The Third Annual Walsh Exchange continued with two more engaging panels on international relations research. One panel included presentations on voting patterns in the United Nations, China’s involvement in peacekeeping operations, and the role of religion in the onset of civil war – three disparate projects tied together by their use of quantitative research methods.
The other panel, Resource Development and the Environment, explored the crucial and timely question of if, when, and how well governments are able to come together in the international arena to address the shared problem of environmental degradation and resource depletion.
The first presenter, Colleen Wood, explored this question in the context of a comparative analysis between the regional environmental regimes of the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea.
First, she examined how these regimes differ in their effectiveness. Overall, she saw that the Black Sea environmental regime had a thorough and robust set of regional responses, in contrast to the Caspian Sea, which has been relatively less successful.
Wood then presented her hypotheses for what accounts for this difference. First, if there was a regional hegemon and it was in the best interest of that state , then cooperation was more likely. Second, the level of integration with other regional and international institutions may play a role in the ability of the states to work with themselves. Third, she looked at the strength of regional epistemic communities, which she did not find to have a strong role in the variation of success between the regions. Finally, she saw that the existence of hydrocarbons plays an important role because their presence requires a decision about the division of the resources.
To conclude, Wood pointed to the Black Sea’s contractual environment, government capacity, and concern for the environment as explanations for their relative success, as the Black Sea environmental regime facilitates cooperation, has rising funding, and is able to overcome the belief that economic and environmental goals are competing. Finally, while some people might be down about the prospects of the Caspian Sea in terms of environmental standards, actually the environmental baselines for these regions were not that different. The difference may actually have more to do with the politics, institutions, and interconnections of the regions, lending cause for optimism.
Madeleine Livingston from George Washington University then presented on how Greenland could avoid the resource curse – the idea that resource revenue often undermines nation building and economic growth. Her independent variable was resource shock, and she looked at how this affected democratic consolidation outcomes, with her causal mechanisms being institutions, education, and political culture. Her research included a range of methodologies – a comprenhensive literature review, qualitative review, research groups, and field research.
Livingston pointed out that resource rich governments tend to need particularly strong checks and balances, but she found few of these in Greenland. There were no whistle-blowing institutions to provide incentives against politicians to rent-seek, and a very low capacity of the government to monitor drilling behavior. In addition to low institutional quality, there is a high presence of corruption and nepotism in Greenland coupled with a very small politically active population, creating relatively ineffective public debates and negative implications for democratic consolidation. To conclude, Livingston pointed out that it’s easy to build a road, but it’s much harder to build an institution to maintain that road in perpetuity. You must ask, what is the culture and how does it work? Without a culture conducive to such institutions, we won’t see those roads being maintained.
After the presentations, Dr. Tim Beach led the room in a conversation that compared the two research projects, which both focused on how governments were dealing with problems raised by resources and the environment – one on a regional scale, and the other on a smaller local scale. The audience raised a number of interesting questions, probing deeper into the methodologies used, the cultures of the countries, the environmental differences between them, and more in-depth details about the two projects.