Since the turn of the millennium, International Relations has been experiencing a revival of realist scholarship. As Konstantinos Kostagiannis writes in his thought-provoking paper on the classical realist Hans J. Morgenthau, part of this revival is due to the establishment of “tragedy as an analytical category and [the discussion of] its contemporary relevance for modern normative international-relations theory” (513). And Kostagiannis makes a significant contribution in further unearthing the prospects of tragedy by interpreting it as a metaphor, used by Morgenthau in his critique of the nation-state.
It is difficult for me to imagine an international relations (IR) scholar not being interested enough in Bear Braumoeller’s The Great Powers and the International System to read this review symposium. I’ll warrant that I’m biased on the matter, having been nurtured on systemic IR theory as an undergraduate and graduate student, liking books that combine rigorous theory and international history, and being interested in the substantive questions and specific historical periods discussed in the book. But those of you who may not share this background and disposition please consider these points: The Great Powers and the International System was selected as the best book of the year by the International Studies Association; it advances huge arguments with major implications for big swaths of international history; it grapples with questions that have exercised the minds of thinkers for centuries, primarily whether leaders shape or are shaped by grand historical forces; it generates non-obvious and counterintuitive arguments about questions long at the center of the field; unlike most ‘big swing’ theory books, it features a major effort to subject arguments to empirical account; if you like math, it’s got it—both for working out the theory and testing it; if you like to see abstract arguments that are expressed and tested with symbols and numbers forced to confront the real stuff of international politics in real case studies, it’s got that too; it is highly likely to become a central book in the field, informing a lot of subsequent scholarship; and, finally, to assess the book critically, H-Diplo’s ISSF editors have assembled here an academic dream team (more on that below).
From the very beginning of the nation’s history, intelligence has been set aside as a conspicuous exception to James Madison’s advocacy of checks-and-balances, spelled out in his Federalist Paper No. 51. The ‘auxiliary precautions’ that this key participant at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 (and later America’s fourth President) — the safeguards he had helped build into the Constitution — were never applied to America’s secret intelligence activities. It has been the norm around the world for nations to treat their intelligence services as something special and apart from the rest of government. These agencies wear a cloak of secrecy, have unique access to decision-makers, and are given considerable leeway to carry out their duties without the usual review (in democracies at least) of programs, personnel, and budgets by overseers in the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government. A nation’s leaders were expected to avert their eyes as the secret services broke laws overseas (a routine occurrence) and engaged in unsavory activities, even assassinations and coups d’état, that would be deemed highly inappropriate for other government agencies.
Over the last few decades one of the hottest subjects of debate in the social sciences has been the emergence of ‘cyber’ and its effects on all manner of social relationships and human communities. The term itself is chronically contested and the understanding of the nature of cyberspace in the literature (i.e., its delimitation, composition, and relations with other sorts of space) has a certain buffet quality to it, meaning one thing to some scholars and something else to others. The most influential literature on the subject largely steers clear of the term in the search for the essence of the problem at hand. The sociologist Manuel Castells, for instance, has described the arrival of what he calls the “network society.” The basic idea, in a nutshell, is that the recent (or, perhaps better, ongoing) putative ‘revolution’ in information technology has, in turn, given rise to a paradigmatically new form of organization of human activities—political, economic, and cultural—that is structured around network flows of information, wealth, and, ultimately, power.
The past decade has seen a renewal of interest in the international history of the 1920s. This interest is apparent in what might be called traditional state-centred studies of international politics. But it is also evident in the burgeoning scholarship on international and transnational movements and organizations, many of which were not (or not simply) state actors. The recent surge of work on the League of Nations offers a prominent example: once viewed as a failed inter-state security institution, the League is now portrayed as a dynamic, innovative, and multi-faceted experiment in international governance that drew into its orbit both state and non-state actors.
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.
Perhaps only Douglas Porch, with his encyclopedic knowledge of insurgency and counterinsurgency (COIN) and his broader military expertise, could have written this book. Counterinsurgency: Exposing the Myths of the New Way of War is a magisterial examination across time and space of the history of COIN. It is intended to dispel the myths propagated around it as a kinder, gentler form of warfare waged for the benefit of all involved. An eminent military historian, Porch is a Professor of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School. He has been writing about revolution, insurgency, expeditionary warfare, military empire building, the role of the military in domestic politics, great power war, and related issues for more than 40 years.
Mark Mazower’s Governing the World surveys the evolution of internationalism over the last two centuries. Mazower’s history provides a rich description of how the concept of internationalism has been contested, altered, and manipulated since the early nineteenth century. After reviewing some of the key points in Mazower’s historical narrative, my review makes two points. First, Governing the World could have benefited from a deeper engagement with theories in the field of international relations that seek to explain the rise and fall of institutionalized international cooperation. Second, Mazower’s arguments about the ways in which contemporary internationalism is eroding state sovereignty are underdeveloped, and, ultimately, unpersuasive.
Who 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.”
As we enter the second decade of the twenty-first century, the world has become complex, heterogeneous, and unstable. States do not accept a higher authority above themselves. The United Nations Security Council has hardly ever functioned with one voice and is currently immobile because of the blocking power of Russia and China. Third World countries generally do not accept the recently-promoted ‘responsibility to protect,’ as advocated by the Western powers. The unmanageable conflict in Syria, the nuclear-tinged threats of Kim Jong Un, and the explosions at the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Patriots’ Day, are testimony to just how unstable and fragile the peace has become.