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Mershon Center for International Security Studies

Randall Schweller

Since 1945, American foreign policy has been captured by liberal hegemony — a doctrine of deep engagement with the rest of the world that sees multilateral regimes, democratic institutions, economic interdependence, and the export of American values and norms as the most effective and appropriate means to advance U.S. interests and to get others to do and want what Americans want. In contrast, much of the American body politic has, for decades now, embraced a more Realist understanding of world politics, especially regarding the use of force and foreign economic policies. They want a grand strategy of global restraint, retrenchment, and a return to realist principles rooted in narrow self-interest, not one that embraces democracy promotion, humanitarian intervention, R2P, and nation building.

President Trump’s victory may signal a long overdue sea change in American foreign policy and national security priorities. Now more than ever we need a Program for the Study of Realist Foreign Policy to explore three dimensions of the politics, policy making, and statecraft of U.S. national security issues:

1. Goals: What are the goals of various competing grand strategies? How does each propose to advance: (i) the security and physical survival of the state; (ii) the sovereign independence of the state (including the freedom of its inhabitants to choose their own way of life and type of government); and (iii) the economic security of the state and the prosperity of its populace?

2. Assessment: How do we score competing foreign policies and, more broadly, grand strategies? Realism itself offers three competing grand strategies: off-shore balancing, selective engagement, and primacy. How do they differ? How can we best assess their costs and benefits?

3. Implementation: Good policies are important, but they are not sufficient. They must be put into practice. Yet, even the best policies can encounter implementation challenges. Consider, for instance, the grand strategy of “Off-shore Balancing.” Can the United States retreat from deep engagement without triggering intense regional security dilemmas and arms races in East Asia? In other words, can Washington avoid a hard landing as it weans the world off American military power? Moreover, once U.S. military forces go “over the horizon,” how difficult — if possible at all — would it be to bring them back on-shore should a threatening situation arise that cannot be handled solely by America’s regional allies?

More information about the Program for the Study of Realist Foreign Policy, directed by Randall Schweller, can be found at http://u.osu.edu/psrfp





Olga Kamenchuk

The Eurasian Security and Governance Program (ESGP) at the Mershon Center for International Security Studies recognizes the growing salience of the greater Eurasian region, including the rising roles of China and Russia, in shaping international security. At the same time, the availability of empirical social science and humanities research that informs our understanding of governance and security policy in this dynamic region has been insufficient in recent years.

The program’s mission is to build and convey policy-informing knowledge and expertise on security and governance in the greater Eurasian region -- both at the Ohio State University and partner organizations -- through a combination of basic research, professional education, networking, and exchange. The program especially aims to support scholarship on Eurasian security and governance among graduate students and early career scholars.

Erik Nisbet

Topics of special interest to the program include state-sponsored disinformation campaigns, cybersecurity, democratization, mass mobilization, online activism, corruption, great power (e.g. Russia, China, United States) competition in Central Asia and any other topics greatly impacting the international security and quality of governance in the region.

The program is led by founding co-directors and Mershon faculty affiliates Olga Kamenchuk, associate professor (clinical) in the School of Communication and Department of Slavic and Eastern European Languages and Cultures (by courtesy), and Erik Nisbet, associate professor in the School of Communication and Department of Political Science (by courtesy).

Mershon officially launched the Eurasian Security and Governance Program on October 11, 2018, at a public workshop in Moscow entitled “Diplomatic Dialogue: Public opinion and public diplomacy in international relations.” Organized by ESGP, in collaboration with the Alexander Gorchakov Public Diplomacy Fund and the Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VCIOM), the workshop featured mixed panels of top international and Russian experts discussing and cutting-edge research on the intersections of public diplomacy, public opinion, and foreign policy in each country and their relevance to U.S.-Russian foreign relations.

For any inquires or interest in the program, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Climate change is widely recognized as a national security threat because it could cause widespread displacement of people fleeing areas ransacked by extreme weather events.

Bangladesh is one of the world’s most vulnerable countries, with more than 150 million people, many living in poverty in low-lying regions subject to floods, droughts, and storms. Up to 15 million people could become climate refugees by 2050, the United Nations estimates.

To address this issue, an interdisciplinary team of researchers funded in part by the Mershon Center are piloting a flood and drought early warning system in three regions of the country. The purpose is to help people adapt and plan for extreme weather events so they can stay in place rather than flee the country. Researchers include:

  • Craig Jenkins, former director and professor emeritus of sociology
  • C.K. Shum, Distinguished University Scholar, School of Earth Sciences
  • Joyce Chen, associate professor of agricultural, environmental, and development economics

Working with leaders of the Flood Early Warning project at the Department of Hydrology, Bangladesh Water Development Board, researchers are using multi-platform, multi-sensor, and near-real time satellite data to monitor floods, droughts, and severe river bank erosion.

The project includes a partnership with Planet Labs, a private company with satellites that can provide high-resolution images of the entire globe 24 hours day. Data from climate and weather satellites operated by NASA, European Space Agency, and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency will also be used to create early warnings of floods, drought, and severe river erosion.

The pilot project will cover three regions of Bangladesh:

  • the coastal area, which contains 45 million people, one-third of whom are below the poverty line, vulnerable to monsoons, storm surges, flooding, salt-water intrusion, severe river erosion, land subsidence, and sea-level rise
  • the northwest, prone to flash floods driven by heavy monsoonal rains and ice melt from the Himalayas, as well as drought during the dry season
  • the central region, prone to severe river erosion during heavy monsoonal floods, which can elevate river levels 15 to 20 feet.

These challenges greatly affect agricultural production, with 15 percent of crops nationwide lost to flooding, the same amount lost to drought, more than 30,000 people displaced from their homes, and more than a third of the country’s land area flooded during monsoons each year. Severe river erosion can erode 500 to 1000 meters of land in just a few weeks.

Making matters worse, Bangladesh is vulnerable to severe storm surges with at least one or two cyclones per year and a high-category storm at least once a decade. Such storms can take a long time to recover from: At least 1.2 million people are still internally displaced by Cyclone Aila, a Category 1 storm with maximum sustained winds of 110 km/hr that occurred in May 2009.

During the pilot project, researchers will work with 15 to 20 water management organizations and local governments to test the utility of warning signals. To be effective, the system must provide accurate information distributed widely in time for people to respond.

The time frame can differ depending on the risk. For example, households in low-lying areas need about a week to prepare for a major flood. Typically they can move farm animals and household goods to higher ground while sending children and the elderly to stay with relatives.

Severe river erosion, by contrast, requires warning of several weeks so people can reinforce points of vulnerability or plan for evacuation, while drought requires notification months in advance so people know where to plant crops and what areas may require irrigation.

The early warning system will use the internet and cell phones to distribute information. Eighty percent of households in Bangladesh have access to cell phones, and all government agencies have access to the internet.

If the pilot succeeds, researchers will pursue further funding from USAID, the Global Resilience Challenge, from which Jenkins previously received a $200,000 grant, and NASA.

Democratization has been a consistent theme of activities at the Mershon Center, through both events or research. The showcase project in this initiative, long supported by the center, is the Comparative National Elections Project, one of the largest and longest-running projects of its kind in the world.

The Comparative National Elections Project (CNEP) is a partnership among scholars who have conducted election surveys across the democratic world. Founded in the late 1980s, it now includes 52 surveys from 1990 to 2017 in 27 different countries on 5 continents, with multiple election surveys in 15 countries. Additional CNEP-based surveys are currently under way.

In addition to including standard demographic and voting behavior variables, the CNEP surveys include items dealing with the following research topics: personal discussion networks, use of the mass media (television, newspapers, radio, and various electronic sites), political information from associations, contacts by political parties, socio-political values, attitudes towards democracy, civic participation, the integrity of the electoral process, and voting behavior in the most recent election.

As the project has evolved over time, new question modules have been added to capture important aspects of elections and democratic support in the new member countries, as well as new developments -- such as the emergence of populism and the electoral impact of "fake news" -- in older democracies as well.

At present, CNEP includes surveys in the following places (and elections):

  • Argentina (2007)
  • Bulgaria (1996)
  • Chile (1993, 2000, 2017)
  • China, local elections (2008)
  • Colombia (2014)
  • Dominican Republic (2010)
  • France (2017)
  • Germany (1990, 2017)
  • Great Britain (1992, 2017)
  • Greece (1996, 2004, 2015)
  • Hong Kong (1998, 2015)
  • Hungary (1998, 2006)
  • Indonesia (1999, 2004, 2009, 2014)
  • Iran (2016)
  • Italy (1996, 2006, 2013)
  • Japan (1993)
  • Kenya (2013)
  • Mexico (2006, 2012)
  • Mozambique (2004)
  • Portugal (2005, 2015)
  • Russia (2016)
  • South Africa (2004, 2009, 2014)
  • Spain (1993, 2004, 2011, 2015)
  • Taiwan (2004, 2016)
  • Turkey (2014)
  • United States (1992, 2004, 2012, 2016)
  • Uruguay (1994, 2004

The Ohio State University is the host for the CNEP website, and the Mershon Center for International Security Studies has generously sponsored some of these surveys and research conferences focused on them. The website contains each of the original country surveys and questionnaires; two data sets that merge the common questions from the individual-country data sets; and various descriptions of the project and its partners.

The website also lists numerous publications that have resulted from the individual country studies and from cross-national analyses of their data. Two edited books have been produced by CNEP partners: Gunther, Montero, and Puhle (eds.), Democracy, Intermediation, and Voting on Four Continents, edited by Richard Gunther, Hans-Jürgen Puhle and José Ramón Montero (Oxford, 2007); and Voting in Old and New Democracies, edited by Richard Gunther, Paul A. Beck, Pedro C. Magalhães and Alejandro Moreno (Routledge, 2016).

Richard Gunther and Paul Beck, both emeritus professors in the Department of Political Science and Mershon Center at Ohio State, are the co-directors of CNEP. Find out more on the project website at https://u.osu.edu/cnep

Who we are

Teri Murphy

The Conflict to Peace Lab (C2P) at the Mershon Center for International Security Studies at The Ohio State University develops evidence-based evaluations of policy and intervention models that support international peacemaking, peacebuilding, and social cohesion in fragile states affected by war and political violence.

  • We bring together scholars, policy makers, local development partners, and interested donors to develop and test the effectiveness of direct interventions that seek to alleviate violence, stabilize fragile societies, and develop positive peace.
  • We identify innovative evaluation approaches for research in conflict affected areas, placing priority on conflict sensitivity and cultural appropriateness.
  • We produce knowledge that is useful to local communities impacted by politically motivated violence, accessible to policy makers and practitioners, and compelling to the scholarly community.

What we do

Christopher Gelpi

The number of societies affected by political violence has risen steadily over the past decade. Over this same period, the annual number of deaths that directly result from political violence has increased to more than 100,000. This violence has even broader impacts on vulnerable communities in fragile states through the spread of sexual violence, famine, forced migration, and disease.

C2P partners directly with communities affected by politically motivated violence to identify interventions that are culturally-sensitive and effective. To accomplish this goal, we work alongside local organizations and/or INGOs to identify and embed peace and conflict processes and indicators into program frameworks. C2P supports project managers and local researchers in monitoring, analyzing, and evaluating data on the impact of these interventions.

Collectively, we consider the implications of the analysis to further strengthen the intervention and to instruct future policy considerations. We continue to support our partners through presentations, co-authored policy reports, and peer-reviewed publications. Finally, we use lessons learned from our research and collaborations to develop better tools to facilitate peacebuilding.

Our goal is to work as part of an interdisciplinary, multi-national, and multi-organizational team to integrate academic research, effective intervention models, and public policy through direct engagement with local stakeholders in order to alleviate political violence and build peaceful societies.

We support research that fosters comprehensive and collaborative linkages through sustained engagement that allows for the testing, evaluation, refinement, and implementation of peacebuilding tools and interventions. Central to our approach is the creation and sustainment of relationships with local partners that requires an environment of mutual listening, learning, and understanding among all of our stakeholders.

C2P emphasizes systematic thinking about the process of effecting change in a post-colonial world shaped by power relationships. Using a participatory process, we foster a common understanding of what it means to build durable peace and social cohesion. This goal requires exploring an inclusive vision of the sources of peace and conflict, as well as identifying concrete indicators of progress. After identifying a common understanding of the problems and measurement of the desired outcomes, we create innovative approaches to empirically evaluating policy and intervention models. We then carry out rigorous evaluations of the causal impact of these interventions, and collaborate with local partners in refining and reevaluating the interventions.

How we work

Austin Knuppe

We engage with our stakeholders through the implementation of a systematic process:

  • Identifying an issue or research area
  • Building a network of scholars, local partners, donors, and policy makers
  • Gaining insights into the culture, history, and conflict context of proposed sites
  • Sharing frameworks, methodologies, and perspectives across academic disciplines
  • Developing a joint proposal to address an identified problem or opportunity, including a work plan and research budget
  • Engaging in immersive field work over an extended period
  • Convening with stakeholders every 4-6 months for analysis, synthesis, and reflective learning
  • Amplifying, scaling, and/or extending successful interventions to new settings
  • Revising, replacing, or discontinuing unsuccessful interventions
  • Reporting findings to our stakeholders
  • Publishing findings in peer-reviewed scholarly outlets

Our issues

C2P focuses on a variety of issues related to the amelioration of politically motivated violence and the development of positive peace. These issues include:

  • Understanding the links between international, state, economic, and human security
  • Community-driven approaches to countering violence and encouraging local capacities for peace
  • Countering violent extremism (CVE) and supporting post-conflict stabilization
  • The role of women and youth in developing and sustaining peace
  • The beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors that facilitate peace and reconciliation among conflict-affected communities

Our governing board

  • Christopher Gelpi – The Ohio State University
  • Teri Murphy – The Ohio State University
  • Austin Knuppe – Dartmouth College and Utah State University