In “Nuclear Beliefs: A Leader-Focused Theory of Counter-Proliferation,” Rachel Whitlark advances a new framework to explain why military force is rarely employed to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. According to power transition theory, a nuclear weapons program should spark an intense security dilemma with a high risk of war as other nations consider using force to forestall an adverse shift in the balance of power. Contrary to this conventional wisdom, Whitlark demonstrates that even a looming proliferation threat does not pressure all leaders to “think and act similarly” by mulling over preventive war (550). Instead, the article shows that presidents and prime ministers come into political office with prior beliefs about the consequences of proliferation and stability of nuclear deterrence. For some leaders, a sanguine judgement about the ability to manage nuclear-armed adversaries becomes an anchor against even deliberating coercive counter-proliferation strategies. Whitlark marshals archival evidence to show how President John F. Kennedy’s entrenched pessimism about proliferation led him to consider a range of military options against China’s emerging nuclear program. In stark contrast, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s optimism seemed to result in these same options being taken off the table on the eve of the first Chinese nuclear weapons test.
Category: Article Reviews
When the Cold War ended in the late 1980s, Washington and Beijing were on good terms–the military balance between the two countries was not politically salient. Much has happened in the ensuing decades. While American attention turned towards battling Iraq in two wars, responding to the threat posed by al-Qaida in Afghanistan and around the world, and in dealing with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS/DAESH) as the latest manifestation of the jihadist threat, the status quo was changing in Asia. China has emerged not only as a global economic and political power, but also as a conventional military power in the Western Pacific that possesses a small nuclear arsenal that under permissive circumstances can hold a few United States (U.S.) cities at risk. The conventional and nuclear balance in Asia is shifting from one of overwhelming U.S. preponderance to a situation in which things might become a bit more sporting.
In a review of Jacqueline Hazelton’s International Security article on counter-insurgency, David Ucko and Jason Fritz fire off the latest salvo in a battle to prove COIN doctrine’s enduring value. They raise a number of entirely valid points about the historical evidence on Malaya, Dhofar and El Salvador: what happened in these conflicts and why is, of course, arguable. Whether repression or indiscriminate violence by an incumbent is strategically productive has also been the subject of much debate, with no firm consensus having emerged in the civil war literature. Yet the reviewers are not really quibbling over the details. They seem to be protesting the finding that civilian suffering is inflicted by counter-insurgents, and what is worse, that it is inflicted on purpose.
I welcome the H-Diplo/ISSF editors’ selection of my International Security article, “The Hearts and Minds Fallacy: Violence, Coercion, and Success in Counterinsurgency Warfare,” for review, and thank them for the opportunity to respond the review by David Ucko and Jason Fritz. I appreciate the reviewers’ attention to my work. The debate on counterinsurgency is divisive and sometimes even passionate. The policy implications of the leading prescriptions for successful counterinsurgency reflect this debate in their radical differences. They range from long-term liberal state-building, as the United States and its partners have attempted in Iraq and Afghanistan, to a primarily or purely military focus on killing or capturing insurgents and their enablers. Many people who research counterinsurgency hold strong views on what the correct response to insurgency should be, treating research as a normative question. The lead author of the review of my work, David Ucko, has taken a very different approach to the study of counterinsurgency than I have. This difference is reflected in the review.
In this detailed and scholarly article, Mohammad Ayatollahi Tabaar is definitely on to something. He argues that those who captured and occupied the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979-1981 (the so-called “Moslem Student Followers of the Imam’s Line”) were responding to serious challenges from Iranian leftists. By their action, he argues, the occupiers were pre-empting the leftists’ anti-American rhetoric and undercutting their claims to be the standard-bearers of Ayatollah Khomeini’s campaign to end Iran’s ties to the United States.
More than ten years ago Keir A. Lieber and Daryl G. Press forged a productive co-authorship and in “The End of MAD? The Nuclear Dimension of U.S. Primacy” questioned entrenched beliefs about the strategic nuclear balance supposedly existing between the United States and Russia. They then warned that “for the first time in decades, it [United States] could conceivably disarm the long-range nuclear arsenals of Russia or China with a nuclear first strike.” In “The New Era of Counterforce: Technological Challenge and the Future of Nuclear Deterrence,” Lieber and Press return to the topic of the survivability of modern nuclear forces. To Lieber and Press, nuclear deterrence no longer appears. Their sobering analysis of the impacts of ongoing technological changes on the survivability of nuclear forces demonstrates an increased possibility of counterforce attacks.
Over the past decade, the dominant view of counterinsurgency in academic and policy circles has fluctuated. In particular, the debate has touched upon the importance of winning the civilian population’s allegiance and the role of violence in protecting, or suppressing it. The broad consensus suggests the need to “win” the population, mostly through popular empowerment and by shielding it from violence, all the while preventing it from supporting the insurgency. Still, some saw the focus on securing the population, and the associated slogan of “winning hearts and minds,” as implying a dubious and misleading promise of counterinsurgency as a “kinder, gentler war.” Critics were quick to pounce, yet tended to eschew the necessary context or confuse their own at times reductive interpretations of counterinsurgency for its ‘conventional wisdom.’ The fact that doctrine and scholarship, to say nothing of counterinsurgency on the ground, evince a more complex picture has not deterred the continued use of strawmen to launch powerful yet poorly targeted attacks.
Shiping Tang, Yihan Xiong, and Hui Li’s recent article, “Does Oil Cause Ethnic War? Comparing Evidence from Process-Tracing with Quantitative Results,” is a companion piece to another article, by Hui and Tang, published in the Chinese Political Science Review: “Location, Location, and Location: The Ethno-Geography of Oil and the Onset of Civil War.” That article evaluates the authors’ theoretical argument—that oil’s presence in a subordinate minority group’s core territory encourages ethnic war—using statistical analyses. This new article assesses the same argument, including the causal mechanisms underpinning it, using qualitative case studies. It concludes that “oil has rarely been a deep cause of ethnic war” (359). “Does Oil Cause Ethnic War” also aims to evaluate the relative strengths and weaknesses of qualitative and quantitative methods, thereby contributing to an ongoing debate in political science/international relations.
Caitlin Talmadge’s recent article in International Security is a major intellectual contribution to a predominantly U.S.-centric debate on the likelihood of Chinese nuclear escalation in a conventional conflict with the United States. In particular, Talmadge’s article is to be commended for providing one of the most rigorous accounts of the scope of a hypothetical U.S. military campaign against China over Taiwan, and relatedly, how this campaign might threaten Chinese nuclear assets, thereby creating operational conditions that might inadvertently push China to go nuclear. Yet this U.S. military-technical challenge is not, for the author, the key issue. Rather, in determining ‘would China go nuclear?’ the author offers another, slightly less developed, answer: it depends on what Chinese leaders believe or think.
It is good social science practice, and from a Kuhnian perspective expected, that we should seek to understand emerging security dynamics through reference to existing concepts and theory. Erica Borghard, Shawn Lonergan, and Travis Sharp offer such analysis examining cyber capabilities as coercive tools. Appropriately, both articles return to the master, Thomas Schelling, while additionally offering the reader a helpful set of footnoting of the relevant subsequent literature. In stepping back and looking at the fundamental elements of coercion theory, the authors provide an important contribution to current thinking. The challenge for security studies academics attempting to bring our literature to bear in understanding cyberspace is significant. For example, these two articles, published within a month of each other, come to apparently opposite conclusions—the former suggesting that cyber operations are of limited coercive value and the latter allowing that cyber operations might be more effective than critics conclude. This divergence of analysis points to the importance of building a cyber security studies sub-field through more extensive empirical research and theory testing, which both articles attempt. But the divergence of views also highlights the need to consider the development of new explanations beyond existing analytical frameworks.