Worse Than a Monolith coverThomas Christensen has written an important book in which he examines several key episodes during the Cold War in Asia, including the Korean War, the Taiwan Strait crises of 1954–55 and 1958, and the Vietnam War. In Worse than a Monolith, Christensen uses these Cold War flashpoints to test and refine existing theories of alliance politics and coercive diplomacy, arguing that a state’s use of coercive forms of diplomacy, including containment and deterrence, is hampered when one’s adversaries are divided. Christensen finds ample fodder for this argument by focusing Worse than a Monolith on looking at America’s efforts to contain the “revisionist” communist alliance during the Cold War in Asia. Disagreements between Moscow and Beijing often caused the two to try to outdo each other in supporting revolutions such as the one in Vietnam, and from the perspective of America’s policy makers, this made the communist alliance “worse than a monolith.”  Christensen’s thesis is intriguing.  I am interested to know whether during the Cold War, leaders on one side or the other expressed the view internally that they were bedeviled by their adversary’s inability to control its “troops.”

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The Diffusion of Military Power coverWhile knowledgeable observers rightly discounted the geopolitical significance of China’s launch of the refurbished Russian aircraft carrier Varyag last August, the event did underscore the salience of the topic of this H-Diplo roundtable. No student of international relations can be indifferent to the questions that Michael Horowitz addresses in Diffusion of Military Power.  Will China ultimately develop true carrier warfare capacity?  Why has U.S. supremacy in this area gone unchallenged for over half a century? How likely is it that China will emulate other aspects of U.S. military power? How many new nuclear powers are we likely to see?  Will Iranian drones soon patrol American skies? Horowitz develops and tests a bold structural- and material interest-based theory to explain the propensity of military innovations to diffuse through the international system.

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Contemporary scholarly examinations of John F. Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress are surprisingly thin on the ground. This is a trend, moreover, that has been as true with respect to broad studies of the entire program as it has for more specific assessments of individual case studies. There is a difference between a field that is only partially developed, of course, and one that is barren: a number of important works relating to the Alliance are already in existence, while the article under review here suggests a number of ways that the extant literature can be further developed in accordance with emerging work on the history of development and on Latin America’s place in the Global Cold War.[1] By providing a detailed examination of the Alliance’s implementation in Bolivia, Thomas Field significantly enriches our understanding of what remains a complex and thorny period in inter-American relations. Constructed upon rhetorical foundations characterised by noble ideals of development, democracy and social progress, the subsequent deterioration of Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress into a morass of missed targets, worsening inter-American relations, and the support of a range of authoritarian regimes, has long puzzled scholars of U.S. policy in the region. Why did the Kennedy administration’s benevolent intentions, scholars have typically asked, go awry as the Alliance failed to meet its grand goals?[2]

 

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How We Fight coverDominic Tierney’s How We Fight: Crusades, Quagmires, and the American Ways of War is an unusual achievement.  It is a provocative scholarly book about the U.S. approach to war that was written for a broad non-academic audience.  For the academic and layperson alike, it succeeds in establishing that the heated controversies of the moment follow a familiar pattern.  Indeed, it is impossible to read Tierney’s book without reflecting upon recent events.  The Obama administration has struggled mightily to define (and redefine) the U.S. mission in Afghanistan; it has announced deep defense cuts though the United States remains at war; and with the shift in defense budgetary priorities, it will trim the very capabilities (for counterinsurgency) that U.S. leaders had once viewed as keys to success in Iraq and Afghanistan.  But what led the administration finally to act?  Was the administration recognizing belatedly that the public would not tolerate nation-building efforts?  Or had the clock simply run out on the U.S. effort?

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Leaders at War coverIn Leaders at War, Elizabeth Saunders examines the use of military force by states to intervene in other nations’ domestic affairs.  Why, she asks, do some military interventions explicitly seek to transform the societies and institutions of the states they target while others do not?  And more basically, “why do great powers like the United States undertake overt intervention in some conflicts or crises but not in others?” (2)  As Saunders rightly notes, it’s not enough to study interventions that occurred; we should also examine those that might have occurred but did not.

 

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Leaders at War coverIn Leaders at War, Elizabeth Saunders examines the use of military force by states to intervene in other nations’ domestic affairs.  Why, she asks, do some military interventions explicitly seek to transform the societies and institutions of the states they target while others do not?  And more basically, “why do great powers like the United States undertake overt intervention in some conflicts or crises but not in others?” (2)  As Saunders rightly notes, it’s not enough to study interventions that occurred; we should also examine those that might have occurred but did not.

 

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A Cultural Theory of International Relations coverTheories of international relations in the grand sense are rare. Hans Morgenthau “purport[ed] to present a theory of international politics” in 1948.[1] Raymond Aron’s Peace and War: A Theory of International Relations appeared in 1962. Kenneth Waltz presented his unmodified Theory of International Politics in 1979. It would be twenty years before Alexander Wendt countered with another article-less book title: Social Theory of International Politics. [2] A decade later, Richard Ned Lebow presents A Cultural Theory of International Relations, returning an indefinite article to his title along with a page-count rivaling only Aron’s tome. The modesty of the title, however, belies the book’s ambition. The reviewers praise the historic breadth of the book and welcome its focus on honor and social standing as explanatory factors. They differ on the value of grand theory. Richard W. Mansbach embraces Lebow’s project, both in its theoretical ambitions and its empirical insights. Patrick Finney is sympathetic to its culturalist core but more skeptical about the novelty and explanatory power of some of its claims. Geoffrey Roberts commends it as a grand historical narrative, but has doubts about the enterprise of grand theorizing in general.  In the end, the merit of grand theory itself more than the specifics of Lebow’s offering divides Mansbach’s more favorable review from the more critical appraisals of Finney and Roberts.

 

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Intelligence and National Security coverThe special issue of Intelligence and National Security, Volume 26, April-June 2011 continues the process of bringing intelligence in from the cold.  It is to be hoped that the reviews here contribute to the parallel process of familiarizing diplomatic historians with what is known about intelligence and bringing in two fields closer together.  We are still a long way from understanding the degree to which intelligence influenced or reflected international politics during the Cold War, but the reviewers agree that this special issue on “The CIA and U.S. Foreign Policy Since 1947” is a significant contribution.

 

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Over the last two decades international relations (IR) scholars, who tend to be political scientists, have developed an impressive body of knowledge on the evolution, institutionalization, and globalization of human rights.  They have benefitted, and will continue to benefit, from the detailed and careful historical research of the sort authored by Margaret McGuinness and William Schabas.  But there is the possibility that the IR-based literature might also aid historians as they continue to create an international history of human rights.

 

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The Invention of International Relations Theory coverConstructing a new, supposedly autonomous academic discipline is anything but a neutral exercise, one that never occurs in a social or intellectual vacuum, but is invariably the product of a highly specific time, place, and context.  Nicolas Guilhot’s stimulating volume of essays uses the prism of a 1954 Rockefeller Foundation conference on the theory of International Relations (IR), a small, select gathering of a dozen prominent academics, journalists, State Department officials, and foundation executives, to consider the emergence in the United States after World War II not simply of the field of International Relations but of the Realist approach to such studies.  Eight experts on the Realist tradition discuss how and why this intellectual paradigm came to dominate post-1945 IR studies in North America, and the impact of this development in terms of differentiating and separating IR from other areas of political science or social science, where such studies were originally housed.  Supplementing these essays are the original transcripts of the two days of Rockefeller Foundation-sponsored 1954 discussions of IR theory, plus several papers on the subject produced by some of the participants.

 

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