Event: US Foreign Policy at a Populist Moment

Jake Sullivan invite 5


Newsletter 11/09/17

Apply for the 2018 Asia-Pacific Nuclear History Institute
The Asia-Pacific Nuclear History Institute is an intensive, one-week immersion course in the international history of nuclear weapons in the Asia-Pacific region co-organized with Kyungnam University. It will be hosted in Seoul, Korea, from March 4-10, 2018. This course, led by world-class historians and leading experts, will provide in-depth instruction and discussion on the evolution of nuclear technology, the origins and development of deterrence and extended deterrence theory, regional nonproliferation issues, and nuclear strategy. Applications will be accepted from: Persons enrolled in or who have been accepted to a Ph.D. program in international relations, history, political science, or an allied field, who are working towards or considering a thesis on nuclear issues; Persons  who have completed an M.A. degree in international relations, history, political science, or an allied field, who are considering a Ph.D. in one of the above fields; and persons who have completed a Ph.D. program in international relations, history, political science, or an allied field within the past two years, who have specialized on a topic related to nuclear proliferation. Applications are due no later than October 15th at 23:59 EST.
Further information can be found on the website.

Call for papers – Populism: Left, Right and Center: Graduate Student Conference
3 November 2017, PhD Academy, London School of Economics and Political Science
In 1967, a group of eminent scholars met at the LSE to discuss what was perceived at the time as an emerging phenomenon in world politics: populism. Today, populism is an ever-growing area of research for academics and has become a buzzword in politics, with the term being applied indiscriminately to personalities as diverse as Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen and Martin Schulz. Populism, however, raises as many questions today as it did in 1967: To what extent is populism a useful concept? Is it better understood as a discourse, a style, as an ideology, or none of the above? Is it a necessary concept, or is ‘the people’ simply another word for ‘the nationals’, ‘the workers’, ‘my constituents’? What are populist policies, who are the populist politicians, what are populist attitudes? The aim of this conference is to provide PhD students with a forum to discuss their research on the theme of ‘populism’ with other graduate students working in the field. Senior researchers will be invited to act as discussants on accepted papers. The concluding keynote speech will be given by Professor Francisco Panizza. To propose a paper, please send a 250-350 word abstract, along with a CV and a short bio, to Marta Lorimer by 1 September 2017; invitations will be sent out by 15 September 2017. Abstracts should include contact details and institutional affiliation. We ask attendees to submit their papers by 15 October 2017 at latest. There is no conference fee for participants. Further information on this event is available on the website.

Call for Papers – The Many Faces of War, Changing Perspectives on Armed Conflict
17 – 18 November 2017, St John’s College, Cambridge
New Research in Military History: A Conference for Postgraduate and Early-career Historians, invites historians in many fields, from those interested in the study of military technique to those more concerned with depiction and art, to present their research on the different perspectives on war over the centuries. This is the 8th conference organised by the British Commission for Military History. Its purpose is to bring together current research by postgraduate and early career scholars in the field of military history and related disciplines. Its philosophy is to offer an open and supportive forum for people with a broad range of interests – from material culture to those interested in intelligence or military technique – to meet up and share their research. Proposals (c.300 words) for papers of 20 minutes should be submitted, along with a current CV, to the organisers at bcmhnrc@gmail.com by the deadline of 1 September 2017. Proposals for panels would be very welcome but please include a panel rationale of c.250 words. More details on the website.

Call for Papers – Harvard International Security Conference
14-15 October 2017, Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Cambridge, MA
We invite doctoral students conducting research on international security to submit proposals for papers for the Harvard International Security Conference. The conference is designed to build cross-institutional relationships among the next generation of international security scholars, providing graduate students with the opportunity for feedback from peers and faculty from outside their home institutions. The conference will consist of both graduate student presentations with faculty discussants, along with additional presentations by faculty members. Conference participants will have multiple opportunities to engage and socialize with other students and faculty participants throughout the weekend, including catered meals on Saturday and Sunday, as well as a conference dinner on Saturday evening. We’ll provide accommodations and funding for travel.  For more information about the conference, and to submit applications, please visit the website. Applications are due 5 September 2017.


BISA Foreign Policy Working Group

I am very excited to participate to the BISA Foreign Policy Working Group’s second annual conference Analyzing Foreign Policy in a Complex World at the London School of Economics on 4-5 September, 2017.

I will be presenting in this panel on the 4th

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… and I will be the discussant for this panel on the 5th

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Stop by if you are around!

The Trump Project is On!


I am pleased to announce that I am joining a group of outstanding scholars in a project called: The Trump Project.

The Mission Statement of the project reads as follow:

The rise of Donald Trump to the White House in 2016 is symptomatic of dynamics that both predated his election and will outlast his presidency. This project aims at studying such dynamics: how they led to Trump’s election and what we could expect during and after his presidency. To do so the Trump Project brings together a number of international scholars with a diverse range of expertise in US politics and foreign policy. The goal is to create an international network which will provide a forum for the exchange of ideas and analyses over topical issues in international affairs. Our aspiration is to have a significant impact outside of academia by reaching out to policymakers, news outlets, the business community, and the general public.

The full list of the members participating in the project can be found here

For further information and/or to get involved please me at eugenio.lilli@ucd.ie.

Woodrow Wilson’s influence on US foreign policy will outlast Donald Trump

US President Woodrow Wilson justified the US’s 1917 entry into World War I with the famous words: “The world must be made safe for democracy.” That was exactly a century ago and marked the beginning of the doctrine known as “Wilsonianism” – broadly speaking, a conviction that the US has a vital interest in promoting liberal democratic norms abroad.

One way or another, Wilsonianism has had a prominent role in US foreign policy ever since its founder first articulated it. But now, exactly a century after the US entered World War I, another president is supposedly keen to put an end to it.

Throughout the latest US presidential campaign and during his first hundred-odd days in office, Donald Trump has repeatedly rejected traditional Wilsonian ideas of promoting US values and interests abroad. He openly questioned the idea that the US is “innocent” of foreign policy misdeeds, and on a recent visit to Saudi Arabia said he was “not here to lecture” other countries about what they do within their borders.

He’s also harshly criticised previous US policies of “nation-building” aimed at expanding the community of democracies, and even publicly praised autocratic foreign strongmen such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. He also displays contempt for liberal democratic norms such as press freedom and religious liberty.

Unsurprisingly, Trump’s statements have elicited strong reactions within and outside the US, some commentators accusing him of “making the world safe for dictators”, while human rights watchdogs call him a “real risk” (Amnesty International USA) and a “threat” (Human Rights Watch) to the post-World War II international human rights system.

But does the Trump presidency really spell the end of Wilsonianism in US foreign policy? I would argue otherwise. Yes, Trump has adamantly and consistently shunned traditional Wilsonian objectives, but Wilsonianism has been prematurely counted out before – including under both of Trump’s immediate predecessors.

Doctrines in flux

When George W Bush first ran for president in 2000, he clearly seemed to prefer great-power realism to idealistic notions such as democracy promotion. His famous 2000 line, “I don’t think our troops ought to be used for what’s called nation-building”, was frequently interpreted as evidence of a less-than-Wilsonian worldview.

It remains unclear whether Bush’s scepticism at the time was the expression of deeply held convictions or part of an effort to distance himself from the Clinton administration, which had put nation-building and democracy promotion high up its agenda. But whatever Bush’s real ideological attachments when he ran for the presidency, everything changed with the 9/11 attacks.

Suddenly, Wilsonianism was back, at least at the rhetorical level. Bush’s second inaugural address is especially full of references to Wilsonian themes. He said:

The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world. So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.

A similar dynamic played out during Barack Obama’s first term. In his early days, many observers and thinkers surmised that Obama was turning his back on Wilsonianism as a pillar of US foreign policy. They pointed to his willingness to engage personally with non-democratic governments; his administration’s slow and principally rhetorical response to the Iranian government’s crackdown on democratic protests in 2009; and the fact that he chose not to make democracy promotion a headline item of his renowned 2009 Cairo Speech, in which he set out a vision for the US’s place in the world.

But as with Bush, there are alternative explanations besides ideology.

The new president obviously had a strong interest in putting some distance between his administration and Bush’s, especially when it came to democracy promotion – an idea that had been badly tainted by Bush’s 2003 invasion of Iraq and other War on Terror policies. And as they did with Bush, events caught up with Obama.

Regardless of his personal philosophy, the outbreak of the Arab Awakening in late 2010 and its apotheosis in spring 2011 unquestionably brought Wilsonian themes back to the forefront of Obama’s foreign policy. In May 2011, Obama went so far as to say:

Our support for [Wilsonian] principles is not a secondary interest – today I am making it clear that it is a top priority that must be translated into concrete actions, and supported by all of the diplomatic, economic and strategic tools at our disposal. Let me be specific. First, it will be the policy of the United States to promote reform across the region, and to support transitions to democracy …

Now, even as we promote political reform, even as we promote human rights in the region, our efforts can’t stop there. So the second way that we must support positive change in the region is through our efforts to advance economic development for nations that are transitioning to democracy.

Then came Trump. He campaigned hard as an anti-establishment candidate, specifically was anti-Hillary Clinton. Perhaps because Clinton is a former secretary of state, Trump riffed on his supposedly extreme contrast with her into his foreign policy rhetoric: “We must abandon the failed policy of nation-building and regime change that Hillary Clinton pushed in Iraq, Libya, Egypt and Syria.”

During the campaign, his pronouncements were often discussed as the words of a radical isolationist – but any commitments he had may yet wither in the face of events.

As did many of their predecessors, both Bush and Obama ultimately invoked Wilsonian themes to attract domestic and international support for specific actions. Is it really unreasonable to think that if (or when) he’s faced with an acute international crisis, Trump will do the same? Yes, he may yet turn out to be a genuine threat to Wilsonianism – but its sheer endurance across so many presidencies implies that even this idiosyncratic, volatile commander-in-chief might not kill it off.


This article was originally published on The Conversation UK on May 24th, 2017. Link.