Your thesis suggestion for the day

Pssst… international relations majors and masters students. Having a hard time coming up with a BA or MA thesis topic? Worried that too many of your friends are writing about Wikileaks?

Here's a fun little project, courtesy of the Financial Times' Andrew Ward and Geoff Dyer:

China's campaign to boycott this year's Nobel Peace Prize was shown to have had some success after 18 countries joined Beijing in declining invitations to Friday's award ceremony for Liu Xiaobo, a jailed democracy activist.

Russia, Saudi Arabia, Colombia and Pakistan are among 19 countries, including China, that have declined invitations to the prize-giving.

The Norwegian Nobel committee has accused Beijing of applying "unprecedented" pressure on countries to boycott the Oslo ceremony, amid Chinese anger over the award to the jailed dissident.

The other absentees are expected to be Kazakhstan, Tunisia, Serbia, Iraq, Iran, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Venezuela, the Philippines, Egypt, Sudan, Ukraine, Cuba and Morocco, according to the Norwegian Nobel Institute, which is organizing the ceremony....

Ambassadors from all countries with embassies in Oslo are invited to the ceremony each year. As of Tuesday, 44 countries had indicated they would be represented on Friday.

Two countries - Algeria and Sri Lanka - had not replied.

It was not clear that all 19 absentees were staying away because of China but the Nobel Institute said the number of expected no-shows was higher than usual.

In 2008, for example, when the prize was won by Martti Ahtisaari, a relatively uncontroversial Finnish politician, 10 embassies were not represented at the ceremony for various reasons (emphases added).

OK, here's your thesis topic: what were the key factors that determined a country's decision not to attend Lu's Nobel ceremony? How much of this was due to Chinese pressure, how much was due to ideological affinity with the Chinese regime, and how much was due to the ambassador's spouse renting The Expendables on Netflix and absolutely needing to watch it that night?

The obvious variables to consider are alliance patterns, regime type, trade with/aid from China, proximity to Beijing, and maybe a corruption measure. That said, if you look at the list of all foreign embassies in Oslo, there are some interesting questions to ask. Why is Thailand attending but not the Philippines? Why is Colombia joining Venezuela in not attending? Why is Vietnam, an enduring rival of China, allying with China on this issue?

Go to it, students! And check out the lively comments that I'm sure will be posted down below that provide additional hypotheses. And remember, "A day without social science is like a day without sunshine."

UPDATE:  Reuters does some preliminary field work.  The most interesting and candid admission:

Embassies are not required to explain why they accept or decline a Nobel invitation, but a senior Filipino diplomat spoke candidly, underlining China's growing power, especially in Asia.

"We do not want to further annoy China," he said.

Daniel W. Drezner

Why WikiLeaks will be bad for scholarship

I have an essay in the latest issue of Chronicle of Higher Education entitled "Why WikiLeaks is Bad for Scholars." My thesis is a bit more sophisticated than that -- I argue that WikiLeaks will be a short-term boom and a long-term drag for international relations scholars and diplomatic historians. You'll have to read the essay to find out why, but I do open with one of my all-time favorite academic nightmares:

Let me share one of my recurring nightmares with you. I'm delivering a paper on why the United States pursued a particular strategy during an international negotiation. Suddenly a former policy principal, groaning with gravitas, emerges from the shadows and declares, "You lie! We did that for another reason entirely." Then, with a dramatic flourish, the person raises a wadded piece of paper and shouts triumphantly, "And I have the document to prove it!" The audience gasps; my shoulders slump. My career in ruins, I wake up in a sweat.

Go read the whole thing, but I want to make one addendum here. I expect that many who read it will immediately e-mail me this Julian Assange essay and this interpretation of Assange's essay to demonstrate that the political theory of action behind WikiLeaks is not absurdly utopian but in fact quite sophisticated and far-reaching in scope.

Let me save you the trouble -- I've read them and remain unimpressed with Assange's strategy. According to these documents, Assange expects the U.S. government to become more insular and secretive, and therefore contribute to its own downfall. Glenn Greenwald is correct to observe that Assange and Osama bin Laden really do have the same political strategy -- goad the United States into overreacting, expose the U.S. government as an imperial authoritarian power, and then watch the hegemon rot from within.

Where Greenwald and I might disagree is in how effective this strategy will be. I certainly think expect that there have been will be overreactions -- I just don't think that these will really and truly cripple the U.S. government. Furthermore, the people and groups who embrace this kind of strategy also tend to overreact a lot themselves, alienating potential sympathizers and allies in the process. Assange seems like the perfect personality type to fall into that trap as well.

What do you think?