Faculty Findings, spring 2023

May 3, 2023

A fractured superpower 

States have driven important federal policy changes around voting, civil and reproductive rights, environmental protections, and more. What happens when states take it upon themselves to experiment with energy, trade, and technology agreements beyond U.S. borders? The State Department has established that constitutional constraints only apply to "legally binding" formal treaties, providing the freedom for states to enter into other types of international agreements.

Political scientist Jenna Bednar and Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, explore the balance of state and federal power and how it shapes U.S. foreign policy in a fall 2022 edition of Foreign Affairs.

"States can leverage their soft power and convening capacity to facilitate policy coordination and form coalitions with like-minded foreign governments. And states can also use the flexibility in existing U.S. law to collaborate on international agreements to address problems of global significance neglected by Washington," the scholars write. 

States may use their power as policy innovators to help preserve and defend democratic institutions and practices, but the authors warn a decentralized strategy for foreign affairs comes with risks to safeguarding sensitive information and may become a new source of conflict between states and the federal government.

The authors offer strategies to help manage the growing influence that states have on U.S. foreign policy, including the re-establishment of the Advisory Committee on Intergovernmental Relations—an independent, bipartisan panel of local, state, and federal policymakers created by Congress in 1959 and defunded in 1996—to foster coordination and communication. 

» Read "The Fractured Superpower: Federalism Is Remaking U.S. Democracy and Foreign Policy" in Foreign Affairs. Sept/Oct 2022. 

Beyond Torture

A 2015 independent inquiry found that the American Psychological Association secretly shaped its ethics policies to permit members to collaborate with the U.S. Department of Defense's "enhanced interrogation techniques" during the so-called War on Terror.

In a new article published in History of the Human Sciences, policy historian Joy Rohde analyzes the nearly century-old relationship between psychologists and national security agencies as a guide to addressing long-standing and urgent ethical questions.

Rohde details the creation of strong, mutually beneficial financial, intellectual, and institutional ties through secretly funded academic research on unconventional interrogation and sensory deprivation techniques, behavior modification, psychological warfare, combat effectiveness, propaganda, and more. Psychological research paid for by the Office of Naval Research resulted in more than 800 journal articles in a span of 10 years between 1946–1956. By 1972, the U.S. Department of Defense was funneling nearly $40 million into psychological research.

Rohde describes the ethical and epistemological questions facing psychologists who worked on security-funded issues as skepticism grew about American military interventions abroad. "At stake was the integrity, legitimacy, and public authority of security-funded research itself," she writes. For the most part, the field valued academic autonomy, believing scholars would "self-police ethical terrain." With mounting pressure, universities exiled security contracts from their grounds in the 1970s, and research institutions became privatized, embraced secrecy, and lost visibility from peer reviewers and the public.

Now, with ethical questions again visible, Rohde calls for "reconciling scholarly and national commitments, individual and professional ethics, and particular normative stances on what the purpose of social science should be in policy domains."

» Read "Beyond torture: Knowledge and power at the nexus of social science and national security" in History of the Human Sciences. October 2022.

More in State & Hill

Below, find the full, formatted spring 2023 edition of State & HillClick here to return to the spring 2023 S&H homepage.