Almost without exception, students of security policy are not only analysts and proponents of abstract theories, they are also deeply concerned with issues of contemporary international politics and have strong policy preferences. There are likely to be connections here, and it is by no means obvious that the latter are subservient to the former. With all due respect to Kenneth Waltz, very few of us became drawn to international politics by reading his books. I doubt if I was atypical in becoming interested because of the events that were occurring when I was growing up and in being fairly quick to develop my own opinions, as ill-grounded as they were. By the time I was exposed to serious academic work, let alone starting to publish, my views about American foreign policy and a general political outlook were well established.
In setting up his analysis here, John Schuessler refers to one of the arguments Dan Reiter and Allan Stam make in their book Democracies at War. Democracies, those authors claim, “produce better estimates of the probability of victory than their autocratic counterparts do,” and they do so in large part because in democracies these issues are argued out in public.
This roundtable broadly addresses the application of recent developments in biology, behavior genetics and neuroscience to topics in international relations and security studies. Advances in the life sciences have been applied to topics in political science; most of those applications have been restricted to the realm of voting behavior and public opinion broadly construed. However, several are directly related to topics of greater interest to International Relations scholars, such as strategic decision-making and morality. These contributions have proven enormously provocative and interesting, and have spawned entire new research agendas into the myriad ways in which biology may contribute to human political and social development and behavior. However, up until now, very little of this work has explicitly taken on problems and issues related to the topics that typically preoccupy IR scholars and done so in manner engaging those scholars. Such topics include conflict processes, the formation and maintenance of alliances, the dynamics of intra-group and inter-group aggression, the emergence of status hierarchies, and prospects for trade and cooperation.
Large military institutions are often portrayed as being inherently conservative and having a tendency to cope poorly with innovation. However, since some such challenges have been handled highly effectively, this knee-jerk assumption is clearly inaccurate. Moreover, it leaves open an interesting question: how can we explain the discrepancy between successful and unsuccessful adaptation to change? Why is it that an army or navy that responds extremely effectively to one challenge can fail to cope with another? It is this question that Gautam Mukunda seeks to address using a body of theory borrowed from business studies. The result is an article that is an interesting and rewarding read, which adds to an understanding of both naval warfare in the First World War and also the process of coping with innovation. There are many aspects to commend and also a few areas where the theory might usefully be further developed.
Not only is Francis Gavin one of those rare individuals today who actually remembers the Cold War, but he believes it is relevant to today’s concerns. In this bright and engaging article, he examines several myths concerning the Cold War and nuclear weapons and the alarm they have so routinely inspired.
It may be useful to mark the addition of Security Studies to the H-Diplo list by discussing some of the differences in the way historians and political scientists typically approach our common subject matter. Is it too much to say that our relations are symbiotic or even that we are doomed to a marriage? Although we have significant differences and often squabble, we not only need to stay together for the sake of the kids (i.e., our students), but while we sometimes do not want to acknowledge it, we draw great sustenance and even pleasure from each other. From the political science side, it seems to me that the investment and affections are a bit asymmetric in that most of us see the great importance of international history, while historians draw less from political science and sometimes have the temerity to doubt the value of the discipline. In my last year of graduate studies at Berkeley I took a fine course on European international history by the renowned Raymond Sontag. I very much enjoyed and learned from the course, but when I talked to him about drawing on history for my dissertation, while he treated me with great personal kindness, he made clear that he really didn’t see why political science was needed and hoped that I would not muck up his field. On the other hand, many historians have not only tolerated and even encouraged our intrusions, they have drawn on our theories. For all our differences, we share a fascination with the patterns, idiosyncrasies, and changes in cross-border relations.