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.
With apologies to Tolstoy, every coercive dictatorship is coercive in its own way. This is the central claim of Sheena Greitens important and timely study of authoritarianism, Dictators and Their Secret Police. Greitens argues that dictators face not only the usual array of external threats that all leaders confront; they also face a daunting array of violent internal threats that can range from elite-led coups all the way to general popular uprisings. Different dictators perceive and prioritize these threats differently, and adjust the design of their institutions of state coercion accordingly. These different configurations of state coercion yield their own differential implications for the political choices confronting citizens and their likely behavior in response. Ultimately, Greitens argues that she can trace political behavior all the way from a leader’s perceptions of threat to the response of citizens, thus providing a theory of institutional design and evolution. She demonstrates this claim with detailed studies of the evolution of dictatorships in the Philippines, Taiwan, and South Korea, and more summary considerations of Iraq, East Germany, and Chile.
The Bridging the Gap book series at Oxford University Press publishes works that are theoretically grounded and policy relevant. The co-editors—Bruce Jentleson, Steve Weber, and I—marked the formal launch of the series in 2018 with the publication of Georgetown University Professor Matthew Kroenig’s The Logic of American Nuclear Strategy.
What it takes to forge peace in conflict-affected societies is an enduring source of debate for scholars in peace studies and comparative politics. It is also a source of dispute among peacebuilding organizations, their country offices, and local stakeholders. In Global Governance and Local Peace, Susanna P. Campbell explores this complicated and sometimes contentious relationship, and asks what is required for peacebuilding communities to become genuine learning organizations.