I’m writing in late April 2020 during a nation-wide shutdown in response to the public health threat of the COVID-19 virus. Travel has ceased; shops are closed; universities are quiet and empty. Three million people around the world have tested positive for this highly contagious and deadly virus. In less than three months, it has killed over 200,000 people, 56,000 in the United States alone. And these numbers climb daily. The real impact of the pandemic upon human life will not be known for many months and years. The impact upon the global economy has already been catastrophic. In the United States alone, the unemployment rate has hit 20%–a figure we have not seen since the 1930s. Economic activity around the world has sharply contracted, and massive stimulus efforts by the U.S. federal government have not adequately buoyed the economy. The crisis has struck quickly, unexpectedly, and savagely; we are all unsettled and anxious, facing the unknown.
Nicolas Blarel and Jayita Sarkar have written a valuable article on the intra-state politics of foreign policy. An extensive line of research in recent years has examined how domestic political competition (i.e. elections and parties), public opinion, and leaders can shape foreign policy. Yet bureaucracies within the state – what Blarel and Sarkar refer to as ‘sub-state organizations’ or SSOs—are often powerful actors, especially in technical domains that often escape the detailed attention of the public or politicians. The authors aim to revive an older research approach—perhaps most associated with Graham Allison’s Essence of Decision – that took bureaucracies seriously as actors in international politics.
Some people might know when they are in college that they want to go to graduate school and get a Ph.D. I did not. I thought initially after college, I would pursue campaign work, and my first job—which I started in February of my senior year—was managing a city council campaign in Boston. We lost by a razor-thin margin that November, and if we had won, I probably wouldn’t be writing this essay.
It is not typical for H-Diplo to publish a roundtable on an article. But Daniel Bessner and Fredrik Logevall’s “Recentering the United States in the Historiography of American Foreign Relations” is not a typical article. Before it was published, it was already provoking hallway conversations at conferences. The Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR) scheduled a rare debate-style panel for its 2020 conference on the still-unpublished article. Surely the attention has been helped by the fact that both Bessner and Logevall are prominent figures: Bessner an up-and-coming young scholar with a polemical social media presence who helped advise the Bernie Sanders campaign on foreign policy; Logevall a recent past president of SHAFR and winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in History for his book, Embers of War.
I thought of myself as calm. Competing for a grant that paid for three years of graduate study at any university in the nation seemed straightforward, even though $100,000 was at stake and I had at most $500 in savings. The interview should have been easy, plus I was hard to rattle.
My journey towards becoming a feminist scholar has taken a somewhat unusual route. My interest in international affairs, especially working towards a more peaceful and just world, began when I was a child experiencing the bombing of London during World War II. After the war we moved to the United States where my father worked for the United Nations. I got my MA from Yale University’s international relations program, an interdisciplinary one that was being phased out. Yale had an excellent political science department to which one of the three female graduate students moved (yes there were only three of us, the expectation being that we would get married and give up our careers), but it was heavily influenced by the new trend towards behavioral science. With a history degree from the University of London, and totally lacking in quantitative skills, I performed poorly in Karl Deutsch’s class, so I decided that this was not the path for me. Nonetheless, I admired Deutsch greatly; he had a brilliant mind and an amazing breadth of knowledge. (I remember him once giving an impromptu lecture on the invention of Chinese water clocks). So, fulfilling the expectations of the times. I put my career on hold during my children’s early years. In 1975, before I returned to graduate school, I spent a year in Geneva, Switzerland, where Johan Galtung, a leading peace researcher, was teaching a course on self-reliance as a development strategy.
Robert Trager’s Diplomacy: Communication and the Origins of the International Order focuses on the role of communication in diplomacy with emphasis on the role of costless exchanges such as private discussions between two foreign policy ministers versus costly signaling such as moving troops to the frontier of an adversary or a drone strike on a hostile paramilitary force. Trager makes use of two related datasets from the Confidential Print of the British Foreign Office’s communications between 1855 and July of 1914 with emphasis on detailed case studies on significant historical events including the negotiations leading to the outbreak of World War I.
On Becoming Me. I can’t think of a better title. Being an historian is an essential, but not the only, part of ME. I’m writing this professional obituary during the COVID-19 pandemic which drives home the tenuousness of ‘normal.’ I cannot imagine that my rather peculiar and idiosyncratic stumbling into becoming a professional teacher-historian will be inspiring or even interesting to others—except perhaps my seven grandkids.
With the advent of nuclear weapons came the question of how their very existence changed the way we conduct and think about warfare. Nearly seventy five years after their first (and, to date, only) use at the end of World War II, the question remains far from resolved, as nuclear ‘optimists’ and ‘pessimists’ continue to debate what Andrew H. Kydd presents as a seemingly simple question: “Is the world better off with nuclear weapons or without?” (645). Kydd’s goal in this article is not to definitively adjudicate the question and come down conclusively on either side, but rather to add the conceptual element of ‘expected costs’ to the debate. In doing so, he introduces a useful meeting point for the two camps.
I have seldom followed a straight road in my writings on history. Rather, I have wandered where my interests at the time led me, leading a military history friend to urge that I concentrate my forces. The one constant in my working life has been an abiding interest in diplomacy. From the research and writing of my doctoral thesis until now, I have written about many types of diplomacy over many centuries, and the interactions over boundaries of people, institutions and states remain central to my research and writing.