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CPSA/ISA-Canada section on International Relations

C10(a) - Contemporary Challenges in Armed Conflict I: Identity, Violence and Intervention

Date: Jun 5 | Time: 10:30am to 12:00pm | Location: SWING 105

Chair/Président/Présidente : Eliana Glogauer (Royal Military College of Canada)

Discussant/Commentateur/Commentatrice : Eliana Glogauer (Royal Military College of Canada)


Session Abstract: The study of armed conflict has become an increasingly rich and diverse field of study since the end of the Cold War. After a promising reduction in global levels of armed conflict in the two decades following the Cold War, recent years have seen worrying increases in the incidence and lethality of armed conflict. Taken together, these trends raise interlinked questions about how conflicts should be studied and how they might be managed. This panel engages such questions through the lenses of identity, violence and intervention. The stubborn persistence of ethnopolitical violence and class-based conflicts has recently given way to a range of armed Islamist conflicts, with these different identities intersecting in ways that confound outside understandings. Contemporary armed conflicts also see tremendous variety in the degrees and patterns of violence, including extreme atrocities under the label of extra-lethal violence. Efforts to manage such conflicts, whether through mediation or more direct interventions, have struggled to comprehend let alone effectively manage or resolve such conflicts. This panel therefore seeks to link our understandings of armed violence with the means outside states have used to manage violence and promote peace.


Civil Wars in Southeast Asia: Intersections of Class and Ethnicity: Shane Barter (Soka University of America)
Abstract: Home to countless languages, cultures, and religions, Southeast Asia stands out for its exceptional ethnic diversity. Alongside weak states and sustained underdevelopment, it should come as no surprise that the region has been plagued by a wide range of internal armed conflicts, including those primarily motivated by ethno-religious identities (communal conflicts and separatism) as well as by class divisions (communist struggles). While world regions such as Latin America are known for vertical class-based conflicts (with ethnic undertones), Southeast Asian civil wars can be best understood in terms of horizontal ethnic conflicts (with class undertones). Revisiting early work by Pye and van der Kroef, this paper emphasizes how, even in communist struggles, ethno-religious identity represents a perennial underlying force. Communist revolutions in Vietnam and Cambodia were largely nationalist struggles, while failed uprisings in Thailand, Malaysia, East Timor, Indonesia, and the Philippines were carried out by regional / minority groups. To understand civil wars as well as contemporary social conflicts in Southeast Asia, it is important to examine intersections of ethnicity and class.


Extra-Lethal Violence in Armed Conflict : Marek Brzezinski (Université de Montréal)
Abstract: Why does wartime violence sometimes take the form of extreme atrocity? Not only do belligerents frequently kill civilians, but violent atrocities sometimes go beyond killing to include diverse forms of deliberately cruel treatment such as mutilation, amputations, torture, and the abuse of human re-mains. While isolated instances of such “extra-lethal” violence likely occur in almost all armed con-flicts, and might be explained by a certain inevitable prevalence of psychopathology, by the emergence of sadism among combatants, or by ethnic hatreds or ideological polarization, neither stable personality traits, nor sadism, nor identity can explain why armed formations seem to vary in the extent to which they practice extra-lethal violence. In this paper I review the existing literature on extreme violence in wartime, discuss definitional and conceptual issues, and propose a series of hypotheses, derived from the broader literature on civil-ian victimization, that might explain how and why extra-lethal violence becomes an established part of an armed actor’s repertoire of violence. I then explore variation in extra-lethal violence across and within a number of illustrative cases of armed conflict to probe the plausibility and limitations of the proposed explanations.


Foreign Military Training and Transparency in American Security Assistance: Theodore McLauchlin (Université de Montréal), Lee Seymour (Université de Montréal)
Abstract: Training other countries’ armies is a go-to foreign policy tool for the United States and other states, particularly in the context of counterinsurgency and counterterrorism missions. To the limited extent that these activities have been studied, the practice is often regarded as a method of transmitting norms and building capacity, and therefore as more sustainable and less prone to human rights abuses and governance problems than, for example, simple arms transfers or military financing. Is this the case? In this paper we present a dataset of American training missions that attempts, for the first time, to cover the full array of these activities in the post-9/11 era (2001-2016). We use these data in two ways in this paper. First, in reporting serious problems of transparency encountered in gathering data on US security assistance, we suggest that there are strong reasons to believe that training as such has no particular benefits over other forms of security cooperation, not least because training is often entangled with arms transfers, military financing and direct military interventions. Second, we conduct a first analysis of the choice of training activities for different contexts, noting how the US military uses programs with different practices of transparency for different recipient countries depending on human rights records and governance practices. The paper therefore suggests that foreign military training is seldom what it seems and raises questions about the supposed benefits of training activities in the context of American relations and interventions abroad.


A Reflected Community: How Foreign Policy Reorients Iran's National Identity: Ehsan Kashfi (University of Alberta)
Abstract: While the study of the relation between national identity and foreign policy orientation and practice has been examined and explained extensively by constructivist scholars, the other dimension of this dialectical relation, how foreign policy conducts form, perform and transform collective perception of national identity, society's evolving notions of itself remained unnoticed. Taking foreign policy conducts as the constitutive of national identity, based on the accepted premise of identity formation, the distinction between “us” and “other”, this study seeks to shed a light on how collective perception of self is constituted through and by constant interaction, negotiation with other, particularly by the nation’s position within the international structure and others’ perceptions of the nation. As a case study, this paper examines how the Iranian self has been historically shaped and depicted through encounters with "the other" West, how this changing self-understanding has been affected by different policy orientation toward the West adopted by the Iranian states before and after the 1979 revolution. More specifically, it studies how contending discourses of Iranian national identity which highlight essentially two different constituents, namely Islamic and secular/Persian discourses have been shaped by the country’s relationship with the West.