Rosemary A. Kelanic’s, Black Gold and Blackmail: Oil and Great Power Politics and Emily Meierding’s, The Oil Wars Myth: Petroleum and the Causes of International Conflict are deeply engaging and important books that advance our knowledge on the politics of energy security. Both books challenge many existing assumptions on the role of oil in international conflict and power projection. In Black Gold and Blackmail, Kelanic focuses on the energy security strategies of great powers and explains how those powers secure oil supplies during war. Specifically, based on a meticulous “observation of great power oil policies since World War I,” Kelanic identifies three “anticipatory strategies,” mainly “self-sufficiency, indirect control, and direct control” to avert attempts at “oil coercion” (3). In The Oil Wars Myth, Meierding argues that the idea of “wars over oil” is a myth and demonstrates why and how it is important to revisit existing claims about the relationship between the value of oil and the initiation of wars. Specifically, Meierding outlines “four sets of impediments,” which she refers to as “invasion, occupation, international, and investment obstacles” to explain why states refrain from launching conflicts to grab petroleum resources (5).
Do nuclear weapons revolutionize world politics? For decades, the standard answer from international relations scholars has been a resounding yes. This mainstream view, known as ‘The Theory of the Nuclear Revolution,’ is associated with scholars such as Kenneth Waltz, Robert Jervis, and Charles Glaser. It argues that nuclear weapons generate a condition of mutual vulnerability that stalemates the military balance, makes further competition pointless and irrational, and generally pacifies the international system.
The United States repeatedly tried to overthrow foreign governments during the Cold War. More often than not, U.S. leaders chose covert regime change rather than overt military intervention. Their persistence suggests that the story of the Cold War has as much to do with secret maneuvers as it does with nuclear strategy or conventional military force. Again and again, Washington opted for the dark arts, despite its rhetorical commitment to liberal norms. There was something irresistible about manipulating foreign politics without claiming credit.
Strategic Instincts: The Adaptive Advantages of Cognitive Biases in International Politics by Dominic D.P. Johnson is a welcome addition to the literature on Foreign Policy Analysis (FPA). The study of cognitive biases has a long and rich history within FPA, with classics penned by luminaries such as Robert Jervis, Richards Heuer, Yaacov Vertzberger, Philip Tetlock, and Yuen Foong Khong, alongside pioneering work among behavioral economists such as Daniel Kahneman and Richard Thaler. The ‘moral’ of much of this work has been that cognitive biases are liabilities that trip up rational decision-making, and foreign policy decisionmakers must work diligently to mitigate their influence.
The United States faces a host of strategic geopolitical challenges today, many of which have long been brewing as a result of structural changes and some of which have been self-inflicted by successive administrations, most recently and most especially the Trump Administration. In An Open World, Rebecca Lissner and Mira Rapp-Hooper deliver a lucid and incisive diagnosis of these multidimensional strategic challenges that is strengthened by their admirable restraint in dwelling on where any blame should be apportioned and is written in precise and elegant prose. Their goal is to provide a clear-eyed assessment of the current geopolitical landscape facing the U.S. and to chart a strategy for how the U.S. should navigate the world it faces today in order to advance its national interests in a manner that is in line with its values — and they succeed, to a very large extent, on both counts. An Open World is an important and timely contribution from two scholar–practitioners who wrote this immensely relevant book with the explicit aim of bringing rigorous research to bear on American foreign policy and are now positioned, as senior national security officials in the Biden Administration, to work to bring parts of their vision to fruition as they contribute to the new National Security Strategy and beyond.
Audrey Kurth Cronin’s new monograph, Power to the People: How Open Technological Innovation is Arming Tomorrow’s Terrorists, makes a valuable contribution to the literature on terrorism, technological innovation, and the evolving nature of national security in the twenty-first century. The book deserves to be widely read by scholars and policymakers. Deborah Avant, Boyd P. Brown III, and Jennifer Spindel have supplied us with insightful reviews that interrogate, respectively, the book’s theoretical framework, its historical underpinnings, and its policy implications. Cronin’s response helpfully answers some of her reviewers’ questions and acknowledges where more work is to be done. In my introduction to this roundtable, I do not wish to recapitulate either Cronin’s or her reviewers’ arguments, since they all speak quite ably for themselves. What I do want to do is take a step back and try to illuminate some of the broader issues at play. In short, what does Power to the People tell us about the state of terrorism studies in 2021?
Peacekeeping was born in 1948, in the midst of the American civil rights and anti-colonial movements. The basic thrust of the idea was to resolve violent conflict without resorting to violence. In that sense, peacekeeping is unlike other forms of military intervention because of its foundational principles: consent, impartiality, and the use of force in self-defense (and later in defense of the mandate). These guiding principles continue to anchor peacekeeping today, even if some of the mechanisms and goals have changed over time.
To say that debates over “international order” are at the heart of a growing number of scholarly and policy concerns is an understatement. Indeed, at a time when the so-called “liberal international order” that was notionally established by the United States after World War Two is under duress from shifting power dynamics, domestic churn in many of the world’s leading actors, and new technologies and norms (to name just a few factors), scholars have increasingly turned their attention to understanding the causes, course, and consequences of order in world politics. Extending canonical work by the likes of Robert Gilpin and Hedley Bull, this research has fruitfully produced insights into the role of – and limits to – hard power in shaping order, the normative, ideational, and economic factors that can make orders more or less stable, and the sources of change in order. Combined with historical scholarship on particular international orders, the result has been a veritable “third wave” – complementing related work in the 1970s and 1990s-early 2000s – of research on order and ordering activities in international affairs.
The oldest question in the study of international relations (IR) is: what helps armies win their battles? This is the IR question the ancients struggled over more than any other. The Old Testament, for example, is replete with discussions of armies fighting and trying to win battles, such as the Israelites hoping the Ark of the Covenant would bring them victory, and successfully using an ambush feint at the Canaanite city of Ai. Over the millennia, scholars, and observers from Thucydides to Sun Tzu to Machiavelli to contemporary political scientists have been keen to move beyond exploring material answers to this question, that bigger armies with better weapons win, to developing non-material answers, that cultural, ideational, political, and social factors might help explain war and battle outcomes. Are the armies of some kinds of societies more likely to win? Self-servingly, some have asked, might some noble virtue hard wired into our national identity also help us win at arms? Conversely, might some fatal flaw within our cultural or political genetic code fate us to be destroyed?
Michelle Jurkovich’s Feeding the Hungry: Advocacy and Blame in the Global Fight against Hunger explores a series of important questions around advocacy campaigns to fight global hunger.  Who is to blame for the persistence of hunger? What types of strategies do anti-hunger advocacy organizations employ? If the Right to Food is articulated in internationally agreed human rights documents including the UN Declaration on Human Rights, why is there no associated norm that makes clear who is responsible for upholding that right? The book’s analysis employs a constructivist approach within the field of political science and makes the case that international anti-hunger advocacy organizations do not converge around a common target actor who they all agree is responsible for hunger. These campaigns differ from human rights advocacy campaigns that are focused on advancing civil and political rights, which zero in on states as key actors responsible for upholding those rights. Because advocacy organizations are not in agreement in laying blame squarely on states for the situation, despite the fact that they are considered duty-bearers with respect to internationally codified human rights, the book argues that there is no established norm that accompanies the Right to Food. At best, she argues, the anti-hunger sentiment expressed as the right to food is a moral principle, but not an international norm with a prescribed behavior for specific actors who are responsible to uphold that right.