The Battle of Bretton Woods coverInternational monetary policy is usually not a topic that lends itself to both intense academic interest and a popular general audience. Benn Steil’s The Battle of Bretton Woods, however, is clearly an exception to this general rule. As William Glenn Gray points out in his review, in less capable hands the wartime monetary negotiations that established the foundation for the postwar economic order can make for quite tedious reading. But Steil breathes new life and controversy into a familiar story by emphasizing the intellectual and political clash between John Maynard Keynes and Harry Dexter White. In stark contrast to the still-common vision of American and British officials cooperatively designing a postwar economic order that would avoid the problems of the interwar era, Steil’s book highlights the competing national interests and power struggles between the two nations, as personified in the struggle between Keynes and White.

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Reconstructing the Cold War coverH-Diplo has assembled a very impressive interdisciplinary (and international) lineup for this roundtable; all four reviewers provide, in my opinion, excellent analysis. Each of them finds much to praise about the book under review, in particular Ted Hopf’s fascinating historical account of Soviet political culture during the first thirteen years of the Cold War and how it shaped, and was shaped by, elite conceptions of Cold War foreign policy.   All of them have some criticisms, primarily methodological ones about Hopf’s employment of International Relations (IR) positivist theorising in the book. In this introduction I will briefly summarise the four reviews and then offer a couple of concluding points.

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Reconceptualizing Deterrence coverIn 1959 Bernard Brodie’s book Strategy in the Missile Age[1] augured in an interesting but relatively short-lived debate over the impact of nuclear weapons on the prospect of war between the United States and the Soviet Union. It appeared amidst a spasm of scholarship on nuclear strategy, deterrence, escalation ladders, limited war and coercive bargaining frameworks. Brodie sensibly concluded that the presence of these weapons had inevitably led the United States into a strategy of deterrence, in which the overarching goal was to prevent the occurrence of war between the United States and the Soviet Union.

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The Rise and Decline of the American Empire coverSomething about the decline of great powers provokes great debates, and this roundtable is no exception. In his latest work, Geir Lundestad deploys the formidable learning he has acquired in a distinguished and prolific career as a diplomatic historian to dissect the current debate on American decline. He considers contemporary concerns in a broad historical context, ultimately reaching a markedly measured assessment: The United States is in relative decline, but it retains unparalleled wellsprings of strength; no power seems likely to […]

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Trust in International Cooperation coverBrian 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).

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Petro-Aggression coverIn 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.[1] 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.[2] 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).

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International Security coverIn 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”.[1] 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.[2]

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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[2]—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.

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Achieving Nuclear Ambitions coverMany 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.”[1]

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Governing the World coverMark 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.

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