International Security coverRobert Pape adds to a growing literature that is trying to develop a more cohesive approach to controlling or mitigating episodes of genocide and mass atrocity violence. His call for a more pragmatic approach is certainly laudable and his claims that the world has not fared well in preventing past genocides is certainly correct. Overall, however, his article is puzzling on a number of analytical points and his prescription for a pragmatic standard of humanitarian intervention appears to fall short of providing a clear and workable framework for alleviating mass atrocity events.

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Competing accounts of why violence declined in Iraq in 2007 have shaped U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, debates about force sizing and doctrines on counterinsurgency, and academic research on the dynamics of armed conflict. Nevertheless, few scholars have attempted to test these competing accounts against one another systematically. “Testing the Surge”[1] approached this issue by combining declassified, geocoded data on violent events with information about local-level military behavior gained from an original series of seventy structured interviews with Coalition officers. This evidence allowed us to leverage the substantial variation in violence patterns across Iraq in order to evaluate causal claims. We argued that the best explanation for why violence declined in Iraq in 2007 involves a synergistic interaction between the Surge and the Sunni Awakening: both were necessary but neither was sufficient, while other explanations (including the dynamics of sectarian cleansing) cannot account for local or national violence trends.

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I was surprised and delighted to read Douglas Macdonald’s four-thousand-word critique of my recent International Security article. That “Two Concepts of Liberty: US Cold War Grand Strategies and the Liberal Tradition” could attract such sustained attention is more than I had hoped, but to attract it from a scholar of Macdonald’s caliber is both flattering and humbling.

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International Security coverBenjamin Lambeth and Jerome Slater share a common interest in the military meaning of Arab-Israeli confrontations of the last decade, but they come at the battles very differently. Whereas Lambeth is interested in analyzing the Israel Defense Forces’ effectiveness and learning curve, Slater is focused upon the morality of Israel’s actions, calling Operation Cast Lead (2008-09) a “moral catastrophe.” (44) Even though the authors cover some of the same events, one would be hard-pressed to develop a common narrative because they hold very different perspectives on Arab-Israeli events and history.

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International Security coverAfter World War II, the story goes, the United States parted ways with its isolationist past and asserted itself as a political and military power.[1] Recently, though, historians and political scientists have begun to question this narrative, concluding that the United States sought to avoid political and military commitments to Europe for much longer than had previously been thought.[2] Political scientists have, however, yet to offer a compelling explanation for American behavior.

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International Security coverThe 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.[1] 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.

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International Security coverIn 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.[1] 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.

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International Security coverThe 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).

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Security Studies coverGalen 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.”[1] 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.

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International Security coverUnipolarity 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. [1] 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.[2]

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