In November 2016, I wrote an essay for H-Diplo on the possible impact of the Trump administration on U.S.-UK relations. My first paragraph included the following sentences: “If Trump himself knows what he truly plans to do – as opposed to what he would truly like to do – he has hidden it from the rest of United States. Although the British government has a long tradition of adjustment to whichever government is in power in any given country of interest, adjustment needs an object or action or policy to which to adjust. Thus far, President-elect Trump has not felt the need to provide any of them,” other than the slogans promising to put America First and Make America Great Again.
Tag: United Kingdom
When British voters chose to leave the European Union in a 23 June 2016 referendum, they unleashed an intense and ongoing national debate over the consequences. Not surprisingly, the debate has largely surrounded the economic, political, and social consequences of “Brexit.” Those in favour of leaving emphasized the benefits of independence from what they saw as a sclerotic and undemocratic EU. Those opposed warned about the economic consequences of withdrawing from a common market, and feared that the vote was evidence of creeping nativism in British society.
When released in July 2016, The Report of the Iraq Inquiry elicited the familiar reactions to other government post-mortems about a controversial policy. People noted its size and demanded to know what was new. When few ‘sensational’ details emerged, most observers concluded that the report confirmed what they already believed–good and bad.
Over the last twenty years, interest in past thinkers and theories has grown, and the history of international thought has emerged to stand alongside the history of political thought. A series of studies of canonical thinkers, schools of thought, and key periods have appeared, advancing our knowledge of past international thought. At the same time, a debate has also occurred about the best approaches and methods for historians working in the area, which has shifted the focus away from grand narratives and epic histories towards more finely grained, nuanced, and theoretically informed accounts.
Voltaire famously observed that “God is always on the side of the big battalions” (5). International relations theorists and diplomatic historians have tended to find Voltaire’s explanation persuasive but, as Paul MacDonald shows in his provocative new book, peripheral conquest during the nineteenth century was a far more complicated endeavor than conventional warfare on the European continent. In his view, the scholarly focus on aggregate military power and relative advantage “ignores the role of social factors in shaping conquest, especially in the periphery of the international system” (6). In Networks of Domination, MacDonald argues that two social factors are crucial in determining the effectiveness of military force in cases of peripheral conquest. The first factor is the extent to which potential conquerors have pre-existing social ties with local elites. Dense ties with local elites, MacDonald argues, makes it much more likely that potential conquerors will be able to identify and fruitfully work with local collaborators. The second factor that facilitates peripheral conquest is patterns of local resistance. When local elites are less connected to each other, MacDonald argues, it is much harder for local resistance forces to confront potential conquerors. The book’s richly detailed chapters include cases of British conquest in India, Southern Africa, and Nigeria, as well as an application of the framework to explain the failed American occupation of Iraq.
The publication of the first volume of Michael Goodman’s much anticipated official history of the British Joint Intelligence Committee is a major event for students of intelligence and international relations. For nearly eighty years the Joint Intelligence Committee [JIC] has been at the center of the British foreign and security policy machinery. The JIC system for coordinating the analysis and dissemination of incoming intelligence evolved gradually in response to the unprecedented requirements of preparing for and then waging a global war. This system has since served as a model for the organisation of many of the world’s intelligence establishments. The first volume of the official history takes the story from the creation of the JIC in 1936 through to the Suez Crisis of 1956. As the three reviews that follow all make clear, Goodman has done justice to this hugely important topic. Volume I of his official history is an example of official history at its very best.
How political leaders and their intelligence agencies assess the long-term intentions of their adversaries in international politics, how their assessments change in response to changes in the adversary’s capabilities or behavior, and the extent to which political leaders rely on their intelligence agencies are old questions in the study of international relations. The assessment of long-term intentions is an extraordinarily difficult task, and the development of generalizable theory about the process is equally difficult. Keren Yarhi-Milo’s recent book, Knowing the Adversary: Leaders, Intelligence, and Assessment of Intentions in International Relations, is an enormously valuable contribution to our understanding of these questions. Unlike many studies of intelligence, it is well-grounded in international relations theory, and it effectively builds upon theories of social psychology, cognitive science, and organizational theory. Yarhi-Milo distinguishes herself from many other theorists by emphasizing that the assessment processes of political leaders may differ from those of state intelligence organizations, but at the same time she integrates both within a single overarching theoretical framework. Yarhi-Milo tests her theoretical arguments against leading alternative interpretations in three sets of important and revealing historical cases: British assessments of Germany’s intentions from 1934-1939; and U.S. assessments of Soviet intentions during the years leading to the collapse of détente (1976-1980) and during the end of the Cold War (1985-1988). Yarhi-Milo’s in-depth comparative studies utilize historical archives, published documents, and, for the U.S.-Soviet cases, interviews with key participants.
Last 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. 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. Nicholas Miller has identified the key moments in United States nuclear nonproliferation policy, helping us understand the motivations and tools driving these efforts. 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. 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.
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. 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.
Since the start of the twenty-first century, military contractors such as Blackwater (now named Academi), Kellogg, Brown & Root, and SNC Lavalin have become household names in many countries. The reasons for their prominence vary from case to case. One is notoriety. Particular firms hold contracts valued in the millions if not billions of dollars, and the conduct of some firms has not been beyond reproach in terms of military effectiveness or their observance of human rights. A second reason is reliance. Contractors are needed to keep state military personnel fed and supplied, to maintain their machines, and in some cases even to protect them. Developed world states especially require them for warring, training, and simply operating given the limited numbers of available national military personnel, the increasing sophistication of military technologies, and the political ramifications of applying state forces overseas. In many states, contractors have therefore become part of the total national force. Yet another reason pertains to dedication and sacrifice. Many firms suﬀffered significant levels of casualties during the long-term interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Thousands of contracted personnel have provided continuity over the long haul in often austere and intemperate conditions. All of this points to the considerable depth and scope of contractor involvement, which is arguably unprecedented in recent decades if not centuries. It also stands at odds with traditional conceptions of expensive state security sectors and their capabilities and responsibilities to manage and apply violence.