Friday, November 4, 2005

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November's Books of the Month

The international relations book this mo--- [Hold it!! Didn't you forget October's book selections?--ed. Um.. look, a lot happened in October. Cut me some slack? Just this once. You get denied tenure again, though, and I'm walking--ed.]

Er... where was I? Oh, yes, the book recommendations.

This month's books both deal with international relations. In fact, both deal with the use of language and rhetoric in IR and foreign policy. Both of them also have interesting things to say about the Bush administration's foreign policy. However, it's safe to say that they take veeeeerrrrry different approaches to the problem.

The first book is Anne Sartori's Deterrence by Diplomacy. The book's precis:

Why are countries often able to communicate critical information using diplomacy? Why do countries typically use diplomacy honestly, despite incentives to bluff? Why are they often able to deter attacks using merely verbal threats? International relations theory is largely pessimistic about the prospects for effective diplomacy, yet leaders nevertheless expend much time and energy trying to resolve conflicts through verbal negotiations and public statements. Deterrence by Diplomacy challenges standard understandings of deterrence by analyzing it as a form of talk and reaches conclusions about the effectiveness of diplomacy that are much more optimistic.

Anne Sartori argues that diplomacy works precisely because it is so valuable. States take pains to use diplomacy honestly most of the time because doing so allows them to maintain reputations for honesty, which in turn enhance their ability to resolve future disputes using diplomacy rather than force. So, to maintain the effectiveness of their diplomacy, states sometimes acquiesce to others' demands when they might have been able to attain their goals through bluffs. Sartori theorizes that countries obtain a "trade" of issues over time; they get their way more often when they deem the issues more important, and concede more often when they deem the issues less important. Departing from traditional theory, this book shows that rather than always fighting over small issues to show resolve, states can make their threats more credible by sometimes honestly acquiescing over lesser issues--by not crying "wolf."

Sartori's thesis is interesting for theoretical reasons because it recasts the literature on extended deterrence. Deterrence theory usually boils down to questions of how leaders can demonstrate a reputation for "resolve." Saartori suggests that the reputation that matters is one of honesty. In making this switch, Sartori also challenges game theorists who argue that diplomacy is "cheap talk" because there are no costs to words (as opposed to action). If an honest reporation matters at the global level, then diplomacy is not cheap talk -- lying is costly.

Sartori's arguments apply in interesting ways to the Bush administration's diplomatic style. On the one hand, it suggests that the administration has overemphasized the importance of demonstrating resolve as a means of advancing its interests. On the other hand, this approach also suggests that the administration's bluntness has greater value than mainstream foreign policy analysts have previously suggested.

The other book of interest is Jeff Legro's Rethinking the World: Great Power Strategies and International Order. Legro asks a different question than Sartori: when do great powers engage in radical rethinks of their grand strategies? Why are such rethinks so rare in world politics? A summary of Legro's answer:

The nature of strategic ideas, Jeffrey W. Legro argues, played a critical and overlooked role in these transformations. Big changes in foreign policies are rare because it is difficult for individuals to overcome the inertia of entrenched national mentalities. Doing so depends on a particular nexus of policy expectations, national experience, and ready replacement ideas. In a sweeping comparative history, Legro explores the sources of strategy in the United States and Germany before and after the world wars, in Tokugawa Japan, and in the Soviet Union. He charts the likely future of American primacy and a rising China in the coming century.

Rethinking the World helps to explain the administration's grand strategy remains the status quo, despite limited success in Iraq and declining public support for the big neoconservative ideas. For there to be shifts in grand strategy, it can't just be the case that the current strategy is failing. There must also be a viable alternative around which others can rally -- one that can generate immediately attractive solutions to current problems.

At present, both realism and liberal internationalism have their champions. However, my suspicion is that the realists have the upper hand because their recommendations for Iraq (as graceful a withdrawal as possible) seem more compelling than liberal internationalism. Still, Legro's framework helps to explain why it remains an open question whether there will be a radical shift away from the current grand strategy.

Go check them out!!

posted by Dan on 11.04.05 at 05:26 PM


Dan, we can at least acknowledge the limitations of the phrase "grand strategy," can't we?

By "we" I don't mean the academics you know, but the rest of us. You don't have to have observed Washington very long to understand that many administrations can go years without having a grand strategy. Sometimes their doctrinal statements on things like foreign policy signify a strategy, grand or otherwise, but sometimes not. Moreover it occasionally happens -- at least it is theoretically possible -- that an administration can maintain consistent pursuit of a coherent set of objectives without ever describing (or even thinking of) it as pursuing a grand strategy.

"Grand strategy" is a phrase that suggests a modern equivalent to Roosevelt and Churchill meeting with the service chiefs and key diplomats to plot the destruction of the Axis. There is no very close analog to the Axis right now, hasn't been for years. And it's been a lot longer than since any American President bore comparison to Roosevelt or Churchill.

posted by: Zathras on 11.04.05 at 05:26 PM [permalink]

"On the one hand, it suggests that the administration has overemphasized the importance of demonstrating resolve as a means of advancing its interests."

The Bush Administration didnt happened in vacuum. It has a past history of US governement appeasing relating to Middle East.

posted by: lucklucky on 11.04.05 at 05:26 PM [permalink]

Very interesting recommendations. However, as a historian I have to smile at the idea that Sartori has discovered something new. The notion of "reputation" and its value is totally familiar to any historian of European international relations in the 15th-17th centuries (or in the ancient world, for that matter). The problem of pacification in early modern Europe was that princes were so determined to uphold "reputation" that they would rather go to war than lose face. Early modern diplomacy was in large part about reducing this obsession with reputation, or rather reformulating reputation to include reputation for being a peacemaker.

posted by: david g. on 11.04.05 at 05:26 PM [permalink]

Well, if "Saartori suggests that the reputation that matters is one of honesty", then let us apply that like any other theorum and "see" what we get.
Palestinians promise thousands killed by evil Jews in Jenin.
Fact, all the dead bodies comprising those thousands are contained within a little over a half hundred corpses which comprise all dead, even those dead of natural causes. This should mean that the Palestinians should have an uphill battle to contend because of an acknowleged lack of truthfulness, no?
There could be literally dozens of examples, but as an empirical rule, if the claim is against the US, a US interest, or against a US ally, there are no consequences for abysmally untruthful claims. Almost as if the US State Department is staffed by people who refuse to permit actions (even as simple as denying credability) against those who do make such ludicrously untruthful claims.

posted by: Jhn'1 on 11.04.05 at 05:26 PM [permalink]

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