One could not ask for a more timely book than Hal Brands’s What Good is Grand Strategy? In the same month that Brands’s book was published a rather important figure in American political life offered his own answer. As reported by David Remnick in January 2014, President Obama dismissed the need for a new grand strategy with a statement seemingly designed to incur the wrath of political scientists and historians; “I don’t really even need George Kennan right now.” Frank Costigliola and Niall Ferguson, historians who probably agree on little else, argued in the pages of the New York Times and Wall Street Journal that the insights of a George Kennan were exactly what the president needed. Later in the year, Hillary Clinton, his former Secretary of State, voiced the same critical perspective about Obama’s supposed lack of interest in foundational strategic principles: “Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.”
Tag: South Korea
By 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.
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.
Bruce 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).
Dominic 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?
Justin Vaïsse has emerged in recent years as perhaps the most perceptive French analyst of current American politics and foreign policy. But he is a historian by training, and in writing his book on neoconservative movement, his primary goal was to understand the neoconservative movement as a historical phenomenon. The book is not a polemic or a journalistic account. It is a scholarly analysis, based not just on published materials, but also on a series of interviews and on a good deal of archival work, especially in the Rosenblatt papers at the Johnson Library and in the papers of the Committee on the Present Danger at the Hoover Institution. Given that sort of approach, Vaïsse, as John Ehrman writes in his comment, is able to deal in a fair-minded way with a topic that “seems to arouse great passions.” Robert Kaufman, the most critical of the four reviewers here, basically agrees. Vaïsse, he notes, “has raised the tone and the substance of the debate about who neoconservatives are and what neoconservatism means.”