In this article, Michael Beckley makes an important contribution to how scholars measure state power, arguing that net rather than gross indicators of a state’s military and economic resources better capture a state’s capabilities. The question of how to measure state power is central to both theoretical and policy debates. In theoretical terms, power lies at the center of any effort to understand how states can influence one another in the international arena. Arguably no outcome in international affairs can be properly understood without attention to the relative power of the actors involved. Likewise, some of the most important policy debates hinge on perceptions of relative power, including those over the rise of China and the strategic posture the United States ought to adopt as a result. Advocates of U.S. retrenchment tend to argue that China is rapidly closing the gap in capabilities with the United States and will soon eclipse U.S. capabilities. Beckley and others who advocate a strategy of deep engagement argue that the United States still enjoys, and will likely continue to enjoy for the foreseeable future, a sizeable advantage over China. It is an ambitious objective to take on such a core question, and Beckley should be applauded for challenging widely established approaches to using power as a variable and suggesting ways to improve those approaches that are both promising and parsimonious.
I think it is fair to say that over the past hundred years most academic students of international politics have urged the United States to take a more active position in the world, one that was more commensurate with its economic power and stake in what was happening around the globe. Roughly a decade ago this began to shift, with many in the field, especially those of the Realist persuasion, urging that it would be better for the U.S. and for others for it to be less assertive. Stephen Walt’s The Hell of Good Intentions is one of the strongest statements, of this view; our reviewers’ evaluations are not surprisingly correlated with their own views of the subject. Michael Desch has written in a vein similar to Walt’s and says that “many superlatives” can be applied to “Walt’s fine book”; Paul MacDonald has written about the virtues of retrenchment and finds the book “provocative” and “persuasive;” Sergey Radchenko, an historian from the UK who has not been deeply involved in debates on current American foreign policy says that Walt’s damning description “rings true”; Kori Schake is a distinguished member of the foreign policy establishment that Walt so strongly criticizes and perceives this book as “not so much a work of scholarship as a diatribe.”
Efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons have been in the news lately, given the U.S. negotiations with North Korea over its nuclear weapons facilities and missile sites and with Iran after President Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement that President Barack Obama and the leaders of other nations had finalized with Iran to halt its nuclear program. Recent studies on nuclear weapons with respect to nonproliferation policies as well as efforts to control the nuclear weapons arms illustrate the challenges in attempts to halt the spread of nuclear capabilities as well as in containing the development of new missiles by the major powers. This special issue of The International History Review, which focuses on the 1970s, includes with twelve articles, as well as an introduction by editors Leopoldo Nuti and David Holloway, a penetrating historiographical article by Nuti, and a succinct conclusion by Holloway.
In this roundtable, four of international relations’ finest scholars evaluate Marcus Holmes’s Face-to-Face Diplomacy: Social Neuroscience and International Relations, a bold effort to bring research on brains to bear on questions of high-stakes summitry. While international relations scholars identify uncertainty, particularly the problem of judging the intentions of other states, as a central and essentially unsolvable problematique, Holmes disagrees. Research shows that our neural architecture is set up to simulate the mental states of others when we meet face-to-face, something that we do unconsciously and intuitively. Holmes draws the conclusions of this central claim for the study of diplomacy, a process that is finally receiving the theoretical and empirical attention it deserves. All of the reviewers agree that this interdisciplinary-inspired book offers a new look at an old question of international relations. Andrew Ross writes, “Holmes leverages this account of intersubjectivity to dismantle an entire edifice of theorizing built on the problem of other minds, inaccessible intentions, and the distrust that ensues therein. The result is a potential game-changer not only for the study of diplomacy but also for efforts to understand other forms of social interaction in international affairs.” They also praise him for his adroit use of history. The book explores the power of face-to-face diplomacy in case studies that include the interactions of presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush with Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev, the Munich summit between British prime minister Neville Chamberlain and Nazi Germany’s Adolf Hitler, and the Camp David summit in which President Jimmy Carter brokered peace between Egypt and Israel.
In October 1970, Lithuanian father and son Pranas and Algirdas Brazinskas hijacked regional Soviet Aeroflot flight 244. Several minutes into the flight between two cities in the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic, the elder Brazinskas handed the flight attendant a message for the pilot demanding that he divert the flight to Turkey and cease radio communications. The crew resisted, and in the resulting melee, the nineteen-year-old flight attendant was shot and killed, and the pilot and another crew member were injured. The Brazinskases soon occupied the cockpit and compelled the pilot to land the plane in Trabzon, Turkey—effectively escaping the Soviet Union and the possibility of extradition.
“Would U.S. leaders push the button?” Reid B. C. Pauly provocatively asks in the title of his recent International Security article. We know from history that the answer to that question has been an almost unqualified no. To date, President Harry S. Truman remains the only world leader to have ordered nuclear weapons to be used in war; since the atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki no leader has pushed this symbolic nuclear button. This non- use of nuclear weapons has puzzled scholars for decades.
After the end of the Cold War many scholars thought that other states would balance against the United States since it now lacked a rival superpower to check it, and with the apparent abuse of its power epitomized by the invasion of Iraq in 2003 these expectations were heightened. In parallel, many observers thought that China’s rise would call up a local counter-balancing coalition. These predictions did not come true, leading scholars to wonder whether balance of power theory was obsolete—or even wrong. T.V. Paul shined a new light on this question with his seminal article, “Soft Balancing in the Age of U.S. Primacy,” in 2005. Since then, the concept of “soft balancing” has become a staple of the literature, with multiple applications and critiques. To this Paul has now added a full volume that pushes the argument further.
Nuclear strategy can be a difficult subject to study. In the end, our main preoccupation is understanding why there has not been a thermonuclear war, and what we can do to continue this streak. It is close to impossible to craft definite statements about an event that never happened. We have a strong hunch that nuclear deterrence prevents other states from using their weapons. Deterrence, however, is based on characteristics—fear, resolve, assurance—that are psychological in nature, and hard to observe or measure except after deterrence has failed. Nuclear proliferation and nonproliferation can be equally confounding. Given the benefits that nuclear possession supposedly conveys upon states—more or less securing their independence and protecting them from invasion—the fact that the number of states possessing the bomb is in the single digits, far fewer than anyone would have predicted a half century ago, is surprising.
At the heart of effective statecraft lies the burden of ascertaining the best available truth about the capabilities and intentions of a state’s allies and adversaries. Equal to the high stakes of intelligence performance is the difficulty of the tasks involved. The importance of knowing one’s enemies confronts the enemies of intelligence in a contest that often enough favors the latter. Because intelligence failure is inevitable over time, intelligence agencies are subject to intense external and internal scrutiny. Feeling burned by previous intelligence failures, political leaders may question, sometimes repeatedly, the veracity of the conclusions their intelligence analysts provide; in the extreme, whole-scale organizational and procedural reforms can be imposed so to avoid the commission of similar mistakes in the future. One under-studied form of internally-derived correction that comes in the wake of major intelligence failures is the degree of urgency with which intelligence judgments are rendered.
We find it somewhat unusual to have a book review essay reviewed by another scholar. But we are pleased that H-Diplo chose to accord our piece “Is Grand Strategy a Research Program? A Review Essay,” this honor. We are also pleased that Dr. Nina Silove chose to devote the time and effort to this task.