In Blind Oracles: Intellectuals and War from Kennan to Kissinger, Bruce Kuklick focuses on the role of intellectuals in foreign policy making from the end of World War II through the end of the Vietnam War. Kuklick concentrated on three overlapping circles of scholars and writers including experts associated with the RAND corporation, a second circle centered around Harvard University and the Kennedy School of Government, and a third group headed by George Kennan and Henry Kissinger that interacted with the first two and had the most influence on policymakers. Kuklick critically concluded that these Cold War intellectuals and scholars too often ended up groping in the dark and having little impact on policy besides providing a theory or rationalization that policymakers used to explain their policies to the public.
Several American supporters of the ‘New START’ arms control treaty the U.S. and Russia signed last December praised the deal for, among other things, giving the large nuclear powers some credibility in their ongoing efforts to stem nuclear proliferation to smaller states. See, said these advocates to putative audiences in Iran or Japan: we old superpowers can live up to our side of the bargain too!
James Lebovic’s book, The Limits of U.S. Military Capability: Lessons from Vietnam and Iraq, provides the basis for a rich and topical debate, not only about America’s capacity to intervene effectively in unconventional and asymmetric conflicts, but also about Afghanistan, the recent intervention in Libya, and more broadly about questions of power and primacy.
A little more than a decade ago, the world’s leading academic experts on terrorism could be gathered in a not very large conference room to discuss the state of the field. As a relatively junior researcher at the United States Institute of Peace at the time, I was in such a room several times. The gathered experts rued the lack of attention most academics paid to the phenomenon of terrorism. Mainstream political science of the time was wedded to understanding the actions of states. With the exception of a few pioneers such as Martha Crenshaw and David Rapoport, the view of many was that terrorism was properly seen as the province of diplomats, intelligence operatives and abnormal psychologists.
Mark Phillip Bradley’s central purpose in Vietnam at War is to offer his readers “a sharp departure from prevailing narratives in the West, which have until recently rendered the Vietnamese invisible in the making of their own history.” It is difficult to imagine a scholar better suited to this task than Bradley. A gifted writer, very comfortable working in American, European and Vietnamese archives, Bradley is the author of the highly acclaimed Imagining Vietnam & America: The Making of Postcolonial Vietnam, 1919-1950. In a field that constantly debates the proper balance to be struck between American, Vietnamese, and international actors—a divide that Christoph Giebel captures in the distinction between “Viet Nam Studies” and “Viet Nam War Studies”– Imagining Vietnam & America is a rare work of scholarship that seamlessly integrates cultural and diplomatic history from multiple perspectives.
One of the more astonishing facts that demonstrates simultaneously the global requirements of World War Two, the industrial capacity of the United States, and (by comparison) the real impact of the nuclear revolution on great power conflict is the size of the United States Navy in September 1945. There were twenty-three battleships, twenty-eight aircraft carriers, and seventy-one escort carriers—in total, including cruisers, submarines, and destroyers, some 1,166 major combatant ships. The smaller craft numbers are even more astonishing. The U.S. built some 88,000 landing craft during the war. With the war over, the question was what to do with all of it. How large should the U.S. Navy be now that peace was at hand and no serious naval opponent remained? What place was there for a navy in a world with air-delivered nuclear weapons and the promise of collective security through the United Nations?
How does peace between states become an established social fact or part of the unquestioned order of things? This question drives Vincent Pouliot’s International Security in Practice, an innovative and provocative contribution to the theoretical literature on international security, with an empirical focus on post-Cold War Russian-Atlantic security relations. While the challenge of theorizing the causes and conditions of war and peace between states is ‘ancient’ in the discipline of International Relations (IR), the challenge of enacting transatlantic peace became a novel and urgent practical concern in world politics following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the U.S.-USSR superpower rivalry, a set of events which opened up a rare opportunity for the pacification of relations between former enemies. Although there were initial promising signs in the early 1990s of great transformations in security relations between Russia and the West, transatlantic peace has materialized only as a fragile and somewhat fleeting achievement. Why was the hope of a robust and enduring post-Cold War transatlantic peace stillborn (p. 191)?
This roundtable extends the debate on the future of liberal internationalism (LI) started by Charles Kupchan and Peter Trubowitz (K&T) three years ago which provoked responses by Steven Chaudoin, Helen Milner, and Dustin Tingley (CMT), and by Joshua Busby and Jonathan Monten (B&M). This was the subject of a panel at a recent meeting of the American Political Science Association, and the memos written by the three teams form the basis for this Roundtable. Despite – or because – of my lack of involvement in these issues I was asked to chair the panel and so here will make a few introductory remarks, and after those involved have had their say will outline a few ideas for further research.
Anyone bold enough to write a synthesis of such a controversial topic as American empire can expect a range of reactions stretching as far to the left as to the right and including all shades of opinion in between. Richard Immerman has tackled one of the most hotly contested and long-standing issues in American foreign relations – the nature of the new republic that George Washington christened in 1783 as a “rising American empire.” Some observers may say that most historians have gotten beyond the debate over whether the new republic became an empire at its inception and, as Immerman argues, evolved from one of liberty into one for liberty. But the first reviews of this book show that many of the issues remain unresolved. The historians included in this roundtable – Jeffrey A. Engel, Joan Hoff, William Weeks, and Tom Zeiler – criticize this work as much as they praise it, leading one to observe that Immerman has accomplished as much as any writer can hope – to stimulate discussion and suggest more avenues for research.
My copy of Julian Zelizer’s book Arsenal of Democracy arrived in the mail at about the same time late in 2009 that Barack Obama gave his address at West Point expanding U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan. Obama had inherited the war, and his choices ranged from bad to worse. But the one he selected, a middle-course option that would send 30,000 additional troops and called for removing them in eighteen months, was difficult to comprehend if the geopolitical stakes in Afghanistan were really as high he claimed they were. It was hard for me to see how an increase of that size, even if accompanied by a boost in NATO troops, could really do the job in the vast and forbidding Afghan terrain. By announcing a deadline, moreover, the president signaled to anti-American forces in Afghanistan (and Pakistan) that they could count on a U.S. withdrawal in 2011 and hence could bide their time until then.