The Clash of Ideas in World Politics cover

The Clash of Ideas in World Politics is an excellent book. It possesses a persuasive, detailed argument and compelling case study evidence that spans 500 years of diplomatic history. It will be of enduring interest to analysts of international relations.

The book has numerous strengths, though three in particular stand out. First, the book reveals the shortcomings of realist theories of international relations by documenting the centrality of ideologies to leaders’ foreign policies. Specifically, Owen demonstrates that ideologies are frequently critical to how leaders’ understand the threats to their most important domestic and international interests. These threat perceptions, in turn, will tend to have major effects on states’ core security policies, including choices of allies and enemies and efforts to promote by force particular institutions and beliefs in other countries. This last set of choices is the primary focus of Owen’s analysis.

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China the United States and Global Order coverIn this new book, British scholars Rosemary Foot and Andrew Walter attempt to identify the factors that shape Chinese and American behavioral consistency (or lack thereof) with global governance norms and structures. They compare U.S. and Chinese compliance with five sets of norms: the non-use of force except in self-defense and the responsibility to protect, international macroeconomic surveillance regarding exchange rates, nuclear non-proliferation, climate change, and global financial regulatory norms. According to the authors, three factors determine the extent of behavioral consistency: the level of domestic social and political significance, the degree of procedural legitimacy and material distributional fairness, and the distribution of power. With conceptual sophistication and empirical richness, the authors are able to demonstrate that China’s compliance has increased as its economy has become more interdependent with the rest of the world, although in selective ways that reflect particular economic and security interests. Although the United States created the initial institutions, it has performed inconsistently, unable to rein in important domestic constituencies that have an interest in seeing certain norms violated. As a result, the authors were able to weave together three broad issues in one volume: global governance, great-power politics, and international regimes.

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Fixing the Facts coverThe U.S. intelligence failures associated with 9/11 and with Iraqi weapons of mass destruction generated renewed interest in the question of intelligence failure, the study of which had been disproportionately influenced by the study of the failures at Pearl Harbor, Barbarossa, and Yom Kipper.[1] The Iraqi WMD case in particular focused more attention on the question of the politicization of intelligence, an age-old problem but one that had been neglected in studies of the classic cases. The subsequent scholarly literature has focused on the policy question of the proper relationship between intelligence and policy, and on the causal questions of where and when politicization is most likely to occur and the role it plays in the processes leading to intelligence failure.[2]

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Prompted by a couple of colleagues who suggested that I put the forum component of this listserv to work, I would like to offer a response to Robert Vitalis’ review of my piece, “Present at the Creation: Edward Mead Earle and the Depression Era Origins of Security Studies.” First and foremost I would like to thank Vitalis for taking the time to write such a detailed critique.[1]

Vitalis has labored on the turf of international relations (IR) scholarship for some time and has much to say. But, in a rush to get at Earle the scholar (an individual who did not always cut the most sympathetic figure), Vitalis misses texture and crucial substance in the article’s argument.

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A Contest for Supremacy coverIn A Contest for Supremacy: China, America, and the Struggle for Mastery in Asia, Aaron Friedberg argues that fundamental ideological differences, coupled with tensions inherent in power transition, have placed the United States (U.S.) and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on a path toward increasing competition, and, potentially, collision. For all its apprehensiveness about the trajectory of U.S.-China relations, the book offers a familiar proposal for American policymakers. Friedberg proposes to augment ongoing economic, social, and political exchanges between the two countries with more honesty and openness about Sino-American differences. He argues that a reduction in the U.S. appetite for cheap imports and credit, as well as the continued development of American military capabilities and political partnerships in Asia, should accompany this greater frankness. That Friedberg adds another influential voice calling for movement in this direction suggests the development of what may be an emerging mainstream view about China policy in American academic and policymaking circles.

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Liberal Leviathan coverThis is a book about liberal international order. Central focus is on the order created by the United States in the aftermath of World War II; how did this liberal project unfold, what are the core characteristics of it in comparison to other varieties of order, how is the order challenged today, and what are its future prospects? Ikenberry is fundamentally optimistic; the crisis of the current order is a crisis of success, not of failure. The substance of liberal international order—an open and loosely rule-based system—is not in question. The crisis is one of authority, of roles and rights within this order. It follows that liberal international order has a potentially bright future provided that the United States—which continues to be the supreme constructor of liberal order—devotes itself to a grand strategy focused on liberal order building. I find much to agree with in Ikenberry’s masterful analysis, but I also argue that the book is too optimistic on behalf of liberal order and that the problems besetting it run deeper than a mere crisis of authority.

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Terrorism and National Security Reform coverInternational crises often give rise to commissions designed to assess the origins of the crises and to generate reforms that might improve American foreign and defense policies. Jordan Tama’s exceptional study assesses the impact of fifty-one Congressional and Executive commissions established between 1961 and 2006 that focused on issues of national security and terrorism.

 

 

 

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International Security coverIn this article, the Tufts University historian David Ekbladh recalls the intellectual and institution-building work of a pre-Cold War professor of international relations, Edward Mead Earle (1894-1954).[1] Earle was one among many progressive (in his case a self-identified “new historian”) critics of American imperialism in the 1920s who revised their views and in some cases political allegiances in response to the challenge of “totalitarianism.” Ekbladh’s next book studies the interwar origins and dissemination of ideas in support of “a new American globalism” after World War II. The conceit of this essential, stand-alone piece on Earle is that he matters more than current practitioners know to the “birth” of the field of “security studies,” one strand of this new muscular globalism (or, better, interventionism). Security studies wasn’t a response to the Cold War, as virtually every insider account of its evolution insists, but rather to “the unraveling of international order” ten years earlier, and Earle was “[t]he central figure in its rise” (108, emphasis mine). Ekbladh identifies him as a “prophet” for having written a grant application in 1939 calling for “a historical and critical grand strategy for the United States” (119), although others were also busy at the time writing books of this type, and Earle never actually delivered on the promise.

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Intelligence and US Foreign Policy coverIntelligence is an odd area of study.  While it has always been fascinating to the general public, until recently it was the “missing dimension” of foreign policy, ignored by serious scholars because information was lacking and it had the stigma of being the playground for cranks if not frauds.  The increasing availability of documents, a changed political atmosphere, and a flood of books and journals have created a very different situation.  A second unusual characteristic is that while some of the recent studies have been written by people who have worked in the academy, more are produced by scholars who have spent time in the intelligence community (IC) and by former members of the IC.

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The Shadow of the Past coverGregory Miller’s book begins with a theoretical discussion of the importance of ‘reputation’ in international politics, before analysing its role in four case studies taken from European diplomacy before 1914. To a quite unusual extent, his study consists of an extended critique of a single book – and one published in the same series with the same editors – Jonathan Mercer’s Reputation and International Politics.[1] Three of Miller’s case studies were used also by Mercer, and the two writers draw on very similar source material. Miller repeatedly cites and refutes Mercer’s work, up to four times on a single page (p. 176). To a large extent Miller’s book must be read as a foil to an earlier contribution rather than as a stand-alone study.

 

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