The 2016 American Presidential Election and its Foreign Policy Implications


Wednesday 17 August

Burns 2

 All Welcome


Derek Shearer Stuart Chevalier Professor

Derek Shearer
Stuart Chevalier Professor


Ambassador Shearer is the Stuart Chevalier Professor, Diplomacy and World Affairs at Occidental College, and heads the McKinnon Center for Global Affairs. He served in the Clinton Administration in the Commerce Department, and then served as Ambassador to Finland (1994-97). After diplomatic service, Amb. Shearer was a fellow at the Economic Strategy Institute and then at the Woodrow Wilson Scholars Center in Washington, DC. He served as a foreign policy advisor to Vice President Gore during the 2000 Presidential campaign and to Senator Hillary Clinton in the 2007-2008 Presidential primary contests. Amb. Shearer is a well-regarded political commentator, having provided contributions to a number of publications including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and the International Herald Tribune.


Award-winning production


Through a unique collaboration with Otago Polytechnic design students, Grounded offers audiences an immersive, digital theatre experience about a fighter pilot’s struggle with motherhood, marriage and being “grounded”. The central character is played by Claire Chitham, a renowned and loved New Zealand actor.

When an unexpected pregnancy grounds an F16 fighter pilot, she is repurposed to flying remote-controlled drones in the Middle East from an air-conditioned trailer in the desert outside Las Vegas.

Instead of soaring through the blue, she is now sitting in the grey – working twelve-hour shifts hunting terrorists on screen by day and being a wife and mother by night. As the pressure to find a high-profile target builds, the boundaries between the desert where she lives and the one she patrols half-a-world away begin to blur.

Winner of a coverted Fringe First award (2013), this is a haunting, extraordinary and topical play about war, family and empathy.

Fortune Theatre Company

Environmental Uncertainty and Dynamic Peace: The intersection of the PhD projects of Suazo and Tobia

By Adan Suazo and Nick Tobia

Nick Tobia: So, Adan. You’ve been here a few weeks now. How is the research coming along and exactly what are you doing?

Adan Suazo: My project focuses on the relationship between environmental variables with demand structures in peace processes. In current paradigms on peace negotiations, I argue, anthropocentric variables occupy the entirety of the imaginable demands and concessions available to conflict parties. By anthropocentric, I refer to those variables that are fully within the purview of human conception, control and intervention. Such variables are expressed in familiar phraseology: how much territory to surrender, secede, or autonomize; when, how and how many armed fighters to disarm, demobilize and reintegrate, and; what kinds and how much power to share? In all of these, the common thread is the supremacy and primacy of human institutions.

NT: I see where you are going with that. How then do you perceive environmental variables? Are these beyond anthropocentrism of current negotiation paradigms?

AS: In terms of the quantitative nature of their biophysical availability, I would say that there has been a proven decrease in the amount of renewable resources that currently falls outside of human manoeuvrability.  A good example to give is freshwater, which in many cases around the globe has fallen beneath generally-acceptable levels.  My concern is that climate-driven scarcity will produce an environment of uncertainty within which peace research and practice must balance structures of supply and demand.

NT: I take this to mean that environmental variables, which potentially inform the demand structures in negotiations, are uncertain. Does this mean now that demand structures in a certain negotiation are susceptible to this uncertainty?

AS: My immediate answer is yes, based on the overall trends that are altering demand structures around the world, namely population growth, urbanization and globalization.  Peace processes operate within these spheres, and it is important to understand how societal demand structures may seep into the exercise of balancing supply and demand paradigms within a peace effort.  An additional concern to take into account is related to the temporal nature of a post-conflict redistribution process: Will redistribution schemes hold on a long-term basis given the above-mentioned reduction in renewable resources?

NT: Ah! Since peace processes are, in a sense, a process of redistribution, then attention to the temporal dimension opens current peace negotiations to future and distant redistributions in yet uncertain and unknowable conditions.

AS: I think the literature on environmental security tends to neglect the likelihood of post-conflict revisionism as a real plausibility.  As it stands, the literature’s focus lies on the immediate mechanics of peace, whereby it seeks to understand a peace effort as a fixed phenomenon that will cement the longevity of peaceful coexistence.  To assume that conflict parties will be content with such a redistribution scheme on a long-term basis is inaccurate, in view of the real possibility that less bartering manoeuvrability (less supplies) will lead to more disagreements in a post-conflict setting.  This is, I think, where our research comes together, in that your framework allows for the plausibility of creating analytical tools for the study of post-conflict behaviours, which is something that is currently not envisioned by the literature.

NT: I think you’re spot on. In my project, I question the ability of post-conflict societies to undertake new ‘redistributions’ through mechanisms established at a definite and certain temporal moment – a peace agreement. While typical peace processes contemplate future and several instances of post-conflict redistributions in the form of political resolution, all such resolutions operate also as reinforcing endorsements of a fixed political order established in fixed peace agreements.

AS: Jaha! Not only do environmental variables change over time…

NT: …but even actors, their relationships with other actors who themselves are in flux. Naturally, their demands evolve as well. In my project, the focus is on the actors and the broader negotiation structure itself. A perennial issue that our liberal peace paradigm grapples with, for example, is the problem of splinter groups, and how to prevent splintering. Yet in my approach, cycles of splintering and coalescing are a natural political phenomena that occur when we contemplate collective identities, whether in the context of armed or unarmed groups. How does the fluidity of collective identities modify negotiation structures, and the subsequent validity of ostensibly fixed peace agreements in the post-conflict setting?

AS: Therefore, foundational political orders established in peace agreement must themselves be susceptible to the flux that affects environmental variables, collective identities, and the ever changing demands of societies.

NT: Exakt! That is why your ideas on the uncertainty behind projections of environmental variables cast this cloud of unknown contingencies for which ‘fixed’ peace processes can never fully anticipate.

Thanks for sharing your research with us, Adan. Looking forward to seeing its development over the length of your PhD tenure.

Adan and Nick are both PhD researchers at the NCPACS. Coincidentally, they are also alumni of the Department of Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University in Sweden.

Research Poster Prize

In the 2016 Postgraduate Research Poster Competition, Joe Llewellyn (a PhD candidate at the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies) was recognised as one of the best in the Division of Humanities. Well done Joe!

You can see the posters selected by different divisions at the LINK.

IMG_2016-08-08 11:11:42

Maodun and Ceasefires


By Liesel Mitchell and Nick Tobia

Nick: In one of those forays into lateral thinking, I had chanced upon the concept of maodun in Chinese philosophy. It literally means spear-shield, and references the symbols of an invincible spear and an impenetrable shield. In Western-oriented binary logic, a spear that penetrates anything cannot exist where there is a shield that is impenetrable to anything as well, and vice versa. In orientalism, however, there is such a thing as four-cornered logic which allows us to transcend binary logic. These corners of logic accommodate four possibilities: the proposition of the spear alone is true; the proposition of the shield alone is true; both are false; and both are true. Particularly on the last corner, wherein the spear and shield exist simultaneously, maodun is most clearly understood as contradictory unity. The most familiar illustration of maodun is the simultaneously Communist and Capitalist character of modern-day China. A frequent extension of this is the One Country, Two Systems policy of Deng Xiaoping, most visible in the unificationof Hong Kong with mainland China. A peek around similar fields of philosophy and logic yielded scholarship on dialetheism and paraconsistent logic, both of which also contemplate the simultaneous possibility of contradictory propositions.

The concepts of maodun, dialetheism and paraconsistency are essential to my project that challenges the binaries that are embedded in liberal peace logic. The primary target of the challenge is consensus, understood both as a modality of decision-making in peace negotiation and as a decision that terminates the negotiation. In both instances, consensus grapples with a participation conundrum of inclusion and exclusion, both in its negotiations and its applicability in post-conflict society. Is it at all possible to imagine peace processes that are both inclusive and exclusive at the same time? Is it possible to imagine peace agreements that are both final in the sense of decisiveness, yet at the same time contingent? Is it possible to imagine resolutory decisions that embody both agreement and disagreement? How do these imaginings generate new possibilities for consensus-seeking and decision-making in peace processes?

Years ahead of finding the answers to these questions, I ran into Liesel Mitchell, in the kitchen and we found ourselves talking about maodun while setting the time in the new microwave. Her brief ruminations on the idea of maodun and paraconsistent logic yielded a staggering insight.

Ceasefires are considered mere intermediate stages, or navigation points on the way to a final negotiation destination – peace agreements. Ceasefires by themselves, curiously, also represent a paraconsistent event that embodies both the agreement and disagreement of conflict parties. A ceasefire, as in the case of the Koreas, is both an official state of war and an enduring though precarious peace. Understood in these terms, I ask if is there something in ceasefires that can inform us on the manner by which we conduct our peace processes, both in negotiations, in the nature and form of agreements, and the post-conflict peacebuilding? If ceasefires are maodun, can peace negotiations and agreements also be maodun? Indeed, there are still many questions to ask and answer.

Liesel: While peace agreements exclude groups in order to reach consensus, ceasefires only work by inclusion. By acknowledging there is agreement between warring parties (to cease the armed conflict), it allows disagreement to remain on the table. Can a ceasefire offer a far broader scope of possibilities for all parties within the space that is ‘disagreement’, than the narrow door of peace agreements?

As Nick puts so eloquently, peace agreements are seen as the “final destination” yet we are overly concerned with a destination that doesn’t exist. The process of disagreement is the destination, and it is through the push-pull contradictory space of maodun that ceasefire can uncomfortably offer a point in the ongoing process where agreeing to disagree may be allowed to exist.

Some may consider ceasefires to be a deadlock, which implies there is no movement. However to use the case of the two Koreas again, since the ceasefire in 1953 there have been varying levels of engagement across the DMZ that separates the two. At times this has grown peaceful initiatives between the two countries, and at other times communication and negotiation has broken down. But nothing is static in this space of maodun, and maybe it’s more helpful for terms of agreement in peace negotiations to be seen as ‘constructive conflict’ rather than ‘peace agreement’. Therefore, does the perceived ‘deadlock’ of a ceasefire actually offer something quite different from the ‘lockdown’ of a peace agreement by allowing for exploration of ‘constructive conflict’?

Nick is a new NCPACS PhD researcher on the subject of Agonistic peace. Liesel belongs to the founding cohort of NCPACS postgraduate students, and is at the cusp of earning her doctorate degree in nonviolent discipline.

Editor encouragement:  A philosophical discussion that encourages, perhaps even begs, for participation.  Please feel free to comment below.

Chilcot Panel at Moot Court

NCPACS is hosting a panel discussion entitled ‘After Chilcot: The Social, Political and Legal Consequences of the Chilcot Report for Armed Intervention and War’.  The event will be held on Monday 1 August at 12 noon, in the Moot Court (10th floor, Richardson), with Professor Robert Patman (Political Studies), Associate Professor Lisa Ellis (Philosophy) and Mr Stephen Smith (Faculty of Law). The discussion will be chaired by Professor Kevin Clements (NCPACS). 

This Forum is an opportunity to reflect on some of the global lessons to be learned from the Chilcot report. The report systematically and comprehensively demolishes Tony Blair and George Bush’s justifications for embroiling the UK in the most disastrous war of the modern era. It also raises some fundamental questions about international criminal accountability for acts of aggression and wider questions about where the responsibility for war should lie in Westminster-style democracies. This forum will explore some of the social, political and legal consequences of Chilcot for nation states and the multilateral political and legal system.

See the poster below for further details.

Chilcot poster

What’s Wrong with Conflict Theory: It’s our liberal blind spot

What’s Wrong with Conflict Theory: It’s our liberal blind spot

Nick Tobia

In a brief presentation (delivered on 19 July 2016), NCPACS Director Kevin Clements posed the question on why peace and conflict researchers did not predict the global drift towards the Right. He decried the perplexing, meteoric rise of right wing hardliners such as Donald Trump and Rodrigo Duterte, the victorious Brexit discourse of “taking back control” from Brussels, and the grave consequences on a number of peace-related issues around the world. He lamented that rapid departure from an overarching discourse of inclusive cosmopolitanism, and the current slide into racism, xenophobia, prejudice and discrimination. Within these dramatic changes, peace scholarship in a nutshell finds itself flat-footed.

I offer that the “global drift” towards right-wing populism occurs within what critics of inclusive cosmopolitanism have long ago identified as the blindspot of liberalism and its various iterations. Back in 1993, a radical democratic theorist named Chantal Mouffe argued that the main shortcoming of liberalism, is that it is fundamentally not designed to decide in an undecidable terrain of modern politics. This terrain is that wherein we find a political arena of extreme plurality of identities and discourses that are not all entirely rational or reasonable. While liberalism by design always foresees a discoverable “harmonious and non-conflictual” intersection between all discourses that is obtainable through dialogue or communicative action, it is ill-prepared and shocked when confronted with irreducibly conflictual discourses. At the moment when diametrically opposed discourses leave a polity with no choice but to decide, liberalism according to Mouffe is rendered inutile because it is “blind to the specificity of the political in its dimension of conflict/decision.” By 2005, Mouffe already noted the right wing trends in European parliaments, and predicted the rise of the populist as a response to the inability of neutered and ambiguous coalition governments to definitively decide matters of importance to the polity.

Prof. Clements laments further the failings of peace scholarship in understanding emotions, the affective dimension, the mob mentality, and their consequences to peace. Mouffe and other sympathetic theorists long ago warned that the affective dimension of politics is beyond the purview of liberalism’s foundations of rationalism and individualism. The continued denial of the validity of emotions and group identifications in the political arena, does not destroy them; they simply sublimate into other forms and domains. This current era is that sublimation. That scholars like ourselves, from outside of radical democratic thought, know so little about emotions and mobs, is explained by how long we have belittled such things. Just as the liberal content of our liberal peace paradigm denies these, we too are complicit in this denials.
Now we, who identify more with the center and Left, are confronted with an emerging Right, and our first instinct is to associate these baser qualities of emotions and mobs to them. Absent-mindedly, we find ourselves belatedly doing what the Right had been doing all along on its way to generating popular support – now we are rallying around identities associated with our liberal principles, and now we are the ones drawing lines in the sand,. Except, of course, the Right is resoundingly much better at rallying around identities, and it is much better at drawing lines in the sand.

  • Nick Tobia is a research student at the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Otago.

Oh No, Not More Bombing in Syria?

Oh No, Not More Bombing in Syria?

Kevin P Clements


David Cameron the British Prime Minister has just made his appeal to the House of Commons for cross party support for British bombing in Syria. He claimed to have learned from the mistakes of Iraq but his statement was eerily reminiscent of all the old arguments for the Bush/Blair military interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.

His primary rationale is that ISIS is a threat   to the UK because the seven disrupted plots to the UK last year were all linked to ISIS or inspired by them. He then made the argument for being there because the US and France want the UK’s help and the RAF is able to carry out “dynamic targeting” with its Brimstone Missiles and RAPTOR pod.

All of this was meant to create a “moral case for action”. “If we cannot act now when France has been attacked, when would we act?”. Mmmm who needs a Brimstone missile? I thought that fire and brimstone were the preserve of the devil!!

He then went on to argue that even though there is a political process underway “we cannot wait for that to finish before degrading Isis”… and then somewhat tendentiously argued that “ every day we wait ISIS could grow stronger”.

He then argued that the UN security council resolution authorises military action-when a close reading of the text indicates that it does not.

To try and assuage critics who worry about the aftermath of more bombing he argued that “the government has a full strategy for tackling Isis, involving military and diplomatic action. Humanitarian support is a factor too” As he put it “ Aid to Syrians in refugee camps is helping to ensure they do not need to travel to Europe.”

Once again he is extremely vague about the specifics and is using the humanitarian argument to ensure that very few Syrians end up on Europe’s doors or worse the doors of the United Kingdom.

He keeps on saying that a diplomatic solution is the right one but then says   “We cannot wait for that to happen” .

There is no acknowledgement that escalating the military action will make diplomacy more problematic.

Jeremy Corbyn posed 7 questions.

1) Will British action make a difference on the ground? Will it contribute to a war-winning strategy.

2) Can the conflict be won without troops on the ground? Would the Kurds take over, or other extremists?

3) Would there be mission creep? Can Cameron rule out troops on the ground?

4) Does the UN resolution give clear legal authorisation for action? And what is being done to cut off arms supplies to Isis? And would there be a greater risk of incidents like the shooting down of the Russian warplane this week?

5) How would this contribute to an end to the Syrian civil war?

6) What assessment has Cameron been given of the impact of air strikes on the chances of terrorist attacks in the UK? And what are the chance of civilian casualties from air strikes?7) Does Cameron accept air strikes could risk more unintended consequences?

None of these are knock out questions and Corbyn is clearly uncomfortable asking them.

Cameron answered these questions by stating that there were 70,000 moderate Syrian forces able to help and they will transform the politics on the ground! He claimed that Syria has no future as long as the caliphate exists and he was willing to accept the positive and negative consequences of his decision.

The Scottish National Party was more forthright than Corbyn , and , Angus Robertson,   stated that unless there are clear answers to the SNP’s questions about political transition and who will secure the peace the SNP will not vote for air strikes.

Interestingly Julian Lewis, the Conservative chair of the Commons defence committee, says “Isis must be beaten militarily. But air strikes need to be launched alongside ground forces. In addition he said “the claim that there are 70,000 moderate Syrian opposition fighters is a revelation to him. (He’s implying it is not true.) The West has to choose between backing Assad and backing Isis, he says.

In response Cameron said that the 70,000 figure comes from the joint intelligence committee (JIC). It is an independent figure. and that his document was cleared by the JIC. This makes me wonder who is in control here!!

Another Conservative MP Peter Lilley Peter Lilley, said he needs Cameron to convince him that the Free Syrian Army exists, and that it is not just a “rag-bag group of tribal forces with no coherent force”. There are no moderates,”

So the debate continues. Here are my thoughts.

The reality is that bombing Syria will not prevent disgruntled political actors living in Europe from engaging in lone wolf or even coordinated violent politics as acts of revenge for what they perceive as unjustifiable attacks on their homeland by foreign forces. In other words it does not make Britain and British citizens more secure it might in fact make them more insecure. If this is true   Cameron’s principle argument for deeper British military engagement fails.

The Prime Minister rests his strategic arguments on resistance from the Kurds and an assumed 70,000 moderate troops just waiting to join the fight. Turkey, the UK’s Nato ally in the region is more worried about the Kurds than they are about ISIS and have been bombing them whenever they can. All external powers claim to rely heavily on Kurdish resistance to both ISIS and Basher Assad but all are unwilling to give the Kurds a separate homeland which has to be a factor in any political outcome to this brutal conflict. In fact the Turkish government has been giving support to ISIS as long as they attack the Kurds. This is the weakest part of the Cameron argument. Apart from some vague intelligence assessment, we do not know that there are 70,000 combat capable troops in Syria that are able to seize territory and replace ISIS and Assad with a more congenial political regime . On the contrary if Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya are examples to go by the successor regimes might be worse than the ones that are being replaced. If the West chooses to rely on Kurdish resistance it has to be much more critical of Turkey than is currently the case.

The Guardian has published a devastating critique of Cameron’s position from former US General John Allen . Cameron argues that there is a credible military strategy to defeat Isil in Syria as well as Iraq. As Ewan MacAskill points out, however,

“If there is, no one has told the US. In private briefings and in public testimony to Congress, a long line of senior American officers have acknowledged frustration with the battle against Islamic State. General John Allen, who was in overall charge of the US campaign in Syria and Iraq, has quit after a year.A marine commander, Lieutenant General Robert Neller, offering his best assessment of how the war is going, described it as a “a stalemate”.The US-led coalition engaged in air attacks in Syria and Iraq had by the middle of last month conducted 7,600 attacks (4,900 in Iraq and 2,700 in Syria). Their main problem is finding targets to hit. Isis has long learned the danger of deploying in mass in the open.The pilots frequently return to base without firing missiles or dropping bombs, partly they say because of fear of hitting civilians but mainly because after a year there is little left to hit. So what can the UK add? Nothing much that is not already being done by the US, France and other allies.The bombing raids do serve a useful purpose in that Isis fighters cannot move around as easily as they once did. It makes them more cautious, having to watch the sky for a drone or fighter aircraft” .

But they are not incapacitated or defeated only more cautious.

Since the UN Resolution does not specifically authorise the use of military force against ISIS Cameron   resorted to the argument of national self defence as the legitimation for the venture. This is a bit hard to argue when – apart from the two attacks on France – most European states have not been subject to direct or indirect attack from ISIS over the past 4 years.

The fact is bombing will not solve anything. It will complicate the diplomatic solution. There is nothing much left to bomb, air attacks will generate more direct and indirect suffering and more refugees, and, more importantly, it will generate more insecurity than security, which is the prime justification for British engagement in bombing. It is perpetuating a self defeating cycle of viciousness, violence and revenge.

This whole debate has little to do with resolving the Syrian crisis and everything to do with British desires to be seen as politically influential when its diplomatic influence has been diminishing since the shameful Blair years.

If the British parliament and people support UK bombing in Syria it will only serve to reinforce Britain’s diplomatic decline. It will also make it impossible for Britain to exert moral non violent leadership against all those , ISIS, the Saudis, the Gulf States, Russia , the US and France whose first option seems to be violence .

The world is desperate for some non violent and   creative problem solving rather than the application of brute force. I hope the Commons will once again vote no to more bombing in Syria.