The list below is intended to serve as a good starting point for aspiring foreign policy professionals and scholars. It offers a grounding in history, theory, and contemporary policy challenges, with an eye to preparing America’s next generation of national security leaders for the challenges of a changing world in which the comfortable conventional wisdom of the post-Cold War era is in collapse.
We’d flag the following books from the list:
- Want an introduction to the crisis facing U.S. foreign policy? Try Stephen Walt’s The Hell of Good Intentions.
- Want a hard-hitting, readable introduction to realist foreign policy thought? Try John Mearsheimer’s The Tragedy of Great Power Politics.
- Hoping for a career in intelligence? Try longtime CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar’s How America Misunderstands the World.
- Hoping for a career in defense policy and planning? Check out the Project on Government Oversight’s Pentagon Labyrinth.
- Want to work in diplomacy? Read George F. Kennan’s American Diplomacy.
- Interested in the history of ideas and the long arc of U.S. foreign policy? Read Walter McDougall’s The Tragedy of U.S. Foreign Policy or David Hendrickson’s Union, Nation, or Empire.
- Interested in John Quincy Adams’ own foreign policy? Try Samuel Flagg Bemis’s John Quincy Adams and the Foundations of American Foreign Policy.
Faculty interested in conducting reading groups using books drawn from this list are encouraged to contact the Society’s executive director John Allen Gay at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some descriptions drawn from Amazon or the publisher.
For an entire generation, at home and abroad, the United States has waged an endless conflict known as the War on Terror. In addition to multiple ground wars, the era pioneered drone strikes and industrial-scale digital surveillance; weakened the rule of law through indefinite detentions; sanctioned torture; and manipulated the truth about it all. These conflicts have yielded neither peace nor victory, but they have transformed America. What began as the persecution of Muslims and immigrants has become a normalized feature of American politics and national security, expanding the possibilities for applying similar or worse measures against other targets at home, as the summer of 2020 showed. A politically divided and economically destabilized country turned the War on Terror into a cultural—and then a tribal—struggle. It began on the ideological frontiers of the Republican Party before expanding to conquer the GOP, often with the acquiescence of the Democratic Party. Today’s nativist resurgence walked through a door opened by the 9/11 era. And that door remains open.
George Washington’s Farewell Address was a prophetic letter from a “parting friend” to his fellow citizens about the forces he feared could destroy our democracy: hyper-partisanship, excessive debt, and foreign wars.
Once celebrated as civic scripture, more widely reprinted than the Declaration of Independence, the Farewell Address is now almost forgotten. Its message remains starkly relevant. In Washington’s Farewell, John Avlon offers a stunning portrait of our first president and his battle to save America from self-destruction.
At the end of his second term, Washington surprised Americans by publishing his Farewell message in a newspaper. The President called for unity among “citizens by birth or choice,” advocated moderation, defended religious pluralism, proposed a foreign policy of independence (not isolation), and proposed that education is essential to democracy. He established the precedent for the peaceful transfer of power.
Washington’s urgent message was adopted by Jefferson after years of opposition and quoted by Lincoln in defense of the Union. Woodrow Wilson invoked it for nation-building; Eisenhower for Cold War; Reagan for religion. Now the Farewell Address may inspire a new generation to re-center our politics and reunite our nation through the lessons rooted in Washington’s experience.
As John Avlon describes the perilous state of the new nation that Washington was preparing to leave as its leader, with enduring wisdom, he reveals him to be the indispensable Founding Father.
Bacevich, America’s War for the Greater Middle East
From the end of World War II until 1980, virtually no American soldiers were killed in action while serving in the Greater Middle East. Since 1990, virtually no American soldiers have been killed in action anywhere else. What caused this shift? Andrew J. Bacevich, one of the country’s most respected voices on foreign affairs, offers an incisive critical history of this ongoing military enterprise—now more than thirty years old and with no end in sight.
During the 1980s, Bacevich argues, a great transition occurred. As the Cold War wound down, the United States initiated a new conflict—a War for the Greater Middle East—that continues to the present day. The long twilight struggle with the Soviet Union had involved only occasional and sporadic fighting. But as this new war unfolded, hostilities became persistent. From the Balkans and East Africa to the Persian Gulf and Central Asia, U.S. forces embarked upon a seemingly endless series of campaigns across the Islamic world. Few achieved anything remotely like conclusive success. Instead, actions undertaken with expectations of promoting peace and stability produced just the opposite. As a consequence, phrases like “permanent war” and “open-ended war” have become part of everyday discourse.
Connecting the dots in a way no other historian has done before, Bacevich weaves a compelling narrative out of episodes as varied as the Beirut bombing of 1983, the Mogadishu firefight of 1993, the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the rise of ISIS in the present decade. Understanding what America’s costly military exertions have wrought requires seeing these seemingly discrete events as parts of a single war. It also requires identifying the errors of judgment made by political leaders in both parties and by senior military officers who share responsibility for what has become a monumental march to folly. This Bacevich unflinchingly does.
An immediate New York Times bestseller, The Limits of Power offers an unparalleled examination of the profound triple crisis facing America: an economy in disarray that can no longer be fixed by relying on expansion abroad; a government transformed by an imperial presidency into a democracy in name only; and an engagement in endless wars that has severely undermined the body politic.
Writing with knowledge born of experience, conservative historian and former military officer Andrew J. Bacevich argues that if the nation is to solve its predicament, it will need the revival of a distinctly American approach: the neglected tradition of realism. In contrast to the multiple illusions that have governed American policy since 1945, he calls for respect for power and its limits; aversion to claims of exceptionalism; skepticism of easy solutions, especially those involving force; and a conviction that Americans must live within their means. Only a return to such principles, Bacevich eloquently argues, can provide common ground for fixing America’s urgent problems before the damage becomes irreparable.
Bacevich, The New American Militarism
In this provocative book, Andrew Bacevich warns of a dangerous dual obsession that has taken hold of Americans, both conservatives and liberals alike. It is a marriage of militarism and utopian ideology, of unprecedented military might wed to a blind faith in the universality of American values. This mindset, Bacevich warns, invites endless war and the ever-deepening militarization of U.S. policy. It promises not to perfect but to pervert American ideals and to accelerate the hollowing out of American democracy.
In The New American Militarism, Bacevich examines the origins and implications of this misguided enterprise. He shows how American militarism emerged as a reaction to the Vietnam War, when various groups in American society -soldiers, politicians on the make, intellectuals, strategists, Christian evangelicals, even purveyors of pop culture-came to see the revival of military power and the celebration of military values as the antidote to all the ills besetting the country as a consequence of Vietnam and the 1960s. The upshot, acutely evident in the aftermath of 9/11, has been a revival of vast ambitions, this time coupled with a pronounced affinity for the sword. Bacevich urges Americans to restore a sense of realism and a sense of proportion to U.S. policy. He proposes, in short, to bring American purposes and American methods-especially with regard to the role of the military-back into harmony with the nation’s founding ideals.
Beebe, The Russia Trap: How Our Shadow War with Russia Could Spiral into Nuclear Catastrophe
Every American president since the end of the Cold War has called for better relations with Russia. But each has seen relations get worse by the time he left office. Now the two countries are facing off in a virtual war being fought without clear goals or boundaries.
Why? Many say it is because Washington has been slow to wake up to Russian efforts to destroy democracy in America and the world.
But a former head of Russia analysis at the CIA says that this misunderstands the problem. George Beebe argues that new game-changing technologies, disappearing rules of the game, and distorted perceptions on both sides are combining to lock Washington and Moscow into an escalatory spiral that they do not recognize. All the pieces are in place for a World War I-type tragedy that could be triggered by a small, unpredictable event. The Russia Trap shows that anticipating this danger is the most important step in preventing it.
Bemis, John Quincy Adams and the Foundations of American Foreign Policy
(APSR): “The book is a biography of Adams and a history of foreign policy, with special emphasis on the latter. The biographical part does not cover the years following the defeat of Adams for reelection to the presidency. His later years as “Old Man Eloquent” in Congress are reserved for a second volume. The current volume begins with Adams’ boyhood, when he accompanied his father to Paris, follows him through the intervening years in various courts of Europe, and culminates in his service as secretary of state.”
“Why We Lost is neither a memoir nor a window into private meetings and secret discussions. It is a 500-page history . . . filled with heartfelt stories of soldiers and Marines in firefights and close combat. It weighs in mightily to the ongoing debate over how the United States should wage war.” — Washington Post
Over his thirty-five year career, Daniel Bolger rose through the ranks of the army infantry to become a three-star general, commanding in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Perhaps more than anyone else, he was witness to the full extent of the wars, from 9/11 to withdrawal from the region. Not only did Bolger participate in top-level planning and strategy meetings, but he also regularly carried a rifle alongside soldiers in combat actions. Writing with hard-won experience and unflinching honesty, he argues that while we lost in Iraq and Afghanistan, we did not have to. Intelligence was garbled. Key decision makers were blinded by spreadsheets or theories. And we never really understood our enemy. Why We Lost is a timely, forceful, and compulsively readable account of these wars from a fresh and authoritative perspective.
Burns, The Politics of War Powers: The Theory and History of Presidential Unilateralism
The Constitution of the United States divides war powers between the executive and legislative branches to guard against ill-advised or unnecessary military action. This division of powers compels both branches to hold each other accountable and work in tandem. And yet, since the Cold War, congressional ambition has waned on this front. Even when Congress does provide initial authorization for larger operations, they do not provide strict parameters or clear end dates. As a result, one president after another has initiated and carried out poorly developed and poorly executed military policy. The Politics of War Powers offers a measured, deeply informed look at how the American constitutional system broke down, how it impacts decision-making today, and how we might find our way out of this unhealthy power division.
Sarah Burns starts with a nuanced account of the theoretical and historical development of war powers in the United States. Where discussions of presidential power often lean on the concept of the Lockean Prerogative, Burns locates a more constructive source in Montesquieu. Unlike Locke, Montesquieu combines universal normative prescriptions with an emphasis on tailoring the structure to the unique needs of a society. In doing so, the separation of powers can be customized while maintaining the moderation needed to create a healthy institutional balance. He demonstrates the importance of forcing the branches into dialogue, putting them, as he says, “in a position to resist” each other. Burns’s conclusion—after tracing changes through Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s administration, the Cold War, and the War on Terror—is that presidents now command a dangerous degree of unilateral power.
Burns’s work ranges across Montesquieu’s theory, the debate over the creation of the Constitution, historical precedent, and the current crisis. Through her analysis, both a fuller picture of the alterations to the constitutional system and ideas on how to address the resulting imbalance of power emerge.
Carpenter, Gullible Superpower: U.S. Support for Bogus Foreign Democratic Movements
Unlike recent policymakers and opinion-shapers, the first few generations of American leaders made a sharp distinction between the legitimate interests of the republic and foreign causes that purported to seek the overthrow of tyrannical rule and establish democratic systems based on respect for fundamental rights. No one made that distinction more emphatically than Secretary of State John Quincy Adams. In a celebrated Fourth of July address, Adams implicitly rebuked growing calls for Washington to support republican independence movements in places ranging from Greece to Latin America. The United States, Adams noted, had abstained from interference in the concerns of other nations, even when a conflict “has been for principles to which she clings.” He stressed the imperative reasons for such a stance. “She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom.”
That is precisely what has occurred in recent decades. Over the last forty years, there is a distressing history of foreign insurgent groups being able to manipulate U.S. policymakers and opinion leaders into supporting their cause. Frequently, that support goes far beyond rhetorical endorsements to include financial and even military assistance to highly questionable individuals, organizations, and movements. Sometimes those efforts have even entangled the U.S. military in bloody, unnecessary, and morally dubious wars, as in Kosovo, Iraq, Libya, and Syria. These crusades have caused a stain on America’s honor and frequently produced tragedies in the countries where Washington interfered. Gullible Superpower examines the most prominent cases in which well-meaning Americans have supported such misguided policies. This book underscores the need for future U.S. leaders to adopt a policy of skepticism and restraint toward foreign movements that purport to embrace democracy.
Carr, The Twenty Years’ Crisis
E. H. Carr’s classic work on international relations published in 1939 was immediately recognized by friend and foe alike as a defining work. The author was one of the most influential and controversial intellectuals of the 20th century. The issues and themes he developed continue to have relevance to modern day concerns with power and its distribution in the international system. Michael Cox’s critical introduction provides the reader with background information about the author, the context for the book, and its main themes and contemporary relevance.
Cramer and Thrall, American Foreign Policy and The Politics of Fear
This edited volume addresses the issue of threat inflation in American foreign policy and domestic politics. The Bush administration’s aggressive campaign to build public support for an invasion of Iraq reheated fears about the president’s ability to manipulate the public, and many charged the administration with ‘threat inflation’, duping the news media and misleading the public into supporting the war under false pretences.
Presenting the latest research, these essays seek to answer the question of why threat inflation occurs and when it will be successful. Simply defined, it is the effort by elites to create concern for a threat that goes beyond the scope and urgency that disinterested analysis would justify. More broadly, the process concerns how elites view threats, the political uses of threat inflation, the politics of threat framing among competing elites, and how the public interprets and perceives threats via the news media.
The war with Iraq gets special attention in this volume, along with the ‘War on Terror’. Although many believe that the Bush administration successfully inflated the Iraq threat, there is not a neat consensus about why this was successful. Through both theoretical contributions and case studies, this book showcases the four major explanations of threat inflation — realism, domestic politics, psychology, and constructivism — and makes them confront one another directly. The result is a richer appreciation of this important dynamic in US politics and foreign policy, present and future.
This book will be of much interests to students of US foreign and national security policy, international security, strategic studies and IR in general.
Why do weak states resist threats of force from the United States, especially when history shows that this superpower carries out its ultimatums? Cheap Threats upends conventional notions of power politics and challenges assumptions about the use of compellent military threats in international politics.
Drawing on an original dataset of US compellence from 1945 to 2007 and four in-depth case studies―the Cuban Missile Crisis, the 2011 confrontation with Libya, and the 1991 and 2003 showdowns with Iraq―Dianne Pfundstein Chamberlain finds that US compellent threats often fail because threatening and using force became comparatively “cheap” for the United States after the Cold War. Becoming the world’s only superpower and adopting a new light-footprint model of war, which relied heavily on airpower and now drones, have reduced the political, economic, and human costs that US policymakers face when they go to war. Paradoxically, this lower-cost model of war has cheapened US threats and fails to signal to opponents that the United States is resolved to bear the high costs of a protracted conflict. The result: small states gamble, often unwisely, that the United States will move on to a new target before achieving its goals.
Cohen and Zenko, Clear and Present Safety: The World Has Never Been Better and Why That Matters to Americans
What most frightens the average American? Terrorism. North Korea. Iran. But what if none of these are probable or consequential threats to America? What if the world today is safer, freer, wealthier, healthier, and better educated than ever before? What if the real dangers to Americans are noncommunicable diseases, gun violence, drug overdoses—even hospital infections? In this compelling look at what they call the “Threat‑Industrial Complex,” Michael A. Cohen and Micah Zenko explain why politicians, policy analysts, academics, and journalists are misleading Americans about foreign threats and ignoring more serious national security challenges at home. Cohen and Zenko argue that we should ignore Washington’s threat‑mongering and focus instead on furthering extraordinary global advances in human development and economic and political cooperation. At home, we should focus on that which actually harms us and undermines our quality of life: substandard schools and healthcare, inadequate infrastructure, gun violence, income inequality, and political paralysis.
Failed Crusade is a deeply informed and passionate call for a fundamentally different American-Russian relationship in the post-Yeltsin era. Author Stephen Cohen shows that what US officials and other experts call “reform” has for most Russians been a catastrophic development―namely the unprecedented demodernization of a twentieth-century country―and for the United States the worst foreign policy disaster since Vietnam. What emerges is an alarming analysis of nuclear-laden Russia after 1991, representing an even greater threat to our national security than during the Cold War, and an indictment of American journalists and policy makers who failed to see or report the truth about the complicity of U.S. policy in a great human tragedy. This paperback edition has been updated to reflect the events of the last year.
Why does liberal democracy take hold in some countries but not in others? Why do we observe such different outcomes in military interventions, from Germany and Japan to Afghanistan and Iraq? Do efforts to export democracy help as much as they hurt? These are some of the most enduring questions of our time.
Historically, the United States has attempted to generate change in foreign countries by exporting liberal democratic institutions through military occupation and reconstruction. Despite these efforts, the record of U.S.-led reconstructions has been mixed, at best. For every West Germany or Japan, there is a Cuba, Haiti, Somalia, or Vietnam.
After War seeks to answer these critical foreign policy questions by bringing an economic mindset to a topic that has been traditionally tackled by historians, policymakers, and political scientists. Economics focuses on how incentives influence human action. Therefore, within an economic context, a successful reconstruction entails finding and establishing a set of incentives that makes citizens prefer a liberal democratic order. Coyne examines the mechanisms and institutions that contribute to the success of reconstruction programs by creating incentives for sustained cooperation.
Coyne emphasizes that the main threat to Western nations in the post-Cold War period will not come from a superpower, but rather from weak, failed, and conflict-torn states―and rogue groups within them. It is also critical to recognize that the dynamics at work―cultural, historical, and social―in these modern states are fundamentally different from those that the United States faced in the reconstructions of West Germany and Japan. As such, these historical cases of successful reconstruction are poor models for todays challenges. In Coynes view, policymakers and occupiers face an array of internal and external constraints in dealing with rogue states. These constraints are often greatest in the countries most in need of the political, economic, and social change. The irony is that these projects are least likely to succeed precisely where they are most needed.
Coyne offers two bold alternatives to reconstruction programs that could serve as catalysts for social change: principled non-intervention and unilateral free trade. Coyne points to major differences in these preferred approaches; whereas reconstruction projects involve a period of coerced military occupation, free trade-led reforms are voluntary. The book goes on to highlight the economic and cultural benefits of free trade.
While Coyne contends that a commitment to non-intervention and free trade may not lead to Western-style liberal democracies in conflict-torn countries, such a strategy could lay the groundwork for global peace.
Coyne, Doing Bad by Doing Good
In 2010, Haiti was ravaged by a brutal earthquake that affected the lives of millions. The call to assist those in need was heard around the globe. Yet two years later humanitarian efforts led by governments and NGOs have largely failed. Resources are not reaching the needy due to bureaucratic red tape, and many assets have been squandered. How can efforts intended to help the suffering fail so badly? In this timely and provocative book, Christopher J. Coyne uses the economic way of thinking to explain why this and other humanitarian efforts that intend to do good end up doing nothing or causing harm.
In addition to Haiti, Coyne considers a wide range of interventions. He explains why the U.S. government was ineffective following Hurricane Katrina, why the international humanitarian push to remove Muammar Gaddafi in Libya may very well end up causing more problems than prosperity, and why decades of efforts to respond to crises and foster development around the world have resulted in repeated failures.
In place of the dominant approach to state-led humanitarian action, this book offers a bold alternative, focused on establishing an environment of economic freedom. If we are willing to experiment with aid―asking questions about how to foster development as a process of societal discovery, or how else we might engage the private sector, for instance―we increase the range of alternatives to help people and empower them to improve their communities. Anyone concerned with and dedicated to alleviating human suffering in the short term or for the long haul, from policymakers and activists to scholars, will find this book to be an insightful and provocative reframing of humanitarian action.
Coyne and Hall, Perfecting Tyranny (PDF)
SSRN: “This paper analyzes how foreign interventions can result in a broadening of government powers and a concurrent reduction of citizens’ liberties and freedoms domestically. We develop an analytical framework to examine the effects of coercive foreign interventions on the scope of domestic government activities. Facing limited or altogether absent constraints abroad, coercive foreign interventions serve as a testing ground for domestically-constrained governments to experiment with new technologies and methods of social control over foreign populations. We identify several mechanisms through which these innovations in state-produced social control can boomerang back to the intervening country. We apply the logic of the “boomerang effect” to two episodes in the U.S.: (1) the origins of domestic surveillance, and (2) the rise of SWAT teams and the militarization of domestic police.”
Draper, To Start a War: How the Bush Administration Took America into Iraq
Even now, after more than fifteen years, it is hard to see the invasion of Iraq through the cool, considered gaze of history. For too many people, the damage is still too palpable, and still unfolding. Most of the major players in that decision are still with us, and few of them are not haunted by it, in one way or another. Perhaps it’s that combination, the passage of the years and the still unresolved trauma, that explains why so many protagonists opened up so fully for the first time to Robert Draper.
Draper’s prodigious reporting has yielded scores of consequential new revelations, from the important to the merely absurd. As a whole, the book paints a vivid and indelible picture of a decision-making process that was fatally compromised by a combination of post-9/11 fear and paranoia, rank naïveté, craven groupthink, and a set of actors with idées fixes who gamed the process relentlessly. Everything was believed; nothing was true. The intelligence failure was comprehensive. Draper’s fair-mindedness and deep understanding of the principal actors suffuse his account, as does a storytelling genius that is close to sorcery. There are no cheap shots here, which makes the ultimate conclusion all the more damning. In the spirit of Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August and Marc Bloch’s Strange Defeat, To Start A War will stand as the definitive account of a collective process that arrived at evidence that would prove to be not just dubious but entirely false, driven by imagination rather than a quest for truth–evidence that was then used to justify a verdict that led to hundreds of thousands of deaths and a flood tide of chaos in the Middle East that shows no signs of ebbing.
Easterly, The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good
From one of the world’s best-known development economists—an excoriating attack on the tragic hubris of the West’s efforts to improve the lot of the so-called developing world.
In his previous book, The Elusive Quest for Growth, William Easterly criticized the utter ineffectiveness of Western organizations to mitigate global poverty, and he was promptly fired by his then-employer, the World Bank. The White Man’s Burden is his widely anticipated counterpunch—a brilliant and blistering indictment of the West’s economic policies for the world’s poor. Sometimes angry, sometimes irreverent, but always clear-eyed and rigorous, Easterly argues that we in the West need to face our own history of ineptitude and draw the proper conclusions, especially at a time when the question of our ability to transplant Western institutions has become one of the most pressing issues we face.
Edelstein, Occupational Hazards: Success and Failure in Military Occupation
Few would contest that the U.S. occupation of Iraq is a clear example of just how fraught a military occupation can become. In Occupational Hazards, David M. Edelstein elucidates the occasional successes of military occupations and their more frequent failures. Edelstein has identified twenty-six cases since 1815 in which an outside power seized control of a territory where the occupying party had no long-term claim on sovereignty.
In a book that has implications for present-day policy, he draws evidence from such historical cases as well as from four current occupations—Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq—where the outcome is not yet known. Occupation is difficult, in Edelstein’s view, because ambitious goals require considerable time and resources, yet both the occupied population and the occupying power want occupation to end quickly and inexpensively; in drawn-out occupations, impatience grows and resources dwindle.
This combination sabotages the occupying power’s ability to accomplish two tasks: convince an occupied population to suppress its nationalist desires and sustain its own commitment to the occupation. Structural conditions and strategic choices play crucial roles in the success or failure of an occupation. In describing those factors, Edelstein prescribes a course of action for the future.
Fettweis, Psychology of a Superpower: Security and Dominance in U.S. Foreign Policy
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States was left as the world’s sole superpower, which was the dawn of an international order known as unipolarity. The ramifications of imbalanced power extend around the globe—including the country at the center. What has the sudden realization that it stands alone atop the international hierarchy done to the United States? In Psychology of a Superpower, Christopher J. Fettweis examines how unipolarity affects the way U.S. leaders conceive of their role, make strategy, and perceive America’s place in the world.
Combining security, strategy, and psychology, Fettweis investigates how the idea of being number one affects the decision making of America’s foreign-policy elite. He examines the role the United States plays in providing global common goods, such as peace and security; the effect of the Cold War’s end on nuclear-weapon strategy and policy; the psychological consequences of unbalanced power; and the grand strategies that have emerged in unipolarity. Drawing on psychology’s insights into the psychological and behavioral consequences of unchecked power, Fettweis brings new insight to political science’s policy-analysis toolkit. He also considers the prospect of the end of unipolarity, offering a challenge to widely held perceptions of American indispensability and asking whether the unipolar moment is worth trying to save. Psychology of a Superpower is a provocative rethinking of the risks and opportunities of the global position of the United States, with significant consequences for U.S. strategy, character, and identity.
Fravel, Active Defense: China’s Military Strategy since 1949
Since the 1949 Communist Revolution, China has devised nine different military strategies, which the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) calls “strategic guidelines.” What accounts for these numerous changes? Active Defense offers the first systematic look at China’s military strategy from the mid-twentieth century to today. Exploring the range and intensity of threats that China has faced, M. Taylor Fravel illuminates the nation’s past and present military goals and how China sought to achieve them, and offers a rich set of cases for deepening the study of change in military organizations.
Drawing from diverse Chinese-language sources, including memoirs of leading generals, military histories, and document collections that have become available only in the last two decades, Fravel shows why transformations in military strategy were pursued at certain times and not others. He focuses on the military strategies adopted in 1956, 1980, and 1993―when the PLA was attempting to wage war in a new kind of way―to show that China has pursued major change in its strategic guidelines when there has been a significant shift in the conduct of warfare in the international system and when China’s Communist Party has been united.
Delving into the security threats China has faced over the last seven decades, Active Defense offers a detailed investigation into how and why states alter their defense policies.
Colonel Gian Gentile’s 2008 article “Misreading the Surge” in World Politics Review first exposed a growing rift among military intellectuals that has since been playing out in strategy sessions at the Pentagon, in classrooms at military academies, and on the pages of the New York Times. While the past years of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan have been dominated by the doctrine of counterinsurgency (COIN), Gentile and a small group of dissident officers and defense analysts have questioned the necessity and efficacy of COIN—essentially armed nation-building—in achieving the United States’ limited core policy objective in Afghanistan: the destruction of Al Qaeda.
Drawing both on the author’s experiences as a combat battalion commander in the Iraq War and his research into the application of counterinsurgency in a variety of historical contexts, Wrong Turn is a brilliant summation of Gentile’s views of the failures of COIN, as well as a searing reevaluation of the current state of affairs in Afghanistan.
As the issue of America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan inevitably rises to the top of the national agenda, Wrong Turn will be a major new touchstone for what went wrong and a vital new guide to the way forward.
Glennon, National Security and Double Government
Why has U.S. security policy scarcely changed from the Bush to the Obama administration? National Security and Double Government offers a disquieting answer. Michael J. Glennon challenges the myth that U.S. security policy is still forged by America’s visible, “Madisonian institutions” – the President, Congress, and the courts. Their roles, he argues, have become largely illusory. Presidential control is now nominal, congressional oversight is dysfunctional, and judicial review is negligible. The book details the dramatic shift in power that has occurred from the Madisonian institutions to a concealed “Trumanite network” – the several hundred managers of the military, intelligence, diplomatic, and law enforcement agencies who are responsible for protecting the nation and who have come to operate largely immune from constitutional and electoral restraints. Reform efforts face daunting obstacles. Remedies within this new system of “double government” require the hollowed-out Madisonian institutions to exercise the very power that they lack. Meanwhile, reform initiatives from without confront the same pervasive political ignorance within the polity that has given rise to this duality. The book sounds a powerful warning about the need to resolve this dilemma-and the mortal threat posed to accountability, democracy, and personal freedom if double government persists. This paperback version features an Afterword that addresses the emerging danger posed by populist authoritarianism rejecting the notion that the security bureaucracy can or should be relied upon to block it.
The Bush years have justifiably given rise to fears of a new Imperial Presidency. Yet despite the controversy surrounding the administration’s expansive claims of executive power, both Left and Right agree on the boundless nature of presidential responsibility. The Imperial Presidency is the price we seem to be willingly and dangerously agreeable to pay the office the focus of our national hopes and dreams. Interweaving historical scholarship, legal analysis, and cultural commentary, The Cult of the Presidency argues that the Presidency needs to be reined in, its powers checked and supervised, and its wartime authority put back under the oversight of the Congress and the courts. Only then will we begin to return the Presidency to its proper constitutionally limited role.
Heilbrunn, They Knew They Were Right
From its origins in 1930s Marxism to its unprecedented influence on George W. Bush’s administration, neoconservatism has become one of the most powerful, reviled, and misunderstood intellectual movements in American history. But who are the neocons, and how did this obscure group of government officials, pundits, and think-tank denizens rise to revolutionize American foreign policy? Political journalist Jacob Heilbrunn uses his intimate knowledge of the movement and its members to write the definitive history of the neoconservatives. He sets their ideas in the larger context of the decades-long battle between liberals and conservatives, first over communism, and now over the war on terrorism. And he explains why, in spite of their misguided policy on Iraq, they will remain a permanent force in American politics.
Hendrickson, Republic in Peril: American Empire and the Liberal Tradition
In Republic in Peril, David C. Hendrickson advances a powerful critique of American policy since the end of the Cold War. America’s outsized military spending and global commitments, he shows, undermine rather than uphold international order. They raise rather than reduce the danger of war, imperiling both American security and domestic liberty. An alternative path lies in a new internationalism in tune with the United Nations Charter and the philosophy of republican liberty embraced by America’s founders.
The sum of the conventional view-touted by the national security establishment and embraced by Hillary Clinton and George W. Bush-is that it is impossible to have a liberal world order unless America has hostile relations with Russia, China, and Iran, together with a shifting cast of lesser states. Donald Trump, iconoclastic is so many ways, promises to bring the militarization of U.S. foreign policy to an entirely new level.
But it is precisely those who would lead us into battle with “hostile states” who threaten a liberal world order, because they look to a competition that is to be settled through dominance rather than reciprocity. Formed by ideology, greatly fortified by special interests, the U.S. posture has put it into standing collision with other great powers. The flaws of the U.S.-led world order-a chronic overreliance on force, habitual violations of the rules governing intervention-should not be attributed to liberalism but to a flock of “neo-isms” parading in its name. In searching for a remedy, we must find it by rediscovering, not repudiating, the liberal tradition.
Hendrickson offers a panoramic view of America’s choices in foreign policy, analyzing the vested interests and ideologies that have justified a sprawling global empire over the last 25 years. Hendrickson recovers the tradition of liberal pluralism, one that sees in nonintervention, the balance of power, and great power concert the formula for a durable peace. Rather than claiming a superior role as judge, jury, and executioner, the United States must share power in accordance with the Golden Rule. It needs restraint rather than braggadocio, acceptance of its role as a nation among the nations rather than arrogant pretensions regarding its exceptional virtue and superior wisdom.
Ranging widely, from the classics of American political thought and international theory to the bewildering thicket of hot wars and regional feuds across the globe that embroil America, Hendrickson forcefully shows that the militarization of U.S. foreign policy is deeply at odds with the animating purposes and principles of the American experiment.
Hendrickson, Union, Nation, or Empire
Most overviews of American history depict an isolationist country finally dragged kicking and screaming onto the world stage by the attack on Pearl Harbor. David Hendrickson shows that Americans instead conducted often-raucous debates over international relations in the long epoch customarily seen as isolationist-debates that form the ideological origins of today’s foreign policy arguments.
Hulsman, To Dare More Boldly: The Audacious Story of Political Risk
Our baffling new multipolar world grows ever more complex, desperately calling for new ways of thinking, particularly when it comes to political risk. To Dare More Boldly provides those ways, telling the story of the rise of political risk analysis, both as a discipline and a lucrative high-stakes industry that guides the strategic decisions of corporations and governments around the world. It assesses why recent predictions have gone so wrong and boldly puts forward ten analytical commandments that can stand the test of time.
Immerwahr, How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States
We are familiar with maps that outline all fifty states. And we are also familiar with the idea that the United States is an “empire,” exercising power around the world. But what about the actual territories―the islands, atolls, and archipelagos―this country has governed and inhabited?
In How to Hide an Empire, Daniel Immerwahr tells the fascinating story of the United States outside the United States. In crackling, fast-paced prose, he reveals forgotten episodes that cast American history in a new light. We travel to the Guano Islands, where prospectors collected one of the nineteenth century’s most valuable commodities, and the Philippines, site of the most destructive event on U.S. soil. In Puerto Rico, Immerwahr shows how U.S. doctors conducted grisly experiments they would never have conducted on the mainland and charts the emergence of independence fighters who would shoot up the U.S. Congress.
In the years after World War II, Immerwahr notes, the United States moved away from colonialism. Instead, it put innovations in electronics, transportation, and culture to use, devising a new sort of influence that did not require the control of colonies. Rich with absorbing vignettes, full of surprises, and driven by an original conception of what empire and globalization mean today, How to Hide an Empire is a major and compulsively readable work of history.
Innocent and Carpenter, Perilous Partners
Liberal democracies such as the United States face an acute dilemma in the conduct of foreign relations. Many states around the world are repressive or corrupt to varying degrees. Unfortunately, American national interests require cooperation with such regimes from time to time. To defeat Nazi Germany during World War II, the United States even allied with the Soviet Union, despite the barbarity of Josef Stalin’s regime.
But such partnerships have the inherent danger of compromising, or even making a mockery of, America’s values of democratic governance, civil liberties, and free markets. Close working relationships with autocratic regimes, therefore, should not be undertaken lightly. U.S. officials have had a less than stellar record of grappling with that ethical dilemma. Especially during the Cold War, policymakers were casual about sacrificing important values for less-than-compelling strategic rationales. Since the 9-11 attacks, similar ethical compromises have taken place, although policymakers now seem more selective than their Cold War-era counterparts.
In Perilous Partners, authors Ted Galen Carpenter and Malou Innocent provide a strategy for resolving the ethical dilemmas between interests and values faced by Washington. They propose maintaining an “arm’s length relationship” with authoritarian regimes, emphasizing that the United States must not operate internationally in ways that routinely pollute American values. This book creates a strategy for conducting an effective U.S. foreign policy without betraying fundamental American values.
Kang, American Grand Strategy and East Asian Security in the Twenty-First Century
East Asia is richer, more integrated and more stable than ever before, whilst East Asian defense spending is now roughly half of what it was in 1990 and shows no sign of increasing. There is no evidence of any Asian arms race. All countries in the region are seeking diplomatic, not military solutions with each other. Yet this East Asia reality still runs counter to a largely Western narrative that views China’s rise as a threat and the region as increasingly unstable. In this important book, David C. Kang argues that American grand strategy should emphasize diplomatic and economic relations with the region, rather than military-first policies. Using longitudinal and comparative data, statistical analysis, and intensive research in selected East Asian countries, he suggests that East Asia is in sync with the American desire to share burdens and that the region may in fact be more stable than popularly believed.
For more than sixty years, George F. Kennan’s American Diplomacy has been a standard work on American foreign policy. Drawing on his considerable diplomatic experience and expertise, Kennan offers an overview and critique of the foreign policy of an emerging great power whose claims to rightness often spill over into self-righteousness, whose ambitions conflict with power realities, whose judgmentalism precludes the interests of other states, and whose domestic politics frequently prevent prudent policies and result in overstretch. Keenly aware of the dangers of military intervention and the negative effects of domestic politics on foreign policy, Kennan identifies troubling inconsistencies in the areas between actions and ideals—even when the strategies in question turned out to be decided successes.
In this expanded sixtieth-anniversary edition, a substantial new introduction by John J. Mearsheimer, one of America’s leading political realists, provides new understandings of Kennan’s work and explores its continued resonance. As America grapples with its new role as one power among many—rather than as the “indispensable nation” that sees “further into the future”—Kennan’s perceptive analysis of the past is all the more relevant. Today, as then, the pressing issue of how to wield power with prudence and responsibility remains, and Kennan’s cautions about the cost of hubris are still timely. Refreshingly candid, American Diplomacy cuts to the heart of policy issues that continue to be hotly debated today.
Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers
About national and international power in the “modern” or Post Renaissance period. Explains how the various powers have risen and fallen over the 5 centuries since the formation of the “new monarchies” in W. Europe.
How should the United States act in the world? Americans cannot decide. Sometimes we burn with righteous anger, launching foreign wars and deposing governments. Then we retreat―until the cycle begins again.
No matter how often we debate this question, none of what we say is original. Every argument is a pale shadow of the first and greatest debate, which erupted more than a century ago. Its themes resurface every time Americans argue whether to intervene in a foreign country.
Revealing a piece of forgotten history, Stephen Kinzer transports us to the dawn of the twentieth century, when the United States first found itself with the chance to dominate faraway lands. That prospect thrilled some Americans. It horrified others. Their debate gripped the nation.
The country’s best-known political and intellectual leaders took sides. Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Cabot Lodge, and William Randolph Hearst pushed for imperial expansion; Mark Twain, Booker T. Washington, and Andrew Carnegie preached restraint. Only once before―in the period when the United States was founded―have so many brilliant Americans so eloquently debated a question so fraught with meaning for all humanity.
All Americans, regardless of political perspective, can take inspiration from the titans who faced off in this epic confrontation. Their words are amazingly current. Every argument over America’s role in the world grows from this one. It all starts here.
In a provocative book about American hegemony, Christopher Layne outlines his belief that U.S. foreign policy has been consistent in its aims for more than sixty years and that the current Bush administration clings to mid-twentieth-century tactics―to no good effect. What should the nation’s grand strategy look like for the next several decades? The end of the cold war profoundly and permanently altered the international landscape, yet we have seen no parallel change in the aims and shape of U.S. foreign policy. The Peace of Illusions intervenes in the ongoing debate about American grand strategy and the costs and benefits of “American empire.” Layne urges the desirability of a strategy he calls “offshore balancing”: rather than wield power to dominate other states, the U.S. government should engage in diplomacy to balance large states against one another. The United States should intervene, Layne asserts, only when another state threatens, regionally or locally, to destroy the established balance. Drawing on extensive archival research, Layne traces the form and aims of U.S. foreign policy since 1940, examining alternatives foregone and identifying the strategic aims of different administrations. His offshore-balancing notion, if put into practice with the goal of extending the “American Century,” would be a sea change in current strategy. Layne has much to say about present-day governmental decision making, which he examines from the perspectives of both international relations theory and American diplomatic history.
MacDonald and Parent, Twilight of the Titans: Great Power Decline and Retrenchment
In this bold new perspective on the United States–China power transition, Paul K. MacDonald and Joseph M. Parent examine all great power transitions since 1870. They find that declining and rising powers have strong incentives to moderate their behavior at moments when the hierarchy of great powers is shifting. How do great powers respond to decline? they ask. What options do great powers have to slow or reverse their descent?
In Twilight of the Titans, MacDonald and Parent challenge claims that policymakers for great powers, unwilling to manage decline through moderation, will be pushed to extreme measures. Tough talk, intimidation, provocation, and preventive war, they write, are not the only alternatives to defeat. Surprisingly, retrenchment tends not to make declining states tempting prey for other states nor does it promote domestic dysfunction. What retrenchment does encourage is resurrection. Only states that retrench have recovered their former position.
MacDonald and Parent show how declining states tend to behave, what policy options they have to choose from, how rising states respond to decline, and what conditions reward which strategies. Using case studies that include Great Britain in 1872 and 1908, Russia in 1888 and 1903, and France in 1893 and 1924, Twilight of the Titans offers clear evidence that declining powers have a wide array of options at their disposal and offers guidance on how to use the right tools at the right time. The result is a comprehensive rethinking of power transition and hegemonic war theories and a different approach to the policy problems that declining states face. What matters most, the authors write, is the strategic choices made by the great powers.
McDougall, Promised Land, Crusader State
WorldCat: Taking up the torch of George Kennan, Pulitzer Prize winner Walter McDougall proposes nothing less than to cleanse the vocabulary of our post-Cold War debate on America’s place in world affairs. Looking back over two centuries, he draws a striking contrast between America as a Promised Land, a vision inspired by the “Old Testament” of our diplomatic wisdom through the nineteenth century, and the contrary vision of America as a Crusader State, which inspired the “New Testament” of our foreign policy beginning at the time of the Spanish-American War and reaching its fulfillment in Vietnam. To this day, these two visions and these two testaments battle for control of the way America sees its role in the world.
McDougall, The Tragedy of U.S. Foreign Policy
Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Walter A. McDougall argues that an evolution in America’s “civil religion” – in the sense of transcendent purpose ascribed to its foreign policy – is the taproot of America’s bid for global hegemony. McDougall traces changes in how leading Americans understood the U.S. role in the world, and how the abandonment of a classical, limited conception of human nature encouraged an expansive and transformative global vision that earlier generations of leaders explicitly rejected.
Mearsheimer, The Great Delusion: Liberal Dreams and International Realities
In this major statement, the renowned international-relations scholar John Mearsheimer argues that liberal hegemony, the foreign policy pursued by the United States since the Cold War ended, is doomed to fail. It makes far more sense, he maintains, for Washington to adopt a more restrained foreign policy based on a sound understanding of how nationalism and realism constrain great powers abroad.
It is widely believed in the West that the United States should spread liberal democracy across the world, foster an open international economy, and build institutions. This policy of remaking the world in America’s image is supposed to protect human rights, promote peace, and make the world safe for democracy. But this is not what has happened. Instead, the United States has ended up as a highly militarized state fighting wars that undermine peace, harm human rights, and threaten liberal values at home. Mearsheimer tells us why this has happened.
Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics
The updated edition of this classic treatise on the behavior of great powers takes a penetrating look at the question likely to dominate international relations in the twenty-first century: Can China rise peacefully? In clear, eloquent prose, John Mearsheimer explains why the answer is no: a rising China will seek to dominate Asia, while the United States, determined to remain the world’s sole regional hegemon, will go to great lengths to prevent that from happening. The tragedy of great power politics is inescapable.
Menon, The Conceit of Humanitarian Intervention
With the end of the Cold War has come an upsurge in humanitarian interventions-military campaigns aimed at ending mass atrocities. These wars of rescue, waged in the name of ostensibly universal norms of human rights and legal principles, rest on the premise that a genuine “international community” has begun to emerge and has reached consensus on a procedure for eradicating mass killings. Rajan Menon argues that, in fact, humanitarian intervention remains deeply divisive as a concept and as a policy, and is flawed besides. The advocates of humanitarian intervention have produced a mountain of writings to support their claim that human rights precepts now exert an unprecedented influence on states’ foreign policies and that we can therefore anticipate a comprehensive solution to mass atrocities.
In The Conceit of Humanitarian Intervention, Menon shows that this belief, while noble, is naïve. States continue to act principally based on what they regard at any given time as their national interests. Delivering strangers from oppression ranks low on their list of priorities. Indeed, even democratic states routinely embrace governments that trample the human rights values on which the humanitarian intervention enterprise rests.
States’ ethical commitment to waging war to end atrocities remains episodic and erratic-more rhetorical than real. And when these missions are undertaken, the strategies and means used invariably produce perverse, even dangerous results. This, in no small measure, stems from the hubris of leaders-and the acolytes of humanitarian intervention-who have come to believe that they possess the wisdom and wherewithal to bestow freedom and stability upon societies about which they know little.
Why should the United States cling to military alliances established during the Cold War when the circumstances are now fundamentally different? In The End of Alliances, Rajan Menon argues that our alliances in Europe and Asia have become irrelevant to the challenges we face today. The United States must be actively involved beyond its borders, but by relying on coalitions whose membership varies depending on the issue at hand. While a strategy that ceases to rely on alliances will mark a dramatic shift in American foreign policy, he reminds us that states routinely reassess and reorient their strategies. The United States, which studiously avoided alliances for much of its history only to embrace them during the Cold War, is no exception. The End of Alliances predicts that the coming change in American strategy will force our traditional allies to rethink their choices and create new patterns in world politics. The controversial argument advanced by Menon will provoke debate among foreign policy specialists and the general public.
Menon and Rumer, Conflict in Ukraine: The Unwinding of the Post–Cold War Order
The current conflict in Ukraine has spawned the most serious crisis between Russia and the West since the end of the Cold War. It has undermined European security, raised questions about NATO’s future, and put an end to one of the most ambitious projects of U.S. foreign policy―building a partnership with Russia. It also threatens to undermine U.S. diplomatic efforts on issues ranging from terrorism to nuclear proliferation. And in the absence of direct negotiations, each side is betting that political and economic pressure will force the other to blink first. Caught in this dangerous game of chicken, the West cannot afford to lose sight of the importance of stable relations with Russia.
This book puts the conflict in historical perspective by examining the evolution of the crisis and assessing its implications both for the Crimean peninsula and for Russia’s relations with the West more generally. Experts in the international relations of post-Soviet states, political scientists Rajan Menon and Eugene Rumer clearly show what is at stake in Ukraine, explaining the key economic, political, and security challenges and prospects for overcoming them. They also discuss historical precedents, sketch likely outcomes, and propose policies for safeguarding U.S.-Russia relations in the future. In doing so, they provide a comprehensive and accessible study of a conflict whose consequences will be felt for many years to come.
Morgenthau, Politics Among Nations
Hans Morgenthau’s classic text established realism as the fundamental way of thinking about international relations. Although it has had its critics, the fact that it continues to be the most long lived text for courses in international relations attests to its enduring value. Someone has said the study of international relations has for half a century been nothing so much as a dialogue between Morgenthau, those who embrace his approach, and those who turn elsewhere for enlightenment. After 50 years, the dialogue between Morgenthau and scholars from around the world continues more or less as in the past something with more intensity even in an “age of terror.”
Niebuhr, The Irony of American History
Forged during the tumultuous but triumphant postwar years when America came of age as a world power, The Irony of American History is more relevant now than ever before. Cited by politicians as diverse as Hillary Clinton and John McCain, Niebuhr’s masterpiece on the incongruity between personal ideals and political reality is both an indictment of American moral complacency and a warning against the arrogance of virtue. Impassioned, eloquent, and deeply perceptive, Niebuhr’s wisdom will cause readers to rethink their assumptions about right and wrong, war and peace.
In this new Brookings Marshall Paper, Michael O’Hanlon argues that now is the time for Western nations to negotiate a new security architecture for neutral countries in eastern Europe to stabilize the region and reduce the risks of war with Russia. He believes NATO expansion has gone far enough. The core concept of this new security architecture would be one of permanent neutrality. The countries in question collectively make a broken-up arc, from Europe’s far north to its south: Finland and Sweden; Ukraine, Moldova, and Belarus; Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan; and finally Cyprus plus Serbia, as well as possibly several other Balkan states. Discussion on the new framework should begin within NATO, followed by deliberation with the neutral countries themselves, and then formal negotiations with Russia.
The new security architecture would require that Russia, like NATO, commit to help uphold the security of Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, and other states in the region. Russia would have to withdraw its troops from those countries in a verifiable manner; after that, corresponding sanctions on Russia would be lifted. The neutral countries would retain their rights to participate in multilateral security operations on a scale comparable to what has been the case in the past, including even those operations that might be led by NATO. They could think of and describe themselves as Western states (or anything else, for that matter). If the European Union and they so wished in the future, they could join the EU. They would have complete sovereignty and self-determination in every sense of the word. But NATO would decide not to invite them into the alliance as members. Ideally, these nations would endorse and promote this concept themselves as a more practical way to ensure their security than the current situation or any other plausible alternative.
O’Rourke, Covert Regime Change: America’s Secret Cold War
States seldom resort to war to overthrow their adversaries. They are more likely to attempt to covertly change the opposing regime, by assassinating a foreign leader, sponsoring a coup d’état, meddling in a democratic election, or secretly aiding foreign dissident groups.
In Covert Regime Change, Lindsey A. O’Rourke shows us how states really act when trying to overthrow another state. She argues that conventional focus on overt cases misses the basic causes of regime change. O’Rourke provides substantive evidence of types of security interests that drive states to intervene. Offensive operations aim to overthrow a current military rival or break up a rival alliance. Preventive operations seek to stop a state from taking certain actions, such as joining a rival alliance, that may make them a future security threat. Hegemonic operations try to maintain a hierarchical relationship between the intervening state and the target government. Despite the prevalence of covert attempts at regime change, most operations fail to remain covert and spark blowback in unanticipated ways.
Covert Regime Change assembles an original dataset of all American regime change operations during the Cold War. This fund of information shows the United States was ten times more likely to try covert rather than overt regime change during the Cold War. Her dataset allows O’Rourke to address three foundational questions: What motivates states to attempt foreign regime change? Why do states prefer to conduct these operations covertly rather than overtly? How successful are such missions in achieving their foreign policy goals?
Pillar, How America Misunderstands the World
Being insulated by two immense oceans makes it hard for Americans to appreciate the concerns of more exposed countries. American democracy’s rapid rise also fools many into thinking the same liberal system can flourish anywhere, and having populated a vast continent with relative ease impedes Americans’ understanding of conflicts between different peoples over other lands. Paul R. Pillar ties the American public’s misconceptions about foreign threats and behaviors to the nation’s history and geography, arguing that American success in international relations is achieved often in spite of, rather than because of, the public’s worldview.
Drawing a fascinating line from colonial events to America’s handling of modern international terrorism, Pillar shows how presumption and misperception turned Finlandization into a dirty word in American policy circles, bolstered the “for us or against us” attitude that characterized the policies of the George W. Bush administration, and continue to obscure the reasons behind Iraq’s close relationship with Iran. Fundamental misunderstandings have created a cycle in which threats are underestimated before an attack occurs and then are overestimated after they happen. By exposing this longstanding tradition of misperception, Pillar hopes the United States can develop policies that better address international realities rather than biased beliefs. A good book for aspiring intelligence professionals.
Counterinsurgency has staked its claim in the new century as the new American way of war. Yet, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have revived a historical debate about the costs – monetary, political and moral – of operations designed to eliminate insurgents and build nations. Today’s counterinsurgency proponents point to ‘small wars’ past to support their view that the enemy is ‘biddable’ if the correct tactical formulas are applied. Douglas Porch’s sweeping history of counterinsurgency campaigns carried out by the three ‘providential nations’ of France, Britain and the United States, ranging from nineteenth-century colonial conquests to General Petraeus’s ‘Surge’ in Iraq, challenges the contemporary mythologising of counterinsurgency as a humane way of war. The reality, he reveals, is that ‘hearts and minds’ has never been a recipe for lasting stability and that past counterinsurgency campaigns have succeeded not through state-building but by shattering and dividing societies while unsettling civil-military relations.
Porter, The False Promise of Liberal Order: Nostalgia, Delusion and the Rise of Trump
In an age of demagogues, hostile great powers and trade wars, foreign policy traditionalists dream of restoring liberal international order. This order, they claim, ushered in seventy years of peace and prosperity and saw post-war America domesticate the world to its values.
The False Promise of Liberal Order exposes the flaws in this nostalgic vision. The world shaped by America came about as a result of coercion and, sometimes brutal, compromise. Liberal projects – to spread capitalist democracy – led inadvertently to illiberal results. To make peace, America made bargains with authoritarian forces. Even in the Pax Americana, the gentlest order yet, ordering was rough work. As its power grew, Washington came to believe that its order was exceptional and even permanent – a mentality that has led to spiralling deficits, permanent war and Trump. Romanticizing the liberal order makes it harder to adjust to today’s global disorder. Only by confronting the false promise of liberal order and adapting to current realities can the United States survive as a constitutional republic in a plural world.
Porter, The Global Village Myth
According to security elites, revolutions in information, transport, and weapons technologies have shrunk the world, leaving the United States and its allies more vulnerable than ever to violent threats like terrorism or cyberwar. As a result, they practice responses driven by fear: theories of falling dominoes, hysteria in place of sober debate, and an embrace of preemptive war to tame a chaotic world.
Patrick Porter challenges these ideas. In The Global Village Myth, he disputes globalism’s claims and the outcomes that so often waste blood and treasure in the pursuit of an unattainable “total” security. Porter reexamines the notion of the endangered global village by examining Al-Qaeda’s global guerilla movement, military tensions in the Taiwan Strait, and drones and cyberwar, two technologies often used by globalists to support their views. His critique exposes the folly of disastrous wars and the loss of civil liberties resulting from the globalist enterprise. Showing that technology expands rather than shrinks strategic space, Porter offers an alternative outlook to lead policymakers toward more sensible responses ― and a wiser, more sustainable grand strategy.
The United States, Barry R. Posen argues in Restraint, has grown incapable of moderating its ambitions in international politics. Since the collapse of Soviet power, it has pursued a grand strategy that he calls “liberal hegemony,” one that Posen sees as unnecessary, counterproductive, costly, and wasteful. Written for policymakers and observers alike, Restraint explains precisely why this grand strategy works poorly and then provides a carefully designed alternative grand strategy and an associated military strategy and force structure. In contrast to the failures and unexpected problems that have stemmed from America’s consistent overreaching, Posen makes an urgent argument for restraint in the future use of U.S. military strength.
After setting out the political implications of restraint as a guiding principle, Posen sketches the appropriate military forces and posture that would support such a strategy. He works with a deliberately constrained notion of grand strategy and, even more important, of national security (which he defines as including sovereignty, territorial integrity, power position, and safety). His alternative for military strategy, which Posen calls “command of the commons,” focuses on protecting U.S. global access through naval, air, and space power, while freeing the United States from most of the relationships that require the permanent stationing of U.S. forces overseas.
Preble, Peace, War, and Liberty: Understanding U.S. Foreign Policy
Has the United States been a force for liberty around the world? Should it be? And if so, how? To answer these questions, Christopher A. Preble traces the history of U.S. foreign policy from the American Founding to the present, examining the ideas that have animated it, asking whether America’s policy choices have made the world safer and freer, and considering the impact of those choices on freedom at home.
Preble explains the need to question the assumptions that drive American foreign policy in the modern era―especially the assumption that American politicians can and should forcibly remake the international order to suit their desires. He asks readers to consider whether America and the world would be safer and freer if U.S. foreign policy incorporated libertarian insights about the limitations of government power.
At once evenhanded and uncompromising, Peace, War, and Liberty is a comprehensive challenge to the interventionist ideology of America’s foreign policy establishment.
Numerous polls show that Americans want to reduce our military presence abroad, allowing our allies and other nations to assume greater responsibility both for their own defense and for enforcing security in their respective regions. In The Power Problem, Christopher A. Preble explores the aims, costs, and limitations of the use of this nation’s military power; throughout, he makes the case that the majority of Americans are right, and the foreign policy experts who disdain the public’s perspective are wrong.
Preble is a keen and skeptical observer of recent U.S. foreign policy experiences, which have been marked by the promiscuous use of armed intervention. He documents how the possession of vast military strength runs contrary to the original intent of the Founders, and has, as they feared, shifted the balance of power away from individual citizens and toward the central government, and from the legislative and judicial branches of government to the executive. In Preble’s estimate, if policymakers in Washington have at their disposal immense military might, they will constantly be tempted to overreach, and to redefine ever more broadly the “national interest.”
Preble holds that the core national interest—preserving American security—is easily defined and largely immutable. Possessing vast military power in order to further other objectives is, he asserts, illicit and to be resisted. Preble views military power as purely instrumental: if it advances U.S. security, then it is fulfilling its essential role. If it does not—if it undermines our security, imposes unnecessary costs, and forces all Americans to incur additional risks—then our military power is a problem, one that only we can solve. As it stands today, Washington’s eagerness to maintain and use an enormous and expensive military is corrosive to contemporary American democracy.
Press, Calculating Credibility
Calculating Credibility examines―and ultimately rejects―a fundamental belief held by laypeople and the makers of American foreign policy: the notion that backing down during a crisis reduces a country’s future credibility. Fear of diminished credibility motivated America’s costly participation in the Korean and Vietnam wars, and, since the end of the Cold War, this concern has continued to guide American policy decisions. Daryl G. Press uses historical evidence, including declassified documents, to answer two crucial questions: When a country backs down in a crisis, does its credibility suffer? How do leaders assess their adversaries’ credibility? Press illuminates the decision-making processes behind events such as the crises in Europe that preceded World War II, the superpower showdowns over Berlin in the 1950s and 60s, and the Cuban Missile Crisis. When leaders face the prospect of high-stakes military conflicts, Press shows, they do not assess their adversaries’ credibility by peering into their opponents’ past and evaluating their history of keeping or breaking commitments. Power and interests in the current crisis―not past actions―determine the credibility of a threat. Press demonstrates that threats are credible only if backed by sufficient power and only if pursuing important interests. Press believes that Washington’s obsession with the dangers of backing down has made U.S. foreign policy unnecessarily rigid. In every competitive environment―sports, gambling, warfare―competitors use feints and bluffs to tremendous advantage. Understanding the real sources of credibility, Press asserts, would permit a more flexible, and more effective, foreign policy.
The Project on Government Oversight, The Pentagon Labyrinth (note, also available for free as a PDF)
The Pentagon Labyrinth aims to help both newcomers and seasoned observers learn how to grapple with the problems of national defense. Intended for readers who are frustrated with the superficial nature of the debate on national security, this handbook by the Project on Government Oversight takes advantage of the insights of ten unique professionals, each with decades of experience in the armed services, the Pentagon bureaucracy, Congress, the intelligence community, military history, journalism and other disciplines. The short but provocative essays will help you to identify the decay moral, mental and physical in America s defenses; understand the various tribes that run bureaucratic life in the Pentagon; appreciate what too many defense journalists are not doing, but should; conduct first rate national security oversight instead of second rate theater; separate careerists from ethical professionals in senior military and civilian ranks; learn to critique strategies, distinguishing the useful from the agenda-driven; recognize the pervasive influence of money in defense decision-making; unravel the budget games the Pentagon and Congress love to play; understand how to sort good weapons from bad and avoid high cost failures, and; reform the failed defense procurement system without changing a single law. The handbook ends with lists of contacts, readings and Web sites carefully selected to facilitate further understanding of the above, and more.
Sarotte, Not One Inch: America, Russia, and the Making of Post-Cold War Stalemate
Not one inch. With these words, Secretary of State James Baker proposed a hypothetical bargain to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev after the fall of the Berlin Wall: if you let your part of Germany go, we will move NATO not one inch eastward. Controversy erupted almost immediately over this 1990 exchange—but more important was the decade to come, when the words took on new meaning. Gorbachev let his Germany go, but Washington rethought the bargain, not least after the Soviet Union’s own collapse in December 1991. Washington realized it could not just win big but win bigger. Not one inch of territory needed to be off limits to NATO.
On the thirtieth anniversary of the Soviet collapse, this book uses new evidence and interviews to show how, in the decade that culminated in Vladimir Putin’s rise to power, the United States and Russia undermined a potentially lasting partnership. Prize-winning historian M. E. Sarotte shows what went wrong.
Sechser and Fuhrmann, Nuclear Weapons and Coercive Diplomacy
Are nuclear weapons useful for coercive diplomacy? Since 1945, most strategic thinking about nuclear weapons has focused on deterrence – using nuclear threats to prevent attacks against the nation’s territory and interests. But an often overlooked question is whether nuclear threats can also coerce adversaries to relinquish possessions or change their behavior. Can nuclear weapons be used to blackmail other countries? The prevailing wisdom is that nuclear weapons are useful for coercion, but this book shows that this view is badly misguided. Nuclear weapons are useful mainly for deterrence and self-defense, not for coercion. The authors evaluate the role of nuclear weapons in several foreign policy contexts and present a trove of new quantitative and historical evidence that nuclear weapons do not help countries achieve better results in coercive diplomacy. The evidence is clear: the benefits of possessing nuclear weapons are almost exclusively defensive, not offensive.
Shifrinson, Rising Titans, Falling Giants: How Great Powers Exploit Power Shifts
As a rising great power flexes its muscles on the political-military scene it must examine how to manage its relationships with states suffering from decline; and it has to do so in a careful and strategic manner. In Rising Titans, Falling Giants Joshua R. Itzkowitz Shifrinson focuses on the policies that rising states adopt toward their declining competitors in response to declining states’ policies, and what that means for the relationship between the two.
Rising Titans, Falling Giants integrates disparate approaches to realism into a single theoretical framework, provides new insight into the sources of cooperation and competition in international relations, and offers a new empirical treatment of great power politics at the start and end of the Cold War. Shifrinson challenges the existing historical interpretations of diplomatic history, particularly in terms of the United States-China relationship. Whereas many analysts argue that these two nations are on a collision course, Shifrinson declares instead that rising states often avoid antagonizing those in decline, and highlights episodes that suggest the US-China relationship may prove to be far less conflict-prone than we might expect.
Shimer, Rigged: America, Russia, and One Hundred Years of Covert Electoral Interference
The definitive history of the covert struggle between Russia and America to influence elections, why the threat to American democracy is greater than ever, and what we can do about it.
Russia’s interference in 2016 marked only the latest chapter of a hidden and revelatory history. In Rigged, David Shimer tells the sweeping story of covert electoral interference past and present. He exposes decades of secret operations–by the KGB, the CIA, and Vladimir Putin’s Russia–to shape electoral outcomes, melding deep historical research with groundbreaking interviews with more than 130 key players, from leading officials in both the Trump and Obama administrations, to CIA and NSA directors, to a former KGB general.
What Americans should make of Russia’s attack in 2016 is still hotly debated, even after the Mueller report and years of media coverage. Shimer shows that Putin’s operation was, in fact, a continuation of an ongoing struggle, using familiar weapons radically enhanced by new technology. Throughout history and in 2016, both Russian and American operations achieved their greatest success by influencing the way voters think, rather than tampering with actual vote tallies.
Casting aside partisanship and sensationalism, Rigged reveals new details about what Russia achieved in 2016, how the Obama administration responded, and why Putin has also been interfering covertly in elections across the globe in recent years, while American presidents have largely refrained from doing so. Shimer also makes disturbingly clear that this type of intrusion can be used to harm Democrats and Republicans alike. Russia’s central aim is to undermine and disrupt our democracy, to the detriment of all Americans.
Understanding 2016 as one battle in a much longer war is essential to understanding the critical threat currently posed to America’s electoral sovereignty and how to defend against it. Illuminating how the lessons of the past can be used to protect our democracy in the future, Rigged is an essential book for readers of every political persuasion.
Overextension is the common pitfall of empires. Why does it occur? What are the forces that cause the great powers of the industrial era to pursue aggressive foreign policies? Jack Snyder identifies recurrent myths of empire, describes the varieties of overextension to which they lead, and criticizes the traditional explanations offered by historians and political scientists.
He tests three competing theories―realism, misperception, and domestic coalition politics―against five detailed case studies: early twentieth-century Germany, Japan in the interwar period, Great Britain in the Victorian era, the Soviet Union after World War II, and the United States during the Cold War. The resulting insights run counter to much that has been written about these apparently familiar instances of empire building.
Thrall and Friedman, U.S. Grand Strategy in the 21st Century
This book challenges the dominant strategic culture and makes the case for restraint in US grand strategy in the 21st century.
Grand strategy, meaning a state’s theory about how it can achieve national security for itself, is elusive. That is particularly true in the United States, where the division of federal power and the lack of direct security threats limit consensus about how to manage danger. This book seeks to spur more vigorous debate on US grand strategy. To do so, the first half of the volume assembles the most recent academic critiques of primacy, the dominant strategic perspective in the United States today. The contributors challenge the notion that US national security requires a massive military, huge defense spending, and frequent military intervention around the world. The second half of the volume makes the positive case for a more restrained foreign policy by excavating the historical roots of restraint in the United States and illustrating how restraint might work in practice in the Middle East and elsewhere. The volume concludes with assessments of the political viability of foreign policy restraint in the United States today.
This book will be of much interest to students of US foreign policy, grand strategy, national security, and International Relations in general.
Trisko Darden, Aiding and Abetting: U.S. Foreign Assistance and State Violence
The United States is the world’s leading foreign aid donor. Yet there has been little inquiry into how such assistance affects the politics and societies of recipient nations. Drawing on four decades of data on U.S. economic and military aid, Aiding and Abetting explores whether foreign aid does more harm than good. Jessica Trisko Darden challenges long-standing ideas about aid and its consequences, and highlights key patterns in the relationship between assistance and violence. She persuasively demonstrates that many of the foreign aid policy challenges the U.S. faced in the Cold War era, such as the propping up of dictators friendly to U.S. interests, remain salient today. Historical case studies of Indonesia, El Salvador, and South Korea illustrate how aid can uphold human freedoms or propagate human rights abuses. Aiding and Abetting encourages both advocates and critics of foreign assistance to reconsider its political and social consequences by focusing international aid efforts on the expansion of human freedom.
Walt, The Hell of Good Intentions: America’s Foreign Policy Elite and the Decline of U.S. Primacy
From the New York Times–bestselling author Stephen M. Walt, The Hell of Good Intentions dissects the faults and foibles of recent American foreign policy―explaining why it has been plagued by disasters like the “forever wars” in Iraq and Afghanistan and outlining what can be done to fix it.
In 1992, the United States stood at the pinnacle of world power and Americans were confident that a new era of peace and prosperity was at hand. Twenty-five years later, those hopes have been dashed. Relations with Russia and China have soured, the European Union is wobbling, nationalism and populism are on the rise, and the United States is stuck in costly and pointless wars that have squandered trillions of dollars and undermined its influence around the world.
The root of this dismal record, Walt argues, is the American foreign policy establishment’s stubborn commitment to a strategy of “liberal hegemony.” Since the end of the Cold War, Republicans and Democrats alike have tried to use U.S. power to spread democracy, open markets, and other liberal values into every nook and cranny of the planet. This strategy was doomed to fail, but its proponents in the foreign policy elite were never held accountable and kept repeating the same mistakes.
Donald Trump won the presidency promising to end the misguided policies of the foreign policy “Blob” and to pursue a wiser approach. But his erratic and impulsive style of governing, combined with a deeply flawed understanding of world politics, are making a bad situation worse. The best alternative, Walt argues, is a return to the realist strategy of “offshore balancing,” which eschews regime change, nation-building, and other forms of global social engineering. The American people would surely welcome a more restrained foreign policy, one that allowed greater attention to problems here at home. This long-overdue shift will require abandoning the futile quest for liberal hegemony and building a foreign policy establishment with a more realistic view of American power.
Clear-eyed, candid, and elegantly written, Stephen M. Walt’s The Hell of Good Intentions offers both a compelling diagnosis of America’s recent foreign policy follies and a proven formula for renewed success.
Walt, The Origins of Alliances
How are alliances made? In this book, Stephen M. Walt makes a significant contribution to this topic, surveying theories of the origins of international alliances and identifying the most important causes of security cooperation between states. In addition, he proposes a fundamental change in the present conceptions of alliance systems. Contrary to traditional balance-of-power theories, Walt shows that states form alliances not simply to balance power but in order to balance threats. Walt begins by outlining five general hypotheses about the causes of alliances.
Drawing upon diplomatic history and a detailed study of alliance formation in the Middle East between 1955 and 1979, he demonstrates that states are more likely to join together against threats than they are to ally themselves with threatening powers. Walt also examines the impact of ideology on alliance preferences and the role of foreign aid and transnational penetration. His analysis show, however, that these motives for alignment are relatively less important. In his conclusion, he examines the implications of “balance of threat” for U.S. foreign policy.
Waltz, Theory of International Politics
The seminal text on neorealist analysis! From Theory of International Politics: National politics is the realm of authority, of administration, and of law. International politics is the realm of power, of struggle, and of accommodation. . . . States, like people, are insecure in proportion to the extent of their freedom. If freedom is wanted, insecurity must be accepted. Organizations that establish relations of authority and control may increase security as they decrease freedom. If might does not make right, whether among people or states, then some institution or agency has intervened to lift them out of nature s realm. The more influential the agency, the stronger the desire to control it becomes. In contrast, units in an anarchic order act for their own sakes and not for the sake of preserving an organization and furthering their fortunes within it. Force is used for one’s own interest. In the absence of organization, people or states are free to leave one another alone. Even when they do not do so, they are better able, in the absence of the politics of the organization, to concentrate on the politics of the problem and to aim for a minimum agreement that will permit their separate existence rather than a maximum agreement for the sake of maintaining unity. If might decides, then bloody struggles over right can more easily be avoided.
Wertheim, Tomorrow the World: The Birth of U.S. Global Supremacy
A new history explains how and why, as it prepared to enter World War II, the United States decided to lead the postwar world.
For most of its history, the United States avoided making political and military commitments that would entangle it in European-style power politics. Then, suddenly, it conceived a new role for itself as the world’s armed superpower―and never looked back. In Tomorrow, the World, Stephen Wertheim traces America’s transformation to the crucible of World War II, especially in the months prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor. As the Nazis conquered France, the architects of the nation’s new foreign policy came to believe that the United States ought to achieve primacy in international affairs forevermore.
Scholars have struggled to explain the decision to pursue global supremacy. Some deny that American elites made a willing choice, casting the United States as a reluctant power that sloughed off “isolationism” only after all potential competitors lay in ruins. Others contend that the United States had always coveted global dominance and realized its ambition at the first opportunity. Both views are wrong. As late as 1940, the small coterie of officials and experts who composed the U.S. foreign policy class either wanted British preeminence in global affairs to continue or hoped that no power would dominate. The war, however, swept away their assumptions, leading them to conclude that the United States should extend its form of law and order across the globe and back it at gunpoint. Wertheim argues that no one favored “isolationism”―a term introduced by advocates of armed supremacy in order to turn their own cause into the definition of a new “internationalism.”
We now live, Wertheim warns, in the world that these men created. A sophisticated and impassioned narrative that questions the wisdom of U.S. supremacy, Tomorrow, the World reveals the intellectual path that brought us to today’s global entanglements and endless wars.
Whitlock, The Afghanistan Papers: A Secret History of the War
The #1 New York Times bestselling investigative story of how three successive presidents and their military commanders deceived the public year after year about America’s longest war, foreshadowing the Taliban’s recapture of Afghanistan, by Washington Post reporter and three-time Pulitzer Prize finalist Craig Whitlock.
Unlike the wars in Vietnam and Iraq, the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 had near-unanimous public support. At first, the goals were straightforward and clear: defeat al-Qaeda and prevent a repeat of 9/11. Yet soon after the United States and its allies removed the Taliban from power, the mission veered off course and US officials lost sight of their original objectives.
Distracted by the war in Iraq, the US military become mired in an unwinnable guerrilla conflict in a country it did not understand. But no president wanted to admit failure, especially in a war that began as a just cause. Instead, the Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations sent more and more troops to Afghanistan and repeatedly said they were making progress, even though they knew there was no realistic prospect for an outright victory.
Just as the Pentagon Papers changed the public’s understanding of Vietnam, The Afghanistan Papers contains “fast-paced and vivid” (The New York Times Book Review) revelation after revelation from people who played a direct role in the war from leaders in the White House and the Pentagon to soldiers and aid workers on the front lines. In unvarnished language, they admit that the US government’s strategies were a mess, that the nation-building project was a colossal failure, and that drugs and corruption gained a stranglehold over their allies in the Afghan government. All told, the account is based on interviews with more than 1,000 people who knew that the US government was presenting a distorted, and sometimes entirely fabricated, version of the facts on the ground.
Documents unearthed by The Washington Post reveal that President Bush didn’t know the name of his Afghanistan war commander—and didn’t want to meet with him. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld admitted that he had “no visibility into who the bad guys are.” His successor, Robert Gates, said: “We didn’t know jack shit about al-Qaeda.”
The Afghanistan Papers is a “searing indictment of the deceit, blunders, and hubris of senior military and civilian officials” (Tom Bowman, NPR Pentagon Correspondent) that will supercharge a long-overdue reckoning over what went wrong and forever change the way the conflict is remembered.
Williams, The Tragedy of American Diplomacy
This incisive interpretation of American foreign policy ranks as a classic in American thought. First published in 1959, the book offered an analysis of the wellsprings of American foreign policy that shed light on the tensions of the Cold War and the deeper impulses leading to the American intervention in Vietnam. William Appleman Williams brilliantly explores the ways in which ideology and political economy intertwined over time to propel American expansion and empire in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The powerful relevance of Williams’s interpretation to world politics has only been strengthened by recent events in Central Asia and the Persian Gulf. Williams allows us to see that the interests and beliefs that once sent American troops into Texas and California, or Latin America and East Asia, also propelled American forces into Iraq.
Yom, From Resilience to Revolution
Based on comparative historical analyses of Iran, Jordan, and Kuwait, Sean L. Yom examines the foreign interventions, coalitional choices, and state outcomes that made the political regimes of the modern Middle East. A key text for foreign policy scholars, From Resilience to Revolution shows how outside interference can corrupt the most basic choices of governance: who to reward, who to punish, who to compensate, and who to manipulate.
As colonial rule dissolved in the 1930s and 1950s, Middle Eastern autocrats constructed new political states to solidify their reigns, with varying results. Why did equally ambitious authoritarians meet such unequal fates? Yom ties the durability of Middle Eastern regimes to their geopolitical origins. At the dawn of the postcolonial era, many autocratic states had little support from their people and struggled to overcome widespread opposition. When foreign powers intervened to bolster these regimes, they unwittingly sabotaged the prospects for long-term stability by discouraging leaders from reaching out to their people and bargaining for mass support—early coalitional decisions that created repressive institutions and planted the seeds for future unrest. Only when they were secluded from larger geopolitical machinations did Middle Eastern regimes come to grips with their weaknesses and build broader coalitions.