In this important article, Ahsan Butt advances an innovative argument for why the United States invaded Iraq in 2003. Countering other common explanations, Butt argues that the United States was not motivated by a desire to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), promote democracy in the Middle East, or satisfy pro-war domestic interest groups. Instead, he maintains, the U.S.-led overthrow of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was a “performative war” carried out to generate “demonstration effects” (263)—in particular, to show adversaries and potential challengers that the United States would act with overwhelming force to counter any threats to its power and standing. Backed up by a compelling array of evidence, this argument represents a major contribution to understanding the origins of the Iraq War.

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Sixteen years after the beginning of the Iraq War, American public support for the war remains a puzzle. Why would the public, scarred by the 9/11 terrorist attacks and overwhelmingly supportive of sending troops to Afghanistan to capture al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and fight terrorism,[1] be willing to use military force on a different country, one not directly involved in attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon? The 9/11 attacks psychologically shook the public[2] and reshaped politics and society in the U.S., perhaps no more so than by involving the U.S. in two overseas wars that continue today. American support for wars is generally contingent[3]; Americans are more supportive of war when the war is expected to be short with few casualties, when military force is multilateral, and when the aim is military restraint rather than humanitarian. In times of crisis, the public does “rally around the flag,” increasing their support for the president and giving him more room to maneuver on foreign policy, an area where presidents already have an advantage.[4] Americans may be supportive of realist foreign policy,[5] but even if we allow for the framing of the war in Iraq as being in part of the War on Terror[6] and in the U.S. national interest George W. Bush administrations, we cannot fully explain why the public was supportive of the war as early as January 2002, as the authors document (3).

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On 14 February 2019 a suicide bomber struck an Indian Central Military Reserve Force (CRPF) convoy in Pulwama in Jammu and Kashmir, killing about 40 Indian paramilitary personnel and injuring numerous others. Responsibility for the attack was swiftly claimed by the Pakistan based terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammed, and confirmed by Indian authorities, immediately dragging the subcontinent—yet again—into a period of crisis. Expectedly, on 26 February, a poll-bound India retaliated with an unprecedented set of airstrikes on suspected Jaish camps in Balakot in Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province. Pakistan responded the next day with airstrikes of its own, with the consequent dogfight resulting in an Indian aircraft being brought down in Pakistani territory and its pilot captured alive.

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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

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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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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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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In October 1970, Lithuanian father and son Pranas and Algirdas Brazinskas hijacked regional Soviet Aeroflot flight 244. Several minutes into the flight between two cities in the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic, the elder Brazinskas handed the flight attendant a message for the pilot demanding that he divert the flight to Turkey and cease radio communications. The crew resisted, and in the resulting melee, the nineteen-year-old flight attendant was shot and killed, and the pilot and another crew member were injured. The Brazinskases soon occupied the cockpit and compelled the pilot to land the plane in Trabzon, Turkey—effectively escaping the Soviet Union and the possibility of extradition.

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