Growing up in 1970s Phoenix was hardly an obvious starting point for a career as a historian of Modern Europe.  In formal terms of American history, Arizona was one of the newest political entities of the New World, having only acquired statehood in 1912, the last territory in the contiguous United States to do so, followed by Alaska and Hawaii in 1959.  The state’s cultural identity oscillated between the poles of Texas and California, and loyalties to sports teams generally split along these lines, especially since the state only had one major sports franchise at the time.  Phoenix was a fairly sleepy town through the 1970s, mostly serving as an overland stop on the way to the beaches of San Diego and Los Angeles, or a winter holiday destination for retiree ‘snow birds’ from the Midwest looking to play golf and tennis in January.  Geographically and culturally, the East Coast was very far away, to say nothing of Old World Europe.  Local history taught in school was provincial and colonial, pivoting on recounting the glories of the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) and the Gadsden Purchase of 1854, landgrabs trumpeted as triumphant tales of Manifest Destiny.  The typical diet of national(ist) history was occasionally complemented by forays into a more open-minded “world history,” usually conveyed in UNESCO-style “separate but equal” modules on Egyptian, Aztec, Greek and Roman Civilizations.  I don’t remember much of it, mainly because school knowledge of history was tested exclusively through tedious multiple-choice examinations.  I was able to memorize facts and dates quite easily, so that meant that I did well in history courses and probably carried on with them for that reason, with not much thought devoted to it.

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We completed this article in September 2021, just as the Taliban defeated the American-supported government of Afghanistan, and the United States worked to transport all of its citizens out of the country along with the people of Afghanistan who worked for and with its troops, contractors, and officials.  On the liberal internationalism front, this is a set-back for the United States.  Not only was an ostensibly aspiring democratic U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan defeated, but the withdrawal from the country was arguably undertaken without full consultation with the United States’ allies who had sent troops and aid in this American-led effort.  What, then, can we now say about the future of liberal internationalism (LI)?

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States in competition with each other have powerful incentives to engage in deception.  Adversaries use deception to convince each other that their resolve is high and that they possess powerful military capabilities.[1] More puzzling is why states that are aligned with each other—which is understood as “a set of mutual expectations between two or more states that they will have each other’s support in disputes or wars with particular other states”[2]—engage in deception.  Aligned states would seem, at first glance, to have good reasons to share information about their intentions and plans with each other comprehensively.  This sharing facilitates coordination policies towards a common foe and makes joint action more effective.  Such comprehensive sharing of information does occur, but on some occasions aligned states withhold valuable information from each other or deliberately lie about their intentions and capabilities.  Perhaps the most notorious recent example is the George W. Bush administration’s exaggeration of claims that Iraq possessed a weapons of mass destruction program, which had the goal of persuading aligned states such as Britain, France, and Saudi Arabia to support military action against the country.[3]

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This is the story of the winding path from my arrival at grad school to my dissertation and first book, The Psychology of Nuclear Proliferation: Identity, Emotions, and Foreign Policy.[2] My hope is that a step-by-step account of my journey will serve as useful comparative data for young scholars embarking on their own paths.

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Eric D. Weitz was a colleague and friend who was taken from us prematurely on July 1, 2021.  Fittingly, H-Diplo is hosting a forum to honor his memory.  When I approached Taner Akçam, Anne Kornhauser, Norman Naimark, and Mary Nolan to participate, they accepted without hesitation.  I selected these scholars in order to cover the various phases and dimensions of Weitz’s illustrious career and extensive oeuvre: we have appraisals by a historian of German culture, one of German and Soviet communism, and one of global genocide and human rights.  In his eulogy, Taner Akçam adds a personal appreciation of Weitz’s assistance in the early phases of his career that enabled him to stay and become the foremost scholar of the Armenian genocide in the United States rather than elsewhere.  Such solidarity with a foreign scholar who had a precarious status in the U.S. was characteristic of Eric.  Everyone I have come across who knew Weitz has a story to share about gestures that attest to his generosity of spirit.  Perhaps his evident delight in shared human company compensated for the darkness of the subjects we research.

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I was brought up in a small town in west-central Iowa, where my father was a lawyer and long-time mayor.  He was a conservative Republican, critical of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal; Charles Tansill’s Back Door to War: The Roosevelt Foreign Policy, was his favorite book.[1] Politicians would seek him out in their travels across the state since he was a local opinion leader.  In 1952, when I was a junior in high school, he encouraged me to support Senator Robert Taft for the Republican nomination and, after Taft’s loss to Dwight Eisenhower, he endorsed the Republican nominee and joined in the Republican campaign in Iowa.  I heard Eisenhower speak in Boone, Iowa, and shook the great man’s hand as he moved down the aisle of a campaign train.H-Diplo Essay 387

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Rosemary A. Kelanic’s, Black Gold and Blackmail: Oil and Great Power Politics and Emily Meierding’s, The Oil Wars Myth: Petroleum and the Causes of International Conflict are deeply engaging and important books that advance our knowledge on the politics of energy security.[1] Both books challenge many existing assumptions on the role of oil in international conflict and power projection.  In Black Gold and Blackmail, Kelanic focuses on the energy security strategies of great powers and explains how those powers secure oil supplies during war.  Specifically, based on a meticulous “observation of great power oil policies since World War I,” Kelanic identifies three “anticipatory strategies,” mainly “self-sufficiency, indirect control, and direct control” to avert attempts at “oil coercion” (3).  In The Oil Wars Myth, Meierding argues that the idea of “wars over oil” is a myth and demonstrates why and how it is important to revisit existing claims about the relationship between the value of oil and the initiation of wars.[2] Specifically, Meierding outlines “four sets of impediments,” which she refers to as “invasion, occupation, international, and investment obstacles” to explain why states refrain from launching conflicts to grab petroleum resources (5).[3]

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Do nuclear weapons revolutionize world politics?  For decades, the standard answer from international relations scholars has been a resounding yes.  This mainstream view, known as ‘The Theory of the Nuclear Revolution,’ is associated with scholars such as Kenneth Waltz, Robert Jervis, and Charles Glaser.  [1]It argues that nuclear weapons generate a condition of mutual vulnerability that stalemates the military balance, makes further competition pointless and irrational, and generally pacifies the international system.

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The November 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall ushered in myriad discussions about German reunification.  In addition to questions about the domestic future of Germany, concerns over who would be responsible for Germany’s security and stability and with whom the new German state would ally persisted.  Marc Trachtenberg revisits the February 1990 meeting wherein United States Secretary of State James Baker assured the Soviet Union that the U.S. would not support NATO’s eastward expansion if Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev would accept its presence in a newly reunified Germany.  While both the Soviet Union and the United States expressed an understanding of the consequences of leaving Germany to unilaterally reestablish its own security, Baker’s statement was remarkable.  Perhaps even more remarkable, though, was the Soviet Union’s willingness to accept this condition knowing that it would likely alter the global balance of power, at least in the short term.  Thirty years later, Germany remains a successful example of reunification as a democratic state reintegrated into the international system.  A key exception from what was envisioned in that February meeting, however, is that in the same thirty-year period NATO grew from sixteen to thirty member states – it expanded significantly further than Baker’s “one inch” east promise.[1] The United States’ ultimate decision to support and advocate in favor of NATO expansion post-Cold War was met with Russian condemnation which persists to this day.

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H-Diplo asked me to contribute to this new series about the formative years of scholars who do diplomatic and political international history.  As I was thinking about my assignment, it occurred to me that I was one of the very few and privileged who grew up and studied in the Soviet Union at the end of its existence, and still stayed in the profession.  We were pushed, one may say by the forces of history itself, to deal with such exciting topics as the Cold War and international relations.  To explain how it happened, I have to write an autobiographical rather than an analytical essay.

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