Faculty Focus

International Policy

Michael W. Doyle

In an increasingly interdependent world, the work of Professor Michael W. Doyle is more prescient than ever

By Joy Y. Wang

Spring 2012

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In the spring of 2011, as uprisings rocked Libya, Bahrain, and other nations in the Middle East, Professor Michael W. Doyle kept a close eye on the developments. Doyle, the former special adviser to recent United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan, is a world-renowned expert on democracy and the ethics of intervention, two key issues at play in the Arab Spring clashes.

By late in the year, as the United States continued to aid rebels in their efforts to depose Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, Doyle was already hard at work on a book about intervention that addresses the law and ethics of coercive intervention in the politics of another country. The publication stems from the Castle Lecture Series he delivered at Yale in October. Divided into three parts, the new book delves into nonintervention and reasons for countries to disregard the standards for nonintervention.

“These are issues that don’t go away,” says Doyle, who holds a threefold joint appointment at Columbia Law School, the School of International and Public Affairs, and in the department of political science. “Just look at Libya, Egypt, and, this year, Syria, as a few examples. These issues keep coming up because we live in an increasingly interdependent world.”

Doyle would know: He has been writing about the topics for nearly three decades. In 2011, he published Liberal Peace, a collection of his essays that includes his renowned 1986 work “Liberalism and World Politics.” That piece was recognized in 2006 as the 16th most-cited article in the first 100 years of the American Political Science Review.

Doyle’s work serves as a prime example of how scholarship can be used to help inform public policy, and vice versa. In April, he celebrated the seventh year of an event he helped create, the Global Colloquium of University Presidents, which seeks to harness international scholarship for practical good.

The colloquium took place at Columbia this year and brought together university presidents from across the U.S., as well as educational leaders from France, England, China, Chile, Mexico, and Germany. Headed by Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger ’71, the event focused on a topic that is particularly relevant to the recent uprisings in the Middle East: the population growth among 15- to 24-year-olds in developing nations. The university presidents and expert scholars gathered to discuss how the impact of the “youth bulge” will be shaped by the cost of education and the availability of employment, among other issues.

The inspiration for the colloquium arose in 2003, during a dinner celebrating the end of Doyle’s tenure as assistant secretary-general at the United Nations. Annan noticed that, scattered among United Nations colleagues and friends, were the presidents of Columbia, Yale, NYU, and Princeton, among other preeminent institutions of higher learning. Turning to Doyle, he suggested gathering the expertise found around the dinner table that night to help resolve problems in international public policy.

“Kofi had the idea, and like with many things, he turned to me and said, ‘Why don’t you try to figure out how to make it happen?’” recalls Doyle.

Now, with the colloquium well established, Doyle spends much of his time analyzing issues of policy and government that arise daily around the world. Recent events confirm that he is at no loss for topics of study. “It’s a steady business,” Doyle says. “I’m still finding there is a lot to learn, and peeling away the layers of international engagement is fascinating.”

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Illustration by MHJ