Mark 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.
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).
Jacqueline 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. 
One 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?
How does peace between states become an established social fact or part of the unquestioned order of things? This question drives Vincent Pouliot’s International Security in Practice, an innovative and provocative contribution to the theoretical literature on international security, with an empirical focus on post-Cold War Russian-Atlantic security relations. While the challenge of theorizing the causes and conditions of war and peace between states is ‘ancient’ in the discipline of International Relations (IR), the challenge of enacting transatlantic peace became a novel and urgent practical concern in world politics following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the U.S.-USSR superpower rivalry, a set of events which opened up a rare opportunity for the pacification of relations between former enemies. Although there were initial promising signs in the early 1990s of great transformations in security relations between Russia and the West, transatlantic peace has materialized only as a fragile and somewhat fleeting achievement. Why was the hope of a robust and enduring post-Cold War transatlantic peace stillborn (p. 191)?
This roundtable extends the debate on the future of liberal internationalism (LI) started by Charles Kupchan and Peter Trubowitz (K&T) three years ago which provoked responses by Steven Chaudoin, Helen Milner, and Dustin Tingley (CMT), and by Joshua Busby and Jonathan Monten (B&M). This was the subject of a panel at a recent meeting of the American Political Science Association, and the memos written by the three teams form the basis for this Roundtable. Despite – or because – of my lack of involvement in these issues I was asked to chair the panel and so here will make a few introductory remarks, and after those involved have had their say will outline a few ideas for further research.
Anyone bold enough to write a synthesis of such a controversial topic as American empire can expect a range of reactions stretching as far to the left as to the right and including all shades of opinion in between. Richard Immerman has tackled one of the most hotly contested and long-standing issues in American foreign relations – the nature of the new republic that George Washington christened in 1783 as a “rising American empire.” Some observers may say that most historians have gotten beyond the debate over whether the new republic became an empire at its inception and, as Immerman argues, evolved from one of liberty into one for liberty. But the first reviews of this book show that many of the issues remain unresolved. The historians included in this roundtable – Jeffrey A. Engel, Joan Hoff, William Weeks, and Tom Zeiler – criticize this work as much as they praise it, leading one to observe that Immerman has accomplished as much as any writer can hope – to stimulate discussion and suggest more avenues for research.
Andrew Preston and Gordon Goldstein provide two very different looks at National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy’s role in the decision to escalate America’s war in Vietnam. Preston hones in on Bundy’s Cold War worldview, inherited largely from his mentor Henry Stimson, and his efforts to concentrate power in the National Security Council, which put him in a critical if not decisive position to shape U.S. policy towards Vietnam during the years in which Washington made the decisions for war. In doing so, Preston challenges what he sees as too great an emphasis on presidential decision-making in extant literature on the war’s escalation. Goldstein, on the other hand, working largely from interviews and conversations conducted with Bundy just before the latter’s death, writes a sympathetic account of Bundy’s involvement in the war’s escalation. While certainly not uncritical, Goldstein’s conclusions often align with Bundy’s, especially in highlighting the paramount responsibility of the commander-in-chief to accept or reject his cabinet’s advice and make decisions for war or peace unilaterally. Goldstein’s contribution, it seems, is less in explaining why Bundy advocated the policies he did or even the weight those recommendations carried with the president, and more in illuminating how the former national security advisor made sense late-in-life of his involvement in the critical decisions to wage war in Vietnam.
Last April, the Obama administration announced that the “United States will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states that are party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and in compliance with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations.” This declaration appeared to sharply constrain the conditions under which any U.S. leader would consider using nuclear weapons. After all, most of the world is made up of non-nuclear states in good standing with the NPT, meaning that there is a very small list of potential targets to attack. Moreover, the administration went further by declaring that the fundamental purpose of nuclear weapons was deterrence and that such weapons were reserved for “extreme circumstances to defend the vital interests of the United States or its allies and partners” (quoted in Gerson, 7-8).
My copy of Julian Zelizer’s book Arsenal of Democracy arrived in the mail at about the same time late in 2009 that Barack Obama gave his address at West Point expanding U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan. Obama had inherited the war, and his choices ranged from bad to worse. But the one he selected, a middle-course option that would send 30,000 additional troops and called for removing them in eighteen months, was difficult to comprehend if the geopolitical stakes in Afghanistan were really as high he claimed they were. It was hard for me to see how an increase of that size, even if accompanied by a boost in NATO troops, could really do the job in the vast and forbidding Afghan terrain. By announcing a deadline, moreover, the president signaled to anti-American forces in Afghanistan (and Pakistan) that they could count on a U.S. withdrawal in 2011 and hence could bide their time until then.