What: “How Wars Are Run: Lessons from the War on Terror,” lecture by Chris Coyne
When: 5-6:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 29
Where: University Center Auditorium
Cost: Free and open to the public
Author and economics professor Christopher Coyne is kicking off the Burkett Miller Distinguished Lecture Series next week at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
During his presentation, “How Wars are Run: Lessons from the War on Terror,” Coyne will draw upon insights from his books including “After War: The Political Economy of Exporting Democracy,” “Doing Bad by Doing Good: Why Humanitarian Action Fails” and “Tyranny Comes Home: The Domestic Fate of Militarism.”
Hosted by Claudia Williamson, the Scott L. Probasco Distinguished Chair of Free Enterprise and professor of economics in the Gary W. Rollins College of Business, the lecture is scheduled for Tuesday, March 29, from 5-6:30 p.m. in the University Center Auditorium.
A book signing and reception will follow and are free and open to the public. Those who want to attend are asked to RSVP to reserve their seat and a copy of Coyne’s book “After War.”
An economics professor at George Mason University in Virginia, Coyne also is the associate director of Mercatus Center.
The March 29 discussion will focus on lessons from the U.S. government’s experience during the two-decade “war on terror” to provide “food for thought for citizens as they think about what policies they want to support as it relates to U.S. foreign policy,” said Coyne, who also serves as the co-editor of The Review of Austrian Economics and The Independent Review and the book review editor at Public Choice.
Q. What is the crux of your research, and how do you investigate and collect data on the U.S. and foreign militaries?
A. My research explores the political economy of peace and conflict. One area of focus is the political economy of foreign intervention with particular emphasis on efforts by the U.S. government to engender change in other societies through various types of interventions—e.g., military and foreign aid.
Another area of interest is the study of how a military-driven foreign policy can undermine freedoms and liberties at home.
In terms of data, I typically rely on historical case studies to explore the nuances of foreign policy, foreign intervention, and the effects both abroad and at home.
Q. What are the most misunderstood aspects of war and the U.S. military/foreign policy among the general public in America?
A. Perhaps the most misunderstood aspect is the scale and scope of the U.S. military sector. The dollar amount itself is large—about $1 trillion per year in total—but the scope of the government’s military activities is even more misunderstood. Internationally, the U.S. government has military bases and installments around the world (about 800 locations in total).
The U.S. government is the world’s largest arms dealer, sending weapons to governments around the world, including to some autocratic regimes such as Saudi Arabia.
Domestically, the activities of the military influence all aspects of life, often in unseen ways. For example, the U.S. government operates the most powerful surveillance state in the world, which influences everything from our interactions online to our financial transactions.
The militarization of police can be traced back to U.S. foreign policy abroad. The activities of the national security state are undertaken in the name of protecting our freedoms and liberties, but those very activities often pose a threat to those very things.
Q. What are some quick takeaways from Russia/Ukraine and the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan?
A. The experience with Afghanistan should be a humbling experience for the U.S. government and an opportunity to reflect for American citizens. The “Afghanistan Papers,” a series of documents published by The Washington Post, which documented the American experience in Afghanistan, show systematic dysfunction, waste and fraud over two decades.
In my view, this should give pause to subsequent calls for foreign intervention and lead us to ask critical questions prior to acting, the risk being that efforts to help those who are suffering might make things worse.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine is tragic and devastating. It is unfolding in real-time and there are no easy answers. I do think the Afghanistan experience can offer lessons about the limits and unintended consequences of intervening in foreign societies.
The other aspect of the Russian invasion that I find interesting is the strength of Ukrainians to stand up to Russian forces. They have not been successful in every case, but Ukrainians have performed better than almost anyone expected. To me, this demonstrates the ability of people to work together to find effective solutions to very major challenges, including foreign invasion.
Q. Can you briefly describe the F.A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics and the Mercatus Center and your work there?
A. The F.A. Hayek Program is part of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, a research center. The F.A. Hayek Program is part of Mercatus and focuses exclusively on academic and student programs.
We train and work with undergraduate and graduate students (master’s and Ph.D. in economics) both internal to GMU and external to GMU.
Internal students refer to students enrolled in the master’s and Ph.D. programs at GMU. External students refer to students outside of GMU who participate in our various fellowship programs.
These programs entail critically engaging in shared intellectual exploration for the sake of mutual learning about the world.
Q. Can you define Austrian economics in non-economist terms for the average reader?
A. Austrian economics refers to a tradition that can be traced back to the publication of Carl Menger’s book, Principles of Economics, which was published in 1871. Menger was located in Austria, hence the “Austrian school”.
Austrian economics is an approach to the study of purposeful human action for understanding the world. It emphasizes that all of the various phenomena we seek to understand about the social world can be traced to the purposes and plans of individual people.
It emphasizes subjectivism—that how people perceive value is filtered through the human mind. Think of the popular saying, “One person’s garbage is another person’s treasure.”—creativity, entrepreneurship and the role of markets in facilitating cooperation and learning.
Q. What is the biggest success and the biggest failure of U.S. foreign policy?
A. The biggest success is globalization and the integration of the world’s economies. This is part of foreign policy since it entails interaction with people and governments outside the United States. This integration has contributed to advancements in human well-being and, in many cases, peace between people.
The biggest failure is the collection of misguided wars and interventions abroad. This includes Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya most recently, but other wars such as the Vietnam War.
Since the end of World War II, it is hard to think of an instance where the U.S. government has scored a clear victory. The Gulf War, 1990-1991 being the only exception.