“Identity matters for security outcomes”, writes Jarrod Hayes in this fascinating roundtable on his 2013 book, Constructing National Security. Is there anyone working on international security today who can possibly think otherwise? Even the most diehard rationalist must surely recognize the importance of identity to President Donald Trump’s worldview, and to how other states, whether allies or adversaries, are developing their security policies in response to Trump’s election. But how much does identity matter? And when does identity matter? These are thornier issues. In answering these questions, both Constructing National Security and the contributors to this roundtable offer much food for thought.
In the aftermath of India’s five nuclear tests in May 1998, one analyst suggested that the motivations underlying its quest for nuclear weapons could be traced to ideas of national modernity and the lack of suitable scrutiny of a secretive scientific enclave. The same assessment argued that explanations that adduced material factors such as extant threats from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) were simply chimerical. Others, in a similar vein, contended that the origins of the program could be found in India’s quest for status and prestige. Both accounts, though seemingly plausible, were actually quite flawed. The first was a heavily interpretive analysis, which attributed a series of motives on the basis of ambiguous evidence to a host of key individuals who had helped shape the early stages of India’s civilian nuclear program. More to the point, it mostly ignored the very compelling security threats at critical junctures that had led to the militarization of the program.
Voltaire famously observed that “God is always on the side of the big battalions” (5). International relations theorists and diplomatic historians have tended to find Voltaire’s explanation persuasive but, as Paul MacDonald shows in his provocative new book, peripheral conquest during the nineteenth century was a far more complicated endeavor than conventional warfare on the European continent. In his view, the scholarly focus on aggregate military power and relative advantage “ignores the role of social factors in shaping conquest, especially in the periphery of the international system” (6). In Networks of Domination, MacDonald argues that two social factors are crucial in determining the effectiveness of military force in cases of peripheral conquest. The first factor is the extent to which potential conquerors have pre-existing social ties with local elites. Dense ties with local elites, MacDonald argues, makes it much more likely that potential conquerors will be able to identify and fruitfully work with local collaborators. The second factor that facilitates peripheral conquest is patterns of local resistance. When local elites are less connected to each other, MacDonald argues, it is much harder for local resistance forces to confront potential conquerors. The book’s richly detailed chapters include cases of British conquest in India, Southern Africa, and Nigeria, as well as an application of the framework to explain the failed American occupation of Iraq.
Will 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. 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.
How 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).
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.
Understanding the nature of insurgencies has long been an important objective for political scientists, historians, and policymakers. In Networks of Rebellion, Paul Staniland argues that scholars have paid insufficient attention to the different organizational structures of insurgent groups. In his view, understanding organizational structure is crucial because “states and their foes spend far more time and resources on organization building and institutional survival than on formulating intricate strategies of violence…Like logistics, organization consumes the attention of professional war-fighters” (220). What explains the different organizational structures of insurgent organizations? Staniland argues that a crucial determinant of the structure of insurgent groups during wartime is the nature of prewar political life. While organizational structures can and do change during wartime, he argues that the prewar ties between elites and local communities “determine the strength of central and local organizational control when rebel leaders mobilize that based for rebellion” (9).
Why did the United States, despite vigorous public debates over the wisdom of invading Iraq, pursue an ultimately disastrous war with Iraq in 2003? After all, as John Stuart Mill and others have suggested, such debates in the ‘marketplace of ideas’ should surely have led to a solid consensus against such a course. Explaining why American foreign policymakers repeatedly commit such mistakes is the broad task that Christopher Fettweis sets for himself in his new book. In his view, the primary source of blunders in American foreign policy is the nation’s deep and collective attachment to a series of pathological beliefs that he groups into the categories of fear, honor, glory, and hubris. These four pathologies do not lead to random errors in foreign policy making, but instead “almost always lend support to the most hawkish, belligerent position in any foreign policy debate. Fear, honor, glory, and hubris rarely convince leaders to cooperate with rivals or foes; these categories of belief expand the set of casus belli far more widely than any rational calculation would support” (14).
In a timely article, John Mitton seeks to show how the enduring rivalry between India and Pakistan has hampered NATO’s efforts in Afghanistan and contributed to its failure. The author is careful in noting that while the rivalry is not the only reason for failure, it certainly is a factor. The author also cites many noted regional specialists who also have argued that the Indo-Pakistani rivalry has played a role in determining the outcome of the current war in Afghanistan. In that sense, the author is correct in considering such regional factors to explain the failures in Afghanistan. The article also raises many more interesting questions worth exploring. In this review, I summarize the argument and findings, point out its strengths and weaknesses, and highlight the possible directions future research in this area could take, given the article’s conclusions.
Jayita Sarkar’s generous though critical review of my article flags several aspects concerning its methodology and substance. These criticisms demand answers and I am happy to provide them.