Foreign Affairs recently featured a forum on “Obama’s World: Judging His Foreign Policy Record.” Gideon Rose, editor of the journal, started the discussion with an overall positive assessment of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy through August 1, 2015 and the agreement with Iran on its nuclear program. The Islamic State (ISSIL) seized Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq, in June 2014 and emerged as a serious threat in the Syrian civil war as well as in Iraq. As the title of the article, “What Obama Gets Right: Keep Calm and Carry the Liberal Order On,” indicates, Rose favorably emphasizes Obama’s “grasp of the big picture,” his perspective as an “ideological liberal with a conservative temperament,” and his determination to reverse the mistakes of the George W. Bush administration. The Bush Whitehouse, Rose suggests, made many mistakes in the first term, following policies that were “deeply flawed in both conception and execution” (2, 6). Rose concludes that Obama was “better at strategy than implementation” in his focus on preserving the core of the liberal world order by “downsizing the U.S. global role” and reducing the commitment of U.S. resources, particularly U.S. ground military forces, to peripheral areas (10, 7).
Our panel at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association (APSA) in San Francisco in 2015 was organized around the question “Why isn’t there more scholarly evaluation of war?” I’m grateful to the editors at H-Diplo for their interest in this topic, and for the invitation to continue our discussion online.
Over the last twenty years, interest in past thinkers and theories has grown, and the history of international thought has emerged to stand alongside the history of political thought. A series of studies of canonical thinkers, schools of thought, and key periods have appeared, advancing our knowledge of past international thought. At the same time, a debate has also occurred about the best approaches and methods for historians working in the area, which has shifted the focus away from grand narratives and epic histories towards more finely grained, nuanced, and theoretically informed accounts.
The theme of the Great Game for this Special Issue of The Journal of American-East Asian Relations which focuses on colonialism and anti-colonialism in Central, East, and Southeast Asia, arises from the original Great Game, which involved a clash of the British and Russian Empires in Central Asia in the nineteenth century. There are several important similarities between the newer and original Great Games. Both are located in Asia, they both feature the Great Powers of Europe, and Western imperialism is a prominent feature in both cases. However, they are also quite different. The timeframe of the new Great Game is more recent, many of the players are new, and the approach to it has changed completely. This new Great Game covers East and Southeast Asia in addition to Central Asia. The United States is involved in addition to Europeans and Asians. It includes the rise of nationalist ideologies and fierce battles between international capitalism and communism. And it is more interactive, cross-cultural, and gives agency to those fighting against the imperialists. This helps redefine the Great Game away from competition among the imperial powers to a Game played between the powers and their subject peoples. Because the essays in this issue focus in part on these subject peoples, this Great Game is also a story of important reformers and great reforms. This is a Great Game of ideas as well as action. Even when they failed, these reformers are important to understand because they mark the limits of reform. When reform failed to create needed change, it sometimes gave way to revolution. Thus, revolution and the revolutionaries themselves became an important part of the new Great Game.
The Treaty on the European Union (EU) stipulates that one of the key objectives of the Union is to provide citizens with a high level of safety within an Area of Freedom, Security and Justice (AFSJ). Given that the fight against terrorism is a prominent aspect of this general objective, it is remarkable that, in spite of its political relevance and decade-long history, it has only relatively recently received due attention in the academic community. At the time of writing, only a handful of post-9/11 edited volumes and special issues have focused on specific aspects of the EU counterterrorism efforts and initial monographs on the subject have only been relatively recently published by the three editors behind this special issue: Javier Argomaniz has produced a theoretically informed assessment of the coherence of the EU response, Oldrich Burres has examined the extent to which the EU can offer an added value in the fight against terrorism in Europe and Christian Kaunert  has studied how counter- terrorism has been a driver in the process of construction of the EU’s AFSJ.
After thirteen years of war, the loss of many thousand of lives, and the expenditure of trillions of dollars, what has the United States learned? The answer depends on not only who is asking but when. The story of the Iraq war would have different endings, and morals, if told in 2003, 2006, 2011, or 2014, and it will continue to evolve. As for Afghanistan, the narrative there has also shifted over time, and the ending also remains in doubt. Neither disaster has been unmitigated. But few would argue that Washington’s approach to either has been a success worth emulating. So the most important question today is what can be learned from the failures.
Last year, Scott Sagan declared – on H-Diplo – that we are in the midst of a renaissance in nuclear studies, driven by first-rate work by younger scholars. Two qualities in particular mark this scholarship. First, many of these young scholars combine both methodological innovation and rigor while engaging new archival sources. Second, these scholars are unafraid to challenge long-held conventional wisdoms about the nuclear age. The three commentators to this forum – a roundtable on Andreas Wenger and Roland Popp (eds.), “Special Issue: The Origins of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Regime,” in The International History Review — are exemplars of these trends. Eliza Gheorghe has mined new sources to explore the previously unknown and fascinating history of Romania’s nuclear program, in the process generating important insights into nuclear dynamics between superpowers and smaller states. Nicholas Miller has identified the key moments in United States nuclear nonproliferation policy, helping us understand the motivations and tools driving these efforts. Jane Vayman has built upon recent historical research to model the causal dynamics behind the surprising superpower collusion to stem the spread of nuclear weapons. As their previous work and their reviews here reveal, all three are equally conversant in the most recent historical scholarship and the newest trends in international relations theory involving nuclear dynamics.
While covert action had been a staple of American national security policy long before the Cold War, it was with that conflict that it gained wide-spread recognition as a key instrument of policy. Even after decades of analysis, however, we still are grappling with the question of what benefits these operations have provided to America’s national security. How has their use actually promoted key foreign policy objectives? Even more mundanely, can we even determine that they were successful? These questions have become even more acute as covert action has become an increasingly important weapon in our worldwide struggle against terrorism. Its extensive use throughout the world since 9/11—and the questions that have arisen about their effectiveness— has once again brought these concerns to center stage. Simply put, has covert action provided any benefits to the promotion of American national security interests?
Since the start of the twenty-first century, military contractors such as Blackwater (now named Academi), Kellogg, Brown & Root, and SNC Lavalin have become household names in many countries. The reasons for their prominence vary from case to case. One is notoriety. Particular firms hold contracts valued in the millions if not billions of dollars, and the conduct of some firms has not been beyond reproach in terms of military effectiveness or their observance of human rights. A second reason is reliance. Contractors are needed to keep state military personnel fed and supplied, to maintain their machines, and in some cases even to protect them. Developed world states especially require them for warring, training, and simply operating given the limited numbers of available national military personnel, the increasing sophistication of military technologies, and the political ramifications of applying state forces overseas. In many states, contractors have therefore become part of the total national force. Yet another reason pertains to dedication and sacrifice. Many firms suﬀffered significant levels of casualties during the long-term interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Thousands of contracted personnel have provided continuity over the long haul in often austere and intemperate conditions. All of this points to the considerable depth and scope of contractor involvement, which is arguably unprecedented in recent decades if not centuries. It also stands at odds with traditional conceptions of expensive state security sectors and their capabilities and responsibilities to manage and apply violence.
It should not be surprising that the long awaited release in December 2014 of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) Report on the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation did not bring a conclusive end to the debate over the use of torture or enhanced interrogation techniques by the United States. To be sure, John Brennan, the Director of the CIA, acknowledged that the report correctly identified numerous and significant problems with the CIA’s handling of detainees and interrogations in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. Brennan was also emphatic in stating his own belief that “enhanced interrogation techniques are not an appropriate method to obtain intelligence and that their use impairs our ability to continue to play a leadership role in the world.” But Brennan also restated the CIA’s long-held objection to the SSCI report’s “unqualified assertions that the overall detention and interrogation program did not produce unique intelligence that led terrorist plots to be disrupted, terrorists to be captured, or lives to be saved.”