Fintan Hoey’s book Satō, America, and the Cold War is a detailed, somewhat revisionist examination of the diplomacy of Japanese Prime Minister Satō Eisaku (in office 1964-1972), especially toward the United States.  In contrast to prevailing scholarship that has tended to portray Satō as either an unwitting pawn of the United States, a dull, wishy-washy technocrat who survived by never committing to anything, or a cynical political operator who knowingly sacrificed Japan’s national interests to burnish his personal legacy, Hoey seeks to argue that “Satō Eisaku was a visionary statesman and leader” who “skillfully navigate[d] the ship of state” through rough currents to become “not only one of the great leaders of modern Japan, but also a major statesman of the twentieth century” (1, 21, 181).

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It is difficult to pinpoint the moment at which I decided to pursue a Ph.D. in Political Science or to focus on political theory.  I think of it more as a slow drift.  I grew up until 13 in Ethiopia and Botswana.  My dad, a biologist, taught at Addis Ababa University (AAU) and the University of Botswana, but while I had an academic parent, it never occurred to me that it would be my path too.  My dad’s trajectory was part of a generational experience.  He attended AAU at the height of the Ethiopian Student Moment and right before the Ethiopian revolution.  In a Cold War context, he won a United States Agency for International Development (USAID) scholarship to study in the U.S., which allowed him to escape much of the repression of the 1970s.  Yet, like many of his friends and colleagues, he pursued this opportunity with the intention of returning home to support the work of transforming his native land.  Both his research and pedagogical preoccupations were tightly wound up with Ethiopia’s developmental project.

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The politics of alliance formation is central to the study of international relations.  Many prominent alliances have been forged since the end of the Napoleonic Wars, including the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949 and the Warsaw Pact in 1955.  Less well known is the fact that many treaty negotiations ended in failure.  On these occasions, two or more countries wanted to form an alliance treaty but ultimately could not agree on the terms.  The book featured in this roundtable, Paul Poast’s Arguing About Alliances: The Art of Agreement in Military-Pact Negotiations, seeks to explain why some treaty negotiations fail while others succeed.

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Assessments of President Donald Trump in any future history of the U.S. intelligence Community (IC) will differ dramatically from those of any of his predecessors.  While Trump made little use of the IC to inform or implement policy, he abused and ignored it incessantly.  The closest precedent is Richard Nixon.  Yet Nixon reserved his scorn largely for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and kept it private.  Trump is an equal-opportunity abuser and rages publicly.  The IC struggled mightily to recover from the Nixon years.  The same can be said for the aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy and the flawed National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction.  The damage done by Trump and his enablers may prove irreparable.  He gauged the IC according to its service to his own, not the national, interests.  Because intelligence professionals refused to politicize their estimates, Trump politicized their leadership.  If there is a silver lining, it is the potential for a better and more accountable institution to emerge.  Achieving that outcome won’t be easy, however, and it will take precious time.

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George Floyd protests in Washington DC. H St. Lafayette Square.

George Floyd protests in Washington DC. H St. Lafayette Square. 30 May 2021, 21:32. By Rosa Pineda – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=90812203

As 2021 begins, the United States confronts two immediate threats.  First, the COVID-19 pandemic has killed more than 400,000 Americans, and is projected to kill more than 500,000 by the end of February 2021, even if states respond to growing infection rates by issuing social distancing mandates.[1]  This means that one year of the pandemic has already killed roughly the same number of Americans as were killed in all four years of World War II, and the pandemic death toll will of course continue to rise. It has also created a recession that has seen the unemployment rate reach its highest level since the Great Depression.[2]  Second, the legitimacy of the U.S. government and democratic institutions are in crisis.  After months of false claims from former President Donald Trump and his allies, nearly one-third of Americans erroneously believe that President Joe Biden only won the 2020 election through voter fraud.[3]  And on 6 January 2021, an angry mob that had been so deceived stormed the Capitol Building and effectively took it over for several hours, in a direct assault on the U.S. Congress and democratic institutions that left five people dead and many more injured.

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In The Costs of Conversation: Obstacles to Peace Talks in Wartime, Oriana Skylar Mastro tackles an undertreated and undertheorized topic in security studies—the decision to begin negotiations with an adversary during war.  The result is an elegantly presented and persuasively argued theory that she applies to carefully considered case studies.  For scholars, Mastro’s book will be a valued addition to the literature on security studies as well as theoretically informed work on diplomatic history.  For policymakers, the book provides a straightforward logic to help untangle, clarify, and potentially correct mistaken intuition and conventional wisdom about the factors that shape an adversary’s willingness to enter negotiations during military conflict.

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Becoming an intellectual historian of France’s modern overseas empire, and its legitimating discourses, was perhaps overdetermined in my case.  I was born in a small Midwestern town near Peoria in the late 1950s, and my family of seven (the fifth sibling was still in utero) moved to the Netherlands for five years when I was five.  My father was a manufacturer’s representative, peddling American-made work gloves at a time when mighty little companies were still thriving in rural Illinois alongside odiferous family-owned hog farms and acres and acres of corn.  In the 1960s, European nations were just beginning to develop the North Sea oil reserves, and their workers were my father’s target market.  Within a couple of years of our arrival in The Hague, my parents decided to send their twin daughters (I was one of them) to the Lycée français, on the theory that learning a foreign language was a good idea and that French was a more “useful” language to acquire than Dutch.

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In 1895 Henry Cabot Lodge declared that the United States had compiled “a record of conquest, colonization, and territorial expansion unequalled by any people in the 19th century.”[1]  Throughout the nineteenth century, the United States, motivated by a potent mixture of security, economic, and ideological motives, pushed westward, subjugating once sovereign Native tribes and dismantling European empires on the North American continent.  But, as Richard Maass argues, while U.S. expansion was vast in scope, Americans often left valuable territory on the table.  He argues that, even when annexation would have been profitable, democracy and xenophobia—more often than not, outright racism—blocked the United States from claiming territory. American leaders could not envision conquering land without incorporating it as a state; European imperial arrangements were illegitimate.  At the same time, if politicians believed that annexation would either weaken their political influence, or “worsen” their political (white) identity, annexation was impossible.

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Leo Ribuffo should be writing this reflection on the four years since Donald Trump’s election.  Diane Labrosse kindly asked me to contribute after reading my 2017 remarks celebrating Ribuffo’s pathbreaking 1983 The Old Christian Right: The Protestant Far Right from the Great Depression to the Cold War.  Andrew Hartman put together the roundtable that took place just weeks before Ribuffo unexpectedly passed away and made sure the papers, including Ribuffo’s, were published.  But Labrosse’s kind invitation to contribute to H-Diplo gave me a chance to revisit the Old Christian Right, Ribuffo’s 2017 essay on Donald Trump and the uses and abuses of Richard Hofstadter’s “paranoid style,” and what I wrote less than a year into the Trump Administration.[1]

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