Transitions from rivalry to alliance within bilateral relationships have received considerable attention from historians of U.S. foreign relations. Or, more accurately, some alliances have received considerable attention; it remains unusual for works on inter-American relations to be cast principally as examinations of alliance politics. There are at least two interrelated reasons. First, the vast majority of the literature on the foreign relations of Latin American states analyzes cases where significant asymmetries of power exist. To be sure, vast differentials in political, economic, and military power can be found within alliances. But the alliance framework is more often applied to cases of countries where the imbalance is not dramatic. Second, in the English language literature in particular, relations between Latin American countries have been understudied. The overwhelming majority of the scholarship analyzes the role of great powers such as the United States or Great Britain. Consequently, the factors that have led regional adversaries to become allies have received less attention. U.S.-Latin American relations or Anglo-Latin American relations could, of course, be studied through the prism of rivalries and alliances, but the frameworks of empire and other varieties of hegemony have been more commonly utilized.
The International Security Studies Forum (ISSF) of H-Diplo is very pleased to provide a roundtable discussion of Dr. Jessica Weeks’s book, Dictators at War and Peace. The book offers an important answer to the centuries-old international relations question as to how the politics within states affect the politics between states? Since at least the Enlightenment, most observers have tackled this question by focusing on the differences between democracies and dictatorships, Immanuel Kant and others famously arguing that democracies are more peaceful. Realists have been skeptical of this claim, contending that all types of political systems conduct foreign policy similarly. Especially since the end of the Cold War, international-relations scholars have been consumed with the scientific exploration of the democratic peace proposition.
Last year, Scott Sagan declared – on H-Diplo – that we are in the midst of a renaissance in nuclear studies, driven by first-rate work by younger scholars. Two qualities in particular mark this scholarship. First, many of these young scholars combine both methodological innovation and rigor while engaging new archival sources. Second, these scholars are unafraid to challenge long-held conventional wisdoms about the nuclear age. The three commentators to this forum – a roundtable on Andreas Wenger and Roland Popp (eds.), “Special Issue: The Origins of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Regime,” in The International History Review — are exemplars of these trends. Eliza Gheorghe has mined new sources to explore the previously unknown and fascinating history of Romania’s nuclear program, in the process generating important insights into nuclear dynamics between superpowers and smaller states. Nicholas Miller has identified the key moments in United States nuclear nonproliferation policy, helping us understand the motivations and tools driving these efforts. Jane Vayman has built upon recent historical research to model the causal dynamics behind the surprising superpower collusion to stem the spread of nuclear weapons. As their previous work and their reviews here reveal, all three are equally conversant in the most recent historical scholarship and the newest trends in international relations theory involving nuclear dynamics.
The book produced by Alex Weisiger is a substantial contribution to rationalist theory in international relations. Weisiger investigates the effects of commitment problems in international bargaining on the conduct, duration, and destructiveness of wars. The book is among only a few works that closely analyze international history from the perspective of recent developments in the theory of international bargaining. Weisiger is superb at framing history as a series of mysteries, the answers to which he dramatically unravels. In addition to its contribution to research on international conflict, therefore, the book is immensely valuable as a teaching tool.
Many scholars and policymakers concerned with the proliferation of nuclear weapons assume that the passage of time has made it much easier for states and terrorist groups to achieve their nuclear ambitions. For example, in their book The Nuclear Express, Thomas Reed and Danny Stillman reflect this common assumption: “Any well-industrialized society with the intellectual firepower, economic resources, and government determination can join the nuclear club less than three years from go.”
Boaz Atzili’s Good Fences, Bad Neighbors: Border Fixity and International Conflict explores the impact of the norm of border fixity that has arisen in world politics since 1945. He questions the view that a norm of border fixity reliably promotes peace; instead, he argues, the effect of the norm depends on conditions, and under today’s conditions the norm causes more war than peace.
Charles A. Kupchan has written an important book that poses fundamental questions for international relations scholars and policy makers: First, how do enemies in world politics become friends? Specifically, through what pathways can pairs or groups of states succeed in setting aside their geopolitical competition and construct enduring relationships that preclude the possibility of armed conflict? Second, when and why do enemies become friends (and vice versa)? In other words, under what circumstances are such zones of peace more likely to form and under what circumstances are they likely to dissolve?