Samuel Moyn’s study of human rights movements is a path-breaking book.  It moves the study of human rights out of the realm of virtue and into the realm of politics.  By desacralizing the subject, he has historicized it, and thereby has enabled us to measure the claims of human rights against other political claims and projects.   Trained both as a lawyer and as an intellectual historian, Moyn tilts the chronology of human rights history towards a bifurcation, between a period of failed activism prior to 1970 and of successful mobilization in the form of a set of popular trans-national movements after that date.  Why the divide?  Because prior to 1970, other utopias, especially the Marxist one in Europe and elsewhere, as well as its anti-colonial variants in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, still commanded the loyalty and commitment of millions.  After that date anti-colonialism had more or less completed its historical mission, and Marxism, as a theory of action and as a political movement, slowly and then spectacularly collapsed.  Into the vacuum rushed human rights as a political weapon of choice.

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Intelligence and National Security coverThe special issue of Intelligence and National Security, Volume 26, April-June 2011 continues the process of bringing intelligence in from the cold.  It is to be hoped that the reviews here contribute to the parallel process of familiarizing diplomatic historians with what is known about intelligence and bringing in two fields closer together.  We are still a long way from understanding the degree to which intelligence influenced or reflected international politics during the Cold War, but the reviewers agree that this special issue on “The CIA and U.S. Foreign Policy Since 1947” is a significant contribution.

 

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Cry Havoc coverJoseph Maiolo’s basic argument in Cry Havoc is summed up in the book’s subtitle:  How the Arms Race Drove the World to War, 1931-1941.  Maiolo does not accept the traditional view that the democracies in the years before World War II made a terrible mistake “by failing to arm fast enough to stop Axis aggression”(2). As he sees it, it was the arms race itself, and not the failure of the western powers to participate in it actively enough, that lay at the heart of the problem.  The arms race, he argues, was “an independent, self-perpetuating and often overriding impersonal force,” a “vast maelstrom, a tremendous torrent,” a “vicious system” that no one could escape—and which sped, in 1938-39, “toward its inevitable climax”(2-3, 402, 271, 207).

 

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Vietnam at War coverMark Phillip Bradley’s central purpose in Vietnam at War is to offer his readers “a sharp departure from prevailing narratives in the West, which have until recently rendered the Vietnamese invisible in the making of their own history.”  It is difficult to imagine a scholar better suited to this task than Bradley. A gifted writer, very comfortable working in American, European and Vietnamese archives, Bradley is the author of the highly acclaimed Imagining Vietnam & America: The Making of Postcolonial Vietnam, 1919-1950. In a field that constantly debates the proper balance to be struck between American, Vietnamese, and international actors—a divide that Christoph Giebel captures in the distinction between  “Viet Nam Studies” and “Viet Nam War Studies”– Imagining Vietnam & America is a rare work of scholarship that seamlessly integrates cultural and diplomatic history from multiple perspectives.[1]

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How does peace between states become an established social fact or part of the unquestioned order of things? This question drives Vincent Pouliot’s International Security in Practice, an innovative and provocative contribution to the theoretical literature on international security, with an empirical focus on post-Cold War Russian-Atlantic security relations.  While the challenge of theorizing the causes and conditions of war and peace between states is ‘ancient’ in the discipline of International Relations (IR), the challenge of enacting transatlantic peace became a novel and urgent practical concern in world politics following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the U.S.-USSR superpower rivalry, a set of events which opened up a rare opportunity for the pacification of relations between former enemies.  Although there were initial promising signs in the early 1990s of great transformations in security relations between Russia and the West, transatlantic peace has materialized only as a fragile and somewhat fleeting achievement.  Why was the hope of a robust and enduring post-Cold War transatlantic peace stillborn (p. 191)?

 

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When I was getting ready to take my Ph.D. exams forty years ago, I had a meeting with my advisor, Raymond Sontag. What, he wondered, should he examine me on? “Why don’t you ask me something about the origins of the First World War?” I said. “I think I understand that now.” His reply was devastating:  “Oh really? I’ve been studying it for fifty years and I still don’t understand it.” But over the years I’ve come to feel the same way. The whole question of what caused that war, for me at least, remains deeply puzzling. To be sure, we’re still learning new and important things, even about what happened during the July Crisis in 1914. But with every new insight, new problems come into focus, and ultimate answers remain as elusive as ever. In fact, the deeper you go into the issue, the more puzzling it becomes—or at least that’s been my own experience in grappling with this particular historical problem.

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