John Mearsheimer has written a stinging indictment of post-Cold War policy as being founded on a form of liberalism that ignores the realities of nationalism and the limits of the power of even the strongest states. It is reviewed here by four scholars of differing political and intellectual orientations, all of whom agree that this is an important and stimulating book. The clarity of the argument, the verve of the writing, and a willingness to stake out a strong claim on an important subject are the hallmarks of Mearsheimer’s scholarship and fully on display here. For Jennifer Pitts, this book is bracing and salutary; Jack Snyder says that this is “an incisive book that deeply analyzes the tendency of self-deluded post-Cold War liberalism to overreach in its efforts to remake the entire world in a liberal mold.” For William Wohlforth, Mearsheimer gives us “refreshingly bracing prose whose bluntness cannot conceal the profound learning it conveys,” and Christopher Layne writes that the great Delusion “Is an important book.”
No president has cast as much uncertainty over American alliances as Donald Trump. Despite the assiduous damage control of his rotating secretaries of State and Defense and national security advisors, comments from the chief executive matter; uncertainty has increased. Moreover, the unexpected willingness of the president to undertake direct, high-level contacts with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un are both promising and unsettling. Do these contacts augur peace on the peninsula? Or are they but another example of the long-standing North Korean effort to drive wedges between the alliance partners? And looming still larger over these questions is the role that China’s rise might have in determining the alliance’s future. Will it, for example, strengthen as China’s capabilities increase and become more threatening? Or will the desire to accommodate Beijing pull South Korea away from the United States?
The relationship between war, taxes, and public opinion has long interested scholars of democracy and international security. In theory the fiscal costs of war should restrain leaders from starting them, especially if those costs are born by the public on whose support they rely. According to Sarah Kreps, however, American leaders have not been constrained in this way for decades. They have learned to find alternatives to the kind of war taxes that concentrate public attention. They have also fought prolonged wars with volunteer forces. No draft, no tax, no protest.
I think it is fair to say that over the past hundred years most academic students of international politics have urged the United States to take a more active position in the world, one that was more commensurate with its economic power and stake in what was happening around the globe. Roughly a decade ago this began to shift, with many in the field, especially those of the Realist persuasion, urging that it would be better for the U.S. and for others for it to be less assertive. Stephen Walt’s The Hell of Good Intentions is one of the strongest statements, of this view; our reviewers’ evaluations are not surprisingly correlated with their own views of the subject. Michael Desch has written in a vein similar to Walt’s and says that “many superlatives” can be applied to “Walt’s fine book”; Paul MacDonald has written about the virtues of retrenchment and finds the book “provocative” and “persuasive;” Sergey Radchenko, an historian from the UK who has not been deeply involved in debates on current American foreign policy says that Walt’s damning description “rings true”; Kori Schake is a distinguished member of the foreign policy establishment that Walt so strongly criticizes and perceives this book as “not so much a work of scholarship as a diatribe.”
In this roundtable, four of international relations’ finest scholars evaluate Marcus Holmes’s Face-to-Face Diplomacy: Social Neuroscience and International Relations, a bold effort to bring research on brains to bear on questions of high-stakes summitry. While international relations scholars identify uncertainty, particularly the problem of judging the intentions of other states, as a central and essentially unsolvable problematique, Holmes disagrees. Research shows that our neural architecture is set up to simulate the mental states of others when we meet face-to-face, something that we do unconsciously and intuitively. Holmes draws the conclusions of this central claim for the study of diplomacy, a process that is finally receiving the theoretical and empirical attention it deserves. All of the reviewers agree that this interdisciplinary-inspired book offers a new look at an old question of international relations. Andrew Ross writes, “Holmes leverages this account of intersubjectivity to dismantle an entire edifice of theorizing built on the problem of other minds, inaccessible intentions, and the distrust that ensues therein. The result is a potential game-changer not only for the study of diplomacy but also for efforts to understand other forms of social interaction in international affairs.” They also praise him for his adroit use of history. The book explores the power of face-to-face diplomacy in case studies that include the interactions of presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush with Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev, the Munich summit between British prime minister Neville Chamberlain and Nazi Germany’s Adolf Hitler, and the Camp David summit in which President Jimmy Carter brokered peace between Egypt and Israel.
After the end of the Cold War many scholars thought that other states would balance against the United States since it now lacked a rival superpower to check it, and with the apparent abuse of its power epitomized by the invasion of Iraq in 2003 these expectations were heightened. In parallel, many observers thought that China’s rise would call up a local counter-balancing coalition. These predictions did not come true, leading scholars to wonder whether balance of power theory was obsolete—or even wrong. T.V. Paul shined a new light on this question with his seminal article, “Soft Balancing in the Age of U.S. Primacy,” in 2005. Since then, the concept of “soft balancing” has become a staple of the literature, with multiple applications and critiques. To this Paul has now added a full volume that pushes the argument further.
The topic of emotions is receiving increased attention in the social sciences in general and international politics in particular; the latest and most thorough contribution is Robin Markwica’s Emotional Choices. Our three reviewers are well positioned to analyze the book from different perspectives. Rose McDermott is one of the leading political psychologists of her generation, David Winter is a psychologist who has done path-breaking work applying the study of needs to foreign policy behavior, and Dustin Tingley is a younger eclectic scholar who has worked at the intersection of rational choice and evolutionary psychology. All three praise the book. For Tingley, it is “an intellectual tour de force,” McDermott calls it “impressive,” and Winter says that it makes “important contributions.”
Anyone interested in getting up to speed on the state of status research in international politics should read this roundtable review. It is a testimony not only to the quality of Steven Ward’s book but also to the great distance research on this fundamental human motivation and international politics has come since the 1990s and 2000’s. No longer can scholars write articles and books with introductions lamenting the neglect of this topic. It has become mainstream. It has gone global. Contributions to the literature on status now embrace pretty much all of the methodologies and theoretical schools in international politics, and tackle nearly all subjects of interest from foreign aid and environmental cooperation to international sports.
In the ongoing saga of contemporary populism, France’s Yellow Vest movement has sounded something like the other shoe dropping. In 2016, Brexit and Donald Trump’s election shattered prevailing political orthodoxies by mobilizing populations around a potent cocktail of xenophobia, protectionism, and sovereignism. Forces with a family resemblance to these movements are calling the shots in Italy, Hungary, and Poland. Yet while France had for years been a major breeding ground of far-right ideas, it seemed, in its May 2017 presidential election, to dodge the populist bullet: Emmanuel Macron’s triumph over Marine Le Pen was widely touted as a victory of hope, tolerance, and internationalism over fear, hate, and nationalist retrenchment.Continue reading
A growing but not pleasurable sport has taken hold among people who know and care about American political history. It is trying to guess which deceased leader is spinning fastest in her or his grave over the presidency of Donald Trump.