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.
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.
In 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.
This 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.
International 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.
In 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). 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.
Intelligence 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.
Gregory 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. 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.
Lana Wylie has enhanced our understanding of Canadian and U.S. policies toward Fidel Castro’s Cuba by providing a comparative perspective that extends from 1959 to the present. Wylie applies a constructivist approach which proposes that “culture and identity are integral to a complete understanding of the dynamics of international relations.” (6) Wylie proposes to move from a “focus on systemic-level analysis” to examine “national-level identities in order to understand differences in foreign-policy behavior.” (8) Furthermore, Wylie examines not only state action at the international level but also domestic factors. “It is not just international culture that constructs a state’s identity and corresponding behavior,” Wylie suggests, “but also domestic-level culture, identity, and ideas.” (9)
Many of the specific questions raised about our article’s limitations by the commentators are, indeed, true, but they reflect the stated approach of the paper. North Korea is a country where the uncertainties are great, and this is no truer than in trying to anticipate a future North Korean government collapse and potential transition to Korean unification. Moreover, information on North Korea is scarce and difficult to interpret in large part because of North Korean information denial and falsification efforts. As a result, it is important to note our statement of the purposes of our article: “First, we seek to bring into the public debate a discussion of the scale of the problems that the collapse of North Korea’s government could create, and the potential for dire consequences, both humanitarian and strategic, if stability efforts were delayed or failed altogether. We describe the military missions that might be necessary to stabilize North Korea and estimate the force requirements for those missions. … Second and more broadly, this analysis sheds light on international intervention in collapsing states.” (86) With their comments, the reviewers have certainly contributed to our first objective, and their comments add to what we have contributed on the second. Moreover, we developed estimates of the military force requirements because we felt they would help motivate a public debate.
This edited volume makes a unique contribution to the field of American foreign policy by bringing together scholars and policy makers to assess two key turning points in American politics: the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. As the editors, Melvyn P. Leffler and Jeffrey W. Legro, write, “The aim of this book is to extrapolate from the aftermath of the most dramatic events in recent international history for the purposes of improving strategic thinking and strategic planning.” (3) Foreign-policy crises typically prompt reassessments of U.S. interests and priorities, and the editors aim to identify how those efforts can be better informed by those who develop policy and those who evaluate it (and several contributors to the volume have been active in both areas).