What I’m reading: The War That Ended Peace by Margaret MacMillan

Margaret MacMillan, The War That Ended Peace: How Europe Abandoned Peace for the First World War, Random House (2014)

My reading list is a year behind in marking the centennial the First World War’s onset, which occasioned an outpouring of new and reissued histories. (Now many of those books are available in paperback, so a year behind isn’t so bad.) I had read MacMillan’s impressive Paris 1919. My appreciation for that book led me to grab The War That Ended Peace of a bookshelf lined with World War I-themed competitors.

Paris 1919 tells the story of the peace conference that had such a dramatic impact on questions of nationalism, territory, reparations, and international organization that continue to haunt us today. The lessons of 1919 felt current without having to be explicitly stated, in that they contextualized later and contemporary developments. It brought its major figures to life, with vivid portraits of Woodrow Wilson, Lloyd George, George Clemenceau, and others. The book admirably showed how factors from different “levels of analysis” affected decision-makers, and how those mixed with personal conflicts, boredom, and exhaustion.Continue reading “What I’m reading: The War That Ended Peace by Margaret MacMillan”

Bridging the Gap: Reflections on IPSI 2015

I just attended the International Policy Summer Institute, a program put together by Bridging the Gap. The event was held at my alma mater, the American University School of International Service, and led by Dean James Goldgeier, Bruce Jentleson from Duke, Jordan Tama from AU, and Brent Durbin of Smith College. Heavily influenced by the work and mission of Alexander George, BtG seeks to help interested scholars connect their work with policymakers, the media, and the general public. My fellow participants were an impressive group, including many up-and-coming assistant professors with a book (or several) with top university presses. All shared interests in producing excellent scholarship that contributes to the scholarship and builds theory while also engaging with other audiences (though not always the same ones). In the spirit of the event, I want to draw a few lessons from my week.

Continue reading “Bridging the Gap: Reflections on IPSI 2015”

Panama: A Central American Singapore?

Singapore (left) and Panama City (right) / William Cho and Jim Nix / Flickr / Creative Commons

Singapore (left) and Panama City (right) / William Cho and Jim Nix / Flickr / Creative Commons

As a transportation hub, logistics center, and regional financial player, Panama has long been painted by investment bankers and Panamanian politicians as a potential “Singapore of Latin America,” but that vision still seems a way off.  In some respects, Panama’s story has been quite impressive.  For a decade, it has boasted GDP growth far beyond the regional average, even surpassing 10 percent in some recent years.  Unlike many of its neighbors, its dollar-based economy relies on services, not exports of commodities or low-value-added light manufacturing.  Since the 1989-1990 U.S. invasion to unseat General Manuel Noriega, the total size of the Panamanian economy has quadrupled in constant dollars.  It is also different from Singapore in important ways.  Singapore’s approach to planning and public housing might be helpful in Panama City, which has suffered traffic, environmental degradation, and inadequate housing for the poor as a consequence of poorly planned growth.

For the rest of the post, visit the AULA blog.

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!