Nuclear strategy can be a difficult subject to study. In the end, our main preoccupation is understanding why there has not been a thermonuclear war, and what we can do to continue this streak. It is close to impossible to craft definite statements about an event that never happened. We have a strong hunch that nuclear deterrence prevents other states from using their weapons. Deterrence, however, is based on characteristics—fear, resolve, assurance—that are psychological in nature, and hard to observe or measure except after deterrence has failed. Nuclear proliferation and nonproliferation can be equally confounding. Given the benefits that nuclear possession supposedly conveys upon states—more or less securing their independence and protecting them from invasion—the fact that the number of states possessing the bomb is in the single digits, far fewer than anyone would have predicted a half century ago, is surprising.
Elections to the European Parliament are in many respects the ugly duckling of the European election cycle. They lack the obvious importance and immediate repercussions of presidential and parliamentary elections, yet they undeniably embody the core of the European ideal, even in its current battered and beleaguered state. The European Parliament’s 751 members are, after all, directly elected by the European Union’s 500 million citizens. In recent decades, the Parliament’s role in the EU’s institutional architecture has deepened, giving members a prominent role in drafting legislation and approving the EU’s budget. Yet the Parliament’s rising stature has not been matched by equal levels of public awareness of its role. The work of the Parliament and the identity of its members remain largely unknown to most Europeans, except when their behavior symbolizes the EU’s shortcomings (as with the ongoing expenses scandal). Even as the Parliament’s role has expanded, turnout for elections has declined, slipping from 63% in 1979 to 43% in 2014. Moreover, European parliamentary elections are often viewed as little more than barometers of national political moods: despite the spectacular fact (at least from an historical perspective) that twenty-eight countries across the continent, from Spain to Bulgaria, from Malta to Finland, choose members for the same body more or less on the same day, most countries view the elections almost exclusively through the lens of domestic politics.
Few issues arouse as much debate as the Iraq War. The decision to invade in 2003 was a milestone for U.S. foreign policy and Middle Eastern politics. Advocates of the war believed that the prior status quo was unsustainable, and that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s regime was a ruthless anachronism. The fact that Saddam had not abandoned his interest in so-called weapons of mass destruction made his removal all the more necessary. Critics warned, however, that regime change was not in the U.S. national interest, and that by invading the country that U.S. would set in motion events it could not control. Years of grisly civil violence seemed to vindicate their warnings. The critics took their arguments further in the aftermath, casting the war as symptomatic of a deep and enduring interventionist bias in American grand strategy.
The Italian political elections of March 2018 seem to have marked a profound discontinuity in the country’s political history. The clear winners—namely the Five Stars Movement and the League—were two (relatively) new political forces which had very little in common with each other, except their outspoken intention to steer the path of Italian politics in a new, and for many analysts, unpredictable direction. Nor was it particularly clear whether they be actually able to mend the significant differences in their political platforms and form a parliamentary coalition to support a joint government—which they eventually did, after a protracted stalemate and endless negotiations that repeatedly seemed on the verge of failure. Defining their identity and their political goals remains, to this day, a rather elusive goal. Both parties pride themselves in their having escaped traditional politics and in their capacity to respond directly to their electorate outside of more conventional political channels. The Five Star Movement identifies their electorate in “the people of the web” and make ample use of internet to align to any swings in its mood, while the League, which in its previous incarnation openly advocated the secession of the Northern part of the country, has now morphed into a somewhat rightwing/nationalist force under the shrewd leadership of Matteo Salvini. Both parties are usually referred to as “populist,” and analysts group them together with the analogous political parties which are spreading across most of the Western world. But is this analysis correct? Are these forces just the Italian version of a broader worldwide trend, or are they uniquely Italian? And how new are the ideas they represent in the history of Italian politics? What does their emergence tell us about the peculiarity (or lack thereof) of Italy as a Western democracy?
Anyone reading these reviews will already be familiar with the basic picture of the Donald Trump White House that Woodward presents, and even if they have not read the book most will be able to recite at least a few of the choice anecdotes. But our two reviewers highlight points that need emphasizing. They are well placed to do so. Sir Lawrence Freedman is one of the world’s leading authorities on international security and how governments make decisions involving war and peace, having written numerous academic studies, the official history of the Falklands war, and having served as a member of the Chilcot commission that analyzed British behavior before and during the Iraq war. Derek Chollet has not only written about national security issues, but served for six years at high levels in President Barack Obama’s State Department, White House, and Pentagon.
Political scientists have grown increasingly worried about the gender gap in their profession. According to data provided by the American Political Science Association, while women make up 42 percent of graduate students in the field, they account for only 24 percent of full time professors. While there are far more women in the discipline than even a decade before, most are assistant professors; only 23 percent of associate and full professors are women. Women in academic careers are less likely to get tenure (especially if they have children), and take longer to get promoted than their male colleagues.
In introducing this Forum, I am reminded of the joke that when the latest entry into heaven is told that each newcomer is expected to tell the others about a major event in his life, he says that he will talk about a flood he witnessed. His guardian angel nods, adding “Just remember that Noah will be in the audience.” All of us have learned–and continue to learn–from the scholarship of Marc Trachtenberg, Dale Copeland, and Stephen Schuker, whose works blend history and political science.
The essays by Niall Ferguson and Benjamin Mueller are welcome commentaries on the Security Studies “Symposium on Counterfactual Analysis.” The symposium was one of four collections published in the journal in 2015 and 2016, each of which sought to refresh scholars’ understandings of a particular approach to qualitative and multi-method inquiry. The symposia followed from workshops co-organized by Syracuse University’s Center for Qualitative and Multi-Method Inquiry, and the University of Virginia’s Miller Center of Public Affairs. The four symposia—on research transparency, process tracing, counterfactual analysis, and multi-method research —largely followed the same format: a longer essay with the author’s view of the state-of-the-art, and three shorter commentaries.
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.