Johns Hopkins Magazine -- April 1999
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APRIL 1999

P U B L I C    P O L I C Y    &    I N T E R N A T I O N A L

Why major war is obsolete... welfare reform... Castro the athlete... faltering kin networks... briefings that mean business

Illustration by Bruno Paculli
The end of war as we know it?

War has long been society's comrade in arms. The reasons seem perpetual.

The Greeks fought for honor, the Romans for territory, the Russians to perpetuate an ideal, and the Americans to protect economic interests. From the beginning of known history, these and other nations have waged battles for some combination of these and other goals: greed, religion, justice, power.

Yet, as another war-torn century draws to a close, the world's international powers are in relative harmony with one other. There's contained aggression in China, a precarious peace in Russia. France and England have long lost their penchant for empire building. Even the United States, the world's most powerful policing force, is uninterested in protracted conflict.

What's going on?

A few Hopkins scholars have some ideas. In two recently published papers, Michael Mandelbaum, professor and director of American foreign policy at the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, and Steven David, Hopkins professor of political science, make some predictions about the future of warfare on the planet.

In David's analysis, civil wars in other regions pose a potential threat to U.S. interests. In an unrelated theory, Mandelbaum proposes that major war, on the level of World War II, is unlikely to disrupt our international civility.

In the January/February issue of Foreign Affairs, David names three hot spots: Russia, Mexico, and Saudi Arabia. "These are places where civil war is thinkable and would cause catastrophic danger to American interests," says David, who is also associate dean for academic affairs at Homewood.

That's because U.S. access to oil and other needed resources could be cut off by civil unrest; nuclear arms or other weapons of mass destruction could end up in terrorist camps; Americans living and traveling in warring nations would be at risk; and conflicts near U.S. borders could bring refugees and domestic tensions, including drug conflicts.

Mexico, David says, is already nursing a dangerous cocktail: economic disaster, pervasive corruption, the end of one-party rule, and armed revolt. "States in the process of democratizing are far more vulnerable to civil conflict than are mature democracies or authoritarian regimes," he writes. That warning also applies to Russia, whose government cannot meet the basic needs of its people. A brutal capitalism, led by a Russian mafia, is threatening the security. And, in Saudi Arabia, a woeful economy created by depressed oil prices and high unemployment is fueling religious extremism, which could spark divisions in the armed forces and a challenge to an aging monarchy.

While civil wars may pose a threat, David believes that the likelihood of a major war between formalized governments is unlikely.

Mandelbaum goes further, saying major war is obsolete. He theorizes that most civil struggles like those analyzed by David, as well as political strife in Africa and elsewhere, won't ignite conflicts on the world-reconfiguring scale of World War I or II. In an article published in the winter 1998-99 issue of Survival, the journal of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Mandelbaum writes: "Major war is obsolete in the way that slavery, duelling or foot-binding are obsolete. It is a social practice that was once considered normal, useful-- even desirable--but that now seems odious."

Mandelbaum says not only are world powers in a state of detente, but major war among them is out of fashion because a) It costs too much in terms of property and human lives and b) Even winning doesn't pay enough.

Today the instruments of war--nuclear arms, biological warfare, and other weaponry--are more destructive and far-reaching, he says, deterring multination quarrels. And countries are more focused on internal economic concerns than ideals or religious extremism that could lead to costly strife. Democracy, meanwhile, has spread, meaning a nation's citizens (who usually suffer most in any war) have more say about decisions to launch large-scale military action. "There is a tendency toward being pacific in democracies," Mandelbaum says.

His ideas, which, he jokes, make him "sound like a peacenik," have drawn academic prods from his SAIS colleagues, including those who question the democracies-are-more-peaceful theory. "If major war is obsolete," says Charles Doran, professor of international relations, in a February SAIS debate with Mandelbaum, "then it's the end of an institution that for 5,000 years has shaped the nature of civilization and, ultimately, of nations.

"Democracies have a hard time limiting war," Doran says. "They don't get involved very easily, but when they do, they do so with a massive vengeance."

Mandelbaum does note some trouble areas, including the Middle East, China, and Russia. But Middle East hostilities, he says, "bloody as they can be, do not, if confined to the countries of the region, qualify as major wars." He concedes that the world powers of China and Russia cloud the crystal ball. Any move by China to invade Taiwan, for example, or Russia to claim the historically linked Ukraine, could spill into neighboring countries.

What is the likely nature of major war in the next millennium, then? Will it go the way of smallpox and polio? Mandelbaum, Doran, and other scholars say it depends on unknown factors: advances in weapons technology, the sanity of world leaders, and the longevity of people's preoccupation with stock markets. Violence and strife, in whatever form, won't be phased out soon.

Eliot Cohen, who also joined the SAIS forum, says there may always be fans for a show of firepower like the Gulf War: "War has become something of a spectator sport," says Cohen, Hopkins professor and director of Strategic Studies at SAIS. "We cheer our team on." -- Joanne P. Cavanaugh

Making sense of their world

Street children are a disturbing sight in many developing nations. Yet despite offers of shelter, food, and clothing from aid organizations, these children often return to the streets-- and to risky behavior, says Sonali Ojha (certificate of graduate studies from SAIS in Bologna, 1992). So several years ago, Ojha, with partner Jim Lees, began helping street children in Bombay develop their own tools for improving their lives.

Bombay, which is Ojha's birthplace, is home to about 35,000 street children; they arrive in the city at an average age of 6 or 7. Many become addicted to drugs, infected with HIV, or are physically and sexually abused.

Ojha and Lees invited the children to create stories and illustrations that depict the conflicts they face. The stories are dark and frightening. In one, a child leaves his village to go to the city, where he encounters hunger, loneliness, and abuse. He and a new friend try to earn money by shining shoes, but when their shoeshine kit is stolen they turn to drugs. While the first boy successfully completes a drug rehab program, the second boy eventually dies on the streets.

Ojha and Lee hired a graphic artist to illustrate some of the stories and incorporated the material into a workbook, for use among organizations that work with street children. The team recently founded a non-profit organization called Mapintee (mapping interiors) to continue to produce and distribute these materials.

Street children spend every waking moment just trying to survive, says Ojha. "They have little time just to 'make sense' out of all that is happening around them." Mapintee tries to help each child understand "how it is that one thing he does influences another-- that he has options." --Melissa Hendricks

Baseball, Havana-style

America and Cuba--both nations where baseball is considered a national pastime--might never face opposite sides of home plate if the on-again, off-again, on-again proposed game between a Cuban all-star team and the Baltimore Orioles is any indicator.

But, if you want a glimpse of an Americanized, romanticized version of baseball in Havana, you can check out Castro's Curveball (Ballantine Books, 1999), a novel by Tim Wendel, a 1998 writing graduate of the Hopkins Part-time Graduate Programs.

Wendel, also a sportswriter for USA Today, said he got the idea for the book after a weeklong trip to Cuba in 1992. He kept hearing stories that Fidel Castro, in his youth, was supposedly recruited by the U.S. major leagues. Wendel started to do research, reading three major biographies on Castro. "All the books conceded that coming out of high school, Castro was a real good athlete, equivalent of being a blue-chip prospect today," Wendel says. "He was good at baseball and basketball, and was a champion in ping pong and a very accomplished swimmer."

In Castro's Curveball, a former 1940s American ballplayer tells how he nearly scouted the Cuban Revolution leader and curveball pitcher for the Washington Senators. Caught up in the glamour of popular revolt, Castro--and the would-be scout--turned their backs on the game.

Wendel was more persevering. He got 33 rejections from publishers, one arriving in the mail as his book was being shipped to bookstores. --JPC

If kinship ties are so strong, says McDonald, "why are so many blacks isolated? Why are so many people falling into the abyss?"
Photo by Doug Hansen
Fraying relations

In their efforts to help teenage mothers in America's inner cities, welfare reformers hope to tap a historic kinship network among African Americans. To receive aid and job training, young, pregnant women need to show they have that family support.

But a recent study by Hopkins sociologist Katrina Bell McDonald, among other research, reveals this traditional support system may be flawed or fraying. McDonald's work is outlined in a paper now under journal review, titled "De-romanticizing Black Intergenerational Support: The Questionable Expectations of Welfare Reform."

"A lot of what has been presented about extended kinship is true, but the myth has taken on a life of its own," says McDonald, assistant professor of sociology. "If this is so prevalent, why are so many blacks isolated? If there's this kinship, why are so many people falling into the abyss?"

As part of a continuing Baltimore-based study on teen mothers begun in the 1960s, McDonald interviewed a subsample of 22 women now in their 40s. Many of the former teen mothers are now grandmothers, and a few are set to be great-grandmothers.

While the women praised the support they received as teens from their own mothers, aunts, and other black women, they also reported a growing reluctance among older women like themselves to pick up the same responsibility for a new generation.

McDonald says the causes of such rifts are rooted in the perception that teen mothers today have less respect for familial authority; and that youths don't work hard to create their own economic independence, in part because they are more interested in keeping up with a fast-paced street culture, and also because there are more social programs available. The women interviewed also felt they had been more likely than today's youths to follow rules laid down by their mothers--though some of that may be nostalgia, McDonald notes.

She has also found frustration among traditional "othermothers," black women (neighbors, aunts, friends, cousins) who in the past had stepped in with money, housing, or guidance (most are biological mothers too). Today, some of these women are overwhelmed, she says; they struggle daily with the issue of just how much to give young women in their community.

There's conflict especially among some middle class black women who have earned college degrees or established careers to reach a higher standard of living. Some feel distanced from the experiences of urban, poor black women. "It shows up in a lot of the language people are using to express themselves, buzz words like 'low class' and 'ghetto-type' behavior," says McDonald. "They wrestle with the question: 'What do we have in common?'"

The 1996 interviews conducted by McDonald and study co-author Elizabeth Armstrong, now a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Michigan, revealed that some middle-aged black women feel the strain partly because they have met their own responsibilities as mothers and now see opportunities to go back to school or focus on careers.

If widespread, a lack of support can pose a problem because welfare reform legislation, known as the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, links cash assistance to teens staying in school and living with an adult, preferably a parent or family member.

"The new policy assumes that women are willing and able to take on these additional responsibilities," McDonald writes.

McDonald, whose work has also focused on black urban flight, says that crafters of welfare reform need to understand such conflicts: "Better we anticipate what may be the reluctance by some black families to help meet the needs of poor black teen mothers than to assume that family-anchored welfare-to-work programs will be unquestionably successful." --JPC

Illustration by
Bonnie Matthews
Briefings from the experts

Corporations looking for savvy international advice for forays abroad can order up academic seminars--briefings of sorts--from Hopkins experts.

Hopkins's Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, through its Executive Education Program, offers customized executive seminars to leaders in the corporate, government, and nonprofit sectors.

The program recently began leasing space in the International Trade Center in the Ronald Reagan Federal Office Building in Washington, D.C. Now business executives, government policy-makers, and others can stop by after work or during lunch to learn about Kuwait's long-term stability, the Asian fiscal dilemma, or the political outlook in Russia. Offerings range from two-hour seminars to semester-long courses.

"This is all customized, tailored toward what the client wants," says Pamela J. Marshall, program coordinator. "For example, we are doing a short program for Mobil Corporation that focuses on the Asian and Latin American financial crises." Other clients have included the CIA, the International Monetary Fund, Philip Morris Co., and the embassy of the United Arab Emirates.

Executive education has been an element of SAIS's curriculum since the school's founding in the early 1940s. Recent expansions are geared to tap the growing focus on the global marketplace, and opportunities there. Customized non-degree seminars focus on several areas: political risk assessment, intensive foreign language programs, cross-cultural negotiation, and contemporary issues in international affairs. --JPC