The centenary of World War I has been a significant stimulus to new research about that conflict. Like any historical era, the meaning and consequences of the war have been reinterpreted in light of our own twenty-first century concerns. The perception that in recent years the world has witnessed a ‘return to geopolitics,’ ending the relative calm of the post-Cold War period, has made the tensions that produced the Great War appear freshly relevant. It has also refocused attention on the early twentieth-century roots of present-day conflicts. In this new international environment, U.S.-China rivalry begins to look similar to Anglo-German competition in the years before 1914, and the 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement and the treaties of Brest-Litovsk (1918) and Versailles (1919) seem to contain clues about contemporary conflicts in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.
In introducing this Forum, I am reminded of the joke that when the latest entry into heaven is told that each newcomer is expected to tell the others about a major event in his life, he says that he will talk about a flood he witnessed. His guardian angel nods, adding “Just remember that Noah will be in the audience.” All of us have learned–and continue to learn–from the scholarship of Marc Trachtenberg, Dale Copeland, and Stephen Schuker, whose works blend history and political science.
Scholars have long studied the causes of World War One. More recently, they have focused on events and processes which occurred after the outbreak of hostilities, including military intervention, war fighting strategies, and especially the war’s duration. In particular, research has explored why the Central Powers and the Entente were unable to reach a peace agreement before autumn 1918 given the obvious stalemate on the Western Front after the failure of the Schlieffen Plan in 1914. Alexander Lanoszka and Michel Hunzeker provide the latest entry into this line of enquiry, arguing that British concerns about national honor made a negotiated peace impossible and extended the war until Germany’s ultimate collapse in November 1918.
The past decade has seen a renewal of interest in the international history of the 1920s. This interest is apparent in what might be called traditional state-centred studies of international politics. But it is also evident in the burgeoning scholarship on international and transnational movements and organizations, many of which were not (or not simply) state actors. The recent surge of work on the League of Nations offers a prominent example: once viewed as a failed inter-state security institution, the League is now portrayed as a dynamic, innovative, and multi-faceted experiment in international governance that drew into its orbit both state and non-state actors.
Gregory Miller’s book begins with a theoretical discussion of the importance of ‘reputation’ in international politics, before analysing its role in four case studies taken from European diplomacy before 1914. To a quite unusual extent, his study consists of an extended critique of a single book – and one published in the same series with the same editors – Jonathan Mercer’s Reputation and International Politics. Three of Miller’s case studies were used also by Mercer, and the two writers draw on very similar source material. Miller repeatedly cites and refutes Mercer’s work, up to four times on a single page (p. 176). To a large extent Miller’s book must be read as a foil to an earlier contribution rather than as a stand-alone study.
Large military institutions are often portrayed as being inherently conservative and having a tendency to cope poorly with innovation. However, since some such challenges have been handled highly effectively, this knee-jerk assumption is clearly inaccurate. Moreover, it leaves open an interesting question: how can we explain the discrepancy between successful and unsuccessful adaptation to change? Why is it that an army or navy that responds extremely effectively to one challenge can fail to cope with another? It is this question that Gautam Mukunda seeks to address using a body of theory borrowed from business studies. The result is an article that is an interesting and rewarding read, which adds to an understanding of both naval warfare in the First World War and also the process of coping with innovation. There are many aspects to commend and also a few areas where the theory might usefully be further developed.