By Tim1965 / Tim from Washington, D.C., United States of America – Own work / Civil War Unknowns Memorial – looking E – Arlington National Cemetery – 2011, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16636644

This is a significant article which attempts to document something that many political scientists have suspected[1]—that negotiated settlements of civil wars increased greatly after the Cold War and have declined since 9/11. This finding is significant because it implies that 1990-2001 may be an atypical period in conflict resolution and that generalizations based on behavior during that time may be misleading as guides to future actions, an unsettling suggestion to scholars and practioners alike. The authors argue that this change in behavior is the result of a change in international norms, driven by changes in the international environment. I think this is interesting, but rather to my surprise I am not persuaded by the article’s empirical foundation.

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Cover of The Great Powers and the International SystemIt 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).

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