Currently viewing the tag: "Faculty Spotlight"

Our next post in the Faculty Spotlight series comes from Andrew Hess, Professor of Diplomacy and Director of the Southwest-Central Asia and Islamic Civilization Program.  Professor Hess currently teaches Southwest Asia: History, Culture, and Politics, The Globalization of Politics and Culture for Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and The Globalization of Central Asia and the Caucasus.  In his post, Professor Hess describes the curriculum changes he has needed to make to keep his courses current.

image_Hess_AndrewThe courses I offer in the fall semester deal with an explosion of complex conflicts from Eastern Europe to China.  Happily this should improve employment opportunities for future diplomats!  But the down side of all this violent activity means I need to constantly adjust course curricula.

In the interest of keeping up with all the turmoil, I am going to describe the additions to our previous semesters’ battles by trying to understand radical change in Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan and the emerging nation states along the southern edge of the former Soviet Union.  I, however, offer no guarantee on including all that may happen in Southwest and Central Eurasia: I find this region has indeed earned its reputation for being a land of unpredictability.

Diplomacy 265 (The Globalization of Politics and Culture for Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan) was originally dedicated to understanding the international and internal politics related to key diplomatic issues of the three non-Arabic language speaking nation states east of Iraq, south of Central Asia and west of India. Alas, the power of twenty-first century global change makes it ever more difficult to explain what is happening in this region on the basis of only a national analysis.

The big issue is: Why so much violence and so little in the way of diplomatic solutions in this huge chunk of Eurasia?  The answer is, no doubt, going to be complex; and among the various new explanations for this bleak situation I suggest that the intensified impact of three global trends in this sub-division of Southwest Asia have added to the forces of instability already underway in this strategically important portion of Eurasia.

Very briefly these “trends” are:

  • The absence of a balance of great powers for Eurasia as a whole has intensified powerful regional struggles on a global level (think about the states and-non government organizations who might want to take advantage of weak states);
  • Second, the widespread inability of Middle Eastern and Southwest Asian governments and societies to cope institutionally with a global acceleration of social and cultural change is certainly behind recent upheavals (which terrorist group do you follow on Pakistan’s northwest frontier);
  • Finally, what to do about a new geopolitics of energy (there is an ongoing gas revolution) for a region (the Central Eurasian Energy Ellipse) that provides, maybe, seventy percent of the world’s oil and gas resources;

And while we are talking about diplomatic problems involving commerce, we should not forget that Afghanistan is probably the world’s largest producer of heroin.

The Globalization of the South Caucasus and Central Asia (Diplomacy 267) course came to the Fletcher curriculum as a response to the increasing strategic importance of this slice of Eurasia during the period of the Cold War (1953-1991).  But the politics of the old bipolar struggle in Eurasia has now been replaced by conflicts between of new nation states now emerging from within the former body of the Soviet Union and the effort of the ruling elite of the Russian Federation to restore in some fashion the prestige of the Russian state.

Meanwhile huge technological forces associated with the economic development of all of Eurasia are linking the heartland of the Continent with the global economy: starting in the last quarter of the twentieth century the almost simultaneous growth of global oil production in the Soviet Union and the transfer under European control of high level petroleum skills into the Persian/Arabian Gulf arena set the stage for the modern geo-politics of energy in Eurasia.  So the two courses (Diplomacy 265 and 267) complement each other in the sense that great and small powers have to develop policies to defend their strategic interests in the production, processing, and transportation oil and gas.

Starting last fall, I have expanded the coverage of the 267 course to include a wider range of states along the edge of the southern frontier of the former Soviet Union.  In the west, we will argue that the Russian seizure of the Crimea is part of the larger political struggle for political power in the center of Eurasia; and it is an event that should be included within the wider Eurasian geo-politics of energy (gas supply for Europe).  At the eastern edge of former Soviet frontier we need to study the diplomatic problems of Russia’s new energy relations with China, in relation to the interests of Eurasia’s Turkish speaking states and societies.  (Uyghurs!).  And of course, I have added some new material concerning the technical revolutions taking place in the petroleum sector, where the international impact is not so clear at this time.

Finally, my current research asks, what role does the sectarian dispute between the Sunni and Shi’i versions of Islam play in the contemporary politics of Southwest Asia?

Outside of the classroom, the Southwest-Central Asia and Islamic Civilization Program involves students in the selection of speakers and the generation of discussions of key events involving Southwest and Central Asia.  When there is student interest, the Program sponsors the online journal (Al Nakhlah) as an effort to encourage students to publish their research papers.  We usually employ two student editors for this project.  And the program also supports summer research efforts for those students who are in the MALD or PhD programs and are working on a topic related to the Southwest and Central Asian courses.  Last, during the fall semester, we celebrate social and cultural cohesion at an annual picnic.

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Returning again to the Faculty Spotlight series, today we’ll read about Professor Sulmaan Khan, who is actually on sabbatical this semester.  When he rejoins us at Fletcher in the spring, he will teach The Historian’s Art and Current Affairs and Foreign Relations Of Modern China, 1644 to the Present.  He also teaches China’s Frontiers.

FRAGMENTS OF A FLETCHER LIFE 

Sulmaan KhanFall — one of those glorious New England fall days when you long to feel the wind in your face.  “We’re going outside today,” I announce to the class.  Nods of approval.  We settle down on the grass, the leaves red and gold around us, and talk of Chinese foreign relations.  Later, trying to write about it, I will forget what it was we discussed that particular day.  (It was too late in the semester for Koxinga, that crazy warrior whom Japan, Taiwan, and China all claim for their own; it was too early for Deng Xiaoping, with the pragmatism he brought to China and the carnage he unleashed at Tiananmen Square.  We could have been talking about the Taiping rebellion or we could have been talking about the Korean War — as I say, I cannot be sure).  But I will remember the red-tail.

A pair of red-tailed hawks has been nesting near Fletcher at least since I started here in 2013.  And as we talk, one of them comes soaring in upon the winds — a huge chocolate-brown and white hawk, the red tail like fire in the autumn sky — to land in the tree behind us.  I pause, mid-lecture, to point it out to the class.  For a large bird, the red-tail can be astonishingly adept at hiding; this one chooses to blend almost entirely into the branches.  I wait till everyone has seen it before carrying on.  It is important, of course, to know the details of China’s past.  But you cannot let magic pass you by, and there is something magical about red-tails.

*

As geniuses go, Bismarck is an astonishingly divisive figure.  (But then, so too is Henry Kissinger, who wrote more insightfully about Bismarck than any other historian).  I have been trying to explain Bismarck’s problem to my class on The Historian’s Art and Current Affairs: his diplomacy was too complex, too intricate for most people to understand.  There was shock, horror when his successors discovered the treaties he had made, the web of alliances and obligations virtually impenetrable to them.  Good as he was, I tell the class, he could not prepare the way for his successor.

“I don’t think he can be called good then.  That level of disorganization is unacceptable,” says one of my students.  A good leader, she explains, creates a system and grooms people who can work it.

“But is it is his fault?” I ask.  “Can you blame him if no one else was quite smart enough to understand how the treaties worked?”  This is the central argument about Bismarck, and the class — a confident, stimulating bunch — will be at it for the rest of the session.

“He could have color-coded them,” says another student decidedly.  She has, I have to acknowledge, a point there.

*

Ellen McDonald is our research librarian, and, as I invariably tell students working on their capstones, the smartest person at Fletcher.  She knows almost everything and what she doesn’t know, she knows how to find out.  She is also incredibly idealistic.  She believes deeply in the holy myths of academe, in its commitment to seeking truth, the freedoms it grants you for that quest.  She has spent time in jail for protesting defense policies she found abhorrent; she has been a foster mother to numerous children.  She is as formidable a combination of intellect and heart as one can encounter, and I always come away from conversations with her feeling inspired.

Today, Ellen is talking about elephants.

“Do you know that in the time we have been talking an elephant has been slain?” she asks.

I do know that.  In my heart of hearts, I still want to be a naturalist.

“I’ve created a research guide on illegal wildlife trafficking,” she says, punching it up.  It is an impressive piece of work.

“We have to save the elephant,” Ellen tells me.  “Are you in?”

How could I not be?

*

In spring, students’ minds turn to their futures.  For the second years, there is the job hunt.  For first years, the questions are, if not as pressing, perhaps more tortuous.  “What is the best way of using this summer to ensure I get a job next year?  Can I balance what I want to do with the responsible thing to do?  If I do something this summer and don’t like it, can I do something else next year, or has the chance been missed?”

A student has come to me with a gleam in her eye and a ramble planned: she wants to take the Trans-Siberian railway.  It is a glorious trip: she will meet people she would never have dreamt of, see Russia and China the way few people have.  For a student of international affairs, it will be a learning experience better than any internship.  I am proud that she is brave enough to reach for this.

“Take the train,” I say.  “You won’t regret it.”  I feel a surge of gratitude for my own teachers, for their wisdom in telling me to trust my instincts and take a trail even if I didn’t know where it would lead.  One has an entire lifetime to be grown-up and responsible; giddy adventure just might be good preparation for that lifetime.  At the very least, it will be fun.

She takes the train. She writes to me in Russian a few months later. She has had a grand time.

*

At graduation, one of the speakers talks about the problems the world faces: the poverty, the inequality, the death penalty and how it is still practiced in Boston.  She is passionate; she is logical; she is all one hopes a speaker would be.  “What did you think of it?” students ask later.  “We hear some people thought it might not be appropriate.”

“I loved it,” I say.  It is their day and they deserve all the congratulations coming their way — but it is wise to temper those congratulations with a reminder that there is work to be done.  “I don’t want you to get too comfortable,” I say.  “And I’m glad she didn’t let you.”

Red tail hawkI think about this as I walk back down towards the Davis Square T-stop.  I will not be back to the comforts of Fletcher next fall: a sabbatical has rolled around, and I will be off in Asia, doing research for a book on Sino-Japanese relations (at least, that’s how it starts out.  Books are living things; they become what they want to become, regardless of what you plan for them).  One needs a change to stay fresh, and I am glad for the chance to head to Japan, China, and Taiwan, to see new places and hear new things.  But I will miss Fletcher.  It is like nowhere else I know.

A shadow falls on the grass, and I look up.  Overhead, a red-tail is climbing in lazy spirals.  It circles once more as I watch, then veers off towards Fletcher and is gone.

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With today’s post, I’m returning to our occasional Faculty Spotlight series.  These posts are designed to bring out an aspect of the professor’s background or experience at Fletcher that goes beyond the basics of a c.v.  Today we’ll hear from Lawrence Krohn, Professor of Practice of International Economics, who currently teaches Introduction to Economic Theory, Macroeconomics, and Macroeconomic Problems of Middle Income Countries: Focus on Latin America.

Larry KrohnI was smitten at 17.  Deeply in love.  The University of Pennsylvania’s economics faculty, however eminent, was not my inspiration; in four years, I hardly ever saw them.  It was the subject matter itself that seduced me.  Only much later, over the years, did I discover that this strange passion, this way of viewing the world, was shared by economists of wide-ranging personalities, nationalities, political persuasions.  I suspect that my colleagues in economics at Fletcher feel just as I do.

Many individuals of humanistic persuasion, knowing economics only by reputation (often as the “dismal science”), might well wonder what sort of person could be enthralled by money and finance.  Therein lies the error: economics is only superficially about money and finance.  Its ultimate domain is that of human wants and our world’s highly constrained ability to satisfy them.  Many emotions are thereby touched; economics is about people.

The so-called economics “imperialists” among us maintain that most issues that do not appear economic in nature are indeed so at their core. I don’t share this extreme position, as it implicitly depreciates other perspectives I respect, such as the political, social, and psychological.  But I do agree that few real-world phenomena are without important economic aspects, so the tools of economics remain indispensable to all thinking persons, not least those pursuing a curriculum of international affairs!

Economic modeling daunts some students – but without good reason.  Modeling is a tool of simplification, not complication.  It reduces often complex issues to their essentials by paring away the irrelevant, while retaining strict logical consistency.  Yes, at modeling’s highest professional levels, complex math is unavoidable.  But models a Fletcher student will encounter rely on basic accounting (high school algebra with some clothes on) and a few simple, but powerful, assumptions about the behavior of consumers, firms, and governments.  Thus, fear of models is unwarranted and the intellectual reward to a modicum of concentration on them is high.

I’ve been doubly fortunate: first, to have had two entirely complementary careers — the longer one, as international economist for several global banks, sandwiched by two stints (including the present one) in academia.  As a former academic, I was well equipped for the simplification required to explain complex economic phenomena to portfolio managers who, their energy and intelligence notwithstanding, were in no way trained economists.  Conversely, at Fletcher since 2005 (full-time since 2008), I have been able to draw amply on my real-world experience in global finance.

Second, I was lucky as well to have stumbled fortuitously onto Latin America in the 1980s, despite the lack of any ethnic or other association with the region.  What a laboratory for economists that continent has always been and remains!  Its problems, like those of other middle-income nations, have been related to, but still distinct from the more familiar ones of industrial nations.

With hindsight, it is relatively easy to identify policy errors that have been made; more difficult to define optimal policies.  Whenever I deal with economic policy — even in a developed-nation context — I start from the premise that governments almost always execute policy inefficiently (often corruptly as well).  Alas, given the myriad real-world departures (called market distortions or imperfections) from market fundamentalists’ Smithian ideal, unfettered market forces also prove notoriously inefficient, and are often, moreover, perceived as unfair (admittedly, a subjective notion).

So the question becomes for each contemplated policy, how much state intervention is desirable.  Where should the line be drawn between the completely planned economy and laissez-faire?  Honest and well informed observers can legitimately disagree on the answers, which is what makes economic debate so endlessly fascinating.

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Continuing this spring’s installment of the Faculty Spotlight series, today we hear from Prof. Ayesha Jalal, who holds a dual appointment between Fletcher and the Tufts University History Department, and is the Mary Richardson Professor of History.  Prof. Jalal is spending the year teaching in Lahore, Pakistan, but when on campus she teaches Contemporary South Asia, and Islam and the West.

Ayesha JalalMisconceptions about history abound and one result has been a growing dissonance between the historian’s perspective and the more presentist views generally favored by policy makers.  Teaching “Contemporary South Asia” and “Islam and the West” at the Fletcher School enables me to interact with a diverse group of students with varied interests, ranging from development, security studies, conflict resolution, international business, and South West Asia.

Several of the Fletcher students I have taught have gone on to assume positions in the policy-making hierarchy as well the non-governmental sector.  A better understanding of history, and appreciation of the value of the historical method in particular, can help navigate the often confused and confusing nature of politics in our troubled world.

Fletcher’s vibrant international community of students, scholars, and practitioners is a perfect setting to discuss the complex issues that are bedeviling the contemporary world, whether the presence of Al-Qaeda in the tribal badlands of north western Pakistan; the specter of chaos symbolized by the rise of ISIS; or the persistence of poverty, discrimination and abject deprivation in a nuclearized South Asia.

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The next in our series of Faculty Spotlight posts comes from Steven Block.  Prof. Block currently teaches Development Economics: Macroeconomic Perspectives, Agriculture and Rural Development in Developing Countries, and Political Economy of Reform, Growth, and Equity.  It was also announced today that Prof. Block will serve as Academic Dean in 2015-2016.

Steven BlockMy interest in economics came initially from outside the field.  During my senior year in college, I took a class on the politics of hunger.  I found the topic compelling, and after graduating volunteered at Oxfam America.  A year later, I stumbled into a class on the “economics of the world food system” and I was swept away by the realization that the dry and seemingly counterintuitive theories that filled my introduction to economics curriculum could actually be applied to analyze and propose solutions to a real-world problem that mattered.  My professor in that class would later become my PhD thesis advisor, and we still collaborate on research over thirty years later.

I hope that my own teaching at Fletcher has the same effect on my students.  In my class on food policy and agricultural development, I try to demonstrate the value of applied economic theory as a tool to understand the complex and emotionally vexing issue of world hunger.  The topics that I cover in that class include the design of policy interventions to protect nutritionally vulnerable consumers, as well as interventions to generate income for smallholder farmers.  These challenges are magnified by the recognition that consumers and producers of food often have conflicting interests (that is, producers prefer high food prices, while consumers prefer low food prices).  Resolving such conflicting interests among groups in society inevitably leads to issues of political economy – another core focus of my teaching and research.

These topics also motivate much of my academic research.  In recent years (often in collaboration with colleagues at Tufts’ Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy), I’ve investigated the measurement and determinants of agricultural productivity in Africa, the roles of maternal education and economic growth on child nutritional status, and the politics of agricultural trade policy in Africa.

My broader interest in development economics stemmed from my initial interest in hunger issues.  Needless to say, hunger has its roots in poverty.  But the relationship between poverty and hunger is complex, with causality running in both directions at once.  I’m particularly interested in the potential for agricultural development to contribute to the broader process of economic development.  Thus, core topics in my development economics class include poverty, equity, and the effect of economic growth on both.  Since poverty in developing countries is disproportionately rural, development strategies that include agriculture have the potential to generate “pro-poor” growth.

While I take every opportunity in class to demonstrate the uses of economic theory in addressing these issues, I also stress the need for interdisciplinary approaches.  Towards that end, I teach a class on the political economy of growth and equity in developing countries.  Part of the motivation for the class is the recognition that while economic models can prescribe the “right” answers to policy challenges, politicians often make other choices — frequently to the detriment of a majority of their own citizens.  In this class, we explore various paradigms that seek to explain the too frequent observation of politicians sacrificing social welfare for political survival.

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Returning to our Faculty Spotlight series, today’s post comes from Cheyanne Scharbatke-Church, lecturer in Human Security.  Prof. Scharbatke-Church teaches a series of intensive short-term classes, including Design and Monitoring of Peacebuilding and Development Programming, Evaluation of Peacebuilding and Development for Practitioners and Donors, and Advanced Evaluation and Learning in International Organizations.

Cheyanne ChurchColleagues sometimes ask me why I stopped working in peacebuilding to be an evaluator.  I respond by asking: how is determining the dynamics of a conflict and its actors, and the ability of an intervention to catalyze change, anything but peacebuilding?  Understanding how change happens in complex conflict and fragile affected states, be it on issues related to corruption, rule of law, or conflict, has been the focus of my career as a practitioner-scholar.  In my opinion, this is the crux of all forms of international development and peacebuilding.

As a practitioner-scholar I purposefully straddle the theory and practice communities.  The issues, challenges, or questions I identify on the ground when working with partners such as the UN Peacebuilding Support Office (PBSO), ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI), or the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) directly feed my research and, by extension, my teaching.  Real cases are always part of class discussions to bring to light the complexity of issues.  In addition, through my organization Besa: Catalyzing Strategic Change, students have the opportunity to engage in projects that are committed to catalyzing significant change on strategic issues.

Equally, my academic work influences my practice as it enables me to not only stay current, but to critically assess the potential value of theory against real challenges.  For instance, I am leading a project, funded by the Department of State, that seeks to operationalize new approaches to corruption in the justice sector in conflict affected states.  The impetus for the project came from teaching a course on Corruption and Conflict where it was clear that the proposed solutions in academia were not bounded by the practical realities of the contexts in which these responses need to be implemented.

The courses that I teach at the School are unique in a number of ways, primarily because they emphasize skills development and are offered in a three-part series taught in an intensive format.  Working daily with students who are exclusively committed to the course creates a unique classroom experience characterized by camaraderie and a dedication to understanding how and why change happens.  This camaraderie and engagement often lead to long-term relationships with students.

As a result I am fortunate to have the opportunity to continue to work with and learn from the alumni of my classes.  Fletcher alumni now include a growing cadre of professionals who call the discipline of evaluation their profession.  At the 2013 American Evaluation Association conference, over 30 alumni were in attendance in their professional capacity.  They are found working throughout implementing actors and donors in the international community.  I am proud to say they are advancing the practice of evaluation, from which the School in turn benefits, as they act as guest speakers, offer topics for capstones, and establish internships.

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Antonia ChayesLast year, we turned the blog’s focus to members of Fletcher’s faculty.  Kicking off the Faculty Spotlight series for 2015 is Antonia H. Chayes, Professor of Practice of International Politics and Law.  Prof. Chayes currently teaches Civil-Military Relations and International Treaty Behavior: A Perspective on Globalization.  Her post is a timely piece that demonstrates how professors can redirect their research focus when world events require.

The news story about hacking Sony Pictures dominated the holiday news.  North Korea, allegedly, with its vast cyber skills, brought a major corporation to a dead halt, and moreover, exposed its seamier corporate life to a public, always voracious for gossip.  President Obama promised a proportionate response — and put blame on Sony for pulling the picture from theaters after North Korea threatened dire consequences if the picture, a silly spoof on CIA assassination efforts in the hands of bumbling journalists, were released.  Sony, and its independent theaters reconsidered, and a limited theater showing was made, accompanied by widespread home availability.  Then North Korea’s internet went down, and it has suffered short spurts of blackout.  The attribution has remained cloudy, and speculation has abounded, including the notion that a Russian group engineered the original Sony cyber exploitation simply to stir up trouble.

Then come the pundits and analysts — is this cyber-terrorism or cybervandalism?  Should this be considered another step toward cyberwar — part of the spreading inkblot of a grey area that is neither peace nor war?  In fact, this is just a minor episode in an ongoing set of cyberattacks and counterattacks throughout the world.  Banking firms have been hacked; cyber espionage from China has caused the U.S. to indict specific members of China’s military (in absentia, of course) for cybercrimes.  Have we forgotten that Estonia was brought to its knees by a cyberattack by the Russian youth group Nashe in 2007 over the removal of a statute of a Soviet soldier from the central square in Talinn?

The United States has spent billions preparing for cyberwar, yet the government lacks control of its critical infrastructure, which is most likely to be the target of an attack.  85-90% of that infrastructure in the United States and Western Europe is in private hands.  The Department of Homeland Security has been anointed to take charge of private infrastructure, and an Executive Order and a Presidential Directive have been the only means to secure support from the private sector.  Several bills were introduced in Congress to legislate minimum standards for private infrastructure, but these were defeated — even the mildest form of regulation.  Thus private industry is expected to do on a voluntary basis what it managed to defeat as a matter of regulation.  Nor it is clear which agency would run the show in a crisis — civilian or military.  The disparity between the Department of Homeland Security, whose 2015 budget request was $1.5 billion, and the combined Cybercommand and NSA, request of $5.1 billion — is enormous.

Both agencies have engaged in real world simulations, and the results have not been exactly transparent.  Some public reports, whose language is rather bland, suggest room for improvement.  And further, U.S. Supreme Court precedents such as the “Steel Seizure” case under President Truman cast a long shadow, should the U.S. government try to seize control of private infrastructure in a crisis.

The problems posed by the whole range of cyber exploitation, from cybercrime to espionage, up to attacks — are international as well as national.  There has been some progress in the NATO alliance — a Center of Excellence in Talinn, reinforcing broad concern over the attack on Estonia in 2007 and the Cyber Defense Management Board, where political, military, operational and technical staff operate at the working-level.  The Talinn manual fits cyber issues into the vast canvas of international law, and is now under revision.  At the NATO summit in Wales, September 2014, NATO announced an enhanced cyber strategy recognizing that a cyber attack might be as harmful as a conventional attack.  It affirmed that cyber defense “is part of NATO’s core task of self defense.” but added that the decision to intervene would be made on a case-by-case basis.  There is a fairly weak EU directive that urges states to take protective measures.

The Budapest convention addresses cybercrime, but in the context of urging state uniformity.  These measures, admittedly weak, represent a beginning of international cooperative action.  Many regional organizations are at similar stages.

At Fletcher, Professor Martel had been working with a group of faculty and students on several Codes of Conduct — for states, corporations, and individuals — at the request of Lincoln Laboratories.  This kind of work is the essence of Fletcher’s interdisciplinary experience.  We must honor Bill’s memory by continuing the work he so cared about.

A Code of Conduct is not yet regulation — it is a pledge of behavior whose aspiration is to change norms.  For those of us participating in the project, we hope to get widespread adoption and will be seeking foundation funding to do so.  Fletcher’s strength in both international law and cyber studies puts us in a good position to move forward.  And my forthcoming book, Borderless Wars: Civil Military Disorder and Legal Uncertainty concludes with a chapter on cyberattacks seeking more robust regulation, stating “Regulation of offensive cyberattacks cannot provide the same level of reassurance that intrusive verification of visible chemical or nuclear weapons production provides.  But the very process of engaging in a widespread international cooperative effort has a deterrent effect, and may reduce, if not eliminate the threat of attack.”

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Today’s post comes from Leila Fawaz, Issam M. Fares Professor of Lebanese and Eastern Mediterranean Studies.  Prof. Fawaz holds a dual appointment between Fletcher and the Department of History at Tufts.  She currently teaches The Arabs and their Neighbors and War and Society in the Middle East in Historical Perspective.

Leila FawazWhen I started my teaching career in the early 1980s, I used to tell my students that Turkey was not a Thanksgiving dinner, but a country of great importance.  Today, I do not need to worry about our students knowing where Turkey or other countries of that region are.  The Middle East is at the center of world affairs and every high school student, and certainly any advanced student, knows of its crucial importance to the United States and to the rest of the world.  It is unfortunate that perennial conflicts have triggered much of our current awareness of the interdependence of all parts of the globe, yet I find it deeply rewarding to teach at The Fletcher School, where students and faculty are committed to global awareness, and where we can pursue further knowledge at the highest level of scholarship.

I love Fletcher because of its openness to different viewpoints and its commitment to internationalism.  Faculty and staff are aware that our students, who come from all over the world, are our most prized charge.  Students learn from one another, expose one another to different cultures and ways of thinking, and learn to respect viewpoints that they do not necessarily agree with.  All of us at Fletcher are exposed to diverse cultures on a daily basis and are better teachers, and people, for it.  We, the faculty, come from different disciplines, which adds a rare and important intellectual dimension to our ability to communicate with colleagues who, at other schools and institutions, are dispersed throughout departments and do not have the privilege of working together closely, on a continuous basis, as we do.

Not that I ever thought I would devote my career to education.  I came to the United States in the 1970s to complete my graduate education, as so many people from other countries do, fully expecting to return to my home country of Lebanon.  I never planned to have a career, and there was no pressure on me to get more education.  Very simply, I loved to read and continued to do so until I found myself with the highest degree I could possibly get, a Ph.D.  After that, I discovered that research continued to fascinate me and teaching energized me, so I forged forward, a bit haphazardly, in a wonderful career that brought me many rewards.  The primary reward is the privilege of getting to know students who are as international and as challenging as ours are.

In graduate school, I sometimes thought that what I had to say was not important enough to express loudly, only to hear the student next to me express similar ideas with confidence.  I learned that we cannot wait for perfection to get involved and that the best way to improve oneself and others is to do just that, by following one’s passions.  Do not worry about taking “practical” courses that will improve your career.  Study what you love; you will excel, and then you can learn how to acquire any additional skills you need.  By studying at Fletcher, you’ll learn to follow your passion intellectually in a rich and energizing community, united in its love of the School and its trust in your future.

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Returning to our Faculty Spotlight series, today’s post comes from Christopher (Rusty) Tunnard, Professor of Practice of International Business.  Prof. Tunnard currently teaches Field Studies in Global Consulting and  Social Networks in Organizations, a two-part modular course.

Rusty TunnardWhat’s the connection between identifying competition and cooperation between Somali warlords, discovering patterns of collaboration in the global arms market (pictured below), finding the right people to help start a business in Tanzania, shaping the media coverage of conflict in Syria, and helping teenaged girls from Islamic countries find ways to connect and to share information on gender-based issues?  Besides being very “Fletcheresque” in their geographic and intellectual breadth, these are all topics that have been tackled by students in my class on Social Networks in Organizations, a course that I have been teaching at Fletcher since 2011.

Rusty, 1If you had told me ten years ago that I’d write a doctoral dissertation on the development of resistance networks in Serbia during the Milosevic era using social network analysis (SNA) and would later create courses in this fledgling discipline appropriate for a graduate school of international relations, I might have suggested that you seek professional help.  But that is exactly what I did, and I thank my lucky stars—and my advisors and students—for making it possible for me to undertake this journey.

One of the many fascinating things about SNA is that it is truly multi-disciplinary.  At the annual meeting of SNA practitioners, you’ll find doctors, intelligence and military analysts, mathematicians, physicists, sociologists, business consultants, anthropologists, financial analysts, political scientists, and many more.  Rusty, 2Everyone, it seems, is interested in examining how people are connected, how they influence the networks they’re in, and how those networks shape the thinking, behavior, and actions of the individuals who comprise them.  SNA has played a major role in uncovering bin Laden’s location, reducing the spread of AIDS in Africa, and identifying the key players in dodgy financial schemes (starting with the Enron case.)  Although SNA has been around in academia for a few decades, it was a very simple network map of the 9/11 terrorists that rocketed it to prominence.  This map, constructed from open-source data, showed that all the terrorist hijackers were within one step, or directly linked, to two individuals with direct ties to bin Laden, whom the government had been investigating for a year before the attack.

Since 2005, the incredible growth of social media such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter has redoubled the effort to understand how social networks form and can be used to promote political action (think Twitter and the Egyptian resistance) and increase the effectiveness of viral marketing (think Facebook, Google and Amazon).  Rusty, 3Images such as the one pictured here depict how Twitter users disseminate ideas and issues quickly around the world through mentions and retweets.  In this case, it’s a conference hashtag that has, by midday of a full-day session, spread well beyond the core group of conference attendees and followers clustered in the middle.

Two recent developments further illustrate the pervasiveness of SNA.  The Snowden revelations have, for better or worse, led to a wider appreciation of how network analysts can identify potential people of interest by looking at patterns of mobile-phone calls without using any of the content.  Elsewhere, people are using a combination of SNA and sentiment analysis (ranking the relative “temperature” of words used to describe something) to look at both the spread and intensity of ideas in such diverse applications as new-product marketing on social media and identifying potential political hot-spots before they develop, by examining how issues are being discussed and mapping their velocity and geography.

While SNA is only one diagnostic tool in the arsenal of analytic techniques, it is fast becoming a must-have skill for analysts and managers alike.  Its broad appeal may be due to the fact that it employs both left- and right-brain skills first to visualize and then to analyze often counter-intuitive networks of connections that cannot be easily addressed by other means.  And SNA can be done using data that governments, NGOs, and companies already collect.

This is an exciting field to inhabit, both academically and professionally, and Fletcher provides me with the opportunity both to teach this new set of skills and to learn from students whose passions and interests span the entire range of international relations.

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This entry in the Faculty Spotlight feature comes from Bhaskar Chakravorti, Fletcher’s Senior Associate Dean of International Business and Finance, and the founding Executive Director of Fletcher’s Institute for Business in the Global Context. He is the author of The Slow Pace of Fast Change.  He currently teaches Strategy and Innovation in the Evolving Context of International Business and Strategic Management, a module offered during the August pre-session attended by all students in the Master of International Business program.  Dean Chakravorti here describes his real-world business education and his perspective on contextual intelligence that resulted.

chakravortiFrom 1994 to 1995, I was traveling across Africa, exploring interest among various governments and telecommunications service companies in investment in the continent’s first undersea fiber-optic network.  This would be a breakthrough communication technology, with the power of connecting an excluded and fragmented continent with itself, with the world, and to this newly emerging phenomenon — that none of us quite understood at the time — called the Internet.

Given its economic heft, South Africa was among my first ports of call.  Those were exciting times for the country.  The ANC had just assumed power and Nelson Mandela had made history as the country’s first black president.  The world was suddenly considering how to connect to this hitherto isolated country and embracing a potential economic and political powerhouse.

I made what I thought was a brilliant presentation to senior bureaucrats and technologists.  In my view, I had quite convincingly made the case for South Africa to be the key anchor for a fiber-optic ring that would encircle the continent with branches taking off toward other continents.

Turns out, my case wasn’t as rock solid as I had imagined.  A senior minister took me aside the next day and asked if we could scrap the plans for a ring around Africa and just do a single cable that linked South Africa to …. Malaysia.  That’s it.  Just Malaysia.  But that makes no business sense whatsoever, I protested.  The minister explained that Mandela had visited Malaysia the previous year and had struck up a close friendship with Prime Minister Mahathir.  The two had agreed on cooperation on many fronts.  Most significantly, Malaysia had pledged help in providing voter education to South Africa, a country where nearly 18 million out of the 20 million citizens would cast their ballots for the first time, with half of the 18 million illiterate.  And now, post-election, it was critical that the bonds be strengthened further.

“But consider the economics,” I continued.  “A single link to Malaysia would be frightfully expensive and would not have the traffic to justify it.  You would forgo the chance to connect with the rest of Africa.”

The minister politely, but firmly, let me know that while I seemed smart enough, I was not as clever as I thought I was.  “You do not argue with Nelson Mandela,” he said.

Trained as an economist, this was my first small step toward an appreciation for contextual intelligence.  The linear logic of business and all its analysis could not — and should not — ignore the momentum of emerging geopolitical alliances.  Malaysia was already among the first of South Africa’s allies; there was a stronger relationship to be built.  Mandela had personally asked for this cable as a symbol and a conduit.

Still frustrated, I walked the corridors of South Africa Telkom and ran into the old guard.  These were engineers and network planners; surely, they understood economics and net present value analysis.  I told them my story.  They agreed that the Mandela proposal was nonsense.  What was needed was a fiber-optic link directly connecting South Africa to Northern Europe.  “What about connectivity to the rest of Africa?” I asked.

“Who cares about the rest of Africa?” was the universal opinion.

This was my second lesson in contextual intelligence.  The old guard was all white.  They were frightened about what was going to come next as their secluded reality had come to an end.  While their argument was couched in business terms (after all, Northern Europe was where the business would be), their real reason was history: They desperately wanted a conduit back to the old days and to some semblance of a world that they had known all their lives.  They were ready to make a “business” argument that was, in reality, an agenda that harkened back to a colonial legacy.

Yes, I was there at a true inflection point, armed with the finest analysis possible, elaborate layers of spreadsheets, and well-crafted presentations.  However, real decisions are based on myriad other factors.  In this case, there was, first, a big future envisioned by a master politician — and already a living legend — who could imagine the unimaginable.  And second, there was a past that, while it had become politically irrelevant, still had the technocratic expertise to exert a pull in an opposite direction.  If South Africa was to develop, it could not afford to ignore the technocrats entirely.

I redid the analysis.  We modeled-in the geo-political assumptions, accounted for different connectivity scenarios and their socio-political ramifications as well as economic impact.  We resumed the debate in a more holistic manner.  Context is, indeed, king.  You should embrace it, understand it, and make it central to your business model analysis; most importantly, you should not ignore or fight it.

I have taken this lesson to heart, so much so that I now run Fletcher’s Institute for Business in the Global Context.  Many students arrive at Fletcher with deep life experience that guides their understanding of centrality of context, but they aim to strengthen their business skills.  Others have rich business and technical skills, and they seek to develop their contextual intelligence.  Together, we are building a new approach to international business, one that factors in how business decisions connect with non-business factors, such as politics, history, and the human condition.

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