The International History Review coverLast year, Scott Sagan declared – on H-Diplo – that we are in the midst of a renaissance in nuclear studies, driven by first-rate work by younger scholars.[1] Two qualities in particular mark this scholarship. First, many of these young scholars combine both methodological innovation and rigor while engaging new archival sources. Second, these scholars are unafraid to challenge long-held conventional wisdoms about the nuclear age. The three commentators to this forum – a roundtable on Andreas Wenger and Roland Popp (eds.), “Special Issue: The Origins of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Regime,” in The International History Review — are exemplars of these trends. Eliza Gheorghe has mined new sources to explore the previously unknown and fascinating history of Romania’s nuclear program, in the process generating important insights into nuclear dynamics between superpowers and smaller states.[2] Nicholas Miller has identified the key moments in United States nuclear nonproliferation policy, helping us understand the motivations and tools driving these efforts.[3] Jane Vayman has built upon recent historical research to model the causal dynamics behind the surprising superpower collusion to stem the spread of nuclear weapons.[4] As their previous work and their reviews here reveal, all three are equally conversant in the most recent historical scholarship and the newest trends in international relations theory involving nuclear dynamics.

 

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The Kennan Diaries (cover)An eleven year old George Kennan began keeping a diary on January 1, 1916. At the very start of the diary he wrote “In this simple, little book, A record of the day I cast; So I afterwards may look back upon my happy past” (684). Due to Kennan’s remarkably lengthy and prolific career as a policymaker, diplomat, and scholar, as well as the undeniable impact he has had on the direction of American foreign policy during the Cold War, historians have long been attracted to studying his thoughts and actions. No one could ever plausibly claim that Kennan has been ‘understudied’ and his two volumes of memoirs also offered many personal insights into his inner thoughts.[1] However, with the publication of Frank Costigliola’s edited collection of Kennan’s diaries from the period between 1916 and 2004, there is little doubt that scholars will continue to be fascinated by the complexities of Kennan’s life and career. It is a life that was certainly not simple and, despite all of his accomplishments and honors, the diaries make it abundantly clear that happiness was never Kennan’s dominant mood.

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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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Attribution: By Freedom of the Press Foundation (Freedom of the Press Foundation) [CC BY 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsFrom the very beginning of the nation’s history, intelligence has been set aside as a conspicuous exception to James Madison’s advocacy of checks-and-balances, spelled out in his Federalist Paper No. 51. The ‘auxiliary precautions’ that this key participant at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 (and later America’s fourth President) — the safeguards he had helped build into the Constitution — were never applied to America’s secret intelligence activities. It has been the norm around the world for nations to treat their intelligence services as something special and apart from the rest of government.   These agencies wear a cloak of secrecy, have unique access to decision-makers, and are given considerable leeway to carry out their duties without the usual review (in democracies at least) of programs, personnel, and budgets by overseers in the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government. A nation’s leaders were expected to avert their eyes as the secret services broke laws overseas (a routine occurrence) and engaged in unsavory activities, even assassinations and coups d’état, that would be deemed highly inappropriate for other government agencies.

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Congress of Vienna RT coversThis year marks the bicentennial anniversary of the Congress of Vienna. From September of 1814 to June of 1815, over 200 representatives met in the Austrian capital to rebuild the foundations of European diplomacy, which lay in shambles after over twenty years of war. It was the great powers, the “Pentarchy” of Austria, Britain, France, Prussia, and Russia, who dictated the territorial and political agreements that formed the core of a European grand settlement. And more importantly, at Vienna these powers laid the groundwork for what Mark Jarrett calls “an audacious experiment in international cooperation” (205): a congress system, in which powers would engage in “habitual confidential and free intercourse between the Ministers of the Great Powers as a body” in hope that “many pretensions might be modified, asperities removed, and causes of irritation anticipated and met” (205).

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Logics of War coverThe book produced by Alex Weisiger is a substantial contribution to rationalist theory in international relations.  Weisiger investigates the effects of commitment problems in international bargaining on the conduct, duration, and destructiveness of wars.  The book is among only a few works that closely analyze international history from the perspective of recent developments in the theory of international bargaining.  Weisiger is superb at framing history as a series of mysteries, the answers to which he dramatically unravels.  In addition to its contribution to research on international conflict, therefore, the book is immensely valuable as a teaching tool.

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The Triumph of Improvisation coverDebates over the origins of the Cold War have long been a staple of graduate and undergraduate courses on historiography. Tracing the shifting interpretations of such an important era demonstrates how the writing of history influences and is influenced by the periods in which the history is written. The result has been a familiar tripartite division straight out of Hegel, as Traditionalist certainty inspired Revisionist critique, which in turn spawned a Post-Revisionist effort to harmonize the two that has created new opportunities for creative disagreement in succeeding generations.

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Zbig coverAs our reviewers note, of all the members of the small set of people who have combined distinguished scholarship and a stint as a top policy-maker, Zbigniew Brzezinski is the least studied, especially in comparison to George Kennan and Henry Kissinger. Indeed, the volume under review is the first to be devoted to him, his thinking, and his role in government. Part of the reason is that at the time and for some years after, the Carter Administration seemed like a failure, and a fairly uninteresting one at that. But, as is so often the case, the judgment of history tends to be counter-cyclical and scholars are attracted both to revisionism and to areas that have not been adequately covered. More careful and perhaps less angry scholarship, combined with a reaction to the performance of more recent presidents, have made the Carter administration appear more interesting, balanced, and successful. New material also explains increased scholarly attention: Brzezinski’s weekly memos to President Jimmy Carter, in addition to many other papers, are available at the Carter library.

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Flawed Logics coverHeated debates about the merits of specific arms control agreements were a constant feature of the Cold War. Did the hawks or the doves offer a more compelling and intellectually consistent viewpoint in these debates? In his new book, which should be of great interest to both historians and international relations theorists, James Lebovic argues that neither side in these debates was consistently correct and that the terms of arms control agreements reached during the Cold War “were never as good as U.S. proponents claimed—or as bad as opponents feared” (1). The central purpose of Lebovic’s historical research, however, is not to argue about the merits and flaws of particular arms-control treaties but to examine the underlying ideas and assumptions shared by both sides in the debate. For all of their important policy differences, Lebovic argues, both hawks and doves demonstrated “flawed logics” in their approach to arms control throughout the Cold War. While both sides ostensibly focused their respective cases on the hard number and operational realities of nuclear weapons, the arguments made by both hawks and doves were based on crucial ideas and assumptions about aspects of the adversary’s intentions, strategies, and trustworthiness that were rarely subjected to proper scrutiny.

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Twenty-five years ago, Francis Fukuyama advanced the notion that, with the death of Communism, history had come to an end.[2] This somewhat fanciful, and presumably intentionally provocative, formulation was derived from Hegel, and it has generally been misinterpreted. He did not mean that things would stop happening— an obviously preposterous proposal.

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