Category: International Relations

The Missile Mishap That Nobody Predicted

JACQUES E.C. HYMANS, associate professor of international relations, USC Dornsife.

This op-ed originally appeared in Foreign Affairs.

The dismal failure of North Korea’s April 13 long-range missile test — it broke into pieces after 81 seconds of flight time — has also exposed the poverty of standard proliferation analyses. In the days leading up to the test, most commentators apparently took Pyongyang’s technological forward march for granted. Even the more sober voices evinced little doubt that this test would go at least as well as the country’s 2009 effort, which managed to put a rocket into flight for about fifteen minutes before it malfunctioned. Meanwhile, other technical experts regaled readers with tales of the “emerging” bona fide North Korean Read more →

The Role of Sacred Values in the Iran Nuclear Standoff

MORTEZA DEHGHANI, research assistant professor, USC’s Institute of Creative Technologies, and SONYA SACHDEVA, postdoctoral fellow in psychology, Northwestern University.

This op-ed originally appeared at Aljazeera.

Beneath the intensifying crisis over Iran’s nuclear programme is a startling disconnect between what the two sides perceive to be the target of the West’s sanctions. To the US and its allies, the sanctions aim to cripple the Iranian economy to the point that Iran’s government will realise the error of developing nuclear weapons.

To Iranians, however, the sanctions represent an encroachment on their country’s sovereignty over an issue – nuclear energy – they believe goes to the core of national identity. This view has deep historical resonance because of previous foreign efforts to undermine the nation’s sovereignty – the Western-sponsored coup of a democratically elected government in 1953 – and to interrupt scientific advancement – Iran’s quest for nuclear technology dates to the shah. For these Iranians, the country’s nuclear programme has become a “sacred value”.

What is a “sacred value”? We all intuitively feel that there are certain things and values in our lives – the right to vote, the graves of our ancestors – that we would never give up or compromise no matter how tempting the reward or menacing the threat. What’s more, to even be asked to consider a tradeoff on such matters would be an outrage.

‘Sacred values’

Sacred values play significant roles in many socio-cultural conflicts. The Israeli-Palestinian divide is a prominent example. The problem is that sacred values are beyond the reach of traditional diplomacy, which assumes rational actors weighing the costs and benefits of taking a position. Who would bargain away the sacred? But in the case of Iran’s nuclear programme, diplomacy has a chance of succeeding in upcoming talks because Iranians may consider the programme sacred only up to a point.

In 2010, we surveyed Iranian attitudes toward their country’s nuclear programme. The 2,000 participants were young (average age 30), college graduates and mostly male, a sample highly representative of the population as a whole except for the predominance of males.

We presented one group (about 1,400 Iranians) with three different tradeoff scenarios: Would they give up the nuclear energy programme in exchange for material compensation from the United Nations, under the threat of sanctions or in the absence of external pressure?

You Can’t Export American Universities

C.L. MAX NIKIAS, president of USC:

This op-ed originally appeared on

“America’s research universities have been franchising their campuses overseas, in an effort to reach students in emerging markets that seem to promise an academic gold rush. These universities would better serve the national interest by revaluing the benefits of recruiting the best of the rest of the world to the United States.

The United States’ 50 best research universities have emerged as the American asset that other nations most envy. So it was only a matter of time before other nations would begin to

Obama’s Endless Battle

MARY L. DUDZIAK, professor of law, history and political science at USC’s Gould School of Law:

This article originally appeared in the New York Times.

“The defense secretary, Leon E. Panetta, recently announced that America hoped to end its combat mission in Afghanistan in 2013 as it did in Iraq last year. Yet at Guantánamo Bay and elsewhere, the United States continues to hold enemy detainees “for the duration of hostilities.”

Indeed, the “ending” of combat in Afghanistan and Iraq appears to have no consequences for the ending of detention. Because the end of a war is traditionally thought to be the moment when a president’s war powers begin to ebb, bringing combat to a close in Afghanistan and Iraq should lead to a reduction in executive power — including the legitimate basis for detaining the enemy.

But there is a disconnect today between the wars that are ending and the “war” that is used to

Does a Play Tell the Future of Jordan’s King?

LAURIE BRAND, professor of international relations, USC Dornsife, and FAYEZ Y. HAMMAD, lecturer:

This article originally appeared at

Fahimtkum,” meaning “I get it,” (literally, “I have understood you”) became famous this time last year when then-Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali cynically proclaimed it in a speech, a last ditch effort to convince the Tunisian people that he had heard their discontent and was ready to make serious changes.

In late summer 2011, a new Jordanian political satire taking its name — “Al`an fahimtkum” (“Now I understand you”) — from the same phrase of Ben Ali’s, began running on the stage of the Concord Theatre in Amman. Using the family of a Jordanian of modest means who works as a driver for a government minister, Abu Saqr, the play’s successive scenes address a range of the country’s current political scandals and woes: from repeated references to the government’s questionable sales of state land and assets, to mocking the process by which government ministers are chosen, to raising questions about just who has been sending the baltajiyyah (thugs) to beat up protesters at opposition meetings and

An Election That Could Redirect China-Taiwan Relations

DANIEL LYNCH, associate professor of international relations, USC Dornsife:

This article originally appeared on

“In presidential elections this weekend, Ma Ying-jeou, Taiwan’s incumbent president from the ruling Kuomintang (KMT), or Nationalist Party, decisively defeated Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). With about 52 percent of the vote (compared to Tsai’s 45.6 percent and the third-party candidate James Soong’s 2.8 percent), Ma will be able to govern with a clear majority of popular support. His margin of victory was far higher than most opinion polls had predicted. Many Soong supporters seem to have decided in recent days that by voting for their preferred candidate, who is almost politically identical to Ma, they might

The Next Immigration Challenge

DOWELL MYERS, demographer and planning professor in USC’s Price School of Public Policy:

This article originally appeared in the New York Times.

“The immigration crisis that has roiled American politics for decades has faded into history. Illegal immigration is shrinking to a trickle, if that, and will likely never return to the peak levels of 2000. Just as important, immigrants who arrived in the 1990s and settled here are assimilating in remarkable and unexpected ways.

Taken together, these developments, and the demographic future they foreshadow, require bold changes in our approach to both legal and illegal immigration. Put simply, we must shift from an immigration policy, with its emphasis on keeping newcomers out, to an immigrant policy, with an emphasis on encouraging migrants and their children to integrate into our social fabric. “Show me your papers” should be replaced with “We

Is North Korea About to Come Apart?

DAVID KANG, professor of international relations and business and director of USC’s Korean Studies Institute: “The death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il marks a watershed moment for U.S.-North Korean relations. Kim will be succeeded by his son, Kim Jong-un,…