The Importance of Water (In)Security

by Professor Mitchell


Given that yesterday was World Water Day, it is a good time to reflect on the importance of humans’ access to clean water and the security threats that unequal access to water resources can create. While countries like Canada and the United States are fortunate to have large internal supplies of fresh water, many states like Iraq and Syria depend heavily on rivers that cross international boundaries. One third of the 263 international river basins in the world contain three or more countries, making negotiations over shared water resources complex. Israel’s seizure of the Jordan River headwaters area in the 1967 Six Day War created concerns that many more “water wars” would emerge. Yet while academics and pundits warned that water conflicts would increase in the decades to follow this conflict, most interactions between countries over shared river resources have been cooperative. Professor Aaron Wolf and his colleagues at Oregon State University have identified nearly 450 interstate treaties in shared river basins over the past two centuries and thousands of incidents of water-based cooperation between riparian states (

My research with Professor Paul Hensel in the Issue Correlates of War (ICOW) Project ( identifies 143 diplomatic conflicts between pairs of countries in cross-border river basins between 1900 and 2001. These conflicts can involve contestation of the river as the boundary between countries (e.g. China-Soviet Union, Ussuri River), conflicts between upstream and downstream states over water quantity (e.g. Israel-Jordan, Jordan River) or water quality (e.g. Netherlands-France, Rhine River), and conflicts over navigational rights on the river (e.g. Costa Rica-Nicaragua, San Juan River). Sixteen of those 143 cases (11%) have experienced one or more militarized conflicts between countries in the river basin. Yet this is a lower rate of conflict compared with diplomatic disputes over land/island borders (42%) or maritime areas (27%) ( Our research shows that militarization and hostile diplomatic interactions are more likely to occur in areas like the Middle East where water is scarce, where there are fewer cooperative regional treaties to manage shared water resources, where upstream states have capability advantages (e.g. Turkey in the Tigris-Euphrates River basins), and where both sides value the resources that the river provides (e.g. water for agriculture/industry/human consumption, hydroelectric power, fisheries). On the other hand, cooperation is possible when water scarcity increases, when states share political (e.g. both democracies) or legal systems (e.g. both civil law), and when downstream states have other resources to trade for water (e.g. oil or natural gas). The effect of relative power is more nuanced, though, as stark power advantages for upstream states translate into bilateral agreements more frequently, while power parity promotes the emergence of multilateral treaties ( Countries have experienced conflicts over water resources in international river basins, but certainly not at the level one would have expected fifty years ago when water wars were forecasted with greater frequency.

On the other hand, water conflicts between countries may increase internal security risks for states in shared river basins. Consider the case of the Syrian civil war, where water factors were certainly relevant for the outbreak of violence. A series of dams constructed by Turkey in the Tigris-Euphrates River basins as part of the Greater Anatolia Project (GAP) reduced water supplies in Iraq and Syria downstream. Given that over 97% of both countries’ water supplies come from rivers that originate outside state boundaries, the reduction of water from the upstream area combined with a serious drought in 2007-2010, resulted in close to 1.5 million people being displaced from river basin areas. This shock not only increased the urban population areas of Syria by over 50% in just eight years, but also devastated agricultural and livestock production. The initial protests in Dara’a in March 2011 occurred in one of those cities that had witnessed a massive influx of internally displaced people.

My research examines whether the pattern of the Syrian civil war generalizes to other contexts. I look at all countries in the world between 1946 and 2011 and analyze the relationship between interstate river conflicts (from the ICOW dataset) and various forms of intrastate violence. I find that states face much higher risks for assassinations, guerrilla warfare, government crises, purges, riots, demonstrations, revolutions, armed conflicts, and civil wars if they have ongoing diplomatic conflicts with their neighbors over shared river resources. If these conflicts involve water quantity issues, as they did in the Tigris-Euphrates basins, the risks are most acute. Countries with multiple diplomatic river conflicts (e.g. Israel and Jordan) are 500-800% more likely to experience civil wars than countries without such regional water conflicts. I also find that conflict is more likely in situations where ethnic conflict is present, especially if groups have differential access to water resources. On the other hand, water quality (e.g. pollution) or navigational rights in river basins do not pose internal security risks like water quantity issues do. Downstream states like Syria also face higher risks for internal violence than upstream states like Turkey. Even though Turkey provided military support and safe-haven for Syrian rebel groups, the two countries engaged in cooperative effort to build the Orontes dam as the civil war continued. This shows paradoxically that while water insecurity raises the risks for intrastate violence, countries still use predominantly cooperative interstate strategies when interacting with their riparian neighbors. Thus while the water wars pundits warned us about may have been avoided in the interstate arena, we may have simply missed the significant increase in intrastate violence that occurred by looking for water wars in the wrong places.



Top Seven Potential New States in the Trump Era

by Ambassador McMullen

The United States currently recognizes 195 countries as sovereign, independent states.  Two of these, Kosovo and the Holy See, are not among the 193 full members of the United Nations.  New countries have joined the international community in spurts caused by the wave of European de-colonialization in the 1960s and by the breakup of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia in the 1990s.  In general, however, states do not grant sovereign equality to other polities lightly—in fact, the international community accepts new members only grudgingly.  Potential new states could come from the UN’s list of 17 non-self-governing territories (e.g., Pitcairn Island, population 39), from the breakup of existing states, or the decision of a territory freely associated with a state, such as the Cook Islands, to seek independence.  During President Obama’s eight years in office, only South Sudan became independent, while in the administration of George W. Bush, three new countries emerged:  Timor-Leste, Montenegro (re-gained independence), and Kosovo (disputed independence).

Today marks the start of the Trump administration—and all bets are off.  The U.S. approach to governance that we have taken for granted in nearly every realm is now up for grabs.  An end to the One China policy?  Who knows?  An end to support for a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians?  Maybe so.  Reneging or renegotiating treaties on trade or security?  Could be.  To Trump-generated uncertainties one must add the shock of Brexit, rising populism and Euroscepticism in Europe, bloody civil wars in the Middle East, Putin’s cocky authoritarianism, wholesale wackiness in nuclear-armed North Korea, tensions in the South China Sea, anti-globalization, and the rise of identity politics in many places.  The fundamentals that have underpinned the liberal international system since the early 1990s are looking increasingly shaky.

Given this fluidity, partisans of the scores of aspiring new states might think their time has come.  For most, it probably hasn’t (and never will), as barriers to entry to full statehood remain dauntingly high.  Imagine the difficulties in international organizations, international law, universal treaties, and diplomacy if there were 500 or 600 states in the system.  Few people recall that an early writer on globalization, Benjamin Barber (“Jihad Versus McWold,” 1992) favored a system comprising well-run city-states.   That’s not going to happen.   However, during the Trump administration it is possible that at least one or two new states could join the international community with recognition from the United States.  Taiwan?  Any move toward independence could trigger war with China.  Palestine?  Not until Hamas and Fattah make up.  Flanders?  What to do with enclaved Brussels?  Texas?  Not with Rick Perry running the Department of Energy.

Here’s my guess as to the Top Seven Potential New States during the Trump administration (in alphabetical order).  None of them is very likely to achieve independence, in my view, but they have a better chance than most other aspirants.  I’d be interested in changes, additions, or deletions you might suggest.

Alawitestan:  Even if the Trump administration and Russia team up to “bomb the sh*t out of ISIS,” Assad’s regime, and that of Syria’s 10% minority Alawite community, is dependent on continuing outside support to stave off the large Sunni majority.  If Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah tire of propping up Assad, he may find it prudent to seek a brokered partition giving him control over an Alawite redoubt in northwestern Syria.  In the event of partition, what would happen to Syria’s large Christian, Druze, and Kurdish minorities who have been largely supportive of or neutral toward the regime?

Bougainville:  this copper-rich island belonging to Papua New Guinea will hold an independence referendum in June 2019 as per the agreement ending a bloody secessionist war in the 1980s.  Most observers think it will pass.  During WWII over 700 American troops died here fighting the Japanese.  Disturbingly, a 2013 UN survey found that 62 percent of all men interviewed on Bougainville reported perpetrating some form of rape against a woman or girl in their lifetime.  I think Bougainvilleans will vote to leave PNG, and that the government in Port Moresby will be glad to be rid of them.

Catalonia:  If Scotland leaves the United Kingdom and joins the EU, Catalonia might be encouraged to follow the Scots’ lead.  Deep-set opposition in Madrid, with an eye toward consequences in Basque-land, Galicia, and the Canary Islands, makes this an uphill battle for independence-minded Catalans.

Cyrenaica:  Italy ruled eastern Libya as a separate colony for years prior to merging it with Tripolitania and Fezzan.  Post-Qaddafi fissures pitting eastern militias, governments, politicians, and business interests against their western rivals have re-emerged.  The recent flirtation between Russia and eastern-based General Khalifa Haftar may have upped the stakes.  Will Libya’s national oil infrastructure keep the country from splitting?  Will concerns of Islamic State toeholds in chaotic Libya set the international community against any fragmentation or division?

Kurdistan:  Iraq’s Kurdish region is always just half a step away from independence, it seems.  Cooperation with Ankara over oil exports and containing the PKK could help overcome Turkey’s angst about an independent Kurdish state.  Don’t forget that ExxonMobil (headed by secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson) was an active partner of the Kurdish Regional Government.

New Caledonia:  This Pacific island French territory is due to hold an independence referendum in 2018.  The last one, in 1987, failed miserably.  Events in France, such as a National Front electoral victory followed by a Frexit vote, could sour New Caledonia’s French settlers (about 27% of the population) on remaining affiliated with the metropole.  On the other hand, the settlers could be big supporters of Marine Le Pen’s vision of France’s future.  Most of the Melanesian majority will likely vote for independence.  Older Americans may remember New Caledonia as the setting for “McHale’s Navy.”

Scotland:  Scotland merged with England in 1707 for economic reasons – the country was nearly bankrupt after a failed attempt to colonize Panama, and it had been sharing a monarch with England for decades anyway.  So could the thrifty Scots seek independence for the same reason?  Post-Brexit polls show most Scots voted to remain in the EU on economic grounds, while most English voters supported leaving for cultural or identity reasons.  In 2014, 45% of Scots voted for independence, a number likely to increase in a post-Brexit environment.

Somaliland:  This former British colony was briefly independent in 1960 before merging with Italian Somalia—it has been de facto independent for years.  Chaos in Mogadishu and a border dispute with autonomous Puntland (based on clan politics and rumors of oil) have kept Somaliland from de jure independence.  As (if?) Somalia’s government gels, perhaps it will negotiate a long-overdue divorce with Somaliland.  A thumbs up from Mogadishu would result in snappy recognition from the AU, Britain, and the U.S.

South Yemen:  Following independence from Britain in 1967, South Yemen had a Marxist government that collapsed as the Soviet Union imploded.  In 1990 it merged with North Yemen, a decision it tried to reverse in 1994 by a bloody secession attempt.  Yemen’s post-Arab Spring civil war has pitted the northern Houthis (allegedly backed by Iran) against supporters of President Hadi (supported by Saudi Arabia).  Hadi’s backers control Aden in the south and Hadi is himself a southerner.  If the combatants in time agree to a cease-fire in place, this would effectively partition the country north-south.  Hadi’s forces, southern secessionists, and militant Islamists (who control much of southeastern Yemen) would then contend for political control.  Sounds like a long-term mess.


Colombian Peace Process

by Professor Menninga

In September, a peace deal was signed between the Colombian government and the FARC. While this agreement could end one of the longest on-going civil conflicts, the path to peace was not easy. This process highlights the challenge of providing both peace and justice, a common obstacle to resolving civil wars.

For over 50 years the conflict between the Colombian government and the FARC (the acronym translates in English to Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army) has taken 220,000 lives and displaced more than 7 million Colombians. As 2016 comes to a close, however, so might this seemingly never-ending conlict. In September 4 years of negotiations between the FARC and the government ended with a signed peace accord between the combatants. The optimism felt by many with the announcement of the peace agreement was soon tempered as the world waited In October, however, the optimism brought to many by the signing of the peace accord was tempered as the peace accord was brought to the Colombian people in a referendum. On October 2nd the referendum, by incredibly narrow margins (50.2% to 49.8%) was rejected.

While much of the international community (including the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the Colombian President Santos), encouraged Colombians to accept the deal, the deal had many opponents as well. Those who voted no expressed distrust of the FARC and discontent with leniency provisions for the fighters (read more about the vote break down here). These two sticking points are not unique to Colombia, they are common in civil war resolution processes throughout the world. Concerns that the FARC wouldn’t actually put down their weapons is classically known a “commitment problem” among scholars. While they might agree to stop fighting in the agreement, once the agreement has been signed what is to stop the combatants from changing their mind? Agreements had been broken in the past, what would prevent this one from being broken as well.

For many, provisions in the peace accord also seemed too lenient on those who had committed atrocities during the war. Human rights abuses are hard to forget and to many important to address. Unfortunately, demanding justice can come at a price. Combatants who could be charged with crimes once the war is over have an incentive to keep fighting. Providing leniency can encourage them to put down their weapons and accept the deal. To encourage combatants to sign and accept peace accords, amnesty provisions are not uncommon.

The referendum created uncertainty about what was to come next, many feared that the years of negotiation would be declared failed. A few days after the vote, however, Santos was awarded the Noble Peace Prize for his efforts. Many credit this with infusing the process with momentum. Santos and FARC leadership negotiated changes to the peace accord, signing a revised version on Nov. 24. This agreement was submitted to Congress for approval instead of a referendum. On December 1st, Colombia’s Congress approved the revised agreement. This approval did not come easily either with opponents of the peace process walking out before the vote.

While the agreement has now been ratified, the concerns expressed during the referendum remain. Will both sides abide by the agreement? Early signs indicate that FARC is serious about demobilizing. Regional FARC leaders have been expelled for not demobilizing in accordance with the peace accord. Many members of the FARC benefit from the drug trade. A successful peace will require not only demobilizing combatants, but also finding opportunities that makes giving up their profitable criminal businesses seem appealing. The government has begun the process of pardoning rebels in line with the agreement (the Agence France Presse reports 110 pardons so far), indicating an intention to move forward with the agreement as well.

Inevitably, new stumbling blocks will appear. The events of the last few months and the continued pursuit of an agreement provide reasons to be optimistic. The resistance from some within FARC as well as Uribe and his followers provide reasons to be cautious in our optimism.   Only time will tell if this is the end of the war or only a pause in the middle.

Go Army, Beat Navy! Experiencing the Student Conference on U.S. Affairs (SCUSA)

by Madison Creery and Alexa Den Herder


An attempted military coup in Turkey, the Brexit vote, and Rouseff’s impeachment are all events this year alone that have tested the limits of what it means to be a democracy. Today, the U.S. is facing a world far different from the one that emerged after the end of the Cold War, one that requires a new approach to democracy promotion. This is why the theme at the 68th annual SCUSA event, “Democracy and Democratization,” was so fitting. Delegates from universities across the nation were challenged to develop policy recommendations for the new Trump administration. Ranging from policies towards specific regions of the world to policies on more abstract concepts (democracy promotion, economics, security), each round table had three-days to analyze the issue, develop a policy recommendation, and then design a final presentation. To say the least, this was far from an easy task.


(Richard Haas, Keynote speaker)

The theme, “Democracy and Democratization,” called on the delegates to reevaluate the U.S.’s current approach to democracy promotion given the current political environment of the world today.  In order to properly address each aspect of this theme, there were eight topical issues (ranging from technology to political radicalism) and eight regional issues (ranging from Sub-Saharan Africa to Iran). Within each group, the delegates had to apply the simple idea of democracy to extremely complex situations and realities. The first roadblock was to define what democracy actually meant. Democracy to one nation meant an entirely different concept to another. During the first roundtable session, the delegates soon discovered that the issues faced by the U.S. are issues for a reason. Even with teams of 10 to 20 students, developing an appropriate policy recommendation was difficult, with many students starting his or her sessions with idealistic views of the world. However, during the second roundtable session, delegates began to understand the difference between formulating an ideal version of policy, and then understanding the actual difficulties of implementing the policy.


(Russia Roundtable Delegation)

For example, consider Russia. The first action the delegates in this group took was to list all of the problems Russia faces with democracy and democratization. This part was easy. There was an endless list, including problems with civil society, government control of the media, the kleptocracy of Russia’s elite, and the list goes on. Next, the delegates determined some policy approaches the U.S. could undertake. This is part was not so easy. Suggestions such as trying to support civil society organizations already existent were made, as well as addressing Russia’s current economic woes. These and many more suggestions were made, but it seemed that the delegates forget a very important roadblock: answering “how” the U.S. was expected to do this in a Russia that holds strong anti-Western sentiments. This question, “How?” was an issue faced by every roundtable group. It was quickly realized that suggesting solutions is not the problem. This is what the elites of the U.S. government have already been doing. The problem is suggesting solutions that face the reality of the situation, that stay within the means of the U.S.’s resources and political power, and that can be not only implemented, but maintained for years to come.


(Preparing for the final presentations)

After many frustrating hours, breaks to watch weapon demonstrations and obstacle course challenges, and time to eat and go to delegate mixers, each roundtable was able to reconvene and develop feasible policy recommendations for the Trump administration. Sometimes the hardest part was knowing that there existed regions in the world where the only action that could be recommended was maintaining the current policy stance. As roundtable groups presented their findings and recommendations, the most interesting group may have been the U.S. Despite each groups’ efforts to discover the best policy for the U.S. to promote in each topic and region, the U.S. regional presentation served as a reminder to all. Before the U.S. can promote the ideas of democracy and democratization, it must first address its own issues with democratic values and institutions. Although the U.S. is the world’s leading example of democracy, no state is perfect, and the SCUSA event served to inform the delegates of this very notion. Even though some roundtables left feeling disheartened by the complex issues faced by the U.S., at the end of the day, SCUSA served as a platform to bridge the gap between civilian and military lives. A greater understanding of the policy perspectives from both groups helped in the formulation of even greater policy recommendations, and each delegate left with more appreciation for the people who serve to protect our nation. In order to tackle the daunting issues currently faced by the U.S. and the world, events such as SCUSA are needed.

(Each year the Political Science Department nominates 1-2 students to attend this conference. The Department and SCUSA cover the cost of attending the conference)


Studying Abroad in Morocco

by Jonathan McGonagle (2016 IR Major)

My name is Jonathan McGonagle and I am an International Relations and Ethics & Public Policy double major with a minor in Arabic. I am graduating this December, and am currently spending my last semester abroad in Fes, Morocco at the Arabic Language Institute in Fes (ALIF) with the University of Minnesota’s Arabic Language & Culture program.


Taking Arabic was one of the greatest decisions I made while studying at Iowa. The Arabic minor is an ideal pair with International Relations, and the Arabic Department staff is diverse and impressive. Since it is such a difficult language, I wanted to be able to immerse myself in an Arabic speaking country in order to master what I learned in the classroom.  The language classes (Modern Standard Arabic or Moroccan Colloquial Arabic “Darija”) at ALIF are intense and each student has four hours Arabic each day. Students from a wide range of backgrounds and Arabic knowledge study at ALIF. Apart from language courses, the Minnesota program requires we take an English elective and a context course where we research topics and formulate a final research paper involving our personal experiences in Morocco. In these classes, we discuss Moroccan history, politics, religion, and the overall complexity of Moroccan society in the 21st century. Morocco is one of the most interesting places to study as an International Relations major because it is a leading country in the world for effective counterterrorism efforts and has significant influence across The Middle East. Learning about the Western Sahara issue (referred to as the Moroccan Sahara here) in a Moroccan classroom was fascinating and it is a topic that many foreign students are unaware of.


The culture shock coming to Morocco was intense mainly because the Minnesota program requires that all of the students live in host families for the first six weeks. The first week  here was Eid Al-Adha or “Festival of the Sacrifice”, a Muslim holiday in which each family buys a sheep and then slaughters it on their property to eat every part of it for the rest of the week. This was an incredible experience, but since we learn Modern Standard Arabic at Iowa, the language barrier was challenging to fully grasp what was happening at first since Moroccan Arabic differs greatly. The language situation in Morocco is complex due to French colonization and the presence of the Amazigh “Berber” community. Many Moroccans speak French and the Amazigh people speak Tamazight which has several dialects and was just recognized as an official language in Morocco in 2011.  Moroccans are honored that American and European students choose Morocco for their studies. When they hear students speaking Arabic, specifically the Moroccan dialect, it means the world to them. Many Moroccans say “You are welcome in your second country!” or “Thank you for learning my beautiful language!” often.


An intriguing aspect of studying in Fes is the juxtaposition between the Ville Nouvelle (New City), Fes Jadid (New Fes), and the Medina Qadima (Old City). Ville Nouvelle, where ALIF is located, makes you feel like you are in southern France with long stretches of fountains and palm trees. Ville Nouvelle has a modern mall complete with a McDonalds, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Carrefour (modern grocery store), etc. Only a short walk from this mall takes you to the old city where it feels like you have been teleported into medieval times with donkeys passing by carrying goods, winding narrow alley ways, chaotic markets, and colorful Moroccan crafts for sale. Fes Jadid or “the Mellah” is the old Jewish quarters that used to be home to a large Moroccan Jewish population. This area is near the King’s Palace and has completely different architecture from both the Ville Nouvelle and the Old Medina with large open balconies overlooking the street markets below.


Bargaining skills are essential in Morocco because almost nothing has a fixed price. This is a skill that I was terrible at in the beginning, but I improved as my Moroccan Arabic improved. The greatest part about my experience has been creating relationships with store owners and restaurant staff who love to test my Arabic skills. My friends and I go to the same small street side restaurant almost every day where you can get a full meal for less than $1 USD. Food advice: It is impossible to be picky in Morocco, eat couscous every Friday, always eat where the most Moroccans are, and get as much street food as possible.

When visiting Morocco, it is imperative to be aware of the leniency when it comes to time. A Moroccan teacher can start class five or ten minutes late, children can be seen playing outside at late hours of the night, and meals are long and relaxed.  Moroccans greet each person they know with kisses or a handshake, followed by a small conversation about how they are doing, how their health is, how their parents and children are, etc. Moroccan men sit at coffee shops for hours on end almost every night discussing family and current events. The lifestyle is extremely casual which can be irritating for foreigners who thrive off of organization and structure.

Being American in Fes was overwhelming at first especially not knowing how the taxi system worked or how to navigate the city. The old city is still difficult to walk through without being coerced into buying something. Adjusting to life here was one of the most challenging tasks of my life, but was also one of the most rewarding. A pressing issue in Morocco is street harassment toward women (both native and foreign women). Despite this, Morocco is full of foreigners and regarded as a safe place for Americans.  

My advice for anybody traveling to Morocco is to explore other areas throughout the country. Transportation is cheap and the diverse landscape is breathtaking. I recommend exploringChefchaouen (the famous blue Moroccan city), walking around the famous Jemaa el-Fnaa in Marrakech, swimming in the ocean in Essaouira, and (of course) riding camels in the Sahara.

The Study Abroad Department at Iowa has a wide variety of programs to enhance your education in the field of International Relations. If you want to expand your comfort zone and learn Arabic intensively, I highly recommend studying abroad in Morocco. Good luck on finals and Go Hawks!

What’s Up with the International Criminal Court?

by Professor Prorok

Recently, Russia announced that it was withdrawing its signature from the Rome Statute, which established the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2002.  While Russia never ratified the Rome Statute and was therefore never a State Party to the ICC, this move is worrisome for proponents of the ICC, as it comes on the heals of three prominent withdrawals by States Parties.  Russia now joins the ranks of Burundi, South Africa, and Gambia, all of whom announced their intentions to leave the court over the past month.  Some commentators believe that more countries, particularly those in Africa, are likely to follow suit and leave the court.

This recent trend of withdrawals raises a question: should we care about states leaving the ICC?  Arguably, the answer to this question depends upon whether the ICC has positive or negative effects on global politics, particularly with respect to deterring human rights abuses and promoting peace in war-torn societies.  Luckily, recent political science research begins to answer these questions about the ICC’s effectiveness for us.  Unluckily, the answer to the question of the court’s impact is not straightforward.  Here’s what we know:

  1. The ICC may actually prolong dictatorial regimes. Recent research by Nalepa and Powell shows that a strong regional ICC presence may make it less likely that dictators peacefully step down from power. This suggests that the court, under certain circumstances, actually prevents peaceful transfers of power and democratic transitions.
  1. The ICC, under certain circumstances, prolongs civil conflicts. In my own forthcoming research, I find that the ICC prolongs conflict when it initiates a preliminary examination or a formal investigation in an ongoing conflict situation. This is because the ICC’s involvement threatens key leaders of rebel groups and governments – those whose participation and cooperation is necessary to reach a settlement deal – with prosecution.  Faced with punishment at the ICC, these leaders may avoid negotiations and refuse settlement deals as long as ICC warrants remain in effect, effectively prolonging civil war.  I find that this effect is most pronounced when the risk of punishment at home is low.
  1. While the prospects for democratization and conflict termination are grim, however, the ICC does appear to improve respect for human rights. Research by Appel shows that ICC ratification leads to improved respect for human rights in ratifier states, for example. Similarly, forthcoming research by Jo and Simmons shows that ICC involvement can improve human rights practices not only among governments but also among rebel groups who have a separatist agenda and are seeking legitimacy and support from the international community.

So, should we care about the recent spate of withdrawals from the ICC?  The court has complex and multifaceted effects that are difficult to boil down to a singular ‘bad’ or ‘good’ assessment.  Ultimately, the court can be a force for justice and a promoter of human rights in the world, despite some of its more detrimental effects.  It is imperative, however, that officials within the ICC critically assess the effects of their actions moving forward.  Perhaps the recent withdrawals of Burundi, South Africa, and Gambia, as well as Russia’s decision to withdraw its signature, will prompt some self-reflection and re-examination within the ICC.

(Professor Prorok is teaching POLI:3512 International Conflict and POLI:3523 Non-State Violent Actors in the Spring 2017 semester)

Norms of Everyday Corruption in Russia, Georgia, and Ukraine

by Professor Reisinger with Mary Elizabeth Snell

Having to pay a bribe to get something accomplished can be an unpleasant experience, and in many places around the world, such situations arise frequently. International relations research into corruption typically examines high-level corruption: when top officials take advantage of their positions to enrich themselves with large sums of money. The harm this does to a country is clear.

Yet low-level, or everyday, corruption involves more people and, even though less money is involved in each individual case, causes significant harm as well. Everyday corruption refers to exchanges between ordinary people and employees of the organizations that provide the services people need at one point or another, such as hospitals, schools, police departments, universities, or tax administrations. In a corrupt exchange, the official receives an unapproved compensation for performing job-related duties or providing additional benefits to the citizen. When this happens, it reduces the fairness in how the organization deals with people. It also makes the relevant laws or policies less effective. At the same time, everyday corruption may be the best way people have to get their important needs met (and so it is not always the official who initiates a corrupt transaction).

With two other faculty members, Profs. Vicki Claypool of Political Science and Marina Zaloznaya of Sociology, I have been studying patterns of everyday corruption in three countries: Russia, Ukraine and Georgia. In this post, I will share a few of our findings, including some that come from work done by a current UI International Relations major, Mary Elizabeth Snell, who worked on a fellowship from the UI’s Center for Research by Undergraduates.

To understand everyday corruption better, we had a leading polling firm in each country conduct a public opinion survey with a representative sample of the country’s citizens in 2015. Respondents answered a variety of questions about their views of corruption, their political and social opinions, and whether they had been asked for or given a bribe, gift or favor to an official in the preceding year.

Among the findings to emerge from the surveys is that the three countries, despite their similar histories, have very different levels of everyday corruption. We asked everyone to indicate whether, over the preceding year, they had been asked to provide a bribe, gift or favor by an official or had provided one unasked. In Georgia, those who told us they had done so came to 4.7%, about one out of twenty. In Russia, the equivalent number was 19.7%, one out of every five Russians and over four times as many as in Georgia. Everyday corruption in Ukraine is even more common than in Russia: 26.7%. Although efforts to reduce corruption have been undertaken in all three countries, only Georgia has had some success in recent years in fighting it.

So, what explains the differences among these countries, or any set of countries for that matter? Many factors come into play, but an important one is how the country’s citizens view everyday corruption. In particular, what is their normative view–that is, what actions do they think are proper and improper? To understand this, we asked people how they view four different ways that a person might try to influence an official. Figure 1 shows what percentage in each country finds it always or sometimes acceptable to give money, to deliver a gift, to do a favor or to use connections. In all three countries, a majority of people disapprove of bribing with money (the blue bars on the left for each country). The non-monetary forms of influencing an official all receive substantially more support than that. The most widely accepted form of influence-seeking in all three countries is to give a gift. Beyond these common patterns, the chart makes clear that Georgians have the least tolerance for efforts to influence officials, particularly but not solely by means of a bribe. None of the techniques is supported by a majority of Georgians. Russians find each technique more acceptable than Ukrainians do. Despite their shared Soviet past, then, the people in these three countries do not view everyday corruption in the same way.


Because many scholars have argued that everyday corruption helps people accomplish things they could not without it, we asked our respondents which of two possible worlds they would prefer: a) one in which no public servant ever took a bribe or other special compensation, they just followed procedures; or b) one in which public servants do sometimes take something in order to provide special service. In the former world, people might find themselves out of luck in getting something they need, but impartiality would be more scrupulously observed. In the latter world, people would have a way to get around regulations when it really matters. In all three countries, large majorities said they would prefer bureaucratic officials to act impartially and never take bribes. In Georgia, 83% of the population chose the no-bribes world, while 89% did in Ukraine. Russians again showed that they have a somewhat higher acceptance of everyday corruption, with 72% choosing the no-bribes option.

So these are not societies where people view everyday corruption as a good thing on the whole. They would prefer to live in a society without it. Why, then, in their view, does their society still have it? To shed light on this, we asked why “people in my country” give bribes to officials. We asked for the first and second more important reasons from among five options: a bribe is the easiest or fastest way to get things done, the officials demand it, everyone else does it, they feel grateful to the official, or they feel sorry for the official. Figure 2 shows the responses. In all three countries, the most commonly cited reason is that giving a bribe is the easiest or fastest way to accomplish what they need. Two-thirds or more list it as the most or second-most important reason. They are indicating, in other words, that while they do not approve of bribery, sometimes they cannot make the bureaucracy work for them without it. Indirectly, they are placing the blame on the organizations which do not function well enough to serve people without bribes. In Ukraine and Russia, the other frequently cited reason even more directly blames officials: bribes are paid because citizens are being extorted for them.


To sum up: everyday corruption is an important phenomenon in all three countries, but its frequency is quite different in each one. And despite the difference in frequency, some core attitudes about corruption are shared in common. For instance, while bribery is illegal, and a majority of people in all three countries would prefer a bureaucratic system that does not pressure them to bribe, many of these same people still bribe officials when they feel they must. We hope our findings will contribute to knowledge about these countries and eventually provide a foundation for policymakers to reduce corruption.