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.
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.