Spring 2017 Calendar

Featuring Perry World House's affiliated faculty, postdoctoral fellows, and visiting fellows, PWH Seminars are designed to showcase and workshop policy relevant research in progress. Seminars are generally held each Wednesday in the Perry World House conference room and are intended for faculty and graduate students. If you would like to be added to the PWH Seminars mailing list, please email worldhouse@pwh.upenn.edu. 

Wednesday, March 15, 12 - 1:30pm

US Interest in Middle East Oil: A Century of Expert Fabulism
Roger Stern
Visiting Scholar, Kleinman Center for Energy Policy
Faculty Fellow, School of Energy Economics, Policy & Commerce, University of Tulsa

The assumption that the United States has a national interest in Middle East oil has gone largely unquestioned by historians and political scientists. I assert that their assumption is wrong. The notion that US oil supply is or was ever so threatened as to require military protection is a confection, which I call “oil scarcity ideology.” Experts derived the ideology from a meaningless syllogism of secular apocalysm and economic fabulism. The apocalypse was impending peak oil. The economic fabulism was that other countries could and would try to interrupt US oil supply. The USSR, for example, was believed to be planning an invasion of the Middle East to offset its dwindling domestic production, and Middle East oil-producing countries were believed to possess an “oil weapon” with which they could punish the US by withholding supply. The conclusion of the syllogism was that the US must exert military force to protect Middle East supply. This sounded threatening, but since oil always proved abundant and was always obviously so based on market information, the syllogism was meaningless. There is nothing exceptional in the development of foreign policy by experts, but there was something exceptional in oil scarcity ideology as a basis for policy. The ideology resisted modification when its assumptions were proved wrong, which was always. Despite falsification, there was no learning. Rather, the scarcity ideology policymaking dynamic operated with increasing success. The result was serial escalations in the aggressiveness of US policy towards the Persian Gulf; the US commitment to share of Ottoman oil as spoils of World War I; the 1953 coup against Iran; the Carter Doctrine of 1980; support for Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-88; and the 1991 Gulf War. Peak oil anxiety was high in 2003, but was less important as a rationale for the Second Gulf War and occupation of Iraq. By then, decades of US policy based on scarcity ideology had helped destabilize the region, a condition that provided more compelling rationales for intervention.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017, 12 - 1:30pm

Bitter Peace: How America’s Victory in the Cold War Led to Political Division, Failing Wars, and the Rise of Donald Trump
Dominic Tierney
Associate Professor of Political Science, Swarthmore College
Visiting Fellow in Residence, Perry World House

America today is a troubled land: fractious, discordant, mistrustful. Economic inequality is approaching record levels. Recent American wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq deteriorated into costly and unpopular quagmires. Confidence in many national institutions like the presidency, Congress, and the media, is at historic lows. To understand these divisions, people have pointed to globalization, post-industrial decay, and anxiety about fast-changing demographics. But a critical explanation was the unanticipated consequences of the end of the Cold War. The peaceful resolution of superpower competition was one of the greatest triumphs in American history. Just as the champagne corks cracked open in the West, however, Soviet official Georgi Arbatov told an American audience: “We are going to do a terrible thing to you. We are going to deprive you of an enemy.”

Without an external adversary to unite Americans, U.S. politics became polarized, income inequality heightened, and racial division widened. Washington succumbed to hubris, and was lured into wild adventures, including the invasion of Iraq. Meanwhile, enemies and rivals seized the opportunities provided by American hegemony to improve their position. Ultimately, these dynamics laid the path to the Trump presidency. From the American Revolution onward, Americans have often required a powerful enemy to create social and political cohesion. Perhaps most surprisingly, the American left needs an enemy. We tend to think that foreign threats and wartime demands strengthen the political right, by triggering political repression and channeling resources into the military. But the presence of adversaries has historically aided progressive social change, including income equality, civil rights, and U.S. backing for international institutions. Can Americans survive an age of peacewithout tearing themselves apart?

Wednesday, April 5, 12 - 1:30pm

The Road From the Paris Climate Agreement
Andrew Light
George Mason University & World Resources Institute
2013-2016,  Senior Climate Change Adviser, U.S. Department of State

In December 2015 over 190 countries met in Paris for the 21st meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change where they succeeded in creating a new international climate agreement.  Many have heralded the outcome as a groundbreaking achievement for international diplomacy and global climate action.  Others have argued that the climate commitments that parties brought to the table in Paris are ultimately too weak to achieve the agreements’ lofty aspirations.  To better understand the significance of the new Paris Agreement we will review the recent history of the UN climate negotiations, how this outcome evolved from earlier failed attempts in this process, and me sure what its impact could be.  A more pressing question however may be what new future for global climate cooperation is now required of us after Paris, especially in light of the last federal election in the United States.  To close the current gap between the Paris pledges for emission reductions, and what is needed to achieve our long-term goals for climate stabilization, we will need to continue to strengthen the profile of climate change as equal to other global priorities, and find new opportunities for enhanced climate action that all parties can embrace despite their differing domestic circumstances.

Wednesday, April 12, 12 - 1:30pm

Beth Simmons
Andrew Mitchell University Professor of Law and Political Science, University of Pennsylvania

Co-sponsored with the Christopher H. Browne Center for International Politics