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Mershon Center for International Security Studies

Mitch Lerner

Where do we go from here?

What is North Korea going to do next?

That’s a question that we all seem to be asking a lot lately and nobody has a definitive answer as to what the country and its mercurial leadership will do.

Mershon affiliate Mitchell B. Lerner, associate professor of history and director of the Institute for Korean Studies, brings some insight to the confusion. He believes the United States has long needed to rethink its approach toward North Korea. Lerner, who is the director of Ohio State’s Institute for Korea Studies, recently authored a column in the Washington Post that called for the United States to curb its expectations of China solving the problem.

Lerner recently offered his take on the ever-developing situation with North Korea.

Q. At the end of July, North Korea fired an intercontinental ballistic missile that experts believe could have reached as far as the United States. Was this unexpected?

A. The missile reportedly crashed into the ocean off the coast of Japan, after reaching a height of about 2,300 miles. The success took many in the global community by surprise, as did the news from a recent intelligence estimate putting forth that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un controls about 60 nuclear weapons now — more than anyone had previously thought. (By comparison, the United States has about 6,800 nuclear warheads — and Russia about 7,000.)

The United States, like many others, did not expect North Korea’s weapons program to have made such advancement this quickly, according to Lerner.

“Yes, it is unexpected how quickly they have advanced their (nuclear weapons) program,” he said. “We have known for a long time that they were moving in this direction, but this represents some really striking success.”

But to some extent, this could also be viewed as inevitable, Lerner said. North Korea is dedicating a huge percentage of its GDP towards weapons development — something that other nations have not done or are not willing to do.

“It’s not a nation that has ever spent much time worrying about the fortunes of its people or of the long-term development of its economy or infrastructure,” said Lerner. “It’s very much focused on developing its weapons capabilities at the expense of pretty much everything else. It’s one of the defining principles of the nation over the past few decades.”

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Anthony Mughan Richard Gunther BeckP Erik Nisbet

Four Mershon Center faculty affiliates have received a $54,000 grant from the Directorate of Political Science in the National Science Foundation to conduct a post-election survey of the British electorate as part of a study comparing 2016 and 2017 elections in Britain, France, Germany, the United States and earlier studies of four countries in Southern Europe.

Principal investigators on the project, entitled “A Changing Electoral Politics in Western Democracies: Comparing the 2017 British Election to France, Germany, the United States, and Southern Europe within the Comparative National Election Study,” include Erik Nisbet, associate professor of communication; Paul Beck, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Social and Behavioral Sciences; Richard Gunther, professor emeritus of political science, and Anthony Mughan, professor of political science and director of the International Studies Program.

Drawing from the same questionnaire used for 49 post-election surveys in 27 countries over the past three decades, the study will allow researchers to do a systematic comparative analysis of voting behavior across eight western democracies, at least three of which have undergone substantial party-system realignment in recent years.

The survey includes voters in the:

  • June 2017 general election in Britain
  • November 2016 presidential election in the United States
  • May 2017 second-round presidential election in France
  • September 2017 federal legislative election in Germany.

Results of this research will help explain fundamental challenges in recent years to established patterns of voting behavior and party structures in Western democracies by focusing on such factors as responses to economic stress, changing patterns in distribution of political information, demand for and satisfaction with democracy, and political polarization.

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Skyler Cranmer, Carter Phillips and Sue Henry Associate Professor of Political Science and affiliate of the Mershon Center for International Security Studies and Ohio State Discovery Themes' Translational Data Analytics, is co-author of a new study finding that the United Nations acts more than just a bystander to world events.

Instead, Cranmer and collaborator Scott Pauls, professor of mathematics at Dartmouth College, found that the UN "provides a forum where diplomacy reduces the chance of war."

The study appears in the journal Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications. Their study is the first to present evidence that UN voting coalitions improve chance for peace and defensive alliances, not democratization.

In addition to analyzing the UN’s effectiveness at preventing war, Cranmer and Pauls also used General Assembly voting records for more than 65 years to assess the organization’s impact on the spread of democracy and the building of defensive alliances. The review of 5,143 UN General Assembly voting records from 1946 through 2011 found that the process of nations working together over time builds trust and facilitates fast, transparent communication that raises the chance of resolving crises peacefully.

"There is more nuance in voting records than was previously thought," said Cranmer. "The evidence demonstrates that the UN is more effective at achieving its mandate of avoiding wars than many experts think."

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Maciek SlomczynskiCraig Jenkins

Mershon affiliates Craig Jenkins, senior research scientist and professor emeritus of sociology, along with Maciek Slomczynski, professor emeritus of sociology, and Irina Tomescu-Dubrow, visiting scholar in sociology, have received a four-year, $1.4 million award from the National Science Foundation for the project, “Survey Data Recycling: New Analytic Framework, Integrated Database and Tools for Cross-National Social, Behavioral and Economic Research,” starting Sept. 1, 2017.

The award will support the development of a harmonized database derived from more than 3,000 national surveys administered over five decades to more than 3.5 million respondents from more than 150 countries. The project will enable innovative data-intensive research on major substantive topics of social science interest and advances the fields of comparative methodology and of survey data harmonization. Additional principal investigators include Spyros Blanas and Han-Wei Shen from the Department of Computer Science and Engineering.

The award grew out of a conference held at the Mershon Center in May, "Democracy, the State and Protest: International Perspectives on Methods for the Study of Protest," organized by Jenkins, Slomczynski, and Tomescu-Dubrow. The event examined the relationship between protest and democracy, with an emphasis on measurement and methodology. 

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