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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The Struggle for Order coverHow 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.[1] 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.

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Achieving Nuclear Ambitions coverMany scholars and policymakers concerned with the proliferation of nuclear weapons assume that the passage of time has made it much easier for states and terrorist groups to achieve their nuclear ambitions. For example, in their book The Nuclear Express, Thomas Reed and Danny Stillman reflect this common assumption: “Any well-industrialized society with the intellectual firepower, economic resources, and government determination can join the nuclear club less than three years from go.”[1]

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Weapons of Mass Migration coverBy the accounts of the three reviewers below, Kelly Greenhill has hit a home run. Their collective view substantiates the judgment of the International Studies Association (ISA), which gave Weapons of Mass Migration the Association’s Best Book of the Year Award for 2011. In turn, the reviewers and the ISA have confirmed my judgment of four years ago that this is an especially important book in the field of security studies.

 

 

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Many of the specific questions raised about our article’s limitations by the commentators are, indeed, true, but they reflect the stated approach of the paper.  North Korea is a country where the uncertainties are great, and this is no truer than in trying to anticipate a future North Korean government collapse and potential transition to Korean unification.  Moreover, information on North Korea is scarce and difficult to interpret in large part because of North Korean information denial and falsification efforts.  As a result, it is important to note our statement of the purposes of our article: “First, we seek to bring into the public debate a discussion of the scale of the problems that the collapse of North Korea’s government could create, and the potential for dire consequences, both humanitarian and strategic, if stability efforts were delayed or failed altogether.  We describe the military missions that might be necessary to stabilize North Korea and estimate the force requirements for those missions. …  Second and more broadly, this analysis sheds light on international intervention in collapsing states.” (86) With their comments, the reviewers have certainly contributed to our first objective, and their comments add to what we have contributed on the second.  Moreover, we developed estimates of the military force requirements because we felt they would help motivate a public debate.

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International Security coverBruce Bennett and Jennifer Lind provide what can only be described as a most timely analysis of the challenges facing external actors in the event of a collapse in North Korea following “the most difficult challenge that such regimes face: succession” (84).They correctly identify not only the internal weaknesses of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and the daunting prospect of a truncated transition period, but also the difficulties and dangers faced by the international community in addressing a potential collapse. Underlying trends leading to collapse include the destabilizing effects of a chronic lack of food combined with uncertainty about who is in power (91). The authors see Kim Jong-il’s sudden death or incapacitation as the potential trigger for a power struggle and subsequent government collapse, due to the limited time spent grooming his successor, Kim Jong-un, and the candidate’s extreme youth (84). And a “government collapse in North Korea could unleash a series of catastrophes on the peninsula with potentially far-reaching regional and global effects” (84). These effects would include a humanitarian crisis leading to a massive outflow of refugees, North Korean weapons of mass destruction (WMD) finding their way onto the international black market, and, potentially, in the absence of sufficient international coordination, conflict between the countries likely to intervene, the People’s Republic of China, the Republic of Korea, and the United States (85).

 

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How We Fight coverDominic Tierney’s How We Fight: Crusades, Quagmires, and the American Ways of War is an unusual achievement.  It is a provocative scholarly book about the U.S. approach to war that was written for a broad non-academic audience.  For the academic and layperson alike, it succeeds in establishing that the heated controversies of the moment follow a familiar pattern.  Indeed, it is impossible to read Tierney’s book without reflecting upon recent events.  The Obama administration has struggled mightily to define (and redefine) the U.S. mission in Afghanistan; it has announced deep defense cuts though the United States remains at war; and with the shift in defense budgetary priorities, it will trim the very capabilities (for counterinsurgency) that U.S. leaders had once viewed as keys to success in Iraq and Afghanistan.  But what led the administration finally to act?  Was the administration recognizing belatedly that the public would not tolerate nation-building efforts?  Or had the clock simply run out on the U.S. effort?

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