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Insight on Syria: What Are Putin's Motives?

Russia’s direct entry into the Syrian conflict in September 2015 was spurred by a plethora of motivations. Russian scholars Rawi Abdelal and Alexandra Vacroux unpack the various rationales. 

Image of Putin, Assad, and others

By Rawi Abdelal and Alexandra Vacroux

Fourth in a series that asks Weatherhead Center affiliates to examine the dimensions shaping the Syrian conflict.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has confounded American policy makers with his agenda in the Middle East for at least the past decade. Russia’s stance has varied in its accord with Western policies, at times seeming to align—as in Libya and Yemen—and other times shirking, by showing indifference toward Iran’s nuclear program violations. Western diplomats have long puzzled over Putin’s real aims in the region and whether or not he could ever be a reliable ally. 
 
Russian airstrikes in Syria in 2015 marked a turning point in its foreign policy. Taking full advantage of the vacuum created by President Obama’s failure to intervene, Russia stepped in to lead, signaling Moscow’s new commitment to involvement in the region. Just two years prior, Putin had refused to export missiles systems to Syria, raising hopes in the West for a possible partnership that could help to stabilize the region. It was not to be. Russian officials fanned speculation and confusion about its actions in Syria. To the public, they skewed the purpose of intervention, first claiming to target Islamic State, then “terrorists” in general. In fact, Russian bombs fell on anti-Assad rebel groups, some of whom were armed and trained by US intelligence agencies. Thus began a protracted “proxy war” between the United States and Russia that continues today.

Putin is now entering his fourth term as president, buoyed by high levels of public support. Syria is facing its eighth year of conflict, and is now a devastated country, in large part due to the deadly Russian bombing strategy that destroyed densely populated areas and many thousands of Syrian lives. Last December, Putin and Assad together declared victory over Islamic State and announced the eventual reduction of Russian armed forces. Nevertheless, the proxy war rages on, with Russia’s continuing air and ground assaults against US-backed rebels. 

Taking Syrian intervention as a pivot point in Russian foreign policy, the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs asked Faculty Associate Rawi Abdelal and Alexandra Vacroux—director and executive director of Harvard’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, respectively—to demystify Putin’s overarching goals in the region, and to consider what they might mean for future relations with the West.... Read more about Insight on Syria: What Are Putin's Motives?

Global Oncology in Rwanda

A case study in best practices, Rwanda’s commitment to cancer treatment demonstrates how a state can utilize private resources while safeguarding national ownership.

Image of Burera district, Rwanda

By Darja Djordjevic

Darja Djordjevic, now a postdoctoral fellow in the Weatherhead Scholars Program, worked as a MD/PhD student in the Burera district of Rwanda and in Kigali during 2010–2015 when she was a Graduate Student Associate at the Weatherhead Center. As a medical volunteer, she worked directly on the pilot cervical/breast cancer prevention program in Burera, which was developed through a transnational partnership between the Rwandan government and Partners In Health, an NGO based in Boston. Her ethnographic fieldwork contributes to the yet nascent anthropology of cancer in contemporary Africa.

Last summer, two major pharmaceutical companies, Pfizer and Cipla, reached an agreement to sell sixteen standard chemotherapy drugs at very low cost (purportedly only slightly higher than the manufacturing cost) to six African countries: Rwanda, Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, and Nigeria.1 This negotiated deal also included a plan for top American oncologists to simplify cancer treatment protocols, which an IBM team would then make available through an online, open-access tool. 

This development signaled an important moment in the politics of global health, one of growing awareness and advocacy around cancer in Africa and the Global South. While this particular deal was a positive and overdue development in the battle long-fought by care providers across the world who look after poor people with cancer, we have to wonder for how long such a deal will last, alongside other pressing concerns. Further, how does this initiative fit into the broader political economy of a profit-driven pharmaceutical industry always in search of new markets, with Africa being a potentially massive one? 

... Read more about Global Oncology in Rwanda

When Should Children Be Allowed to Work?

A comparative study in human rights compliance in Bolivia and Argentina by Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow Lorenza Fontana and Jean Grugel.

Image of young boy shining shoes

by Lorenza Fontana and Jean Grugel

When we think about child labor, what often comes to mind are images of dirty, poorly dressed children—digging in mountains of trash, carrying heavy loads of bricks or crops, or disappearing in dark mine tunnels. Yet working children are a heterogeneous group that also includes children helping out in domestic labor, family shops, or subsistence agriculture, and adolescents undertaking their first steps into the labor market.

While child labor is generally perceived as bad for children and efforts toward its elimination are pursued by the international communities, in certain contexts—and particularly in countries of the Global South—this is a culturally accepted and sometimes prized practice, considered fundamental for basic household production. In certain countries, working children themselves have created unions and mobilized to ask for fairer labor conditions and greater protections rather than child labor elimination. These gaps between international and domestic views on child labor have made the task of regulating the issue under human rights law particularly challenging for international organizations.... Read more about When Should Children Be Allowed to Work?

Striking a Balance: Straight Talk on the Global Economy

Harvard economist Dani Rodrik details the downside of hyperglobalization, and calls for a better balance between global rules and national autonomy.

Image of shipping containers

by Michelle Nicholasen

For more than two decades, economist Dani Rodrik has warned about the dangers of what he has called “hyperglobalization.” He has long argued that national economies and domestic policies should have priority amidst a rising tide of unfettered globalization and open markets. Today we have some evidence that he was right. Our race toward “one world economy” has produced consequences in the form of global social inequality and populist or extremist political movements, for example. Rodrik envisions a way to keep bringing down trade barriers while maintaining the integrity of the nation-state. His latest book, Straight Talk on Trade, is a synthesis of his monthly columns for Project Syndicate, and functions as a roadmap of Rodrik’s prolific analyses. The Weatherhead Center spoke to him about his long view on world economies.... Read more about Striking a Balance: Straight Talk on the Global Economy

Insight on Syria: The Unseen Challenges of Refugee Integration in Germany

For Syrian refugees fortunate enough to reach Germany—a model among European countries for its commitment to refugees—the day-to-day realities and the uncertainty of their futures loom large.

Image of Syrian Refugee

Third in a series that asks Weatherhead Center affiliates to examine the dimensions shaping the Syrian conflict.

Weatherhead Center Undergraduate Research Fellow Hanaa Masalmeh spent a semester in Germany studying Syrian refugee integration. Her work focuses on the formal and informal structures of integration, especially on the role of women—both German and Syrian—in the integration process. This article, written by Masalmeh, is based on her research on volunteer groups in Bavaria, Germany. Names have been changed to afford privacy to the interviewees.

Every Wednesday and Friday, Barbra gets into her blue Volkswagen and drives five minutes down the road to a small yellow house near a churchyard. After carefully parking her car and grabbing her brown messenger bag, she knocks on the door. 

Barbra is a Sprachpartner, a volunteer who makes sure that Syrian refugees are learning German. Barbra also explains the basics of German culture, helps Syrians open bank accounts, file insurance claims, and apply for work. 

A young man opens the door and invites Barbra inside. “Mohammad!” Barbra says, greeting him with a hug. “Welcome, Grandmother!” the young man responds jokingly, and Barbra laughs.

Like the majority of volunteers in Bavaria, Barbra is a woman in her fifties. The Syrian men Barbra works with are in their early twenties—young enough to be her children.... Read more about Insight on Syria: The Unseen Challenges of Refugee Integration in Germany

Life and Death on the US-Mexico Border

As an ethnographer and an EMT, Harvard anthropologist Ieva Jusionyte has a front-line perspective on tensions at the politically fraught border between Mexico and the United States.

Image of protesters on both sides of the border fence during rally

Ieva Jusionyte has always been drawn to tensions at the border.  As a graduate student, she went right to the heart of the drug and human smuggling nexus of Puerto Iguazu, a town at the tri-border area of Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina, to research how the media reported on crime. While there, she developed a deep interest in the experiences of firefighters and rescue workers, and later, in the US, trained to become a certified emergency medical technician, paramedic, and wildland firefighter. 

Most recently, she embedded herself at the US-Mexico border for a year, using her technical skills to help first responders on both sides of the divide. She reasoned that firefighters and EMTs would  face many of the human consequences of national security policy on a daily basis. In order to fully leverage her insights as an anthropologist, she felt she needed to participate.

In Nogales, Arizona, she volunteered as an EMT with the suburban fire department, responding to 911 calls—whether it was for a wildfire or for a critically ill or wounded person. Across the border in Nogales, Mexico, she delivered first aid to injured migrants and deportees on a bench in a soup kitchen, which also served as a humanitarian and legal center. Her forthcoming book, Threshold: Emergency and Rescue on the U.S.-Mexico Border will bring together the experiences of the first responders and residents of the local border communities, to take stock of the real-life impact of US national security measures.... Read more about Life and Death on the US-Mexico Border

The Cold War’s Endless Ripples

Harvard historian Odd Arne Westad contends that the Cold War lasted 100 years—and affected many more countries than originally thought.

Image of Arne Westad

As an international historian, Faculty Associate Odd Arne Westad may be best known for bringing a fresh interpretation to the Cold War in which he argues that the era began much earlier and extended much farther than popularly thought.

Those and other themes are explored in detail in a comprehensive new history of the Cold War written by Westad, the S.T. Lee Professor of U.S.-Asia Relations at Harvard Kennedy School. In The Cold War: A World History, Westad traces the broad history of the era, including what he sees as its origins and its far-flung effects.

The Harvard Gazette spoke to Westad about his perspective on the Cold War, including the forces that brought about and sustained the epic confrontation, and how it continues to reverberate decades after ending.

Q: What inspired your fascination with the Cold War?
 

A: Growing up in Norway would be a part of it. Norway in the 1960s and early 1970s when I grew up was very much a kind of border region with regard to the East-West conflict. It very much felt like that when I was a child. Then when I was just out of college I was doing a lot of work with different kinds of volunteer organizations. I went to southern Africa to work there for a while with a relief organization dealing with refugees. I did some work in Pakistan a little bit later in the mid-1980s. And that certainly also inspired me in terms of thinking about these issues, because then you got to see the impact of the Cold War in a very different kind of way. Many of the problems these people were coping with had actually been created by the Cold War in a much more direct sense than anything I had experienced where I grew up.... Read more about The Cold War’s Endless Ripples

Absences in the “Archive of Dominicanidad”

Harvard Professor Lorgia García-Peña returns to her roots to investigate the narratives that shaped a divide.

Map of Haiti and Dominican Republic

The border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic forces a conspicuous dividing line between black and non-black, respectively. How the island of Hispaniola came to be so racially divided, and the impact it has had on the formation of the Dominican identity is a central focus of Borders of Dominicanidad: Race, Nation, and Archives of Contradiction by Weatherhead Center Faculty Associate Lorgia García-Peña, Roy G. Clouse Associate Professor in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures.

The Dominican identity is highly complex, melding various ancestries from Spanish colonials, Indigenous peoples, emancipated slaves from the seventeenth century, and Haitian blacks, who are themselves descendents of the slaves of French colonizers. Above all racial affiliations, blackness has been historically the most reviled and disputed element of Dominican diversity, where many shades of “brown” have been somehow easier to embrace. García-Peña delves into the archives and oral histories to document historic, cultural, and literary efforts to erase blackness from the national identity. As a contributor to the growing discipline of Afro-Latin American studies, her research moves beyond slavery and persecution to identify the many ways in which Dominicans are embracing their multifaceted ancestries and to document the growing awareness of social inequities for ethnic Haitians and Afro-Dominicans.

Dominicans should never forget the inherent ferocity of those monsters that penetrated our homes…and even the innocence of our candid virgins destroyed. 

—Translated from the song “Canción dominicana” by Felix Maria del Monte, 1844.

... Read more about Absences in the “Archive of Dominicanidad”

Turnout and Voter Insecurity in the French Elections

Do economically vulnerable voters care more than the average voter about politics and elections—or less? Weatherhead Scholars Program Fellow Adrien Abecassis, former political advisor to French President François Hollande, offers three explanations.

Image of voter registration sign in doorway

One of the key questions in the current debate on the causes of the rise of populism is whether the economic harshness and distrust in traditional political parties increase or decrease election turnout.

This question was debated in a recent roundtable discussion, organized by the Weatherhead Research Cluster on Global Populism, on the economic and cultural causes of populism’s prevalence. Would voters struck by economic shocks—those whose futures seemed to be vulnerable, and who have lost their sense of security about their own lives and that of their children’s—tend to vote to prevent this from happening? Or would their suffering cause them to retreat and withdraw from political elections?

And indeed, the answer is not obvious: Luigi Guiso et al. found that economic security shocks significantly increased the likelihood of abstention, while David Autor et al. showed that economic shocks due to foreign trade competition raised—not lowered—voter turnout.

Without seeking to settle the debate, I would like to offer some hypotheses based on my experience as a political advisor to French President François Hollande. Of course, this question was one of importance for us: What would the most insecure French voters do in elections? Would they turn out or not? If they did, would they vote for the National Front Party? From what I observed, there is no single answer, and many dynamics are at play. But we can make some conjectures.... Read more about Turnout and Voter Insecurity in the French Elections

What We Think about When We Think of Crime

How does perceived vulnerability to crime pervade politics, markets, and democracy? Professors Jean and John Comaroff compare the United States to South Africa. 

Image of gated community

Jean and John Comaroff, professors in the Departments of African and African American Studies and of Anthropology, divide their teaching and research between Harvard and universities in South Africa. Their scholarship has focused on colonialism and the transformation of societies in the postcolonial and late modern worlds. A recent joint effort, The Truth about Crime, documents their “existential engagement” with the interplay of crime, policing, and sovereignty, in response to what they see as a rising global preoccupation. 

The Comaroffs joined the academic boycott of South Africa in the 1970s and 1980s until the transition of power and formal end of apartheid in 1994. Upon their return to Cape Town, they immediately noticed an overwhelming preoccupation with crime in South Africa. Their desire to unpack this obsession, and what it says about modernity and our relationship to the state, is the subject of their book. Together, the Comaroffs consider the economic, political, and sociological shifts that underlie modern attitudes toward criminality and how these shifts have contributed to the fear of one another, to racial violence, and to public distrust in government.

The Weatherhead Center spoke to the Comaroffs from their home in Cape Town, and asked them to tease out some of the complex relationships between crime and policing and how they affect the concept of citizenship.

... Read more about What We Think about When We Think of Crime

Insight on Syria: 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

First in a series that asks Weatherhead Center faculty to examine the dimensions shaping the Syrian conflict.

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.”

... Read more about Insight on Syria: Documenting the "Burden of War" on Syrians

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

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