The 2007 deployment of nearly 30,000 additional U.S. troops to Iraq, colloquially known as ‘the surge,’ cast a long shadow over subsequent U.S. foreign policy, including the 2009 decision to similarly ‘surge’ troops in Afghanistan. It will further affect the upcoming confirmation hearings for Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, where Hagel’s opposition the surge while in the U.S. Senate is likely to be a topic of discussion. Supporters of the decision in Iraq have claimed that the reduction of violence and political stabilization in Iraq in 2007-2008 was substantially due to the surge. Skeptics of the surge have highlighted other factors endogenous to Iraq as being equally, if not more, important, yet it is the pro-surge viewpoint that has dominated the public perception of Iraq. Thus the question of what actually reduced the violence in Iraq remains open even as policy is made on the assumption that the surge was primarily responsible.
Category: Article Reviews
In recent years, a number of leading security studies scholars including Christopher Layne, John Mearsheimer, Robert Pape, Barry Posen, and Stephen Walt have come out in favor of U.S. strategic retrenchment overseas. The fact that this list of scholars reads like an honor roll of prominent academic realists makes the current trend all the more interesting. ‘Offshore realism’ would seem to be the order of the day. This trend, moreover, is hardly limited to the academy. The case for strategic retrenchment and offshore balancing fits with large sections of popular and congressional opinion, tired as American citizens and politicians they are of foreign wars and given that they are consumed with domestic economic difficulties. Indeed, it could be argued that the Obama administration is implementing a modest form of strategic retrenchment which will only accelerate in the next few years.
The article contributes to the literature about the Chinese leadership’s decision-making process at the time of the 1989 Tiananmen crisis by introducing new documents from the East German archives and the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library. Sarotte argues that one of the major reasons for the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) decision to resort to force was the top party leaders’ “fear of the demonstration effects of democratic changes in Poland and Hungary” (161). Reminding readers that previous student protests of the reform era were not suppressed by military force, the author poses an intriguing counterfactual question: “without the example of 1989 in Eastern Europe, would the Beijing leaders’ response have been as a bloody?” (162).
Galen Jackson’s article on America’s entry into World War I and the “off-shore balancing thesis” is an excellent work of scholarship. Jackson takes on an important topic for both international relations theorists and diplomatic historians and convincingly shows that U.S. leaders did not intervene in the war because they feared Germany was winning – a finding that he stresses is at odds with the predictions of John J. Mearsheimer’s theory of “offensive realism.” Not all aspects of Jackson’s argument are persuasive, however, and alternative interpretations of the president’s approach to the war make Wilson’s policies look less like an exception to Mearsheimer’s model than Jackson believes.
Unipolarity has attracted more scholarly attention than bipolarity ever did in its day. To offer one rough indicator, the online citation index Web of Science counts some thirty-eight articles in political science and international relations journals between 1990 and 2011 whose titles contain “unipolar” or “unipolarity.” A corresponding search for bipolarity yields only seventeen articles for the entire bipolar era from 1950-1989. That’s half the articles for twice the time. I am aware of some nine books devoted to the analysis of unipolarity but none wholly devoted to bipolarity. This attention is surprising, given widespread skepticism about the analytical utility of the very concept of polarity among political scientists. Indeed, Jeff Legro recently advised scholars to “sell unpolarity” as an “overused concept,” deploying arguments redolent of those levied against bipolarity a decade or two earlier.  And James Fearon lamented the fact that researchers bother to continue to debate unipolarity long after scholars such as Harrison Wagner developed such devastating criticisms of bipolarity.
My old tennis partner, Ernie May, liked to say that political scientists had a habit of making historians feel like waiters at a feast – providing the eternal backdrop for theorists’ experiments. I certainly knew how he felt. I had seen this many, many times. But I certainly don’t have that feeling with the article under consideration, “Confronting Soviet Power: U. S. Policy during the Early Cold War,” by Paul C. Avey, a Ph.D. candidate in political science at the University of Notre Dame. In this impeccable piece of scholarship, Avey successfully bridges history and political science, arguing that U.S. policy during the early Cold War years was principally directed toward challenging Soviet state power, moving beyond broad concerns to block Soviet expansion in Eurasia and to restore a balance of power in Europe and Asia (152). At the same time, he does not suggest that ideology – read ideational explanations – does not matter. What he does argue is that “ideology did not dictate confrontation with the Soviet Union or decisively shape the origins of U.S. policy” (188).
Leadership targeting has become the cornerstone of American counterterrorism policy. Since 2004, the number of strikes carried out by unmanned aerial vehicles has increased dramatically. In 2010 alone the United States carried out 118 drones strikes, 70 in 2011, and 24 in the first six months of 2012. In the past two months, the U.S. has intensified its use of drone strikes against militant targets in both Yemen and Pakistan. In May of this year, drones strikes killed 11 suspected al Qaeda militants in Yemen. Over the course of three days in June, 27 suspected militants were killed in drone strikes in North Waziristan, Pakistan. Al Qaeda’s deputy leader Abu Yahya al-Libi, reportedly was killed in one of those attacks. I mention these examples to highlight the continued relevance of the debate over the effectiveness of targeting terrorist leaders. Patrick Johnston and Bryan Price have contributed to the debate through two rigorous and insightful pieces on the effectiveness of killing and capturing terrorist and insurgent leaders. These two pieces examine, in different ways, the effectiveness of leadership decapitation on the lifespan and organizational activity of terrorist groups and insurgent organizations. Price looks at whether decapitation affects terrorist groups’ duration. He finds that decapitation increases the mortality rate of terrorist organizations. Johnston focuses on the outcomes and dynamics of counterinsurgency campaigns and shows that decapitating insurgent organizations increases the chance of war termination and government victory and lessens the intensity and frequency of insurgent violence. There are significant differences between the two studies in terms of data, analysis, and theory, yet both authors conclude that decapitation can be an effective tool in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency policies. In the remainder of this review, I will summarize their respective arguments and then discuss some of the strengths and weaknesses of each article.
Prompted by a couple of colleagues who suggested that I put the forum component of this listserv to work, I would like to offer a response to Robert Vitalis’ review of my piece, “Present at the Creation: Edward Mead Earle and the Depression Era Origins of Security Studies.” First and foremost I would like to thank Vitalis for taking the time to write such a detailed critique.
Vitalis has labored on the turf of international relations (IR) scholarship for some time and has much to say. But, in a rush to get at Earle the scholar (an individual who did not always cut the most sympathetic figure), Vitalis misses texture and crucial substance in the article’s argument.
In this article, the Tufts University historian David Ekbladh recalls the intellectual and institution-building work of a pre-Cold War professor of international relations, Edward Mead Earle (1894-1954). Earle was one among many progressive (in his case a self-identified “new historian”) critics of American imperialism in the 1920s who revised their views and in some cases political allegiances in response to the challenge of “totalitarianism.” Ekbladh’s next book studies the interwar origins and dissemination of ideas in support of “a new American globalism” after World War II. The conceit of this essential, stand-alone piece on Earle is that he matters more than current practitioners know to the “birth” of the field of “security studies,” one strand of this new muscular globalism (or, better, interventionism). Security studies wasn’t a response to the Cold War, as virtually every insider account of its evolution insists, but rather to “the unraveling of international order” ten years earlier, and Earle was “[t]he central figure in its rise” (108, emphasis mine). Ekbladh identifies him as a “prophet” for having written a grant application in 1939 calling for “a historical and critical grand strategy for the United States” (119), although others were also busy at the time writing books of this type, and Earle never actually delivered on the promise.
Many of the specific questions raised about our article’s limitations by the commentators are, indeed, true, but they reflect the stated approach of the paper. North Korea is a country where the uncertainties are great, and this is no truer than in trying to anticipate a future North Korean government collapse and potential transition to Korean unification. Moreover, information on North Korea is scarce and difficult to interpret in large part because of North Korean information denial and falsification efforts. As a result, it is important to note our statement of the purposes of our article: “First, we seek to bring into the public debate a discussion of the scale of the problems that the collapse of North Korea’s government could create, and the potential for dire consequences, both humanitarian and strategic, if stability efforts were delayed or failed altogether. We describe the military missions that might be necessary to stabilize North Korea and estimate the force requirements for those missions. … Second and more broadly, this analysis sheds light on international intervention in collapsing states.” (86) With their comments, the reviewers have certainly contributed to our first objective, and their comments add to what we have contributed on the second. Moreover, we developed estimates of the military force requirements because we felt they would help motivate a public debate.