If successful grand strategy requires balancing a state’s commitments and its resources, a great power in decline might be expected to retrench. According to Paul MacDonald and Joseph Parent, however, the conventional wisdom is that retrenchment rarely occurs and, when it does, rarely succeeds. “Retrenchment pessimists,” they note, contend either (1) that strategic retrenchment is dangerous because it signals weakness and invites attack, or (2) that retrenchment is desirable, but cannot be achieved because of domestic cultural and/or political constraints (9-10).
Category: Article Reviews
Contemporary scholarly examinations of John F. Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress are surprisingly thin on the ground. This is a trend, moreover, that has been as true with respect to broad studies of the entire program as it has for more specific assessments of individual case studies. There is a difference between a field that is only partially developed, of course, and one that is barren: a number of important works relating to the Alliance are already in existence, while the article under review here suggests a number of ways that the extant literature can be further developed in accordance with emerging work on the history of development and on Latin America’s place in the Global Cold War. By providing a detailed examination of the Alliance’s implementation in Bolivia, Thomas Field significantly enriches our understanding of what remains a complex and thorny period in inter-American relations. Constructed upon rhetorical foundations characterised by noble ideals of development, democracy and social progress, the subsequent deterioration of Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress into a morass of missed targets, worsening inter-American relations, and the support of a range of authoritarian regimes, has long puzzled scholars of U.S. policy in the region. Why did the Kennedy administration’s benevolent intentions, scholars have typically asked, go awry as the Alliance failed to meet its grand goals?
Over the last two decades international relations (IR) scholars, who tend to be political scientists, have developed an impressive body of knowledge on the evolution, institutionalization, and globalization of human rights. They have benefitted, and will continue to benefit, from the detailed and careful historical research of the sort authored by Margaret McGuinness and William Schabas. But there is the possibility that the IR-based literature might also aid historians as they continue to create an international history of human rights.
In “Commerce and Complicity,” Elizabeth Borgwardt exhumes the elided history, distorted memory, and unpredictable legal legacy of the Nuremberg trials. By tracing the evolution of three critical principles long associated with those trials—universal jurisdiction, crimes against humanity, and individual status within the international community—she provides a nuanced explanation for Nuremberg’s relevance to the emergence of postwar human rights that helps explain why postwar human rights were both so attenuated and so unexpectedly resilient. Her essay begins to provide an answer to the question of how historians should evaluate human rights efforts that “seem simultaneously to be losing the battle but winning the war” (639).
Jacqueline Newmyer provides an excellent overview of how the Chinese military discovered the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA), and how it is apparently trying to adapt the RMA to its own purposes. She correctly traces the origins of the contemporary information technologies-led RMA back to Soviet Marshal Nikolai V. Ogarkov’s writings on “the military-technological revolution,” and to subsequent analyses by American analysts (particularly Andrew Marshall, Andrew Krepinevich, and Eliot Cohen) in the 1990s (485-486). These analysts argued that rapid innovations in information technologies (IT) over the past couple of decades have permitted militaries to transform their warfighting capabilities to such an extent that they constituted a “paradigm shift in the nature and conduct of military operations,” and as such were viewed as a “discontinuous” or “disruptive,” change in the character, concept, and mode of warfare. 
Last April, the Obama administration announced that the “United States will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states that are party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and in compliance with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations.” This declaration appeared to sharply constrain the conditions under which any U.S. leader would consider using nuclear weapons. After all, most of the world is made up of non-nuclear states in good standing with the NPT, meaning that there is a very small list of potential targets to attack. Moreover, the administration went further by declaring that the fundamental purpose of nuclear weapons was deterrence and that such weapons were reserved for “extreme circumstances to defend the vital interests of the United States or its allies and partners” (quoted in Gerson, 7-8).
Brian Rathbun asks an arresting question, and a fair one. Several years ago Jeffrey Legro and Andrew Moravcsik hurled down the gauntlet by asking “Is Anybody Still a Realist?” Their answer was: not really. If Legro and Moravcsik are correct that nearly every IR scholar today considers domestic factors causal in some fashion, then we must ask whether that makes everyone a liberal. And if the answer turns out affirmative, is that not a problem for liberalism? If we are all liberals now, then does liberalism have any meaning in IR research?
Kevin Woods and Mark Stout have provided a valuable service to the scholarly community by using the trove of primary source documents captured by American forces in Iraq to try to reconstruct Saddam Hussein’s strategic thinking. Those who follow this case will be familiar with their arguments, which they (and other authors) set out in The Iraqi Perspectives Report (U.S. Naval Institute Press, 2006) and The Mother of All Battles (U.S. Naval Institute Press, 2008). The former dealt with Iraqi (which is to say, Saddam’s) decisions in the 2003 war and the latter with how Iraq behaved in the Gulf War of 1990-91. Woods and Stout, in footnote 3, assure readers that a “recent decision by the Department of Defense will in the near future make portions of this collection available to non-governmental scholars” on the model of how Washington dealt with documents captured during World War II. I hope that they have read the Pentagon’s thinking on this correctly, and I hope that the “portions” are pretty close to 100%. It is hard to imagine what national security rationale there would be for classifying the internal deliberations of a defunct foreign regime.
In setting up his analysis here, John Schuessler refers to one of the arguments Dan Reiter and Allan Stam make in their book Democracies at War. Democracies, those authors claim, “produce better estimates of the probability of victory than their autocratic counterparts do,” and they do so in large part because in democracies these issues are argued out in public.
Large military institutions are often portrayed as being inherently conservative and having a tendency to cope poorly with innovation. However, since some such challenges have been handled highly effectively, this knee-jerk assumption is clearly inaccurate. Moreover, it leaves open an interesting question: how can we explain the discrepancy between successful and unsuccessful adaptation to change? Why is it that an army or navy that responds extremely effectively to one challenge can fail to cope with another? It is this question that Gautam Mukunda seeks to address using a body of theory borrowed from business studies. The result is an article that is an interesting and rewarding read, which adds to an understanding of both naval warfare in the First World War and also the process of coping with innovation. There are many aspects to commend and also a few areas where the theory might usefully be further developed.