Recommended Readings

The Stone Library, which houses John Quincy Adams' books and was built on his instructions.

 

This list 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 wisdoms of the post-Cold War era are in collapse.

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 john.gay@jqas.org.

Some descriptions drawn from Amazon or the publisher.

 

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.”

 

Kenneth 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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

Posen, Restraint

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.

 

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.

 

Preble, The Power Problem

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

POGO, 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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.”

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.”

 

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, After War

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.

 

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.

 

Kinzer, The True Flag

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.

 

Chamberlain, Cheap Threats

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.

 

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.

 

Gentile, Wrong Turn

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.

 

Porch, Counterinsurgency

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.

 

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.

 

Snyder, Myths of Empire

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.

 

Kennan, American Diplomacy

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.

 

Healy, Cult of the Presidency

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

Layne, The Peace of Illusions

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.

 

O’Hanlon, Beyond NATO

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.

 

Avlon, Washington’s Farewell

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.

 

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.

 

Bolger, Why We Lost

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

Bacevich, The Limits of Power

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.

 

Cohen, Failed Crusade

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.

 

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.