For all their differences, Presidents Donald Trump and Barack Obama have taken remarkably similar approaches to Afghanistan. Both entered office, conducted reviews of the domestically unpopular American-led war, and ultimately decided to increase the U.S. troop numbers there while continuing to support shaky, often corrupt, Afghan government partners.
Category: Article Reviews
Why is the number of rebel groups espousing extremist ideology—Salafi jihadism in particular—on the rise? And why have these extremist groups seemingly thrived while their moderate counterparts have struggled? Or, to reframe this question in the context of Syria’s civil war, why was the extremist Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) far more effective at obtaining recruits and financing than the moderate Free Syrian Army?
How do states prevail in crises? In “Advancing Without Attacking: The Strategic Game Around the Use of Force,” Dan Altman presents a new way of thinking about strategic interactions in crises. Unlike the established view of crisis strategy, in which states signal resolve (often through brinksmanship) to establish the credibility of their threats, Altman argues instead that states frequently choose to bypass this type of coercive behavior altogether in favor of simply outmaneuvering their opponent through fait accompli. He tests his argument against the traditional coercive explanation in a case study of the Berlin Blockade crisis of 1948-1949.
Nina Silove argues that “the popularity of the term ‘grand strategy’ has increased exponentially since the end of the Cold War” (1). This bold and questionable claim will warrant closer examination later. But its underlying point is nonetheless true. A key-word search for “grand strategy” in articles in refereed journals for the year 2015 produced 21,444 hits. If scholarship is what scholars do, then grand strategy is an important area of study by any standard. In her article, Silove asks what scholars mean when they use the term. Many scholars, she finds, use their own definitions. Some use one or more definitions proposed by others. Some scholars even invoke “grand strategy” to question the importance, coherence, and even the existence of grand strategy. In her view, dissensus reigns in the existing literature. Her purpose in “Beyond the Buzzword: The Three Meanings of “Grand Strategy” is to develop a taxonomy of “grand strategy” as scholars use the term.
Nationalism is back. From the rise of nationalist parties in Europe, to Brexit, to the election of an American President who declares “America First,” nationalism has once again become a buzzword in world politics. Despite its resurgence, however, our understanding of how nationalism shapes international outcomes and politics among nations remains incomplete. Ever since Stephen Van Evera lamented the lack of research on nationalism and war in 1994, there has been only moderate scholarly interest in nationalism in international relations. Jamie Gruffydd-Jones’s work therefore timely and welcome.
It is gratifying to see the discussion in this forum prompted by Jacqueline Hazelton’s recent International Security article, since scholarly debates about counterinsurgency have receded from the spotlight over the past decade. One hopes that this hiatus will be short-lived given the rich empirical opportunities presented by the recent history of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In “Nuclear Beliefs: A Leader-Focused Theory of Counter-Proliferation,” Rachel Whitlark advances a new framework to explain why military force is rarely employed to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. According to power transition theory, a nuclear weapons program should spark an intense security dilemma with a high risk of war as other nations consider using force to forestall an adverse shift in the balance of power. Contrary to this conventional wisdom, Whitlark demonstrates that even a looming proliferation threat does not pressure all leaders to “think and act similarly” by mulling over preventive war (550). Instead, the article shows that presidents and prime ministers come into political office with prior beliefs about the consequences of proliferation and stability of nuclear deterrence. For some leaders, a sanguine judgement about the ability to manage nuclear-armed adversaries becomes an anchor against even deliberating coercive counter-proliferation strategies. Whitlark marshals archival evidence to show how President John F. Kennedy’s entrenched pessimism about proliferation led him to consider a range of military options against China’s emerging nuclear program. In stark contrast, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s optimism seemed to result in these same options being taken off the table on the eve of the first Chinese nuclear weapons test.
When the Cold War ended in the late 1980s, Washington and Beijing were on good terms–the military balance between the two countries was not politically salient. Much has happened in the ensuing decades. While American attention turned towards battling Iraq in two wars, responding to the threat posed by al-Qaida in Afghanistan and around the world, and in dealing with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS/DAESH) as the latest manifestation of the jihadist threat, the status quo was changing in Asia. China has emerged not only as a global economic and political power, but also as a conventional military power in the Western Pacific that possesses a small nuclear arsenal that under permissive circumstances can hold a few United States (U.S.) cities at risk. The conventional and nuclear balance in Asia is shifting from one of overwhelming U.S. preponderance to a situation in which things might become a bit more sporting.
In a review of Jacqueline Hazelton’s International Security article on counter-insurgency, David Ucko and Jason Fritz fire off the latest salvo in a battle to prove COIN doctrine’s enduring value. They raise a number of entirely valid points about the historical evidence on Malaya, Dhofar and El Salvador: what happened in these conflicts and why is, of course, arguable. Whether repression or indiscriminate violence by an incumbent is strategically productive has also been the subject of much debate, with no firm consensus having emerged in the civil war literature. Yet the reviewers are not really quibbling over the details. They seem to be protesting the finding that civilian suffering is inflicted by counter-insurgents, and what is worse, that it is inflicted on purpose.
I welcome the H-Diplo/ISSF editors’ selection of my International Security article, “The Hearts and Minds Fallacy: Violence, Coercion, and Success in Counterinsurgency Warfare,” for review, and thank them for the opportunity to respond the review by David Ucko and Jason Fritz. I appreciate the reviewers’ attention to my work. The debate on counterinsurgency is divisive and sometimes even passionate. The policy implications of the leading prescriptions for successful counterinsurgency reflect this debate in their radical differences. They range from long-term liberal state-building, as the United States and its partners have attempted in Iraq and Afghanistan, to a primarily or purely military focus on killing or capturing insurgents and their enablers. Many people who research counterinsurgency hold strong views on what the correct response to insurgency should be, treating research as a normative question. The lead author of the review of my work, David Ucko, has taken a very different approach to the study of counterinsurgency than I have. This difference is reflected in the review.