In this article Wyn Bown, Jeffrey Knopf, and Matthew Moran examine Syria’s possession and use of chemical weapons (CW) and third-party response. In this context, they assess how compellence succeeded in Syria when deterrent efforts had initially failed. President Barack Obama had set a ‘red line’ that signaled U.S. commitment to punish the Syrian regime if it used CW. Although the president did not follow through on his deterrence approach, the Syrian regime agreed to sign the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) after its attack on Ghouta in August 2013 that killed hundreds of people. The destruction of a sizable portion of its CW stockpile followed. However, the Bashar al-Assad regime ordered additional CW attacks that included the use of chlorine and sarin agents from 2014-2018, some of them on a large scale. The authors ask why compellence succeeded after the easier task of deterrence had failed? Based on the case study and existing literature, the authors identify conditions of effective and ineffective coercion.
Geoffrey Chapman, Hassan Elbahtimy, and Susan B. Martin test a framework for assessing the security implications of chemical weapons (CW) use in the twenty-first century in their recent Security Studies paper. The authors state that they were motivated by the erosion of a norm of disuse, commonly known as the chemical weapons taboo. In this context, they assess the strategic and tactical utility of CW by the Syrian state as part of its ongoing civil war. Two incidents of CW use are analyzed in detail; one in which a nerve agent was used and another in which gas chlorine was employed. Overall this work has important implications for a more rigorous and better understanding of the use of unconventional weapons in modern warfare.
A famous Jewish joke tells of a pauper who used to buy food and drink on credit, without ever paying his bills. Finally, after one year of default, the innkeeper refused to serve him. The pauper, his face red, banged his fist on the table and said in an ominous tone: “if you leave me no choice, I’ll do what my father did.” The guests went pale. The innkeeper, too, was nervous about the threat. “And what did your father do?” he asked. “Well of course,” answered the pauper. “He went to bed hungry.”
From 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.
Mark L. Haas is, along with his mentor John M. Owen, part of a two-man wrecking crew exposing the ideological foundations of international politics. His latest effort, The Clash of Ideologies: Middle Eastern Politics and American Security, expands on previous work Haas and Owen have done on “ideological distance” and applies these ideas to three decades of international politics in the Middle East. In so doing, Haas has written a book that is theoretically innovative, scientifically progressive, empirically wide-ranging, and policy relevant. Anyone who wants to understand the interplay of ideological and realist variables or the intricate politics of a region central to American foreign policy needs to read this book.
Charles A. Kupchan has written an important book that poses fundamental questions for international relations scholars and policy makers: First, how do enemies in world politics become friends? Specifically, through what pathways can pairs or groups of states succeed in setting aside their geopolitical competition and construct enduring relationships that preclude the possibility of armed conflict? Second, when and why do enemies become friends (and vice versa)? In other words, under what circumstances are such zones of peace more likely to form and under what circumstances are they likely to dissolve?