Classes taught by Prof. Monica Toft

International Security

This course surveys scholarly and policy literature on international relations (IR) theory, with a focus on international security as it has evolved in the past, the present, and as it might in the future. The first part of the course introduces critical conceptual and theoretical scaffolding. For example, we will problematize the concept of “security,” take a look at the evolution of the states system from its Westphalian and colonial roots and examine the role of force and how it has changed over time. The second section will then turn to different types of warfare, including conventional, unconventional, and nuclear; as well as civil wars, or large-scale political violence that takes place within states, and terrorism. The third section turns to a series of topics on the future of security and war, including the responsibilities of states and the international community, gender, climate change, and cybersecurity.

The main objective of the course is to provide students with (1) an understanding of how the international system of states manages insecurity, conflict, and cooperation; by (2) identifying the most important features and dynamics in world politics; as well as (3) the key challenges to international security in the past, present, and into the future.

Students will read canonical texts from IR theory and security fields, and debates on such issues as security, strategy, deterrence, polarity, and the role and effectiveness of international organizations on security cooperation and conflict. Students will be provided with an opportunity to critically engage IR theory and international security by assessing the state of knowledge and together identifying new questions and approaches that might help address critical theoretical and policy challenges.

Demography and Security

By 2050, the world’s population will be bigger, but growing more slowly, shifting to the East and South, older, and more urbanized. What we don’t know is how states will adapt and respond to these changes and dynamics; they are new and far reaching. Just consider that it took 127 years for global population to reach 2 billion in 1927, but only 32 years to reach 3 billion in 1959. Moving from 6 billion to the current 7 billion (now 7.5 billion) took only 12 years. Global populations continue to grow and change, and the international system of states will need to adapt.

This course will not make you into a political demographer, which takes years of study. It is intended to enable you to understand key demographic concepts and relationships, and appreciate their implications at local, national, and global levels.

Population can be a powerful force for both security and insecurity, but the relationship is not pre-determined. Some of these changes contribute to interstate war, mass migration, political conflict, and poverty. Others increase state power and facilitate development. The implications and consequences depend on context and capacity, especially the institutions, governance structures, and political leadership that attempt to address demographic challenges.

Yet, although the makeup of a state’s population—its demography—is a critical factor in explaining the stability of states, it is often missed by both policymakers and academics until it is too late. Why is it missed? Policymakers tend to be focused on immediate crises and events, while population change happens over the longer term, in slow motion. Academics tend to favor immediate and direct causal factors in explaining political instability, war, and state death. How demography impacts societies and politics is too complex and too messy for contemporary analysis that tends to emphasize the search for causality through formal modeling and statistical methods.

Climate Change and Security

From sensational news headlines about resource wars to measured, consensus-based reports that warn of potential instability caused by climate change: the discourse around climate and security varies widely. This course will explore the evolution of that discourse from the early environment and security literature of the 1980s and 1990s to current empirical studies and government reports on the impact of climate change on national and global security. Looking at root causes, impacts, and responses to climate insecurity, the course aims to provide students with a comprehensive understanding of this complex field. By the end of this course, students will be prepared to think through policy options that consider the evidence-based security implications of issues like climate-induced migration, resource scarcity, and natural disasters.