It 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).
Tag: United Kingdom
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.
Over the last few decades one of the hottest subjects of debate in the social sciences has been the emergence of ‘cyber’ and its effects on all manner of social relationships and human communities. The term itself is chronically contested and the understanding of the nature of cyberspace in the literature (i.e., its delimitation, composition, and relations with other sorts of space) has a certain buffet quality to it, meaning one thing to some scholars and something else to others. The most influential literature on the subject largely steers clear of the term in the search for the essence of the problem at hand. The sociologist Manuel Castells, for instance, has described the arrival of what he calls the “network society.” The basic idea, in a nutshell, is that the recent (or, perhaps better, ongoing) putative ‘revolution’ in information technology has, in turn, given rise to a paradigmatically new form of organization of human activities—political, economic, and cultural—that is structured around network flows of information, wealth, and, ultimately, power.
The defining characteristic of modern international politics is unipolarity. Never before has one state achieved such a remarkable lead in economic capacity and military capability. American power today is unrivalled and durable, even after the economic crisis of the last decade. It will be a very long time before another state qualifies as a peer competitor.
Perhaps only Douglas Porch, with his encyclopedic knowledge of insurgency and counterinsurgency (COIN) and his broader military expertise, could have written this book. Counterinsurgency: Exposing the Myths of the New Way of War is a magisterial examination across time and space of the history of COIN. It is intended to dispel the myths propagated around it as a kinder, gentler form of warfare waged for the benefit of all involved. An eminent military historian, Porch is a Professor of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School. He has been writing about revolution, insurgency, expeditionary warfare, military empire building, the role of the military in domestic politics, great power war, and related issues for more than 40 years.
International 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.
Brian Rathbun’s Trust in International Cooperation is one of the more important books in recent years written about American foreign policy and multilateral cooperation in world politics. While historians of American foreign policy will find much of interest in the empirical chapters on the origins of the League of Nations and NATO, Rathbun’s primary task is to challenge how International Relations [IR] theorists think about the origins of cooperation. In his view, “the way that most in the field go about explaining international cooperation and the creation of international organizations, as the rational and functional response to objective security environments marked by uncertainty, is almost always too narrow, often obvious, and sometimes exactly wrong” (xi). In contrast to rationalist approaches, which view the creation of multilateral institutions as necessary for the establishment of subsequent relations of trust among states, Rathbun argues that the causal relationship is exactly the opposite: “Trust rather than distrust leads states to create international institutions. It is a cause, not the effect, of international organizations” (5).
Mark Mazower’s Governing the World surveys the evolution of internationalism over the last two centuries. Mazower’s history provides a rich description of how the concept of internationalism has been contested, altered, and manipulated since the early nineteenth century. After reviewing some of the key points in Mazower’s historical narrative, my review makes two points. First, Governing the World could have benefited from a deeper engagement with theories in the field of international relations that seek to explain the rise and fall of institutionalized international cooperation. Second, Mazower’s arguments about the ways in which contemporary internationalism is eroding state sovereignty are underdeveloped, and, ultimately, unpersuasive.
As we enter the second decade of the twenty-first century, the world has become complex, heterogeneous, and unstable. States do not accept a higher authority above themselves. The United Nations Security Council has hardly ever functioned with one voice and is currently immobile because of the blocking power of Russia and China. Third World countries generally do not accept the recently-promoted ‘responsibility to protect,’ as advocated by the Western powers. The unmanageable conflict in Syria, the nuclear-tinged threats of Kim Jong Un, and the explosions at the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Patriots’ Day, are testimony to just how unstable and fragile the peace has become.
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?