As the Trump administration’s second year in office rolls onward, what is the state of the transatlantic alliance? Writing for H-Diplo last year, I argued that Trump’s first year in office saw the emergence of a “Trumpian NATO policy.” In brief, this policy encompassed significant continuity with the substance of prior U.S. policy towards NATO, coupled with highly conditional U.S. rhetorical backing for the transatlantic relationship. As Trump—in a break from his campaign rhetoric—emphasized through mid-2017, NATO provided value to the United States, even as he suggested the United States might exit the alliance should its allies not agree to U.S. demands in intra-alliance discussions.
Donald Trump’s potential to be a disruptive force in both national and international politics was fully in evidence during the 2016 election campaign and has been more than realized since his inauguration. The extent of the eventual disruption that will mark his legacy will depend on a combination of intended and unintended consequences of his actions. The way he stirs the international pot may lead other states to look at problems with fresh eyes and consider possibilities that they might otherwise have dismissed.
Geoffrey Roberts’s criticism of our discussion of Joseph Stalin’s personal role in facilitating the Soviet failure to correctly estimate the German threat prior to Operation Barbarossa of June 1941, focused on three main arguments. First, that his behavior on the eve of the attack was not the result of unique psychological elements but of a “political rationale.” Second, that the intelligence information concerning the looming threat was not unequivocal and that there was a foundation for Stalin’s suspicion that the war warnings were the product of British deception. Third, that Stalin should not be singled out for his mistaken estimate since there were other “Soviet decision-makers” who believed that war was not imminent. I briefly address each of these reservations.
As I noted the last time I took to this platform to express my views on the meaning of President Donald J. Trump for Canada’s relationship with the United States, there were at least a few reasons for optimism, amid the general sense of gloom and doom that descended upon Canadians in the immediate aftermath of the November 2016 election. Chief among those reasons was my expectation that, just as earlier Canadian forebodings about Ronald Reagan’s meaning for Canada and its relationship with its great neighbour to the south would turn out to be wildly misplaced in the years following the November 1980 American election, so too might the most recent bout of national neuralgia disappear, once Canadians got to know more about the new president, and grew, if not to like him more, then at least to dislike him a bit less.
I was intrigued by Rose McDermott’s piece on “The Nature of Narcissism”. As a narrative historian of international relations, I appreciated her call for analysis of the “influence of individual-level differences on international outcomes.” Central to narrative history is the reconstruction and analysis of the actions and interactions of individuals, as well as people’s goals, motivations, feelings, and experiences.
On 8 March 2018, National Security Advisor Chung Eui-yong of the Republic of Korea (ROK) met with President Donald J. Trump at the White House to brief him on his recent talks with Kim Jong Un, leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), in Pyongyang. Trump learned that Kim had promised not to stage any further nuclear tests and take steps toward denuclearization. Chung emerged from the meeting to read a statement outside the West Wing announcing that Trump had accepted Kim’s proposal for the two leaders to meet in person. This news shocked people around the world because it constituted a sudden and dramatic reversal in a U.S.-DPRK relationship of intense mutual hostility. In December 2017, under U.S. leadership, the United Nations imposed the last of a series of crippling economic sanctions on North Korea after it launched a missile the previous month that Kim Jong Un claimed could reach any target in the continental United States. By then, Trump had threatened military destruction of the DPRK. On 8 August 2017, at his golf club in New Jersey, he warned that if Pyongyang continued to threaten the United States, it would “be met with fire, fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.” A month later at the United Nations, Trump repeated his threat. If the United States “is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea,” he declared. Mocking the DPRK’s leader, Trump then remarked that “Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself.” A few days later, Kim Jong Un publicly read an official statement in which he called Trump “a frightened dog” and a “gangster fond of playing with fire.” He added that “I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged U.S. dotard with fire,” using an arcane term for a mentally impaired elderly person.
In his January 2017 introductory essay to the America and the World roundtable, “President Trump and IR Theory,” Robert Jervis wrote, “…a Trump foreign policy that followed his campaign statements would be hard to square with Realism, although it would be difficult to say what alternative theory, if any, it vindicated.” We now have a lot more evidence about the extent to which Trump has defied numerous expectations regarding the power of external constraints to enforce consistency in policy across administrations. He has pulled out of the Paris climate accords; left the Trans Pacific Partnership Trade (TPP) agreement; pulled out the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action designed to delay or prevent Iranian nuclear proliferation (JCPOA); and now seems more intent on saving Chinese jobs at China’s ZTE Corporation than American jobs in the coal belt. Although he maintains a core of unfailing support among his base, he has defied the policy prescriptions of establishment republicans as well as populists in many arenas from trade and immigration policy to tax policy, respectively. Even more uniquely, he has consistently fought against his own bureaucracy, particularly in the realm of criminal justice and intelligence, attacking both communities with consistent fury on Twitter as though he himself were not head of these agencies.
For decades, political scientists have been taught that it is dangerous if not forbidden to search on the dependent variable. By looking only at cases in which the effect of interest occurs, we cannot infer causation because the factors that we think are powerful may be only necessary conditions, which means that they can be present in cases in which the effect does not appear. They then cannot readily be labelled as causes in the sense of distinguishing between instances in which the effect is present and those in which it is absent. Yet almost all studies of intelligence failures have looked only at the failures themselves, without making comparisons with successes. This was true even of scholars who not only knew about this problem, but had stressed it in their teaching. I can say that with some confidence because I am in that category. While I urged others to look at successes as well as failures, I did not do so. Erik Dahl, one of our reviewers, recently used this methodology, but our reviewers agree that until this volume, no one had sought such careful and controlled comparisons that are developed here.Continue reading
It was not difficult to find reviewers for The Future of War: A History because any book by Lawrence Freedman—really Sir Lawrence Freedman because the British know how to convey respect to their leading academics—is to be welcomed. Although one of our reviewers has serious criticisms of one part of the book, all speak highly of it. Beatrice Heuser calls it “a masterpiece,” Mara Karlin judges it “a readable, thoughtful, and useful addition to the literature,” Joshua Rovner calls it an “engaging and wide-ranging history,” and Douglas Gibler, whose criticisms I will note below, calls it “a fun read and an excellent review of large swathes of military history.” The reviews are all concise and to the point, and so I need only note a few things from them.
In Constitutions and Conflict Management in Africa, Alan J. Kuperman has assembled a diverse set of international scholars with different backgrounds ranging from Ph.D. candidates, to practitioners, to a distinguished professor emeritus. The book’s purpose is to contribute to a debate over whether “accommodation” or “integration” is the optimal constitutional design for African states (2-3). It is upfront in acknowledging that there are considerable methodological challenges to such a study, which Kuperman lists as “causal variable, outcome variables, endogeneity, omitted variables, selection effects, and degrees of freedom” (9).