Geoffrey Chapman, Hassan Elbahtimy, and Susan B. Martin test a framework for assessing the security implications of chemical weapons (CW) use in the twenty-first century in their recent Security Studies paper. The authors state that they were motivated by the erosion of a norm of disuse, commonly known as the chemical weapons taboo.[1] In this context, they assess the strategic and tactical utility of CW by the Syrian state as part of its ongoing civil war. Two incidents of CW use are analyzed in detail; one in which a nerve agent was used and another in which gas chlorine was employed. Overall this work has important implications for a more rigorous and better understanding of the use of unconventional weapons in modern warfare.

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In the ongoing saga of contemporary populism, France’s Yellow Vest movement has sounded something like the other shoe dropping. In 2016, Brexit and Donald Trump’s election shattered prevailing political orthodoxies by mobilizing populations around a potent cocktail of xenophobia, protectionism, and sovereignism. Forces with a family resemblance to these movements are calling the shots in Italy, Hungary, and Poland. Yet while France had for years been a major breeding ground of far-right ideas, it seemed, in its May 2017 presidential election, to dodge the populist bullet: Emmanuel Macron’s triumph over Marine Le Pen was widely touted as a victory of hope, tolerance, and internationalism over fear, hate, and nationalist retrenchment.Continue reading

With apologies to Tolstoy, every coercive dictatorship is coercive in its own way. This is the central claim of Sheena Greitens important and timely study of authoritarianism, Dictators and Their Secret Police. Greitens argues that dictators face not only the usual array of external threats that all leaders confront; they also face a daunting array of violent internal threats that can range from elite-led coups all the way to general popular uprisings. Different dictators perceive and prioritize these threats differently, and adjust the design of their institutions of state coercion accordingly. These different configurations of state coercion yield their own differential implications for the political choices confronting citizens and their likely behavior in response. Ultimately, Greitens argues that she can trace political behavior all the way from a leader’s perceptions of threat to the response of citizens, thus providing a theory of institutional design and evolution. She demonstrates this claim with detailed studies of the evolution of dictatorships in the Philippines, Taiwan, and South Korea, and more summary considerations of Iraq, East Germany, and Chile.

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What factors would propel a conventional war into a nuclear one? Would leaders know whether their military operations were driving the other toward a decision to use nuclear weapons? If we can identify potential escalation flashpoints in peacetime, what unilateral or cooperative steps can the United States and other countries take to minimize the risks of nuclear catastrophe? These are tough questions of increasing salience as competition between the United States and Russia and China intensifies. We cannot meaningfully reduce nuclear risks among the major powers if we do not understand them. Fortunately, a number of scholars and practitioners are tackling this set of issues.[1]

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“Divided priorities: why and when allies differ over military intervention” by Ronald R. Krebs and Jennifer Spindel is an important piece of research. The authors challenge the validity of the claim that weaker allies value their patrons’ hawkish postures in distant conflicts. This claim, first put forward by Glen Snyder in Deterrence and Defense (1961), reasons that a patron’s limited foreign interventions make allies feel reassured of their own defense commitment with their patron state: if their benefactor is willing to fight for places of trivial intrinsic and strategic importance, it will surely also be willing to fight for them if the necessity arises.[1]

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The Bridging the Gap book series at Oxford University Press publishes works that are theoretically grounded and policy relevant. The co-editors—Bruce Jentleson, Steve Weber, and I—marked the formal launch of the series in 2018 with the publication of Georgetown University Professor Matthew Kroenig’s The Logic of American Nuclear Strategy.

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What it takes to forge peace in conflict-affected societies is an enduring source of debate for scholars in peace studies and comparative politics. It is also a source of dispute among peacebuilding organizations, their country offices, and local stakeholders. In Global Governance and Local Peace, Susanna P. Campbell explores this complicated and sometimes contentious relationship, and asks what is required for peacebuilding communities to become genuine learning organizations.

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International relations scholars and practitioners have long recognized that status is an important factor in world politics and that state motivations to enhance or maintain status are an important cause of international conflict. Until recently, however, no one had succeeded in defining the amorphous concept of status in a way that could generate a coherent set of theoretical generalizations and guide an empirical research strategy to test those generalizations. In the last decade that has begun to change, as we have seen a wave of theoretical and empirical analyses of the sources and consequences of status motivations. The study of status is now one of the liveliest research programs in the international relations field. In Fighting for Status, Jonathan Renshon has taken another significant step in moving the analysis of status from theoretical intuition to social scientific analysis, and in so doing has re-shaped the study of status in the international relations field.

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When the first volume of Stephen Kotkin’s biography of Stalin appeared in 2014, it was clear that the author had undertaken a gigantic intellectual effort to put Joseph Stalin’s personality in the wider context of the Russian and world history of his time and that he would maintain this ambitious perspective in the volumes that followed. The second volume wholly lives up to such a promise, even in the face of the even more serious challenge posed by covering the years between 1929 and 1941. As Kotkin remarks, whereas in the first volume Stalin was often “offstage for long stretches as global developments unfolded around him,” here he is present “on nearly every page” (xii). By no means was Stalin perceived as a crucial personality in global affairs even in the late 1920s, but he achieved world-wide celebrity in the 1930s through the ‘revolution from above,’ program. His fame reached its peak with the fatal choice of the Pact with Nazi Germany in 1939. While Leon Trotsky was his antagonist in the struggle to become Vladimir Lenin’s heir, the crossing of paths with Adolf Hitler now occupied center stage for Stalin in the increasingly dangerous context of world politics.

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