Keynote Address on Crimea and Ukraine with Dr. Charles King

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Dr. Charles King kicked off the Third Annual Walsh Exchange by delivering the keynote address in McGhee Library.

At Georgetown, Dr. King is a professor of international affairs and government. His research focuses on nationalism, ethnic politics, and transitions from authoritarianism. In his talk, he analyzed the situation in Crimea from a historical and geopolitical perspective.

First, Dr. King commented that if you were to take an observer of geopolitics from the 1850s and bring them to the modern day, they would comment on how little has changed, as we continue to struggle with the same global issues – how to get out of Afghanistan, and the problem with Crimea. Dr. King then provided a quick overview of the series of events that led up to now, pointing out the significance, that this is the first time a country has questioned the geopolitical boundaries that resulted from the fall of the USSR in 1991. Even though the media may be acting like it is the first time, he pointed out that the invasion of one country by another is not new.

Commenters on the Ukrainian crisis have said that we are seeing a new kind of cold war, a point with which Dr. King disagreed. He pointed out that the cold war world was a very violent place – even if it wasn’t so for the countries directly involved, it was for the primary arena of competition – the developing world.

He argued that the era we live in now is fundamentally different from that time, especially in that it is now very difficult to create an alternate version of reality. He pointed out that we live in a time where it is very difficult to control messaging and control how your country is perceived. Whereas previously, the United States might have been able to monitor perceptions and understandings of world politics and our reputation, it is virtually impossible for the United States to put out a version of the country now.

To end, Dr. King asked a question designed to explore fundamental relevance issue to the young people sitting in the room, interested in international relations research. How does Crimea affect us as global scholars?

King pointed out that up to date, we have tended to treat countries as black boxes that just interact with each other in known ways. Instead, we need to open them up and understand what’s going on inside countries. Nobody has ever asked Crimea what they wanted in the past. Imagining how people can see the world differently from how we might see the world, injecting anthropology and ethnography into our policy, what are states available strategies to do exactly that. He argued for a more deeper and comprehensive understanding of international politics, going beyond a surface level analysis. Fortunately for us, he was able to provide us with that perspective.

Dr. King submitted his own advice for undergraduates on conducting research in international relations. Read on for his tips and we hope to see you at the 2nd day of the Walsh Exchange!

King: You have to begin by reading good research: selecting articles in the major journals (which means asking your professors to identify the major journals in their field), the major book publishers (ditto), and the work of pathbreaking scholars in your chosen discipline. Learn to use search engines in a smart way, looking out for the best and most influential work–not just any work–on your topic. A good place to start is with Google Scholar, by looking at the citation counts (that is, how many times an article, book chapter, or book has been cited by other scholars) and then using that as a first cut at what pieces of scholarship have been most influential. Doing research is a conversation, not a monologue, which means that you have to have a good sense of what has already been done in your chosen field and then design your own work so that it builds on existing knowledge. 

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