Trying to make critical sense of the current state of foreign affairs is treacherous business for anyone, but for an historian it comes close to pursuing a death wish. Even with all the advantages of hindsight, the past remains shrouded to varying degrees, while decoding the present is like trying to see through a blinding sandstorm of events. But if there is much that remains unclear, at least the basic frame of mind of Donald Trump’s presidency is known. Recently, Stephen K. Bannon, the President’s Svengali, looked forward to the “deconstruction of the administrative state” in America. Given the tenor of Trump’s comments on international issues over the past year—about foreign trade, NATO, China, nuclear weapons, Russia, the Middle East, etc., etc.—the dismantling of the American-led world order that has been in place since the end of World War II is also a real possibility.
It seems obvious that an understanding of the nature and value of diplomacy should be of central importance to the study of international relations. However, as Brian Rathbun argues in his important new book, the sad reality is that international relations theorists have devoted little time or attention to systematically exploring the value of diplomacy. In his view, the main reason for this lack of emphasis on diplomacy can be explained by the discipline’s traditional focus on structural elements of the international system, such as anarchy and the distribution of power. Drawing on psychological theories of motivation and negotiation, Diplomacy’s Value offers important arguments about why leaders adopt various negotiating styles and how these styles facilitate or impair the negotiation of international agreements. These arguments are then applied to two of the more fascinating examples of twentieth-century international diplomacy: the Locarno era negotiations of the 1920’s and the Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy of the 1990’s.