ISA 2015 Recap

Thanks to the Diplomatic Studies Section of the ISA for honoring me with the Young Scholar Award for my 2014 article in Diplomatic History, and for other alleged contributions within three years of receiving a Ph.D. I really appreciate the recognition from DSS. Many thanks to Roberto Durán, Jenna Jordan, Jason Rancatore, and other members of the DSS prize committee.

ISA DSS Young Scholar Award

Other ISA highlights included thorough and instructive feedback from Larry Rubin of the Georgia Tech on my paper “Small States, Great Power.” My fellow presenters on the panel offered different perspectives that help illustrate the vibrancy of studies around small states in IR. Looking forward to ISA 2016 in Atlanta…and even more to ISA 2020 in Honolulu.

History, seen from Havana

A bit after noon on December 17, 2014, employees of the Museo Castillo de la Fuerza Real climbed the tower of the 16th century fortress, once home to Havana’s governor, to ring an ancient bell. It was an act of spontaneous celebration, reportedly repeated in church towers across Old Havana. The cause of the celebration, of course, was the unexpected news that Cuba and the United States had called for a truce of sorts in a war that most Americans rarely think about, but which casts a shadow on daily life in the Cuban capital.


As a result of fortuitous timing—unfortunately, I cannot claim to have predicted the about-face—I found myself in Havana on this historic day. I traveled to Cuba to participate in the thirteenth “series of conversations” between U.S. and Cuban academics who have devoted much of their lives to studying and trying to improve the dysfunctional relationship. I watched the speeches, first President Raúl Castro’s live and then an unedited, untranslated recording of President Barack Obama’s, in the Superior Institute for International Relations (ISRI). Continue reading “History, seen from Havana”

Echoes of 1992


My report with the Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute has just been released. It draws on archival research on the NAFTA negotiations, particularly using new documents from Mexican archives, and asks what the negotiations and their context can tell us about North America today.


“Two decades ago, Canada, Mexico, and the United States created a continental economy. The road to integration from the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement has not been a smooth one. Along the way, Mexico lived through a currency crisis, a democratic transition, and the rising challenge of Asian manufacturing. Canada stayed united despite surging Quebecois nationalism during the 1990s; since then, it has seen dramatic economic changes with the explosion of hydrocarbon production and a much stronger currency. The United States saw a stock-market bust, the shock of 9/11, and the near-collapse of its financial system. All of these events have transformed the relationships that emerged after NAFTA entered into force in 1994.

Given the tremendous changes, one might be skeptical that the circumstances and details of the negotiation and ratification of NAFTA hold lessons for the future of North America. However, the road to NAFTA had its own difficulties, and many of the issues involved in the negotiations underpin today’s challenges. NAFTA was conceived at a time of profound change in the international system. When Mexican leaders surveyed the world two decades ago, they saw emerging regional groupings in Europe, Asia, and South America. Faced with a lack of interest or compatibility, they instead doubled down on North America. How did Mexican leaders reconsider their national interests and redefine Mexico’s role in the world in light of those transformations? Unpublished Mexican documents from SECOFI, the secretariate most involved in negotiating NAFTA, help illustrate Mexican thinking about its interests and role at that time. Combining those insights with analysis of newly available evidence from U.S. presidential archives, this paper sheds light on the negotiations that concluded two decades ago.”

Forthcoming book with Cambridge University Press

My first book has been accepted for publication by Cambridge University Press! In the book, tentatively titled Latin America and the United States: Asymmetry and Influence, I offer a multinational account of U.S.-Latin American relations. Bridging International Relations theory and international history, I argue that a mononational focus has caused us to miss a crucial part of U.S.-Latin American relations, namely, the actions and influence of Latin American leaders. While a new current of diplomatic history has illustrated how political outcomes in Latin America were only rarely determined by outsiders, my work takes the argument a step further. Under certain circumstances, and through the deft use of strategies designed to take advantage of opportunities, allies, and ideas, Latin American leaders have had a significant impact on both U.S. policy to Latin America and on the course of hemispheric relations. Drawing on interviews and research in a dozen archives in six countries, the book asks: How have Latin American leaders sought to influence U.S. policies, and when have they succeeded?

It will include four case studies. The Brazilian initiative Operação Panamericana in the late 1950s, the negotiation of the Panama Canal treaties during the 1970s, Mexican foreign policy and NAFTA from 1988-1994, and the initiation of Plan Colombia from 1998-2001.

LASA 2015: Between the U.S. and Cuba

I got word a few days ago that my paper proposal for the Latin American Studies Association 2015 conference (May 27-30). The abstract is below. Research is ongoing (obviously), and I would love to hear comments and news.

Vicepresidente de Panamá, Isabel de Saint Malo, (Izq) y su homologo cubano, Bruno Rodriguez, en la Habana/AFPwas accepted. San Juan, here we come. I am presenting a paper on the 2015 Summit of the Americas, particularly focused on the role of Panama in seeking the participation of both the United States and Cuba…and maybe even getting them to have a conversation.


Between the U.S. and Cuba: Panama and the 2015 Summit of the Americas

In 2015, the hemisphere’s longest-running international conflict is set for an interesting turn. Initially complicit in excluding Cuba from the inter-American system, Latin American governments are now nearly unanimous that the island state should be welcomed back. The United States, insisting on political preconditions, continues to insist on the island’s exclusion from organizations and fora. At the 2012 Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, much of Latin America threatened to boycott the next summit if Cuba were not allowed to participate. The Panama summit, set for 2015, has become a litmus test—for the treatment of Cuba, democracy promotion, and U.S. power.

Panama now finds itself in the middle of this colossal conflict. The 2015 summit was intended to be a shining moment for a small state that has displayed impressive economic growth and is set to inaugurate an expanded canal. As host, Panama has an incentive to creative mediate to avoid a failed summit. While much of IR theory ignores or downplays the role of small states, another current has identified small states as active, at sometimes successful, mediators. However, this literature is overwhelming focused on wealthy states, largely in Europe. Using interviews with U.S., Cuban, and Panamanian diplomats, this paper will examine the extent to which Panama seeks to mediate the dispute, and how. In doing so, it will test whether insights from the literature on small-state mediation travel.

U.S. midterms

I’m posting a little late, but shortly before the U.S. midterm elections, I was interviewed by Ofelia Alemán of the Mexican magazine Siempre!

“En medio de un gran descontento de la población reflejado en las encuestas de los votantes estadounidenses, algunos demócratas y expertos celebran los numerosos esfuerzos del presidente estadounidense Barack Obama por impulsar decenas de reformas. Por increíble que parezca, la mayoría de los estadounidenses tiene una percepción negativa de la actual administración. Se piensa que el gobierno va por mal camino, que la administración es ineficiente y que no hay respuesta de su presidente para situaciones tan importantes.”

Lo demás de la entrevista en Siempre!

The Non-Trade Trade

I have a new post on the Americas Quarterly blog that looks at a new documentary on prisoner transfers between the United States and Cuba, offering an historical comparison between a “non-trade trade” made during the Carter administration with the situations of Alan Gross and the remaining three members of the Cuban Five today.

Check out the documentary, produced by Soraya Castro of the University of Havana.

Over at Americas Quarterly:

“At the beginning of President Barack Obama’s first term, moves toward normalization between the United States and Cuba briefly seemed possible. Restrictions on travel and remittances were loosened, and Obama hinted at bigger changes during the April 2009 Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago.

However, the political space in the United States quickly closed after USAID contractor Alan Gross was detained by Cuban authorities in late 2009. Meanwhile, the continued detention of three members of the “Cuban Five” since 1998 by the United States remained a major irritant for Cuba.”

Read the rest at Americas Quarterly.

The Great Crash

I’ve just finished reading John Kenneth Galbraith’s The Great Crash. While I had long been aware of the book, somehow I had managed to miss actually reading it. With the exception of some cringe-inducing gender references, much of the book continues to be relevant. This is true of of Galbraith’s main message regarding what makes people prone to speculation and regarding many of his colorful asides.

Galbraith lays out five reasons for the Crash and the ensuing severity of the Depression, pointing to fundamental economic weaknesses. First, he points to “the bad distribution of income.” The question of inequality, obviously, is once again central today, as Janet Yellen’s comments indicate. Second, to bad corporate structures, particularly shaky holding companies and investment trusts. Third, “the bad banking structure.” Fourth, “the dubious state of the foreign balance,” which in this case was a large U.S. surplus that was draining Europe of its gold reserves. Finally, Galbraith mentions “the poor state of economic intelligence,” on which there have certainly been improvements, though evidence could be found of continued pretensions of omniscience.


The Great Crash Credit: WikiMedia Common

“The fact that no business is transacted at a no-business meeting is normally not a serious cause for embarrassment to those attending. Numerous formulas have been devised to prevent discomfort. Thus scholars, who are great devotees of the no-business meeting, rely heavily on the exchange-of-ideas justification. To them the exchange of ideas is an absolute good. Any meeting at which ideas are exchanged is, therefore, useful. This justification is nearly ironclad. It is very hard to have a meeting of which it can be said that no ideas were exchanged.” …

“The no-business meetings of the great business executives depend for their illusion of importance on something quite different. Not the exchange of ideas or the spiritual rewards of comradeship, but a solemn sense of the assembled power gives significance to this assemblage. Even though nothing of importance is said or done, men of importance cannot meet without the occasion seeming important.” (144-145)

This reminds me of the frequent admonition of my late mentor Bob Pastor, who often pointed out to bureaucrats that they were measuring accomplishments by the numbers of meetings held and the presence of important people at those meetings. Meetings are a poor substitute for actions.

John Kenneth Galbraith, The Great Crash, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1961 [1954])


H-Diplo Review: Putting the Canal on the Map

Andrew Kirkendall, a professor of History at Texas A&M, has just reviewed my April 2014 article “Putting the Canal on the Map” for the H-Diplo listserv. (PDF here.) I will self-servingly start with Dr. Kirkendall’s exceptionally kind introduction.

“It is not often that a journal article arrives in a scholar’s mail on a Monday, is read on Tuesday, and has its findings incorporated into a lecture on Wednesday. But it says something about my admiration for what Tom Long has accomplished here that this
was the case in my spring course on the history of inter-American relations.”

Wow! I think this might say more about Dr. Kirkendall’s dedication to keeping up with the literature and updating his syllabus than it does about my accomplisment, but I appreciate it nonetheless. Dr. Kirkendall does an excellent job of summarizing my piece. Even better, he follows up with some strong questions regarding on the question of agenda-setting, on the historical contingency of the mid-1970s, and generally about the ability of small states to effectively pursue their goals. Some of these questions I address a bit more in a longer chapter on Panama, which will be part of a forthcoming book. However, Dr. Kirkendall has given me more to think about while I work on revisions of that chapter, as well as on some theoretical pieces on small states in world politics.

The original article in Diplomatic History is available online.

ISA 2015

It’s the most magical day of the year for IR scholars…the release of the preliminary program for the ISA Annual Conference! Thanks to the many section chairs who devoted countless hours to reading abstracts–and thanks especially for choosing me to chair a panel on Brazilian diplomacy and present a paper on small states’ foreign policies. (I have diverse interests, I suppose.) I am really glad to see a panel dedicated specifically to small states’ foreign policies.

Here’s the abstract for my paper, “Small states, great power?”

In recent years, IR scholars have devoted increased attention to the agency of small states in International Relations. Some have argued that a “foreign policy power” approach is needed to reveal the important roles that small states play, often in bilateral or subregional affairs. How do small states seek to exploit opportunities and manage constraints? This paper addresses that question by offering analytical categories of small state foreign policy power. Synthesizing evidence from an extensive review of the literature on small states, often focused on single countries, I develop a more cohesive foreign policy power approach for small states. In particular, I argue that small-state foreign policy power can be best understood as originating in three categories of capabilities. These can usually be grouped as “derivative,” collective, and particularistic. Derivative power, described by Michael Handel, relies upon the dominant power for their effectiveness. Collective power involves building coalitions of supportive states apart from the great power. Particularistic power relies on the inherent assets of the small state trying to do the influencing. These categories set the stage for future research into the conditions under which small states are most likely to achieve influence.