The classic international relations debate between realism and liberalism has long been seen as rather old hat, if not reactionary, by scholars who are interested in new ways of understanding IR. Yet in a post-Cold War world of American unipolar preponderance this dusty debate has taken on a new and unexpected angle.
In late August 2021, Afghans huddled in military airplanes amidst a massive evacuation. Crowds at the airport gates were denied access, then targeted by suicide bombers. These dramatic images encapsulate how security studies scholars typically view migration: refugees as a collateral consequence of conflict; innocent women and children in need of humanitarian assistance; asylum applicants vetted to filter potential terrorists. Too often, academics simply mirror how policymakers and the media talk about migrants as threats. Deportation flights filled with Haitians in September 2021 provide another recent example of imagery overriding analysis.
What convinces a country to adopt policies it might have previously eschewed as unimportant or against its interests? In practice, the global governance toolbox is notoriously limited. States, international organizations, and Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that want other actors to change their behavior are typically reduced to selecting between the unsatisfying options of economic sanctions, military force, or some kind of ‘naming and shaming.’ Often, sanctions and military force are considered too severe, too ineffective, or too politically difficult or economically costly to adopt and implement. As a result, actors commonly use naming and shaming because they can apply it across a range of practices, whether or not they have ready access to military or institutional power capabilities, at relatively low cost to themselves. Naming and shaming is a broad category of tools that involves publicizing the normatively-unacceptable behavior of actors (usually states) in order pressure them into adopting a more normatively-acceptable behavior. Yet its effectiveness has been a frequent matter of debate.
For over seventy years, the policy and academic communities have debated the effects of nuclear weapons on interstate relations. In this saturated field of study, there is little consensus except that a nuclear war would be devastating and that nuclear weapons aren’t going away any time soon.
We completed this article in September 2021, just as the Taliban defeated the American-supported government of Afghanistan, and the United States worked to transport all of its citizens out of the country along with the people of Afghanistan who worked for and with its troops, contractors, and officials. On the liberal internationalism front, this is a set-back for the United States. Not only was an ostensibly aspiring democratic U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan defeated, but the withdrawal from the country was arguably undertaken without full consultation with the United States’ allies who had sent troops and aid in this American-led effort. What, then, can we now say about the future of liberal internationalism (LI)?
Rosemary A. Kelanic’s, Black Gold and Blackmail: Oil and Great Power Politics and Emily Meierding’s, The Oil Wars Myth: Petroleum and the Causes of International Conflict are deeply engaging and important books that advance our knowledge on the politics of energy security. Both books challenge many existing assumptions on the role of oil in international conflict and power projection. In Black Gold and Blackmail, Kelanic focuses on the energy security strategies of great powers and explains how those powers secure oil supplies during war. Specifically, based on a meticulous “observation of great power oil policies since World War I,” Kelanic identifies three “anticipatory strategies,” mainly “self-sufficiency, indirect control, and direct control” to avert attempts at “oil coercion” (3). In The Oil Wars Myth, Meierding argues that the idea of “wars over oil” is a myth and demonstrates why and how it is important to revisit existing claims about the relationship between the value of oil and the initiation of wars. Specifically, Meierding outlines “four sets of impediments,” which she refers to as “invasion, occupation, international, and investment obstacles” to explain why states refrain from launching conflicts to grab petroleum resources (5).
Do nuclear weapons revolutionize world politics? For decades, the standard answer from international relations scholars has been a resounding yes. This mainstream view, known as ‘The Theory of the Nuclear Revolution,’ is associated with scholars such as Kenneth Waltz, Robert Jervis, and Charles Glaser. It argues that nuclear weapons generate a condition of mutual vulnerability that stalemates the military balance, makes further competition pointless and irrational, and generally pacifies the international system.
The United States repeatedly tried to overthrow foreign governments during the Cold War. More often than not, U.S. leaders chose covert regime change rather than overt military intervention. Their persistence suggests that the story of the Cold War has as much to do with secret maneuvers as it does with nuclear strategy or conventional military force. Again and again, Washington opted for the dark arts, despite its rhetorical commitment to liberal norms. There was something irresistible about manipulating foreign politics without claiming credit.
On November 9, 2016, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called President-elect Donald Trump to congratulate him on his electoral victory. Perhaps fittingly, news of this exchange first appeared on Twitter. Subsequently, reports emerged in late November that then Indian foreign secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar was in the United States to meet with members of Trump’s transition team. Both the call and the visit were striking because they were a departure from the norm. Usually, if U.S. presidents-elect speak to their Indian counterparts, it is after, not before, phone calls to U.S. allies. Moreover, the Indian government has in the past tended to interact with presidential transition teams from Delhi or through its missions in the United States.
Strategic Instincts: The Adaptive Advantages of Cognitive Biases in International Politics by Dominic D.P. Johnson is a welcome addition to the literature on Foreign Policy Analysis (FPA). The study of cognitive biases has a long and rich history within FPA, with classics penned by luminaries such as Robert Jervis, Richards Heuer, Yaacov Vertzberger, Philip Tetlock, and Yuen Foong Khong, alongside pioneering work among behavioral economists such as Daniel Kahneman and Richard Thaler. The ‘moral’ of much of this work has been that cognitive biases are liabilities that trip up rational decision-making, and foreign policy decisionmakers must work diligently to mitigate their influence.