“Would U.S. leaders push the button?” Reid B. C. Pauly provocatively asks in the title of his recent International Security article. We know from history that the answer to that question has been an almost unqualified no. To date, President Harry S. Truman remains the only world leader to have ordered nuclear weapons to be used in war; since the atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki no leader has pushed this symbolic nuclear button. This non- use of nuclear weapons has puzzled scholars for decades.
After the end of the Cold War many scholars thought that other states would balance against the United States since it now lacked a rival superpower to check it, and with the apparent abuse of its power epitomized by the invasion of Iraq in 2003 these expectations were heightened. In parallel, many observers thought that China’s rise would call up a local counter-balancing coalition. These predictions did not come true, leading scholars to wonder whether balance of power theory was obsolete—or even wrong. T.V. Paul shined a new light on this question with his seminal article, “Soft Balancing in the Age of U.S. Primacy,” in 2005. Since then, the concept of “soft balancing” has become a staple of the literature, with multiple applications and critiques. To this Paul has now added a full volume that pushes the argument further.
Nuclear strategy can be a difficult subject to study. In the end, our main preoccupation is understanding why there has not been a thermonuclear war, and what we can do to continue this streak. It is close to impossible to craft definite statements about an event that never happened. We have a strong hunch that nuclear deterrence prevents other states from using their weapons. Deterrence, however, is based on characteristics—fear, resolve, assurance—that are psychological in nature, and hard to observe or measure except after deterrence has failed. Nuclear proliferation and nonproliferation can be equally confounding. Given the benefits that nuclear possession supposedly conveys upon states—more or less securing their independence and protecting them from invasion—the fact that the number of states possessing the bomb is in the single digits, far fewer than anyone would have predicted a half century ago, is surprising.
At the heart of effective statecraft lies the burden of ascertaining the best available truth about the capabilities and intentions of a state’s allies and adversaries. Equal to the high stakes of intelligence performance is the difficulty of the tasks involved. The importance of knowing one’s enemies confronts the enemies of intelligence in a contest that often enough favors the latter. Because intelligence failure is inevitable over time, intelligence agencies are subject to intense external and internal scrutiny. Feeling burned by previous intelligence failures, political leaders may question, sometimes repeatedly, the veracity of the conclusions their intelligence analysts provide; in the extreme, whole-scale organizational and procedural reforms can be imposed so to avoid the commission of similar mistakes in the future. One under-studied form of internally-derived correction that comes in the wake of major intelligence failures is the degree of urgency with which intelligence judgments are rendered.
We find it somewhat unusual to have a book review essay reviewed by another scholar. But we are pleased that H-Diplo chose to accord our piece “Is Grand Strategy a Research Program? A Review Essay,” this honor. We are also pleased that Dr. Nina Silove chose to devote the time and effort to this task.
Elections to the European Parliament are in many respects the ugly duckling of the European election cycle. They lack the obvious importance and immediate repercussions of presidential and parliamentary elections, yet they undeniably embody the core of the European ideal, even in its current battered and beleaguered state. The European Parliament’s 751 members are, after all, directly elected by the European Union’s 500 million citizens. In recent decades, the Parliament’s role in the EU’s institutional architecture has deepened, giving members a prominent role in drafting legislation and approving the EU’s budget. Yet the Parliament’s rising stature has not been matched by equal levels of public awareness of its role. The work of the Parliament and the identity of its members remain largely unknown to most Europeans, except when their behavior symbolizes the EU’s shortcomings (as with the ongoing expenses scandal). Even as the Parliament’s role has expanded, turnout for elections has declined, slipping from 63% in 1979 to 43% in 2014. Moreover, European parliamentary elections are often viewed as little more than barometers of national political moods: despite the spectacular fact (at least from an historical perspective) that twenty-eight countries across the continent, from Spain to Bulgaria, from Malta to Finland, choose members for the same body more or less on the same day, most countries view the elections almost exclusively through the lens of domestic politics.
Thierry Balzacq, Peter Dombrowski, and Simon Reich (BDR) enquire whether grand strategy is a field of study or a mature research program. This is an important question, answers to which would be of tremendous interest to scholars of grand strategy and pivotal for the future of this ever-expanding field of study.
The topic of emotions is receiving increased attention in the social sciences in general and international politics in particular; the latest and most thorough contribution is Robin Markwica’s Emotional Choices. Our three reviewers are well positioned to analyze the book from different perspectives. Rose McDermott is one of the leading political psychologists of her generation, David Winter is a psychologist who has done path-breaking work applying the study of needs to foreign policy behavior, and Dustin Tingley is a younger eclectic scholar who has worked at the intersection of rational choice and evolutionary psychology. All three praise the book. For Tingley, it is “an intellectual tour de force,” McDermott calls it “impressive,” and Winter says that it makes “important contributions.”
Anyone interested in getting up to speed on the state of status research in international politics should read this roundtable review. It is a testimony not only to the quality of Steven Ward’s book but also to the great distance research on this fundamental human motivation and international politics has come since the 1990s and 2000’s. No longer can scholars write articles and books with introductions lamenting the neglect of this topic. It has become mainstream. It has gone global. Contributions to the literature on status now embrace pretty much all of the methodologies and theoretical schools in international politics, and tackle nearly all subjects of interest from foreign aid and environmental cooperation to international sports.
How does a democratic (U.S.) government wield secrecy? This is the core question of Andris Banka and Adam Quinn’s “Killing Norms Softly: US Targeted Killing, Quasi-Secrecy and the Assassination Ban,” which advances a theory of how norms of secrecy can be changed to serve executive needs. Focusing on the case of targeted killing under both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations, the article provides context for the case by explaining how norms develop. The authors challenge the assumption that a change of norms requires public advocacy by arguing that official secrecy can play “an instrumental role in the process of normalizing potentially controversial shifts” (666).