Caitlin Talmadge’s recent article in International Security is a major intellectual contribution to a predominantly U.S.-centric debate on the likelihood of Chinese nuclear escalation in a conventional conflict with the United States. In particular, Talmadge’s article is to be commended for providing one of the most rigorous accounts of the scope of a hypothetical U.S. military campaign against China over Taiwan, and relatedly, how this campaign might threaten Chinese nuclear assets, thereby creating operational conditions that might inadvertently push China to go nuclear. Yet this U.S. military-technical challenge is not, for the author, the key issue. Rather, in determining ‘would China go nuclear?’ the author offers another, slightly less developed, answer: it depends on what Chinese leaders believe or think.
When future historians write the story of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), 2017 is likely to go down as the Year of Sound and Fury. With the arrival of the Donald J. Trump administration, the first two-thirds of the year witnessed an array of nominal zig-zags in United States policy towards the transatlantic alliance that would have been inconceivable for any other U.S. administration. Unsurprisingly, commentators on both sides of the Atlantic struggled to make sense of the shifts, with members of the U.S. foreign-policy establishment particularly scathing in their evaluation of Trump’s moves.
During his campaign, Donald Trump made a number of bombastic assertions. For students of international law, the declaration that he would authorize the use of torture was among the more alarming, so there were signs of hope when he took office and appeared to backpedal. Soon after winning the election, President Trump sat down with the New York Times and implied that the winds of public opinion might cause him to shift his position on torture. While James Mattis, his Defense Secretary, had persuaded him that torture was not “useful,” Trump concluded that his decision would depend on whether “Americans feel strongly about bringing back waterboarding and other tactics,” and if so, “I would be guided by that.”
It is good social science practice, and from a Kuhnian perspective expected, that we should seek to understand emerging security dynamics through reference to existing concepts and theory. Erica Borghard, Shawn Lonergan, and Travis Sharp offer such analysis examining cyber capabilities as coercive tools. Appropriately, both articles return to the master, Thomas Schelling, while additionally offering the reader a helpful set of footnoting of the relevant subsequent literature. In stepping back and looking at the fundamental elements of coercion theory, the authors provide an important contribution to current thinking. The challenge for security studies academics attempting to bring our literature to bear in understanding cyberspace is significant. For example, these two articles, published within a month of each other, come to apparently opposite conclusions—the former suggesting that cyber operations are of limited coercive value and the latter allowing that cyber operations might be more effective than critics conclude. This divergence of analysis points to the importance of building a cyber security studies sub-field through more extensive empirical research and theory testing, which both articles attempt. But the divergence of views also highlights the need to consider the development of new explanations beyond existing analytical frameworks.
Political scientists have grown increasingly worried about the gender gap in their profession. According to data provided by the American Political Science Association, while women make up 42 percent of graduate students in the field, they account for only 24 percent of full time professors. While there are far more women in the discipline than even a decade before, most are assistant professors; only 23 percent of associate and full professors are women. Women in academic careers are less likely to get tenure (especially if they have children), and take longer to get promoted than their male colleagues.
As a recent Washington Post article argued, the role of working-class voters in electing Donald Trump has likely been exaggerated. One of the problems with much election analysis, suggest the authors, is that it has used educational levels as the determinant of who belongs to which class. Yet if one uses household income levels under the median of $50,000 a year as the primary criterion, then only about thirty-five percent of those who voted for Trump were working-class. In other words, a majority of Trump supporters were relatively undereducated (lacking college degrees) but were either middle-class or affluent in terms of income.
It is hard to think of anyone better qualified to write an early history of Barack Obama’s foreign policy than Derek Chollet. For over six years, Chollet served the Obama administration with distinction, in senior positions at the State Department, White House, and Defense Department. He is also an accomplished author who has written numerous well-regarded books on the history of American foreign policy. Chollet’s most recent book is The Long Game: How Barack Obama Defied Washington and Redefined America’s Role in the World. It is a lively and insightful insider’s account that, in the time since its publication in 2016, has proven as controversial and thought-provoking as Obama’s statecraft itself.
Catherine Goetze’s The Distinction of Peace is an important book. It breaks new ground in viewing peacebuilding as a field, and analyzing what attracts people to it and what enables some of them to remain. It contributes to research agendas on interventions in conflict zones, power in international encounters, and peacebuilding as a form of practice. What Goetze does particularly well is to show how seemingly commonsensical arguments about the desirability of peace and non-violence are used to create and sustain boundaries of a field, whose tentative insiders draw on the authority embedded in these arguments to position themselves in pursuit of distinction.
Addressing the threat of terrorism, both real and perceived, would be a top priority for any president, but it is especially important for Donald Trump’s administration. Despite the dearth of Islamic State or other foreign-directed mass-casualty attacks on U.S. soil since 9/11, polls from earlier in 2016 showed that 73 percent of Americans saw the Islamic State as a “very serious” threat to the United States, and another 17 percent saw it as “moderately serious”—a rare priority that crosses political lines. Almost 80 percent believed the Islamic State has assets in the United States and can “launch a major terrorist attack against the U.S. at any time.” Exploiting these concerns during the presidential campaign, Trump regularly warned about “a major threat from radical Islamic terrorism,” and tweeted (the forum used for all serious discussions of policy) that “We better get very smart, and very tough, FAST, before it is too late!” President Barack Obama, he claimed, had boxed U.S. generals in with a “strategy that is destined to fail.”
In the first half year of the new Trump administration, United States-Russian relations sped through a series of phases only to end suspended basically where they were on Election Day, 8 November 2016—badly damaged, friction-laden, and immobile. Whatever muddled hopes Russian President Vladimir Putin and his entourage may have had for better times with Trump in the White House and whatever obscure intentions President Trump may have had of improving relations, the two sides remain mired in the new Cold War into which they had plunged in the last years of the Obama administration. Their leaders were like figures in straitjackets: the more they struggled, the more their straitjackets tightened. Straitjackets, it might be noted, of their own manufacture, although each was of a different design. Trump was hamstrung by a Congress angry over the Russians’ interference in the presidential election and the possibility that Trump’s people had helped them, and in any event, persuaded that he meant to ‘go soft’ on Putin. Putin’s constraints were self-imposed. Much as he may have wished to ‘normalize’ the U.S.-Russian relationship, his jaded view of what drives U.S. foreign policy left him unwilling or, worse, unable to do his part to make progress possible.