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Documenting the "Burden of War" on Syrians

Half of the population of Syria is either outside the country or is displaced. Weatherhead Center Faculty Associate Jennifer Leaning is co-directing a new Lancet Commission to investigate the public health consequences of this epic war.

Image of Syrian Kurdish refugees traveling

The war in Syria is remarkable in its cumulative destruction of a society in a short six years. The toll on human life has been heavy; the involvement of multiple states, factions, and terrorist groups undermines resolution; the instigation of forced migration unprecedented; and the unfettered aerial bombardments against civilians—and perhaps most viciously, the deliberate destruction and targeting of health care facilities, health care workers, and patients—have defied all norms of war.

Achieving an accurate picture of the human cost of this conflict has been an extraordinary challenge for aid agencies and health officials. In an effort to understand the impact of the war thus far, last winter the British medical journal the Lancet convened a commission of medical professionals to investigate and report on this conflict through the lens of public health. In Lancet parlance, a commission is always anchored at an elite university; in this case the American University of Beirut (AUB). In an early publication to set the stage, The Lancet-AUB Commission on Syria (the Commission) has called Syria “the most dangerous place on earth for health care providers,” and notes that the many reported atrocities “undermine the principles and practice of medical neutrality in armed conflict.”

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A Change in the Winds for Software Piracy

Weatherhead Center Fellow Michael Impink shares his research on the effect of business factors on software piracy in high-growth countries.

Cartoon of pirate ship in a storm

Depending on the industry, piracy either stifles economic growth or fosters innovation. In many technology and pharmaceutical industries, piracy impedes innovation because of its deleterious effect on profits, whereas in the fashion industry, piracy drives participants to produce the latest, trendiest designs. The business strategy of software producers, intellectual property owners, and computer device manufacturers has a substantive impact on piracy, not fully captured in the current literature. My research focuses on how business factors—the competitive landscape of device manufacturers, the evolving strategy of intellectual property owners, and the shift away from traditional licensing models—affect intellectual property rights and software piracy in high-growth countries. Read more about A Change in the Winds for Software Piracy

Hard Times for Soft Power: A Q&A with Joseph Nye

Harvard political scientist reflects on a career of reframing power politics for a more complex, interdependent world.

Image of Joseph Nye at the Manshel Lecture

Last December, the Weatherhead Center recognized the upcoming retirement of University Distinguished Service Professor Joseph S. Nye, Jr. by dedicating the 2016 Manshel Lecture on American Foreign Policy to him. One of the most influential foreign affairs scholars of our time, Nye served as Center director from 1989 to 1992—though his roots at the Center trace back to its infancy in 1961, when he was a research assistant to Director Robert Bowie.

Nye's accomplishments run deep. He began his distinguished career as a Harvard faculty member at the Kennedy School of Government in 1964, and became the school's dean in 1995. He held security appointments in both the Carter and Clinton administrations, and his thought leadership has influenced heads of state and policy makers around the world. He is perhaps best known for coining the term “soft power,” which describes the ability of states or institutions to attract and persuade others through noncoercive means.

The Weatherhead Center sat down with Nye to discuss the fate of soft power in the context of current US foreign affairs—and also asked him to share his memories of early days at the CFIA. Read more about Hard Times for Soft Power: A Q&A with Joseph Nye

Looking for Green in the Desert, an Irishman is Lured to Bahrain

In his new book, Paradoxes of Green: Landscapes of a City-State, Gareth Doherty, assistant professor of landscape architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, captures the tension between staying green and being sustainable.

Photo of Bahrain

To Gareth Doherty, there's no such thing as a single color "green." There are just too many hues and variations to commit to one label. Doing fieldwork in Bahrain, a desert nation in the Persian Gulf, he found a palette of colors, each imbued with the history, social dynamics, and politics of the island nation. Even when they live in a desert, people need green. On his daily walks across this arid, thirty-mile-long island, he documented the persistent presence of green, from green-painted roofs and doorways to a flourishing of scrub in the desert after a brief rain shower.

Because people hunger for green space, states and individuals will go to great lengths to get it, taking steps that are at odds with sustainable development. Doherty investigated the resources required to keep Bahrain green, and explored the facts and myths of how a country lost its fresh water and its iconic date palm groves over the past century. His fascination with fieldwork also has led him and his students to the Bahamas to study the sustainable development of an island archipelago, and to Brazil, where states experience different amounts of rainfall and seasonal blankets of green.

The Weatherhead Center for International Affairs asked Doherty about his year in Bahrain, and what he’s discovered about how people use and respond to the various colors of green in their landscape. Read more about Looking for Green in the Desert, an Irishman is Lured to Bahrain

A Life in the Margins: Understanding the Roma Experience

In recognition of International Roma Day, Weatherhead Faculty Associates Jacqueline Bhabha and Jennifer Leaning, and their colleague, Roma Program Director Margareta Matache, discuss the annual conference and their team’s research on a disenfranchised people.

Image of Roma painting

In one of the popular Madeline children’s stories, the well-known redheaded French schoolgirl runs away with her friend Pepito to join a caravan of Gypsies who train them to perform in their traveling circus. At first they are thrilled not to have to go to school or brush their teeth. But when they become homesick, the Gypsy mother sews them into a lion costume, effectively kidnapping them.

Of course it ends well, with a rescued Madeline exchanging farewells with the affectionate Gypsy mother and children and returning to boarding school.

Is this a harmless children’s adventure story or does it perpetuate an enduring stereotype of criminality and indifference among a little-understood ethnic group? The educational crisis of Romani children (pejoratively referenced as “Gypsies”) is just one of many research topics spearheaded by a faculty team from the François-Xavier Bagnoud (FXB) Center on Health and Human Rights at Harvard.

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Now That TPP Is off the Table, What's Next for NAFTA?

Political economist Marc Melitz weighs in on what the United States has to lose when trade agreements come undone.

Graphic of NAFTA auto industry imports and exports

After President Trump withdrew the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement earlier this year, it seemed that NAFTA was next in his crosshairs.

But soon President Trump is expected to take a measured approach to the issue of trade and step away—at least temporarily—from his threats to dismantle the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) by signing an executive order calling for a comprehensive study of US trade imbalances. The Trump worldview has consistently blamed foreign trade deficits, especially those with China, for job losses here at home. He has wanted to take down NAFTA to purportedly save American jobs, calling it “the single worst trade deal ever approved in this country.” Read more about Now That TPP Is off the Table, What's Next for NAFTA?

From Rome to Rwanda: The Centuries-Long Effort to Define Civil War

A new book by Harvard historian David Armitage unearths two millennia of thinking about a most ignoble type of war.

Image of Romulus and Remus on a coin

If you live in a developed country, you are among those enjoying the “Long Peace,” a period marked by the absence of large scale interstate war since the end of 1945. It is the longest period of such calm in modern history. During this same time period, however, the world’s pockets of conflict have moved away from the frontiers and turned, instead, inward. 

“The Long Peace stands under a dark shadow—the shadow of civil war,” writes Harvard historian and Weatherhead Center Faculty Associate David Armitage, whose new book, Civil Wars: A History in Ideas tracks the evolution of human understanding of civil war over two millennia.

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Veganism: An Elegant Solution to a Host of Global Problems?

Based on the “speed talk” Nina Gheihman presented at Global Food Plus 2017, February 24, 2017, which was recorded live on Facebook.

Image of Nina Gheihman

The year 2016 was hailed the “Year of Veganism.”[1] In the last year alone, Google searches for the term “vegan” increased by 32 percent; the World Health Organization classified processed meat as a carcinogen in the same class as cigarettes[2]; and a survey by Nutrition Business Journal found that more than a third of people consume dairy and meat alternatives regularly.[3] While many people still see veganism—the non-consumption of products derived from animals—as an extreme cultural practice, it is clear that veganism is no longer a marginalized social movement. This brings up the intriguing sociological question: How does a fringe cultural practice become mainstream? Read more about Veganism: An Elegant Solution to a Host of Global Problems?

Elite Cues or Social Cues? The Formation of Public Opinion on Foreign Policy

A new study challenges long-held beliefs about what influences the public’s positions on foreign policy.

Image of people forming the shape of a person

In July 2014, a wave of violence erupted in the Middle East, as Israel responded to a barrage of rockets from Gaza by launching airstrikes, and eventually, a ground incursion intent on degrading Hamas’s military capabilities. In Washington, both Democrats and Republicans firmly sided with Israel: the Senate passed a unanimous resolution blaming Hamas for the conflict, and both prominent Democrats and Republicans gave staunch defenses of Israel’s right to defend itself.  

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The Power of Restraint in the “Golden Age” of Arms Control: A Tribute to Thomas C. Schelling

Image of Thomas Schelling teaching at Harvard

Thomas Schelling’s passing last month represents a great loss to many in this community and beyond. He leaves a remarkably rich intellectual legacy. Among his many achievements, Schelling’s influence on the theory and practice of arms control cannot be overstated. He produced his seminal works on the subject—Strategy and Arms Control, published with Morton Halperin in 1961, and Arms and Influence, published in 1966—during his twelve years in residence at the Center for International Affairs (1959–1971). I had the pleasure of spending time with Professor Schelling at his home in Bethesda while researching my book on the history of the Center in 2005. Two things stood out from that conversation then, and perhaps even more so now in retrospect. First, Schelling was deeply committed to policy-relevant research, and his long life of work reflects that fact. Secondly—and relatedly—his work on the efficacy and control of nuclear weapons remains a singular benchmark for research in the field and a profoundly erudite and intelligent guide for today’s policy makers, just as it was for their predecessors some sixty years ago.

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