On 8 March 2018, National Security Advisor Chung Eui-yong of the Republic of Korea (ROK) met with President Donald J. Trump at the White House to brief him on his recent talks with Kim Jong Un, leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), in Pyongyang. Trump learned that Kim had promised not to stage any further nuclear tests and take steps toward denuclearization. Chung emerged from the meeting to read a statement outside the West Wing announcing that Trump had accepted Kim’s proposal for the two leaders to meet in person. This news shocked people around the world because it constituted a sudden and dramatic reversal in a U.S.-DPRK relationship of intense mutual hostility. In December 2017, under U.S. leadership, the United Nations imposed the last of a series of crippling economic sanctions on North Korea after it launched a missile the previous month that Kim Jong Un claimed could reach any target in the continental United States. By then, Trump had threatened military destruction of the DPRK. On 8 August 2017, at his golf club in New Jersey, he warned that if Pyongyang continued to threaten the United States, it would “be met with fire, fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.” A month later at the United Nations, Trump repeated his threat. If the United States “is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea,” he declared. Mocking the DPRK’s leader, Trump then remarked that “Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself.” A few days later, Kim Jong Un publicly read an official statement in which he called Trump “a frightened dog” and a “gangster fond of playing with fire.” He added that “I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged U.S. dotard with fire,” using an arcane term for a mentally impaired elderly person.
For alliance scholars who are interested in institutional design and U.S. foreign policy in Asia, Victor Cha’s 2010 International Security article, “Powerplay: The Origins of the U.S. Alliance System in Asia” is a valuable resource. Cha has expanded his article-length treatment into a thoughtful and timely book, and in so doing has given us much to digest and discuss.
Joining the growing list of international relations (IR) scholars who are turning to historical analyses of alternative, non-Westphalian diplomatic systems for insights into the creation and maintenance of political order is Ji-Young Lee, whose book, China’s Hegemony: Four Hundred Years of East Asian Domination, provides an empirically rich and theoretically insightful account of premodern East Asian international relations. The core argument of her book is that China’s hegemony was not a direct product of either its material power or its cultural appeal. Rather, Chinese hegemonic authority, measured in terms of compliant tributary practices, was co-constructed by a dominant China and its less powerful tribute-paying neighbors via mutual interactions. In particular, the book emphasizes how the domestic legitimation needs of less powerful states, such as Korea and Japan, played a key role in constructing (while sometimes adapting) Chinese hegemony during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) and the Qing dynasty (1636-1911).
Tell us this cannot happen, the Japanese said to their American friends, listening to Republican Party nominee Donald J. Trump during the 2016 campaign. Trump attacked Japan as an economic predator, disdained American allies as free riders, and broadly rejected the U.S. grand strategy that had benefited Japan tremendously. Friends in Boston and Washington D.C. (and New Hampshire) assured the Japanese that Trump was unelectable, and that under a Hillary Clinton presidency, Japan would resume its place as a valued American ally. Trump’s election was thus a profound shock to Japan—the latest in a long line of shokku from the United States to jolt Tokyo.
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).