Bradley A. Thayer

Professor Interview

Dr. Thayer is a professor in the political science department at Baylor University in Texas. His research and teaching focus on issues of national security, nonproliferation, and the history of conflict. Several of his classes, such as his current course "Grand Strategy," explore the development of strategic theory by thinkers and policy makers like Samuel Huntington and Henry Kissinger. Before joining Baylor, Dr. Thayer held roles as a research fellow at the Belfer Center for science and international affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School and as a consultant for the RAND Corporation.

In addition to a Foreign Affairs annotated reading list on nuclear proliferation, Dr. Thayer's recent publications include "Sex and the Shaheed," a unique application of the study of life science to problems in international relations. His book Darwin and International Relations: On the Evolutionary Origins of War and Ethnic Conflict investigates the history of global conflict through the lens of Darwinian evolutionary theory. Mr. Thayer obtained two BAs at the University of Arizona as well as MA and Phd from the University of Chicago.

We asked Dr. Thayer, In your experience what are the most valuable disciplines to pursue in combination with the study of Political Science?

"The disciplines of philosophy and economics remain valuable for students of political science. As an undergraduate, I found that studying philosophy aided greatly my understanding of political ideas and placed them in an ideational and historical context. Economics helped as well in ways that can be expected, facilitating the understanding of international trade for example, but also less obvious ways, for example, allowing me to appreciate the concepts of scarcity, value, and opportunity cost and apply them within the realm of political science.

To those disciplines, I would add that an understanding of evolution and related life sciences is becoming increasingly important. A growing group of scholars is working with established approaches in political science to produce consilient insights with human evolution and ecology, creating a more comprehensive and detailed understanding of human political behavior. The intellectual interaction of life sciences and political science has the potential to revolutionize our understanding of human political behavior. The results from this interaction are already significant, let me touch on three.

The rise of evolutionary psychology is completely reconstructing the discipline of psychology, and has equally important implications for political psychology. Traditionally, the study of political psychology in international relations is focused on the contribution of misperceptions to crises and war. An evolutionary political psychology can inform deterrence theory, revealing weaknesses in traditional concepts of rationality and allowing significant insights into the decision-making process of leaders of states like North Korea and terrorist organizations like al Qaeda.

In addition, terrorist studies may benefit from a "biopolitical" approach, which permits insights missed by traditional methods. This is particularly relevant to Islamic fundamentalist terrorism and, for example, impact of marriage markets. In countries where marriage markets are strained a large number of low status males will not have a chance to marry, and will instead serve as a recruitment pool from which terrorist organizations may draw. Clearing the marriage markets may be one of the most effective counterterrorism mechanisms, and one that is under-appreciated in most accounts.

Finally, exposure to biopolitical studies sensitizes students of political science to the consequences of population change, such as the impact of changes in population on warfare, specifically great power conflict and small state war. According to demographer Gunnar Heinsohn, it is the lack of surplus males that makes Europe peaceful. While we must be sensitive to other factors, it is important for students to take note of unique insights such as the argument that a surplus of young males increases the risk of conflict."