Within security studies, scholars have increasingly called for work that bridges the gap between academics and policymakers and that moves beyond milquetoast nods to ‘policy relevance’ at the end of journal articles, and instead ask that theorists engage directly with their policy counterparts. In this context, Ron Robin’s biography of Albert and Roberta Wohlstetter provides a powerful account of how two scholars’ works on intelligence, uncertainty, and nuclear strategy influenced United States defense strategy, both during the Cold War and, through the lives of the Wohlstetters’s students, into the present day.

Continue reading

Neo: Is that your point, Councillor?

Councillor Hamann: No. No point. Old men like me don’t bother with making points. There’s no point.

—Matrix Reloaded

At first, Max Weber and International Relations may be mistaken for a very 90s book. That would be unfortunate. Most of its contributors entered the field during the immediate post-Cold War ‘reflectivist’ uprising and like many of the revisionist engagements with the canon in the 1990s, this volume presents a rather unorthodox reading of its protagonist. And yet, in many respects, it goes well beyond that. In the 1990s, there was, for instance, something like a cottage-industry among doctoral students with ‘critical’ dispositions but no clear research questions: pick a ‘real classic’ casually referenced by an ‘IR classic’ and show how ‘IR classics’ got ‘real classics’ wrong. This rather elementary exercise was peppered with fancy jargon, but none of the sophisticated ‘-ologies’ could conceal the fact that decades later a significant part of that IR generation was as perplexed by the events ‘on the ground’ as were the mainstream theorists they once criticised.

H-Diplo | ISSF Review Essay 45

Richard Ned Lebow, ed.  Max Weber and International Relations.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017.  ISBN:  9781108416382 (hardback, $99.99).

Reviewed by Alexander Astrov, Central European University

Published 9 November 2018 | issforum.org

Edited by Diane Labrosse and Seth Offebach
Web and Production Editor:  George Fujii

Shortlink: http://tiny.cc/ISSF-RE45
Permalink: https://issforum.org/essays/45-Weber
PDF URL: https://issforum.org/ISSF/PDF/RE45.pdf

Neo: Is that your point, Councillor?

Councillor Hamann: No. No point. Old men like me don’t bother with making points. There’s no point.

—Matrix Reloaded

At first, Max Weber and International Relations may be mistaken for a very 90s book. That would be unfortunate. Most of its contributors entered the field during the immediate post-Cold War ‘reflectivist’ uprising and like many of the revisionist engagements with the canon in the 1990s, this volume presents a rather unorthodox reading of its protagonist. And yet, in many respects, it goes well beyond that. In the 1990s, there was, for instance, something like a cottage-industry among doctoral students with ‘critical’ dispositions but no clear research questions: pick a ‘real classic’ casually referenced by an ‘IR classic’ and show how ‘IR classics’ got ‘real classics’ wrong. This rather elementary exercise was peppered with fancy jargon, but none of the sophisticated ‘-ologies’ could conceal the fact that decades later a significant part of that IR generation was as perplexed by the events ‘on the ground’ as were the mainstream theorists they once criticised.

As a result, calls for abandoning excessive meta-theorizing and re-engaging with the ‘world’ are heard today from different quarters. In a way, Weber is a perfect candidate for studying how to do just that. After all, his theoretical sophistication notwithstanding, he cannot be accused of neglecting the worldly problems of his time and place. But then again, if re-engagement with the world is the issue, why address it by examining yet another ‘classic’ rather than the world itself? In other words, who needs another book on Weber?

One way of answering this question is by jumping to this particular book’s concluding chapter. There Ned Lebow and David Bohmer Lebow relay Hans Morgenthau’s conversation with Karl Deutsch in which the latter warned the former that it was “almost inevitable that his theory becomes ‘hard boiled’ in the hands of strategists… who know no history” (194).[1] If anything, Lebow’s volume places Weber in context, while taking measure of this context’s historical depth. More importantly, however, the history that thus provides a much needed background for theoretical discussions is not merely a history of Weber’s thinking. In some important sense, it is the history of the world. Or one particular facet of it, the one we routinely call (western) ‘modernity.’

Needless to say, one cannot expect any comprehensive discussion of modernity in a relatively small book focusing on selected aspects of Weber’s oeuvre. But this is where the book’s real strength comes through: it is exceptionally well thought through, focused and structured as a whole, and yet this structure is never allowed to turn into the infamous ‘iron cage,’ forcing each contributor to make the same point over and over again. In fact, there is no fixed point to be made, or discovered in Weber’s writings on this interpretation of those. Rather, there is a certain trajectory to be (re)traced, the one Weber himself lays out rather uneasily.

This trajectory invariably begins with Weber’s conceptualization of modernity as a polysemic experience, subdivided into various distinct realms, each governed in its peculiar way.  Then comes Weber’s failure to sustain these clear-cut distinctions, together with his analytical rigour that does not allow him to take easy shortcuts and his ethical and political convictions that make capitulation impossible. Lebow chooses to define the resulting situation as “tensions” and identifies four of these: epistemological, sociological, political and tragic. (1-8, 172-95)[2] These four nodal points, in turn, provide the book with its structure.

This underlying structure is never advertised explicitly, but once it becomes clear, the choice of contributors appears only ‘natural.’ One would expect Patrick Thaddeus Jackson to focus on the ‘epistemological’ tension,[3] Stefano Guzzini – on the ‘sociological’ one,[4] with John Hobson adding historical and postcolonial dimension to it,[5] Jens Steffek – on ‘political,’[6] and Lebow himself – on ‘tragic.’ Yet, it is not that straightforward. The boundaries between ‘tensions’ are challenged and traversed, rather than established. Thus, Jackson’s discussion of Weberian ‘ideal types’ brings in sociology of knowledge and politics. Guzzini locates Weberian ‘international relations’ at the impossible and yet necessary intersection of two realms that are supposed to be categorially distinct: constitutive political ontology and explanatory theory of action. This particular transgression, in turn, becomes clearer following Lebow’s reconstruction of Weber’s intellectual context and Hobson’s dissection of his Eurocentrism.

It is fascinating enough to follow these reconstructions and dissections in detail, but perhaps even more interesting is their cumulative effect, which is best appreciated when looking at the volume as a whole: an appreciation of the fact that the ongoing drawing of meaningful distinctions – something every student of theory is supposed to learn, and not least from Weber – is bound to result in the recognition one’s own limitations. This is what Morgenthau defined as “tragic” in Scientific Man vs. Power Politics.[7] To understand politics, we need to grasp man in his complexity that goes well beyond his rationality. But to understand politics, we have no choice but to rely on reason.

Morgenthau’s refusal to see this ineliminable limitation as a mere ‘contradiction’ to be resolved one way or another is what sets him apart, according to Lebow and Bohmer Lebow, from other immediate students of Weber, both on the right (Carl Schmitt) or on the left (Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer). But this is also where one could start raising questions about the limitations of Lebow’s own framework. For Morgenthau, ‘tragic’ is almost a characteristic of ‘political.’ For Lebow, the two are distinct, and yet related in a way that is somehow more significant than in the case of other ‘tensions.’ (173-7)[8] Why exactly remains unclear, mostly because, throughout the volume, both ‘tragedy’ and ‘tensions’ are used as metaphors rather than fully-fledged concepts. As such they still do an important and interesting job, but the reader is left with a feeling that both could be pushed further. For instance, in the direction of Michael Dillon’s early discussion of ‘tragedy’ by now significantly extended into the realm of biopolitics;[9] or that of Derridean ‘undecideables’ once explored by Jenny Edkins in relation to the ‘political.’[10] To be sure, this particular trajectory may be too postmodern for a volume dedicated to the exemplary modernist; and yet, by following it we may arrive at a better understanding of what exactly connects an exegesis of Weber to the world of today. Is it not the case, after all, that the frustrating breakdown of analytical distinctions so evidently on display throughout the volume matches the way in which the world itself is turning into a ‘zone of indistinction’?


Alexander Astrov is Associate Professor in the International Relations Department of Central European University.

©2018 The Authors | Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 United States License



[1] David Bohmer Lebow and Richard Ned Lebow, “Weber’s Tragic Legacy,” in Max Weber and International Relations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017): 194.

[2] Richard Ned Lebow, “Introduction,” in Max Weber and International Relations: 1-9; Bohmer Lebow and Lebow,   “Weber’s Tragic Legacy”: 172-199.

[3] Patrick Thaddeus Jackson, “The Production of Facts: Ideal-Typification and the Preservation of Politics,” in Max Weber and International Relations: 79-96.

[4] Stefano Guzzini, “Max Weber’s Power,” in Max Weber and International Relations: 97-118.

[5] John Hobson, “Decolonizing Weber: The Eurocentrism of Weber’s IR and Historical Sociology” in Max Weber and International Relations: 143-171.

[6] Jens Steffek, “International Organizations and Bureaucratic Modernity,” in Max Weber and International Relations: 119-142.

[7] Hans Morgenthau, Scientific Man vs. Power Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1946)

[8] Bohmer Lebow and Lebow, ’Weber’s Tragic Legacy’: 173-177.

[9] Michael Dillon, Politics of Security: Towards a Political Philosophy of Continental Thought (London: Routledge, 1996)

[10] Jenny Edkins, Poststructuralism and International Relations: Bringing the Political Back in (Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 1999)

The Italian political elections of March 2018 seem to have marked a profound discontinuity in the country’s political history. The clear winners—namely the Five Stars Movement and the League—were two (relatively) new political forces which had very little in common with each other, except their outspoken intention to steer the path of Italian politics in a new, and for many analysts, unpredictable direction. Nor was it particularly clear whether they be actually able to mend the significant differences in their political platforms and form a parliamentary coalition to support a joint government—which they eventually did, after a protracted stalemate and endless negotiations that repeatedly seemed on the verge of failure. Defining their identity and their political goals remains, to this day, a rather elusive goal. Both parties pride themselves in their having escaped traditional politics and in their capacity to respond directly to their electorate outside of more conventional political channels. The Five Star Movement identifies their electorate in “the people of the web” and make ample use of internet to align to any swings in its mood, while the League, which in its previous incarnation openly advocated the secession of the Northern part of the country, has now morphed into a somewhat rightwing/nationalist force under the shrewd leadership of Matteo Salvini. Both parties are usually referred to as “populist,” and analysts group them together with the analogous political parties which are spreading across most of the Western world. But is this analysis correct? Are these forces just the Italian version of a broader worldwide trend, or are they uniquely Italian? And how new are the ideas they represent in the history of Italian politics? What does their emergence tell us about the peculiarity (or lack thereof) of Italy as a Western democracy?

Continue reading

Outbreak of Fear III, 1939 by Paul KleeAnyone reading these reviews will already be familiar with the basic picture of the Donald Trump White House that Woodward presents, and even if they have not read the book most will be able to recite at least a few of the choice anecdotes. But our two reviewers highlight points that need emphasizing. They are well placed to do so. Sir Lawrence Freedman is one of the world’s leading authorities on international security and how governments make decisions involving war and peace, having written numerous academic studies, the official history of the Falklands war, and having served as a member of the Chilcot commission that analyzed British behavior before and during the Iraq war. Derek Chollet has not only written about national security issues, but served for six years at high levels in President Barack Obama’s State Department, White House, and Pentagon.




Continue reading

According to one of Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird’s successors, James Schlesinger, “The list of secretarial responsibilities is so imposing that no single individual can totally fulfill them all.”[2] Given the challenges inherent in the role, Laird was remarkably successful at establishing priorities for his tenure, attaining his key goals, and leaving office on his own terms.Continue reading

H-Diplo | ISSF Article Review 104

H-Diplo/ISSF Editors: Diane Labrosse and Seth Offenbach
H-Diplo/ISSF Web and Production Editor:  George Fujii

David Shambaugh.  “U.S.-China Rivalry in Southeast Asia: Power Shift or Competitive Coexistence.”  International Security 42:4 (Spring 2018):  85-127.

Eric Heginbotham and Richard J. Samuels.  “Active Denial:  Redesigning Japan’s Response to China’s Military Challenge.”  International Security 42:4 (Spring 2018):  128-169.

Jennifer Lind and Daryl G. Press.  “Markets or Mercantilism?  How China Secures Its Energy Supplies.”  International Security 42:4 (Spring 2018):  170-204.

Review by Priscilla Roberts, City University of Macau

Published by ISSF on 12 October 2018


<dropcap>T</dropcap>he rise of China as a regional and global power, and the implications of this development for the international system, has become *the* great geopolitical story of the early twenty-first century. China’s attainment of novel clout and influence on the world stage has been fueled by its phenomenal economic growth of the last four decades, a process that began rather modestly but has taken off dramatically since around 2000. The reactions of political commentators and scholars have ranged across a wide spectrum. Some suggest that China will inexorably replace the United States as the world’s greatest power, setting the international agenda and introducing a new political outlook, combining the domestic promotion of prosperity and nationalist pride in tandem with internal authoritarian rule and the comprehensive suppression of dissent, together with the utilization of economic and, where appropriate, military strength to achieve China’s external objectives with maximum efficiency. To such observers, who have a penchant for quoting the hallowed wisdom of The Art of War, the famed treatise of the Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu (545-470 BCE), the roadmap to Chinese world hegemony appears almost preternaturally well organized, with the country’s leadership apparently proceeding inexorably along a meticulously planned highway to international predominance.[1]

The reverse of this coin is a profound skepticism as to just how solid the foundations of China’s seemingly formidable economic might and political control are in reality. Adherents to this school of thought suggest that China’s economy is exceedingly fragile, overloaded with debt of every kind, with too many resources concentrated in unproductive sectors of the command economy, and state intervention propping up and steering funding to unprofitable enterprises. Other highlighted weaknesses include major population imbalances, with a growing cohort of elderly Chinese, due in large part to the distortions imposed in recent decades by China’s one-child policy; environmental degradation; entrenched ethnic insurgencies; the high costs, both direct and in terms of inefficiency, of security measures; the lack of genuine innovation; and the absence of any real faith in China’s existing political system and leaders. China is perceived as a highly authoritarian but fundamentally brittle state, too inelastic and unimaginative to employ any but the most draconian of tactics against even moderate critics. Despites its current seemingly impressive economic performance (and some critics argue that even for this the figures are unreliable), stagnation at best or complete political disintegration at worst are the anticipated long-term outcomes.[2]

The most credible approach to this broad question is probably that of David Shambaugh who, after initially publishing a somewhat sensational article in The Wall Street Journal in summer 2015 arguing that the current Chinese government was liable to collapse in the near future, revised his position and published a book suggesting that China’s ultimate future will largely depend on decisions that have yet to be made.[3] China’s current leaders undoubtedly have what might charitably be termed grand ambitions for the future of their country.[4] Yet the experience not simply of other would-be imperial great powers, including the United States and the Soviet Union, but also of Communist China itself, especially in terms of its utilization of foreign aid to achieve broader international aims, suggests that reliance on economic inducements and even military pressure as means of implementation can become decidedly problematic and backfire. From the late 1950s onward, China itself split with the Soviet Union, by far its greatest economic patron. In the 1960s and 1970s, China likewise discovered that, having poured aid into both North Vietnam and Albania, in both cases in part to persuade these fellow Communist states to align themselves with the People’s Republic instead of the Soviet Union, its erstwhile clients became bitter opponents once the funding dried up.[5] The record of the United States in Latin America has been almost equally uninspiring. And current well-publicized political objections in the United States, Australia, and other Western countries to Chinese investments in businesses deemed significant to national security, combined with deep suspicions of China’s efforts to promote its own political agenda by pressuring publishers, the media, and academic institutions, suggest that winning friends and influencing people outside China’s borders may not prove the simplest of tasks.[6] As the Beatles so aptly put it, money can’t buy you love. Governments, businesses, and other enterprises may indeed be happy to accept Chinese funds, but just how amenable this will make them to Chinese pressure on other issues is liable to prove less than straightforward.

All the articles in this triptych related to the rising power of China and its impact in East and Southeast Asia are largely neutral on the overarching question of the sustainability of China’s rise and whether it is likely to end in fiasco. Instead, they focus on the implications for China’s neighbors in East and Southeast Asia and China itself of the current major enhancement in its strength. In an era when the average length of articles in many journals seems to be shrinking remorselessly, the editors of International Security deserve congratulations for allowing their contributors the space to explore ideas at length.

David Shambaugh provides a perceptive overview of the attitudes of Southeast Asian nations toward the competing claims upon their loyalties by China, their increasingly assertive neighbor, its economic strength and military presence and aspirations all decidedly on the rise, and by the United States, still not simply the world’s largest economy, but also the state with the most impressive armed forces by far. He “argue[s] that the overall strategic balance in the region remains in flux and contested. This situation is not going to change; in fact, it will likely intensify. The United States is hardly withdrawing from the region and will remain a powerful and influential actor across Asia indefinitely” (86). Moreover, “China could easily trip up. It is not the global juggernaut many believe it to be” (87). Noting the great diversity among them in terms of closeness to the two great rival powers, Shambaugh compares the range of Chinese and U.S. interactions with the 10 ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) states. Interestingly, in his view, even in the age of President Donald Trump, U.S. relationships with its numerous Southeast Asian partners are multidimensional, spanning the entire range of economic, strategic, and cultural enterprises—“traditional and public diplomacy, civilian and military assistance, and commercial business” (113-114)—, with trade tripling since the 1990s, to reach $273 billion in 2015 (112). Economically, U.S. investment surpasses that of China, amounting to $13.64 billion in 2015 (112), concentrated especially in services, though some major multinational firms in technologically advanced manufacturing or the extractive industries, such as Boeing, Ford, Dow Chemical, General Electric, Lockheed, and United Technology, are also present in force (112-113). Most expect U.S. trade and investment in ASEAN to expand over the next five years. Chinese firms in the region, by contrast, largely restrict their investment to the extractive industries and infrastructure construction. They are also widely perceived as more corrupt than their U.S. or European counterparts. In addition, Shambaugh argues:

Compared with the United States, China’s regional presence is more recent and primarily single-dimensional: economic. China possesses little soft power in the region, and its public diplomacy programs are few. Its diplomacy is often heavy-handed, and it offers minimal military assistance (with poor ‘after sales service’); and its commercial footprint, though growing rapidly—is not multidimensional. (114)

In Shambaugh’s view, Southeast Asian nations are trying to “hedge” their bets between China and the United States, even as China’s growing presence is forcing several to move closer to China, and impelling ASEAN to remain silent on issues—notably policies in the South China Sea—that China considers non-negotiable. Yet the pervasive sense among Chinese leaders that all the states in the region should automatically consider themselves tributaries of China and show due obeisance to China’s wishes is doing little to enhance the Middle Kingdom’s popularity. Few Chinese representatives of any kind wish to recognize the “ambivalence” (115) with which Southeast Asians regard their country. Most of ASEAN’s top officials are nonetheless fully conscious that China is a powerful neighbor, and they have no alternative but to deal with it, whereas the United States is not necessarily a reliable ally or partner on whose presence and backing they can depend.

Shambaugh recommends that, in order to overcome the recent “gravitational shift” (125) in China’s direction across Southeast Asia, the United States should boost its involvement and ties of every kind—economic, cultural, strategic, and political—in the region, making it a higher priority, yet refrain from aggressive demands that ASEAN nations join in formal containment of China. Shambaugh’s article was written before the surprise election victory in May 2018 of an opposition coalition headed by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who has been highly critical of what he argues are the disadvantageous terms for his country of much Chinese investment in Malaysia, and has expressed fears that too much of Malaysia’s economy is owned by China. A trip by Mahathir to Beijing is scheduled for August 2018, and it seems likely that China will make concessions designed to alleviate at least some of Mahathir’s concerns.[7] Moreover, the link between the provision of finance and political influence is far from straightforward. One may not automatically translate into the other. A recent collection of essays edited by Evelyn Goh of Australian National University has suggested that, even when China has invested substantially in Southeast Asia, those governments do not necessarily become more amenable to Chinese pressure on specific issues.[8]

The steadily expanding trade war between China and the United States is another new wild card in the pack, with long-term effects that are difficult to predict and likely to vary from state to state. Some ASEAN members such as Thailand may benefit, as U.S. buyers turn to other sources to replace Chinese imports that have become too expensive, while those involved in supply chains for Chinese or American manufacturers may suffer.[9] In July 2018, ASEAN also signed a Cooperation Pact with Iran, ignoring U.S. President Donald Trump’s efforts to persuade other nations to impose sanctions on Iran following his refusal in May 2018 to certify Iran’s continued compliance with its existing United Nations-brokered agreement on nuclear power.[10] In this case, ASEAN is aligning itself with China, which, since January 2017, has presented itself as a champion of global free trade, in dramatic contrast to Trump’s proclaimed policies of “America First.” In this context, the most notable feature is perhaps that—notwithstanding Shambaugh’s eloquent arguments in favor of greater U.S. sensitivity to ASEAN concerns—the interests of Southeast Asia were nowhere on the radar screen when the Trump administration made these decisions.

The two other articles in this symposium each focus upon one issue. Eric Heginbotham and Richard J. Samuels, both political scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, consider how Japan might redesign its military strategy to meet the enhanced threat that China now presents. For decades, budget-conscious American officials have urged Japan to boost its military spending and possibly even to acquire its own nuclear deterrent, prospects that the majority of Southeast Asian nations, not to mention Australia, New Zealand, and China, with memories of World War II still by no means forgotten, have found deeply unappealing. Japan has now jettisoned the one percent of GDP limit on defense spending imposed by its post-World War II constitution, and some officials, including Prime Minister, Shinzō Abe, seem not merely willing but eager to upgrade Japan’s military budget. Precisely how such defense increases might be utilized is more problematic. Heginbotham and Richards seek to prescribe “a clear strategy, one that maximizes the deterrent value of the force (even in the absence of clear superiority) without exacerbating instability” (128). In the last twenty years, they argue, China has dramatically upgraded its conventional warfare capabilities and inventory, mandating a re-evaluation of Japanese strategy. They recommend implementing an effective denial strategy, one that would enable Japan to endure and survive a pre-emptive attack, preserve at least some defense forces in being, and wait for reinforcements from its great ally, the United States. Putting the required additional assets in place could, they argue, be accomplished within the two percent of GDP that the Liberal Democratic Party recommended in June 2017 as the desirable level of Japanese defense spending. A long-range strike capability against China would, however, be relatively ineffective and might even be counterproductive, if it encouraged a pre-emptive Chinese strike intended to eliminate these weapons. Instead, Heginbotham and Richards advocate “a new strategy . . . based around survivable, mobile forces with the ability to isolate and strike an encroaching adversary” (166). This option calls for “a military strategy that enhances stability by ensuring that an attack on Japan will become a protracted fight, thus enhancing deterrence, and by reducing the incentives for either side to strike first during a crisis.” The authors suggest that since military officers might well consider the unglamorous prospect of a war of attrition unappealing, “civilian experts and leaders” may well be required to be its foremost advocates (166).

The unspectacular strategic option suggested here is designed to take advantage of China’s weak points. One of these, as the authors point out, is that Chinese political leaders greatly fear any potential cause of domestic instability, with the prospect of a protracted war ranking high among factors that might precipitate this. They quote influential Chinese military strategists as arguing in 2013 that, despite improved technological capabilities, the “warfighting endurance capability” of the People’s Liberation Army has actually declined, thanks to the social “contradictions, frictions, and struggles produced in the course of reform” (146). It is quite possible that, President Xi Jinping’s emphasis upon national greatness and regeneration notwithstanding, most of those Chinese who dutifully welcome his speeches with the requisite applause have no interest in making the kinds of sacrifices that Chairman Mao Zedong once did not scruple to demand. The pursuit of private gain and fulfilment—and, on occasion, political ambition—leaves little room for idealism of any kind. China may not be a democracy, but its rulers still respond assiduously to popular discontent, in many cases by simply checking its emergence in the first place. The Belt and Road Initiative and the Asian Investment Infrastructure Bank have been widely acclaimed within China. Yet one wonders if any real constituency exists for high levels of overseas spending, unless this can be justified as being in some way designed to promote China’s own interests, through assuring reliable supplies of scarce resources, for example. Despite progress in recent years, China still has more than enough outstanding domestic problems left to address, many of which will require substantial expenditures. And will enthusiasm for China’s expansive foreign policies and acquisition of military bases in the Middle East and beyond prove sufficiently deep-rooted to survive the attacks and combat situations that are bound to occur with Chinese soldiers returning in body bags? Perhaps China’s policies and leaders will prove sufficiently resilient to meet these challenges. But in all probability, only when the benefits of the costs incurred through military or economic ventures can be clearly defined.

Defending China’s access to essential resources may well be one acceptable justification. Heginbotham and Richards note that more than 60 percent of China’s oil is imported, with 75 percent of that travelling through the Strait of Malacca, a choke point which at its narrowest, close to Singapore, is only one and a half miles wide, extremely vulnerable to a U.S. naval blockade (146). The third article in this selection, by Jennifer Lind and Daryl G. Press, professors of government at Dartmouth College, examines the methods China currently employs to ensure itself uninterrupted supplies and a substantial reserve of oil. Free market devotees have assailed these as misguided, irrational, and undesirably mercantilist, arguing that China is paying too much for oil without gaining any extra security or commensurate benefits. Lind and Press disagree, contending that, “[f]ar from being anachronistic or irrational, policies of energy mercantilism are a logical and potentially effective response to vulnerability” (171). Drawing on analogies from the business literature on supply chains, and the measures that businesses take to ensure uninterrupted access to limited supplies in situations characterized by “imperfect contracting,” (171) collusion among suppliers, geographical concentration of resources, and exposure to conflicts, they contend that China is following comparable strategies to safeguard the uninterrupted availability of oil to Chinese consumers. These include being able to exercise control over crucial suppliers; the diversification of suppliers and delivery routes; building up inventories and reserves; and providing military protection and security to safeguard “vulnerable assets” (171). The authors argue that, far from being ineffective, the measures China has adopted help to “insulate” it from outside pressures that might otherwise result from “energy disruptions” and enable it to counter efforts to use China’s energy vulnerability as a coercive tool during potential conflicts. China’s leaders, highly conscious that their country’s dependence on imported oil could be used against it, have developed logical and rational responses to address a threat they would be foolish not to anticipate. Other nations, the authors note, including the United States, use similar methods to safeguard their own oil supplies. More broadly, they suggest that, in the “ongoing struggle between liberalism and mercantilism, . . . if states still have incentives to engage in mercantilist resource struggles even under the prevailing liberal trade order, then the current jousting for resources (particularly oil) may foreshadow economic and political conflict to come” (172-173).

Each of these three articles views China’s rapid growth in both economic and military power through a somewhat different lens. In all, though, the competition for power and influence between China and the United States, whether in Southeast Asia or Japan, over access to scarce energy supplies, or more broadly in Asia and beyond, is a palpable presence, its implications framing, underlying, and driving the entire essays. It seem that in the global context it is impossible to discuss China without also bringing in the United States. The relationship is fundamentally asymmetric, since the reverse is not true of the United States. For China, the constant near inescapable imperative to measure itself against the United States represents something of an existential dilemma. Should Chinese leaders set their country the competitive goal of performing better than the United States in areas where it currently excels, or should they rather change the arena and opt for a different and purportedly better playing field? Equally frustrating is China’s inability to operate internationally, most particularly in its own backyard, without in some manner falling under the shadow of the United States. Yet, however infuriating China’s leaders may find the constant references back to their sporadic model and great rival, at least for the indefinite future, they will almost certainly have to live with them. As these articles demonstrate, when considering China in any international setting, the United States is an inevitable part of the equation.


Priscilla Roberts received her BA, MA, and Ph.D. degrees from King’s College Cambridge. She was the first woman admitted to King’s as an undergraduate who successfully completed Ph.D. studies. She recently joined the Faculty of Business at the City University of Macau. She has published numerous articles on twentieth-century diplomatic and international history, with a special interest in Anglo-American and Asian-Western relations. She is the author, editor, or co-editor of twenty-eight books, including The Cold War (Stroud: Sutton, 2000); Window on the Forbidden City: The Chinese Diaries of David Bruce, 1973-1974 (Hong Kong: Centre of Asian Studies, University of Hong Kong, 2001); Behind the Bamboo Curtain: China, Vietnam, and the World Beyond Asia (Washington, D.C. and Stanford: Wilson Center Press and Stanford University Press, 2006); Lord Lothian and Anglo-American Relations, 1900-1940 (Dordrecht: Republic of Letters Press, 2010); The Power of Culture: Encounters Between China and the United States (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishers, 2016); Hong Kong in the Cold War (Hong Kong University Press, 2016); and (with Odd Arne Westad) China, Hong Kong, and the Long 1970s: Global Perspectives (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017). She is currently completing a study of Anglo-American think tanks and China policy, 1950-1995.

©2018 The Authors | Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 United States License



[1] See, e.g., Michael Pillsbury, The Hundred Year Marathon: China’s Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2016); Graham Allison, Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’ Trap? (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017); Martin Jacques, When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order (New York: Penguin, 2009).

[2] See, for example, Dinny McMahon, China’s Great Wall of Debt: Shadow Banks, Ghost Cities, Massive Loans, and the End of the Chinese Miracle (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018); Carl Minzner, End of an Era: How China’s Authoritarian Revival is Undermining Its Rise (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018).

[3] David Shambaugh, China’s Future (Cambridge: Polity, 2016); also David Shambaugh, “The Coming Chinese Crack-Up,” Wall Street Journal (6 March 2015).

[4] See, for example, Elizabeth Economy, Xi Jinping and the New Chinese State (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018).

[5] Shu Guang Zhang, Beijing’s Economic Statecraft during the Cold War, 1949-1991 (Baltimore and Washington, D.C.: Johns Hopkins University Press and Wilson Center Press, 2014).

[6] See, for example, Perry Link, “Beijing’s Bold New Censorship,” New York Review of Books (5 September 2017); Clive Hamilton, Silent Invasion: China’s Influence in Australia (Sydney: Hardie Grant, 2018).

[7] Ho Wah Foon, “Dr M-Xi talks to hit beyond troubled projects,” The Star Online, 8 July 2018, https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2018/07/08/dr-mxi-talks-to-hit-beyond-troubled-projects-chinas-troubled-mega-projects-in-malaysia-are-unlikely.

[8] Evelyn Goh, ed., Rising China’s Influence in Developing Asia (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016).

[9] “Singapore, Malaysia could be most exposed to US-China trade war: OCBC,” 11 July 2018, The Business Times, https://www.businesstimes.com.sg/asean-business/singapore-malaysia-could-be-most-exposed-to-us-china-trade-war-ocbc-0.

[10] “ASEAN To Sign Cooperation Pact With Iran Despite US Sanctions,” Eurasian Times Digital, 21 July 2018, https://eurasiantimes.com/asean-iran-us/.

H-Diplo | ISSF

Review Essay 43

Andrew Futter.  Hacking the Bomb:  Cyber Threats and Nuclear Weapons.  Washington, D.C.:  Georgetown University Press, 2018.  ISBN:  9781626165649 (hardcover, $89.95); 9781626165656 (paperback, $29.95).

Reviewed by Jacquelyn Schneider, U.S. Naval War College.[1]

Published 11 October 2018 | issforum.org

Editor:  Diane Labrosse
Web and Production Editor:  George Fujii


Shortlink: http://tiny.cc/ISSF-RE43
Permalink: https://issforum.org/essays/43-hacking-bomb
PDF URL: https://issforum.org/ISSF/PDF/RE43.pdf

Hacking the Bomb begins its narrative with WarGames—a 1980s sci-fi movie about a teenager who inadvertently almost starts nuclear war by hacking into a nuclear control program within a U.S. computer. This is a common vignette within the cyber literature (see, for example, the introductions of Fred Kaplan’s Dark Territory[2] as well as “Thermonuclear War”[3]) and it represents what most scholars believe is the most dangerous potential implication of cyber operations—the cyber threat to nuclear command, control, and communications (NC3). As Erik Gartzke and Jon Lindsay conclude, “offensive cyber operations against NC3 raise the risk of nuclear war . . . today the proliferation and modernization of nuclear weapons may raise the risk slightly. Subversion of NC3 raises the danger of nuclear war slightly more. Cyberwar is not war per se, but in rare circumstances it may make escalation to thermonuclear war more likely.”[4]

The potential of a cyber-nuclear threat becomes even more pressing as states move to digitize the technologies within their nuclear arsenal. The United States, for example, is currently in the midst of a major nuclear modernization effort prompted by a damning finding from the Government Accountability Office that “Defense is still using 8-inch floppy disks in a legacy system that coordinates the operational functions of the United States’ nuclear forces.”[5] In response, Strategic Command has prioritized the digitization of NC3, arguing to Congress that “any delay, deferment, or cancellation of NC3 modernization will create a capability gap potentially degrading the President’s ability to respond appropriately to a strategic threat.”[6] Further, recent Department of Defense cloud computing initiatives suggest that the U.S. might go so far as to store nuclear information in contractor-provided cloud computing services.[7] The bottom line is that modern nuclear arsenals are becoming more and more entangled with cyber infrastructure. Clearly Andrew Futter’s Hacking the Bomb introduces an important puzzle at an extremely relevant time.

The book also has the potential to be a significant contribution to our limited understanding of the impact of cyber operations on nuclear stability. The literature on cyber deterrence, cyber escalation, and cyber war has proliferated over the last five to ten years. Early leaders such as Martin Libicki, Jason Healey, Fred Kaplan, Lucas Kello, Thomas Rid, and Herb Lin have laid a strong foundation of cyber puzzles and their books have generated a rich set of hypotheses about the implication of cyber operations on broader crisis stability.[8]

In order for books to be judged contributions to this now burgeoning field, works must move past this rich foundation of hypotheses and instead build knowledge and fill in theoretical gaps. Despite the increase in attention to cyber threats, authors have been so far unable to answer the fundamental question of international relations—do cyber operations increase or decrease the chance for war? In order to answer this pivotal question, the cyber field benefits from work that 1) characterizes the technical nature of the threat (i.e. can cyber operations pull off these kinds of attacks?), 2) provides empirical data on use of or response to cyber operations—especially about sensitive exploitation or attack planning, or 3) generates testable theories with clear independent variables, dependent variables, and causal mechanisms. While the framing of a cyber-nuclear puzzle is compelling, in order for the study to be a significant contribution it should either present new technical knowledge about the feasibility of impactful cyber attacks, new empirical data about the propensity for the use of or reaction to cyber operations against nuclear targets, or new theories about cyber operations and nuclear stability with clear logics and falsifiable hypotheses. Any one of these contributions could help us answer whether cyber operations increase, decrease, or have no effect on the chance for nuclear war.

Unfortunately, Hacking the Bomb is in the vein of much of the existing cyber literature and the ultimate question about nuclear war is left unresolved. It is primarily an exploratory presentation of various cyber-nuclear challenges with an articulation of debates within policy and popular discussion. It does not present new empirics on the use of cyber operations and relies on a limited amount of secondary sources for its analysis. It does, however, have the potential to generate new theoretical perspectives. Perhaps the most useful contribution of the book comes from Futter’s typology of nuclear control in chapter 2. Here, Futter illustrates potential cyber vulnerabilities through the lens of two categorizations taken from the nuclear theory world: the vulnerabilities that incentivize negative control, or unwarranted use, and vulnerabilities that incentivize positive control, or first strike incentives. This is a useful frame and a good way to incorporate the very mature theories of nuclear use with our very immature understandings of the implications of cyber operations. Unfortunately, because the book is primarily an exploration and not an argument, Futter does not carry this frame beyond the chapter.

Hacking the Bomb might not solve the primary limitations of current cyber literature, but it does highlight the fertile landscape for future cyber work. In particular, the book suggests the need for three types of follow-on work. First, the lack of primary source knowledge about the technical feasibility of cyber attacks on NC3 severely limits the ability to generalize the potential impact of cyber operations on nuclear stability. Future work that provides more technical detail about the probability of success and the extent of effect would be extraordinarily helpful. In particular, analysis of the cascading effects to the NC3 from cyber attacks on civilian critical infrastructure would provide useful granularity about the impact of cyber operations on an under-studied vulnerability of NC3.

The lack of technical cyber contributions within larger international relations literature is partly due to the fact that the virtual and constantly changing nature of networks and cyber attacks makes it difficult to assess potential effects. However, a good scholarly analysis of technical cyber capabilities is not impossible. Rebecca Slayton’s analysis of the cyber offense-defense balance is a particularly interesting way to broach the technical feasibility challenge.[9] Instead of delving into the technical details of cyber attacks, Slayton’s work focuses on the limits and advantages of organizations in building offensive and defensive tools. By abstracting out from “cyber” to organizations, Slayton is able to trace the overall probability of cyber advantage without extraordinarily detailed technical work. Based on that kind of analysis, one could imagine follow-on research on the cyber-nuclear problem that walks through the technical characteristics of the NC3—satellite relays, fiber optic cabling, data storage and analytics—and abstracts out to organizations in order to perform an unclassified analysis of the ability to access, exploit, and then degrade or destroy functionality.

Second, much of Hacking the Bomb assumes states’ reactions to cyber operations or at least proposes a range of potential responses without providing evidence for which responses are more or less likely to occur. However, some of those assumptions might be testable with either unclassified data sets, case studies, or the use of war gaming. Some of this work is emerging,[10] and future use of innovative methodologies to generate empirics on cyber behaviors might help future literature lean less on assumptions about how states could react to exploits and vulnerabilities of NC3.

A third potential for follow-on research from Hacking the Bomb is the development of more explicit theories about what potential cyber effects and behaviors mean for nuclear policy, operations, and doctrine. For example, an analysis could theorize the potential span of cyber effects within discrete categories (degradation of trust in data, deletion of data, functionality of a weapon system, etc.) without making any technical claim about the probability of these effects. Then, the researcher could run logical experiments, game theory, or simulations in which the only difference between nuclear crises is the categorized cyber effects. By identifying the variable we are interested in, hypothesizing potential effects, and then controlling for the variable that we want to explore, future work could create theoretical advances in our understanding of the impact of cyber operations on nuclear stability.

Finally, the policy implications of much of this cyber literature have been either largely abstract, often contradictory, or stove-piped within the cyber domain. For example, authors often recommend better cyber defense and resiliency without acknowledging the large trade-off between cyber defense or resiliency and leveraging cutting-edge digital technologies in military operations. Futter’s recommendations suffer from similar problems and he does not generate concrete recommendations outside the cyber realm for nuclear policy planners or nuclear acquisition strategies. Future work should generate empirics or theories that lead to recommendations not only for better cyber defense or deterrence, but also for investments in different nuclear delivery platforms, in decentralized versus centralized command and control, in the storage of targeting data, and in the operational concepts states develop to deliver or respond to nuclear weapons.


Jacquelyn Schneider is an Assistant Professor at the U.S. Naval War College where she is an affiliated faculty in the Center for Cyber Conflict Studies. Her work on cyber, unmanned technologies, and national security has appeared in a variety of outlets including Journal of Conflict Resolution, Security Studies, Strategic Studies Quarterly, War on the Rocks, Foreign Affairs, Washington Post, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and National Interest.

©2018 The Authors | Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 United States License




[1] The views reflect those of the author’s alone and do not represent those of the Naval War College, U.S. Navy, or the Department of Defense.

[2] Fred Kaplan, Dark Territory: The Secret History of Cyber War (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2016).

[3] Erik Gartzke and Jon Lindsay, “Thermonuclear Cyberwar,” Journal of Cybersecurity 3:1 (2017): 45.

[4] Gartzke and Lindsay, 45.

[5] GAO, Information Technology, Federal Agencies Need to Address Aging Legacy Systems (Washington, D.C.: 2016), https://www.gao.gov/assets/680/677436.pdf, 26.

[6] House Committee on Armed Services, Statement of John E. Hyten Commander United States Strategic Command Before the House Committee on Armed Services (Washington, D.C.: 8 March 2017), https://docs.house.gov/meetings/AS/AS00/20170308/105640/HHRG-115-AS00-Wstate-HytenUSAFJ-20170308.pdf, 6.

[7] Jacquelyn Schneider, “JEDI: Outlook for Stability Uncertain as Pentagon Migrates to the Cloud,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 21 June 2018, https://thebulletin.org/jedi-outlook-stability-uncertain-pentagon-migrates-cloud11927.

[8] Martin Libicki, Cyberdeterrence and Cyberwar (Santa Monica: Rand Corporation, 2009); Herbert Lin, “Offensive Cyber Operations and the Use of Force,” Journal of National Security Law and Policy 4:63 (2010): 63-75; Jason Healey and Karl Grindal, eds., A Fierce Domain: Conflict in Cyberspace, 1986 to 2012 (Washington, D.C.: Cyber Conflict Studies Association, 2013); Kaplan, Dark Territory, Lucas Kello, The Virtual Weapon and International Order (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017); Thomas Rid, Cyber War Will Not Take Place (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013).

[9] Rebecca Slayton,”What is the Cyber Offense-Defense Balance? Conceptions, Causes, and Assessment,” International Security 41:3 (2017): 72-109.

[10] Brandon Valeriano and Ryan C. Maness, Cyber War Versus Cyber Realities: Cyber Conflict in the International System (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015); Brandon Valeriano, Benjamin Jensen, and Ryan C. Maness, Cyber Strategy: The Evolving Character of Power and Coercion (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018); Jacquelyn Schneider. “The Information Revolution and International Stability: A Multi-Article Exploration of Computing, Cyber, and Incentives for Conflict.” Ph.D. diss., The George Washington University, 2017; Jon Lindsay, “Stuxnet and the Limits of Cyber Warfare,” Security Studies 22:3 (2013): 365-404.

The possibility that terrorists might detonate nuclear fission bombs has seized both the general public and policy communities’ attention since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Experts differ significantly on how likely or even plausible the threat might be, with well-informed, thoughtful analysts adopting views across the spectrum. Even among these diverging views, there is a relative consensus that terrorists are not likely to develop their own fissile material for nuclear weapons, and also that building even a crude nuclear device would require considerable expertise. Those working inside military, government, or commercial establishments may provide crucial materials or skills to terrorist groups who would otherwise be hampered in realizing nuclear attack motivations. More generally, insiders have the potential to pose significant nuclear threats. For example, causing a consequential radiation release from a nuclear reactor via external attack is challenging, but far less so with an insider accomplice.

Continue reading

Since the start of the twentieth century, when the White House first became “a full-time propaganda machine,” the president’s relationship with the media has been in a state of constant flux.[1] The underlying cause has been the media’s technological evolution, from its newspaper and magazine roots to the radio and television era, and finally to the modern landscape of cable broadcasting and the internet. With the addition of each new media form, presidents have faced fresh challenges related to coordination, speed, and packaging. But the more innovative among them—William McKinley in the newspaper age, Franklin D. Roosevelt in the radio era, and John F. Kennedy with the advent of television—managed to devise new ways of dealing with the altered landscape, which their successors then copied.

Continue reading

H-Diplo | ISSF Review Essay 41

Daniel J. Hopkins.  The Increasingly United States:  How and Why American Political Behavior Nationalized.  Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 2018.  ISBN:  9780226530239 (hardcover, $105.00); 9780226530376 (paperback, $35.00).

Reviewed by Robert Y. Shapiro, Columbia University

Published 13 September 2018 | issforum.org

Editor:  Diane Labrosse
Web and Production Editor:  George Fujii

Shortlink: http://tiny.cc/ISSF-RE41
Permalink: https://issforum.org/essays/41-united
PDF URL: https://issforum.org/ISSF/PDF/RE41.pdf

“…All politics is local.”                    

—Tip O’Neill, former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives

“The future ain’t what it used to be.”

—Yogi Berra, baseball great

“At State Level Just One Issue Counts: Trump. All Politics Are Local? Not in GOP Races”

—Jonathan Marten (front page The New York Times, 31 July 2018)

“Meet the 81 candidates Obama is endorsing in 2018”

—Alexi McCammond (1 August 2018), https://www.axios.com/barack-obama-endorsements-2018-midterm-election-557ff5f3-9d0a-404f-8f4b-f4bec0350259.html)

The quote from baseball legend (and wordsmith) Yogi Berra throws caution at legendary Democratic House Speaker Tip O’Neill’s famous reminder to all politicians at election time. And for good reason, judging from the titles of the two new headlines above about the 2018 primary and general elections: politics are not local but national, with President Donald Trump front and center; Jonathan Martin can readily make this case. Regarding former President Barack Obama’s endorsements of congressional and state-level candidates, Alexi McCammond then goes on to say Why it matters: Obama is the left’s answer to President Trump’s continued presence in the primaries. Not only will Obama announce another round of endorsements before Nov. 6, but he also plans to campaign in several of these states throughout the fall.”

Martin’s piece emphasizes Trump’s endorsements and efforts to promote in various states his preferred Republican candidates who have supported him and his policy efforts. Martin focuses on Trump’s upcoming appearance that night at a rally in Tampa, Florida, along with his preferred Republican candidate for governor, Representative Ron DeSantis, and on how Trump caused DeSantis’s primary opponent, Adam Putnam, to collapse in the polls. DeSantis enthusiastically welcomed Trump’s support, whereas other politicos and observers thought that his close ties to the strident and relatively unpopular president would weaken his chances in the general election. But Martin’s story extends beyond presidential support to how DeSantis’s campaign was outside the local orbit in other ways, in particular, as it appeared throughout the media in the context of national issues, not state and local matters that state candidates in the past had to pay close attention to. Martin observes that DeSantis’s rise “reflects the broader nationalization of conservative politics, in which a willingness to hurl rhetorical lightning bolts at the left, the news media, and the special counsel Robert S. Mueller can override local credentials, local endorsements and preparedness for a state-based job.”

In contrast, Putnam’s claims that the state needed a Floridian who would put Florida first had been falling on deaf ears, as well as his criticism of DeSantis for his “ubiquity on Fox News”—at “an out of state television studio.” DeSantis appeared “on Fox prime-time shows at least 41 times since Mr. Trump was inaugurated” to support and defend Trump. And Sean Hannity and other lesser Fox personalities were campaigning for him. This all helped DeSantis, whose own campaign polls found that 66 percent of Florida’s likely Republic voters were regular Fox News viewers. The national context, that would be the same for any state, dominated the election, whereas the Florida state government in Tallahassee and state issues that Putnam tried to emphasize were far from the minds of voters. Anecdotally, Martin cited a local Republican activist who, when asked about the most important issue facing Florida, answered that it’s “the illegals”; “it’s not immigration, it’s an invasion,” and the “migrants are ‘absolutely ruining Europe’.” Local politics this is not.

The purpose of this lengthy description is to ask: Is this nationalization of the 2018 election now typical or is it peculiar to the current era of Donald Trump and the election as a referendum on his presidency? Is this possible national “wave” election—hurting the incumbent party, like the elections of 1974, 1994, 2006, 2010, and 2014—the new norm, or is it just a deviation from the primacy of localized politics?

Daniel Hopkins’s book provides the most definitive answer to date. In short, it puts the kibosh on Tip O’Neill’s assertion that “All politics are local.” While all politics may have been local before, they are clearly a lot less local than they used to be.

The big question about the 2018 election is how much of a national wave will it be. For Hopkins this is a not just another midterm election blip but rather part of a long-term trend of nationalizing forces. His book masterfully presents a wide range of evidence about changes in partisan politics that are front and center today and about changes in American engagement politics at the national versus state and local level, with state politics as we used to know it, falling by the wayside and playing out much more so than the past as a consequence of national political forces. President Trump and other leaders in both political parties endorsing congressional and gubernatorial candidates on the basis of ideology and national issues reflects the polarization of the Democratic and Republican parties that began forty years ago.[1] We have also seen the reverse development, in the recent case of far left congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s surprise defeat of the more moderate Democratic incumbent Joseph Crowley in a New York City district. In instances like this, the success of more extreme local candidates (which can get more national media attention than a more moderate candidate’s win) might push their parties further to the left of right.

Hopkins marshals a broad and rich range of data and other evidence to make his case. These include conventional public opinion survey data and election exit polls; data from survey experiments and responses to open-ended questions; aggregate statistics at different levels; state-of-the-art computerized analysis of text to compare and study the content of news media coverage and the policy issue agenda at the national and state level; as well as his synthesis of the latest relevant research. (With regard to these extensive data, it is frustrating that the extensive accompanying appendix is not available in the book but rather online.) Hopkins nicely lays out the important parts of his claims: that changes in national partisan politics along ideological and identity lines have penetrated and come to increasingly dominate state politics as well; that the cross-pressures that state and local issues used to provide and that made state parties different from the national parties (that came together only every four years to nominate a president) have diminished; and that citizens engagement with national politics and issues has come at the expense of attention to and participation in state and local politics. Lower levels of attentiveness and knowledge about local politics, and abysmal voter turnout, especially in primary elections, has been the result of both changes in party politics and the nationalization of the news media – especially the new national media provided by cable networks and the internet, which have competed with local television news. Meantime, newspapers that provided local news – with multiple daily editions in the forgotten past — have fallen dramatically by the wayside.

Hopkins provides an excellent discussion of the consequences of nationalization. There are obvious implications for democracy and representation—with respect to distinguishing state and local governments from the national government in order to hold them accountable for the policies and issues for which they are responsible. In this and other contexts, the idea of states as “laboratories of democracy” (230) goes out the window. Another consequence, and perhaps one that is more important today, is that nationalization feeds back into the partisan polarization that has caused it. State and local politics no longer provide a moderating force, with legislators cooperating through log-rolling and supporting earmarks for localities, and the like. The book would have benefitted from a further discussion of what led to the polarization or highly conflictual—and now highly emotional—‘partisan sorting’ that has occurred since the late 1970s on nearly all major issues (from New-Deal era Democratic and Republican parties that were divided only on economic and other ‘big government’ issues, and that had moderating forces—respectively, southern Democrats who were conservative on racial and labor issues, and liberal Republicans on issues of racial and other rights), with the parties now more evenly matched than they were when the Democrats controlled Congress for most of the post-World War II period. This aspect of current partisan politics would not have looked different if another Republican or Hillary Clinton (or another Democrat) were president.[2] It would still look like there are two Americas today—a liberal and conservative one[3]—along with political gridlock in government.

Hopkins nicely emphasizes both the upside and other downsides of the nationalization politics. When it expands the ‘scope of conflict,’ it can make issues, such as civil rights in the 1950s, more salient and force them on to the political agenda for remedy.[4] But this greater focus on national issue draws attention away from important and less partisan issues ‘on the ground’—such as roads, schools, and so forth—in state and local politics that affect people’s daily lives and toward which elected leaders should be responding and held accountable to the preferences of their district constituents or statewide electorates.[5] As Hopkins observes, nationalization undercuts the representation of local “unique communities of interest,” (6) when legislators ask “Is my party for or against this bill?” instead of asking, “how will this particular bill affect my district?” (7). This undercuts the purpose of a federal system and its institutions that acknowledge the importance of local interests and issues, which these institutions are better positioned to deal with than the national government. Moreover, in Hopkins’s review of other research, when individuals vote based on partisanship as related to one’s social group and identity, they are acting expressively and not instrumentally in terms of how state and local government actions benefit them, their families, or others in their community.

It is difficult to do justice to Hopkins’s systematic data and evidence. In only a couple spots are they less convincing than they could be, mainly due to limitations in the available data, and in a few instances where the presentations of data and labeling in a few of the figures could be clearer. One caveat, that he acknowledges, is that his non-national data are largely state and not local data, but this speaks more than well enough to the nationalization of American politics. To start, in Chapter 3, regarding the nationalization of elections, Hopkins’s multilevel modeling of survey data shows quite clearly that the party identification of voters has never varied much by state since the 1950s once individuals’ demographic characteristics are controlled, and what variation there has been that is attributable to the state has decreased over time. Further, and more directly relevant to vote choices, while there has been variation over time in county-level voting for president and governor, the correlation since the 1970s has increased from less than the 0.2 to 0.8 or better depending on how the states are parsed by region and by presidential or midterm election years. Exit poll data since 1990 show an increasing correlation from 0.6 to more than 0.8 between vote choices for governor versus president. And the home state advantage of presidents declined after the mid-1970s. So state as a context has been less relevant in these respects.

Chapter 4 looks at knowledge of and engagement with politics and leaders below the national level. For one, knowledge of the identity of one’s state governor has declined after the 1970s. Further, survey respondents have more to say about the president than their governor. And when asked whether they care more about whether their party wins the presidency or the governorship, more than twice as many individuals say the presidency. Looking at Google Trends searches, it is also clear that people are much more interested in seeking information about the president than their state governor. The available data show that since 1990 House and Senate candidates have gotten much greater contributions for their campaigns from sources outside their states, so that local interests are not driving them. And in comparing contributions within state to Senate candidates versus candidates for governor, the former have come to raise more money by a factor of as much as five-fold.  The comparisons of changes in relative voter turnout in presidential elections to mayoral, gubernatorial, and Senatorial elections, taking into account the election cycle, show that voter participation in presidential elections relative to the others has increased substantially.

In Chapter 5, Hopkins examines the extent to which local context affects political attitudes and preferences. Comparing a number of issues, he finds that local contexts in certain high salience cases—geographic closeness to a terrorist attack on 9/11, and locations with high crime rates and high unemployment—do affect politically related attitudes. But here, interestingly, these are issues that are highly nationalized, so that the localized influence is an extension of the national debate.

Chapter 6 turns to explanations for nationalization in which Hopkins elaborates on the already clear party-centered account, which is epitomized by how Republican gains in the House and the Senate in 2010 and 2014 were accompanied by Republican domination of state houses and state legislatures. Hopkins presents data that show the increasing correlation between the partisan presidential and gubernatorial vote closely tracking a measure of partisan polarization in congressional roll call voting. Through related correlational and other analyses, including the possible effect of the expansion of national government authority and scope, Hopkins rules out alternative explanations for the nationalization that has occurred.

To go beyond these correlations and to get more closely at causality, the next chapters are more important ones in getting more directly at the nationalization of partisanship as reflected in state government and politics. Chapter 7 examines changes in state parties and the American public’s perceptions of them, with an eye to looking for the same ideological cleavages that exist nationally and any differences across state parties that remain beyond that. There is persuasive evidence provided by Boris Shor and Nolan McCarty that state legislative parties—that is, politics at the leadership level—have become polarized in ways that are consistent with the pattern found in national data.[6] To further his case, however, Hopkins is interested in whether this state partisan positioning has become similar across states and also whether voters have come to see no difference between state parties and the national ones. This speaks to the question of whether the United States continues to have different state parties or just two national parties with state branches. Reviewing the Shor and McCarty data, Hopkins finds increased partisan differences in the same direction for all the state parties after 1995, when the available data begin. However, the Republicans and Democratic legislators across states vary in their ideological ‘ideal points’ (e.g., Massachusetts Republican legislators are less conservative than those even in other northeast states). Figure 7.2, which shows these trends, at first glance is not so easy to read. Hopkins examines state parties further by comparing state party platforms which cover a much larger period beginning in 1918. Here his computerized text analysis focuses on the amount of attention the platforms devote to different issues that have increasingly become partisan.  What is striking is that the Democratic and Republican state party platforms for the full period have touched on the same issues but have since the 1970s included the same issues around which national partisan conflict has occurred. Moreover, this increase over time is associated with strikingly less variation across states in the inclusion of these issues, and partisan differences have increased only slightly in their focus on particular issues.

Hopkins then provides evidence that the public sees little distinction between the state and national parties. This is reflected in low levels of split ticket-voting but also in similar distributions in national, state, and local party identification based on a survey designed to measure these different identifications. This one-time survey cannot, however, provide evidence for this being a change that has occurred since the 1970s. These similarities in perceptions of the state and national parties is reflected also in data from open-ended responses concerning how people evaluate these parties (again, we do not know if or how this differs from the past). In Chapter 7, Hopkins provides a neat analysis of exit poll data that show that once voters’ individual level partisanship and demographic characteristics are controlled, the positioning of the state parties, as state level factors, adds no further explanation for voters’ gubernatorial choices.

Chapter 8 reviews research that shows that state-based identities are not much related to political attitudes and behavior beyond their overlap with other social and partisan identities (as measured by individual-level characteristics). Hopkins finds further evidence in the text of Google Books collections that American identity was increasingly expressed more that state identity in the last part of the twentieth century. He finds this as well in survey data in which respondents are asked about “how important various things are to your sense of who you are?” (178). This is reflected further in a clever survey experiment which shows that individuals take it more as a personal insult “when someone criticizes my country” compared to “my state” or “my city or town” (182-183). Further, based on responses to an open-ended question asking what respondents are most proud of about the United States and about their state, there are many more references to national political factors and values regarding the United States, compared to the state (there also many more responses overall about the nation than about the state).

The last empirical chapter focuses on the media and the overall declining audiences for state and local news, and the present-day dominance of national news. Tracking this is critically important in that it speaks to the existence of a national community that is the target audience for the changes that have occurred in partisan politics and the nationalization of American political behavior. But in the back-drop there was evidence for a certain primacy of national political leaders to begin with. Hopkins’s computerized text analysis of a sample of daily political articles from the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune from the 1930s to 1989, compared the visibility of news coverage of presidents versus governors and mayors. This analysis revealed that, historically, there was more coverage of the national chief executives than local ones, with state governors coming in third. For the periods since 1989, Hopkins’s analysis of 51 of the 67 largest newspapers (from Newsbank), found a local-to-national coverage ratio of 1 to 2, and less than 1 to 5 for state to national (with more state coverage in newspapers found in state capitals.) In terms of change over time, interestingly, there is has been a trend since 1985 of slightly increased local and state (relative to national) politics newspaper coverage, perhaps, as Hopkins suggests, due to increased competition from media outlets in the coverage of national politics. The evidence from local television new, based on available transcripts since 2006 (also from Newsbank), also reveals much greater local/national news coverage (just over a 4 to 5 ratio) compared to newspapers, and greater state/national coverage (just over 1 to 2 ratio) compared to newspapers – along with a similar increase over time to what was found for local papers.

While the availability of political news at all levels has been stable in local newspapers and television, Hopkins presents data that confirms that people rely on these local outlets for news about local and state politics. The big change, of course, is the decline in the audiences for local newspapers and local television news (Figure 9.5 shows this but is very hard to decipher [212]), compared to other sources, including cable news and the internet, which focus much more heavily on national news. The other driving forces for the changing news audience is generational change, with new/younger generations preferring national news outlets over “spatially bounded media sources” (213). What follows from this and reflects the overall audience trend, as Hopkins shows with a simple survey experiment, is that when individuals were given a choice of a headline on a President, Governor, or Mayor who “apologizes for a remark” (215), they were would devote their attention to the President. With regard to how news sources affect political knowledge and engagement, Hopkins shows persuasively from survey data that individuals who know more about state governors are those who rely on local TV news and newspapers, and those who live in a media market in which the state capital is located (so that local news outlets are more likely to cover what is going on in state government). This is shown strikingly further when respondents are asked to name members of Congress, in order to see which primary news sources are associated with them naming in-state versus out-of-state House members and Senators. As expected, people who used local/state news sources tended to name more in-state members of Congress, and those who reported using national news media were more likely to name out-of-state members. Last, and most notably, the media exposure that people get to state politics has increasingly affected voter turnout in gubernatorial elections. Analyzing county level turnout since 1928, Hopkins’s data and multivariate analysis show that living in state capital media market has had an increasing effect on county level turnout for governor versus president starting in the 1970s through 1990; and further on point, living in an out-of-state media market has led to an increasing negative effect on this gubernatorial to presidential turnout ratio during the same period. But after 1990 these effects lessoned, which is consistent with the effect of increasingly nationalized news media coverage and with the increasingly correlated partisan vote for governor and president.

Is there anything missing in this book that would have strengthened its overarching argument? It has plenty of relevant data and statistical analysis to make its case. What is missing is a narrative on certain national issues that play out in state politics that are a visible part of the nationalization of partisan politics. “Obamacare” is mentioned on page 1 but not in the context of state-level debates about the expansion of Medicare and the establishment of state health insurance exchanges, all of which were substantially decided in the states along partisan lines (with exceptions that may have warranted attention). Neither abortion politics, gay rights/gay marriage, immigration, nor gun control issues are singled out for discussion; again these have played heavily along strong partisan lines in the states. Discussing these issues and perhaps other specific ones would have made the book’s discussion a bit fuller and richer.

Two concluding observations: One, readers should not be left with the conclusion that no local politics remain. The book perhaps should have said more about this. For one, when one party dominates in a state, intraparty politics is important and candidates vying for party nomination have to pay attention to local political issues. To be sure, nationalized intraparty politics—with candidates staking out positions as moderates or more extreme liberals and conservatives—is currently playing out bigtime within the Democratic and Republican parties, as in the Ocasio-Cortez and Crowley race cited earlier. But local issues—ones like political corruption, service delivery, state and local economies and economic development, taxes, crime and criminal justices, government budgets, pensions, and so forth—cannot be ignored; just ask politicos, for example, in New York, New Jersey, and Illinois. But from Hopkins’s substantial and persuasive evidence and discussion, politics is unequivocally a lot less local than it used to be.

Second, Hopkins might somewhere have noted that that there were two tensions relevant to his account in the 1950 recommendations to the American Political Science Association in “Toward a More Responsible Government: A Report on the Committee on Political Parties.”[7] The first tension bears on the partisan conflict and gridlock that we have today, in that the Report recommended that the national parties move in the direction of giving voters clearer choices in their policy agendas. The parties today have clearly moved far in that direction. Second, and front and center for this book, the Report also recommended that the parties should become more tightly organized, disciplined, and nationally oriented (emphasis added). Indeed.


Robert Y. Shapiro is the Wallace S. Sayre Professor of Government in the Department of Political Science and Professor of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, and Interim President of the Academy of Political Science. His most recent book is Selling Fear: Counterterrorism, the Media, and Public Opinion, with Brigittte L. Nacos and Yaeli Bloch-Elkon.

©2018 The Authors | Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 United States License



[1] Nolan McCarty, Nolan, Keith T. Poole, and Howard Rosenthal, Polarized America: The Dance of Ideology and Unequal Riches (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006).

[2] On this rising partisan conflict, see Alan I. Abramowitz, The Great Alignment: Race, Party Transformation, and the Rise of Donald Trump (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2018); Joseph Bafumi and Robert Y. Shapiro, “A New Partisan Voter,” The Journal of Politics 71 (January 2009): 1-24; Morris P. Fiorina, with Samuel J. Abrams and Jeremy C. Pope, Culture Wars? The Myth of Polarized America, 3rd ed. (New York: Pearson Longman, 2011); Matthew Levendusky, Matthew, The Partisan Sort: How Liberals Became Democrats and Conservatives Republicans. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009); and McCarty, Poole, and Rosenthal, The Dance of Ideology (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006).

[3] Ronald Brownstein, “There are absolutely two Americas. Sometimes in the same state.” 20 July 2018, https://www.cnn.com/2018/07/20/politics/2018-midterms-brownstein-two-americas-in-virginia/.

[4] See E.E. Schattcschneider, The Semi-Sovereign People: A Realist’s View of Democracy in America (New York: Holt, 1960).

[5] To say nothing of issues that are already under the radar screen on which business and special interests exert decisive influence at the state and local level. See Grant McConnell, Private Power and American Democracy (New York: Random House, 1966).

[6] Boris Shor and Nolan McCarty, “The Ideological Mapping of American Legislatures,” American Political Science Review 105:3 (2011): 530-551.

[7] American Political Science Association, “Toward a More Responsible Government: A Report on the Committee on Political Parties,” American Political Science Review Supplement 44 (September 1950), Part 2; Mark Wickham-Jones, “This 1950 political science report keeps popping up in the news. Here’s the story behind it,” 24 July 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2018/07/24/this-1950-political-science-report-keeps-popping-up-in-the-news-heres-the-story-behind-it/.