Philip Haun’s Coercion, Survival and War: Why Weak States Resist the United States is a much-needed book. After over a decade where the struggle against terrorism dominated policy, conflicts among states—such as the tension between China and Japan over disputed islands or European and U.S. efforts to push back against Russia’s attempts to expand its sphere of influence—are now at the front and center of policymakers’ concerns and may prove the most important security issues for the Trump administration.
Haun’s work presents a general theory of coercive failure, arguing that too often coercers insist on too much—in particular demands for regime change and surrendering territory. Such demands are…
Tag: United States
It is hard to recapture the confidence, indeed the hubris, which emerged in certain policy circles in 2002 and early 2003, after the United States successfully brought down the Taliban government in Afghanistan and was primed to overrun Iraq. It was not simply neoconservative officials from the George W. Bush administration possessed by delusional visions. As a young (ish) assistant professor in Austin, Texas in the winter of 2003, I vividly recall two prominent DC visitors—both hawkish Democrats—predicting that the inevitable toppling of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Bagdad would be the first steps in a great American project to reconfigure the states of the greater Middle East. This would be accomplished not simply or even primarily by overwhelming military power, but instead by powerful historical forces that made the new universalistic, liberal political and economic order nearly inevitable. Global tyranny and authoritarianism would be put on the run. What seemed unhinged then—the idea that the United States could rebuild states in its own image—seems, fourteen years later, like the beginnings of a deeper tragedy whose effects we feel sharply today.
Nearly twenty years ago, Robert Ross wrote an influential article on the sources of stability in East Asia. He argued that while the United States and China were destined to engage in great-power competition, geography and structural factors would lead to a stable regional bipolar balance. The United States would focus on maintaining its maritime position, and China would focus on securing its interests on land. Neither would find it useful or practical to attempt to change the regional order. “The U.S.-China conflict is a rivalry between a maritime power,” Ross concluded. “This dynamic reduces conflict over vital interests and mitigates the impact of the security dilemma, reducing the likelihood of protracted high-level tension, repeated crises, and arms races.” Military leaders in both countries would have to indulge in heroic assumptions to convince themselves that they could seriously challenge their adversary on its domain. Political leaders in Beijing and Washington would benefit from competing – and cooperating on areas of mutual interest – in a relatively low-risk environment.
Tell us this cannot happen, the Japanese said to their American friends, listening to Republican Party nominee Donald J. Trump during the 2016 campaign. Trump attacked Japan as an economic predator, disdained American allies as free riders, and broadly rejected the U.S. grand strategy that had benefited Japan tremendously. Friends in Boston and Washington D.C. (and New Hampshire) assured the Japanese that Trump was unelectable, and that under a Hillary Clinton presidency, Japan would resume its place as a valued American ally. Trump’s election was thus a profound shock to Japan—the latest in a long line of shokku from the United States to jolt Tokyo.
The election of Donald Trump as President of the United States has prompted deep reflection, even soul-searching, by scholars of international affairs. For the historians among them, the natural tendency is to connect the past to the present, and even the future. What major historical continuities in U.S. Middle East policy is Trump inheriting from his predecessor? Will his administration represent a continuation or a break from these policies? Thinking ahead four or even (dramatic pause) eight years, what legacies will the Trump administration leave?
Trying to make critical sense of the current state of foreign affairs is treacherous business for anyone, but for an historian it comes close to pursuing a death wish. Even with all the advantages of hindsight, the past remains shrouded to varying degrees, while decoding the present is like trying to see through a blinding sandstorm of events. But if there is much that remains unclear, at least the basic frame of mind of Donald Trump’s presidency is known. Recently, Stephen K. Bannon, the President’s Svengali, looked forward to the “deconstruction of the administrative state” in America. Given the tenor of Trump’s comments on international issues over the past year—about foreign trade, NATO, China, nuclear weapons, Russia, the Middle East, etc., etc.—the dismantling of the American-led world order that has been in place since the end of World War II is also a real possibility.
We thank Christopher Darnton for his thoughtful and useful critique, and we are in agreement with many of his points. However, Darnton perhaps overstates the goals of our article. Notably, Darnton faults the article for failing to test a “causal explanation of Latin American foreign policy against alternatives.” Our article does not claim to test a fully specified, causal theory of soft balancing; in the prominent literature of the subject, no such theory has been enunciated (as noted on 134). That theory would need to clearly specify external conditions and causes for cross-case testing and delineate observable implications of a causal process for within-case testing. This is an important task, but ultimately not one we attempted. The literature on soft balancing, our article included, is more focused on concept formation. We extend the concept to a new case and to the context of regional unipolarity, while striving not to dilute it.
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.”
In an analytical review of alliance research, James Morrow posed the title question, “Alliances: why write them down?” A decade and a half later, Keren Yarhi-Milo, Alexander Lanoszka, and Zack Cooper revisit this issue, posing their own title question: “To arm or to ally?” Yarhi-Milo, Lanoszka, and Cooper pose this question through the structural lens of hierarchical relations, setting it up as a “patron’s dilemma” of how patrons can best ensure a client state’s security—through either a formal guarantee to defend the state against foreign attack, the provision of significant arms, or both (or neither). Hierarchical relations and patrons’ dilemmas have received increased attention in security scholarship, with several scholars expounding upon the nature of international hierarchy and its role in security provision, economic relations, democratization efforts, and many other international political issues. In their article, Yarhi-Milo, Lanoszka, and Cooper focus on the central alliance tradeoff of credibility versus flexibility. By agreeing to a formal institutionalized security pact in the nature of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) a patron can send a clear and credible signal of commitment, but such an ironclad commitment may trap the patron in an unwanted conflict. Conversely, simply supplying arms provides greater flexibility and will enhance the client’s security, but not to the degree that a formal defense pact would. How then do patrons decide which strategy to adopt? Yarhi-Milo, Lanoszka, and Cooper seek to answer that question.
How did this happen? Donald Trump—a real estate mogul with a television show and no political experience—is America’s forty-fifth president. “Those that did not foresee” his ascendancy “are going to find it hard to discipline themselves to a balanced projection of his forthcoming first term,” Jonathan Haslam declared in a recent ISSF/H-Diplo essay. I’m in that group; maybe you are too. Polls aside, no major newspaper or magazine endorsed Trump’s candidacy, and a big chunk of the Republican Party establishment actively resisted his nomination. The GOP’s previous standard-bearer, Mitt Romney, said Trump was a charlatan, and Speaker Paul Ryan kept the candidate at arm’s length throughout 2016. Neither George W. Bush nor George H.W. Bush supported Trump, and President Barack Obama campaigned against the GOP nominee while enjoying an approval rate that hovered near 60%. Trump’s victory was unexpected because it was improbable.