Cry Havoc coverJoseph Maiolo’s basic argument in Cry Havoc is summed up in the book’s subtitle:  How the Arms Race Drove the World to War, 1931-1941.  Maiolo does not accept the traditional view that the democracies in the years before World War II made a terrible mistake “by failing to arm fast enough to stop Axis aggression”(2). As he sees it, it was the arms race itself, and not the failure of the western powers to participate in it actively enough, that lay at the heart of the problem.  The arms race, he argues, was “an independent, self-perpetuating and often overriding impersonal force,” a “vast maelstrom, a tremendous torrent,” a “vicious system” that no one could escape—and which sped, in 1938-39, “toward its inevitable climax”(2-3, 402, 271, 207).

 

Continue reading

In the following exchange Dan Reiter defends his argument that democratic states win most of the wars that they fight primarily because they choose which wars to engage in more carefully than authoritarian states do.[1] This is called the “selection effects” explanation because democracies are selecting which wars to fight and which to avoid. Here, Reiter is replying to previously published criticism by Michael C. Desch and Alexander Downes that detailed examinations of several historical cases that Reiter cites do not in fact support his arguments.[2] Desch and Downes respond and then Reiter has a rebuttal.  They primarily debate both how historical evidence should be interpreted and how their hypotheses should be evaluated in the 1920 Russo-Polish War, the 1956 Sinai War, the 1967 Six Day War, the 1982 Lebanon War, and the 1965 escalation of the Vietnam War.

Continue reading

Know Your Enemy coverIn Blind Oracles: Intellectuals and War from Kennan to Kissinger, Bruce Kuklick focuses on the role of intellectuals in foreign policy making from the end of World War II through the end of the Vietnam War.  Kuklick concentrated on three overlapping circles of scholars and writers including experts associated with the RAND corporation, a second circle centered around Harvard University and the Kennedy School of Government, and a third group headed by George Kennan and Henry Kissinger that interacted with the first two and had the most influence on policymakers.  Kuklick critically concluded that these Cold War intellectuals and scholars too often ended up groping in the dark and having little impact on policy besides providing a theory or rationalization that policymakers used to explain their policies to the public.[1]

 

Continue reading

Nuclear Apartheid coverSeveral American supporters of the ‘New START’ arms control treaty the U.S. and Russia signed last December praised the deal for, among other things, giving the large nuclear powers some credibility in their ongoing efforts to stem nuclear proliferation to smaller states.  See, said these advocates to putative audiences in Iran or Japan:  we old superpowers can live up to our side of the bargain too!

 

 

 

Continue reading

The Limits of US Military Capabilities coverJames Lebovic’s book, The Limits of U.S. Military Capability: Lessons from Vietnam and Iraq, provides the basis for a rich and topical debate, not only about America’s capacity to intervene effectively in unconventional and asymmetric conflicts, but also about Afghanistan, the recent intervention in Libya, and more broadly about questions of power and primacy.

 

Continue reading

How Terrorism Ends coverA little more than a decade ago, the world’s leading academic experts on terrorism could be gathered in a not very large conference room to discuss the state of the field. As a relatively junior researcher at the United States Institute of Peace at the time, I was in such a room several times. The gathered experts rued the lack of attention most academics paid to the phenomenon of terrorism. Mainstream political science of the time was wedded to understanding the actions of states. With the exception of a few pioneers such as Martha Crenshaw[1] and David Rapoport[2], the view of many was that terrorism was properly seen as the province of diplomats, intelligence operatives and abnormal psychologists.

 

Continue reading

Vietnam at War coverMark Phillip Bradley’s central purpose in Vietnam at War is to offer his readers “a sharp departure from prevailing narratives in the West, which have until recently rendered the Vietnamese invisible in the making of their own history.”  It is difficult to imagine a scholar better suited to this task than Bradley. A gifted writer, very comfortable working in American, European and Vietnamese archives, Bradley is the author of the highly acclaimed Imagining Vietnam & America: The Making of Postcolonial Vietnam, 1919-1950. In a field that constantly debates the proper balance to be struck between American, Vietnamese, and international actors—a divide that Christoph Giebel captures in the distinction between  “Viet Nam Studies” and “Viet Nam War Studies”– Imagining Vietnam & America is a rare work of scholarship that seamlessly integrates cultural and diplomatic history from multiple perspectives.[1]

Continue reading

In “Commerce and Complicity,” Elizabeth Borgwardt exhumes the elided history, distorted memory, and unpredictable legal legacy of the Nuremberg trials. By tracing the evolution of three critical principles long associated with those trials—universal jurisdiction, crimes against humanity, and individual status within the international community—she provides a nuanced explanation for Nuremberg’s relevance to the emergence of postwar human rights that helps explain why postwar human rights were both so attenuated and so unexpectedly resilient. Her essay begins to provide an answer to the question of how historians should evaluate human rights efforts that “seem simultaneously to be losing the battle but winning the war” (639).

 

Continue reading

Journal of Strategic Studies coverJacqueline Newmyer provides an excellent overview of how the Chinese military discovered the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA), and how it is apparently trying to adapt the RMA to its own purposes.  She correctly traces the origins of the contemporary information technologies-led RMA back to Soviet Marshal Nikolai V. Ogarkov’s writings on “the military-technological revolution,” and to subsequent analyses by American analysts (particularly Andrew Marshall, Andrew Krepinevich, and Eliot Cohen) in the 1990s (485-486). These analysts argued that rapid innovations in information technologies (IT) over the past couple of decades have permitted militaries to transform their warfighting capabilities to such an extent that they  constituted a “paradigm shift in the nature and conduct of military operations,” and as such were  viewed as a “discontinuous” or “disruptive,” change in the character, concept, and mode of warfare. [1]

 

Continue reading

From Hot Water to Cold coverOne of the more astonishing facts that demonstrates simultaneously the global requirements of World War Two, the industrial capacity of the United States, and (by comparison) the real impact of the nuclear revolution on great power conflict is the size of the United States Navy in September 1945.  There were twenty-three battleships, twenty-eight aircraft carriers, and seventy-one escort carriers—in total, including cruisers, submarines, and destroyers, some 1,166 major combatant ships.  The smaller craft numbers are even more astonishing.  The U.S. built some 88,000 landing craft during the war.  With the war over, the question was what to do with all of it.  How large should the U.S. Navy be now that peace was at hand and no serious naval opponent remained?  What place was there for a navy in a world with air-delivered nuclear weapons and the promise of collective security through the United Nations?

Continue reading