The possibility that terrorists might detonate nuclear fission bombs has seized both the general public and policy communities’ attention since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Experts differ significantly on how likely or even plausible the threat might be, with well-informed, thoughtful analysts adopting views across the spectrum. Even among these diverging views, there is a relative consensus that terrorists are not likely to develop their own fissile material for nuclear weapons, and also that building even a crude nuclear device would require considerable expertise. Those working inside military, government, or commercial establishments may provide crucial materials or skills to terrorist groups who would otherwise be hampered in realizing nuclear attack motivations. More generally, insiders have the potential to pose significant nuclear threats. For example, causing a consequential radiation release from a nuclear reactor via external attack is challenging, but far less so with an insider accomplice.
The quote from baseball legend (and wordsmith) Yogi Berra throws caution at legendary Democratic House Speaker Tip O’Neill’s famous reminder to all politicians at election time. And for good reason, judging from the titles of the two new headlines above about the 2018 primary and general elections: politics are not local but national, with President Donald Trump front and center; Jonathan Martin can readily make this case. Regarding former President Barack Obama’s endorsements of congressional and state-level candidates, Alexi McCammond then goes on to say “Why it matters: Obama is the left’s answer to President Trump’s continued presence in the primaries. Not only will Obama announce another round of endorsements before Nov. 6, but he also plans to campaign in several of these states throughout the fall.”
Richard Nephew’s The Art of Sanctions: A View from the Field offers a refreshing perspective on the study of economic sanctions. It draws on the author’s experience as Director for Iran on the National Security Council and as deputy sanctions coordinator at the State Department in the Obama Administration. Having been involved in developing and managing sanctions during the negotiations with Iran that eventually produced the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in 2015, Nephew speaks from the point of view of a practitioner who brings a hands-on approach to the topic. The book offers practical insights about what sanctions can and cannot do, rather than ex cathedra statements about their efficacy in general. The most commonly asked question about sanctions—do they work?—is misleading because it is incomplete, since the utility of any tool can only be judged against a specific goal and under a determinate set of conditions. Against this, The Art of Sanctions presents a practice-oriented study of the preconditions for their success.
Moderation is an elusive but important virtue that is equally valuable in personal and political life. Professor Aurelian Craiutu has previously explored the role moderation–and its absence–played in eighteenth and nineteenth century France. In this volume, he examines the concept itself through close readings of the works of such diverse figures as Raymond Aron, Isaiah Berlin, Norberto Bobbio, Michael Oakeshott, and Adam Michnik. He wants to know what it meant to be a moderate in the twentieth century–the age of extreme politics–what ends moderates sought to advance, their view of political life, and the shared characteristics of “moderate minds” in action. Does moderation have a strong normative core? And is there such a thing as a moderate style?
Jessica L. Adler, who teaches history and health policy at Florida International University, offers us a valuable, well-organized, and carefully researched history of the origin and early development of what is today the mammoth and often troubled Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care system. Mammoth it is; the VA treats over 9 million veterans each year in 170 medical centers and over 1000 outpatient clinics staffed by more than 300,000 personnel. It is the largest integrated health system in the nation and costs over $60 billion to operate annually. Although rarely described this way, the VA system is America’s main example of socialized medicine.
The fog of war plays a prominent role in Carl von Clausewitz’s reflections on armed struggle. In Ann Hironaka’s rethinking of war, that fog becomes all consuming, obscuring the information needed to understand and prepare for battle. Victory in war is unpredictable and tantamount to random in clashes between competitors with roughly comparable power (41). Power being hard to measure, strategists can rarely know how costly a war will be. Predictions of casualties in the 1991 Gulf War, for example, were too low by an order of magnitude (10). Strategists commonly miscalculate the best strategy in a given context, for example, seeing the offense as having the advantage on the eve of World War I while expecting the defense to dominate in World War II. With profound uncertainty encumbering military analysis, defining the national security interest of the state becomes arbitrary, Hironaka argues.
On 13 July 2017, religious and political representatives met at the Farnesina in Rome for the International Conference on Protecting Religious Communities. Knox Thames, the Special Advisor for Religious Minorities in the Near East and South/Central Asia, represented the U.S. State Department. Religious freedom, Thames told those in attendance, represented not only a fundamental human right of individuals, but was also “one of the essential conditions for permanent peace, security, and stability.” As attacks by terrorists as well as repression by authoritarian regimes threatened the existence of religious minorities across the Middle East, Thames assured the other conference attendees that protecting and promoting religious freedom remained a policy priority of the Donald Trump administration.
Edward C. Keefer provides us with the “authorized, but not official” history of Harold Brown’s tenure as the 14th Secretary of Defense as part of the Department of Defense series on its secretaries. It is authorized in that Keefer had access to the official records, but not official in that Keefer’s assessment of Brown’s time in office, the Jimmy Carter years, is his own. Keefer sees Brown as a loyal and effective Secretary whose reputation needs some rehabilitation because Carter was an unsuccessful Commander-in-Chief, naive and smug in his handling of security issues thorough out his presidency, overly concerned with cutting back on defense in his first two years, and then totally knocked off his horse by the Iranian Revolution with its seizure of U.S. embassy staff and the failed American rescue mission, and the Soviet Union’s unexpected and alarming invasion of Afghanistan in his last two years.
The Donald Trump administration seems to value change for its own sake. The new President appears intent on rethinking all foreign-policy rules and norms, from diplomatic protocols to staffing to relationships with traditional allies. The next four-to-eight years may prove to be a watershed for U.S. grand strategy, a challenge to fundamental assumptions that forces security experts to re-examine their most deeply held beliefs. Or, perhaps little will change. At the very least, the Trump administration will test the notion that U.S. foreign affairs are marked far more by consistency than by change.
Catherine Goetze’s The Distinction of Peace is an important book. It breaks new ground in viewing peacebuilding as a field, and analyzing what attracts people to it and what enables some of them to remain. It contributes to research agendas on interventions in conflict zones, power in international encounters, and peacebuilding as a form of practice. What Goetze does particularly well is to show how seemingly commonsensical arguments about the desirability of peace and non-violence are used to create and sustain boundaries of a field, whose tentative insiders draw on the authority embedded in these arguments to position themselves in pursuit of distinction.