The bitter rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran is more than just a contest for regional influence. It is certainly no run-of-the-mill cold war as far as U.S. officials are concerned, as it involves issues that have dominated polity attention for the last two decades: terrorism, nuclear weapons, and oil. The conflict threatens U.S. forces directly in overlapping civil wars in Iraq and Syria. And support for the Saudi war against Iranian-linked Houthis is increasingly controversial in Washington, where congressional opponents are questioning the legal basis of U.S. policy.
Nationalism is back. From the rise of nationalist parties in Europe, to Brexit, to the election of an American President who declares “America First,” nationalism has once again become a buzzword in world politics. Despite its resurgence, however, our understanding of how nationalism shapes international outcomes and politics among nations remains incomplete. Ever since Stephen Van Evera lamented the lack of research on nationalism and war in 1994, there has been only moderate scholarly interest in nationalism in international relations. Jamie Gruffydd-Jones’s work therefore timely and welcome.
Jessica L. Adler, who teaches history and health policy at Florida International University, offers us a valuable, well-organized, and carefully researched history of the origin and early development of what is today the mammoth and often troubled Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care system. Mammoth it is; the VA treats over 9 million veterans each year in 170 medical centers and over 1000 outpatient clinics staffed by more than 300,000 personnel. It is the largest integrated health system in the nation and costs over $60 billion to operate annually. Although rarely described this way, the VA system is America’s main example of socialized medicine.
Joining the growing list of international relations (IR) scholars who are turning to historical analyses of alternative, non-Westphalian diplomatic systems for insights into the creation and maintenance of political order is Ji-Young Lee, whose book, China’s Hegemony: Four Hundred Years of East Asian Domination, provides an empirically rich and theoretically insightful account of premodern East Asian international relations. The core argument of her book is that China’s hegemony was not a direct product of either its material power or its cultural appeal. Rather, Chinese hegemonic authority, measured in terms of compliant tributary practices, was co-constructed by a dominant China and its less powerful tribute-paying neighbors via mutual interactions. In particular, the book emphasizes how the domestic legitimation needs of less powerful states, such as Korea and Japan, played a key role in constructing (while sometimes adapting) Chinese hegemony during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) and the Qing dynasty (1636-1911).
With the Trump administration debating whether to certify that Iran is complying with the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), colloquially known as the Iran Nuclear Deal, this Roundtable on the tortuous path to its conclusion is timely. Our reviewers bring special expertise to the task. Robert Gallucci was the lead negotiator for the 1994 Agreed Framework that sought to end the North Korean nuclear weapons program and is a longtime student and practitioner of nonproliferation policy; Richard Nephew served in both the Bush and the Obama administrations, working on sanctions policies, and is cited in Parsi’s book; Gary Sick was on the Carter National Security Council staff and has continued to study Iran ever since; Mike Singh worked on Iran policy in the Bush administration. From their biographies, one can guess that they will not agree in their evaluations of Parsi’s history of the negotiations with Iran.
It is gratifying to see the discussion in this forum prompted by Jacqueline Hazelton’s recent International Security article, since scholarly debates about counterinsurgency have receded from the spotlight over the past decade. One hopes that this hiatus will be short-lived given the rich empirical opportunities presented by the recent history of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Austria, a small nation state in the heart of Europe with less than 9 million inhabitants, is usually not at the center of world political attention. Without doubt, outside of the country more people are able to name the main characters of The Sound of Music than can list any members of the Austrian government. However, the parliamentary elections of October 2017, and the coalition government that was sworn in two months later, have resulted in a new interest in Austrian politics. The country is now not only ruled by Europe’s youngest leader—the new Chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, is 31—but has also become the “only Western European country [in the European Union (EU)] with a far-right presence in government.”
Cybersecurity is a relatively new foreign policy problem. A decade ago, it received little attention, but since 2013 the Director of National Intelligence has named cybersecurity risks the biggest threat facing the nation. The non-profit Council on Foreign Relations “Cyber Operations Tracker” contains almost 200 state sponsored attacks by 16 countries. The list includes one attack in 2005 when the data base starts, but over 20 last year. The bad news is that the threat is increasing; but the good academic news is that the problem is now attracting a new generation of bright young scholars–as illustrated by Ben Buchanan’s book and its reviewers.
In “Nuclear Beliefs: A Leader-Focused Theory of Counter-Proliferation,” Rachel Whitlark advances a new framework to explain why military force is rarely employed to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. According to power transition theory, a nuclear weapons program should spark an intense security dilemma with a high risk of war as other nations consider using force to forestall an adverse shift in the balance of power. Contrary to this conventional wisdom, Whitlark demonstrates that even a looming proliferation threat does not pressure all leaders to “think and act similarly” by mulling over preventive war (550). Instead, the article shows that presidents and prime ministers come into political office with prior beliefs about the consequences of proliferation and stability of nuclear deterrence. For some leaders, a sanguine judgement about the ability to manage nuclear-armed adversaries becomes an anchor against even deliberating coercive counter-proliferation strategies. Whitlark marshals archival evidence to show how President John F. Kennedy’s entrenched pessimism about proliferation led him to consider a range of military options against China’s emerging nuclear program. In stark contrast, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s optimism seemed to result in these same options being taken off the table on the eve of the first Chinese nuclear weapons test.
When the Cold War ended in the late 1980s, Washington and Beijing were on good terms–the military balance between the two countries was not politically salient. Much has happened in the ensuing decades. While American attention turned towards battling Iraq in two wars, responding to the threat posed by al-Qaida in Afghanistan and around the world, and in dealing with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS/DAESH) as the latest manifestation of the jihadist threat, the status quo was changing in Asia. China has emerged not only as a global economic and political power, but also as a conventional military power in the Western Pacific that possesses a small nuclear arsenal that under permissive circumstances can hold a few United States (U.S.) cities at risk. The conventional and nuclear balance in Asia is shifting from one of overwhelming U.S. preponderance to a situation in which things might become a bit more sporting.