“It’s simply a mess,” Toft told Newsweek, also noting the ongoing war in Afghanistan—the longest in U.S. history. “We have no grand strategy for what the U.S. interests are and how to secure those interests. The U.S. loves military force; you might say we are addicted to it. Contemporary history has shown that force can only get you so far, and perhaps even profoundly, in the modern era is far less likely to achieve what you set out to achieve.”

Read more

Monica Toft on California’s potential secession

Americans have grown increasingly polarised in recent years. According to the Pew Research Center, median Republicans are more conservative than 97% of Democrats, while median Democrats are more liberal than 95% of Republicans. By contrast, in 1994 those figures were just 64% and 70%, respectively. Some scholars argue that ideological tensions have never been greater in living memory.

Read more

Artificial Intelligence Shows Why Atheism Is Unpopular — Monica Toft is an Outside Expert for the Modeling Religion Project

Originally published by Sigal Samuel in The Atlantic

Imagine you’re the president of a European country. You’re slated to take in 50,000 refugees from the Middle East this year. Most of them are very religious, while most of your population is very secular. You want to integrate the newcomers seamlessly, minimizing the risk of economic malaise or violence, but you have limited resources. One of your advisers tells you to invest in the refugees’ education; another says providing jobs is the key; yet another insists the most important thing is giving the youth opportunities to socialize with local kids. What do you do?

Well, you make your best guess and hope the policy you chose works out. But it might not. Even a policy that yielded great results in another place or time may fail miserably in your particular country under its present circumstances. If that happens, you might find yourself wishing you could hit a giant reset button and run the whole experiment over again, this time choosing a different policy. But of course, you can’t experiment like that, not with real people.

You can, however, experiment like that with virtual people. And that’s exactly what the Modeling Religion Project does. An international team of computer scientists, philosophers, religion scholars, and others are collaborating to build computer models that they populate with thousands of virtual people, or “agents.” As the agents interact with each other and with shifting conditions in their artificial environment, their attributes and beliefs—levels of economic security, of education, of religiosity, and so on—can change. At the outset, the researchers program the agents to mimic the attributes and beliefs of a real country’s population using survey data from that country. They also “train” the model on a set of empirically validated social-science rules about how humans tend to interact under various pressures.

Read more

Monica Toft Comments on Trump-Putin Summit

“Trump allowed Putin to paper over the core issues,” said Monica Duffy Toft, director of the Center for Strategic Studies at Tuft University’s Fletcher School. Instead of holding Russia responsible for the annexation of Crimea, threatening European security and meddling in the U.S. election, Trump made a “moral equivalency” argument, pitting the blame on the previous Obama administration.

“Russia’s basically been given a green light that at least the executive branch is not going to hold the Russian administration accountable,” she noted.

Read more


Perhaps the most indelible public spat between a U.S. diplomat and the U.S. military remains that between U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Madeleine Albright and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Colin Powell. Their argument might seem odd today, but at the time Albright, the diplomat, was arguing for the need to deploy U.S. armed forces in support of humanitarian intervention in the Balkans. Powell, the soldier, was adamant that U.S. armed forces should not be used for such contingencies. Powell summed up his views on the proper use of U.S. armed forces in an article for the journal Foreign Affairs entitled “U.S. Forces: Challenges Ahead.” Subsequently known as the “Powell Doctrine,” the article highlighted a U.S. foreign policy dilemma which has never been resolved: if standing idly by is intolerable, as Albright insisted, is intervening with armed force something that will generally advance or hurt U.S. interests? Can military intervention succeed, and if so, how limited might the circumstances be?

Read more

Monica Toft in Texas National Security Review — Making Academic Work Relevant to Policymakers

As the international community faces tremendous change and upheaval, and the United States undergoes shifts in its foreign and domestic policies under the Trump administration, there is a critical need for sound and relevant advice on issues of national security. A key question is, what, if anything, do national security academics have to offer policymakers? The answer is, “quite a bit.” However, academics need to understand that what policymakers need is often quite different than what academics pursue and produce. The good news is that there does seem to be movement within the academy to analyze and write in ways, and on topics, that policymakers will find useful. Moreover, engaging with policymakers will only help to make academic research more relevant and interesting.

Read more

Monica Toft in The National Interest — Why is America Addicted to Foreign Interventions?

At a time when the United States is preparing to increase Pentagon spending and escalate troop deployments overseas, an analysis of U.S. military interventions since the country’s founding highlights two important and related dynamics.

First, the empirical distribution of military interventions––that is, the deployment of U.S. armed forces to other countries––is not evenly distributed; and in fact is highly skewed, in terms of frequency, to favor the historical period following the end of the Cold War (1991).

Second, U.S. military interventions since WWII have only rarely achieved their intended political objectives. That is, the United States has lost more than won; and when it has “won,” it has generally won at a cost far in excess of what would have been considered reasonable prior to the intervention.

Read more

Monica Toft in The National Interest — On Rationalizing U.S. Foreign Policy: No More ‘Whack-a-Mole’

There has been excessive reliance on military force and interventions abroad to spread U.S. values rather than an effort to protect the country’s national security.

This is a goal which will demand patience of a historically impatient people, compromise from a nation with deeply religious and uncompromising roots, teamwork and alliance burden-sharing from a nation convinced of its unmatched power and its ability to lead in all circumstances, and a dedicated mix of resources, emphasizing economic, diplomatic, scientific, artistic and social. This is a goal that will require reserving the use of military force for protecting truly vital national interests, and as a last, not first, resort.

Read more

Monica Toft Gives a Big Think Interview

How do you end a civil war? In the movies, all you really need is for Daniel Day Lewis as Abe Lincoln to make a great speech (or Iron Man and Captain America to shake hands, depending on your definition of “civil war” in movies). But in real life, things are much more complex than that. You might need a third party that is prepared to stay there for generations. You may need to prepare for a whole new government. And this doesn’t even begin to address how to operate after a civil war. Two opposing sides must learn how to deal with each other and not enact revenge. It’s a complicated situation, so should America stay out of the conflicts and stop playing the “policeman of the world”? History argues that letting the rebels win at their own pace often solves much of the problem, says Monica Duffy Toft, whose work at the Center for Strategic Studies is made possible through funding from the Charles Koch Foundation.

Read more