In The Back Channel: A Memoir of American Diplomacy and the Case for Its Renewal, William Joseph Burns writes about his life and times in the hope that his reflections—and regrets—will be helpful to the next generation of diplomats. Diplomacy “is by nature an unheroic, quiet endeavor,” as the author puts it, “less swaggering than unrelenting, often unfolding in back channels out of sight and out of mind.” (10) As he was taught early in his career, diplomacy is about managing problems, not solving them.
I am pleased to introduce this H-Diplo/ISSF roundtable on Emma Kuby’s book Political Survivors: The Resistance, the Cold War, and the Fight against Concentration Camps after 1945, an intellectual history of the rise and fall of the International Commission against the Concentration Camp Regime (CICRC). It is also a transnational history based on archival research in at least six countries—Belgium, Spain, Paris, the United States, the Netherlands, and Great Britain. As the reviews suggest, Kuby has written a book that speaks to many fields and indeed many disciplines. Umberto Tulli praises Kuby’s “originality,” her “masterly” efforts to analyze the CICRC’s history “through different lenses,” and the “richness” of her account. In his view, Political Survivors is a “remarkable achievement” that contributes to our understanding of, among other things, the public memory of World War Two. Regarding that same dimension, Padraic Kenney characterizes Kuby’s work as “excellent.” More broadly, Kenney suggests that Kuby has, perhaps, undersold her findings. Lora Wildenthal argues that the book is “worthy of a broad audience,” and she praises Kuby for the balance she strikes between broad themes and fine detail.
Samuel Huntington’s “The Clash of Civilizations” is the most important contemporary political science thesis in U.S. higher education.
That is not an opinion, and it is certainly not an endorsement. It is a plain statement of fact. The best available source of evidence on how often professors assign readings, the Open Syllabus Project, records that Huntington’s “Clash” appears on syllabi 4,317 times—the 28th most frequently assigned text in all disciplines. That places it ahead of Hamlet (4,283 appearances) and not far off from Plato’s Republic, Marx and Engels’s Communist Manifesto, or Aristotle, Hobbes, and Machiavelli.
This is surprising. […]
In Rising Titans, Falling States: How Great Powers Exploit Power Shifts, Joshua Shifrinson offers an essential contribution to the renascent literature in international relations on rising great powers. While much of this literature has focused on the strategies that declining powers adopt toward rising powers, Shifrinson flips this question on its head, inquiring about the strategies that rising powers pursue toward declining powers. Based on a combination of two different variables–the declining power’s strategic value and its military posture (i.e., its military capability as it declines)—Shifrinson predicts four different types of strategies ranging from most supportive to most predatory–strengthening, bolstering, weakening, and relegation. After developing his theoretical argument, Shifrinson offers two extended cases studies to test his arguments as well as shorter case studies in the conclusion to augment his empirical analysis. First, he examines Great Britain’s decline after World War II and the competition between the United States and the Soviet Union over Britain’s fate. Second, he examines U.S. strategies toward a declining Russia at the end of the Cold War. What one takes away from Shifrinson’s book is a fuller appreciation of the ways in which great powers are often not simply content with the power they have at the moment but are, in fact, always seeking ways to exploit changes in the international system to their advantage. Whether it be through strengthening or predation, rising great powers never let a good crisis—or power transition—go to waste.
Although every negotiator I have talked to has stressed the importance of the personal relations with his or her opposite numbers, most academic theorizing ignores this dimension entirely. Nicolas Wheeler joins Marcus Holmes, whose Face-to-face Diplomacy will soon be reviewed on ISSF, in arguing that academic research has paid a steep price for neglecting what practitioners understand. At a time of both heightened international tensions and an American president enamored of summit meetings, Wheeler’s Trusting Enemies is especially welcome. In it, he brings together literatures that are often separate: interpersonal relations on the one hand and inter-state rapprochements on the other; how states signal on the one hand and how they perceive on the other. Having written on both of the latter topics, I can testify to the fact that they are not only usually treated separately, but that rational choice is the common approach for the former while social psychology and constructivism predominate in the latter endeavor.
Over the past ten years, revived debates on realism have generated one of the most fertile, and promising, bodies of literature in contemporary political theory. Though empirically accurate, this statement might sound historically counter-intuitive, and thus invites some clarifications. A time-honored vision of politics, the realist approach to human affairs can in fact claim a distinguished pedigree that stretches back to the very beginnings of historical political theory.
Since the periods of decolonization and the Cold War, Africa has been the site of numerous protracted conflicts. Some countries have experienced repeated cycles of violence and civil war, while other countries have headed off major conflict and maintained relative peace. What factors account for these differences? In a clear, compelling, theoretically innovative study, Philip Roessler argues that civil wars often emerge from power struggles among political elites. In fragile, ethnically divided states, powerholders have greater fear of coups d’état staged by rivals at the core than civil wars waged by excluded minorities on the periphery. As a result, powerholders in weak states are likely to incorporate potential rivals at the center in a system of ethnic power sharing and to exclude regional and ethnic minorities on the margins. While such tactics may work in the short term, ongoing rivalry at the center, compounded by political exclusion elsewhere, may eventually lead to the coup–civil war trap. In such cases, rival power aspirants may mobilize marginalized groups, with civil war as an outcome.
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.