China, the United States, and Hegemonic War

Tate Krasner is a senior at Boston College majoring in International Studies with minors in Chinese and Russian.

In late October, the USS Lassen entered disputed waters in the South China Sea, a move that raised diplomatic tensions with the People’s Republic of China. While the US State Department called the patrol an exercise in the freedom of navigation, the international community watched with interest as the guided missile destroyer sailed within 12 nautical miles of the Spratly Islands. Recently, similar moves in the region by both countries have contributed to an ongoing debate over whether the superpowers will inevitably engage in heightened conflict. History has witnessed a multitude of so-called hegemonic wars, in which rising powers challenge existing great powers for international dominance. However, several contemporary factors—including economic integration, nuclear weapons, and domestic politics—challenge this assumption that war is likely between China and the US. And, because these factors do not completely eliminate risk, further proactive steps by both countries in the near future can further mitigate risk.

Today, the international community is witnessing an unprecedented level of economic integration between the US and China. The world’s two largest economies are intricately intertwined, the result of dense trade networks, debt acquisition, and tight financial linkages. Even contentious issues such as currency devaluation and the Trans-Pacific Partnership have not fundamentally challenged the integral economic relationship between the two countries. And, while it should be noted that integrated economies do not guarantee peace (Britain and Germany were, after all, each other’s largest trading partners in 1914), the complexity and depth of the Sino-US economic relationship raise the threshold for going to war.

Second, the advent of the nuclear age has fundamentally altered the way great powers, including China and the US, pursue strategic and geopolitical interests. An important lesson of the Cold War is that even the most bitter of adversaries can be significantly restrained by the destructive power of nuclear weapons. The fact that the USSR and the US did not engage in conflict for almost half a century can in large part be attributed to a simple cost-benefit calculation: neither ideological nor geopolitical dominance was worth absolute self-destruction. Today, these calculations have not changed. With more advanced technologies and thousands of warheads within the Chinese and US arsenals, neither side is willing to engage in any conflict that could potentially escalate into hegemonic nuclear war.

Lastly, the domestic situations in both China and the US limit either side’s will or capacity to fight in any large-scale conflict, let alone a hegemonic conflict. In the process of exiting protracted wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, many in the US are calling for a disengagement from international conflict, instead arguing for domestic economic, political, and social reform. Further, continuing partisan gridlock in Washington presents serious doubts over whether US policymakers could rally the public to such an effort. China, on the other hand, is faced with several imposing domestic factors—including political corruption, economic slowdown, and social reform—that impede its ability and will to fight a hegemonic war. While some speculate that such factors might contribute to a more aggressive foreign policy in the near future, Xi Jinping’s recent reform efforts indicate that improving China’s domestic situation is the country’s most pressing priority.

Even given these constraints on the use of force, both sides recognize that the shifting Sino-US balance of power has the potential to contribute to international volatility, and therefore can take proactive steps to ensure stability. For its part, the United States must ask itself whether it is willing to make strategic concessions to China in order to guarantee such stability. Regionally, it is necessary for the US to allow China greater autonomy in the Asia-Pacific, recognizing that the US can nonetheless maintain its strategic interests with regional partners without complete tactical dominance. The US must also create space for Chinese influence and voice within international organizations in order to encourage China’s responsible engagement with the global community. China’s creation of the new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank suggests that, should Washington continue to deny China’s voice in such organizations, China will become a revisionist actor and develop competing international institutions. The ultimate question is whether the United States is willing to peacefully give up regional dominance in the Asia-Pacific to a second most powerful state with significant capabilities while still maintaining its position as the world’s most powerful country.

Similarly, China must ask whether it will be satisfied using peaceful measures to pursue its long-term interests, or if its ambitions are grand enough that it is willing to pursue a hegemonic war in order to achieve them. China’s posture in the Pacific and South China Sea suggests that it is willing to challenge the status quo, but it remains to be seen whether it is seeking to establish exclusive rights to the Asia-Pacific domain, a sort of “Chinese Monroe Doctrine.” Further, China’s economic and political engagement in other regions, including Africa and Latin America, can provide it an alternative means to achieve its objectives and expand its influence. This type of strategy—paired with active roles in international institutions—will provide China the financial and geopolitical benefits it desires without the costs associated with military action.

Most importantly, both sides must recognize that the status quo can be altered peacefully without threatening either side’s vital interests. A transformed strategic, political, and economic landscape means that Sino-US relations are not a zero-sum game. Practically, this means that the costs of a war in the future—the cost of lost trade, the cost of massively destructive arsenals, etc.—far outweigh any benefits. The Chinese proverb 脚踏实地 means to stay the course The past three decades have witnessed monumental improvements in Sino-US relations, the result of exactly such prudent, challenging, and engaging decisions from both sides. To abandon this strategy in pursuit of hegemonic war is to abandon the great potential of global economic and political security.


Facing the Scourge of War: Developing a Framework for Cooperative Peace Operations

Tate Krasner is a senior at Boston College majoring in International Studies with minors in Chinese and Russian.

By 2007, the African Union’s (AU) peacekeeping mission in Sudan was on the verge of collapse. Dwindling funds, mounting casualties, and restless member states threatened to destabilize operations, while the European Union (EU) and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) failed to adequately support the fledgling regional organization’s efforts. Unfortunately, the case of Sudan is not unique among a multitude of underfunded and under-supported peace operations around the globe. Behind each struggling mission, however, is a more important problem: the lives of countless civilians are at risk, and the stakes are high. And, despite the fact that the founding documents of the United Nations (UN), EU, AU, and NATO all explicitly affirm their respective commitments to the promotion and preservation of peace, cases such as Sudan challenge the way international organizations respond to humanitarian crises. This essay promotes the creation of an organizational interlocking security system as a solution.

In the post-Cold War era, a number of factors—proliferation of increasingly capable organizational actors, expansion of mandated tasks, and increasing complexity of conflict—have led to the development of an international peacekeeping “regime complex.” This complex is characterized by multiple international institutions with overlapping membership, active involvement in matters of peace and security, and normative and practical connections, both official and ad hoc. Despite this interconnectedness, operational coordination remains limited, with institutions displaying a strong preference to retain decision-making autonomy, both before and during missions. Moreover, instead of developing joint security mechanisms, organizations are pursuing comprehensive, independent security capacities as a result of recent failed cases, including Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur, Somalia, and Afghanistan. Lastly, facing unwilling partners and insufficient contributions, the UN is seeking to reform international peace operations.

Improving the ability of regional and international organizations to respond to emerging crises will not come from the development of independent security capacities for several reasons. First, the duplication of resources causes inefficiencies and increases the potential for organizational competition. Second, because membership between these organizations often overlaps (e.g. France contributes to both the EU and the UN), states that are already reluctant and unable to support international organizations will further have to choose how and where to contribute their limited resources. Lastly, such a system will inevitably lead to a disjointed system of regional organizations with widely differing abilities to respond to localized crises. For instance, the AU will continue to suffer from a lack of financial, political, and human resources, and therefore retain inadequate response capabilities if donations ultimately stem from African states alone. In sum, the current system is inefficient and will remain so in the future without comprehensive reform.

Instead, the solution must come in the form of an interlocking security system, based on institutionalized coordination of comparative advantages and niche capabilities. Each organization—the UN, the EU, the AU, and NATO—has its own unique strengths to be drawn from. The UN, for instance, benefits from factors of impartiality, legitimacy, experience, and multilateralism, yet suffers from overstretch, a burdensome bureaucracy, and a lack of military capacity. NATO, on the other hand, has an advanced military structure and robust peacekeeping capacity but lacks civilian mechanisms and is often perceived as a biased actor. Formalizing links between these international organizations will capitalize on such assets while also addressing respective faults. For example, in a peacekeeping mission in Africa, the UN, the AU, and NATO could provide organization, legitimacy, and military capacity, respectively.

In order to be effective, moreover, these relationships cannot remain ad hoc. The institutionalization process must occur through formal bilateral or multilateral financial, operational, and communicational agreements between these organizations. Such steps would increase transparency, efficiency, and predictability of institutional decision-making, all of which would shorten the time between organizational deliberation and the actual deployment of peacekeepers to conflict and post-conflict zones. Further, once on the ground, missions would benefit from steady and ensured resources and communications. In human terms, research has shown that such fast action and provision of resources is crucial in reducing violence against civilians.

What would these links look like? Financially, interconnectedness could come in the form of trust funds, such as the one developed by the UN for the AU Mission to Somalia (AMISOM). These funds would not only solidify a predictable flow of resources to organizations with weaker financial capacities, but they would also allocate the funds for specific purposes, leading to greater transparency and decreased rates of misuse within these organizations. Operationally, integrated command and control structures would allow the development of more hybrid and joint missions in the future. By standardizing rules of engagement and operational procedures, organizations can avoid the challenges that the AU and UN faced while attempting to hybridize their efforts in Darfur. Communicatively, bilateral and multilateral interactions must be bolstered between international and regional organizations both in planning and operational stages. For instance, in addition to organizational liaisons, efforts must be made to ensure that lines remain open between Brussels, New York, Addis Ababa, and missions on the ground in order to promote joint decision-making.

Inevitably, difficulties will occur while attempting to implement such a system. For instance, a rivalry for political input will most likely always exist between the Global North, which provides much of the financial resources for operations, and the Global South, which contains the majority of troop-contributing countries. Further, each international organization contains its own cumbersome bureaucracy with unique decision-making processes and regulations, all of which suggest that multilateral agreements will be challenging to develop. In addition, organizations will never lose their desire for a certain amount of autonomy in order to prove their relevance within the international system, which ultimately accounts for their continued existence. Lastly, and not to be understated, contributing states must mobilize political will to implement such a framework. Yet, an interlocking security system would address these challenges not by diminishing the roles of any particular organization, but rather by recognizing and promoting their distinctive and exceptional assets.

With ongoing crises in Africa and the Middle East, as well as potential hotspots in other parts of the globe, the international community must address how it will respond to the increasing complexity and intricacy of contemporary conflict. An interlocking security system provides the most efficient and effective method of cooperatively engaging with these problems. And, in the end, an effective solution means promoting the shared goal of each and every organization—the protection of innocent civilians.

Drones and the Post-Heroic World of Conflict

Tate Krasner is a junior at Boston College majoring in International Studies with minors in Chinese and Russian.

Early on the morning of May 2nd, 2011, two American stealth helicopters crossed over the Pakistani b­­­order undetected en route to the city of Abbottabad. On board, two dozen Navy SEALs prepared to carry out one of the most significant and daring operations in U.S. history. Upon their arrival at the compound, the SEALs swiftly secured its perimeter, breached its walls and doors, and advanced into the house inside. Within minutes, Osama bin Laden, the most wanted man in the world, lay dead on the floor.

Just weeks earlier, CIA drones hovered over Pakistan’s tribal region, just south of the village of Angor Adda. Circling around, they waited to lock onto their targets, a pickup truck and a motorcycle. In a flash, they released two missiles, which streaked toward the militants. Seven fighters were dead, and six others were wounded, almost instantaneously.

The contrast between the reactions to these two incidents could not have been starker. Due in no small part to the high-profile target, the former became a national, if not international sensation, spawning a media frenzy, books, movies, and chants of “USA! USA! USA!” in stadiums and even Times Square. The latter became a footnote in the history books, relegated to the back of the national conscience and grouped together with over 70 similar strikes that year in Pakistan alone. These two juxtaposed cases represent our shifting views and changing nature of warfare in the 21st century.

David Hastings Dunn has commented:

“The coincidence of this technology with the post-9/11 security environment has led to a new form of warfare that presents a series of challenges to traditional ways of thinking about combat. Rather paradoxically, at a time when heroism and self-sacrifice have become prominent themes in public discourse as a result of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, drones present warfare as the antithesis of these values. They represent warfare as post-modern and post-heroic.” (1238)

What is the post-heroic world of conflict, and what are its implications for the future of warfare? The concept of heroism is subjective by nature, the product of differing philosophies, histories, nations, and cultures. Yet, grounded at the core of this concept is a common human element, namely the facing of human mortality. This element has survived the test of time, dating back millennia. The hero of the Iliad, Achilles, boldly claims before going into battle:

“For my own death, I’ll meet it freely—whenever Zeus
and the other deathless gods would like to bring it on!
Not even Heracles fled his death, for all his power,
favorite son as he was to Father Zeus the King.
Fate crushed him, and Hera’s savage anger.
And I too, if the same fate waits for me…
I’ll lie in peace, once I’ve gone down to death.
But now, for the moment, let me seize great glory!
(Homer, The Iliad, 18.137-144)

In short, we tend to heroize those not only for the sacrifices they make, but mainly because of their acceptance of the risks of the ultimate sacrifice, death.

How do drones bring about a post-heroic world of conflict? As Dunn points out, “They disrupt the calculus of risk of the participants in this form of combat by transforming the balance of vulnerabilities” (1238). This disruption of the calculus of risk stems from the removal of the direct human element. I use the word direct because studies have proven that drone pilots do indeed suffer very real human effects such as PTSD. But ultimately, drone technology, due to its inherent nature of being unmanned, removes the direct risk of mortality on the part of the belligerent. And, given the connection between mortality and heroism, it follows that the removal of the element of mortality from combat has the potential to remove the element of heroism as well. As shown by the two cases above, it is difficult to view a remote, classified, surgical precision drone strike even in the same light as a remote, classified, surgical precision SEAL strike. The human element, at least to outside observers, simply does not exist.

One may reasonably ask that, if both types of attacks generate similar results, do our intersubjective understandings of warfare and its nature really matter? Yet, there are potential ethical, normative, and even tangible implications of post-heroic conflict. There appear to be two contrasting paths of possibilities.

On the one hand, post-heroic conflict has the potential to limit the societal value that we place on war. As those like Chris Hedges have pointed out, there is a psychologically addictive aspect of war. It’s exciting, it’s appealing, it’s intoxicating. Much of these views stem from notions of human sacrifice and ideas of glory on the battlefield. Yet, drones change this context by removing those exact features from war. For the most part, the majority of military and political leaders have attempted to make war as precise, focused, and limited as possible; but drone technology facilitates that precision in a revolutionary way. In the process of becoming “better” at war, there exists the potential to ironically remove some of the psychological factors that seem to perpetuate the societal promotion of conflict.

On the other hand, this type of surgical precision has the potential to bring about complacency with conflict. In other words, if war becomes limited to the point where only those individuals responsible for violence are targeted, there becomes a lessened motive to move away from war as an institution. This requires a bit of explanation. As stated earlier, the heroics of war are grounded in the facing of human mortality. Similarly, it is this recognition of human mortality that has long-spurred our instinctual revulsion to war. By removing this element, by relegating death to numbers and statistics to footnotes of annual reports, we run the risk of losing that innate human drive toward peace. This is not to say that drones directly promote risk-free killing; rather, it suggests the risk of dehumanizing conflict to the point of complacency.

Ultimately, it is important to recognize two factors. First, emerging technologies have the potential to shift our perceptions of conflict. Second, in turn, these shifting perceptions have the potential to tangibly shift how we approach and wage conflict. Drones, while not an incredibly recent emerging technology, have nonetheless advanced the notion of “post-heroic conflict,” in which distanced, precise, and technological killing has removed a certain human element from war. However, it is up to us how we interpret this shift. Will we view this notion as progress, as a concept which removes the sensationalized, heroic element that perpetuates war? Or will we view this notion as one which removes considerations of risk and promotes complacency with the status quo?



Dunn, David Hastings. “Drones: Disembodied Aerial Warfare and the Unarticulated Threat.”International Affairs 89. Print.

Fagles, Robert. The Iliad. New York, N.Y., U.S.A.: Viking, 1990. Print.

Democracy in Extinction

Lucas Allen is a junior at Boston College majoring in International Studies and minoring in Medical Humanities.

I haven’t celebrated World Biodiversity Day much in the past, but this year it was a special day for me. It was May 22nd, and the next day I would be on a plane to one of the most biodiverse countries on the planet. Ecuador, with its four distinct regions of the Galapagos, the Coast, the Andes, and the Amazon, is a geographically-compact example of nature’s highest highs (literally, with the farthest point from the center of the earth at the summit of Chimborazo), lowest lows, and everything in between.

Ecuador also illustrates the heights and depths of man’s treatment of nature. In 2008, it became the first country to include “Derechos de la nuturaleza,” or rights of nature, in its national Constitution. Influenced by the indigenous cultures significant in the country’s past—and indeed its present, the Constitution references “Pachamama” (an Andean goddess of the earth) and shows an amazing reverence toward nature. The natural diversity that inspired amazing scientific discoveries in Charles Darwin still inspires pride in the citizens of this beautiful country.

Through the Yasuni-ITT initiative, Ecuador planned to leave 20% of its national oil supply in the ground to protect a precious part of the Amazon rainforest in the Eastern corner of the country. However, on that same May 22nd before I left for Quito, the Ecuadorean government announced an end to the initiative, meaning that drilling would begin in the once-protected Yasuni National Park by 2016. In some backwardly ironic celebration of World Biodiversity Day, Ecuador was to begin drilling one of the world’s most biodiverse sections of Amazon.

Over the past six weeks in Ecuador’s capital, I have witnessed an amazing amount of public opposition to the drilling. It is talked about on the radio every day, spray-painted on walls throughout the city, and a dominant topic of public discussion. A popular bumper sticker, shown below, reads “Democracy in extinction.” This phrase draws the apt connection between the survival of unique species in the Ecuadorian Amazon and the survival of democracy in Ecuador. Last May, the group that produced this bumper sticker, Yasunidos, submitted around 850,000 signatures to force a national referendum on the issue.


One of the main reasons for all this public opposition is the belief that an oil spill would occur. I heard a radio guest bring up the Deepwater Horizons oil spill of 2010, arguing that even the most advanced technology in the world cannot completely eliminate the chance for human error. In this case, a spill would be absolutely catastrophic, likely wiping species off our planet for good. It does not help that Petroamazonas, a state-run company with a bad history of oil spills, will be doing much of the drilling.

Walking through the Plaza de Independencia, where the government is seated, I saw signs trying to mitigate this fear. “Yasuni 99.9% Intact: Only 1/1000 will be touched.” This number might be correct with regard to the small proportion of the park that will be needed to build infrastructure for oil drilling. But it is hard to believe that wildlife and indigenous communities will not be harmed by the effects of the drilling, even if there is no oil spill. The Ecuadorian people know all too well the additional harm oil extraction can cause on surrounding areas- it has coated their history just like it has coated so many leaves of the Amazon.


For decades, the American company Chevron (once called Texaco) deliberately dumped toxic waste from their operations in the Ecuadorian Amazon close to the Yasuni. Nearby populations have extraordinary high rates of disease and cancer, and are unable to raise livestock or even drink the gasoline-coated water. Despite a twenty-year David v. Goliath legal battle across continents, Chevron has never compensated the victims, escaping through legal loopholes and drawn-out countersuits.

The 2009 documentary “Crude: The Real Price of Oil” tells the sad story of this long legal battle that is far from concluded. But the saddest developments have occurred after the film was released. Near the end of the film, a newly-elected Rafael Correa is depicted as a hero figure that will finally put an end to the corrupt “business as usual” mentality that perpetuated the disaster in the Ecuadorian Amazon region. When he came into office, he promised a “citizen’s revolution” with better protection of socioeconomic rights and the environment. The Yasuni-ITT initiative was an important signal of this new chapter in Ecuador’s political history.

In Correa’s third term, however, more and more Ecuadorians who once saw him in a heroic light started to feel betrayed. The popular president has become less dutiful to the civil and political freedoms of the diverse citizenry. Citizens are beginning to suspect that the young president of the past seven years has no inclination toward early retirement, even if conventional term limits say his time is up. As a Quiteño I spoke with put it, “he wants to be ‘president for life,’ just like his hero Chavez in Venezuela.”

In 2012, Amnesty International published a report titled “’So That No One Can Demand Anything’” about the criminalization of the right to protest in Ecuador. If these abuses continue, the phrase “Democracy in extinction” could have a tragically literal meaning. It is amazing how quickly the hope of the “citizen’s revolution” has dissipated to the point where an international human rights NGO dedicates a publication to the lack of political rights, and the democracy is truly threatened.

In a similar fashion, Ecuadorian environmental policy reversed in the blink of an eye. On May 21, Correa was joining the world in condemning Chevron for its past environmental abuses in the Ecuadorian Amazon. But the next day, he announced permits that would sentence more of the Amazon to the same oily fate. Again- this was on World Biodiversity Day. Two weeks later on World Environment Day, the government organized a rally to increase support for the decision to drill, in case we thought the timing of the May 22 announcement was simply a coincidence.

At first I supposed the bumper sticker slogan “Democracia en extinction” had two meanings: one environmental, and the other political. But the more I learned about this issue and heard the perspectives of citizens of Quito, the more I saw these two meanings as interrelated. Over the past two months, it has become clear that the controversial decision to drill rests at the crossroads of democracy and the environment. As the democracy fairs in Ecuador, so fairs the environment.

As I mentioned, the group that created this slogan and bumper sticker, Yasunidos, submitted around 850,000 signatures against the drilling last May. This was more than enough to force a national referendum on the issue. Given what I have seen and heard over the six weeks in Ecuador, I have no doubt that the Yasuni would remain protected if the voice of the people would be democratically heard.

However, that is not the case. The majority of the 850,000 signature delivered by Yasunidos were declared ineligible, and no vote was held. To me, and many Ecuadorians, this seems like a clear indication that President Correa understands the difference between what he wants and what the people want—that is why if the drilling goes forward, it will be at the cost of not only the Yasuni National Park, but also democracy in Ecuador. This is the true cost of oil, and it is not pretty.

“Democracia en extinction” is of global importance not just because this particular issue will adversely affect the environment, but also because many of our environmental issues arise from the control of a small minority over how to use, abuse, and profit from a common good. As political repression keeps people from changing this imbalance of power through democratic decision-making, many of our environmental problems will continue unsolved. It is truly heartbreaking to see the drilling in the Yasuni go forward, with the majority of the country opposing it but being rendered as silent as the environment itself, unable to speak for themselves or defend their rights. In this case, the extinction of true democracy in Ecuador may very well lead to the extinction of rare species that once found safe haven in the Yasuni National Park.



Making the Unthinkable Thinkable

Tate Krasner is a junior at Boston College majoring in International Studies with minors in Chinese and Russian.

In a recent conference on nuclear disarmament at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, Father Kenneth Himes of Boston College spoke of the importance of conventional wisdom. How is that we shift the issue of disarmament from an unimaginable possibility to a potential achievement? How do we make the unthinkable thinkable?

The colloquium included a remarkable list of ethicists, policymakers, specialists, and theologians. Many, like former Secretary of State George Shultz, former Ambassador James Goodby, and former Senator Sam Nunn, played integral roles in shaping nuclear strategy, while others, such as Reverend Bryan Hehir, shaped the way that the world viewed nuclear weapons and the policies surrounding them. A common link between the majority of the participants, however, was the context in which they formed both policy and thought. They had grown up in a world in which nuclear bombs had been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a world in which nuclear devices were continuously tested in deserts and oceans, a world in which bipolar geopolitical and ideological tension threatened the very existence of civilization. Such an environment fostered a line of thought that a world free of nuclear weapons was indeed unthinkable.

Today, that context has changed. Today’s generation of students and young people have grown up in a world in which a nuclear weapon has not been used, a world in which the United States does not test nuclear devices, a world in which an existential threat no longer exists. As a result, the issue of nuclear disarmament simply is not prominent in the minds of young people. These worries have been replaced with ever-changing concerns over terrorism, the economy, inequality, and education. These are the threats that loom large in the heads of our generation.

However, this seeming apathy toward the issue of nuclear weapons should not be misinterpreted as a defeat for those who pursue disarmament. While a certain amount of indifference can certainly be attributed a lack of knowledge over the subject or even ignorance, it can be argued that this difference actually reflects a significant normative shift toward arms reduction and nuclear weapons. Because of this shift, the unthinkable is no longer the prohibition, abolition, or even the elimination of nuclear weapons; rather, the unthinkable is simply their use in any capacity.

For our generation, the issue of disarmament is so logical, so obvious, so commonsensical, that as a result, it has somewhat fallen off of the policy radar. Philip Yun of the Ploughshares Fund has stated that, in the recent years, the majority of the organization’s donations have come from a population over the age of 65 and that support from those under 35 is virtually nonexistent. This statistic is a source of concern, as the normative shift described above is clearly not enough to lead to the disarmament of superpowers’ nuclear arsenals. Yet this shift should not be a reason for panic. In light of my statements above, it is possible to view this lack of support ironically as an affirmation of Ploughshares Fund’s goal, disarmament, not as a rejection of it.

Today’s policymakers would be wise to take advantage of our generation’s shifted views on disarmament. A post-Cold War world requires a post-Cold War framing of the issue. Scholars like Dr. Scott Sagan have already been successful in the area of refocusing the nuclear issue around concerns over loose fissile materials, terrorism, and rogue nations. Similarly, it is important that disarmament is no longer framed as an insolvable dilemma, but rather as an achievable goal in the grasp of soon-to-be leaders in politics, ethics, and science. In other words, it is becoming clear that a growing number of people believe Global Zero to be a positive and worthwhile goal; they now need to be made aware that it can be reached. Yet moving forward, two issues remain. First, our generation lacks the intimate understanding of the dangers of nuclear weapons that was ingrained in the heads of the Baby Boomers through Dr. Strangelove, duck and cover drills, and Cold War rhetoric. Second, our generation lacks the understanding of current nuclear policy and the avenues of access to alter that policy. By addressing these two issues and combining them with the shared understanding that nuclear weapons should not exist, there suddenly exists a platform from which to genuinely and substantially pursue disarmament.

At the risk of oversimplifying, as the world begins to agree on the ends—in this case Global Zero—the means ought to fall into place. The political and strategic barriers may remain, but the lack of a coherent vision on the future of nuclear weapons has been overcome. If the rising generation of world leaders realizes that they have the tools to reach what seems to them to be such an obvious and logical goal, then suddenly the formerly unthinkable goal of disarmament becomes quite thinkable, even achievable. And the unthinkable use of nuclear weapons will remain just that—unthinkable.

Introducing RAWS

Ben Weinrib is a junior at Vanderbilt University on the Fred Russell-Grantland Rice Scholarship for sports writing. He is the founder of the Knuckle Blog and writes for the Charlotte Observer, the Vanderbilt Hustler, Bobcats Baseline, the Dirty South Sports Report, and Rivals. Weinrib has also published seven annual MLB previews.

Between the 2012 and 2013 seasons, the Cincinnati Reds had essentially the same roster. Yes, oft-injured Scott Rolen retired and they swapped Drew Stubbs for Shin-Soo Choo, but the vast majority of the personnel was the same.

But despite the similarity in teams, the outcomes of the past two seasons were drastically different. While the Reds were second in baseball with 97 wins two seasons ago, they dropped to 90 wins—just third in the NL Central—the very next season. Those seven wins were the difference between winning their division and having to play in the wild card playoff, which they ended up losing.

So what was the difference between the two seasons if the players were effectively the same? One could even make the case that they had a more talented team in 2013 considering how much better Choo is than Stubbs. The answer lies in the fact that wins aren’t the end-all be-all for determining how good a team is.

In fact, they’re far from it.


When it comes to evaluating teams, most people boil down their analysis to a quote used by Hall of Fame football coach Bill Parcells: “You are what your record says you are.”

To be fair, there is some truth to that quote. The team that wins the championship is the team that plays the best, not the team that is the best, and that’s an important distinction. But when you’re looking to predict what will happen in the future, you should look at the past process, not the results (wins).

I’m here to tell you that wins aren’t the best way to evaluate a team. If the goal is to figure out which team is the best—that is, the team that produces at the highest level—then there are several better stats to look at.

The truth is that a team’s record is far from a perfect indicator of how good the team was. For a team with a given talent level, there is a wide bell curve of possibilities for how a season could unfold. For instance, many people picked the Blue Jays to win 90 games in 2013 because they were incredibly talented, but they only ended up winning 74 games because of injuries and players not playing up to their normal level.

Even in a single season, given the number of runs a team scores and allows, there is a bell curve of possibilities for how the season could unfold. The 2012 Orioles only scored seven more runs than they gave up, yet they were a shockingly good 93-65.

That’s why I’ve developed a system to determine what each team’s record should have been, which I have named RAWS for Retrospective Analysis of Wins System. (These sort of things always catch on better when they have an easily pronounceable abbreviation.)

RAWS has two main components it uses to determine what a team’s record should actually have been: the team’s total production and the sum of the players’ production. Those two parts take form through run differential and team WAR.

Bill James came up with the idea of Pythagorean Record many moons ago, and the idea is that there is a non-linear relationship between runs scored, runs allowed, and wins. The equation for Pythagorean expectation is as follows:

(runs scored2) / (runs scored2 + runs allowed2)

That formula has since been updated to match empirical results, and the current exponent used is 1.83.

Runs are the best way to measure how productive a team was because, well, runs win games. Discrepancies between actual records and Pythagorean records often come about because of unsustainably good play in close games, like when those 2012 Orioles went 16-2 in extra innings games and 29-9 in one-run games. Despite their 94-68 record, the O’s had an 82-80 Pythagorean record, and largely thanks to regression to the mean, Baltimore went just 85-77 the next season.

Another signal that a team is headed toward regression to the mean is with unsustainable play like the Cardinals had last year with runners in scoring position. They were head and shoulders above all other teams with a .370 wOBA and .377 BABIP when the next closest teams had a .344 wOBA and .321 BABIP. That type of outlier play isn’t factored into Pythagorean Wins, but it is factored into the second half of RAWS’ formula.

WAR is an incredibly useful stat in terms of describing the value of a single player. It’s also incredibly useful when it comes to projecting wins and losses.

Glenn DuPaul’s 2012 study showed that a team of all replacement-level players is projected to win 52 games with each additional team WAR supplying an additional win. Thus, we can project what a team’s record should be based off the sum contributions of their players.

By averaging the two winning percentages (the one from Pythagorean Record and the estimate through WAR) and adjusting it so that the league-wide average winning percentage is exactly .500 (snipping off about two wins over a full season), we arrive at the record that RAWS projects the team should have had considering its overall production.

When using RAWS, it’s crucial to remember what the record it spits out actually means. RAWS is not a predictive tool; the fact that it said the Red Sox should have had a 102.7-59.3 record in 2013 does not mean they are projected to win 103 games in 2014. The record RAWS gives us only tells us the record the team should have had last year.

But although RAWS itself does not predict future records, it can still be used as a baseline to help predict the future.

Take, for example, the 2014 Detroit Tigers. It’s almost impossible to deny that Detroit has less talent this year with Prince Fielder, Doug Fister, and Jhonny Peralta gone, Jose Iglesias out for most of the season, and Ian Kinsler and Joe Nathan the only notable additions. Since they won 93 games last year, one could logically assume that they may only be a 90-win team in 2014.

But if we use RAWS to evaluate how good the Tigers actually were last year instead of using their 2013 record, you could knock a few wins off their 100.8-win projection instead to logically assume that they’re only a 98 win team. RAWS isn’t a predictive system, but it can be used as a baseline for how good a team was before.


Still in search for a reason why the Reds dropped seven games in the standings with essentially the same roster, an answer appears if we look at RAWS. Despite their lofty record, the Reds only had the production of an 89.8-72.2 team in 2012. Their 7.2-win difference between actual and projected record was the largest gap in the league other than that of those lucky Orioles.

On the other side of the coin, we have the Cardinals. Although they only won 88 games to claim a Wild Card spot in 2012, they were the third-best producing team according to RAWS and had a projected record of 93.8-68.2. Of course, they would go on to win 97 games and the NL Central crown the following year.

The Reds and Cardinals are a perfect example of how to properly apply RAWS in analysis. Although their records would indicate that the Reds were a much better team, the underlying numbers hint that the Cardinals produced better. And since both teams effectively had the same rosters in both 2012 and 2013, it would have been logical to predict the Cardinals to have a better season than the Reds in 2013 by using RAWS.

However, RAWS is far from perfect when it comes to projecting ahead, mostly because it is not a predictive measure. It doesn’t factor in anything to do with the future like outlier player performances, injuries, or transactions. But what it does explain well is how teams actually performed in the
past. Used within the context of what it actually represents, RAWS can be very helpful when
it comes to making predictions
because teams are often not
as good (or bad) as their
record says they are.