Dec 13 2012

2011-2012 MSc Dissertation Prizewinners announced

The International Relations Department is pleased to be able to announce the MSc dissertation prizewinners for the 2011-12 session:

MSc International Relations Philip Windsor Dissertation Prize

This was jointly awarded to John Korevec for his dissertation entitled Mutually Assured Bankruptcy: Sino-American Economic Interdependence and its Impact on International Relations and Rosalind Boycott for her dissertation entitled The United States Drone War: a case of normative contestation. An assessment of how unmanned aerial vehicles and their use by the U.S. challenge the norms for the international use of force.


Click here to read a summary of John Korevec’s dissertation

Click here to read a summary of Rosalind Boycott’s dissertation


MSc International Relations Research Martin Wight Dissertation Prize

This was awarded to Jared Skinner for his dissertation entitled Burton’s Law: Media Effects, General Elections, and Presidential Decisions.

Click here to read a summary of Jared Skinner’s dissertation



MSc International Political Economy Susan Strange Dissertation Prize

This was awarded to Ieva Kupryte for her dissertation entitled Solving Collective Action Problems in Regional Trade Agreements: The Case of the Hanseatic League.

Click here to read a summary of Ieva Kupryte’s dissertation



MSc International Relations Theory Fred Halliday Dissertation Prize

This was awarded to Sophie Chiasson for her dissertation entitled The Limitations of International Law: The Case of Targeted Strikes.

Click here to read a summary of Sophie Chiasson’s dissertation



Summary of John Korevec’s dissertation Mutually Assured Bankruptcy:  Sino-American Economic Interdependence and its Impact on International Relations

Many neo-realist scholars have long argued that the international anarchic environment prevents sustainable cooperation among states.  In regards to China and the United States however, both nations have, through their interrelated economies, created a firm status quo compelling both to avoid aggressive relations.  Although the pacifying effects of the Sino-American trade relationship appear to suggest the inapplicability of neo-realism, evidence demonstrates the contrary.  Rather, it is the exact nature of the anarchic environment, and the capabilities of China and the United States within this environment, which compel both nations to maintain their cooperative status quo.

American overconsumption and dependence on foreign investment, along with Chinese overproduction and reliance on American Dollar denominated assets, have forced both nations into a strange situation.  Neo-realism assumes that states will act rationally in attempts to maintain security, manifested in a desire to both build relative power within the anarchic international system, and to avoid dependency.  The economies of the United States and China however, have become intimately interconnected.  A failure of the Chinese economy would result in a drought of available capital for American debt management, and a failure of the American economy would result in a Chinese currency crisis accompanied by a drastic fall in demand for Chinese export goods.  The implications of either would damage the global market shares of both states, resulting in economic and political decline for both nations.

Cases of non-aggression have already been examined by neo-realists in the past.  Mutually Assured Destruction, as a result of nuclear weapons, was one way rational models attempted to cope with the development of cold conflicts between great powers.  Changes in payoffs from aggressive actions, as a result of the shared destructive consequences of nuclear deterrence, led to tense, but relatively peaceful interstate relations.  A similar conceptual model can be used to demonstrate how the shared consequences resulting from aggression between economically interdependent states leads to tense, yet stable relations.  The case study of the United States and China illustrates this model quite dramatically.

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Summary of Rosalind Boycott’s dissertation The United States Drone War: a case of normative contestation. An assessment of how unmanned aerial vehicles and their use by the U.S. challenge the norms for the international use of force

Aside from the much agonised over legal and ethical implications of drones and their controversial use by U.S., the advent of these unmanned aerial aircraft is perhaps more noteworthy as being symptomatic of a wider process of normative contestation that has been largely overlooked by both media and scholarship. This process of normative contestation seeks to legitimise new conceptualisations of when and how international force may be used, precipitating a redefinition of what is possible in terms of the use of force, as well as a reconceptualisation of what constitutes the proper use of force.

The unique capabilities of drones is representative of the challenge to the hitherto assumed central element of risk in conflict in favour of a purely utilitarian form of conflict where even the military is not required to make the ultimate sacrifice for cause or country. Furthermore, the combination of risk-free combat coupled with uncompromised military prowess, herein termed ‘killing empowerment’, signals the potential for the emergence of a new kind of killing culture in which the possibility for genuinely objective killing is facilitated by the total removal of existential and metaphysical elements from conflict.

The particular instrumentalisation of drones by the U.S., informed by a decade-long process of ‘cultural change’ since 9/11, directly contests long accepted standards for the ‘pre-emptive’ use of force. It seeks legitimacy for a more ‘preventive’ doctrine that allows drones to be operated by civilian authorities in the unilateral identification and elimination of suspected terrorists outside recognised zones of military conflict. The U.S. government’s adoption of a hybrid ‘war-law’ approach serves to create an alternative normative framework to justify America’s particular use of drones and promote preventive military doctrine as the new orthodoxy.

Giving rise to new military beliefs and ideas of social purpose, such normative contestation subsequently brings broader transformation in how states and citizens conceive of force and the means by which national security may be maximised. As catalysts for and manifestations of changing normative standards, drones herald the onset of altered and evolved perceptions of security and defence norms with implications for the formation of future strategy.

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Summary of Jared Skinner’s dissertation Burton’s Law: Media Effects, General Elections, and Presidential Decisions

On the 12 of March, 1996 President Clinton signed the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act; also known as Helms-Burton. In short, Helms-Burton was designed to strengthen the embargo against Castro by imposing a secondary boycott on countries that trade with Cuba. Clinton initially opposed the bill for being unnecessary, counterproductive, in violation of international law, and potentially tying up federal courts with thousands of lawsuits. This paper evaluates whether President Clinton signed the legislation due to the news coverage Cuba received during the Helms-Burton debate.

Following a Popperian framework, specifically relying on problem-driven analysis, falsification, deductive reasoning, and critical rationalism this study attempts to offer empirical evidence that Clinton’s decision was due to anti-Castro sentiment within public opinion. Similarly this paper explores whether the mainstream media, assuming the media leads public opinion, offered an anti-Castro bias that caused Clinton to support the bill. More specifically, this paper dissects the media’s influence on U.S. foreign policy; including the effects of agenda setting, framing, and priming.

The study’s research methodology includes quantitative content analysis to determine whether the media contained bias coverage on Cuba during the Helms-Burton debate between 1 December 1995 and 14 March 1996. My three hypothesis are (1) that these newspapers contain an overall bias of unfavorable coverage of Cuba, (2) the coverage of Cuba increased after the controversial Brothers to the Rescue incident, (3) and that the coverage of Cuba became more hostile after the incident. My sampling units consist of front-page newspaper articles from the most prestigious, widely distributed, and geographically diverse newspapers in the U.S. Articles were selected only if their headlines contained key texts relevant to the Helms-Burton debate. Also, individual sentences were selected as coding units for categorical codes; including favorable, neutral, and unfavorable coverage. The resulting 1,914 categorical codes were than measured for bias by utilizing the kappa coefficient developed by Jacob Cohen (Cohen, 1960).

The findings of this study provide support for all three of my hypothesis. As a whole these newspapers displayed unfavorable coverage towards Cuba during the Helms-Burton debate. Also after the Brothers to the Rescue incident, the Helms-Burton debate transformed from a parochial interest into a major policy concern. Finally, media coverage became explicitly more hostile towards Cuba following the incident. The paper concludes with suggestions for further research and the academic, social, and normative implications of this study’s findings.

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Summary of Ieva Kupryte’s dissertation Solving Collective Action Problems in Regional Trade Agreements: The Case of the Hanseatic League:

Between the 13th and 15th centuries, northern European trade was dominated by an association of about 170 north German city-states constituting “one of the most impressive political organizations of the medieval and modern worlds.” While Hanse controlled the long-distance trade for over four hundred years, it had none of the characteristics – formal administration, fixed budget, army or permanent officials – that are commonly associated with powerful trade organizations. Given that the organizational framework of the Hanseatic trade relied on mutual transactions of goods between two or more merchants based in different localities, it seems that merchants did not have any incentives to comply with the trade agreements. Therefore one may wonder how the Hanseatic League dealt with collective action problems and what motivated merchants not to escape with the profits while trading somebody else’s goods.

This essay attempted to describe the nature of collective action problems in the Hanseatic trade agreement and explain how the particular type of an institutional framework employed by the merchants within Hanse facilitated the process of solving these issues. In order to reveal the nature of collective action problems within the Hanseatic trading alliance and explain what factors promoted cooperation within the League, this essay took a merchant and an agent (rather than the Hanseatic cities) as the main unit of the analysis. A simple game theoretic model was developed to show that cooperation in a one-shot game between merchants and their agents was not possible due to the payoff structure of the game which motivated the agent to defect, and thus, receive a higher net benefit. I argued that there were two types of channels through which additional costs on the agents could have been introduced: one possibility was to impose legal sanctions through courts, the other one – to employ private order economic institutions that would have constrained the behavior of agents.

Given the wide geographical area in which the Hanseatic trading alliance operated and the difficulties experienced while gathering data on agents’ behavior, it seems that law-based institutions within Hanse lacked effectiveness in imposing legal obligations on the misbehaved individuals. The other channel through which additional costs on agents could have been introduced is through a reputation-based mechanism. The game theoretic model developed in this essay revealed that the reputation mechanism boosted the merchant’s reputation level in the Hanseatic trading community, and thus, allowed the merchant to obtain business contracts more easily in the future. In the Hanseatic League, the reputation mechanism had an impact not only on the bilateral relationship between the merchant and his agent, but it also had repercussions on the employability of the agent in third-party contracts. Hence, interactions among merchants within Hanse rested on a multilateral reputation principle which linked every traders’ conduct in the past with his future utility stream, and thus, provided incentives to the agents to follow the trade rules and not to defect on the principal’s orders.

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Summary of Sophie Chiasson’s dissertation The Limitations of International Law: The Case of Targeted Strikes

In the Epilogue of From Apology to Utopia, international legal scholar Martti Koskenniemi writes that his “descriptive concern was to try to articulate the rigorous formalism of international law while simultaneously accounting for its political open-endedness — the sense that competent argument in the field needed to follow strictly defined formal patterns that, nevertheless, allowed (indeed enabled) the taking of any conceivable position in regard to a dispute of a problem” (565).  This dissertation takes Koskenniemi’s central thesis as a starting point in order to illustrate how the laws on the use of force can be utilised to both justify – and enable – certain political decisions as well as to criticise – and thus attempt to constrain – the same political actions.

The United States’ policy of drone warfare and targeted killing in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia will be drawn upon to illustrate Koskenniemi’s important claim.  Within the academic field of international law, public policy forums, and the international media, drone warfare and targeted killing, as utilised by the United States outside of recognised warzones, has been justified as legal and at the same time criticised as illegal.  Those that defend the U.S. targeted strikes regime, as well as those that criticise the program, both defer to international legal arguments to justify their subjective political positions.  Therefore, contra realism, Part One of this paper argues that international law does have rhetorical legitimacy in international relations.  However, despite the legitimacy that legal arguments appear to have within international relations, Part Two will critique the liberal approach to international law and the notion that objective laws can counter the subjective forces of politics.  Instead I argue that due to the radical indeterminacy of the law, there cannot be an objective position for the law to defend.  Part Three will illustrate this claim using the U.S. practice of targeted killing as a case study.  In sum, this dissertation attempts to illustrate the limitations of international law for offering clear and neutral solutions for complex political problems.

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