Reviews: Targeted Books
Miscalculation, mistake, a cyber attack or provocation that spirals out of control… the reality of cold war-legacy systems with hair-trigger response imperatives… escalating political conflict and threats… the development and deployment of a next generation of tactical / strategic nuclear weapons, bombers, missiles, submarines… The 21st century scenario is delivering ominous nuclear odds…
Read More re: Nuclear Issues & Proliferation Risks
Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era:
Regional Powers and International Conflict
Paperback | $29.95 / £19.95 | ISBN: 9780691159836
Hardcover | $95.00 / £65.00 | ISBN: 9780691159829
360 pp. | 6 x 9
eBook | ISBN: 9781400850402
From Arms Control Wonk – by Michael Krepon
Nuclear postures matter. They frame requirements, add to or detract from stability, and can affect outcomes when deterrence fails, which happens more than expected. Vipin Narang covers this ground in his masterful new book, Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era: Regional Powers and International Conflict.
Finally, we have a book on proliferation that is rooted in the discipline of Political Science with persuasive explanatory powers and great analytical value. Vipin’s book has one chapter that only Political Scientists can relate to, but the rest is highly accessible…
From Arms Control Today – by Douglas B. Shaw
“Narang adds importantly to the scholarly understanding of nuclear posture in a way that can inform policy. He studies an important topic, shatters false assumptions, provides insightful and useful new conceptual categories, offers apparently powerful theoretical explanations of important behaviors, provides a valuable set of case studies, and opens doors for additional scholarly research. . . . The many avenues for additional research it suggests and worrisome possibilities it surfaces testify to the analytic strength and policy ambition of this important book.”
From Alexander Downes, George Washington University
“This excellent book offers a novel typology of nuclear postures and a theory that explains why states adopt certain postures but not others, before assessing the consequences of postures for deterrence. An exemplary blend of theory and qualitative and quantitative evidence, its conclusions have wide-ranging implications for the way we think about nuclear deterrence.”
From Charles Glaser, George Washington University
“This book makes a major contribution to our understanding of the nuclear challenges that we currently face. Narang argues that the theories developed during the Cold War cannot explain the nuclear policies of regional powers. To fill this important gap, he convincingly lays out three distinct nuclear postures available to regional powers and he questions conventional wisdom to show that a state’s nuclear posture significantly influences its deterrence effect.”
From the Publisher:
The world is in a second nuclear age in which regional powers play an increasingly prominent role. These states have small nuclear arsenals, often face multiple active conflicts, and sometimes have weak institutions. How do these nuclear states—and potential future ones—manage their nuclear forces and influence international conflict? Examining the reasoning and deterrence consequences of regional power nuclear strategies, this book demonstrates that these strategies matter greatly to international stability and it provides new insights into conflict dynamics across important areas of the world such as the Middle East, East Asia, and South Asia.
Vipin Narang identifies the diversity of regional power nuclear strategies and describes in detail the posture each regional power has adopted over time. Developing a theory for the sources of regional power nuclear strategies, he offers the first systematic explanation of why states choose the postures they do and under what conditions they might shift strategies. Narang then analyzes the effects of these choices on a state’s ability to deter conflict. Using both quantitative and qualitative analysis, he shows that, contrary to a bedrock article of faith in the canon of nuclear deterrence, the acquisition of nuclear weapons does not produce a uniform deterrent effect against opponents.
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The recently published National Security and Double Government by Michael Glennon arrived and departed with few notices. The Cambridge (US version) community and policy types discussed it, and the Boston Globe provided coverage, a review and follow-on Q&A, then the few ripples of discussion faded. In Washington DC, the permanent government behind the scenes wasn’t seen, as was to be expected, discussing or debating the book or its serious issues — and the reality of day-to-day business-as-usual continues.
Whether left or right or in the center, whether independent or partisan, major political party or Libertarian or Green minor party, whether a policy wonk or not, the overwhelming reality is a US government (and business nexus) at work with a ‘physics of energy’, a momentum that seems to be following laws of thermodynamics as it continues in an inevitable motion. What is set in motion continues in motion. It is as if Newton himself is a witness to history being made.
46 separate federal departments and agencies and 2,000 private companies engaged in classified national security operations with millions of employees and spending of roughly a trillion dollars a year.
This Oxford University Press tome sets the stage for a type of Inevitability that acknowledges neither conspiracy theorists, historic actors or Marx’s class analysis, Toynbee’s ‘contours of history’ or God’s hand. Welcome to the experts and highly paid bureaucrats, lobbyists and the movers behind the scenes. A security state acting with enormous power. Unseen, not on-stage, yet at work 24/7/365.
On stage dutifully, as in a Greek drama, are Characters who act are are seen and whose actions are dutifully recorded by journalists, media and artists looking for both box-office and great themes to rival the classics or simply make a hit. Back stage producing the on-stage Show are the movers and shakers, the enablers, the budgeted spending, the ‘black’ budget secret spending — the doers who do what is necessary.
There is very little profit to be had in learning about, and being active about, problems that you can’t affect, policies that you can’t change.
Glennon’s book is worth a read and a place on the shelf next to other memorable books such as The Power Game (Hedrick Smith), Who Will Tell the People (William Greider) and Thy Will Be Done (Gerard Colby & Charlotte Dennett.) Each tells a tale that is powerful, and academic, given forces in action where votes have little currency and a world rarely reported or seen on-stage is in motion with powerful currents at work shaping what is called ‘history’.
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The following Q&A comes from the National Security/Double Government book tour:
IDEAS: Where does the term “double government” come from?
GLENNON:It comes from Walter Bagehot’s famous theory, unveiled in the 1860s. Bagehot was the scholar who presided over the birth of the Economist magazine—they still have a column named after him. Bagehot tried to explain in his book “The English Constitution” how the British government worked. He suggested that there are two sets of institutions. There are the “dignified institutions,” the monarchy and the House of Lords, which people erroneously believed ran the government. But he suggested that there was in reality a second set of institutions, which he referred to as the “efficient institutions,” that actually set governmental policy. And those were the House of Commons, the prime minister, and the British cabinet.
IDEAS: What evidence exists for saying America has a double government?
GLENNON:I was curious why a president such as Barack Obama would embrace the very same national security and counterterrorism policies that he campaigned eloquently against. Why would that president continue those same policies in case after case after case? I initially wrote it based on my own experience and personal knowledge and conversations with dozens of individuals in the military, law enforcement, and intelligence agencies of our government, as well as, of course, officeholders on Capitol Hill and in the courts. And the documented evidence in the book is substantial—there are 800 footnotes in the book.
IDEAS: Why would policy makers hand over the national-security keys to unelected officials?
GLENNON: It hasn’t been a conscious decision….Members of Congress are generalists and need to defer to experts within the national security realm, as elsewhere. They are particularly concerned about being caught out on a limb having made a wrong judgment about national security and tend, therefore, to defer to experts, who tend to exaggerate threats. The courts similarly tend to defer to the expertise of the network that defines national security policy.
The presidency itself is not a top-down institution, as many people in the public believe, headed by a president who gives orders and causes the bureaucracy to click its heels and salute. National security policy actually bubbles up from within the bureaucracy. Many of the more controversial policies, from the mining of Nicaragua’s harbors to the NSA surveillance program, originated within the bureaucracy. John Kerry was not exaggerating when he said that some of those programs are “on autopilot.”
IDEAS: Isn’t this just another way of saying that big bureaucracies are difficult to change?
GLENNON: It’s much more serious than that. These particular bureaucracies don’t set truck widths or determine railroad freight rates. They make nerve-center security decisions that in a democracy can be irreversible, that can close down the marketplace of ideas, and can result in some very dire consequences.
IDEAS: Couldn’t Obama’s national-security decisions just result from the difference in vantage point between being a campaigner and being the commander-in-chief, responsible for 320 million lives?
GLENNON: There is an element of what you described. There is not only one explanation or one cause for the amazing continuity of American national security policy. But obviously there is something else going on when policy after policy after policy all continue virtually the same way that they were in the George W. Bush administration.
IDEAS: This isn’t how we’re taught to think of the American political system.
GLENNON: I think the American people are deluded, as Bagehot explained about the British population, that the institutions that provide the public face actually set American national security policy. They believe that when they vote for a president or member of Congress or succeed in bringing a case before the courts, that policy is going to change. Now, there are many counter-examples in which these branches do affect policy, as Bagehot predicted there would be. But the larger picture is still true—policy by and large in the national security realm is made by the concealed institutions.
IDEAS: Do we have any hope of fixing the problem?
GLENNON: The ultimate problem is the pervasive political ignorance on the part of the American people. And indifference to the threat that is emerging from these concealed institutions. That is where the energy for reform has to come from: the American people. Not from government. Government is very much the problem here. The people have to take the bull by the horns. And that’s a very difficult thing to do, because the ignorance is in many ways rational. There is very little profit to be had in learning about, and being active about, problems that you can’t affect, policies that you can’t change.
Interview courtesy of the Boston Globe
Update: Academy Award
“Most people think… it won’t happen to me… and I have nothing to hide…
It’s always the same argument.”
LA Times “Jolts film world”
Daytwo Reviews for Citizenfour
Daythree for Citizenfour
by the New Yorker
Released by: Radius-TWC
Strategic Thinking & Strategic Consequences
◊ Endless Empire
◊ The Revenge of Geography
Reviewed by Roger Snodgrass
Spain’s Retreat, Europe’s Eclipse, America’s Decline
Edited by Alfred W. McCoy, Josep M. Fradera, and Stephen Jacobson
University of Wisconsin, 477 pages
The first decade of the 21st century undercut American self-confidence at its zenith. Having reached a high point of military strength and economic influence after the fall of the rival Soviet Union, the United States soon faced a future not of tribute but of doubt and decline. Increasingly, the question Americans were asking each other is – are we, too, now going down the tubes?
Over the course of five years beginning in 2006, some 140 international historians collaborated on two books of essays on the subject of the American empire. (xi.4) The first book published in 2009, The Colonial Crucible: Empire in the Making of the Modern American State, examined the complex inputs and worldwide outcomes that began at the end of the 19th century when the United States purchased, incorporated and otherwise subordinated several pieces of a decrepit Spanish empire, including the Philippines, Cuba and Puerto Rico.
Six of the 50 essays in the first book wrestled with a much debated issue in contemporary American history – whether and in what sense the United States should be referred to as an empire at all. While the implications continue to simmer in the second volume, the weight of opinion of the two books validates America as an empire, starting with the threshold prerequisite of controlling one or more outside sociopolitical entities. Only one essay invoked the claim of “American exceptionalism,” frequently used to dismiss or excuse American imperial behavior.
The second book in the series, Endless Empire: Spain’s Retreat, Europe’s Eclipse, America’s Decline grew out of the same collaborative effort and is concerned with the next stage of the American empire, as more than 100 countries became independent after World War II and eventually participated in the internationalization of trade and commerce known as globalization. Across Asia, Africa and Latin America, new and nominally independent countries went through many different variations of decolonization while becoming more or less entangled in the expansive tendrils of American influence.
Through both history and heritage the American empire was significantly influenced by the British model, described by the Australian scholar Gregory A. Barton (248.4) in an essay on “Informal Empire,” as a kind of virtual control of the relations between nations of such matters as “trade, investment, immigration, government and private aid, and cultural exchanges…” Under this system, a powerful country “intentionally or unintentionally exercises a dominant influence over the elite formation, identity, and conditions of exchange of the subjected elite in another nation or region – with none of the formal structures of empire.” The alienation or disaffection of these subordinated elites is among the factors leading to decline.
As the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States intensified, the imperial motivation became more competitive, writes Brett Reilly, a doctoral student at the University of Wisconsin, in his essay, “Cold War Transition:” “Because we are a principal source of free-world strength, we face the intense hostility of the Soviet-dominated world,” said Secretary of State John Foster Dulles in 1953, touching on the purely voluntary coercion supposedly involved under the American exception. “An essential aspect of United States foreign policy,” Dulles said, was making allies and finding ways “to bind them to us and us to them in dependable ways…” (344.5)
In his introductory essay, Alfred W. McCoy, a University of Wisconsin-Madison history professor and guiding intellect for the U.S. Empire Project, establishes the investigative burden of the book, implied somewhat ambiguously in the title. “Endless Empire” on one hand refers to the four millennia of human history going back to the Sumerians in Mesopotamia and the unbroken series of empires that followed. Looking backward at the most recent decline of the European empires and the profound changes that occurred, McCoy asks what that had to do with America’s rise to power and what does it portend for the future.
In an insightful book-ending essay drawn from the full spectrum of recent lessons of declining empire, McCoy focuses on the contradictory signs of slippage that now threaten America’s global supremacy. “By 2011, it appeared that U.S. military power, unchallenged for decades, was slowly being eroded by the country’s fiscal crisis and waning economic influence,” he writes. The key to American military success is tied to the acceleration of its information regime and its levitation of force projection into the “ultimate strategic high ground” (378.8) in the atmosphere and near-earth orbit. These new kinds of informational weapons, providing persistent situational surveillance and attuned to biometric identification are already anticipating an oncoming age of robotic warfare
If ever-more advanced military technology can secure the future, McCoy concludes, America may still have a shot at a second century of domination, if not the unattainable “Endless Empire.” But recent history is not encouraging. Germany’s “wonder weapons” of jets and rockets toward the end of World War II seemed at first to have an overwhelming advantage. “In the end, however, the waves of Allied aircraft, tanks and troops – marshaled by superior U.S. economic strength – simply overwhelmed Hitler’s ‘secret weapons,’” McCoy writes. Technology is ephemeral and quickly copied by a determined adversary. With education and the economy in decline, as McCoy has documented, America will have lost its most essential competitive advantages within another generation and will not, despite its exceptional claims, be exempt from the usual pattern of imperial decline. (384-385)
The bottom line from this team of scholars: “that the American century of global dominion, proclaimed at the start of World War II, will end after just 80 years – dawning in 1945, declining by 2020, and eclipsed by 2030.”
The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate
Written by Robert Kaplan
Random House, 403 pages
Robert Kaplan’s latest book on international affairs, The Revenge of Geography, contains a stream of anecdotes and historical illustrations about the dynamics of the world’s populated spaces. “A state’s position on the map is the first thing that defines it, more than its governing philosophy even,” he writes. “Why is China ultimately more important than Brazil?” he asks. “Because of its geographical location.” Why is Africa so poor? Because its coastline is short and lacks good harbors. The word revenge in the book’s title refers to this inescapable reality of geographic fate, and although Kaplan is careful not to overstate the case, his book is about summoning the national will to resist surrendering to this fate.
“Geography,” Kaplan explains, “from a Greek word that means essentially a ‘description of the earth,’ has often been associated with fatalism and therefore stigmatized: for to think geographically is to limit human choice, it is said. … I merely want to add another layer of complexity to conventional foreign policy analyses and thus find a deeper and more powerful way to look at the world.”
Kaplan’s study examines how various nations and subnational cultures get along with their neighbors. He looks for useful generalizations, based on how people are related geographically, keeping in mind that the world is getting smaller even as geographical pressures are being multiplied.
The author has spent much of his life in Europe and traveling the world. He has written 14 books, including this one, and served for 25 years as a correspondent for The Atlantic. In this book, he labels New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman one of the “elite,” but Kaplan is just as well connected with the foreign-policy establishment and just as familiar to the top players. He is the chief geopolitical analyst for Stratfor, a private intelligence firm that was embarrassed by WikiLeaks hackers last year.
In 2004 Kaplan was among a group of writers and neoconservatives who supported the Iraq War, of which he gives a perfunctory account in this book. “I had been impressed by the power of the American military in the Balkans,” he writes, “and given that Saddam had murdered directly or indirectly more people than had Milosevic, and was a strategic menace believed to possess weapons of mass destruction, it seemed to me at the time that intervention was warranted.”
In an October 2008 dispatch in The Atlantic, he offered a more specific mea culpa: “As an early supporter of the war in Iraq, I like others have taken refuge in counterfactuals,” which he defined as “all the bad things that might have happened had we left Saddam Hussein in power.” He added that the situations avoided didn’t really compare with the hard facts now visible: thousands of American and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives lost — “not to mention the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on the war that could have been used to meet other threats to our national interests.” He also says he misjudged the character of the people who were prosecuting the war.
What has renewed Kaplan’s belief in geopolitics, which he traces back more than 2,500 years to Thucydides’ insights in The Peloponnesian War? “To recover our sense of geography, we first must fix the moment in recent history when we most profoundly lost it, explain why we lost it, and elucidate how that affected our assumptions about the world. Of course such a loss is gradual. But the moment I have isolated, when that loss seemed most acute, was immediately after the collapse of the Berlin Wall.”
The field of international affairs has seen a broad revival of interest in geopolitics, which is practically a movement according to The Return of Geopolitics in Europe?, a book published in 2012 and edited by Stefano Guzzini. Guzzini gives the title a question mark because the return is widely attributed (not just by Kaplan) to the collapse of the wall and to the end of the Soviet Union, even though the shift happened in an unexpected way. Guzzini analyzes the question further and attributes the rebirth of geopolitics to national identity crises: many countries have lost confidence in former certainties. The intellectual question is more troubling in Europe, where political geography was invented, because “geopolitik” as it was once known, is identified with the Third Reich, where it was used to guide the German government between the first and second world wars.
Kaplan makes no bones about his nationalist and imperialist ambitions for the United States, baldly suggesting various hegemonic strategies for rounding up whole regions to be controlled by the U.S. He considers the U.S. neglect of a constructive engagement with Mexico (compared to our extravagantly destructive preoccupation with the Middle East) to be one of our most urgent geopolitical problems, one that will not be solved by building a higher or more impermeable wall. At the same time, his imperialist fantasy of adding the northern tier of Mexican states to the U.S. is typically hostile and aggressive.
There is something surprisingly wholesome about Kaplan’s prescription for strengthening democratic culture to resist the negative drag of geography, but in general his hard-nosed “realism” — short for “a grim view of humanity” — would seem self-defeating long before one arrives at a border.
Reviewed by Roger Snodgrass, an award-winning writer specializing in national security issues and the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. Over more than 30 years of journalism, Roger has documented developments within each the national labs, with nuclear weapons, advanced research and science. From September 2000 to March 2010, he covered Los Alamos beginning as a beat reporter and advancing to become assistant editor and editor of the Los Alamos Monitor daily newspaper. Among other publications, he writes for the Nuclear Weapons and Materials Monitor, the leading trade publication on the U.S. nuclear weapons complex, based in Washington, D.C. He is a media consultant with various non-profit groups and writes commentary and opinion for blogs and other Internet outlets. His Twitter account is @Pomotor.
‘Breach of Trust,’ by Andrew J. Bacevich
In his abrasive, heartbreaking new book, “Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country,” Andrew Bacevich starts from the assumption that our modern militarism is unsustainable ….