The Good War coverThe Good War: Why We Couldn’t Win the War or the Peace in Afghanistan is aptly named and sure to find its lasting place as the first full narrative of the U.S.-led intervention from 2001 through 2014. The timeframe is something of a moving target, depending on where you begin and end, and the theme is richly explored. This review will refer to several other of the more revealing books that fall into what could now be properly labeled a genre of Afghan War literature.[1]

 

 

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In “The Spread of Military Innovations,” Andrea Gilli and Mauro Gilli question the importance of organizational factors in explaining whether violent non-state actors decide to use suicide bombing. Instead, they argue that the strategic environment faced by groups generates tactical incentives that better explain who adopts suicide bombing. While they are right to point out that tactical incentives shape the choices made by groups (a perspective shared by adoption capacity theory, the argument they criticize), their argument is based on a misunderstanding of the way that adoption capacity theory functions in the case of suicide bombing. Reassessing their evidence shows that Gilli and Gilli’s results actually demonstrate the strong robustness of adoption capacity theory, showing how organizational factors significantly influenced whether violent non-state actors adopted suicide bombing between 1981-2007. It is only their alternative measure of organization size, one inappropriate for testing adoption capacity theory, that is not significant. This reassessment also reveals new insights about the overall relationship between organizational politics and military innovation for both state and non-state actors, including the conceptual risks involved when importing ideas from the business innovation literature, and the utility of accounting for both capacity and interests in future research.

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Logics of War coverThe book produced by Alex Weisiger is a substantial contribution to rationalist theory in international relations.  Weisiger investigates the effects of commitment problems in international bargaining on the conduct, duration, and destructiveness of wars.  The book is among only a few works that closely analyze international history from the perspective of recent developments in the theory of international bargaining.  Weisiger is superb at framing history as a series of mysteries, the answers to which he dramatically unravels.  In addition to its contribution to research on international conflict, therefore, the book is immensely valuable as a teaching tool.

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Twenty-five years ago, Francis Fukuyama advanced the notion that, with the death of Communism, history had come to an end.[2] This somewhat fanciful, and presumably intentionally provocative, formulation was derived from Hegel, and it has generally been misinterpreted. He did not mean that things would stop happening— an obviously preposterous proposal.

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Psychology Strategy and Conflict coverEach year, undergraduates in my introductory course on international relations read three articles by Robert Jervis. His classic “Cooperation under the Security Dilemma” forces students, so often used to thinking in terms of intentions and motivations, to recognize how structure can lead to tragic outcomes in world politics. They then turn to a chapter from his book Perception and Misperception, which explains that intentions and motives are critical to deciding if one is in a spiral or deterrence situation. Finally, they encounter “Was the Cold War a Security Dilemma,” which mixes careful history and nuanced theory to argue that competition between the United States and the Soviet Union was in fact not a security dilemma, that it stemmed more from the clash of two revolutionary, crusading social systems than dynamics inherent to the anarchic system.[1]

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Counterinsurgency coverPerhaps only Douglas Porch, with his encyclopedic knowledge of insurgency and counterinsurgency (COIN) and his broader military expertise, could have written this book. Counterinsurgency: Exposing the Myths of the New Way of War is a magisterial examination across time and space of the history of COIN. It is intended to dispel the myths propagated around it as a kinder, gentler form of warfare waged for the benefit of all involved. An eminent military historian, Porch is a Professor of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School. He has been writing about revolution, insurgency, expeditionary warfare, military empire building, the role of the military in domestic politics, great power war, and related issues for more than 40 years.

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Arguments that Count coverRebecca Slayton has given us a very informative and original study of the relationship between science and public policy in her book, Arguments that Count: Physics, Computing, and Missile Defense, 1949-2012.  The author shows how the theoretical and applied science paradigms of two different disciplinary communities, physicists and computer scientists (which includes software engineers and developers), have influenced their contributions to the development and deployment of various stages of missile defense from the early Cold War to the present.  Dr. Slayton indicates that neither of these professional communities was of one mind

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I want to thank H-Diplo for publishing this response, and James A. Russell for taking the time to read and review my book. I also want to thank Robert Jervis for the additional comments on Russell’s review. Because the review did not fully address the book’s main arguments and findings, thereby missing the main points of the book, I wish to briefly describe and clarify the book’s main goal, as well as some of its important findings.

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Reconceptualizing Deterrence coverIn 1959 Bernard Brodie’s book Strategy in the Missile Age[1] augured in an interesting but relatively short-lived debate over the impact of nuclear weapons on the prospect of war between the United States and the Soviet Union. It appeared amidst a spasm of scholarship on nuclear strategy, deterrence, escalation ladders, limited war and coercive bargaining frameworks. Brodie sensibly concluded that the presence of these weapons had inevitably led the United States into a strategy of deterrence, in which the overarching goal was to prevent the occurrence of war between the United States and the Soviet Union.

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Petro-Aggression coverIn Petro-Aggression: When Oil Causes War, Jeff Colgan provides an indispensable starting point for researchers interested in the relationship between oil and international conflict. Although the term ‘energy security’ is now ubiquitous in political speeches and the media, international relations scholars have only just begun to rediscover the topic after a thirty-year hiatus. The 1970s oil shocks prompted a wave of research in the 1970s and 1980s but did not produce systematic theories about oil and war.[1] Emerging scholarship assesses the potential threats to energy-importing countries and examines how energy security issues shape importers’ foreign policies, including their decisions to use military force.[2] Colgan’s book makes a unique contribution by examining a topic that has otherwise received little attention: how oil might encourage conflict initiation by “petrostates,” which he defines as countries for which oil exports comprise 10% of gross domestic product (GDP) or more (2).

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