2017 Year in Review

2017 has been quite a busy year, both professionally and personally. In September, I started a new post at the University of Warwick in the department of Politics and International Studies. It’s a great department, regularly ranked among the top five Politics departments in the UK. I am teaching an MA course on Rising Powers and finalist undergrad course on Latin America that combines comparative politics and IR. My new students and colleagues have been great. We also moved to Leamington Spa, which was shortly thereafter named happiest town in the UK. I’m not sure about that, but it is full of coffee and tea shops, so it might be the most caffeinated, which is basically the same thing.

I spent about two months earlier in the year in Colombia on a British Council Researcher Links, collaborating with my friend and colleague Sebastián Bitar of Universidad de los Andes. We held a number of events related to Colombian foreign policy and the effects of the peace process. I also worked on an — ultimately unsuccessful 😦 — ESRC New Investigators grant application. Seb and I are wrapping up a journal article as one of the products of that collaboration.

A number of publications bunched together, making 2017 look like a very productive year. My book was released in paperback in June and received a number of largely positive reviews. The royalties are allowing me to live large, with a moderately priced dinner for two every six months. (Just kidding! All royalties go to WOLA.)Continue reading “2017 Year in Review”

New article: The US, Brazil and Latin America: the dynamics of asymmetrical regionalism

unnamedMy newest article is just out as part of a special issue of the journal Contemporary Politics, vol. 24, no. 1. The issue came out of a workshop at the College of Europe, called Between cooperation and competition: major powers in shared neighbourhoods. The workshop and issue were organized and edited by Simon Schunz, Sieglinde Gstöhl & Luk Van Langenhove, who did a great job putting this all together. The whole special issue is available here.

My article looks at US-Brazilian interactions in Latin America, drawing on and extending Brantly Womack’s asymmetry theory (abstract below). Routledge allows me to offer free access to my own article for the first 50 readers through a special link, available for a limited time here. Please help yourself to a free copy, while they last–on the condition that you cite it copiously, of course!

Abstract: Until its recent crisis, Brazil’s rise, combined with seeming US decline and distraction, led observers to declare South America a ‘post-hegemonic’ region. How have US and Brazilian ambitions and capabilities affected the countries’ relations within the shared neighbourhood of the Western Hemisphere? Building on work by Womack, B. [2016. Asymmetry and international relationships. New York: Cambridge University Press], the article analyses the US-Brazil-South America relationship as a regionally located, asymmetrical triangle. During two centre-left presidencies, Brazil sought to shift the dynamics of the hemisphere’s soft triangles. Brazilian diplomacy redefined its neighbourhood as South America, developed exclusive regional groupings, and assumed the role of pivot to shape relationships between the US and South America. In the face of sceptical neighbours and weakened Brazilian capabilities, the regional triangle is likely to return to a more ‘normal’ configuration in which the United States acts as a central, albeit often uninterested, pivot.

Media appearances: Mexico, Venezuela

A couple quick media spots. I talked to The Guardian‘s reporter David Agren about Mexican presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s proposal of an “amnesty” for organized criminal bosses, and whether that was likely to reduce violence. In short, I have my doubts. In full, I said, “I am sure some punished narcos would appreciate an amnesty, but it would not do much to stop the ongoing violence. The market and the rewards would continue to exist, and different groups would continue to compete — often violently — over that market.

“Even if a Pax mafiosa were the intention, it is probably not feasible today. First, the organized criminal groups are much more fragmented. Second, they are involved in crimes beyond drug trafficking, and I doubt the Mexican population would stand for official tolerance of extortion, kidnapping, oil theft, and human trafficking. Those revenue streams would remain in the event of an amnesty. Third, the state is much different. It is less hierarchical, with different parties governing at different levels. Often, the local and state levels are most relevant for organized crime. There is evidence that the party of local government, and changes in party, matter to levels of violence in Mexico. It also means that not everyone would be on board with a proposed pax or even an amnesty.”

I also talked earlier in the day with Gerhard Elfers, the impeccably dressed Business News Anchor for DW News, regarding Venezuela’s economic crisis and President Maduro’s proposal for a crypto-currency as a way out of the crisis (or at least around US sanctions.


Crisis in Venezuela

IMG-20171115-WA0007.jpg(belated post) I talked to Deutsche Welle and Bloomberg Turkey recently about the economic crisis in Venezuela. The interviews followed a “selective default” on part of the country’s debt obligations. Since then, there has been another round of purges and politically motivated crackdown, followed by military takeover of management, of key Venezuelan agencies and state-owned enterprises. This time, the target is CITGO, the Venezuela-owned (albeit heavily mortgaged) oil refining and gas distributing company that is familiar to many in the United States. The purge is highly unlikely to arrest the country’s falling oil production (one of the stated goals) after two decades of neglect and under-investment. Meanwhile, Venezuela is running out of liquid reserves and has fewer overseas assets to offer as collateral. It has already promised away much of its reduced oil production in exchange for earlier loans, which eats into the cash that it can generate. Its non-oil exports are negligible, and despite the import crisis, domestic production of basic goods has been hollowed out.

Earlier comment below the jump:

Continue reading “Crisis in Venezuela”

Review of “Making the Unipolar Moment”

80140100520940mI reviewed Hal Brands’s intriguing Making the Unipolar Moment for Political Science Quarterly. The review has been published as part of the fall issue, and it is available online for free. Brands’s account of U.S. grand strategy in the late Cold War is well worth the read, though ultimately I think he understates the contradictions within U.S. policies and overstates their role in determining the course of events elsewhere in the world. Brands has a knack for sweeping, synthetic history and writes in a way that engaged academic and non-academic audiences alike.

My review: “In 1991, the United States bestrode the world as a victorious Gulliver, seemingly more loved than feared. The unprecedented power of the “unipolar moment” makes it easy to forget the pessimism that dominated U.S. punditry two decades earlier. In a sweeping, three-decade account, Hal Brands argues that U.S. foreign policy rebounded from post-Vietnam “malaise” by taking advantage of three underlying favorable trends: gradual Soviet weakening, incipient globalization, and the growth of pro–human rights civil society. U.S. policymakers did not directly create these forces, but their statecraft turned them to U.S. advantage. In Brands’s telling, President Jimmy Carter recognized these trends but lacked coherent policies to take advantage of them. In contrast, President Ronald Reagan is heralded for an effective mix of bellicose rhetoric, military spending, and aggressive responses to perceived Soviet gains in the “Third World” during his first term, followed by a relaxation of tensions on his terms in his second. Brands shows President George H.W. Bush as an expert manager whose reactions to fast-moving events were united by consistent beliefs.”

Read the rest at PSQ.


Latin America Confronts the United States: Out in paperback!


long_laMy book Latin America Confronts the United States has just been released in paperback from Cambridge University Press. And it’s on sale on Amazon! Just $26 in the US, £20 in the UK, and even less for the e-book! That’s about the same as buying five pints, with a similar soporific effect!

So, whether you are a little late for Father’s Day or getting an early start on your Halloween shopping (one for each costumed child!), this is a perfect gift! It’s perfect for you, too! Take it to the beach! Take it to your secret mountain lair! Leave it on the coffee table to impress and/or confound visitors! The book for all occasions! The present for the person who has everything (except this book)! Why not? You know you have spent $26 / £20 in worse ways!

Blurbs and reviews the jump.Continue reading “Latin America Confronts the United States: Out in paperback!”

Regional public goods in North America

628290_coverMy chapter “Regional public goods in North America,” with Manuel Suárez-Mier, was just released in the book 21st Century Cooperation: Regional Public Goods, Global Governance, and Sustainable Development, published by Routledge. The book’s editors, Antoni Estevadeordal and Louis W. Goodman, note that the chapter “stresses that a resumption of the capacity for RPGs generation will depend on effective rule of law, especially regarding crime and disputes in Mexico and immigration in the United States. It also discusses how RPGs in the areas of economic cooperation, social development, environment and energy, conflict resolution, connectivity, and governance impact the region.” The whole book is available for free via OpenAccess PDF, and ours is Chapter 13, starting on page 265.

ISSF article: Trump and Latin America: Asymmetry and the Problem of Influence

penaneto-trump17577I have a new, general audience article with Max Paul Friedman on the International Security Studies Forum. They have been running a policy series on different aspects of U.S. foreign and security policy today.


Here’s a taste below, or read the full article at ISSF.

“Despite its proximity and importance, Latin America usually does not receive a lot of attention in U.S. elections. After Donald Trump’s shocking and ultimately successful campaign for the presidency, the region may miss being out of the limelight. Somewhat atypically, many of Trump’s campaign promises related to Latin America. Mexico was, and remains, Trump’s villain of choice from the first day of his unlikely campaign. Mexico supposedly sent criminals as immigrants and bested the United States in the countries’ deep trade relationship; Trump granted the Mexican government a level of astuteness and competence that must have surprised many Mexican citizens. Central American migrants, whose remittances are more important to their home states in relative terms, also came under fire. In recent days, Trump has aimed his Twitter feed at transnational, and U.S.-born, street gangs, casting all the blame on neighbors to the south. Trump’s initially pacific tone toward Cuba soured as the campaign progressed. His anti-trade proposals go beyond renegotiating or threatening to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and abandonment of the Transpacific Partnership (TPP), and would cut to the core many Latin American countries’ economic strategies, in which access to the U.S. market is the lynchpin.”

Continue reading the full article at ISSF.

Evento: Política exterior colombiana en el “posconflicto”: Desafíos fronterizos y internacionales

Amigos en Colombia, les comparto una invitación para un evento con Sebastian Bitar, Michael Penfold, y Martha Ardila sobre la política exterior colombiana actual, el 3 de mayo en Universidad de los Andes.

La idea es hablar un poco de como el acuerdo de paz podría o no cambiar la política exterior colombiana, y también como los retos internacionales (Trump, crisis de Venezuela, Brexit, etc) podrían influir en el proceso y implementación de paz con las FARC y las negociaciones con el ELN.


poster evento polit ext col

H-Diplo review of Karl’s “Reading the Cuban revolution from Bogotá, 1957–62”

voteI reviewed Princeton historian Robert Karl’s very good article on the intersection of the Cuban Revolution and Colombian domestic politics. The review was published today on the H-Diplo forum. In the review, I write:

“In his recent article, Robert Karl addresses that question from a Colombian perspective. In doing so, Karl sounds a note of caution about the growing trend toward a Latin Americanization of the Cold War—or perhaps a Cold War-ization of Latin American history. Local dynamics and historical interpretations dominated early Colombian impressions of Cuba’s revolution; the Cold War took a bit longer to arrive. Though Fidel Castro was a ‘ghost’ haunting Colombian politics from 1957-1962, his spectre was not initially one of Soviet-backed intervention. Instead, Karl shows how the Cuban revolution was a mirror for Colombia’s own incipient democratization rather than a refraction of the Cold War. Recent Colombian experiences, notably La Violencia, the toppling of Colombian dictator Gustavo Rojas Pinilla, and Colombia’s own democratic pact, were the most important factors that shaped how political elites and the press viewed events in Cuba.”

The full review is available here.

Karl’s original article, published in Cold War History, is available here.