The Rise and Decline of the American Empire coverSomething about the decline of great powers provokes great debates, and this roundtable is no exception. In his latest work, Geir Lundestad deploys the formidable learning he has acquired in a distinguished and prolific career as a diplomatic historian to dissect the current debate on American decline. He considers contemporary concerns in a broad historical context, ultimately reaching a markedly measured assessment: The United States is in relative decline, but it retains unparalleled wellsprings of strength; no power seems likely to […]

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International Security coverIn 2010 U.S. President Barack Obama stated that nuclear terrorism was “the single biggest threat to U.S. security, both short-term, medium-term and long-term”.[1] The events of September 11, 2001 demonstrated the real risk of catastrophic terrorism. It also exacerbated existing fears that groups such as Al-Qaeda would be willing to detonate a nuclear device either on U.S. territory or American valuables abroad. It is one thing to hijack a plane and crash it into a building. It is quite another challenge to obtain a nuclear weapon or the materials needed to assemble a nuclear bomb. Unlike ‘conventional’ arms which proliferate much more easily in the international system, nuclear weapons are much harder to assemble or obtain; a terrorist group would need a state’s assistance to do this. This has raised the issue of terrorism as a technique – that a state might resort to nuclear attack by proxy against the United States and its allies in order to avoid attribution.[2]

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The Politics and Ethics of Identity coverWho else but Richard Ned Lebow would, in what is ostensibly a political science book, offer us a dystopian reading of Mozart’s opera, The Magic Flute, complete with the suggestion that a production of the opera should be set in Mao’s China during the Cultural Revolution? Was he envisioning an actual production, since he goes so far as to include details as to how it should be staged? Even those familiar with the broad range of Lebow’s work might be taken aback by the ruthless eclecticism of this particular volume. The Politics and Ethics of Identity: In Search of Ourselves opens with an attack on the notion that there is such a thing as “identity” in any fixed, essential, or ontologically stable sense. Lebow musters evidence from philosophy, neuroscience, and a wealth of other disciplines to make the case for the non-existence of identity. He then devotes the remainder of the book to writing about identity because, despite its non-existence, human beings are deeply preoccupied with questions of identity, and at times such preoccupation can yield tragic and terrible political consequences. There are repeated insinuations in the book (though no sustained causal argument) that the rise of Hitler’s Germany is one such consequence, brought on by what might be described as a national identity crisis which was for Germany, as for Russia, Poland, and Japan, a consequence of being a “late cultural developer” (171). But the book’s exploration of identity ranges far beyond any kind of culturally-deterministic analysis of the “German question.”

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Fredrik Logevall’s Pulitzer prize-winning Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America’s Vietnam has understandably sparked renewed interest in and debate over the origins of America’s involvement in Vietnam.[1] As Lloyd Gardner and other historians have argued, the heart of Logevall’s book is his analysis of the crucial events of 1954.[2] In sharp contrast to the image of President Dwight D. Eisenhower as a generally restraining force fighting off those who were committed to intervention, such as Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, Logevall argues that the President’s words and deeds “suggest a man who was fully prepared to intervene with force under certain circumstances and who sought to maintain his freedom of maneuver for whatever contingencies might arise.”[3]

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Power and Willpower in the American Future coverIs the United States destined to decline in the twenty-first century? This is a seemingly simple question, but one that International Relations theorists seem destined to debate without resolution. How should we measure power? What are the most relevant economic and military indicators of national power? How should we weigh the various components of national power in order to reach an overall assessment of the future balance of power in the international system? Are structural and material indicators reversible or irreversible? Can specific policy decisions, ideas, and strategies substantially reverse or accelerate national decline?

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Weapons of Mass Migration coverBy the accounts of the three reviewers below, Kelly Greenhill has hit a home run. Their collective view substantiates the judgment of the International Studies Association (ISA), which gave Weapons of Mass Migration the Association’s Best Book of the Year Award for 2011. In turn, the reviewers and the ISA have confirmed my judgment of four years ago that this is an especially important book in the field of security studies.

 

 

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International Security coverThe 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).

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Hard Interests Soft Illusions coverWhy 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.

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American Force coverThe community of national security scholars benefits whenever Richard K. Betts publishes a new article or book, because his work is consistently well researched, gracefully written, thoughtful, and provocative. I find this work to be no exception and said so on the jacket cover when the book was published. The distinguished reviewers gathered here agree that Betts has produced another worthy volume, although some are disappointed at what they see as an overly shrill tone in some chapters. One of the most remarkable aspects of this book is that Betts emerges as an avowed dove—sort of—after a long history of sounding rather hawkish (although never extreme). Betts in fact refers to himself in the preface as a Cold War hawk, now converted into a post-Cold War dove—even if, he tells us, this “recent dovishness is of a crusty sort” (xi).
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Charles Kupchan. How Enemies Become Friends: The Sources of Stable Peace. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010, 2012. ISBN: 9780691142654 (cloth, $29.95); 9780691154381 (paper, $24.95). 9781400834419 (eBook, $24.95). Published by H-Diplo/ISSF on 25 October 2012Charles 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?

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