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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Psychology Strategy and Conflict coverEach year, undergraduates in my introductory course on international relations read three articles by Robert Jervis. His classic “Cooperation under the Security Dilemma” forces students, so often used to thinking in terms of intentions and motivations, to recognize how structure can lead to tragic outcomes in world politics. They then turn to a chapter from his book Perception and Misperception, which explains that intentions and motives are critical to deciding if one is in a spiral or deterrence situation. Finally, they encounter “Was the Cold War a Security Dilemma,” which mixes careful history and nuanced theory to argue that competition between the United States and the Soviet Union was in fact not a security dilemma, that it stemmed more from the clash of two revolutionary, crusading social systems than dynamics inherent to the anarchic system.[1]

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Arguments that Count coverRebecca Slayton has given us a very informative and original study of the relationship between science and public policy in her book, Arguments that Count: Physics, Computing, and Missile Defense, 1949-2012.  The author shows how the theoretical and applied science paradigms of two different disciplinary communities, physicists and computer scientists (which includes software engineers and developers), have influenced their contributions to the development and deployment of various stages of missile defense from the early Cold War to the present.  Dr. Slayton indicates that neither of these professional communities was of one mind

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The Battle of Bretton Woods coverInternational monetary policy is usually not a topic that lends itself to both intense academic interest and a popular general audience. Benn Steil’s The Battle of Bretton Woods, however, is clearly an exception to this general rule. As William Glenn Gray points out in his review, in less capable hands the wartime monetary negotiations that established the foundation for the postwar economic order can make for quite tedious reading. But Steil breathes new life and controversy into a familiar story by emphasizing the intellectual and political clash between John Maynard Keynes and Harry Dexter White. In stark contrast to the still-common vision of American and British officials cooperatively designing a postwar economic order that would avoid the problems of the interwar era, Steil’s book highlights the competing national interests and power struggles between the two nations, as personified in the struggle between Keynes and White.

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Reconstructing the Cold War coverH-Diplo has assembled a very impressive interdisciplinary (and international) lineup for this roundtable; all four reviewers provide, in my opinion, excellent analysis. Each of them finds much to praise about the book under review, in particular Ted Hopf’s fascinating historical account of Soviet political culture during the first thirteen years of the Cold War and how it shaped, and was shaped by, elite conceptions of Cold War foreign policy.   All of them have some criticisms, primarily methodological ones about Hopf’s employment of International Relations (IR) positivist theorising in the book. In this introduction I will briefly summarise the four reviews and then offer a couple of concluding points.

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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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