India and Opposition Politics in the Maldives

The series of essays on the Politics of Opposition in South Asia that Milan Vaishnav and I have co-edited has almost wrapped up (he and I still have a joint concluding essay to write); click the link above to see all the great contributions. The final contributor essay is by Rasheeda Didi, exploring the India issue in the domestic politics of the Maldives. This is a topic and context important in its own right, and also particularly intriguing to me given my current book project, so definitely worth a read:

“Like many island nations in Asia, the Maldives is busy grappling with the best way to advance its economic and national security interests in a region where geopolitical tensions between larger Asia-Pacific nations like China, India, and the United States continue to rise.

Unsurprisingly, views among the country’s political leaders on the best course of action differ. The political debate playing out in the capital of Malé offers a vantage point on the tradeoffs and constraints that policymakers in the Maldives and other similar countries must account for as they strive to protect their national sovereignty.

The main issue dominating this debate is India’s controversial military presence in the Maldives, though other ad hoc issues have arisen too. While the current government has actively sought to strengthen such ties with India, Yameen and the main opposition force have pressed the government to weaken such ties or even end India’s military presence altogether, as embodied by the slogan “India Out.”

To amplify the India Out campaign’s reach, the opposition has expanded its appeals beyond the capital to outer islands. The expansion of the campaign and the opposition’s heated rhetoric could create a serious rupture in the Maldives-India partnership with potentially significant consequences for both sides.”

Read more here.

Public Opinion in India & Misinformation in Pakistan

A pair of valualbe recent data projects were recently released that provide new insights into public opinion in India and Pakistan.

The first is this year’s version of the Observer Research Foundation’s survey of Indian urban youth regarding foreign policy. I’m excited about this survey, especially if it continues to be offered regularly – there are very few surveys regarding Indian foreign policy (sample-limited or not) that consistently track opinions over time. There’s lots of interesting time in there, so check it out.

The second is a fascinating new United States Institute of Peace report by Asfandyar Mir and Niloufer Siddiqui, which uses focus groups and surveys to explore the dynamics of conspiracy theory and misinformation in Pakistan. It’s important social science, with important implications; for instance, they conclude that “Many Pakistanis are aware of the prevalence of misinformation, but survey results suggest that simple corrections of misinformation do not effectively counter negative downstream social and political beliefs.”

After Twitter

I’m going to be posting a lot more here now. I finally bailed on active posting on Twitter, at least for the time being. I joined Twitter in February 2015 very soon after my first kid was born as something mindless to do during long immobile naps and the like. Then I started getting some followers and indulging my endless distractibility, and ended up with over 20,000 followers and a lot of posts.

The upsides of Twitter are clear:

  • incredible access to news and expertise from all over the world (for instance, irreplaceably useful for following the Russia-Ukraine war or 2019 India-Pakistan crisis).
  • numerous new connections can be made fairly easily – I discovered a lot of smart and interesting people whose work I now read.
  • opportunities for wide visibility, including in policy and journalistic circles, as well as in Asia.
  • the latter two points are especially useful for someone located in “flyover country” in the Midwest (Chicago is a wonderful city, but not Boston-DC-NYC or the West Coast for international connections), interested in a region on the other side of the world, and, initially, an untenured professor trying to get a bit of attention in a staggeringly crowded marketplace.

I benefited a lot from Twitter, and even ended up writing an article using Twitter data.

The downsides, however, became increasingly apparent (they were always obvious to people wiser than me, like my viscerally Twitter-skeptical wife). Contributions are ephemeral and quickly disappear, even compared to blog posts. South Asia twitter is incredible in many ways, but I wasn’t very good at ignoring the intense vitriol accompanying it – like in many other parts of the site, the path to engagement is either denouncing or being denounced. Academia is a world of endless comparison, so there was a certain amount of unproductive stress that came with seeing people accomplishing many wonderful things that I was not.

Most importantly, I eventually internalized the fact that I say much stupider things when I don’t have an editor, reviewers, or 24 hours of letting something sit. I definitely learned that the hard way, however, after too many cringe-worthy tweets. The inclination to shoot something, anything, off into the void was too strong. As a matter of limiting my own idiocy, a couple years ago I decided to only post news or scholarly articles or anodyne commentary that lacked any real value-added. Yet I still found myself unable to stop from checking notifications and the like, making it the worst of all worlds.

Throw in the Elon Musk misadventure and the chaos it suggested (i.e. Trump being invited back on, the Kanye stuff, etc), and it seemed like a good time to stop. I’ll definitely still read some Twitter, assuming it chugs along, to get up to speed on crises, elections, breaking news, and the NBA, but I’ve hit the flat of the curve in terms of the value I get from it.

I’ll thus be reinvigorating this blog for the couple dozen of you who ever read it. I’ll take a slower pace and a longer shelf-life over the vastly-higher-visibility but fleeting world of twitter. The goal is a mix of substantive commentary with, much more frequently, links, short notes, and photographs.

Great Power Competition and Internal Politics in Asia, Then and Now

I have a new piece up in Lawfare that builds on a research agenda I’ve been pursuing as a hopeful-third book project, and assorted scholarly and policy articles. The broader project explores how geopolitical rivalries intersect with the domestic politics of third-party states affected by these competitions among great powers. I took a couple years off of public-facing writing to both deal with various other things in life and to learn about a broader set of cases and dynamics than I’d previously explored; there’s no point just repeating the same arguments about the same topics and places indefinitely – sometimes it seems like I just need to re-tool and find something new to say.

This article zooms in on a set of lessons from Asia’s Cold War for analysts, scholars, and policymakers on how to think about the internal political dynamics within these third-party countries. The first couple paragraphs set the stage:

“Competition between the United States and China in Asia has generated ongoing discussion about whether Asia’s present will resemble its Cold War past. In one key area, the contemporary period is—at least so far—much less dangerous. From the 1940s through the 1980s, Asia’s Cold War intertwined major power rivalry with intense local struggles for power and influence. Domestic political competition was frequently embedded within and connected to external geopolitics, producing complex, and often violent, outcomes.

Classic questions of strategy and statecraft could not be cleanly separated from internal political struggles for power, legitimacy, and control. The “authoritarian Leviathans” of Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia deployed anti-communism at home and abroad. Marxist-Leninist regimes with strong ties to the Soviet Union, China, or both emerged and consolidated in Laos and Vietnam. Militaries in Thailand and Pakistan mobilized Cold War fears and U.S. support to protect their political power. South Vietnam, Laos, Afghanistan, and Cambodia experienced extraordinary levels of instability and civil war, with internal armed actors closely linked to, though not fully controlled by, external players. The Sino-Soviet split and India-China competition also influenced the internal politics of states in the region.

This fusing of the global and local was not universal—India was comparatively insulated from these Cold War currents, for instance—but it helped to spur extraordinary levels of violence and political instability from 1946 until the mid-1970s in Southeast Asia, and then the fragmentation of Afghanistan and its spillover in the 1980s.”