Jonathan Caverley challenges our image of democracies – and mass publics – as being relatively averse to war. The costs of war, he correctly argues, are not distributed evenly across all citizens. Those who are taxed less heavily than others or do not serve in the military, he reasons, will be less averse to war and will support more aggressive foreign policies, favor more military spending, prefer more capitalized armies that substitute equipment and technology for individual soldiers, and fight insurgencies inefficiently. He tests this argument using public opinion surveys linking income to attitudes and case studies of the expansion of the franchise in nineteenth-century Britain and the overly capitalized wars fought by the United States in Vietnam and Israel in southern Lebanon. This is an original and insightful contribution to the literature on war and international security more generally, and is an outstanding example of how mixed-method research designs are often more persuasive than any single method design. It deserves a broad audience, especially as it appears that the United States and others will be confronted with many ‘small wars’ and insurgencies in the years ahead. If Caverley is right, we are doomed to fight these wars badly and ineffectively.
Dale Copeland’s Economic Interdependence and War is an ambitious book that should receive close attention from both international-relations theorists and diplomatic historians. The author’s main objective is to offer an alternative explanation of the relationship between commerce and international conflict, one that challenges both liberal and realist theories. In his view, liberals are correct to believe that increasing trade and investment flows can enhance the prospects for peace, but realists also have solid grounds for believing that increased economic interdependence can lead to conflict and war. It is because both theories are plausible, Copeland argues, that it is necessary to consider an additional variable that he defines as “a state’s expectations of the future trade and investment environment” (2). When states have positive expectations about the future trade and investment environment, they are unlikely to resort to war. But if a state has negative expectations about the future, it is going to be more willing to consider war as an attractive policy option. It is this argument that Copeland tests against the historical evidence of great-power conflict from 1790-1991 and also applies to the future of U.S.-Chinese relations in the twenty-first century.
The book produced by Alex Weisiger is a substantial contribution to rationalist theory in international relations. Weisiger investigates the effects of commitment problems in international bargaining on the conduct, duration, and destructiveness of wars. The book is among only a few works that closely analyze international history from the perspective of recent developments in the theory of international bargaining. Weisiger is superb at framing history as a series of mysteries, the answers to which he dramatically unravels. In addition to its contribution to research on international conflict, therefore, the book is immensely valuable as a teaching tool.
In Petro-Aggression: When Oil Causes War, Jeff Colgan provides an indispensable starting point for researchers interested in the relationship between oil and international conflict. Although the term ‘energy security’ is now ubiquitous in political speeches and the media, international relations scholars have only just begun to rediscover the topic after a thirty-year hiatus. The 1970s oil shocks prompted a wave of research in the 1970s and 1980s but did not produce systematic theories about oil and war. Emerging scholarship assesses the potential threats to energy-importing countries and examines how energy security issues shape importers’ foreign policies, including their decisions to use military force. Colgan’s book makes a unique contribution by examining a topic that has otherwise received little attention: how oil might encourage conflict initiation by “petrostates,” which he defines as countries for which oil exports comprise 10% of gross domestic product (GDP) or more (2).
The book under discussion here is The Arc of War: Origins, Escalation, and Transformation by two political scientists of international relations, each with impressive track records of work drawing on both historical detail and political science theory. It is a very ambitious book that deserves close attention by an interdisciplinary audience such as the readers of H-Diplo. The authors’ ambition may seem vaulting, and the book is susceptible to tough criticism. Yet ambition can be laudable, and they have their chance to make a spirited rebuttable defense at the end.
Fredrik Logevall’s Pulitzer prize-winning Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America’s Vietnam has understandably sparked renewed interest in and debate over the origins of America’s involvement in Vietnam. As Lloyd Gardner and other historians have argued, the heart of Logevall’s book is his analysis of the crucial events of 1954. In sharp contrast to the image of President Dwight D. Eisenhower as a generally restraining force fighting off those who were committed to intervention, such as Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, Logevall argues that the President’s words and deeds “suggest a man who was fully prepared to intervene with force under certain circumstances and who sought to maintain his freedom of maneuver for whatever contingencies might arise.”
Historians and political scientists alike should appreciate Dan Reiter’s How Wars End. It eschews statistical analysis for comparative case-studies because the answers are “complex and nuanced” (6) and defers formal proofs for plain-language explanations. The six empirical chapters are based on case-specific puzzles rather than theory-driven questions. The three reviewers—Dale Copeland, Hein Goemans, and Zachary Shirkey—find few major flaws with How Wars End, although each has some reservations over aspects of the argument. Because some readers might not be versed in rationalist theories on war that Reiter engages, this introduction will first provide an overview of them and then discuss the reviews in the next section.
Dominic Tierney’s How We Fight: Crusades, Quagmires, and the American Ways of War is an unusual achievement. It is a provocative scholarly book about the U.S. approach to war that was written for a broad non-academic audience. For the academic and layperson alike, it succeeds in establishing that the heated controversies of the moment follow a familiar pattern. Indeed, it is impossible to read Tierney’s book without reflecting upon recent events. The Obama administration has struggled mightily to define (and redefine) the U.S. mission in Afghanistan; it has announced deep defense cuts though the United States remains at war; and with the shift in defense budgetary priorities, it will trim the very capabilities (for counterinsurgency) that U.S. leaders had once viewed as keys to success in Iraq and Afghanistan. But what led the administration finally to act? Was the administration recognizing belatedly that the public would not tolerate nation-building efforts? Or had the clock simply run out on the U.S. effort?
In the following exchange Dan Reiter defends his argument that democratic states win most of the wars that they fight primarily because they choose which wars to engage in more carefully than authoritarian states do. This is called the “selection effects” explanation because democracies are selecting which wars to fight and which to avoid. Here, Reiter is replying to previously published criticism by Michael C. Desch and Alexander Downes that detailed examinations of several historical cases that Reiter cites do not in fact support his arguments. Desch and Downes respond and then Reiter has a rebuttal. They primarily debate both how historical evidence should be interpreted and how their hypotheses should be evaluated in the 1920 Russo-Polish War, the 1956 Sinai War, the 1967 Six Day War, the 1982 Lebanon War, and the 1965 escalation of the Vietnam War.
Are democracies more likely to win the wars they fight? This question has been of interest to historians and philosophers since Thucydides. During the Enlightenment, the question was highly relevant to the great issues of the day, as thinkers such as Thomas Paine wondered how emerging republics like the United States and France would fare in war against monarchies. It reemerged in the twentieth century, when some worried whether the Western democracies had the stuff to stand up to Nazi Germany and its fascist allies. After World War II, Westerners fretted that an American Athens would ultimately fall short against a Soviet Sparta.