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.”[1] 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.

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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.”[1] 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.’[2] 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.

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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.”[1] 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.

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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.

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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.[2] 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,[3] 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.

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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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