Making Academia Matter Again


April 19, 2018

Making Academia Matter Again

by 

Academics can no longer afford to pat themselves on the back and celebrate their own privileges. If they are to defend the freedom of their enterprise, they must restore dialogue with the broader public and ensure that the relevance of their research – and how research actually occurs – is well understood.

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CAMBRIDGE – Academic freedom is a precious commodity, critical to ensure that discovery of the truth is not encumbered by political or ideological forces. But this does not mean that intellectuals should hide in academic bunkers that, by protecting us from criticism by “non-experts,” allow ego to flourish and enable a focus on questions that are not actually relevant to anyone else. We experts should have to explain ourselves.

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The University of Cambodia, Phnom Penh
 

This means, first and foremost, that researchers should be communicating their results in a way that supports accountability and confirms that public funds and education benefits are being used in ways that are in taxpayers’ interests. The duty to communicate findings also ensures that the public is educated, not only about the topic itself, but also about the way research actually works.

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Scholarly books and journals often give the impression that the truth is revealed through a neat, orderly, and logical process. But research is far from being a pristine landscape; in fact, it resembles a battlefield, littered with miscalculations, failed experiments, and discarded assumptions. The path to truth is often convoluted, and those who travel along it often must navigate fierce competition and professional intrigue.

Some argue that it is better to hide this reality from the public, in order to maintain credibility. For example, in 2014, physicists collaborating on a project known as BICEP2 thought that they had detected gravitational waves from the beginning of the universe. It was later realized that the signal they had detected could be entirely attributed to interstellar dust.

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H.E. Dr. Kao Kim Hourn, University of Cambodia (UC) Founder, Board and Trustee Chairman, And President seeks to create a Research  Culture at UC,Phnom Penh.

Some of my colleagues worried that this revelation would undermine faith in other scientific predictions, such as those involving climate change. But would hiding the truth from the public really do more for scientific and academic credibility than cultivating a culture of transparency? Probably not. In fact, being honest about the realities of research might enhance trust and create more space for innovation, with an informed public accepting that risk is the unavoidable and worthwhile cost of groundbreaking and broadly beneficial discoveries.

Another way to ensure that academia continues to innovate in useful and relevant ways is to blur the traditional boundaries among disciplines – the frontiers where invention so often happens. To that end, universities should update their organizational structure, moving away from clearly delineated departments in order to create a kind of continuum across the arts, humanities, and sciences. Students should be encouraged to take courses in multiple disciplines, so that they can weave those lessons and experiences into new patterns of knowledge.

To make this process sustainable, universities should ensure that the courses and curricula they offer help students to develop the skills that a fast-changing labor market demands. This means not just creating new curricula today, but also updating them every few years, in order to account for new trends and discoveries in areas ranging from artificial intelligence and Big Data to alternative energy sources and genome editing.

Professors, for their part, should approach their job as mentors of future leaders in science, technology, the arts, and humanities, rather than attempting to mold students in their own intellectual image. Of course, the latter approach can be useful if the goal is to advance the popularity of one’s own research program and to ensure that one’s own ideas and perspective endure. But that is not the fundamental mission of academia.

The louder the consensus in the echo chambers of academia become, the greater the ego boost for those who inhabit those chambers. But history shows that progress is sometimes advocated by a soft voice in the background, like that of Albert Einstein during his early career. Truth and consensus are not always the same. Diversity of opinion – which implies diversity of gender, ethnicity, and background – is vital to support creativity, discovery, and progress.

That is why it is so important for prizes and professional associations to be used not to reinforce mainstream perspectives, but rather to encourage independent thought and reward innovation. This does not mean that all opinions should be considered equal, but rather that alternative views should be debated and vetted on merit alone.

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We in academia cannot continue to pat ourselves on the back, celebrating our own privileges and failing to look at the world in new and relevant ways. If we are to defend the freedom of our enterprise, we must restore dialogue with the broader public and ensure that the relevance of our work is well understood – including by us.

Fareed Zakaria: Trump has drawn three red lines that are bound to be crossed


February 5, 2018

Fareed Zakaria: Trump has drawn three red lines that are bound to be crossed

by Dr, Fareed Zakaria

https://www.wvgazettemail.com

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NEW YORK — President Trump’s State of the Union speech mostly ignored the world outside of America. He made a few tough statements on things like the Iran deal and Guantanamo and described (accurately) the evil nature of the North Korean regime, but he said very little about his foreign policy. This masks a more dangerous reality. The Trump administration has in fact, either accidentally or by design, laid out aggressive markers in three different parts of the world — three red lines — without any serious strategy as to what happens when they are crossed.

The first is with North Korea. Trump and his top officials have asserted that the era of “strategic patience” with North Korea is over. They have ruled out any prospect of accepting North Korea as a nuclear state and believe traditional deterrence will not work. The president has specifically promised that North Korea would never be able to develop a nuclear weapon that could reach the United States. Meanwhile, CIA Director Mike Pompeo says Pyongyang is “a handful of months” away from having this capability.

Image result for State Department Victor ChaDr.Victor Cha is a Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University, Washington DC and served as Director for Asian Affairs at the National Security Council under President George W. Bush.
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So what happens when that red line is crossed? What would be the American response? Victor Cha, a seasoned expert who was expected to be the nominee for ambassador to South Korea, explained to the administration that there really is no limited military option, not even a small strike that would “bloody” the nose of the North Korean regime. For this frank analysis, he was promptly dropped from consideration for the ambassadorship.

Cha simply raised the fundamental problem with the Trump administration’s approach. It has outlined maximalist goals without any sense of how to achieve them. In response to North Korea’s new capabilities, would Trump really rain down “fire and fury” and “totally destroy North Korea”?

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Trump has done something similar with Iran. He has announced that he will withdraw from the nuclear deal if Congress and the European allies don’t fix it. The Europeans have made clear they don’t think the pact needs fixing and believe it is working well. In about three months, we will reach D-Day, when Trump has promised to unilaterally withdraw if he can’t get a tougher deal.

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Were Trump to unilaterally abrogate the accord, the Iranians have several options. They could pull out themselves and ramp up their nuclear program, which would mean the Trump administration would have to deal with another North Korea, this time in the Middle East. Or Iran could simply sideline the United States, keep adhering to the deal, and do business with the rest of the world. Most likely, Tehran would make the United States pay a price by using its considerable influence to destabilize Iraq, which is entering a tumultuous election season.

The third arena where the White House has talked and acted tough without any follow-on strategy is Pakistan. The administration has publicly branded that country a terrorist haven and suspended military aid on those grounds. This is an entirely understandable impulse, because the Pakistani military has in fact been supporting terrorists and militants who operate in Afghanistan, even against American troops, and then withdraw to their sanctuaries across the border in Pakistan. As then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen noted in 2011, one of these terrorist groups “acts as a veritable arm of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency.”

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Demonstrators shout slogans in response to U.S. President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital during a protest in Peshawar, Pakistan Dec. 12, 2017.

But being right is not the same thing as being smart. Most experts predicted that Pakistan would respond to the American action in two ways: First, by pursuing closer relations with China, which can easily replace the aid. Second, the Pakistani military would ratchet up the violence in Afghanistan, demonstrating that it has the capacity to destabilize the pro-American government in Kabul, throw the country into chaos and tie down the U.S. forces that are now in their 17th year of war. And that’s what has happened. China immediately voiced support for Pakistan after the American announcement. And in the last two weeks, Afghanistan has suffered a spate of horrific terror attacks.

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Thomas Schelling, the Nobel-prize winning scholar of strategy, once remarked that two things are very expensive in international affairs: threats when they fail, and promises when they succeed. So, he implied, be very careful about making either one. President Trump seemed to understand this when his predecessor made a threat toward Syria in 2013, and Trump tweeted, “Red line statement was a disaster for President Obama.” Well, he’s just drawn three red lines of his own, and each of them is likely to be crossed.

Fareed Zakaria is a columnist for The Washington Post and host of Fareed Zakaria GPS on CNN.

Foreign Policy: Diplomats can be developed


February 1, 2018

Foreign Policy: Diplomats can be developed

https://www.diplomacy.edu/resources/general/knowledge-management-and-diplomatic-training

For a long time it was held that a diplomat is born as such and that it is impossible to produce a diplomat by training. This view was based on a lack of distinction between personal characteristics and qualities of the diplomat on one hand, and the knowledge and skills he needs to do his job on the other. Whereas the first are indeed part of the physical and mental makeup a person is born with, the second can be and must be taught. The days when any well-born and well-bred dilettante of great personal charm could handle diplomatic business as a result of these in-born and in-bred qualities are long past, if they ever truly existed. However there are some characteristics and qualities a diplomat should possess if he is to perform at all well in his profession, however vast his acquired knowledge and skills may be. Thus, before going into the issue of training, we should spend a few moments to consider what these qualities and characteristics are or should be.

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America’s Top Diplomats from Henry Kissinger to John Kerry

Diplomacy is not for the sickly, the weak, the neurotic and the introverts. A robust constitution and good health are needed to stand the physical and mental strain put on diplomats in many situations. Being able to sleep well in almost any circumstances is of great help. A well-balanced personality, good self-control, a natural inquisitiveness, an interest in understanding others and their manner of thinking are also essential. This should be complemented by a friendly and outgoing nature, natural courtesy and good manners, a capacity to create empathy and develop friendships. A gift for languages is a great asset, because being able to communicate with opposite numbers in their own language is becoming increasingly important, especially in some less traditional forms of diplomacy.

What  must a Diplomat know?

For a long time diplomats studied history, languages and law, and this was seen as sufficient. Even today, lawyers are over-represented in foreign ministries. A quick look at the subject-matters of present-day international relations should suffice to impress on anyone the importance of multi-disciplinary academic knowledge. To that extent the generalist-specialist controversy does not exist at all. All diplomats must have basic familiarity with history, law, economics and political science. And it is therefore not surprising that curricula of all respected training institutions includes these subjects.

Image result for condoleezza riceDr. Condoleezza Rice is an Expert on Russia and was a Secretary of State with her predecessor, General Colin Powell

 

But diplomats must also be able to acquire specialist knowledge in nearly any subject when needed. This may be in order to assume a certain position within the diplomatic establishment or in order to handle a temporary task like a specific mission or negotiation. It is therefore important when providing them with their initial training, or when completing such training undergone prior to the admission to the career, to promote the capacity for assimilating unfamiliar subjects at short notice. A diplomat who has this ability can look forward to a variegated career, whereas one who finds it difficult to assimilate new knowledge is likely to spend his life dealing with matters well within his range of competence, thus becoming some sort of specialist not to be considered for assignments handling other matters.

How should a Diplomat be trained?

In many countries with an old diplomatic tradition, candidates for the diplomatic service are expected to come with a sufficient baggage of basic academic knowledge to make initial training in such fields unnecessary. They undergo tests and examinations to make sure that they possess such knowledge. Training after recruitment is restricted mainly to teaching professional skills and to adding to basic academic knowledge specialised subjects of particular importance for diplomatic activities. Language training often occupies a predominant place in such systems. Other countries prefer to recruit candidates to whom basic academic disciplines for diplomacy are taught during a training stage. This kind of basic training is also provided by regional institutions such as the Mediterranean Academy of Diplomatic Studies, as many countries cannot afford to provide basic training to the few diplomats they recruit every year or only from time to time.

 

For many years now the need for continuous training of diplomats has been recognised, but little headway has so far been made for its satisfaction. This is quite understandable as diplomats once recruited are supposed to spend their time working and not learning. Current budgetary constraints make it even more difficult to release a diplomat for any kind of continuous training. On the other hand, the rapidly changing content of diplomatic interaction and of methods used make in-career training an inescapable necessity. Fortunately, as we shall see, new training approaches and facilities make it easier to respond to this necessity without disrupting a diplomat’s activity to an undue extent.

The evolution of training approaches and methods

Institutions training candidates for diplomacy or offering training for beginning diplomats were mostly offspring of universities or strongly influenced by academic teaching methods. When foreign ministries started to set up in-house training establishments, these again mostly relied on university lecturers for the teaching of academic subjects. Thus ex-cathedra lecturing was the dominant approach, sometimes complemented by seminars. Where practising diplomats were used to convey their experience to newly recruited colleagues, the lecture method was invariably used.

Only in the 1960s were simulations of imagined or real diplomatic situations introduced to a meaningful extent. Diplomat trainees were made to simulate pleadings before arbitral or judicial tribunals, negotiations or even complex international crises. A pioneer in these fields were the Stabex exercises conducted at the Graduate Institute of International Studies for the trainees of the Carnegie diplomatic training courses. In conformity with the reluctance in those days to upset any existing country or government, most exercises were between invented Ruritanias, any resemblance to actual countries being “entirely coincidental.” These days simulations use much more concrete approaches. Participants are made to simulate a crisis or negotiations which already took place (with the intent to show that the historical outcome was not the only possible one), or they simulate oncoming negotiations or even simulate alongside an ongoing negotiation. Such exercises allow diplomat trainees to immerse themselves in the reality of past or ongoing events rather than to amuse themselves with imagined “games.” For their conduct, the expertise of seasoned negotiators is needed, who are in the thick of ongoing activities. They are of course not always easy to get hold of and all of them do not have the ability to convey their expertise to participants.

As in other fields, information technology has introduced new possibilities and methods for the training of diplomats. Computer-assisted and computer-based training allows trainees to participate in their own formation. By breaking down subjects into relatively small teaching modules it has become possible to move from basics into any degree of detail. As a result, basic and continuous training become interlinked. A diplomat who has to assimilate specialised knowledge in a given field can start with going back to what he already knows or, if he is totally unfamiliar with the subject area, acquaint himself with the basics. Then he proceeds gradually in the direction of what he really needs and thus finds it relatively easy to achieve a considerable degree of mastery.

Information technology also allows training to become delocalised. Trainers and trainees can interact in cyberspace without having to be physically present in the same place. This enormously facilitates continuous training, as a diplomat can do a lot of learning by himself, on his computer, at the time and for the duration of his convenience. Interaction in real time then starts from this base and becomes much more intensive and lively. As indicated, a special branch of continuous learning is the preparation for a given mission or event. In the case of multilateral negotiations, chosen negotiators can do their basic learning together and even simulate their interaction before the real event. This should reduce the duration of actual meetings, a constant preoccupation of cash-strapped international institutions.

Consequences for training institutions

Should such institutions abandon their present methods of teaching, send home their students and proceed to teach them over the Internet? This would certainly be an unwelcome and extreme approach. Every teacher and most students know how important physical interaction is. Spending together not only classroom hours but also working together, studying together and discussing matters not immediately related to the teaching programmes are essential elements of learning. Moreover, the fundamental task of the diplomat is interpersonal contact and interaction. All this can to some extent be at least simulated in cyberspace, but sometimes the real thing is needed, especially in more recent forms of diplomatic interaction, where the diplomat must meet people who are not diplomats, distrust diplomats, want to be physically present with their guns and do not believe in cyber-interaction.

The approach chosen by the Mediterranean Academy of Diplomatic Studies for its distance learning programmes should therefore be highly commended. Trainees and trainers spend an initial period together in Malta or some other location before repairing to their workplaces and resuming interaction from there. Preliminary trial runs have shown that in ten days of intense cohabitation and interaction participants of a programme become a family whose members henceforth feel at ease with each other also in cyberspace.

As we are at the outset of what may well be termed a revolution in teaching approaches and methods, individual training institutions should feel free to find their own approach, for which cultural characteristics of those involved may also play an important role. It will be interesting to meet again some years hence in Malta—and not in cyberspace—to compare notes on experience acquired.

ASEAN@50: The Challenge Post 50


May 12, 2017

Cambodian Global Dialogue–ASEAN@50: The Challenge Post 50

Featuring H.E. Dr. Sok Siphana, Advisor to The Royal Government of The Kingdom of Cambodia, Dean Amb. Keo Chea, Techo Sen School of Government and International Relations, and Prof. Dr. Din Merican, Special Assistant to The President, The University of Cambodia.– Courtesy of SEATV, Cambodia

A History of U.S. Foreign Affairs in Which Grandiose Ambitions Trump Realism


January 2, 2017

A History of U.S. Foreign Affairs in Which Grandiose Ambitions Trump Realism

Malaysia-China Relations: A New Turn? – Analysis


November 25, 2016

 

Malaysia-China Relations: A New Turn? – Analysis

Malaysia’s Najib Razak. Photo by Malaysian government, Wikipedia Commons.

Malaysia’s perceptible tilt towards China especially in economic relations reflects Malaysia’s foreign policy of hedging major power influence in the region and globally. While it seeks closer ties with China, it does not imply that Malaysia is shifting away from the US.

By Johan Saravanamuttu and David Han Guo Xiong*

Since Najib Razak assumed the premiership of Malaysia in 2009 China has featured significantly in his foreign policy. It was Najib’s father Tun Abdul Razak, Malaysia’s second prime minister, who was the first leader in Southeast Asia to establish diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic in 1974.

That said, Malaysia’s foreign policy has been one of hedging against major powers in the region and globally. While Malaysia has shown great awareness of China’s rise and importance in the Asia Pacific region, it remains highly cognisant of the political and economic role of the United States in the region.

Malaysia’s Perceptible Tilt Towards China

Thus, Malaysia is among the 12 countries that have signed the US-sponsored Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement in Auckland, New Zealand, on 5 February 2016. The TPP is interpreted by some observers to be a crucial pillar of US rebalancing in the Asia Pacific to check China’s rising political and economic influence.

However, it is uncertain whether the US would commit to the TPP after the Obama administration. Thus, seemingly as a hedge to the signing of the TPP, the Malaysian parliament approved on 20 October participation in the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) — thought to be China’s brainchild — just prior to the Malaysian premier’s seventh state visit to China this week.

Recent developments in Malaysia demonstrate a perceptible tilt towards China, particularly in economic relations. When President Xi Jinping unveiled China’s 21st Century Maritime Silk Road or “One Belt One Road” (OBOR) strategy some three years ago, Malaysia welcomed the initiative and has remained very enthusiastic about it.

On 3 September 2016, the Malaysian Minister of Transport, Liow Tiong Lai (concurrently President of the political party Malaysian Chinese Association, MCA) extolled the virtues of OBOR in a Malaysia-China Business Dialogue event in Kuala Lumpur. Liow suggested that Malaysia could be “China’s gateway to ASEAN” and a crucial link to the 65 OBOR countries across Asia, Europe and Africa.

Impact of New Posture

This new Malaysian posture has come together with concrete developments in Malaysia-China relations. Malaysia is currently China’s largest trading partner in ASEAN with total trade of some US$100 billion expecting to reach $160 billion by 2017. China has also recently become the largest direct foreign investor in Malaysia, overtaking Singapore, Japan, Netherlands and the US, through buying assets in Malaysia’s troubled 1MDB.

These multi-billion assets bought from the Malaysian national fund include Edra Global Energy sold to China General Nuclear Power Corp for $2.3billion and a 60 percent stake in Bandar Malaysia, 1MDB’s flagship 197-hectare property site in Kuala Lumpur, at a price tag of $1.7 billion to China Railway Construction Corp. The China railway corporation is also thought to be in pole position to undertake the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore high-speed railway worth some $16.6 billion.

More interestingly, in keeping with its OBOR policy, China has been deeply involved in the rebuilding and refurbishing of sea ports in Malaysia. According to Transport Minister Liow, Malaysia’s has signed a “port alliance” with China linking six of Malaysia’s ports to 11 of China’s. Currently, China is helping Malaysia to rebuild and expand port services at Klang, Malacca and Carey Island in the Straits of Malacca and Kuantan on the South China Sea. Some 70 to 80 percent of the ships passing through the Straits of Malacca are said to originate from China.

Kuantan on the east coast of the Malay Peninsula would be of great importance to Chinese maritime trade as well. Liow said his ministry is therefore encouraging China to participate in port construction across 120 kilometers of the Malacca Straits. According to Liow, the port alliance with China would help develop shipping, logistics and other related industries to augment the $1 trillion worth of OBOR trade.

Ramifications for Malaysia

There are three ramifications of Malaysia’s embrace of OBOR. Firstly, OBOR, which is partly funded by the AIIB, would help China to further expand its prominence in Southeast Asia. It is expected that through the OBOR, Malaysia would be a key node for China to access the ASEAN market. China’s increased economic prominence through OBOR and the AIIB could improve China’s image among ASEAN countries as a major player in boosting the economies of Southeast Asia.

The strengthening of economic ties between ASEAN and China would obviate potential conflict, and enhance the benefit for ASEAN and China to work closely together economically.

Secondly, Malaysia’s perceptible tilt towards China in the OBOR venture could be a nudge to the US to maintain its current commitment to Southeast Asia. If the US, under its new President, reneges on its commitment to TPP, this would be a setback for Malaysia as the TPP has the potential to enhance Malaysia-US economic ties.

Thus, Malaysia’s favourable tilt towards China and OBOR could help to cushion some of the negative fallout of such a scenario. It could also be a signal to the next US President that America risks losing the support of its friends to China if the US does not continue its economic rebalancing role in Asia.

Thirdly, domestically, strengthening economic growth would be advantageous to Najib’s administration. Due to domestic political challenges having a strong economic performance would enhance the legitimacy of Najib’s government. The economic benefits of OBOR would play a vital role in buttressing Najib’s regime.

Najib’s recent visit to China  will improve bilateral ties significantly with OBOR featuring prominently in this development. This does not however imply that Malaysia is coming under China’s sway while shifting away from the US.

Drawing closer towards China economically is a pragmatic move by the Malaysian government to expand its economic space and boost economic growth. Provided the US continues its commitments to Southeast Asia Malaysia will also seek to build up ties with the US for regional peace and development.

*Johan Saravanamuttu, Adjunct Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, was previously professor of political science at Science University of Malaysia (USM). David Han is a Research Analyst with the Malaysia Programme at RSIS.