Explaining the Iraq War coverFrank Harvey is to be congratulated for producing an exemplary book. It makes sophisticated use of counterfactual argumentation to challenge the conventional wisdom about the causes of the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq.

For methodological and substantive reasons it should be read by everyone with an interest in foreign policy. Any assertion of cause implies that, ceteris paribus, the outcome in question would not have occurred in its absence. In circumstances where context or the “lessons” of the past are important or determining – which describes most historical events of interest – statistical tests are meaningless as the “cases” that constitute any data set would be neither comparable nor independent. We can only evaluate causal claims through intra-case comparison, of which counterfactual argumentation is a variant. Historical intra-case comparison is possible when we have closely grouped events or decisions in which key features of context are constant. Austro-Hungarian policy in the July 1914 crisis is a case in point. The government had considered war with Serbia on four occasions between 1911 and 1914, but only drew its sword on the last occasion. We can plausibly argue that novel features of context – the nature of the provocation and the absence of Franz Ferdinand from the decisionmaking process — were determining.[1] In most decisions or events of interest we must introduce intra-case comparison through counterfactual experimentation, as Harvey does.

 

 

 

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Cutting the Fuse coverRobert Pape and James Feldman in Cutting the Fuse: The Explosion of Global Suicide Terrorism and How to Stop It build on Pape’s earlier work, Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism.[1] This volume is designed to further develop the earlier argument in Dying to Win that the occurrence of suicide terrorism is overwhelmingly explained by a foreign occupation in a particular region, and that ultimately the removal of foreign troops, when possible, will limit the number of suicide terrorist attacks. The book consists of two analytic chapters laying out the basic theories and arguments, eight chapters with valuable case studies (Sri Lanka, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Al Qaeda, Lebanon, Israel/Palestine, Chechnya), and a concluding chapter. In the analytical chapters the authors reaffirm what we already know—that suicide terrorism is not uniquely related to religious groups. Those who continue to believe this popular misconception need to be disabused. They also note that suicide attacks are directed against democracies rather than non-democratic states. The eight country studies provide important information for scholars and students and are quite valuable. These chapters are also used to promote the basic idea that suicide terrorism is linked to foreign occupations broadly defined.

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The Clash of Ideas in World Politics cover

The Clash of Ideas in World Politics is an excellent book. It possesses a persuasive, detailed argument and compelling case study evidence that spans 500 years of diplomatic history. It will be of enduring interest to analysts of international relations.

The book has numerous strengths, though three in particular stand out. First, the book reveals the shortcomings of realist theories of international relations by documenting the centrality of ideologies to leaders’ foreign policies. Specifically, Owen demonstrates that ideologies are frequently critical to how leaders’ understand the threats to their most important domestic and international interests. These threat perceptions, in turn, will tend to have major effects on states’ core security policies, including choices of allies and enemies and efforts to promote by force particular institutions and beliefs in other countries. This last set of choices is the primary focus of Owen’s analysis.

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A Contest for Supremacy coverIn A Contest for Supremacy: China, America, and the Struggle for Mastery in Asia, Aaron Friedberg argues that fundamental ideological differences, coupled with tensions inherent in power transition, have placed the United States (U.S.) and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on a path toward increasing competition, and, potentially, collision. For all its apprehensiveness about the trajectory of U.S.-China relations, the book offers a familiar proposal for American policymakers. Friedberg proposes to augment ongoing economic, social, and political exchanges between the two countries with more honesty and openness about Sino-American differences. He argues that a reduction in the U.S. appetite for cheap imports and credit, as well as the continued development of American military capabilities and political partnerships in Asia, should accompany this greater frankness. That Friedberg adds another influential voice calling for movement in this direction suggests the development of what may be an emerging mainstream view about China policy in American academic and policymaking circles.

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Liberal Leviathan coverThis is a book about liberal international order. Central focus is on the order created by the United States in the aftermath of World War II; how did this liberal project unfold, what are the core characteristics of it in comparison to other varieties of order, how is the order challenged today, and what are its future prospects? Ikenberry is fundamentally optimistic; the crisis of the current order is a crisis of success, not of failure. The substance of liberal international order—an open and loosely rule-based system—is not in question. The crisis is one of authority, of roles and rights within this order. It follows that liberal international order has a potentially bright future provided that the United States—which continues to be the supreme constructor of liberal order—devotes itself to a grand strategy focused on liberal order building. I find much to agree with in Ikenberry’s masterful analysis, but I also argue that the book is too optimistic on behalf of liberal order and that the problems besetting it run deeper than a mere crisis of authority.

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The Shadow of the Past coverGregory Miller’s book begins with a theoretical discussion of the importance of ‘reputation’ in international politics, before analysing its role in four case studies taken from European diplomacy before 1914. To a quite unusual extent, his study consists of an extended critique of a single book – and one published in the same series with the same editors – Jonathan Mercer’s Reputation and International Politics.[1] Three of Miller’s case studies were used also by Mercer, and the two writers draw on very similar source material. Miller repeatedly cites and refutes Mercer’s work, up to four times on a single page (p. 176). To a large extent Miller’s book must be read as a foil to an earlier contribution rather than as a stand-alone study.

 

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Samuel Moyn’s study of human rights movements is a path-breaking book.  It moves the study of human rights out of the realm of virtue and into the realm of politics.  By desacralizing the subject, he has historicized it, and thereby has enabled us to measure the claims of human rights against other political claims and projects.   Trained both as a lawyer and as an intellectual historian, Moyn tilts the chronology of human rights history towards a bifurcation, between a period of failed activism prior to 1970 and of successful mobilization in the form of a set of popular trans-national movements after that date.  Why the divide?  Because prior to 1970, other utopias, especially the Marxist one in Europe and elsewhere, as well as its anti-colonial variants in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, still commanded the loyalty and commitment of millions.  After that date anti-colonialism had more or less completed its historical mission, and Marxism, as a theory of action and as a political movement, slowly and then spectacularly collapsed.  Into the vacuum rushed human rights as a political weapon of choice.

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Hiroshima The World's Bomb coverThis is an excellent book that comprehensively treats in one volume a wide range of issues associated with nuclear weapons.  The topics Rotter examines include the history of nuclear physics; the relationship between the atomic bomb and two other antecedents (poisonous gas and strategic bombings); the Manhattan Project, Japanese and German nuclear projects during World War II; the U.S. decision to drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki; nuclear weapons and the Cold War, which includes the Soviet, British, French, Israel, South African nuclear projects; nuclear proliferation in India and Pakistan; and contemporary issues.  This book is not based on any archival work and hence one cannot expect any new revelations in any of the topics Rotter  examines.  But he has read secondary sources widely and critically.  The result is a provocative book that raises penetrating moral issues on the development of nuclear weapons.

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When I was getting ready to take my Ph.D. exams forty years ago, I had a meeting with my advisor, Raymond Sontag. What, he wondered, should he examine me on? “Why don’t you ask me something about the origins of the First World War?” I said. “I think I understand that now.” His reply was devastating:  “Oh really? I’ve been studying it for fifty years and I still don’t understand it.” But over the years I’ve come to feel the same way. The whole question of what caused that war, for me at least, remains deeply puzzling. To be sure, we’re still learning new and important things, even about what happened during the July Crisis in 1914. But with every new insight, new problems come into focus, and ultimate answers remain as elusive as ever. In fact, the deeper you go into the issue, the more puzzling it becomes—or at least that’s been my own experience in grappling with this particular historical problem.

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Are democracies more likely to win the wars they fight? This question has been of interest to historians and philosophers since Thucydides. During the Enlightenment, the question was highly relevant to the great issues of the day, as thinkers such as Thomas Paine wondered how emerging republics like the United States and France would fare in war against monarchies. It reemerged in the twentieth century, when some worried whether the Western democracies had the stuff to stand up to Nazi Germany and its fascist allies. After World War II, Westerners fretted that an American Athens would ultimately fall short against a Soviet Sparta.

 

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