The study of military effectiveness in political science has come a long way in a short period of time. When I started graduate school in the mid-1990s, most of the key works on the subject were written by historians and sociologists rather than political scientists. Beginning in the late 1990s, however, military effectiveness began to enter the mainstream of international security studies in political science. Scholars began to produce a series of works that detailed, inter alia, the martial shortcomings of dictatorships and Arab states, the battlefield virtues of democracies, the critical importance of the ‘modern system’ of force employment, and the link between civil-military relations and effective preparation for and conduct of hostilities. Lively debate continues on many of these subjects, particularly the relative effectiveness of different regime types and how civil-military relations influence adoption of the modern system. This debate has unfolded primarily in the context of conventional (interstate) war, but a related literature on effectiveness in counterinsurgency has been reinvigorated in the wake of U.S. occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Sonia Ben Ouagrham-Gormley’s outstanding Barriers to Bioweapons demonstrates that while it may be relatively easy to pick your poison, there are very significant barriers to manufacturing it. Her main argument, as our reviewers so clearly explain, is that making bioweapons—that is, ‘weaponizing’ biological agents such as anthrax, smallpox, plague, and many others—has been far more difficult to achieve than is generally understood. And this is true whether these are small groups intent on creating terror or nation-states working at far larger scales of destruction.
It is a pleasure to read Feng Zhang’s Chinese Hegemony: Grand Strategy and International Institutions in East Asian History. This book is an exemplar in its serious treatment of Chinese history, its holistic approach to East Asian history covering Inner Asia as well as Korea and Japan, its simultaneous analysis of the foreign policy strategies of both imperial China and its neighbors, and its meticulous examination of fluctuating normative and instrumental strategies in particular periods and in particular relations. It will no doubt become required reading in the International Relations literature.
The International Security Studies Forum (ISSF) of H-Diplo is very pleased to provide a roundtable discussion of Dr. Jessica Weeks’s book, Dictators at War and Peace. The book offers an important answer to the centuries-old international relations question as to how the politics within states affect the politics between states? Since at least the Enlightenment, most observers have tackled this question by focusing on the differences between democracies and dictatorships, Immanuel Kant and others famously arguing that democracies are more peaceful. Realists have been skeptical of this claim, contending that all types of political systems conduct foreign policy similarly. Especially since the end of the Cold War, international-relations scholars have been consumed with the scientific exploration of the democratic peace proposition.
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.
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).
How should we understand the changes in East Asia over the last quarter century? The region that has undergone the most extraordinarily rapid economic transformation in modern history is the subject of fierce contestation regarding the implications of the shifting material balance between East Asia and the powers that dominated in the Cold-War era. The ‘rise of China,’ as the largest and potentially most disruptive of the East Asian countries, has captured most attention in scholarly and popular commentary. In the scholarly debate, realist accounts of power transitions dominate the field, although they do not offer a unified prediction of the consequences of rising Chinese power. Evelyn Goh’s The Struggle for Order: Hegemony, Hierarchy and Transition in Post-Cold War East Asia injects a welcome note of innovation into this field. The Struggle for Order presents a compelling challenge to accounts that view the region purely in terms of the shifting material capacities of the major powers. That it does so without ignoring power asymmetries, contests, and competing conceptions of interest distinguishes it from what Andrew Hurrell in this roundtable calls the “liberal optimism” that until now represented the major alternative to realist theorizing.
Two years after the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, as the Barack Obama administration contends with a drawdown in Afghanistan, significant new scholarship is reengaging persistent questions about both conflicts. Stephen Benedict Dyson and Renanah Miles share a concern with some of the conventional wisdom that has emerged over the years, and they offer sharply focused and emphatic correctives. While they tell different kinds of stories and take distinctive approaches, together they suggest a levels-of-analysis dilemma that puts their contributions in perspective. After summarizing the core arguments of each article, this review will consider that dilemma along with a few substantive and evidentiary questions.
Something 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 […]
Is the United States destined to decline in the twenty-first century? This is a seemingly simple question, but one that International Relations theorists seem destined to debate without resolution. How should we measure power? What are the most relevant economic and military indicators of national power? How should we weigh the various components of national power in order to reach an overall assessment of the future balance of power in the international system? Are structural and material indicators reversible or irreversible? Can specific policy decisions, ideas, and strategies substantially reverse or accelerate national decline?