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.
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.
“We need to rethink how democratic politics relate to foreign policy behavior” (444). This is how Vipin Narang and Paul Staniland describe the objective of their article, one that they achieve with theoretical sophistication and a deft grasp of the literature on the democratic difference in security studies.
The idea of a liberal rules-based international order has taken a beating lately, not just from the Trump presidency but also in the pages of academic and policy publications. The administration in Washington argues that the liberal order in the post-Cold War world no longer serves U.S. interests. While this argument deserves scrutiny in light of China’s spectacular rise within the order, academic writing has instead focused more on the fact that notions of the liberal order are simply “myth” and “nostalgia.” Critics allege that the liberal international rules-based order was never truly liberal, international, rules-based, or orderly. In this vein, the victory of Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential elections is not a cause but rather a symptom of the longer-term decline in the various pillars of the order: capitalism, multilateralism, and democracy.
Few issues arouse as much debate as the Iraq War. The decision to invade in 2003 was a milestone for U.S. foreign policy and Middle Eastern politics. Advocates of the war believed that the prior status quo was unsustainable, and that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s regime was a ruthless anachronism. The fact that Saddam had not abandoned his interest in so-called weapons of mass destruction made his removal all the more necessary. Critics warned, however, that regime change was not in the U.S. national interest, and that by invading the country that U.S. would set in motion events it could not control. Years of grisly civil violence seemed to vindicate their warnings. The critics took their arguments further in the aftermath, casting the war as symptomatic of a deep and enduring interventionist bias in American grand strategy.
The panorama of terrorism comprises not only prominent groups such as al-Qaeda and the so-called Islamic State (ISIS), but also webs of relationships among these organizations and their lesser-known allies. Around the world, terrorist groups team up for joint attacks, training, and even moral support. Although such cooperation has occurred for decades, it is only in the past several years that a wave of research on the subject of terrorist group alliances has emerged. Tricia Bacon’s scholarship, including this article, is an important part of this body of work.
One of Donald Trump’s superpowers is to dominate all spheres of American life, and the book industry is no exception. The nonfiction market is littered with best-sellers about life in the Age of Trump. The past two years have generated numerous genres of political tomes: the tell-alls by those who have served in his administration, the hosannas to his political greatness, and the journalistic accounts of his norm-defying 2016 campaign and chaotic first two years as president.
Analyses of drones often generate more heat than light, but Aqil Shah’s article is a welcome change. Shah argues U.S. drone strikes do not cause “blowback” in Pakistan or anywhere else, basing his claims primarily upon field interviews conducted in Pakistan. As he summarizes, “I find no evidence of a significant impact of drone strikes on the recruitment of militants either locally or nationally” (49).
Paul MacDonald and Joseph Parent bring to book-length form a very sensible and persuasive argument that they have been making for some time. Great power decline is not necessarily dangerous or even destabilizing. Countries can pursue strategies of retrenchment, either of “self-help” by cutting back spending or rejuvenating their economy, or of external adjustment in paring back commitments or cementing new friendships. Such strategies, MacDonald and Parent argue, need not be destabilizing. The countries experiencing decline can regain strength and confidence.
A decade after the end of the Cold War, the debate about structural realism in general and Theory of International Politics in particular had heated up. Twenty years earlier, Kenneth Waltz had developed an explanation of international affairs based on three components: (1) the international system’s ordering principle (e.g., anarchy vs. hierarchy); (2) the differentiation of units and their functions; and (3) the number of dominant units. The demise of the Soviet Union potentially reflected a significant change in the third component of Waltz’s theory: some observers claimed that a unipolar moment had emerged, while others pointed to the rise of multipolarity, changes in the number of dominant units that could be expected to produce observable differences in international behavior and outcomes. Democratic peace theorists, globalization boosters, and prophets of the Information Revolution also pointed to potential changes in the system’s ordering principle (component one). Waltz suggested that a unipolar moment would be fleeting (and that the world remained more bipolar than many believed), and that a democratic peace and associated transformational ideologies would not change the system’s ordering principle, leaving critics to revisit the “static” nature of Waltz’s theory and thinking.