Beware of Greeks bearing gilts.

With the recent Greek referendum on the bailout package yielding a pretty resounding “no” to further austerity, the Greek-Eurozone crisis is set to move into a new and unprecedented phase. No solution seems in sight to this seemingly intractable and persistent tragedy. The ways forward are all fairly unappetizing to at least one large group of voters. One approach involves some sort of continued and largely European financial support for Greece. Such a solution would represent a considerable climb-down for many European governments, who would likely suffer potentially severe domestic political costs that have just been increased by the Greek government’s negotiating tactics. The other main option is for Greece to effectively declare bankruptcy and, most likely, leave the Eurozone. While it is certainly easier and safer to just sit back and watch how it unfolds rather than try to prescribe or predict a solution to this mess, I am going to instead sketch out what I think could be the outline of a way forward.

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Research Design and Kool-Aid

I shouldn’t be posting blogs, but there are times when equalizing my level of marginal guilt across the too many activities I ought to be doing requires me to write one. And the topic de jour of research methodology is too irresistible.

Is strong research design important? Ultimately it depends on your objective and audience, I generally find those disciplines, fields, and research communities that pay little attention to proper research design to be uninteresting and certainly unpersuasive. There are exceptions; some disciplines that are primarily theoretical such as mathematics and philosophy have different notions of “proof” that are both elegant and convincing. However for those disciplines such as in the social sciences where we need to rely primarily on empirical evidence to identify the relationships that determine social phenomena, the alternative to proper research design seems to be to hope that your readers have drunk the same ideological Kool-Aid as you have. Good empirical research design doesn’t dissolve in Kool-Aid, it transcends prior beliefs and opinions and, if planned and executed properly, should convince honest skeptics of your results and conclusions.

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We live in interesting times. The purported ancient Chinese curse (an attribution of dubious merit) has certainly become manifest in the past few years, especially in the area of international economic, political and social relations.  Whether it is the global financial crisis, transnational terrorism, state collapse, climate change or threats of pandemics, we are all subject to forces and witnesses to events that originate outside our borders, but which have enormous impacts on our national policies and on our lives. These challenges blend politics, economics, religion, technology, institutions, laws and history.

It is easy to overstate the risks we face as a result of the increased international integration. While the phenomenon of “globalization” can have complex negative effects, there are often equally complex benefits.  Trade agreements linked to plant closures have also created new jobs in our export sectors. Extreme destitution in some parts of the world co-exists with millions of people exiting from poverty to join the world’s growing middle class. Autocrats exercise extreme brutality in one country while people in neighbouring states embark on the difficult transition to democracy.  The many and often frightening dangers of our modern world are frequently accompanied by more benevolent forces, and the crises we face collectively at the global level can generate the cooperative institutional arrangements we need to deal with them.

The faculty and students at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs (widely known in policy and academic circles as “nip-see-ah”) have been studying this complex international system since 1966, making us by far the oldest program of this nature in Canada, and one of the oldest internationally. As a full and founding member of the Association of Professional Schools of International Affairs, we take great pride in our interdisciplinary policy-relevant focus on all aspects of international affairs. NPSIA’s unique combination of scholars, practitioners and students bring a range of disciplinary and interdisciplinary skills and interests to the analysis of international policy questions. The result is Canada’s leading program in this field.

Rather than sitting on our laurels, however, we are always striving to improve on NPSIA’s long tradition of excellence. We have just celebrated our first anniversary in our fabulous new building at Carleton University, and we are excited to have our newly revised MA program coming on stream for Fall 2013. Another new activity is this blog, which will feature the analysis and arguments of NPSIA contributors, an initiative led by our newest faculty member and occupant of the Paterson Chair in International Affairs, Professor Steve Saideman (thanks Steve).  We hope to use this medium as a vehicle for bringing our ideas to a wider audience outside of the traditional formats of peer-reviewed academic publications and policy reports.  We hope you find our posts provocative, challenging, stimulating, informative and even entertaining.  It is what we have been doing with our students for the past (almost) fifty years; we hope our efforts to do the same for you as we all seek to understand these truly very interesting times.

Dane Rowlands
The Norman Paterson School of International Affairs