Robert Jervis is at the same time a giant and a gadfly, a leader and a subversive in the field of international relations. In his career, Jervis has often been very much a theorist in the mainstream political science tradition. In some of his most famous works—including “Cooperation Under the Security Dilemma” and The Meaning of the Nuclear Revolution—Jervis has shown his skill at creating deductively derived theories about how states should respond to structural and technological changes in international security affairs.[1] Those works are extraordinary and have made an enormous contribution to the literature. But Jervis often notes with frustration that actual policy makers often diverged from the expectations and prescriptions of his theories. He laments that, despite the inescapable background condition of mutual nuclear vulnerability, the two Cold-War superpowers still developed destabilizing offensive nuclear weapons designed to target their enemies’ arsenals, planned to fight ‘limited’ nuclear wars of various levels of intensity, and obsessed about local conventional balances of power around the world. Jervis thought it would have been safer and less fiscally burdensome if Washington and Moscow had fully accepted the condition of mutually assured destruction and properly understood the stabilizing effects that condition should produce at all levels of potential military conflict.[2]

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US 1952 NATO 3 cent stamp

A 3-cent stamp issued at the White House on April 4, 1952, honored the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). President Truman autographed panes of the stamp for presentation to the heads of state of countries belonging to NATO.

In How NATO Adapts, Seth Johnston has written a timely and important study of critical moments in the Atlantic Alliance’s history. Johnston persuasively argues that organizational and strategic adaptation has been a consistent feature of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) since its founding in 1949. Unlike many other major studies on NATO which tend to emphasize state-centric explanations for the Alliance’s staying power, Johnston treats NATO as an actor in its own right.[1] This focus on the underappreciated role NATO’s institutional actors have played in facilitating important organizational changes is one of the major contributions of the book.

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The scholarly study of American foreign policy and international relations hasne (at least one?) important peculiarity that distinguishes it from many other forms of scholarly inquiry: a fairly high degree of intellectual exchange between social scientist and subject. Of course, zoologists interact with the animals they study, but the animals are not reading what the zoologists say about them and reacting accordingly. Nor do children tend to read child psychology texts, or the indigent subjects of socio-economic inequality keep up with political economy treatises.

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Emmanuel Macron signature

When Emmanuel Macron beat Marine Le Pen in the French presidential election on 7 May 2017, many in Europe and North America breathed a collective sigh of relief. Macron’s victory seemed to confirm an incipient anti-populist trend that had been set earlier that year in the Netherlands and Austria. In the aftermath of the Brexit-vote and Donald Trump’s unexpected victory in the United States, Macron seemed to have stopped the populist bonfire in its tracks, turning France—rather surprisingly—into a paragon of democratic wisdom, political moderation, and optimism.

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Tokens of Power coverThe fog of war plays a prominent role in Carl von Clausewitz’s reflections on armed struggle. In Ann Hironaka’s rethinking of war, that fog becomes all consuming, obscuring the information needed to understand and prepare for battle. Victory in war is unpredictable and tantamount to random in clashes between competitors with roughly comparable power (41). Power being hard to measure, strategists can rarely know how costly a war will be. Predictions of casualties in the 1991 Gulf War, for example, were too low by an order of magnitude (10). Strategists commonly miscalculate the best strategy in a given context, for example, seeing the offense as having the advantage on the eve of World War I while expecting the defense to dominate in World War II. With profound uncertainty encumbering military analysis, defining the national security interest of the state becomes arbitrary, Hironaka argues.

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Beyond Religious Freedom coverOn 13 July 2017, religious and political representatives met at the Farnesina in Rome for the International Conference on Protecting Religious Communities. Knox Thames, the Special Advisor for Religious Minorities in the Near East and South/Central Asia, represented the U.S. State Department. Religious freedom, Thames told those in attendance, represented not only a fundamental human right of individuals, but was also “one of the essential conditions for permanent peace, security, and stability.” As attacks by terrorists as well as repression by authoritarian regimes threatened the existence of religious minorities across the Middle East, Thames assured the other conference attendees that protecting and promoting religious freedom remained a policy priority of the Donald Trump administration.[1]

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Secretary of Defense Harold Brown and General Daniel "Chappie" James visit with Jimmy Carter. - NARA

Secretary of Defense Harold Brown and General Daniel “Chappie” James visit with Jimmy Carter. – NARA

Edward C. Keefer provides us with the “authorized, but not official” history of Harold Brown’s tenure as the 14th Secretary of Defense as part of the Department of Defense series on its secretaries. It is authorized in that Keefer had access to the official records, but not official in that Keefer’s assessment of Brown’s time in office, the Jimmy Carter years, is his own. Keefer sees Brown as a loyal and effective Secretary whose reputation needs some rehabilitation because Carter was an unsuccessful Commander-in-Chief, naive and smug in his handling of security issues thorough out his presidency, overly concerned with cutting back on defense in his first two years, and then totally knocked off his horse by the Iranian Revolution with its seizure of U.S. embassy staff and the failed American rescue mission, and the Soviet Union’s unexpected and alarming invasion of Afghanistan in his last two years.

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USS_Theodore_Roosevelt_-_BigStick

“The Big Stick”

The debate about American foreign policy has always divided along two dimensions. How close in or far out should America protect its security? And for what moral or political purpose does America exist and participate in world affairs?

‘Nationalists’ adopt the close-in approach to American security, generally confined to America’s borders and the western hemisphere.[1] They dominated American foreign policy in the 1920s and 1930s. ‘Realists’ venture further out to anticipate and counter threats in distant regions–Europe, Asia and the Middle East–before they reach America’s shores.[2] They formulated the containment doctrine during the Cold War, permanently stationing for the first time American forces in Europe and Asia. Both nationalists and realists focus on security, not the spread of human rights and democratic regimes. They accept the world as it is, not as they might wish it to be.

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The Donald Trump administration seems to value change for its own sake. The new President appears intent on rethinking all foreign-policy rules and norms, from diplomatic protocols to staffing to relationships with traditional allies. The next four-to-eight years may prove to be a watershed for U.S. grand strategy, a challenge to fundamental assumptions that forces security experts to re-examine their most deeply held beliefs. Or, perhaps little will change. At the very least, the Trump administration will test the notion that U.S. foreign affairs are marked far more by consistency than by change.

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The impact of American culture abroad has become obvious to travelers, and not only a source of income for shrewd marketers of the nation’s consumer goods, but also, of course, a subject that has generated lively scholarly interest and a formidable bibliography. Whether in movies or in music, whether on television or on the internet, no nation in history has bestridden the planet as the United States has; and the political ideas emanating from the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights have enjoyed an even longer (and more salutary) influence. For close to a century, the appeal of such a culture has been a force to be reckoned with; in recent decades, in much of the world, American programs and American products—enhanced by American power—have been close to inescapable. By now they are so often entwined with local habits and values that the foreignness of the New World has become internalized. During a recent visit to France, I noticed a teenager wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the following slogan: Liberté, Egalité, Beyoncé. But how might the most striking qualities of American society be identified and understood? What are its laws of historical motion?

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