The study of military effectiveness in political science has come a long way in a short period of time. When I started graduate school in the mid-1990s, most of the key works on the subject were written by historians and sociologists rather than political scientists. Beginning in the late 1990s, however, military effectiveness began to enter the mainstream of international security studies in political science. Scholars began to produce a series of works that detailed, inter alia, the martial shortcomings of dictatorships and Arab states, the battlefield virtues of democracies, the critical importance of the ‘modern system’ of force employment, and the link between civil-military relations and effective preparation for and conduct of hostilities. Lively debate continues on many of these subjects, particularly the relative effectiveness of different regime types and how civil-military relations influence adoption of the modern system. This debate has unfolded primarily in the context of conventional (interstate) war, but a related literature on effectiveness in counterinsurgency has been reinvigorated in the wake of U.S. occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq.
For many, the U.S. experience in Iraq casts a large shadow over the current American willingness to utilize military force. This ‘Iraq-syndrome’ is a part of the broader war-weariness theoretical claim that following major conflicts – and particularly inconclusive or controversial ones – the public and policymakers will be hesitant to fight. If there were a strong Iraq syndrome, however, it has proven remarkably short-lived. With the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria the United States has engaged in thousands of air strikes in the region and started to deploy additional advisors. In the wake of the Islamic State’s November 2015 Paris attacks members of both the Democratic and Republican parties have called for more aggressive military measures.
The International Security Studies Forum (ISSF) of H-Diplo is very pleased to provide a roundtable discussion of Dr. Jessica Weeks’s book, Dictators at War and Peace. The book offers an important answer to the centuries-old international relations question as to how the politics within states affect the politics between states? Since at least the Enlightenment, most observers have tackled this question by focusing on the differences between democracies and dictatorships, Immanuel Kant and others famously arguing that democracies are more peaceful. Realists have been skeptical of this claim, contending that all types of political systems conduct foreign policy similarly. Especially since the end of the Cold War, international-relations scholars have been consumed with the scientific exploration of the democratic peace proposition.
The theme of the Great Game for this Special Issue of The Journal of American-East Asian Relations which focuses on colonialism and anti-colonialism in Central, East, and Southeast Asia, arises from the original Great Game, which involved a clash of the British and Russian Empires in Central Asia in the nineteenth century. There are several important similarities between the newer and original Great Games. Both are located in Asia, they both feature the Great Powers of Europe, and Western imperialism is a prominent feature in both cases. However, they are also quite different. The timeframe of the new Great Game is more recent, many of the players are new, and the approach to it has changed completely. This new Great Game covers East and Southeast Asia in addition to Central Asia. The United States is involved in addition to Europeans and Asians. It includes the rise of nationalist ideologies and fierce battles between international capitalism and communism. And it is more interactive, cross-cultural, and gives agency to those fighting against the imperialists. This helps redefine the Great Game away from competition among the imperial powers to a Game played between the powers and their subject peoples. Because the essays in this issue focus in part on these subject peoples, this Great Game is also a story of important reformers and great reforms. This is a Great Game of ideas as well as action. Even when they failed, these reformers are important to understand because they mark the limits of reform. When reform failed to create needed change, it sometimes gave way to revolution. Thus, revolution and the revolutionaries themselves became an important part of the new Great Game.
In 2015 the United States faces a number of opportunities to intervene with military force in countries of secondary or even less strategic importance to U.S. policy makers. President Barack Obama’s completion of the withdrawal of American ground combat troops from Iraq, and plans to draw down U.S. troops from Afghanistan, have not reduced either the escalation of recent conflicts such as in Libya and Yemen, or the continuation of destructive ethnic and religious strife with international participation in Syria. As if that were not a sufficient number of states with contested conflict taking place, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) expanded from gradual growth after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2013, migrated into the Syrian Civil War, and in February 2014 charged into western Iraq to seize Mosul and other Sunni dominated areas. Boko Haram in Nigeria also escalated its attacks in northeastern Nigeria and engaged in the kidnapping of school girls, burning of villages, murder of residents, and attacks on Nigeria’s neighbors such as Chad. The list does not even include Russian President Vladimir Putin’s seizure of Crimea from the Ukraine in February 2014 and Putin’s continued support of Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine with weapons, so-called ‘Russian volunteers,’ and funds.
Imperial rule inevitably brings about a nationalist reaction. A brief glance at the title of Adria Lawrence’s book might suggest that her argument amplifies an already dominant historical consensus. However, such a view would be mistaken because Imperial Rule and the Politics of Nationalism offers a powerful challenge to the common wisdom about colonialism and nationalism. In Lawrence’s view, based on extensive primary research in French colonial archives, scholars have been far too quick to assume that nationalist responses were the inevitable consequence of imperial rule. In order to understand the politics of nationalism in the French Empire, Lawrence argues that we need to understand the prior importance of demands for political equality because “nationalist demands began when and where the French refused calls for political equality. Exclusion led to nationalist movements seeking to end colonial rule” (xiii-xiv).
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.
Why did the United States, despite vigorous public debates over the wisdom of invading Iraq, pursue an ultimately disastrous war with Iraq in 2003? After all, as John Stuart Mill and others have suggested, such debates in the ‘marketplace of ideas’ should surely have led to a solid consensus against such a course. Explaining why American foreign policymakers repeatedly commit such mistakes is the broad task that Christopher Fettweis sets for himself in his new book. In his view, the primary source of blunders in American foreign policy is the nation’s deep and collective attachment to a series of pathological beliefs that he groups into the categories of fear, honor, glory, and hubris. These four pathologies do not lead to random errors in foreign policy making, but instead “almost always lend support to the most hawkish, belligerent position in any foreign policy debate. Fear, honor, glory, and hubris rarely convince leaders to cooperate with rivals or foes; these categories of belief expand the set of casus belli far more widely than any rational calculation would support” (14).
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.
H-Diplo/ISSF is honored to publish a very special forum on “Audience Costs and the Vietnam War.” The foundation for the forum is two original essays on the topic by Marc Trachtenberg and Bronwyn Lewis. Richard Betts, Robert Jervis, Fredrik Logevall, and John Mearsheimer then offer their own thoughts on both the theoretical and historical issues raised by the authors. We believe these essays, as well as the commentaries, will be of great interest to both political scientists and historians.