The U.S. government’s across-the-board hardening in pushing back against a range of Chinese challenges to American interests emerged erratically after the start of the Trump administration in 2017 but it has demonstrated remarkable momentum over the past year.
This roundtable debates ideas and evidence in Diane Pfundstein Chamberlain’s recent book, Cheap Threats; Why the United States Struggles to Coerce Weak States. Pfundstein Chamberlain’s book considers the important puzzle described in the title, and in doing so puts forth a surprising new theory of coercive diplomacy. The reviewers praise some aspects of the book, but they raise concerns about both theory and evidence. Pfundstein Chamberlain responds comprehensively to the critiques. The debate is particularly interesting because the reviewers, though all experts in coercion and/or deterrence, approach the book from quite different angles.
What explains why some armed organizations engage in high levels of rape during civil war, while others engage in little? Why is gang rape such a high fraction of rape by organizations that do engage in widespread rape during civil war? What accounts for the participation in the rape of girls and women by female combatants in those organizations?
Dara Kay Cohen addresses these questions in her book.
In Republic in Peril: American Empire and the Liberal Tradition, David Hendrickson, a prolific and provocative scholar, offers an eloquent root-and-branch critique of American foreign policy, focusing chiefly on the post-Cold War decades. In essence, Hendrickson contends that the precepts and practices of U.S. statecraft have corroded Americans’ liberty at home and increased the threats they face from abroad. Be it the current configuration of U.S. alliances, the worldwide military presence of the United States, American leaders’ attempts to reshape—especially by military means—the internal order of states, or the magnitude of expenditure on the national security apparatus, Hendrickson calls for a break with a status quo to which, he believes, Republicans and Democrats are both committed, though not always to the same degree.
More time has transpired between the fall of the Berlin Wall and today than the entire duration of that iconic Cold War barrier. Meanwhile, George H.W. Bush, the main subject of Jeffrey Engel’s When the World Seemed New, became the longest-living U.S. president, while there are undergraduates this semester who were born during the presidency of his son, George W. Bush. In short, this book can make a lot of readers feel old.
It should also makes us feel hopeful. “Tomorrow our children will go to school and study history and how plants grow,” President Bush said in his 1992 State of the Union address. “And they won’t have, as my children did, air raid drills in which they crawl under their desks and cover their heads in case of nuclear war.” Scholars can forever debate the causes and consequences of the end of the Cold War, yet one ought not lose sight of the fact that good and incredible things happened.
It has become accepted wisdom in Washington, D.C., and among many international relations scholars, that East Asia is a region rife with geopolitical rivalry, and that the United States and China are destined for protracted great-power competition and perhaps conflict. In his newest book, David Kang offers a sharply contrarian viewpoint. He argues that East Asia is far more peaceful and stable than it seems, that China’s rise is not particularly threatening to most East Asian states, and that the United States will only find itself in an intense competition with China if it makes unwise policy choices that turn that danger into a self-fulfilling prophecy. The United States should, therefore, refrain from the temptation to double-down on its East Asian security commitments and efforts to check China’s rise; it should adopt a more restrained posture that minimizes rather than embraces great-power competition.
I suspect that most readers of this Roundtable, like our review Nils Gilman, will be “only dimly aware of Hans Speier.” I also suspect that, like Gilman and his fellow reviewers, readers will be interested to learn more about him. As Daniel Bessner explains in his intellectual biography, Speier is one of the lesser-known European intellectuals who fled Nazi Germany, having never taught in the major university or written much of note. Our reviewers agree with Bessner that he is nevertheless very interesting for his intellectual trajectory, the choices he made, and his role in the emerging national security state.
Within security studies, scholars have increasingly called for work that bridges the gap between academics and policymakers and that moves beyond milquetoast nods to ‘policy relevance’ at the end of journal articles, and instead ask that theorists engage directly with their policy counterparts. In this context, Ron Robin’s biography of Albert and Roberta Wohlstetter provides a powerful account of how two scholars’ works on intelligence, uncertainty, and nuclear strategy influenced United States defense strategy, both during the Cold War and, through the lives of the Wohlstetters’s students, into the present day.
by Steven Casey·Comments Off on Policy Series: The Unprecedented President: Donald Trump and the Media in Historical Perspective
Since the start of the twentieth century, when the White House first became “a full-time propaganda machine,” the president’s relationship with the media has been in a state of constant flux. The underlying cause has been the media’s technological evolution, from its newspaper and magazine roots to the radio and television era, and finally to the modern landscape of cable broadcasting and the internet. With the addition of each new media form, presidents have faced fresh challenges related to coordination, speed, and packaging. But the more innovative among them—William McKinley in the newspaper age, Franklin D. Roosevelt in the radio era, and John F. Kennedy with the advent of television—managed to devise new ways of dealing with the altered landscape, which their successors then copied.
Why do some national movements succeed at creating their own states while others fail? This fundamental question lies at the heart of Peter Krause’s important new book. While recognizing the excellence of much of the existing theoretical and empirical research on social movements and violence, Krause argues that this scholarship has not fully appreciated “the competitive internal dynamics that are at the foundation of the success of groups and the movements of which they are a part” (8). He advances a structural theory in Rebel Power, which he calls “Movement Structure Theory (MST),” to account for how the distribution of power among individual groups contributes to the success or failure of national movements. The national movements most likely to successfully gain their own states, Krause argues, are those that feature a hegemonic actor vastly stronger than other rival actors. Free from concerns about losing their position of leadership within the movement, hegemonic actors can concentrate their efforts and resources against their external adversary. In his view, “In a hegemonic movement, there is more pursuit of victory and less counterproductive violence, making such movements far more successful. A hegemonic movement—with one dominant group—incentivizes the pursuit of victory and reduces counterproductive violent mechanisms because the hegemon has no challengers to outbid, fight, or spoil” (11).