In an analytical review of alliance research, James Morrow posed the title question, “Alliances: why write them down?”[1] A decade and a half later, Keren Yarhi-Milo, Alexander Lanoszka, and Zack Cooper revisit this issue, posing their own title question: “To arm or to ally?” Yarhi-Milo, Lanoszka, and Cooper pose this question through the structural lens of hierarchical relations, setting it up as a “patron’s dilemma” of how patrons can best ensure a client state’s security—through either a formal guarantee to defend the state against foreign attack, the provision of significant arms, or both (or neither). Hierarchical relations and patrons’ dilemmas have received increased attention in security scholarship, with several scholars expounding upon the nature of international hierarchy and its role in security provision, economic relations, democratization efforts, and many other international political issues.[2] In their article, Yarhi-Milo, Lanoszka, and Cooper focus on the central alliance tradeoff of credibility versus flexibility. By agreeing to a formal institutionalized security pact in the nature of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) a patron can send a clear and credible signal of commitment, but such an ironclad commitment may trap the patron in an unwanted conflict. Conversely, simply supplying arms provides greater flexibility and will enhance the client’s security, but not to the degree that a formal defense pact would. How then do patrons decide which strategy to adopt? Yarhi-Milo, Lanoszka, and Cooper seek to answer that question.

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Nic von Wielligh’s new book on the history of the South African nuclear project is a timely contribution to the on-going scholarly debate on why and how countries choose to develop, maintain and dismantle nuclear weapons programs. Since South Africa is the only country to date that has undergone a voluntary complete nuclear roll-back, its history is particularly important to scholars of nuclear proliferation, especially in the contemporary context of the debate surrounding Iran’s nuclear program and its trajectory. The author, nuclear physicist Nic von Wielligh, began his involvement in South Africa’s nuclear program in 1975, graduating into a managerial position in South Africa’s Atomic Energy Corporation a decade later. This unique position enabled von Wielligh, with the assistance of his daughter, Lydia von Wielligh-Steyn, to write the book from an insider’s perspective, revealing many previously unknown details and filling-in some much sought-after gaps in the literature on South Africa’s nuclear endeavour.[1]

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Bargaining on Nuclear Tests coverPreventing sovereign states from acquiring and deploying a military technology that all but guarantees their security is beyond difficult. Early in the nuclear age, many United States policymakers and analysts thought that nuclear nonproliferation efforts were, at worst, impossible, and, at best, too costly. Despite this pessimism, the U.S. has made nuclear non-proliferation a priority of American grand strategy since 1945, and has been willing to pay a high price, ranging from breaking its tradition of no permanent peacetime alliances to pressuring Cold-War allies such as West Germany and South Korea while cooperating with a bitter geopolitical and ideological rival, the Soviet Union, to stem the spread of nuclear weapons. No one expected these nuclear nonproliferation policies to be easy or completely successful. If you had told even the most optimistic American decision-maker in 1965 that half a century later (2015) no nuclear weapons would have been detonated against another state, either in anger or by accident, and that the number of states possessing nuclear weapons remained in the single digits, they would have been overjoyed (and likely would have thought that you were crazy).

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Narang coverHow 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).

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The Warrior State coverIn Charles Tilly’s oft-cited formulation, “War made the state, and the state made war.”[1] In other words, the relationship between insecurity and state capacity is a direct one. As was the case in Europe, the need to fight wars caused states to develop economically and build strong state capacity, which led to the modern state. Yet, as T.V. Paul observes in The Warrior State, Pakistan, a state that has organized itself principally as a national security state, has failed to develop economically and failed to build a strong state capacity. To explain this paradox, Paul develops an innovative argument that states can suffer from a geostrategic curse, which is akin to what has been termed ‘a resource curse.’ Essentially, a resource curse occurs when states that have access to an abundance of resource wealth (e.g., Saudi oil) use that wealth to forestall calls for political reform and economic development by buying off domestic groups. Paul argues that Pakistan has faced an analogous geostrategic curse: because of its strategic importance (during the Cold War, during the War on Terror, and its proximity to the Sino-Indian border), Pakistan has received considerable military aid, which it has been able to use to forestall political and economic change. Consequently, while other national security states have developed strong state capacity in order to wage war, Pakistan has relied on the largesse of others, while resisting calls to modernize.

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The Warrior State coverIn Charles Tilly’s oft-cited formulation, “War made the state, and the state made war.”[1] In other words, the relationship between insecurity and state capacity is a direct one. As was the case in Europe, the need to fight wars caused states to develop economically and build strong state capacity, which led to the modern state. Yet, as T.V. Paul observes in The Warrior State, Pakistan, a state that has organized itself principally as a national security state, has failed to develop economically and failed to build a strong state capacity. To explain this paradox, Paul develops an innovative argument that states can suffer from a geostrategic curse, which is akin to what has been termed ‘a resource curse.’ Essentially, a resource curse occurs when states that have access to an abundance of resource wealth (e.g., Saudi oil) use that wealth to forestall calls for political reform and economic development by buying off domestic groups. Paul argues that Pakistan has faced an analogous geostrategic curse: because of its strategic importance (during the Cold War, during the War on Terror, and its proximity to the Sino-Indian border), Pakistan has received considerable military aid, which it has been able to use to forestall political and economic change. Consequently, while other national security states have developed strong state capacity in order to wage war, Pakistan has relied on the largesse of others, while resisting calls to modernize.

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The Second Nuclear Age coverEasy answers to the numerous problems posed by the proliferation of nuclear weapons will not be found in Paul Bracken’s The Second Nuclear Age: Strategy, Danger, and the New Power Politics. In fact, Bracken has very little to say about what are often considered to be the perennial nuclear issues of the post-Cold War world. How should America, Western Europe and Israel deal with the problem of Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons? Will the nuclear rivalry between Pakistan and India become as stable as the rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union eventually became? What countries are likely to pursue and/or acquire nuclear weapons in the coming decades? How can the nuclear proliferation regime be strengthened and extended into the twenty-first century?

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I want to thank H-Diplo for publishing this response, and James A. Russell for taking the time to read and review my book. I also want to thank Robert Jervis for the additional comments on Russell’s review. Because the review did not fully address the book’s main arguments and findings, thereby missing the main points of the book, I wish to briefly describe and clarify the book’s main goal, as well as some of its important findings.

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Reconceptualizing Deterrence coverIn 1959 Bernard Brodie’s book Strategy in the Missile Age[1] augured in an interesting but relatively short-lived debate over the impact of nuclear weapons on the prospect of war between the United States and the Soviet Union. It appeared amidst a spasm of scholarship on nuclear strategy, deterrence, escalation ladders, limited war and coercive bargaining frameworks. Brodie sensibly concluded that the presence of these weapons had inevitably led the United States into a strategy of deterrence, in which the overarching goal was to prevent the occurrence of war between the United States and the Soviet Union.

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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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