In recent years, a number of leading security studies scholars including Christopher Layne, John Mearsheimer, Robert Pape, Barry Posen, and Stephen Walt have come out in favor of U.S. strategic retrenchment overseas. The fact that this list of scholars reads like an honor roll of prominent academic realists makes the current trend all the more interesting. ‘Offshore realism’ would seem to be the order of the day. This trend, moreover, is hardly limited to the academy. The case for strategic retrenchment and offshore balancing fits with large sections of popular and congressional opinion, tired as American citizens and politicians they are of foreign wars and given that they are consumed with domestic economic difficulties. Indeed, it could be argued that the Obama administration is implementing a modest form of strategic retrenchment which will only accelerate in the next few years.
In January 1955, Michael Roberts, a Professor of early modern Swedish history, approached the podium at Queen’s University, Belfast, Northern Ireland. A veteran of the Second World War and post-war government service in Stockholm, he had been at the university for a year. Roberts was working on a biography of the warrior-king Gustavus Adolphus, and was exploring the reasons for his phenomenal success during the Thirty Year’s War. In this lecture, Roberts argued, tactical changes developed by the Dutch leader Maurice of Orange, during his war with Spain, not only changed the conduct of military affairs but exerted a profound effect on European and world history. Rather than simply narrating events, as was the standard method for most historians, Roberts sought to explain why these changes took place, what they meant in the immediate period, and what their long-term effects were.  It is doubtful Roberts realized the effect of this lecture, as it became a paradigm for understanding the nature of war and its effect on society.
How can we understand the important phenomenon of modern-day warlords, often associated with state failure and transborder criminality even as state leaders frequently rely upon them as a source of order or peace in the most difficult of conditions? Kimberly Marten’s Warlords: Strong-Arm Brokers in Weak States blazes a new trail in answering this question, adopting an explicitly inductive approach to theory-building through the study of four important cases of warlordism: Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), Georgia’s strongmen in Ajara and the Kodori Gorge, the Sons of Iraq, and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s creation in Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov.
The article contributes to the literature about the Chinese leadership’s decision-making process at the time of the 1989 Tiananmen crisis by introducing new documents from the East German archives and the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library. Sarotte argues that one of the major reasons for the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) decision to resort to force was the top party leaders’ “fear of the demonstration effects of democratic changes in Poland and Hungary” (161). Reminding readers that previous student protests of the reform era were not suppressed by military force, the author poses an intriguing counterfactual question: “without the example of 1989 in Eastern Europe, would the Beijing leaders’ response have been as a bloody?” (162).
Galen Jackson’s article on America’s entry into World War I and the “off-shore balancing thesis” is an excellent work of scholarship. Jackson takes on an important topic for both international relations theorists and diplomatic historians and convincingly shows that U.S. leaders did not intervene in the war because they feared Germany was winning – a finding that he stresses is at odds with the predictions of John J. Mearsheimer’s theory of “offensive realism.” Not all aspects of Jackson’s argument are persuasive, however, and alternative interpretations of the president’s approach to the war make Wilson’s policies look less like an exception to Mearsheimer’s model than Jackson believes.
In the aftermath of the end of the Cold War, one of the first challenges to the illusion that the “end of history” had arrived was the breakup of Yugoslavia, as various republics—Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia, and Kosovo—seceded or attempted to secede from the Socialist Federation of Yugoslavia. Conflict over secession from existing states was not a new issue since secession had plagued a number of new African nations such as Katanga’s attempted secession from the Congo and Biafra from Nigeria in the 1960s as well as the prolonged struggle of Eritrea to break away from Ethiopia since the 1950s. The Cold War, however, had significantly influenced the response of the major powers to secession, as Jonathan Paquin notes, with the United States opposing territorial changes as part of its containment strategy. In A Stability-Seeking Power: U.S. Foreign Policy and Secessionist Conflicts, Paquin focuses on six cases: the four provinces of Yugoslavia, Eritrea and Somaliland, the northwest region of Somalia, that seceded in 1991.
Comparative studies of ancient and modern policy, strategy, diplomacy, and imperialism seem to be all the rage at the moment, with most of the impetus coming from scholars of ancient societies rather than from those concerned with the modern world. The recent edited volume under review by well-known Classicist and conservative political commentator Victor Davis Hanson pays homage to two pathbreaking studies with similar titles, and has a clear and unapologetic presentist editorial agenda: “to consider the relevance of [ancient] strategy to later warfare, and especially to the conflicts of our times” (4).
Mark L. Haas is, along with his mentor John M. Owen, part of a two-man wrecking crew exposing the ideological foundations of international politics. His latest effort, The Clash of Ideologies: Middle Eastern Politics and American Security, expands on previous work Haas and Owen have done on “ideological distance” and applies these ideas to three decades of international politics in the Middle East. In so doing, Haas has written a book that is theoretically innovative, scientifically progressive, empirically wide-ranging, and policy relevant. Anyone who wants to understand the interplay of ideological and realist variables or the intricate politics of a region central to American foreign policy needs to read this book.
Why do key Southeast Asian states seem to cleave to the perception that the United States is a benign and stabilising force in the region, in spite of its debatable record during and after the Cold War? In Hard Interests, Soft Illusions: Southeast Asia and American Power, Natasha Hamilton-Hart demonstrates that the ruling regimes in these countries disproportionately support U.S. preponderance because they managed to consolidate domestic power with the economic and political resources that accompanied U.S. support during the initial stages of national development during the Cold War. Education, professional training, and experience subsequently sustained these cognitive biases within the policy elites.
Sarah Kreps has made a superb contribution to the burgeoning academic literature on the causes of military intervention. This literature reflects the enormity of the task social scientists face in comprehending world affairs.
This enormity stems from the many choices social scientists have to make in order to investigate reality. Unlike physicists, they do not start with a single universe inhabited by objects that obey physical laws and have no independent ideas or social institutions of their own. They confront a universe in which objects have minds of their own, behave interactively through various social networks and institutions, and may or may not act in line with material forces. On top of all that, social scientists inhabit the universe they examine. They are studying themselves. They belong to specific countries and favor certain ideas and institutions. Should they focus on the United States or on other countries? Should they privilege the causal power of ideas, power or institutions? Should they look at the world from an individual, country, or systemic level of analysis?