Here's a fun project for the readership. This should keep you busy through the weekend. I was reading a book chapter by Stathis Kalyvas (.pdf) and came across his definition of civil war, which will be familiar to those of you who have read this book:
Civil war can be defined as armed combat taking place within the boundaries of a recognized sovereign entity between parties subject to a common authority at the outset of the hostilities.
This got me thinking about Afghanistan and whether or not we can define the conflict in Afghanistan as a civil war. Words like "authority" and "sovereign" seem to me to be in need of exploration (assuming we agree with the definition offered by Kalyvas). Even "outset" is tricky. That in turn got me thinking about Iraq as well. How would we describe the conflict there? Maybe we would say "conflict" is the wrong word and that "political violence" is more appropriate. I don't know myself, but I am interested in the thoughts of the readership.
Update: So I asked a serious social sciency question related to current wars for the readership to mull over the weekend, and I get ... a bunch of inane crap about the mosque they want to build in the old Burlington Coat Factory in Manhattan. Thanks, gang.
I start my week with diffusion on my mind: why do tactics, techniques, procedures and strategies migrate from conflict to conflict and from military organization to military organization? One of the reasons this subject is on my mind is the publication of my friend Michael Horowitz's new book by Princeton University Press. I just bought The Diffusion of Military Power: Causes and Consequences for International Politics for my Kindle. Don't let the fact that Mike is my friend and teaches at my alma mater fool you: he is widely considered one of the smartest young security studies scholars in the United States. (Check out this article of his on the Crusades in International Security.) He has also been writing about diffusion for some time, and I find his thesis persuasive. ("My theory, named adoption-capacity theory, argues for any given innovation, the financial resources and organizational changes required for adoption govern the system-level distribution of responses and influence the choices of individual states.")
I can't say the same for Laleh Khalili's article in the new International Journal of Middle East Studies, which I just read this morning. On the one hand, I really appreciate the time and attention Dr. Khalili has devoted to considering counterinsurgency from a left-of-center, Russell Square perspective, although a lot of what she has to say seems mired in a post-colonial narrative that makes it tough for her to consider counterinsurgency operations in another context. Most of us counterinsurgency scholars, granted, prefer to consider counterinsurgency theory and operations from a purely pragmatic perspective, examining operations and strategies without considering the colonial context in which many of these operations were carried out in history -- and there are rather obvious scholarly weaknesses to this approach.
On the other hand, I find Dr. Khalili's attempts to link counterinsurgency as practiced by the United States and its allies to "counterinsurgency" as practiced by the Israel Defense Forces in the Palestinian Territories only expose her lack of understanding of the U.S. military. I feel I have a pretty good understanding of the debates and movement that brought counterinsurgency to the fore in U.S. military doctrine, training and thought, and I can't recall the IDF having ever been used as a reference point in those debates. The lone exception to this would be when folks use the IDF's performance in 2006 in southern Lebanon as a warning for what can happen when military organizations allow their "conventional" skills to atrophy while engaged in long-term low-intensity combat operations that demand a different skill set, but that's pretty much it. If anything, the adoption of population-centric counterinsurgency by the U.S. military has caused U.S. military officers and analysts to cast new doubts on the efficacy of Israeli strategies and tactics in the Palestinian Territories. (And in southern Lebanon, as my buddy Dan Helmer points out.) I looked through Dr. Khalili's extensive endnotes and didn't see the U.S. military's counterinsurgency manual referenced once. Maybe that's because you can't look at the way the United States wages counterinsurgency warfare and the way Israel occupies the Palestinian Territories and determine shared paternity. The tactical and operational preferences of the two armies are just too different, and I suspect the political aims of the combatants -- the Israelis wish to stay; the Americans wish to train up local forces and leave -- determine some of that. I just moved offices here at CNAS, but as soon as the e-mail is back up and running, I plan to write to Dr. Khalili and see if she wants to expand on this for the readership, because it is, at the least, an interesting topic for discussion.
I am about to board a plane this afternoon that will take me to East Tennessee and a week or so spent with friends and family. I’ll be visiting friends in Memphis and Nashville in addition to doing a little climbing and kayaking. My dissertation, ever-present, will be along for the ride.
Before I go, though, I wanted to link to this pithy criticism of population-centric counterinsurgency that was posted on The Monkey Cage. I recommend you all take the time to read it, because it is both short and elegantly summarizes some of the recent scholarly research on counterinsurgency. (I think the post fails to recognize that population-centric counterinsurgency could include strategies that both seek to protect the population as well as strategies that seek to control the population, but this is a minor quibble. I do not think that Kalyvas, though, was writing about control of terrain so much as he was of control over the population.)
I think advocates and practitioners of counterinsurgency get unfairly tagged as an insular bunch closed to competing theories or criticism. This strikes me as unfair for any number of reasons. First, the earliest theorist-practitioners of counterinsurgency in this particular era never claimed to have the blueprint for the way counterinsurgency should be practiced. Gunner Sepp and Dave Kilcullen both published articles on best practices based on historical evidence mined from previous successful (and unsuccessful) counterinsurgency campaigns. Both authors never claimed to have cracked the code: they basically said to the junior officers who were reading their articles, “Hey, dude, I’m not going to tell you there is only one way to skin the cat, but here are some things that counterinsurgents have done through history that have proved useful.”
Second, if counterinsurgency as practiced by the U.S. Army and Marine Corps has developed into some kind of rigid step-by-step process, we’re not correctly applying the doctrine. Even tactical light infantry doctrine, like FM 7-8, allows for leaders on the ground to shape their tactics and operations depending on variables such as the mission, enemy, time, troops, terrain, civilians on the battlefield, etc. FM 3-24 is no different and in fact stresses the need for leaders to remain flexible and to adapt the doctrine to the war – not to try and force the environment to fit the doctrine.
Third, I think some academic critics of counterinsurgency doctrine and strategies mistakenly assume that many of theorist-practitioners who write about counterinsurgency will be as fiercely protective over their theories as, say, the political scientist Robert Pape is about his theory on what causes suicide terror. I’m not trying to pick on Pape – he is a brilliant guy, and I admire him professionally and personally (we debated on CNN once, and afterwards, he was really gracious) – but you would be hard-pressed to find any evidence that could convince him that his particular theory about what causes suicide terror is incorrect. Theorists and practitioners of counterinsurgency are not, for the most part, trying to get tenure or to get published in the American Political Science Quarterly: they are trying to win a war. Contemporary counterinsurgency doctrine developed as a pragmatic response to the operational difficulties of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As I explained recently to my friend Chris Preble, who disagrees with me on most things, counterinsurgency – population-centric or otherwise – cannot afford to become some unfalsifiable theory like Marxism or supply-side economics. If we lose the war in Afghanistan and ten years from now, you hear me saying, “Oh, if only we had thrown more troops into the equation, we would have been successful,” you would be well within your rights to wonder whether or not I am more a charlatan and counterinsurgency “evangelist” than social scientist and pragmatist. Afghanistan, like Iraq before it, is not about whose theory is the most elegant – it is about what works on the ground.
No serious theorist or practitioner of counterinsurgency does not welcome the scrutiny that has been applied to existing theories, doctrine and strategies. The recent research on counterinsurgency conducted by political scientists, economist, historians and others is of uneven quality but exciting in its scope and scale. My boss John Nagl may seem pretty enthusiastic about counterinsurgency doctrine, and the two of us have our disagreements on a regular basis about how counterinsurgency might be applied in Afghanistan, but believe me when I say that John is not trying to defend FM 3-24 in front of a tenure committee: he is trying to find pragmatic solutions for political and military decision-makers. Here’s one example: A few weeks ago I told John how I thought a lot of recent research – including my own research in southern Lebanon and Afghanistan – had really called into question some of our earlier assumptions about the utility of social services in counterinsurgency campaigns. I told John how on second thought, the provision of social services probably benefited the insurgent in a way it does not benefit the counterinsurgent. John nodded his head, said, “I think you’re right,” and walked back to his office. This is not a man held slave to things he wrote or believed years ago.
The past few weeks have seen a rash of newspaper pundits dismiss counterinsurgency out of hand while simultaneously failing to consider the costs, benefits and risks of alternate courses of action. That really annoys me. But I certainly do not begrudge the scholars who have tested our existing doctrine, assumptions and strategies through historical research, economic models, new or ignored case studies, etc. Some have even gone the extra mile and have proposed alternate courses of action for Afghanistan – which may come in handy should the president at some point decide to abandon his current policy or strategic goals. I consider it part of my job as a researcher employed by a think tank – with one foot in the world of academic research and one foot in the world of contemporary operations – to translate a lot of this new research for policy audiences and military officers. Which, I must admit, is a pretty sweet gig.
For now, though, I am off to God’s own country, where for the next 10 days counterinsurgency theory and operations will only be discussed over a grill and with a PBR tall boy in hand. I trust the readership will hold the fort down both here in Washington, abroad in Afghanistan, and wherever else you may be.
UPDATE: Prof. Nagl weighs in: "The twin pillars of FM 3-24 are "protect the population" and "learn and adapt", in that order for a reason. The doctrine is doctrinaire about the first pillar for a reason; a representative democracy cannot adopt the Roman method of destroying the province to save it. Other than that first principle, everything is up for discussion -- and in fact, the "Paradoxes of COIN" highlight the requirement to continually learn and adapt!"
I received a note last week from a former USAID administrator lamenting the fact that while the U.S. Department of Defense annual budget remains comfortably north of $700 billion, the U.S. Department of State struggles to keep its measly $58 billion per year. There are a lot of reasons why it's easier to pass a mammoth defense budget than to protect money reserved for foreign aid and diplomatic operations. If U.S. foreign service officers were constructed in as many congressional districts as the F-22, for example, I suspect we would have a lot more congressmen fighting to increase their ranks.
But in their excellent book Buying National Security: How America Plans and Pays for Its Global Role and Safety at Home, Gordon Adams and Cindy Williams offer another explanation:
The State Department's dominant culture -- the Foreign Service -- takes pride in [the department's] traditional role as the home of US diplomacy. Diplomats represent the United States overseas, negotiate with foreign countries, and report on events and developments. Diplomats, from this perspective, are not foreign assistance providers, program developers, or managers. As a result, State did not organize itself internally to plan, budget, manage, or implement the broader range of US global engagement ... State department culture focuses on diplomacy, not planning, program development and implementation.
They go on to lament that "Foreign Service Officers increasingly have responsibility for program planning, budgeting, and implementation, tasks for which they receive minimal training."
There are a number of ways in which military organizational culture changes, and the literature on the subject is extensive. (For an introduction, you can hardly do better than Theo Farrell and Terry Terriff's The Sources of Military Change: Culture, Politics, Technology.*) Strong leadership and emulation of other organizations are two ways in which change comes about, and external shock is another. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have, to a large degree, functioned as external shocks that have changed elements of the U.S. military's organization culture. I could be wrong, but I do not think those wars have had a similar effect on the Foreign Service.
*There is, of course, a much larger body of "rationalist" explanations for military change and innovation, starting with this book and this book. I am pretty well read in the corpus, but the best guy to explain the various explanations dispassionately is my buddy Mike, who is wicked smaht and who I am meeting for beers in about half an hour. (Yes, I know what time it is in the afternoon, but give me a break: I have just returned from Saudi freaking Arabia, and happy hour will begin this week when I want it to.)
No one has ever explicitly told me this is part of my job, but I have always thought that one of the more useful things think tanks can do is to mine the world of the social sciences (and academia more broadly) in search of those theories and ideas that -- if proven true -- can and should have a big impact on U.S. policies. On my way to Abu Dhabi, I was reading Greg Gause's The International Relations of the Persian Gulf, and the author makes a pretty bold claim:
[Oil] was not the primary driver of any of the Gulf Wars ... [Regional] states acted more against perceived threats to their own domestic stability emanating from abroad than to counter unfavorable changes in the distribution of power or to take advantage of favorable power imbalances. They chose their allies not on classic balance of power considerations, balancing against the strongest regional state, but on how their own domestic regime security would be affected by the outcome of regional conflicts.
This is, to me, a classic example of a theory that, if proven true, should have major policy implications -- especially as we deal with an empowered Iran -- that you shouldn't need me to explain. I am still reading the book, but so far, Gause has made a compelling case.
I really need to do some editing today and have spent too much of the workday instead reading two documents. The first is the charge sheet of Capt. Mark Hamilton, USCG, which you can read here and which is totally NSFW (.pdf). (h/t Ricks) Officers carrying on sexually with subordinates is normally abhorent, given the obviously unequal nature of the relationships, which can lead to any number of abuses. But some of the things the U.S. Coast Guard considers to have "dishonored and disgraced [Capt. Hamilton's] position as an officer" are quite hilarious when read in the bureaucratic language of a DD Form 458.
The second document is the one you should actually spend your time reading this afternoon. I was tipped off to Jenna Jordan's "When Heads Roll: Assessing the Effectiveness of Leadership Decapitation" (.pdf) by an item on a NYT blog. (I made the mistake of googling "Jenna Jordan". Google, instead, "Jenna Jordan uchicago".) Jordan's findings support a lot of the conclusions that Matt Frankel has reached and which I blogged on a few weeks back. Some of her findings are not particularly surprising: Jordan demonstrates, for example, that smaller and younger organizations are more vulnerable to decapitation campaigns. But what I found interesting was her finding that decapitation campaigns often had a counterproductive effect. (Jordan measures the degredation of groups targeted by decapitation campaigns against groups not targeted by such campaigns.) Her really important and very serious and please-someone-in-the-Obama-Administration-read-this conclusion:
Decapitation is not ineffective merely against religious, old, or large groups, it is actually counterproductive for many of the terrorist groups currently being targeted. In many cases, targeting a group’s leadership actually lowers its rate of decline. Compared to a baseline rate of decline for certain terrorist groups, the marginal value of decapitation is negative. Moreover, going after the leader may strengthen a group’s resolve, result in retaliatory attacks, increase public sympathy for the organization, or produce more lethal attacks.
If I could make some constructive suggestions, I would ask Jordan to both a) increase her sample size, which is smallish and probably why she labels her findings "initial" and b) do some research demonstrating the effect of decapitation strategies when paired with broader, more comprehensive counterinsurgency or counter-terror strategies and the effect of decapitation strategies when conducted in isolation from other initiatives.
From Lee Smith's The Strong Horse: Power, Politics, and the Clash of Arab Civilizations:
This is a book about Arab poilitics, society, and culture, which is to say this is a book about some Arab idea and the force they have on how people live from day to day in the region. I have tried to discuss those ideas as dispassionately as possible, although I recognize that the main thesis -- that violence is central to the politics, society, and culture of the Arabic-speaking Middle East -- is likely to cause unease. Nonetheless, the idea that people naturally prefer the strong horse to the weak one is this part of the world seems to me unassailable; it is impossible to understand the region without recognizing the significance of violence, coercion, and repression. That doesn't mean that I think the Arabs only understand force -- a charge frequently leveled by many critics against, for instance, the Bush administration. It just means, I think, that force is at the core of the way most Arabs understand politics, and that therefore there is no way to understand how the Middle East works without understanding the concept of the strong horse. It is not a moral judgment but a description.
A few weeks ago, in an interview I conducted for the blog with Deb Amos, I linked to a review of Lee Smith's new book that had been written by Max Rodenbeck, the Economist's longtime Middle East bureau chief. The review was uncompromising in its brutal criticism of Lee's book, and Lee -- who I met in Beirut in 2005 -- took some offense at my linking to it. Despite the fact that I made clear in the post that I had not yet read Lee's book and could not pass judgment on it, Lee perhaps thought I was endorsing the criticism. So I offered to give him some space on the blog to respond to Rodenbeck but never heard back from him. I then actually sat down and read the book. It's well-written, and the reportage is often engaging. But I had a major objection to the above thesis and asked Lee if he would be up for the kind of Q&A sessions I have held with other authors. Lee very politely declined, which was his right, especially since he knew that I could not offer the kind of whole-hearted endorsement I gave this book or this book or this book.
What was the problem I had with the book? I had two, really, and I do not want to get lost in the forest on account of the trees, so I'll stick to addressing the major theme. The first question I would have had for Lee would have been, "What is so Arab about the strong horse thesis?"
I know the quote about the strong horse comes from Osama bin Laden, but if you are going to write a book about how one people -- the Arabs -- live their lives according to this underlying principle, should you not also explain how other peoples are different? I asked Lee if he had ever read a book I often cite on this blog, The Logic of Violence in Civil War by Stathis Kalyvas. There are two ways of thinking about popular support, Kalyvas explains: "One way is to think of it as an attitude, preference, or allegiance, and the other is to emphasize behavior or action."
When studying civil wars and insurgencies, a funny thing happens when you start measuring popular support in terms of the latter: "The higher the level of control execised by an actor, the higher the rate of collaboration with this actor -- and inversely, the lower the rate of defection."
We all, then, more or less obey a "strong horse" principle in conflict environments. Kalyvas found this to be true everywhere from my home in East Tennessee (looking at violence during the U.S. Civil War) to his home in Greece (using microcomparitive evidence taken from the Greek Civil War). Political loyalty is less endogenous than it is continually shaped and re-shaped depending in large part on which faction or party exerts control over an area. When Lee argues Arabs obey a "strong horse" principle, he is right -- but his thesis isn't unique to the Arabs.
The second problem I have with Lee's book is what I believe to be an underdeveloped understanding of American force and its limits. About three years ago, I was having a beer with a friend in Kramerbook's when Lee walked in. We all three knew each other from Beirut and soon began talking about the intransigence of the Syrian regime. Lee shocked us by suggesting quite seriously that one option would be to bomb the presidential palace in Damascus or perhaps the residence in Latakia. I had breakfast with the same friend on Easter Sunday, and I checked with him to make sure I had remembered this conversation correctly. (I had.) What shocked me is that Lee had not seemed to think too seriously about the political effect he intended to achieve with this act of force. Coercive strategies and the force that make them possible are viable options, sure, but entire books have been writtenexplaining how the coercive power of the threat of violence largely goes away once the violence is actually exercised. Forget the international outcry or the domestic consequences of an act of war absent congressional consent -- my worry is that bombing the presidential palace in Damascus would not significantly affect Syrian behavior and would only serve to highlight the limits of American military power. (Kind of like when Hizballah took over West Beirut in 2008 and we ... parked a U.S. Navy destroyer off the coast of Lebanon. The way that act read on the streets of Beirut was not "America is strong" but rather quite the opposite.)
But here is Lee, at the end of his book, conceding that "foreign powers cannot impose political solutions in the Middle East" but arguing that we should be ready to liberally use military force in the region in order to strengthen Arab allies. "Americans ... should understand that he who punishes enemies and rewards friends ... is entitled to rule." It is often said that there exist no military solutions in the Middle East -- only political solutions. "For foreign powers," Lee argues, "the reverse may be true."
Holy Clausewitz, Batman! So we're just supposed to use military force and hope folks get the message? Drop some bombs and wait for the desired political effect?
When Kalyvas writes about control and collaboration, he is talking about exercising real control over a population. The kind of control the U.S. Army exercised with tremendous resources and manpower over Baghdad in 2007. Lee is actually quite critical of counterinsurgency, as he thinks it necessarily leads to negotiations with people he feels the United States has no business talking to. ("We rightly refuse to have relations with groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, but if we continue to see our struggles in terms of COIN, in due course we will have no choice but to open up relations with all these so-called non-state actors.") He also think it distracts from dealing forcefully with Arab regimes since COIN advocates often argue on behalf of sub-national engagement strategies.
But I have served in two U.S.-led wars and studied many others, and I cannot help but agree with Gen. Sir Rupert Smith that force, when exercised by the United States and other powers, has very real limits. When I read an editorial in this morning's Wall Street Journal arguing that the Obama Administration is not serious about stopping Iran's nuclear program, for example, I have to ask (along with Jeffrey Goldberg) where I might find a viable military alternative to the current course of action. What is the military alternative, and is it credible?
I'll conclude with this: if you're going to make a case for the use of violence to realize a political end, you're not going to find me in the back of the room wearing a Code Pink t-shirt and waving a banner. But you will find me with my hand politely raised asking how, exactly, the use of force is meant to achieve the political end. What are the interests at stake? What are the resources available? What are the desired end states? What are the risks and possible unintended effects? How are we mitigating those risks and unintended effects, and what contingency plans are we developing for when things go wrong? (And things will go wrong.) And what is your plan, by phase, for how force will be used? By all means, let's have a conversation about the use of force. But it has to be a mature discussion, and you better think through the questions I just asked. Because hope is not a method -- not for the Obama Administration, and neither for those who casually recommend the use of force in the political sphere.
Much to my amusement, this post on the utlity of quantitative analysis caused quite a stir in the international relations blogosphere. I don't know if folks in security studies just don't have a sense of humor or if it's true what Kissinger said about how university politics are vicious precisely because the stakes are so small. But what I think happened is that Stephen Walt read my post, chuckled, and his chuckling did two things: 1) it brought a lot of people to this site who were not aware that the posts on this blog are meant to be light and irreverent, and 2) it opened up an old fault line in security studies between traditionalists like Walt who aren't so impressed by quantitative analysis and the Young Turks and political economists who have pushed to make it ascendent in political science departments across the United States. I have about as much interest getting involved in these scholarly disputes as I do catching the Ebola virus. But I did find some of the reaction pretty amusing. Like the fact that Hein Goemans, a brilliant scholar at the University of Rochester, was writing comments on my blog at 5:17 on a Friday afternoon. (Hein, buddy, it's happy hour. Put down the TI-89, get off the internets and go drink a beer.) Or the fact that Cranky Dan Drezner was left in a cursing, sputtering rage over at his Foreign Policy blog. (I was particularly hurt that Drezner didn't see the humor in my post, as I have always found his willingness to hold forth on the peoples and politics of the Arabic-speaking world and Iran without any time spent in the region or training in its languages to be hilarious.)
In the end, though, I commissioned one of this blog's regular readers, "Scott Wedman", to write a response to what I had written. What follows is good stuff. I am sorry that folks got their proverbial panties in a twist about a post that was meant to be funny, so hopefully this will make up for things. (Though curses to you all for making me publish something serious minded.)
Since others have covered many of the specifics in depth, I’ll limit myself to four broad points that I think those even vaguely interested in these issues should consider (and feel free to disagree with). Just so you know where I’m coming from, I’m an assistant professor of political science at a research university who primarily publishes on international conflict and security issues. I use both qualitative and quantitative research methods. I have also done some work that is better defined as policy relevant or even policy analysis.
First, good research is good research, regardless of method. Just criticizing one method or another out of hand is short-sighted because the more important thing is encouraging good research methods overall. While that sounds trite, it’s true. Good work asks an interesting question, utilizes new evidence or methods to answer the question, and is appropriately modest in its conclusions. Good work can be qualitative, quantitative, or game theoretic. Frankly, lots of research isn’t good work, but there’s quite a bit of good stuff out there. And much good work follows a lot of AM’s manifesto, though not all of it. What’s important is that people from across the methodological spectrum be open to sources of evidence and argumentation that fall outside what they may utilize in their research, but that may shed light on a topic of interest. Of course, that’s easier to say in theory than in practice.
Second, there is a difference between empirical social science research and policy analysis. Social science research, which lays out theories/hypotheses and then (mostly) uses evidence to test those theories/hypotheses, is potentially a useful input for those interested in specific policy recommendations. Good social science research suggests what is most likely to happen in a certain situation, based on what has happened before in similar situations. But that’s not a substitute for specific, in-depth information on the question of the day, whether it’s the consequences of implementing new sanctions on Iran, whether or not Obama’s surge in Afghanistan is likely to succeed, or something else. Social science research is one tool in the policy maker’s toolkit. And perhaps, as Drezner and others have argued, it should be used more often. But it’s not, and it shouldn’t be, the only tool.
Third, there are important benefits to using quantitative methods in international relations/security studies. The simplest is just that there are often competing theories or arguments drawn from qualitative studies on topics like the effectiveness of economic sanctions or the link between different types of political regimes and success on the battlefield. Quantitative analysis helps scholars systematically evaluate those competing claims by seeing how they fare when tested on dozens or hundreds or thousands of cases instead of just a handful or fewer (quantitative scholars will argue among themselves as well, but you get the drift). Of course that doesn’t mean a political science professor knows more about how to take a hill or how to secure a village than someone in, you know, the military, but it does mean those scholars are (hopefully) producing valuable knowledge that is based on more than their (or any one person’s) personal experience.
Fourth, international relations and security studies were traditionally very hostile to quantitative methods and formal models (the old security studies = realist = qualitative idea used to rule the day), but most of the best scholars these days use multiple methods, usually meaning qualitative analysis and either quantitative analysis or formal models. Sometimes they use all three. However, the move to multiple methods is generally not a crass ploy to get published or get tenure (and I don’t think AM meant to imply that it was). It’s a genuine recognition on the part of many scholars, and especially younger scholars, that the more tools you have in the box, or clubs in the bag, or whatever the analogy, the more evidence you can bring to bear to answer a question. And there’s no reason to exclude a type of evidence when it can help give you a new perspective on a question. There are also some questions better answered through qualitative analysis, some through quantitative analysis, and some through formal models. So the more methods you know and can use, the more interesting and varied questions you can answer. That’s just smart.
I have written a little about the utility of quantitative analysis in the field of security studies here and here. Last week, though, I finished Wall Street Journal reporter Scott Patterson's book on how quantitative hedge funds -- as opposed to "fundamental" investors like Warren Buffett -- contributed to the Wall Street collapse of 2008. Patterson ends his book with the efforts of some quants to get their analysis to abide by a code of conduct. The resulting manifesto -- written by Paul Wilmott and Emanuel Derman -- can be read here. There are some useful passages, highlighted below, which address the uncomfortable reality that elegant mathmatical formulae don't always describe messy human endeavors like the behavior of the markets -- or war, for that matter.
Physics, because of its astonishing success at predicting the future behavior of material objects from their present state, has inspired most financial modeling. Physicists study the world by repeating the same experiments over and over again to discover forces and their almost magical mathematical laws. Galileo dropped balls off the leaning tower, giant teams in Geneva collide protons on protons, over and over again. If a law is proposed and its predictions contradict experiments, it's back to the drawing board. The method works. The laws of atomic physics are accurate to more than ten decimal places.
It's a different story with finance and economics, which are concerned with the mental world of monetary value. Financial theory has tried hard to emulate the style and elegance of physics in order to discover its own laws. But markets are made of people, who are influenced by events, by their ephemeral feelings about events and by their expectations of other people's feelings. The truth is that there are no fundamental laws in finance. And even if there were, there is no way to run repeatable experiments to verify them. ...
The Modelers' Hippocratic Oath
~ I will remember that I didn't make the world, and it doesn't satisfy my equations.
~ Though I will use models boldly to estimate value, I will not be overly impressed by mathematics.
~ I will never sacrifice reality for elegance without explaining why I have done so.
~ Nor will I give the people who use my model false comfort about its accuracy. Instead, I will make explicit its assumptions and oversights.
~ I understand that my work may have enormous effects on society and the economy, many of them beyond my comprehension.
I found the humility in this manifesto to be really refreshing. What might a similar manifesto look like for those using quantitative analysis to study war? And should the U.S. graduate programs in political science (and subsets of the field, like international relations and security studies) pushing their students toward quantitative analysis be more up-front about the explanatory limits of such analysis? Anyway, borrowing liberally (read: plagiarizing) from Wilmott and Derman, here is what I think a Hippocratic Oath for Quantitative Analysis in Security Studies should look like:
A week ago, I spent some time on the blog whining about Quants and their work on counterinsurgency. Since then, two scholars -- distinguished veterans of the war in Iraq -- have told me that while they share some of my frustrations, I should make some exceptions -- especially for the work being done by Jason Lyall, Eli Berman and Jacob Shapiro. My friends are right, of course -- too often, when we don't back things up with hard quantitative analysis, we end up with faith-based policies. And I have spent the morning reading the latest article in International Security by Christine Fair and Shapiro and it is ... well, quite excellent.