Brian Rathbun’s Trust in International Cooperation is one of the more important books in recent years written about American foreign policy and multilateral cooperation in world politics. While historians of American foreign policy will find much of interest in the empirical chapters on the origins of the League of Nations and NATO, Rathbun’s primary task is to challenge how International Relations [IR] theorists think about the origins of cooperation. In his view, “the way that most in the field go about explaining international cooperation and the creation of international organizations, as the rational and functional response to objective security environments marked by uncertainty, is almost always too narrow, often obvious, and sometimes exactly wrong” (xi). In contrast to rationalist approaches, which view the creation of multilateral institutions as necessary for the establishment of subsequent relations of trust among states, Rathbun argues that the causal relationship is exactly the opposite: “Trust rather than distrust leads states to create international institutions. It is a cause, not the effect, of international organizations” (5).
In Petro-Aggression: When Oil Causes War, Jeff Colgan provides an indispensable starting point for researchers interested in the relationship between oil and international conflict. Although the term ‘energy security’ is now ubiquitous in political speeches and the media, international relations scholars have only just begun to rediscover the topic after a thirty-year hiatus. The 1970s oil shocks prompted a wave of research in the 1970s and 1980s but did not produce systematic theories about oil and war. Emerging scholarship assesses the potential threats to energy-importing countries and examines how energy security issues shape importers’ foreign policies, including their decisions to use military force. Colgan’s book makes a unique contribution by examining a topic that has otherwise received little attention: how oil might encourage conflict initiation by “petrostates,” which he defines as countries for which oil exports comprise 10% of gross domestic product (GDP) or more (2).
In 2010 U.S. President Barack Obama stated that nuclear terrorism was “the single biggest threat to U.S. security, both short-term, medium-term and long-term”. The events of September 11, 2001 demonstrated the real risk of catastrophic terrorism. It also exacerbated existing fears that groups such as Al-Qaeda would be willing to detonate a nuclear device either on U.S. territory or American valuables abroad. It is one thing to hijack a plane and crash it into a building. It is quite another challenge to obtain a nuclear weapon or the materials needed to assemble a nuclear bomb. Unlike ‘conventional’ arms which proliferate much more easily in the international system, nuclear weapons are much harder to assemble or obtain; a terrorist group would need a state’s assistance to do this. This has raised the issue of terrorism as a technique – that a state might resort to nuclear attack by proxy against the United States and its allies in order to avoid attribution.
Let it be stated at the outset: the virtual weapon has not fundamentally changed the nature of war. Further, insofar as the consequences of its use do not rise to the level of traditional interstate violence, there will be no such thing as cyber ‘war.’ In these respects, those who claim that the contemporary cyber peril is overblown are correct. Yet the Clausewitzian philosophical framework—a cherished device of the cyber skeptics—misses the essence of the cyber revolution: the new capability is expanding the range of possible harm and outcomes between the concepts of war and peace, with important implications for national and international security. The disanalogy of war conveys only what the cyber issue is not; it does not reveal the true significance of the danger, and may even conceal it.
Many scholars and policymakers concerned with the proliferation of nuclear weapons assume that the passage of time has made it much easier for states and terrorist groups to achieve their nuclear ambitions. For example, in their book The Nuclear Express, Thomas Reed and Danny Stillman reflect this common assumption: “Any well-industrialized society with the intellectual firepower, economic resources, and government determination can join the nuclear club less than three years from go.”
Mark Mazower’s Governing the World surveys the evolution of internationalism over the last two centuries. Mazower’s history provides a rich description of how the concept of internationalism has been contested, altered, and manipulated since the early nineteenth century. After reviewing some of the key points in Mazower’s historical narrative, my review makes two points. First, Governing the World could have benefited from a deeper engagement with theories in the field of international relations that seek to explain the rise and fall of institutionalized international cooperation. Second, Mazower’s arguments about the ways in which contemporary internationalism is eroding state sovereignty are underdeveloped, and, ultimately, unpersuasive.
Over the last decade much of the best work in comparative politics and international relations has focused on explaining the onset and termination of civil wars. In her new book, Alliance Formation in Civil Wars, Fotini Christia seeks to explain the constant shifts in alliances that characterize these conflicts. With a combination of theoretical richness, quantitative analysis, and extensive fieldwork in Bosnia and Afghanistan, Christia has produced an important and innovative book that will surely have an important influence on the field of civil war studies and international conflict.
With Cyber War Will Not Take Place, Thomas Rid has written an important volume at a critical juncture of the cyber-conflict debate. In a rush to articulate a new threat after the end of the Cold War, the demise of regional powers in the Middle East and North Africa (such as Syria, Iraq, and Libya, making Israel more secure), and the near total rejection of the Global War on Terror, the next threat to materialize appears to be cyber war. This is the impression one might get if engaging the current security discourse. Both the United Nations and United States have argued that the threat of cyber warfare is greater than the danger of terrorism, a striking reversal barely ten years after 9/11. Yet, as Rid notes (along with others in this developing literature), the threat of cyber warfare often is overstated and near nonexistent. Building on an article in Journal of Strategic Studies (2012), Rid argues, very forcibly, that cyber war will not take place.
Who else but Richard Ned Lebow would, in what is ostensibly a political science book, offer us a dystopian reading of Mozart’s opera, The Magic Flute, complete with the suggestion that a production of the opera should be set in Mao’s China during the Cultural Revolution? Was he envisioning an actual production, since he goes so far as to include details as to how it should be staged? Even those familiar with the broad range of Lebow’s work might be taken aback by the ruthless eclecticism of this particular volume. The Politics and Ethics of Identity: In Search of Ourselves opens with an attack on the notion that there is such a thing as “identity” in any fixed, essential, or ontologically stable sense. Lebow musters evidence from philosophy, neuroscience, and a wealth of other disciplines to make the case for the non-existence of identity. He then devotes the remainder of the book to writing about identity because, despite its non-existence, human beings are deeply preoccupied with questions of identity, and at times such preoccupation can yield tragic and terrible political consequences. There are repeated insinuations in the book (though no sustained causal argument) that the rise of Hitler’s Germany is one such consequence, brought on by what might be described as a national identity crisis which was for Germany, as for Russia, Poland, and Japan, a consequence of being a “late cultural developer” (171). But the book’s exploration of identity ranges far beyond any kind of culturally-deterministic analysis of the “German question.”
The book under discussion here is The Arc of War: Origins, Escalation, and Transformation by two political scientists of international relations, each with impressive track records of work drawing on both historical detail and political science theory. It is a very ambitious book that deserves close attention by an interdisciplinary audience such as the readers of H-Diplo. The authors’ ambition may seem vaulting, and the book is susceptible to tough criticism. Yet ambition can be laudable, and they have their chance to make a spirited rebuttable defense at the end.