The United States faces a host of strategic geopolitical challenges today, many of which have long been brewing as a result of structural changes and some of which have been self-inflicted by successive administrations, most recently and most especially the Trump Administration.  In An Open World, Rebecca Lissner and Mira Rapp-Hooper deliver a lucid and incisive diagnosis of these multidimensional strategic challenges that is strengthened by their admirable restraint in dwelling on where any blame should be apportioned and is written in precise and elegant prose.  Their goal is to provide a clear-eyed assessment of the current geopolitical landscape facing the U.S. and to chart a strategy for how the U.S. should navigate the world it faces today in order to advance its national interests in a manner that is in line with its values — and they succeed, to a very large extent, on both counts.  An Open World is an important and timely contribution from two scholar–practitioners who wrote this immensely relevant book with the explicit aim of bringing rigorous research to bear on American foreign policy and are now positioned, as senior national security officials in the Biden Administration, to work to bring parts of their vision to fruition as they contribute to the new National Security Strategy and beyond.[1]

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Throughout his years in the public eye, former president Donald Trump has frequently said things that reveal his belief that the construct of ‘race’ is a valid measure of human difference and human worth.  In countless public utterances, he has used racist, derogatory language to insult, belittle, and abuse non-white people.  He has also conflated whiteness with American-ness, implying that the United States is a racial community of white people whose non-white residents cannot be incorporated into the nation because of their race.  After all, he rose to national political prominence primarily through his prolonged racist campaign against President Barack Obama, claiming that Obama had been born in Kenya and was also a Muslim.  And his announcement in June 2015 that he would seek the presidency featured the defining comment of what might be called Trump’s “racial panic.” Speaking about immigration to a group of cheering supporters, Trump said, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best.  They’re not sending you.  They’re not sending you.  They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us.  They’re bringing drugs.  They’re bringing crime.  They’re rapists.  And some, I assume, are good people.”[1]

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“So how do you compare women’s status in the U.S. and Japan?” Despite advance preparation, I had not anticipated this question.  I froze.  No, I was not defending my master’s thesis.  The question was posed by an immigration officer at Milwaukee International Airport.  I was returning to the University of Wisconsin, Madison, after a winter break in my native Japan, and my reason for re-entry, stated in my immigration document, was graduate education in sociology and women’s studies.  Before me was a female agent of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), her blonde hair pulled back in a tight bun, her blue eyes expressionless, and her holstered handgun gleaming.  At graduate school I was accustomed to handling questions under a figurative gun but never a literal one.  If I gave a “wrong” answer, I wondered, would I get into trouble?

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Paul W. Schroeder, emeritus professor of history and political science at the University of Illinois and perhaps the most distinguished diplomatic historian of his generation, died last December at the age of 93.  In the course of his long career Schroeder wrote four major books:  The Axis Alliance and Japanese-American Relations, 1941 (1958);  Metternich’s Diplomacy at Its Zenith, 1820-1823 (1962);  Austria, Great Britain, and the Crimean War: The Destruction of the European Concert (1972); and his masterpiece, The Transformation of European Politics, 1763-1848 (1994).[1]  He also published a large number of articles, some of which were quite influential, dealing mostly with European great power politics in the century and a half before the outbreak of the First World War, but covering other subjects as well.[2]

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On Earth Day 2021, at a U.S.-organized climate summit, the Biden administration pledged to cut U.S. emissions to half of 2005 levels by 2030 and earmark billions in new development aid for environmental projects in developing countries.  It was a bold recommitment to climate multilateralism, the administration argued, a restoration of U.S. leadership in the system of global climate governance: the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and its scientific body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).[1] Both the IPCC, launched in 1988, and the UNFCCC, created at the landmark 1992 “Earth Summit” in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, received strong bipartisan support from a Republican White House and Democratic House and Senate.

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President Joe Biden has called the current moment an “inflection point,” both domestically and internationally.[2] In the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election, some forces within the Republican Party have made clear that they no longer believe democracy is in the best interests of their party.  Rather than adjusting their message and policies to broaden their base of support, many in the GOP have doubled down in support of baseless claims of electoral fraud to enact voter suppression laws in the hopes of increasing their odds of success at the ballot box in the 2022 midterm elections and beyond.[3]

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“It’s the economy, stupid!” While this phrase was initially coined by Democratic Party nominee Bill Clinton’s campaign to emphasize the importance of a struggling domestic US economy in the presidential race of the early 1990s, today, it appears applicable to the international realm as well.[1] For several decades, IR scholars have drawn a separation between the economic and security realms.  Concretely, the established “neo-neo synthesis” in IR literature posits that whereas considerations about relative gains characterize the security relations between states, the prospect for absolute gains informs economic interactions.[2] Recent developments in international politics, however, are putting in question the continued relevance of the neo-neo synthesis in thinking about statecraft.  China’s growing economy, for instance, was long viewed through the lens of economic opportunity by American policymakers.  Today, in contrast, China’s economic rise is increasingly seen by Washington as a threat to (American) firms, workers, and consumers.[3] In a similar vein, narratives about weaponized interdependence – the practice of “leveraging global networks of informational and financial exchange for strategic advantage” – are becoming increasingly popular.[4] More fundamentally, policymakers and pundits have raised questions about the orthodoxies of “win-win globalization,” and the underlying assumption that increased economic interdependence promotes “peace and cooperation by increasing the cost of conflict between states.”[5]

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It starts, of course, with the wall.  From its earliest moments, the campaign of Donald Trump for the presidency of the United States was predicated on hardening the border between the United States and Mexico, and by extension, between the United States and Latin America—the border where, as Gloria Anzaldúa wrote more than three decades ago, “the Third World grates against the first and bleeds.”[1] Rubbing salt in those borderland wounds, Trump began his campaign with a call to seal the United States off from supposed horrors emerging from the south, rendering ‘drugs’ and ‘crime’ as external threats carried across the border by people themselves deemed ‘illegal.’

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Audrey Kurth Cronin’s new monograph, Power to the People: How Open Technological Innovation is Arming Tomorrow’s Terrorists, makes a valuable contribution to the literature on terrorism, technological innovation, and the evolving nature of national security in the twenty-first century.  The book deserves to be widely read by scholars and policymakers.  Deborah Avant, Boyd P. Brown III, and Jennifer Spindel have supplied us with insightful reviews that interrogate, respectively, the book’s theoretical framework, its historical underpinnings, and its policy implications.  Cronin’s response helpfully answers some of her reviewers’ questions and acknowledges where more work is to be done.  In my introduction to this roundtable, I do not wish to recapitulate either Cronin’s or her reviewers’ arguments, since they all speak quite ably for themselves.  What I do want to do is take a step back and try to illuminate some of the broader issues at play.  In short, what does Power to the People tell us about the state of terrorism studies in 2021?

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