Some Recent Media

I was going to write on the Biden-Ryan debate, but it wasn’t that interesting. Biden came off like that aggressive uncle at Thanksgiving family dinner who takes over the conversation, and Ryan seemed pretty out of his depth on foreign policy. I’d say Biden won, but not by as much as Romney won last week.

So this is just a bits & pieces post instead about the first time I ever spoke on TV (yikes!).

This is the first time I ever spoke on TV. Unnerving…

In July, when Vice Marshal Ri Young Ho of the DPRK was sacked, BBC news asked me to speak. I didn’t realize until about 20 minutes beforehand that it would be on TV, and it was 2 am EST. Good grief. So I’m not even wearing a tie, and I sat in my parent’s living room Smile. Good thing they didn’t see the bar behind me!

On September 10, I did a full hour radio interview on my trip to North Korea. Go to recording 169 here. For my write-up of my NK trip impressions, go here.

On August 27, I published an op-ed in Korea’s main and centrist newspaper, the JoongAng Daily. I am happy to say that Real Clear World picked it up too. The long version is here (one) and here (two). Basically I argue that even though America is broke, foreigners are so desperate to hold dollars, that we can still fight long, unnecessary wars and borrow incessantly without a financial crisis. To paraphrase Mel Brooks (sarcastically), ‘it’s good to be the hegemon – you can do whatever the hell you want.’

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What Exactly is the Social Science Citation Index Anyway? or, which Korean IR Journals should You Read?


Yeah, I don’t really know either. I always hear the expression ‘SSCI’ thrown around as the gold standard for social science work. Administrators seem to love it, but where it comes from and how it gets compiled I don’t really understand. Given that we all seem to use this language and worry about impact factor all the time, I thought I would simply post the list of journals for IR ranked by impact factor (after the break).

I don’t think I ever actually saw this list before all laid out completely. In grad school, I just had a vague idea that I was supposed to send my stuff to the same journals whose articles I was reading in class. But given that I haven’t found this list posted on the internet anywhere, here it is. I don’t know if that means it is gated or something, or if my school has a subscription, or whatever. Anyway, I thought posting the whole IR list would be helpful for this site’s readership.

Note that a bunch of them are published in Asia, and 3 alone are about Korea (Korean Journal of Defense Analysis, Korean Observer, and NK Review) – so get to work!

But I have a few questions. First, why does Thomson-Reuters create this? Why don’t we do it? Does anyone actually know what they do that qualifies them for this ? And don’t say ‘consulting’ or ‘knowledge services’ or that sort of MBA-speak. The picture above includes some modernist, high-tech skyscraper, presumably to suggest that lots of brilliant, hi-tech theorists are in there crunching away big numbers (but the flower tells you they have a soft side too – ahh), but I don’t buy it. Are these guys former academics who know what we read? Who are they? Does anyone know? The T-R website tells you nothing beyond buzzwords like ‘the knowledge effect’ and ‘synergy.’ I am genuinely curious how T-R got this gig and why we listen to them. Why don’t we make our own list?

Next, I am not sure if the SSCI and the Journal Citation Reports from T-R are different or not or what. Click here to see the SSCI list; and here is the JCR link, which is probably gated, but ask your administration; they probably have access. There are 3038 journals in the whole SSCI list (!), 107 listed under political science, and 82 under IR. There is some overlap between the last two, but the PS list does not completely subsume the IR list, as I think most of us would think it should. For example, IS is listed only under IR, not political science, but ISQ is listed under both, even though I think most people would say IS is a better journal than ISQ. Also, there is no identifiable list for the other 3 subfields of political science. I find that very unhelpful. More generally, I would like to know how T-R chooses which journals are on the SSCI and which not. It doesn’t take much effort to see that they’re almost all published in English…

Next, I thought the SSCI was only peer-reviewed, but Foreign Affairs and the Washington Quarterly (which I understand to be solicited, not actually peer-reviewed – correct me if I am wrong) are listed on the IR list, and even Commentary and the Nation magazine are on the PS list. Wow – your neocon ideological ravings can actually count as scholarship. Obviously FA should be ranked for impact factor; it’s hugely influential. But does it belong on the SSCI? Note also that ISR is listed on the IR roster, as is its old incarnation, the Mershon ISR. Hasn’t that been gone now for more than a decade? Also when you access the impact factors (after the jump),T-R provides an IR list with its ‘Journal Citation Reports’ that has only 78 journals listed for IR, not 82. So the SSCI for IR (82) does not quite equal the JCR for IR (78). Is that just a clerical error? If so, does that mean the super-geniuses in the futuristic skyscraper are spending too much time looking out the windows at the flowers? I guess if you double-count M/ISR, you get 79, which is pretty close to 82, but given how definitive this list is supposed to be, it seems like there are problems and confusions.

Anyway, I don’t really know, so I just thought I’d throw it out there. Check the IR rankings on the next page.

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7 things I don’t like @ being an Academic


It’s grad school acceptance season, so here are a few thoughts if you are considering the PhD plunge. Try this genre also on the Duck of Minerva, where I also write. Enjoy your last summer to read as you choose, without following a peer reviewer or a syllabus. Such lost bliss… 

Generally speaking, yes, I like being an academic. I like ideas and reading. I like bloviating at length. The sun is my enemy, and exercise bores me. I would really like to be a good writer/researcher. Including grad school, I’ve been doing this now for 15 years, so clearly I could have switched. I am committed. But there are at least 7 things I didn’t see back in my 20s when I had romantic ideas that if I got a PhD, I’d be like Aristotle or John Stuart Mill – some great intellectual with real influence on, what a Straussnik once called to me, ‘the Conversation,’ which I took in my heady, pre-game theoretic youth to be this (swoon).

1. It’s lonely.

I didn’t really think about this one at all before going to grad school. In undergraduate and graduate coursework, you are always very busy and meeting lots of people. You live in a dorm or fun, near-campus housing, you have lots of classes, you hit the bars on the weekends, you go to department functions. Girlfriends/boyfriends come and go. So even if you didn’t like 9 of the 10 people you met, you were meeting so many, that you eventually carved out a circle and did fun stuff that kinda looked like the 20-something comedies you see on TV. But once you hit the dissertation, you are suddenly thrown back on your own, and you really re-connect, or try, with your family, because they’re the only ones who’ll put up with your stress. You spend way too much time at home, alone, in a room, staring hopelessly at a computer screen. You don’t really know what you’re doing, and your committee, while filled with good, smart people who are almost certainly your friends, can’t really do this for you, even though you try to push it off on them.

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The World Does its Duty & Conforms to Social Science: More on Korea & Japan

Greatest Movie Line Ever on Academia: “How the Social Scientists Brought Our World to the Brink of Chaos” Hah!


If academia’s taught me anything, it’s that the real world is flawed not theory, and that facts should change for me, not the other way around. As Marxists would say, ‘future is certain; it’s the past that keeps changing,’ and Orwell famously quipped that academics would love to get their hands on the lash to force the world fit theory. (I guess Heinlein agreed; check the vid.) So I am pleased to say that the world meet its obligations to abstraction this week a little: Japan and Korea edged a little closer toward a defense agreement (here and here). A little more of this, and I can safely ignore – whoops, I mean  ‘bracket’ – any real case knowledge…

Last week I argued that Korea and Japan seem like they’d be allies according to IR theory, but weren’t. I wrote, “Koreans stubbornly refuse to do what social science tells them;” obviously they don’t realize that abstraction overrules their sovereignty. I thought this was fairly puzzling, but got an earful from the Korean studies crowd about how I was living in the clouds of theory. I also learned that area studies folks really don’t like it when you throw stuff like ‘exogenous’ and ‘epiphenomenal’ at them. Once they figure what ‘nomothetic’ actually means, they think you’re conning them. D’oh!

So for those of you argued I didn’t know anything about Korea but was just blathering on about theory that had no necessary time-space application to this case, I thought I’d put up this bit from Starship Troopers. It’s hysterical – when PhDs rule the world, apparently the military has to step in to prevent us from running it over a cliff. Didn’t Buckley once say he’d rather the first 2000 names of the Boston phone book run the US government than the faculty of Harvard?

What’s So Institutional @ Historical Institutionalism?


NOTE: The following was actually written before Dan Nexon posted a good piece on exactly the same essay. I’m not sure if that coincidence means anything, but here’s my take:


So I just read Orfeo Fioretos’ “Historical Institutionalism in International Relations” (International Organization 65/2, 2011). It’s very good – erudite and sophisticated, the kind of dense, abstract writing that makes me wonder if I can keep up in our uber tech-y scientistic field. In it (fn. 18), he defines ‘institution’ as “rules and norms that guide human action and interaction, whether formalized in organizations, regulations, and law, or more informally in principles of conduct and social conventions.” Wikipedia has the nice, punchy: “An institution is any structure or mechanism of social order and cooperation governing the behavior of a set of individuals within a given human community.”

So here is my question: What is really ‘institutional’ about these definitions? Aren’t they staying that pretty much an human behavior that occurs more than once can be an ‘institution’? And isn’t that counter to common-language usage?

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‘Bleg’: How Long are your ‘Revise & Resubmit’ Letters to the Editor?


I have been asked to revise and resubmit (r&r) an article submitted for an IR journal. But it’s a big r&r; the editor even said it would be “a great deal of work” (groan). While I must make the changes to the manuscript, I must also submit a letter to the editors and reviewers to explain my changes. That’s normal of course, but I wonder how the community would appraise the proper length of a letter to the editor for a major r&r? In my last r&r, thankfully a minor, I wrote 2-3 pages. But for a major r&r that “needs a great deal of work’’, I was thinking around 10 pages. Is that too much? Would that you bore you to tears ? (Actually, don’t answer that.)

More generally, I think this is an interesting, undiscussed question for the field, because I have no idea if there are any norms at all on this. I can’t recall discussing this issue ever in graduate school (probably because I couldn’t have gotten an r&r anyway and didn’t even know what r&r meant). Nor can I recall seeing anything on this in all those journals we get from APSA (so many…). So whadda ya think?

Here are some other odds and ends:

NB1: Here is an thick response from a PNU colleague to my argument that Americans don’t care enough about Asia to support the pivot. I like this.

NB2: If you are interested in Korea-EU affairs (that one’s burning up the conference circuit, baby!),  I just wrote a summary at the East Asia Forum of a longer argument in the current IRAP. (Asia junkies should check out EAF if they don’t know it already.) The bumper-sticker version is that Korea and the EU relations won’t go beyond the FTA that got lots of press here, because the loss of strength gradient is so high. They just don’t interact enough to care that much. Isn’t it nice that you don’t even need to read my abstract now? It’s all about the bumper-sticker.

NB3: I got a few pieces on CNN recently – short versions of stuff already on the blog. The comments are a laugh riot, including names like ‘Shazam=Evil,” “F – — k usa,” and “Hot Downloads.’ Isn’t that why you love the internet?

In Social Science, You’re always Under-read, so What do You do? (2)


Here is part one, where I noted Walt, the Duck, and Walter Russell Mead as the IR blogs I read almost always despite the avalanche of international affairs blogs now. Here are a few more:

Martin Wolf: Here’s a grad school education in IPE, op-ed by op-ed, better day-to-day than either Krugman or the Economist. Not being an economist, but facing regular student questions for years about the Great Recession and the euro-zone crisis, I have found Wolf indispensible in explaining what happened in the last 5 years – and without that ‘bankers as masters of the universe’ schtick coming from CNBC, Bloomberg, and the WSJ. Wolf is a delight to read. Like Andrew Sullivan, he is measured, changes his mind when information dramatically changes, references theory but not as ideology or fundamentalism, and has a good touch for what can realistically be accomplished in actual democratic politics.

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In Social Science, You’re always Under-read, so What do You do? (1)


If there is one constant to modern social science, it is that you are always under-read. There is always some critical book you missed, some article you never had time for, some classic of which you only read the first and last chapters in grad school. And this is just the modern work immediately relevant to your field. After college you all but gave up on reading the ‘great books’ in the Chicago sense – Plato, Augustine, Mill, Nietzsche, etc. That’s the stuff that really got you interested in social analysis – you’ve still got a marked up copy of Aristotle’s Politics somewhere – but if you cite these guys today, it’s usually just a lifted quote from someone else’s modern social science book that you are reading. Your own black-edged Penguin Classics are collecting dust. If it wouldn’t be so uncomfortable, it would be fascinating to hear what ‘obligatory’ international relations or Asia studies classics readers haven’t actually read and why not.

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Going Home for the Summer – Back in Sept – Some Summer Reading



Ok, I am going to Mi-Guk-istan for the summer. I need a break. The editors of an unnamed IR journal are ruining my health with the biggest r&r (revision for resubmission of an article) of my career. Like everyone else, I say I believe in peer-review, but in reality, I am convinced it is massive conspiracy to keep me out of print by telling me to read more. Hah! So much work…  So that guy in the picture will be me reading game theory at the beach.

So let me ruin your summer too. I thought a list of good articles on Asia security might be a valuable halfway-through-the-year exercise. Here is a list of some important newspaper reports on the region’s security that I have found so far.



SK-Japan military cooperation: This gets kicked around all the time but seems more serious this time. If this happens, it’s ground-breaking, and China will pay attention.



Egypt’s revolution in perspective: Way too much of the commentary on Arab Spring has been focused on the US or Israel, not on the people themselves of these revolutions.

The aging of the US-SK alliance: It’s creaking.



The economic fallout of the Japanese earthquake: Of course the earthquake was bad, but it damaged Japan far less than the media made it seem.



More on a Japan-SK alliance: Maybe just because I live in SK I think this is a huge deal…

The real Afghan debate starts now: Now just about everybody agrees we’re losing but don’t have the money to stay anymore. So I guess we’re back to Vietnam-era ‘respectable interval’ talk. At least we tried…



A full-throated roll-out of the ‘China Threat’ position on China’s rise: Friedberg is excellent, although I am not as pessimistic. I think soft containment of China is more likely than a real clash.

Enough with the western enthusiasm for Asian autocrats! Korea is oligarchic enough without western analysts telling the world that dictatorships that make ‘tough decisions’ are cool.



War and State Formation in Ancient China and Early Modern Europe by Victoria Hui is most definitely not beach reading, but it’s the best book on Asian security I’ve read this year. By the end, it reaches for a unified theory of political science as a whole. Breathtaking.

As for beach fun reading that isn’t completely stupid, I recommended Rising Sun last year. That still applies, if only because its hard to find fun books on Asian security. After that, you could try Freakonomics, or Starship Troopers. You’ve probably already read the former, so try the latter. It is easy enough for the beach but has enough politics to be relebvant. Creepily, it is the closest you’ll ever find to a major American intellectual embracing fascism. It has none of the wit of the film, and even more of the militarism and machoismo.  Avoid The DaVinci Code like the plague. I finally read it, and it was worse than Tom Hanl’s mullet in the film.


Shameless Self-Promotion:

I recently published a bunch of op-eds and other stuff:

Joong Ang Daily op-ed on why the EU should be disqualified from running the IMF for awhile.

Korea Times op-ed on why SK doesn’t need nuclear weapons yet

Korea Times op-ed on releasing the Korean economy from the vise of it mega-conglomerates

The Imapct of Arab Spring on North Korea (RINSA, no, 17): lesson 1: when in doubt, shoot everyone

International Political Science Review on why the IMF and World Bank don’t listen to NGOs much (email me if you want the PDF)


Best East-West movie of the year:

Ok, so I can’t imagine this category has too much good stuff in it. The Matrix would probably qualify, but I can think of only one decent ‘fusion’ film so far this year: Shanghai. I liked it. It’s not great, but it’s hard to find many pictures at all about Asia that are meant for a western audience. So take what you can get.


Random final thought:

I have become addicted to the euro-meltdown-Greek soap opera. Is anyone else watching every day to see if the ECB will finally come out and say that Greece should get out? I find it increasingly hard to believe Greece can stay in. I bet Greece is out by the end of next year. Anyone else?

Think You Can Do Grand Strategy in Asia? (It’s Really Hard Actually…)


Regular readers will know that I part-time consult for a geopolitical consulting firm called Wikistrat, and this competition is a cool idea, especially for the IR types who likely read a blog like this. Graduate students especially should sign up for it. (And if you think you can hack it as an analyst, and you have some decent credentials, contact them. Good analysts are always in demand.)

It’s great practice for big thinking, as if you’re Clausewitz or Spykman or something, but always remember the well-know adage: “Amateurs talk about strategy, professionals talk about logistics.” Before you argue that China should fix Africa or the US should fix the Middle East, remember to figure out how to pay for it, and to plan your way to that outcome (i.e., avoid America’s mistakes in Iraq). For my own version of US grand strategy in Asia, read this.

I will be a supporting judge in the competition too, so please bring your good ideas so that I can repackage them as my own. Anyway, give it a spin; the blurb is below:

“Wikistrat is gearing up for an exciting International Grand Strategy Competition.

Select teams representing leading academic institutions from around the world are invited to participate in the first ever wiki-based grand strategy competition. Managed by Dr. Thomas PM Barnett, this competition will provide participants with the opportunity to test their skills with global counterparts and network within that community. Participants can demonstrate their capacity for strategic thought to agencies, institutions and firms seeking to recruit up-and-coming analytic talent.

We are currently reviewing applications by groups representing top Universities and Think Tanks worldwide. There are still open spots available for this exciting event.

To nominate a team, or to see if you institute has been invited, contact us HERE.

Participation is free, and winner team will get a $10,000 prize.

Some of the issues we will cover in the Competition include (Download the full PDF OUTLINE):

1. Global Energy Security

2. Global Economic “Rebalancing” Process

3. Salafi Jihadist Terrorism

4. Inevitable Sino-American Special Relationship

5. Southwest Asia Nuclear Proliferation

Some of the Scenarios explored will include:

1. Major Biological Terror Attack

2. “2.0 Revolutions” in Arab World

3. + Additional Surprise Shocks”