No president has cast as much uncertainty over American alliances as Donald Trump. Despite the assiduous damage control of his rotating secretaries of State and Defense and national security advisors, comments from the chief executive matter; uncertainty has increased. Moreover, the unexpected willingness of the president to undertake direct, high-level contacts with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un are both promising and unsettling. Do these contacts augur peace on the peninsula? Or are they but another example of the long-standing North Korean effort to drive wedges between the alliance partners? And looming still larger over these questions is the role that China’s rise might have in determining the alliance’s future. Will it, for example, strengthen as China’s capabilities increase and become more threatening? Or will the desire to accommodate Beijing pull South Korea away from the United States?

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In “The Demographic Transition Theory of War,” Deborah Jordan Brooks, Stephen Brooks, Brian Greenhill, and Mark Haas set out to show that the likelihood of experiencing the onset of interstate conflict shifts dramatically downward as states pass through a demographic transition. Demonstrating this trend statistically is no easy task. Interstate conflicts are rare events, which typically involve a confusing multi-state mix of actors. Yet, Brooks and her colleagues, who make some innovative methodological choices, succeed in convincingly demonstrating that this expected downward trend can be observed in at least four standard demographic measures—median age, the youth-bulge ratio, total fertility rate, and life expectancy at birth. Perhaps most interesting, for their set of interstate conflict data (1960 to 2001) the authors find that the peak probability of onset for interstate conflict is not at the earliest extremes of these variables.

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As the Cold War ended in 1989-1990, scholars made contradictory predictions about the effect this would have on United States foreign policy. Those who saw the extensive and expensive commitments of the previous forty years as the product of a sense of threat induced by Soviet and Communist power anticipated some retraction of these commitments, together with a significant reduction in the resources devoted to national security and even in the degree of involvement in world politics. On the other hand, those who saw it as in the nature of great powers to extend their sway as far as possible expected that the collapse of one of the poles in a bipolar international order would lead to an expansion in the scope of the other pole’s ambitions.[1]Continue reading

On 5 August 2019, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government announced the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which granted the state of Jammu and Kashmir autonomy within India, including a separate constitution, a state flag and control over internal administrative matters. At the same time, Modi’s government also abolished Article 35A, which is part of Article 370, and which mandated that only permanent residents of Jammu and Kashmir could own property in the region. Fearing unrest, India deployed tens of thousands of additional troops to the region, and blacked out most communication.

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Nationalism—the principle that a people sharing a common culture should possess their own sovereign state—is widely regarded as the most powerful political ideology in the modern world. But it is not the unstoppable force sometimes described by international relations scholars, who tend to pay more attention to insurgencies than to stable multinational states and empires. As Matthew Adam Kocher, Adria K. Lawrence, and Nuno P. Monteiro helpfully remind us in their analysis of Nazi-occupied France, nationalism does not always generate immediate, substantial resistance to foreign domination.

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Stability on the Korean Peninsula took a beating in 2017. The year began with Kim Jong-un’s New Year’s Address that declared North Korea had “entered the final stage of preparation for the test launch of [an] intercontinental ballistic missile”[2] and President-elect Donald Trump tweeted in response, “it won’t happen.”[3] The subsequent twelve months witnessed North Korea’s sixth nuclear test and over 20 missile launches, including the long-range Hwasong-15 that demonstrated the range to reach the continental United States. Rhetoric was equally contentious, as both sides exchanged fiery language and insults. Tensions reached unusually high levels, even for Korea, and threats to use force became commonplace throughout the year.

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The relationship between war, taxes, and public opinion has long interested scholars of democracy and international security. In theory the fiscal costs of war should restrain leaders from starting them, especially if those costs are born by the public on whose support they rely. According to Sarah Kreps, however, American leaders have not been constrained in this way for decades. They have learned to find alternatives to the kind of war taxes that concentrate public attention. They have also fought prolonged wars with volunteer forces. No draft, no tax, no protest.

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In this article, Michael Beckley makes an important contribution to how scholars measure state power, arguing that net rather than gross indicators of a state’s military and economic resources better capture a state’s capabilities. The question of how to measure state power is central to both theoretical and policy debates. In theoretical terms, power lies at the center of any effort to understand how states can influence one another in the international arena. Arguably no outcome in international affairs can be properly understood without attention to the relative power of the actors involved. Likewise, some of the most important policy debates hinge on perceptions of relative power, including those over the rise of China and the strategic posture the United States ought to adopt as a result. Advocates of U.S. retrenchment tend to argue that China is rapidly closing the gap in capabilities with the United States and will soon eclipse U.S. capabilities.[1] Beckley and others who advocate a strategy of deep engagement argue that the United States still enjoys, and will likely continue to enjoy for the foreseeable future, a sizeable advantage over China. It is an ambitious objective to take on such a core question, and Beckley should be applauded for challenging widely established approaches to using power as a variable and suggesting ways to improve those approaches that are both promising and parsimonious.

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I think it is fair to say that over the past hundred years most academic students of international politics have urged the United States to take a more active position in the world, one that was more commensurate with its economic power and stake in what was happening around the globe. Roughly a decade ago this began to shift, with many in the field, especially those of the Realist persuasion, urging that it would be better for the U.S. and for others for it to be less assertive. Stephen Walt’s The Hell of Good Intentions is one of the strongest statements, of this view; our reviewers’ evaluations are not surprisingly correlated with their own views of the subject. Michael Desch has written in a vein similar to Walt’s and says that “many superlatives” can be applied to “Walt’s fine book”; Paul MacDonald has written about the virtues of retrenchment and finds the book “provocative” and “persuasive;” Sergey Radchenko, an historian from the UK who has not been deeply involved in debates on current American foreign policy says that Walt’s damning description “rings true”; Kori Schake is a distinguished member of the foreign policy establishment that Walt so strongly criticizes and perceives this book as “not so much a work of scholarship as a diatribe.”

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Efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons have been in the news lately, given the U.S. negotiations with North Korea over its nuclear weapons facilities and missile sites and with Iran after President Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement that President Barack Obama and the leaders of other nations had finalized with Iran to halt its nuclear program. Recent studies on nuclear weapons with respect to nonproliferation policies as well as efforts to control the nuclear weapons arms illustrate the challenges in attempts to halt the spread of nuclear capabilities as well as in containing the development of new missiles by the major powers.[1] This special issue of The International History Review, which focuses on the 1970s, includes with twelve articles, as well as an introduction by editors Leopoldo Nuti and David Holloway, a penetrating historiographical article by Nuti, and a succinct conclusion by Holloway.[2]

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