually grown to like Senator Boehner, I almost pity him for the impossible job he has of trying to legitimize the current cluster-fuck of ridiculous soundbites and indefensible policy advocacy that has come to define the G.O.P. I’m sure Mr. Boehner did not imagine his constituents would be so unrealistic and uncompromising that his time as House Speaker would be marked as a period of historically low congressional approval ratings.

But back to Congressman Boehner’s Questions. Questions 1 and 2 (“Is it still your administration’s goal to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat Al Qaeda?” he asked. “If you are scaling back the use of unmanned drones, which actions will you be taking as a substitute to ensure Al Qaeda’s defeat?”) were already addressed by President Obama in his speech:

“But what we can do — what we must do — is dismantle networks that pose a direct danger to us, and make it less likely for new groups to gain a foothold, all the while maintaining the freedoms and ideals that we defend.”  

Obviously Al-Qaeda would be considered a “network that poses a direct danger to us”, probably the primary of such networks. One has to question whether John was not sleeping through the President’s speech with questions like those. And to expect a President to openly discuss his defense strategies, probably our most important national security secret, is not exactly proposing a reasonable question.

President Obama also alluded to the answer to Speaker Boehner’s 3rd question in that very same breath. Mr. Boehner asked, “Is it your view that if the U.S. is less aggressive in eliminating terrorists abroad, the threat of terrorist attacks will diminish on its own?”

The answer to that is, of course not. The President stated he planned to “make it less likely for new groups to gain a foothold”, but what exactly does that mean? It could only mean putting more resources into preventative peace-building and diplomacy efforts, as I have advocated for here at NN.

Conflict resolution theory tells us that the majority of todays armed conflicts are “Protracted Social Conflicts”. This means that their roots are in human rights violations, which almost always involve inadequate service delivery and security being provided by a country’s government. In situations like this, conflict is likely to break out. When conflicts break out, there is no military to keep terrorist activities at bay (assuming the regime in power is not allied with extremist groups to begin with).

Terrorist groups seize onto this absence of government human rights “duty bearers” and begin to provide services and security themselves. People on the ground, having no other option other than living in extreme poverty and extreme discomfort, welcome these terrorists in with open arms. Terrorists are able to buy goodwill, gain footholds for their operations, and attract a new generation of young Jihadists.

The only way the President can prevent new terrorist groups from forming is to scale up the capacity of strong, democratic governments in developing countries around the world (or factions within countries that do not have democratic governments). If America undertakes this much more noble pursuit, we can build sustainable relationships that foster greater economic and security alliances, rather than destroying nations and then attempting to build them back up from scratch, which is costly in money, time, and lives.

We must remember that building these relationships is not easy. Transitions to democracy and a higher standard of living take time, and the process is not always linear. Vested interests will never give up easily, as they have so much to lose as society reaps the benefits of modernization, and more resources are invested into basic infrastructure as well as physical and human capital.

Though we face an uphill battle, we must never falter in our fight to promote peace, security, and mutually beneficial and environmentally sustainable economic relationships. Only through cooperation and coordination can the global community confront and overcome the issues we collectively face in the 21st century and beyond.

And we must always remember we are not alone in this fight. Our Allies around the world remain committed to the same vision as us. Institutions such as the UN, NATO, WB, IMF, WHO and countless other international, national, and regoinal institutions, alongside non-governmental organizations, charities, and civil society organizations join our ranks. The day when extreme poverty and human rights violations are no longer a threat is just beyond the horizon, and I look forward doing whatever I can to work towards that future.


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Transparency Thursday: Remembering the Victim’s of the Boston Marathon Bombing–Creating a Legacy of Peace

“This is Martin Richard, 8, who was killed in yesterday’s attack. His sister and mother are critically injured. His message, “No more hurting people–Peace” is something we should all seek to honor, and remember him by.” –George Takei

By now, everybody has heard about the tragic events that unfolded this Monday during the Boston Marathon. Two bombs exploded, killing three people and injuring over 100 more. Today, President Obama Spoke at an interfaith memorial service at Boston’s Cathedral of the Holy Cross:

“Mr. Obama spoke in personal terms about the victims of the bombing and offered prayers for their families. Krystle Campbell, 29, of Medford, Mass., was ‘always smiling,’ he said, noting that her parents were at the service. He said that his prayers were with the family of Lu Lingzi, 23, in China, who had sent her to graduate school at Boston University ‘so that she could experience all that this city has to offer.’ And he spoke about what he called the heartbreaking death Martin Richard, 8, of Dorchester, who was killed in the blast, which also wounded his mother and sister.”

“At a Senate hearing Thursday morning, the nation’s top intelligence official, James R. Clapper Jr., echoed President Obama’s comments earlier this week that the authorities still do not know whether the attack was a foreign or domestic plot, carried out by one or more individuals or a group.”

This tragic event understandably evokes emotional responses from those directly and indirectly affected. In the aftermath of this event, as the details reveal themselves over time, it would be prudent to take a step back and remember some of the ideals America was founded on; tolerance and freedom of speech, a place where no one could be persecuted based on nationality or religion, and where everyone is innocent until proven guilty (due process of law).

I came out with this response to the bombings on Monday:

“Tragedy in Boston. Prayers go out to the families and loved ones affected by this senseless act of violence.

Please do not jump to xenophobia and hatred after this event. Only through cooperation and kindness can events like this be prevented. There is no proof as to who committed this unthinkable act–American, Muslim, or otherwise.

In America everyone is innocent until proven guilty.”

Many people started blaming “muslims”, “terrorists”, or “them” after this attack. Jumping to such conclusions are counter-productive. For one thing, all signs point to this being a domestic terror attack; the sight was not a huge landmark like the W.T.C, and no terrorists organization has claimed responsibility. While it would be irresponsible journalism to say with certainty this was not an act of a foreign terrorist organization, all signs are pointing in that direction.

This message of the preventative powers of peace, kindness and cooperation sound good on paper, but can they actually work in practice? Martin Richard was an 8-year-old boy who believed in these principles,  but are they practical in real life? Beyond the ethical stance, there are economic and social reasons why these normative views can indeed help reduce acts of terrorism. Of course we need security, but security is only one side of the preventative coin. Dealing with the root causes of domestic and foreign terrorism will reduce the number of would be attacks, and allow our security forces to better manage the threats that inevitably will still exist.

First let us examine foreign terrorism. I would like to point you all to an earlier post I made on preventative peace-building and protracted social conflict (PSC). This piece highlights how human rights violations are at the root of most violence in the developing world. Instability creates a foothold for terrorism to operate–when a government is not providing essential services and / or security, terrorist groups can fill the void, essentially buying goodwill. Most people in these countries are aware they are supporting terrorist activities, but if it is a choice between having essential services provided or not, they could care less.

That is why, in order to stop foreign terrorism at its roots, we must empower friendly governments to provide the services and security that they are obligated to provide. Doing this will help push terrorists to the margins, and create lasting alliances in strategic locations. My previous post suggests redistributing money from the D.o.D. to the D.o.S., as overt military action has proven to be an ineffective and costly means of nation building.

Next let us examine domestic terrorism. In America, we are all relatively well off compared to those in the rest of the world. Social programs exist to help protect the human rights of those less fortunate; hopefully drastic cuts in these programs do not take place or else we will see the crime rate go up.

One area that America is notoriously weak in is public mental healthcare access. Mental health issues affect the rich and poor alike, and probably disproportionately affect the poor. As someone who has personally seen their self-confidence and productive capacity bolstered by mental healthcare, I am a strong proponent of providing access to mental healthcare to all Americans.

Obamacare, which is supposed to become effective in 2014, is expected to extend mental healthcare to all Americans. This should help people overcome their issues, lead happier and more productive lives, and ultimately reduce the number of people dependent on the welfare state in the long run. Many people have issues that are fairly common, but due to their socioeconomic standing remain isolated and untreated. It is these people who usually turn to crime, including domestic terrorism. By increasing access to mental healthcare, these incidents will decline.

No policies will ever entirely eliminate terrorism, domestic or foreign. But there are common sense ways to reduce the number of attacks as much as possible, which should allow our security forces to better prevent future acts of terrorism.

Robert Martin did not understand these complex interconnections, he was an 8-year-old boy. It is an honor to be able to provide some theoretical insight into Robert Martin’s normative stance; just because he didn’t understand why he was right doesn’t make him any less right. The best way to reduce terrorism, both domestic and foreign, is to attack it at its roots. The alternative, an increasing reliance on American security forces at home and abroad, has been proven too costly and ineffective.

As Albert Einstien said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

People (generally) respond to violence and hatred with more violence and hatred. People (generally) respond to acts of kindness with humility, gratitude, and friendship. Acts of terrorism represent an intractable vicious cycle; someone can always point a finger and recall past atrocities to justify their actions in their own mind.

In order to move forward as a global community we must look forward and think about what we can do differently, if we hope to break this vicious cycle.


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Conflict Watch: Two Very Different Approaches to Global Security

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President Obama had a very productive trip to the Middle-East this week. Say what you will about Obama’s domestic policy (I for one like his ideas, and believe he inherited a terrible situation and has been handicapped by the ineptitude of the U.S. Congress, but that’s another matter entirely and not the topic of this blog), but Obama has certainly been a very effective President in terms of diplomatic relations.

One area of diplomacy that the Obama administration has not historically been very effective is the Middle-East. Obama muddle relations with Israel early in his presidency when he condemned Israeli housing development in dispute lands in the West Bank. The territory in question has been seen as vital to a potential two-state solution between Israel and Palestine—Israeli development undermines the ability to potentially return the land to Palestinians as part of a negotiated settlement.

But in his most recent trip, Obama made headway in the contentious geopolitical arena that is the Middle-East. He renewed calls for a two-state solution, calling on the younger generation of Israelis and Palestinians to pressure their governments for a peaceful resolution. It may be cliché to say “the youth is the future”, but it is also accurate, and seeing as any durable two-state solution is at least years (if not decades) away, calling on the youth is an appropriate measure.

Obama fell short of calling for Israel to halt construction in the disputed land. He did call the construction “inappropriate”, but stated that halting construction should not be a precondition for negotiations.

Obama also visited Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority, as a two-state solution requires two willing negotiation partners. Obama’s visit with Abbas was mainly symbolic—showing the U.S. stands with the Palestinian Authority, and that the government has an alternative other than aligning itself with extremists groups. The closer ties the Palestinian Authority has with the U.S., the better the chances of a two-state solution. The closer the ties with extremist factions within Hamas, the less likely such a solution will occur.

Perhaps most notably was the restoration of full diplomatic ties between Israel and Turkey. Turkey and Israel had a history of close relations which stopped in 2010 after Israel boarded a Turkish ship attempting to bring supplies into disputed lands. The stand-off resulted in the deaths of 9 Turkish citizens and a suspension of diplomatic ties between Israel and Turkey.

Obama was able to convince Prime Minister Netanyahu to apologize and offer compensation to the families who lost loved ones in the dispute. The apology was accepted, and full diplomatic ties were restored.

Turkey is an important geopolitical ally of the U.S., as is Israel. It can only be beneficial for regional and global security to have these two important partners on the same page.

President Obama also visited Jordan, another regional ally. During this visit, he pledged further financial support to Jordan, who receives thousands of Syrian refugees a day as civil war continues to envelop the country. This is the latest measure by the Obama administration to diminish Assad’s prospects by strengthening regional opposition, while still officially keeping the U.S. out of armed conflict.

Contrasting Obama’s proactive foreign policy agenda was Xi Jinping’s (the new Chinese President) speech in Moscow. Xi stated:

“We must respect the right of each country in the world to independently choose its path of development and oppose interference in the internal affairs of other countries,”          

These words mirrored a similar ideology of Vladimir Putin, Russia longtime President:

“Putin, who began a six-year term last May, has often criticized foreign interference in sovereign states.

Russia and China have resisted Western calls to pressure Syrian President Bashar al-Assad over the two-year-old civil conflict that has killed more than 70,000 people.

They both criticized the NATO bombing that helped rebels overthrow Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 and stood together in the Security Council in votes on the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs.

Both China and Russia have bristled at U.S. and European criticism of their human rights records.

Putin said in a foreign policy decree issued at the start of his new term that Russia would counter attempts to use human rights as a pretext for interference, and his government has cracked down on foreign-funded non-governmental organizations.”

I have often condemned Chinese and Russian position of national sovereignty above all else. Surely national sovereignty is an important safeguard for good governments against malicious foreign intervention, but it should not be a tool for corrupt and disingenuous leaders to stay in power.

This is an unfortunate if not unexpected position for the Chinese President to take. Recent actions implied that Xi may be more open to protection of human rights, as evidenced by his call to support a higher standard of living for Chinese citizens over economic growth. After this most recent trip to Moscow, it appears Xi is taking 2 steps forward and 1 step back on human rights.

This position held by Russia and China also directly undermines the Responsibility To Protect initiative of the United Nations:

“The Responsibility to Protect has three “pillars”.

  1. A state has a responsibility to protect its population from mass atrocities;
  2. The international community has a responsibility to assist the state to fulfill its primary responsibility;
  3. If the state fails to protect its citizens from mass atrocities and peaceful measures have failed, the international community has the responsibility to intervene through coercive measures such as economic sanctions. Military intervention is considered the last resort.[3][4]

R2P safeguards national sovereignty without compromising individual human rights. It states that it is the responsibility of a state to protect its citizen’s rights and in a case where a state cannot protect these rights, the international community will lend assistance.

In a case where the state refuses help or itself perpetuates human rights violations, the international community can impose sanctions and other means to deter such actions. As a last resort, the international community can use military intervention to stop “mass atrocities”.

It is not surprising that China and Russia fear an undermining of national sovereignty, as both nations have strong autocratic regimes (in practice, despite what formal democratic structures they may have).

However, China and Russia must abandon this slippery slope argument and realize there are different degrees of national sovereignty. The international community has no interest in interfering in Chinese and Russian affairs, but it does have an interest in intervening in state perpetuated human rights violations.

Not only are human rights violations deplorable on moral and ethical grounds, they also compromise regional and global security. Protracted Social Conflict theory places humanitarian grievances at the root of most of today’s armed conflicts—and this theory is overwhelmingly supported by both qualitative and quantitative analysis.

Human rights violations lead to instability, which can  create a breeding ground for terrorism. The inability to evoke R2P in Syria has led the opposition to be hijacked by extremist groups, confusing the legitimate humanitarian roots of the conflict with an opportunistic power grab. This has made assisting the Syrian opposition much more difficult than it otherwise could have been.

Ultimately, China and Russia have the same goals as the U.S. and Europe—prosperity and peace through an open international system. This is not the Cold War, where the two sides were so ideologically opposed that only one could survive (capitalism v. communism). Eventually, China and Russia will have to learn that in order to protect their interests, limits must be placed on national sovereignty.

A useful mechanism for checking national sovereignty already exists in R2P; the next great challenge will be getting China and Russia on board with this initiative.

Hopefully it does not take a large terrorist attack in Russia or China to open these countries eyes to the interrelation of human rights violations and global insecurity, but for the time being it seems that these two countries have (unsurprisingly) not changed their positions on national sovereignty and R2P.

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Conflict Watch: Protracted Social Conflict and Preventative Peacebuilding

I usually focus on a specific conflict on Tuesdays, but today I would like to do something a little bit different. I want to focus on the possible benefits of scaling up preventative peacebuilding operations around the world, specifically by USAID and the U.S. D.o.D. by focusing on D.I.M.E (diplomatic, intelligence, military, economic) intervention.

This post highlights a recent project of mine, similar to my post on Flexible Credit Lines (FCL). I will pull out some choice quotes from a recent paper of mine, and then provide a link for the full thing for anybody interested. It is a bit long, but the introduction summarizes the whole argument very nicely

“War is expensive, both in terms of economic and humanitarian costs. There was a time in history when war was a profitable venture. War was an opportunity to mobilize a nation’s factors of production, and through greater productivity and taxation a war could help jump-start a stagnant economy (think of post-depression WWII production in the U.S.). While these wars tended to be very violent, they were at least “tractable”; fighting remained mostly on agreed upon battlefields, and the war was eventually ended by a binding treaty which all sides respected.

Post WWII, and more specifically post-Cold War, globalization has meant that interstate war is no longer justifiable on economic grounds. There is too much value in an open global economy for war to possibly be more valuable than peacefully trading with other countries. This shift did not occur by sheer luck or technological advance, although surely those factors played a role. It was political will that led to the globalization movement. Starting with the Marshall Plan after WWII, countries became too invested in one another as economic and political partners to pursue warfare between states. This has led to a drastic decline in interstate wars since WWII.”

“Most new wars, however, fall into Edward Azar’s theory of Protracted Social Conflict (PSC). According to Azar,”deprivation of human needs is the underlying source of PSC“. The sources, and therefore solutions to PSC often lay within a state, rather than across state borders, although this is not always the case, particularly in the context of regional insecurity. PSC also shifted some of the focus away from overtly violent conflicts, towards identifying potential future conflict zones based on underlying humanitarian grievances.”

“Not only different interests, but also differing views on trust, courtesy, and respect make international negotiations very delicate processes. “Multilateral negotiation is more difficult than domestic policy making because the relevant actors come from very different backgrounds, and they represent nations that have occasionally worked out very different procedures for handling similar problems”[1]. Different approaches to negotiation are more likely to work in different scenarios.

Traditionally, low context societies have engaged in “bargaining”, a negotiation process in which the other side is considered an adversary and, through cost-benefit analysis, the negotiator is expected to come up with the best terms for his constituents as quickly as possible. Trust is built after the fact by successful implementation of negotiated agreements.

High context societies, on the other hand, respond much better to “problem-solving” approaches to negotiation. This approach involves creating a relationship before meaningful negotiation can take place. Trust is a precondition for a durable agreement, not an end result of one. Problem solving “…is accomplished by and through intergroup contact involving a mutual search of issues, alternatives are developed  from both groups’ points of view, and evaluation of solutions is completed by the combined groups.” Essentially, problem-solving focuses on making mutually beneficial arrangements which are revealed through open dialogue.”

“Consider negotiation from an inter-temporal point of view. Period T is the period when a PSC boils over into an armed conflict. Generally, “bargaining” would begin during T (track I negotiations), while “problem-solving” would have already been in effect, through Track II and III negotiations, in Period T-1. Before bargaining even has a chance to succeed, trust must be built; therefore a negotiated resolution through bargaining will occur, at soonest, in period T+1.

Preventative peacebuilding, through problem-solving, which has been building relationships since T-1, allows meaningful negotiations to take place during period T (and hopefully have already created enough of a relationship between parties to avoid armed conflict altogether). Between T and T+1, bargainers from low-context societies become agitated with the lack of progress being made, while the high context side believes the low context side is being “disrespectful”. Likely, no trust will be built, or the trust will be very tentative.  Low context negotiators should place more emphasis and resources in preventative problem-solving, as it is much easier to build trust between opposing sides before violent conflict begins. By having the requisite relationships in places, much death and human suffering can be avoided.

The aim of peacebuilding is to foster social, economic, and political institutions and attitudes that will prevent these conflicts from turning violent. In effect, peacebuilding is the front line of preventive action.”

“The U.S. has a long history of nation building as a means of promoting national security and economic interests. Starting with the Marshal Plan after WWII, the connection between having strong geo-political and trade partners in all regions of the world has dominated American foreign policy.

This problem is clear when comparing the budgets of the U.S. Department of Defense and USAID. “The differences in approach and culture between the U.S. Departments of State and Defense are stark despite the fact that these organizations are members of the same team and share related national objectives.”  Defense has a budget much larger than the department of state. In 2012, USAIDs budget for was $51.6 billion, which was dwarfed by Defense’s $553 billion dollar budget.  Now admittedly Defense and State are not substitutes for one another, but complements; they are each more effective in different stages of conflict. Their budgets should not be equalized by any means, but when the D.o.D. has a budget ten times larger than USAID, and all the theoretical and empirical evidence points to the benefits of preventative peacebuilding when dealing with PSC, clearly some redistribution is in order.”

“The most significant aspect of scaling up will be paying for more diplomats and greater poverty reduction based aid. By having more diplomatic relationships in potential conflict areas, preemptive peacebuilding can save immeasurable money and lives compared to traditional military intervention and post-conflict reconstruction. The peace that comes from preemptive peacebuilding should be a more durable “positive peace”. By engaging in problem-solving, the root causes of PSC will be revealed, and the necessary trust needed for any negotiation to work will be forged simultaneously. It is also much more easy to justify the huge military budget of the U.S. if the military has a more pronounced and effective peacetime mandate.”

There you have it folks, my most recent work PSC and Preventative Peacebuilding. I did the best job I could of summarizing the main points of a larger work. For those of you who are interested, download the link at the end of this post for the whole paper.

POSC 5560 Final Paper