Todd Sechser and Matthew Fuhrmann’s book Nuclear Weapons and Coercive Diplomacy provides a sustained case against the use of nuclear weapons as a tool for compelling actors to do something they would not otherwise want to do. In their reviews, three eminent scholars, Kyle Beardsley, Dan Reiter and Nina Tannenwald, are united in their praise, calling the book “important,” “powerfully argued,” and “compelling.” They diverge significantly in their critiques, however.
Some 30 years have passed since signal constructivist insights entered the international relations canon. In those three decades, scholarship informed by constructivism has shed light on fundamental questions of global politics—from the foundational principles defining international order, to the rise and fall of international norms such as human rights, to the sources and productive effects of the legalization of global politics. In response to early critiques that constructivist scholarship focused on ‘low’ politics and ‘good’ norms, constructivists have shown how the politics of meaning—manifest in ideas, discourse, legitimation, rhetoric, narrative, and the like—have shaped, among other topics, international intervention, territorial conflict, alliance politics, and the making of national security policy.
In an age of information overload, H-Diplo/ISSF roundtables help you decide which books to add to your reading list and which to leave aside. Robert Mandel’s Global Data Shock is itself a book about information overload, and it does provide readers with a lot of information. For a book about strategic ambiguity, deception, and surprise, however, it may or may not be surprising that the experts in intelligence affairs gathered together here offer ambivalent reviews. All praise the relevance of Mandel’s topic, as well as his skepticism for technocratic solutions to the problem, but they also highlight numerous conceptual and empirical shortfalls. Much as policymakers continue to struggle to make sense of a flood of data in global politics, it seems we still lack clarity on these important matters.
Books on Chinese military issues have traditionally been of interest to a small and inward-looking community of security-minded China-focused academics and policy analysts far from the mainstream of their disciplinary fields and professions. But with China’s growing prominence on the global stage, interest in Chinese defense and strategic matters has also become more widespread. This roundtable on M. Taylor Fravel’s examination of contemporary Chinese military strategy underscores the gradual coming of age of Chinese security studies as an important and relevant component of the general security studies field, and in the process draws attention to a book that is both timely and highly significant.
The debate about contemporary geopolitics, and American grand strategy, is shaped by two competing narratives: unipolar stability vs. rising China. The unipolar stability narrative holds that the distribution of power in the international system remains unipolar, and will remain so for a very long time.1 The rising China narrative holds that American power is in relative decline, and that the primary reason for this is China’s ascent.2 By some metrics, China has vaulted over the U.S. to become the world’s largest economy. In 2014, for example, the International Monetary Fund announced that, measured by purchasing power parity (PPP), China’s GDP had surpassed that of the United States.3 Many analysts expect that, even in terms of the market exchange rate (MER), China’s GDP will overtake America’s in a few years’ time.4 Viewing this trend line, some scholars have warned that the U.S. and China are locked in a power transition dynamic, which could lead to a war between them in the coming decades.5
The 2020 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), the tenth such event, will be held from 27 April to 22 May in New York. One of the most important and controversial pillars of the global nuclear order will be evaluated there. The NPT was opened for signature in 1968 and entered into force in 1970. Its ratification was a milestone in nuclear history and gradually developed into a centerpiece of the liberal international order. The NPT was the first joint international arms control treaty signed by the Soviet Union and the United States. With it, the Soviet government led by Leonid Brezhnev turned definitively away from demanding a complete ban on nuclear weapons, which had informed Soviet nuclear policy between 1946 and the mid-1960s. The NPT encompassed a threefold strategy that aimed first at preventing further proliferation, second at reducing existing arsenals, and third at the promotion of non-military nuclear technology under the condition of compliance with a safeguards system based on inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Nobel Laureate Thomas Schelling described the tens of thousands dead in the Korean War as “undoubtedly worth it” because the United States needed to defend its reputation for resolve. In 2013, President Barack Obama implicitly disagreed with Schelling, when he refused to carry out military operations based on his ‘red line,’ after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons. Of all the hot-button debates about the use of military force, few arouse such recurring, intractable debates as whether, and when, it is worth fighting for reputation.
The adjective ‘timely’ is perhaps overused, but in the case of Nicholas Miller’s Stopping the Bomb—the subject of this roundtable review by four excellent scholars of nuclear politics—it is well-earned. Miller’s book was published in the spring of 2018, just as President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal, and months before Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un met in Singapore. Trump vowed to persuade North Korea to denuclearize, even as most nuclear experts, Miller included, argued that that particular train had already left the station. Miller’s book helps provide theoretical and historical context for understanding not only the causes but also the effectiveness of U.S. nonproliferation policy.
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.