By Jeff Kubina (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsAdam Liff’s “Whither the Balancers? The Case for a Methodological Reset” and Ryan Griffith’s “States, Nations, and Territorial Stability: Why Chinese Hegemony Would Be Better for International Order” seek to re-examine several foundational concepts in international relations scholarship. Liff argues for a more conceptually rigorous and standardized specification of balancing that sufficiently accounts for contemporary state behavior. He does so considering reactions to China by what he terms “secondary states” in East Asia and taking on the body of literature that claims an absence of regional balancing in the wake of China’s rise. Griffiths aims to tackle the issues of self-determination and order, which are fundamental to the existing international system and the study of international politics. He proposes that a globally dominant China that continues to insist on its strongly-held preference for territorial integrity is likely to result in a decline in violence from secessionist movements.

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Tsuyoshi Kawasaki’s article contributes to a modest literature on Canada’s diplomatic, security, and defence relations with the Asia Pacific countries. It provides the reader with a succinct and useful review of emergent China in the larger international community with particular reference to U.S.-China relations.  Derivatively, Kawasaki explores his thesis concerning its implications for Canada.

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The China Challenge coverFew political scientists enjoy a level of respect within the discipline comparable to that of Thomas Christensen. His work is always theoretically informed, but also open to the insights of a variety of paradigms and approaches rather than being the captive of a single school of thought. Both of his previous books on alliance politics and Sino-American conflict in the Cold War, as well as numerous articles, are superb examples of how theoretically informed historical research and area expertise can advance scholarship in both disciplines.[1] Christensen has also helped formulate recent U.S. policy towards East Asia, most recently as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs during the Bush administration.

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Chinese Hegemony coverIt is a pleasure to read Feng Zhang’s Chinese Hegemony: Grand Strategy and International Institutions in East Asian History. This book is an exemplar in its serious treatment of Chinese history, its holistic approach to East Asian history covering Inner Asia as well as Korea and Japan, its simultaneous analysis of the foreign policy strategies of both imperial China and its neighbors, and its meticulous examination of fluctuating normative and instrumental strategies in particular periods and in particular relations. It will no doubt become required reading in the International Relations literature.

 

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Theory of Unipolar Politics coverHow long will the United States remain the world’s sole superpower, uniquely capable of commanding the commons and projecting sustained military power to overseas regions? Why has the United States been so prone to use military force in the years since the Soviet Union collapsed? And how might answers to these questions hinge on strategic choices made in Washington?   These are the questions Nuno Monteiro set out to answer in his rigorously argued Theory of Unipolar Politics. They have been at the center of intense debates for a quarter century—and not just in the ivory tower but also among pundits, politicians, intelligence analysts, policymakers and even leaders of major powers.   Monteiro’s arguments have attracted a lot of attention, and deservedly so. Not only does he develop them with great care and express them in clear, forceful prose, he does not shrink from tackling tough problems. In contrast to Kenneth Waltz’s seminal Theory of International Politics,[1] for example, Monteiro’s book deals head on with the interaction between strategic choice and systemic outcomes and the influence of nuclear deterrence on classical balance-of-power thinking.

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Looking for Balance coverWill Asia be the site of the next major global conflict or will Asia’s future continue to be characterized by peace and stability? This question has invited a veritable multitude of arguments and counterarguments during the last two decades as scholars have tried to assess the implications of growing Chinese power for the international system. Some have feared that the rest of Asia will build up its armaments in response to China’s growing strength, creating a dangerous and unstable situation. They have even raised the possibility that the United States might get drawn into Asia’s next war.[1] Others have taken a far more sanguine view of the prospects for peace in the region, contending that China’s neighbors do not necessarily see it as a threat and that growing economic interdependence makes military conflict unlikely.[2]

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International Security (journal) coverAs Geoffrey Blainey, the prominent Australian scholar, wrote long ago, “For every thousand pages published on the causes of wars, there is less than one page directly on the causes of peace.”[1] The field of international security studies seems to have such an alarmist tendency, as most publications focus on conflict and war rather than stability and peace. Regarding cybersecurity, scholars and pundits have sounded alarms for years. In such a context, Jon R. Lindsay’s article is refreshing and unusual. Challenging the conventional wisdom, Lindsay argues that the threat from China on cyberspace is overblown, and Chinese vulnerabilities and Western strengths are underappreciated. Furthermore, cyberspace is fundamentally more stable than we conventionally assume. While the proliferation of information technology might enable “numerous instances of friction below the threshold of violence,” (9) cyberwar between United States and China is highly unlikely. Lindsay does not suggest that we should ignore the existence of cyber threats. What he proposes is an analytical framework that makes sense of these threats. Whether or not readers share his cautiously optimistic view, Lindsay’s article will have an enduring relevance to the discussions of cybersecurity, U.S.-China relations, and international relations. My comments focus on the broad implications of his article for international relations and U.S.-China relations.

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Narang coverHow do we understand the nuclear strategies of regional powers and how successful are those strategies in deterring conflict? These are obviously important questions for students of world politics, but unfortunately they are also questions that have been largely ignored as scholars focused their attention on the nuclear superpowers of the bipolar era. Of course, the relative lack of attention paid to regional nuclear powers would not matter all that much if these states acted similarly to the superpowers, but it is clear that they have acted quite differently. For example, none of the regional nuclear powers has attempted to build the large arsenals possessed by the superpowers during the Cold War. In his important and ambitious new book, Vipin Narang attempts to explain the decisions made by regional nuclear powers and to develop a new theoretical framework that will be relevant to understanding the current and future dynamics of what he calls the “second nuclear age”(1).

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The International History Review coverLast 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.[1] 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.[2] Nicholas Miller has identified the key moments in United States nuclear nonproliferation policy, helping us understand the motivations and tools driving these efforts.[3] 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.[4] 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.

 

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The Kennan Diaries (cover)An eleven year old George Kennan began keeping a diary on January 1, 1916. At the very start of the diary he wrote “In this simple, little book, A record of the day I cast; So I afterwards may look back upon my happy past” (684). Due to Kennan’s remarkably lengthy and prolific career as a policymaker, diplomat, and scholar, as well as the undeniable impact he has had on the direction of American foreign policy during the Cold War, historians have long been attracted to studying his thoughts and actions. No one could ever plausibly claim that Kennan has been ‘understudied’ and his two volumes of memoirs also offered many personal insights into his inner thoughts.[1] However, with the publication of Frank Costigliola’s edited collection of Kennan’s diaries from the period between 1916 and 2004, there is little doubt that scholars will continue to be fascinated by the complexities of Kennan’s life and career. It is a life that was certainly not simple and, despite all of his accomplishments and honors, the diaries make it abundantly clear that happiness was never Kennan’s dominant mood.

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