There was Vietnam, of course, but one must begin with Novaya Zemlya. It was on these remote islands in the arctic northeast of Scandinavia that, in October 1961, the Soviet Union tested the biggest nuclear device ever (before or since): a massive atmospheric blast of some hundred megatons (we were told). In reality, it seems to have been fifty plus, but even at that magnitude it was more than fifteen hundred times the size of the Hiroshima bomb. I followed the fallout map in the newspapers with the keenest interest. I was eleven and more than worried. I had taken to heart my father’s solemn prediction that my generation would experience something vastly more devastating than his, in effect the end of the world in nuclear conflagration. A year later, the horrifying realism of that prediction became existentially plain in the Cuban Missile Crisis, the most dangerous single moment in world history (no hyperbole). To my unspeakable relief, the crisis was resolved. Indeed, it was followed by a certain stabilization in the all-important relations between the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. What with hotlines and the partial test ban treaty in 1963, the fear of nuclear obliteration subsided by degrees. So, accordingly, did my conviction that I would not live to see adulthood. The Chinese ‘deviation’ – acquisition of the bomb in 1964, increasingly savage attacks on the Soviet position—only served to underline that there was a new normality in the relationship that really mattered. By this time, it was instead the expanding struggles in the U.S. over civil rights that came to fore, along with appalling images of burning Buddhist monks in Saigon. Something new was afoot.
Nuclear weapons are fundamentally different from other military tools. The technology is familiar and yet still exotic; the ability to split nuclei and fuse them together remains one of the most extraordinary technical milestones of the last century. And the yields of nuclear explosions are orders of magnitude greater than those of conventional weapons, making the effects of a hypothetical nuclear war hard to comprehend. In a clash between nuclear-armed states, the devastation might overwhelm the value of any imaginable political goals. Such a conflict may not be unthinkable, but it is hard to think about.
These days, international relations (IR) and the study of war need more books that are big in ambition, asking important questions and providing sweeping answers. Unfortunately, the professional incentives in political science these days tend to steer most scholars away from writing big books. It is hard to imagine returning to the heyday of big IR books from 1976 to 1981, a period that saw the publication of an extraordinary series of path-breaking works, including Robert Jervis’ Perception and Misperception in International Politics, Hedley Bull’s The Anarchical Society, George Quester’s Offense and Defense in the International System, Richard Ned Lebow’s Between Peace and War, Kenneth Waltz’s Theory of International Politics, Bruce Bueno de Mesquita’s The War Trap, A. F. K. Organski’s and Jacek Kugler’s The War Ledger, Robert O. Keohane’s and Joseph Nye’s Power and Interdependence, Stephen Krasner’s Defending the National Interest, and Robert Gilpin’s War and Change in World Politics, to name a few.
In his review of Fred Kaplan’s The Bomb, Marc Trachtenberg reminds readers that “it is important to see the past for what it was.” This, as both Trachtenberg and Robert Jervis agree, is the overwhelming merit of The Bomb, a remarkable history of one of the wonkiest niches of U.S. national security strategy—the operational planning of nuclear wars. In the book, Kaplan takes readers across six decades of nuclear planning and, in doing so, reveals a remarkable consistency throughout America’s nuclear history: despite numerous attempts by many presidential administrations, U.S. nuclear strategy has never been able to escape the impetus for first strike. Kaplan makes a compelling argument that the U.S. has been imprisoned by its own operational planning requirements, unable to draw down its nuclear arsenal largely because of path dependencies that were set in motion by service cultures which Kaplan traces back to World War II.
In retrospect I trace the sources of my research and teaching interests to Mr. Delaney’s eighth grade social studies class at Parker Junior High School in Reading, Massachusetts. Not that I was particularly interested in social studies or history in those days. Like everyone else in class, I did my best to earn the reward for good behavior our teacher promised us at the end of the year: his famous lecture on the Spaghetti Trees. I barely remember it now, because another impromptu lecture made a bigger impact. On Monday evening, 8 May 1972, U.S. President Richard Nixon had announced the aerial mining of Haiphong Harbor in North Vietnam. The next day Mr. Delaney appeared in class, clearly shaken. He described the risks entailed in mining a harbor where some three dozen foreign ships were berthed, mainly from the USSR and China, in an operation that—we learned later—included a half hour of preparatory shelling from naval destroyers and a diversionary air attack on land targets. Nixon’s announcement alone had flashed Mr. Delaney back a decade to the Cuban Missile Crisis and fears of escalation to nuclear war. The danger of war, and particularly the consequences of bombing, have been preoccupations of my scholarship for forty years.
The participants in this roundtable had planned to discuss Xiaoyu Pu’s Rebranding China at the 2020 meeting of the International Studies Association in Honolulu, Hawaii. COVID-19, however, intervened to cause the cancellation of the conference. We are grateful that we still have this opportunity to have an online conversation on Pu’s book in the form of this H-Diplo/ISSF roundtable.
In this article Marina Henke takes an interest in force generation processes in European Union (EU) peacekeeping operations. Even though the EU is the subject of the research, force generation in multilateral peacekeeping operations is indeed an overlooked phenomenon in general. As such, and beyond the carefully studied and researched case that Henke examines here, her findings and the network theory of force generation that she offers have great potential for further empirical testing and validation in the framework of the operations of other organizations such as the United Nations or NATO.
I have had a somewhat unique professional career. I was born in Japan and graduated from a Japanese university. I came to the United States to study Russian history, received my Ph.D. in the United States, and taught in the United States and Japan. I acquired American citizenship. I have made numerous trips to the Soviet Union/Russia to conduct research there.
I entered Springfield College in the fall of 1963 intending to become a professional baseball player and, secondarily, a high school history teacher. Two things happened in my junior year that drastically altered my plans. First, Frank Carpenter, a former China specialist in the State Department, came to Springfield to teach Chinese and Modern European history. After taking my first test with him, our paths crossed in the student union and he said to me, “Bill, your exam is as good as I would expect of a graduate student at Stanford [where he had attended graduate school]. You should be taking a language and thinking about attending graduate school.” Second, I met and fell in love with a classmate, Pat O’Connell, a fiery redhead with a quick wit and a sharp tongue. It didn’t hurt that, despite possessing what I was told was a major league arm, my fastballs frequently hit the backstop on the fly and my curves hit the dirt before reaching home plate. I didn’t take Frank’s advice on the language, but by the end of my junior year I had decided that a life in baseball was not really what I wanted. My fondest memory of my baseball career is that, in my last at bat in my last game at Springfield, I hit a two-run triple against UMass. (Did I mention that I was REALLY slow afoot?)
Like many others, I was a child of U.S. foreign policy. During the Second World War my mother, while a teenager, found work as a civilian secretary for the Army to help support her invalid father. After the war, once she turned 21, the Army sent her to work at bases in occupied Japan and Okinawa. Returning to the West Coast, she met and married a carrier pilot who flew F9Fs off the USS Essex during the Korean War. He went into the reserves after that war and they moved to Texas. They then both met other people, divorced, and remarried, but Texas is where I stayed, taking the last name of my adoptive father.