A Losing Battle: International Law Against National Law

On July 14, Russia’s Constitutional Court found that the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) is legally binding, yet does not have the ability to override the Russian constitution. Thus, when a conflict in laws arises, Russia “can step back from its obligations” to avoid violating the constitution. Such an approach is reminiscent of the U.S. stance on the International Criminal Court (ICC) that promotes sovereign behavior ahead of international arrangements. While the U.S. has a tradition of prioritizing sovereign judicial control, the decisions of other states to supersede international decisions with national directives poses a major threat to the long-term viability of international law. Continue reading

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Yemen and Coalition-Based Interventions

In October 2014, we saw the United States lead a military intervention in sovereign Syrian territory. Despite the lack of U.N. authorization, the United States justified its forceful intervention on the grounds that the coalition of regional actors validated the violation of Syrian sovereignty. I argued that this helped contribute to an ongoing shift where the fulcrum of legitimate force is moving away from the U.N. regime and towards regional coalitions.

The United States, with its unmatched presence in the international arena, has a unique ability to define legitimate behavior (if only because no country is willing or able to stop the United States from carrying out its vision of international law). However, if the United States had enforced its vision of international law on the international community, the decision to retract its global footprint seems to have left a vacuum in its wake.[1]

As the lines defining legitimate international force have blurred between the United Nations and regional coalitions, the actual use of force, legitimate and otherwise, seems to have intensified. Non-aggression seems to be slipping away into a bygone era of Pax Americana. With the relaxed standards governing interstate military behavior, regional coalitions are becoming the authorizing mechanisms for “the maintenance of international peace and security.” Continue reading

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Sovereignty in the Age of International Intervention

The international community needs to decide on how much it values the importance of state sovereignty. While human rights abuses or insufficient military capacity against internal threat may compel an international intervention, unsolicited interventions cannot coexist with the present international notions of territorial integrity. Moreover, changes in the expectations surrounding the post-intervention sovereign entity need to accompany the shifting norms on sovereignty. Continue reading

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Out of Control: Managing non-State Militias

            Recent conflicts in several failed states have emphasized the role of non-state actors and paramilitary groups. Militarily weak political organizations in Ukraine, Iraq, and Libya have all relied upon non-state forces beyond their control to advance their interests. While outsourcing military capabilities can buoy weak governments in the short term, the difficulty lies in transitioning control over these independent forces down the road. Ukraine and Libya both took very different routes, and both have seemed to be successful. However, looking to the disparate groups of non-state forces in Iraq, neither the tactics employed in Ukraine nor in Libya offer a viable strategy for Iraq. As such, the options available to the Iraqi government are far more constrained, and will complicate the centralized government’s ability to regain a monopoly on the use of force. By looking at the methods for managing powerful non-state actors in Ukraine, Libya and Iraq, we find that the available strategies for exerting control over these non-state forces are limited based on the identitive makeup of the population in question. In particular, the more fragmented the national political identity, the more constraints that governments face in reestablishing military control. Continue reading

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The Obama Doctrine: A Rational Foreign Policy

The Obama administration has pursued a foreign policy strategy of engaging states on the outskirts of the international community and working to negotiate agreements that would end these states’ diplomatic isolation. For example, on May 6, the U.S. lifted a ban that has lasted over fifty years, and has issued ferry permits for travel between the United States and Cuba. The most ambitious component of the engagement strategy is the potential for a negotiated agreement by the end of June, which aims to constrain Iran’s nuclear program and put an end to Iranian isolation.

In pursuing this policy of engagement, the administration has received heavy criticism from political detractors levying charges that the government is neglecting to sufficiently protect U.S. interests. Those who defend the Obama strategy, on the other hand, characterize the outreach to peripheral players such as Iran, Cuba and Myanmar as “courageous” measures. In early April, the administration responded to the attacks by clearly outlining its perspective on the Iran negotiations in a New York Times interview with Thomas Friedman. In the interview, President Obama not only defends the Iran negotiations, but also outlines his administration’s foreign policy approach, or the “Obama Doctrine.” Continue reading

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Ebola and the Allure of Nationalism

Note: This post is intended as a thought-article, and is less empirically driven than most of my blogposts. If you have data relevant to points in the article below, please feel free to reach out and share them with me. 

The international response to the outbreak of the Ebola virus in Africa reflects the persistence of state nationalism. While the international community moves towards an increasingly internationalized society, distinct national identities are unlikely to disappear in the foreseeable future. Continue reading

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Airstrikes in Syria: Legitimacy of Regional Coalitions


At first glance, the U.S.-led coalition’s airstrikes against ISIS in Syria seems to fly in the face of international law and undermine state sovereignty norms. However, the inclusion of many regional Middle Eastern countries help cache the justification in terms of the operation’s necessity for the sake of regional stability. This coalition’s legitimization strategy reflects a larger effort to reinterpret state sovereignty norms in a way that allows for the use of force under regional interventions. Continue reading

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ISIS: No Good Options

Embracing the responsibility of global leadership, Barack Obama has pledged U.S. leadership in the fight against ISIS. Thus far, President Obama has set clear guidelines that the United States would provide advisory and air support, but would not be sending in ground troops. This tactic minimizes domestic opposition to a policy that should effectively safeguard U.S. military personnel from suffering significant casualties. The road elected to eradicate ISIS will not be easy, and the United States has few good options. Continue reading

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The Conflict No One Talks About: A Window of Opportunity for Azerbaijan

If Azerbaijan wanted to retake Nagorno-Karabakh, now would be the time to do so. The Armenian-dominated de facto state has been a festering wound in the Azeri national psyche ever since Azerbaijan lost Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding provinces in the Nagorno-Karabakh War following the fall of the Soviet Union. During the last two decades, the quest for the ‘liberation’ of the Armenian-occupied region has been a primary determinant of Azeri national policy as well as the backdrop against which most of the country’s political discourse takes place. Continue reading

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MH17: Shooting Downs Hope for Separatist Independence in Ukraine

Until this past week, Western sanctions against Russia and Ukrainian separatists were largely symbolic. No one wanted an escalation, and from the lukewarm nature of the western response, the United States and Western Europe did not believe that the Russian-backed separatist violence warranted serious intervention. Continue reading

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