In his recent commentary in Foreign Affairs, Elliott Abrams invites us to view the Trump administration’s approach to U.S. foreign policy as somewhat ordinary. Trump challenged Washington with iconoclastic rhetoric and arrived in office with a circle of ‘believers.’ He promised to ‘drain the swamp’ of old Washington hands and pursue policies that place ‘America First.’ Still, much of the Republican establishment expected Trump, once elected, to ‘pivot’ from candidate to president. They assumed Trump would eventually rise to the challenge and to the requirements of the office. Inevitably, he would come to understand the enormous U.S. interests at stake, the awesome responsibilities of the presidency, and the broad obligations of leading the nation. At the very least, he would defer to those who knew their way around town, and the world. The result: Trump would leave the campaign behind and adopt a familiar policy approach.

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Perhaps the most important question in modern cyber security revolves around the issue of the efficacy of cyber operations. We know very little about how states achieve their goals in cyberspace, whether in deterring action, which is maintaining the status quo and preventing attacks, or in compellence, which is changing behavior by going on the offensive.

 

 

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The main questions Professor Adamsky addresses in his timely article are three: What is the logic behind the Israeli conceptualization of the use of force in low intensity conflicts as “deterrence operations?” How did the Israelis come up with such a way of thinking? And what are the consequences of the policy which rests on this type of strategic logic?

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Let It Bleed cover

…but will there be cake?

Using a cross-national data set covering the end of the Napoleonic Wars to the year 2000, Alexander Downes and Lindsey O’Rourke have produced a fascinating analysis of foreign-imposed regime change in international relations replete with new quantitative results. The question these two political scientists address is this: When a state tries to change the leadership and domestic institutions of target states does this policy of foreign-imposed regime change lead to more peaceful relations or more conflictual relations between the intervener and the target? Downes and O’Rourke argue that “overt and covert [foreign-imposed regime changes] do not improve relations between intervening and target states. Often, they become worse” (85). This essay examines this argument and raises questions about the statistical evidence supporting it.

 

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In 2004, Daniel Sobelman wrote a monograph for the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies on the “new rules of the game” between Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Hezbollah[1]. The book described how both organizations had adapted their military positions following the IDF withdrawal of 2000 to maintain the status quo. Two years later, this argument on the stability between the two sides was challenged by the summer war that saw Hezbollah and the IDF fighting for 34 days. But since then, the border between Israel and Lebanon has witnessed a rather stable environment–by Middle Eastern standards.

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Robert Jervis once claimed that “states sometimes fail to deploy threats that would benefit them and on other, probably more numerous, occasions employ threats that provoke rather than deter.”[1] If so, the field of international politics has done a remarkably poor job of accounting for the latter types of threat. For one, provocation has remained an elusive term.

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Caveat EmptorCharles Mahoney sets out to answer the question “why do some markets for private defense services function efficiently while others are characterized by companies that regularly underperform and shirk their obligations?” (31) This is a puzzle with clear policy implications for governments around the world who may want to efficiently utilize private military and security companies (PMSCs).

More than just answering that question, Mahoney is interested in building theoretical explanations that serve as the basis for future academic work on PMSCs. To do this he uses the building blocks of market structure and a principal-agent framework. His central argument is that…

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Polarity marking center negativeA refreshing look at re-conceptualizing the concept of polarity, Benjamin Zala’s “Polarity Analysis and Collective Perceptions of Power: The Need for a New Approach” attempts to offer a new approach in bypassing the definitional, conceptual, and measurement confusions plaguing research on polarity. Seeking to methodologically distance itself from the traditional scholarship on polarity, which revolves around distribution of resources/material capabilities, positional analysis, and hegemonic behavior, Zala proposes an approach that concentrates on perception, agency, and performativity. The author’s proposal, to a strong extent, contrasts the body of literature produced after the end of the Cold War, which brought about the expansive debate over unipolarity, with the debate ranging from modes of counterbalancing, to traditional considerations,[1] to soft-balancing,[2] to scholarly disputes over durability/stability,[3] to the peacefulness[4] and structural coherence of the new unipolar system[5]. Zala’s concern is to provide the theoretical justification for a shift in the operationalization of polarity from explanatory and positional considerations based on capabilities and resources to an ordering concept where status is privileged over capabilities. The author’s attempt at such theory-development revolves around two general approaches: 1) utilizing the notion of perception to qualify status and polar ordering, and 2) offering a case study from the Cold War when the U.S. attempted to restructure the bipolar system into a tripolar configuration by elevating China to polar status.

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In “Covert Communication: The Intelligibility and Credibility of Signaling in Secret,” Austin Carson and Keren Yarhi-Milo introduce a theoretical framework to illustrate how leaders can use covert action to signal their state’s resolve to local allies and strategic adversaries. Contrary to the conventional wisdom that states intervene covertly to conceal their role in military operations and minimize the amount of information they reveal to third parties, the authors argue—and demonstrate empirically via case studies of Soviet and American interventions in Angola and Afghanistan during the Cold War—that states can and do use covert action to send intelligible and credible messages regarding their intentions. These actions take place on an international political “backstage” wherein “states share a basic communicative grammar regarding activity in the covert realm that allows leaders to send targeted messages to external actors” (125). Overall, the article is persuasive, clear, and makes a new and important contribution to the bourgeoning literature on covert action. The case studies are intriguing and incorporate a variety of recently declassified documents. As a foundational piece on covert signaling, the article raises three important questions that could pose fruitful avenues for future research.

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