More than four decades ago, Robert Dahl observed that the most stable democracies emerged in countries where party competition evolved gradually, allowing elites to learn how to work together peacefully and respect the rules of the game. Ideally, this process of habituation occurred in a sovereign nation-state (a polity free from foreign influence or domination), and where the suffrage was limited to these elites at first and gradually expanded to the rest of the population. Dahl cited as examples countries such as the United Kingdom and United States.
A famous Jewish joke tells of a pauper who used to buy food and drink on credit, without ever paying his bills. Finally, after one year of default, the innkeeper refused to serve him. The pauper, his face red, banged his fist on the table and said in an ominous tone: “if you leave me no choice, I’ll do what my father did.” The guests went pale. The innkeeper, too, was nervous about the threat. “And what did your father do?” he asked. “Well of course,” answered the pauper. “He went to bed hungry.”
Donald Trump’s presidency will be an ideal case study for a question that is as old as the discipline of international relations: do individuals matter? Structural realism has long held that variation among individual policymakers has little impact on the behavior of states compared to structural features of the international system, such as the distribution of power. Almost all other research programs, including classical and neoclassical realism and constructivism, by contrast, hold that policymakers’ beliefs exert a significant and independent influence. Trump’s election is almost tailor-made as a test case for these longstanding academic disputes between partisans of Kenneth Waltz’s first and third “images.”
One hundred years ago this month, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson was agonizing over whether to enter World War I. Just a few months earlier, Wilson had won re-election partly by campaigning on a policy of neutrality, which he was now preparing to abandon, along with the slogan ‘America first.’ But now, for the first time in more than 80 years, a U.S. president has taken it up again, to promote a foreign-policy stance that directly controverts the doctrine Wilson embraced.
In an analytical review of alliance research, James Morrow posed the title question, “Alliances: why write them down?” A decade and a half later, Keren Yarhi-Milo, Alexander Lanoszka, and Zack Cooper revisit this issue, posing their own title question: “To arm or to ally?” Yarhi-Milo, Lanoszka, and Cooper pose this question through the structural lens of hierarchical relations, setting it up as a “patron’s dilemma” of how patrons can best ensure a client state’s security—through either a formal guarantee to defend the state against foreign attack, the provision of significant arms, or both (or neither). Hierarchical relations and patrons’ dilemmas have received increased attention in security scholarship, with several scholars expounding upon the nature of international hierarchy and its role in security provision, economic relations, democratization efforts, and many other international political issues. In their article, Yarhi-Milo, Lanoszka, and Cooper focus on the central alliance tradeoff of credibility versus flexibility. By agreeing to a formal institutionalized security pact in the nature of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) a patron can send a clear and credible signal of commitment, but such an ironclad commitment may trap the patron in an unwanted conflict. Conversely, simply supplying arms provides greater flexibility and will enhance the client’s security, but not to the degree that a formal defense pact would. How then do patrons decide which strategy to adopt? Yarhi-Milo, Lanoszka, and Cooper seek to answer that question.
How did this happen? Donald Trump—a real estate mogul with a television show and no political experience—is America’s forty-fifth president. “Those that did not foresee” his ascendancy “are going to find it hard to discipline themselves to a balanced projection of his forthcoming first term,” Jonathan Haslam declared in a recent ISSF/H-Diplo essay. I’m in that group; maybe you are too. Polls aside, no major newspaper or magazine endorsed Trump’s candidacy, and a big chunk of the Republican Party establishment actively resisted his nomination. The GOP’s previous standard-bearer, Mitt Romney, said Trump was a charlatan, and Speaker Paul Ryan kept the candidate at arm’s length throughout 2016. Neither George W. Bush nor George H.W. Bush supported Trump, and President Barack Obama campaigned against the GOP nominee while enjoying an approval rate that hovered near 60%. Trump’s victory was unexpected because it was improbable.
Jennifer L. Erickson’s Dangerous Trade is a powerful reminder of the manifold ways in which arms control raises the most enduring questions in the study of international politics. The ability to regulate violence capacity on a given territory is central to the very idea of the modern state. The unfettered capacity to wield organized violence externally in pursuit of collective interest is the central preoccupation of governments. In the middle of the last century, thinkers such as Bernard Brodie, Henry Kissinger, Thomas Schelling, and Hedley Bull were preoccupied with the special incentives nuclear weapons might generate to overcome barriers to cooperation in anarchy and accept limits on states’ violence capacity in their own (and the world’s) best interest. As scholars such as Robert Jervis and Charles Glaser later made clear, however, explicit or implicit inter-state cooperation on conventional arms control could play a critical role in moderating the security dilemma. Those works and the studies they inspired bore deep into the core questions of security-seeking and cooperation under anarchy, but often abstracted away from important related question of domestic politics, the origins of state interests, and the role of norms and ideas in inter-state relations. Subsequent lines of research began formally to incorporate domestic political incentives, and, inspired by the landmark collection edited by Peter J. Katzenstein, The Culture of National Security, collectively held ideas and norms.
No one is sure what effect Russia had on the 2016 presidential election. The U.S. intelligence community and private sector cybersecurity firms are confident that Russian intelligence agencies sponsored efforts to steal and release information from the Democratic National Committee, and from Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta. The stolen emails were mostly banal, but the Trump campaign used them as evidence that Clinton and her party were corrupt and untrustworthy. This may have had the effect of increasing support for Trump, or at least depressing the turnout among would-be Clinton voters. Even small shifts might have changed the result, given the razor-thin margins in key states. But the election was so peculiar in so many ways that it is difficult to attribute the outcome to a single cause. Alleged Russian ‘doxing’–the term for stealing and revealing private information–may or may not have been terribly important compared to other factors in a historically strange campaign.
Max Paul Friedman and Tom Long argue that Latin American foreign policies, particularly those of Argentina, Colombia, and Mexico, constitute a case of ‘soft balancing’ against the United States in the early decades of the twentieth century. Rather than engaging in issue-specific contestation or bilateral negotiations with Washington, Latin American leaders and diplomats focused on building regional institutions and shaping norms in favor of nonviolent dispute resolution and respect for state sovereignty. The named foreign policy doctrines of Argentine jurist and Foreign Minister Luis María Drago, Argentine diplomat Carlos Calvo, and Mexican Foreign Minister Genaro Estrada not only anchored the arguments of international lawyers and the foreign policies of their countries, but also circumscribed, constrained, and influenced U.S. foreign policy in the Americas. Ultimately, the authors argue, Latin American statecraft generated the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration’s Good Neighbor Policy, a commitment to non-intervention that reversed more than three decades of North American military practice in the circum-Caribbean (135, 152).
President Donald Trump has now assumed control over the nation’s arsenal of more than 4,000 nuclear weapons. What will he do with them? We do not yet know the Trump administration’s approach to nuclear strategy, but Trump has offered some clues to his mindset. He has denounced nuclear arms control, declaring that he would welcome a renewed nuclear arms race with Russia. He has indicated that he might be willing to allow Japan and other U.S. allies to acquire nuclear weapons. And he has suggested that he might be willing to use nuclear weapons against the Islamic State.