Our new format designed to replace our book reviews places more of the choice on you, the Reader. My colleagues and I at American Diplomacy will identify a variety of new books that we believe may interest you. We’ll provide basic information on the books and links to reviews. You will have the choice of whether, or how far, to pursue your interests in the books that follow. From time to time we will feature an original book review or book essay of note. Good reading! And please let us know how you like the new format.
William P. Kiehl, Ed.D.
Contributing Editor, Books
There is no question that tensions between Russia and America are on the rise. The forced annexation of Crimea, the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight 17, and the Russian government’s treatment of homosexuals have created diplomatic standoffs and led to a volley of economic sanctions. In America, much of the blame for Russia’s recent hostility has fallen on steely-eyed President Vladimir Putin and many have begun to wonder if they we are witnessing the rebirth of Cold War-style dictatorship.
Not so fast, argues veteran historian Walter Laqueur.
For two decades, Laqueur has been ahead of the curve, predicting events in post-Soviet Russia with uncanny accuracy. In Putinism, he deftly demonstrates how three long-standing pillars of Russian ideology-a strong belief in the Orthodox Church, a sense of Eurasian “manifest destiny,” and a fear of foreign enemies-continue to exert a powerful influence on the Russian populous. In fact, today’s Russians have more in common with their counterparts from 1904 than 1954 and Putin is much more a servant of his people than we might think.
Topical and provocative, Putinism contains much more than historical analysis. Looking to the future, Laqueur explains how America’s tendency to see Russia as a Cold War relic is dangerous and premature. Russia can and will challenge the West and it is in our best interest to figure out exactly who we are facing-and what they want-before it is too late.
Walter Laqueur served as the director of the Institute of Contemporary History in London and concurrently the chairman of the International Research Council of CSIS in Washington for 30 years. He was also a professor at Georgetown University and the author of more than twenty-five books on Europe, Russia, and the Middle East. He has had articles published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and countless other newspapers worldwide. His books include The Last Days of Europe and After the Fall.
Jon Meacham, the Pulitzer Prizeâ€“winning author, chronicles the life of George Herbert Walker Bush. Drawing on President Bush’s personal diaries, on the diaries of his wife, Barbara, and on extraordinary access to the forty-first president and his family, Meacham paints an intimate and surprising portrait of an intensely private man who led the nation through tumultuous times. From the Oval Office to Camp David, from his study in the private quarters of the White House to Air Force One, from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the first Gulf War to the end of Communism, Destiny and Power charts the thoughts, decisions, and emotions of a modern president who may have been the last of his kind. This is the human story of a man who was, like the nation he led, at once noble and flawed.
His was one of the great American lives. Born into a loving, privileged, and competitive family, Bush joined the navy on his eighteenth birthday and at age twenty was shot down on a combat mission over the Pacific. He married young, started a family, and resisted pressure to go to Wall Street, striking out for the adventurous world of Texas oil. Over the course of three decades, Bush would rise from the chairmanship of his county Republican Party to serve as congressman, ambassador to the United Nations, head of the Republican National Committee, envoy to China, director of Central Intelligence, vice president under Ronald Reagan, and, finally, president of the United States. In retirement he became the first president since John Adams to see his son win the ultimate prize in American politics.
With access not only to the Bush diaries but, through extensive interviews, to the former president himself, Meacham presents Bush’s candid assessments of many of the critical figures of the age, ranging from Richard Nixon to Nancy Reagan; Mao to Mikhail Gorbachev; Dick Cheney to Donald Rumsfeld; Henry Kissinger to Bill Clinton. Here is high politics as it really is but as we rarely see it.
Hung masterfully integrates wide-ranging historical and economic details to make sense of China’s development and relations with the global economy. During the late 1950s and early 1960s, Chinese leader Mao Zedong unwittingly laid the basis for Chinese capitalism by carrying out forced industrialization on the backs of the peasants. His successors pursued a version of the classic East Asian state-led capitalist model by fostering the development of export-dependent coastal urban economies and massive state enterprises while tolerating relative stagnation in the rural hinterlands. That strategy generated rapid economic growth but also corrupt and repressive local governance, an overreliance on exports, overinvestment in infrastructure, and an explosion of debt.
Hung argues, controversially but convincingly, that there is no unique China model that developing countries can follow in order to avoid the flaws of capitalism or close the wealth gap with the developed world. Moreover, the boom of the book’s title is destined to peter out, potentially with disastrous consequences, unless the regime cedes more economic and political power to peasants and workers. Meanwhile, China has integrated its interests so tightly with those of the United States that its rise supports, rather than threatens, the U.S.-led global order
At the end of the First World War, the Paris Peace Conference saw a battle over the future of empire. The victorious allied powers wanted to annex the Ottoman territories and German colonies they had occupied; Woodrow Wilson and a groundswell of anti-imperialist activism stood in their way. France, Belgium, Japan and the British dominions reluctantly agreed to an Anglo-American proposal to hold and administer those allied conquests under “mandate” from the new League of Nations. In the end, fourteen mandated territories were set up across the Middle East, Africa and the Pacific. Against all odds, these disparate and far-flung territories became the site and the vehicle of global transformation.
In this masterful history of the mandates system, Susan Pedersen illuminates the role the League of Nations played in creating the modern world. Tracing the system from its creation in 1920 until its demise in 1939, Pedersen examines its workings from the realm of international diplomacy; the viewpoints of the League’s experts and officials; and the arena of local struggles within the territories themselves. Featuring a cast of larger-than-life figures, including Lord Lugard, King Faisal, Chaim Weizmann and Ralph Bunche, the narrative sweeps across the globe-from windswept scrublands along the Orange River to famine-blighted hilltops in Rwanda to Damascus under French bombardment-but always returns to Switzerland and the sometimes vicious battles over ideas of civilization, independence, economic relations, and sovereignty in the Geneva headquarters. As Pedersen shows, although the architects and officials of the mandates system always sought to uphold imperial authority, colonial nationalists, German revisionists, African-American intellectuals and others were able to use the platform Geneva offered to challenge their claims. Amid this cacophony, imperial statesmen began exploring new means – client states, economic concessions – of securing Western hegemony. In the end, the mandate system helped to create the world in which we now live.
How do political authorities build support for themselves and their rule? Doing so is key to accruing power, but it can be a complicated affair. The European Union, as a novel political entity, faces a particularly difficult set of challenges. The Politics of Everyday Europe argues that the legitimation of EU authority rests in part on a transformation in the symbols and practices of everyday life in Europe.
The Single Market and the Euro, European citizenship and the dismantling of borders within Europe, EU public architecture, arts and popular entertainment, and EU diplomacy and foreign policy are important not only for their material effects but for how they change peoples’ day-to-day experiences and naturalize European governance. The modern nation-state has long used similar strategies to legitimize its political power. But the EU’s cultural infrastructure is unique, as it navigates national identities with a particularly banality, framing the EU as complementary to, rather than in competition with, the nation-states. These underlying social processes have supported the surprising political development of the EU, but they do so in a way that makes EU authority inherently fragile.
As economic and political crises have stretched European social solidarity to the breaking point, this book offers a clear theoretical framework for understanding how everyday culture matters and how the construction of meaning can be a potent power resource–albeit one open to contestation and subversion by the very citizens it calls into being.
The existence of two Chinese statesâ€”one controlling Mainland China, the other controlling the island of Taiwanâ€”is often understood as a seemingly inevitable outcome of the Chinese civil war. Defeated by Mao Zedong, Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists fled to Taiwan to establish a rival state, thereby creating the “Two Chinas” dilemma that vexes international diplomacy to this day. Accidental State challenges this conventional narrative to offer a new perspective on the founding of modern Taiwan.
Hsiao-ting Lin marshals extensive research in recently declassified archives to show that the creation of a Taiwanese state in the early 1950s owed more to serendipity than careful geostrategic planning. It was the cumulative outcome of ad hoc half-measures and imperfect compromises, particularly when it came to the Nationalists’ often-contentious relationship with the United States.
Taiwan’s political status was fraught from the start. The island had been formally ceded to Japan after the First Sinoâ€“Japanese War, and during World War II the Allies promised Chiang that Taiwan would revert to Chinese rule after Japan’s defeat. But as the Chinese civil war turned against the Nationalists, U.S. policymakers reassessed the wisdom of backing Chiang. The idea of placing Taiwan under United Nations trusteeship gained traction. Cold War realities, and the fear of Taiwan falling into Communist hands, led Washington to recalibrate U.S. policy. Yet American support of a Taiwan-based Republic of China remained ambivalent, and Taiwan had to eke out a place for itself in international affairs as a de facto, if not fully sovereign, state.
Hsiao-ting Lin is a Research Fellow and Curator of East Asian Collections at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, the concept of power has not always been central to international relations theory. During the 1920s and 30s, power was often ignored or vilified by international relations scholarsâ€”especially in America. Power and International Relations explores how this changed in later decades by tracing how power emerged as an important social science concept in American scholarship after World War I. Combining intellectual history and conceptual analysis, David Baldwin examines power’s increased presence in the study of international relations and looks at how the three dominant approaches of realism, neoliberalism, and constructivism treat power.
The clarity and precision of thinking about power increased greatly during the last half of the twentieth century, due to efforts by political scientists, psychologists, sociologists, economists, philosophers, mathematicians, and geographers who contributed to “social power literature.” Baldwin brings the insights of this literature to bear on the three principal theoretical traditions in international relations theory. He discusses controversial issues in power analysis, and shows the relevance of older works frequently underappreciated today.
Focusing on the social power perspective in international relations, this book sheds light on how power has been considered during the last half century and how it should be approached in future research.
David A. Baldwin is senior political scientist in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University and the Wallach Professor of Political Science Emeritus at Columbia University. His many books include Economic Statecraft (Princeton) and Paradoxes of Power. Baldwin is the founder of the Research Committee on Political Power of the International Political Science Association
With Franklin Roosevelt’s death in April of 1945, Vice President Harry Truman and Sen. Arthur Vandenberg, the Republican leader on foreign policy, inherited a world in turmoil. With Europe flattened and the Soviets emerging as America’s new adversary, Truman and Vandenberg built a tight partnership with one another to address the challenges at hand. Working in strong bipartisan fashion at a bitterly partisan time, they crafted a dramatic new foreign policy through which the United States stepped boldly onto the world stage for the first time to protect its friends, confront its enemies, and promote freedom. These two menâ€”unlikely partners by way of personality and styleâ€”transformed the United States from a reluctant global giant to a self-confident leader; from a nation that traditionally turned inward after war to one that remained engaged to shape the postwar landscape; and from a nation with no real military establishment to one that now spends more on defense than the next dozen nations combined.
Lawrence J. Haas, an award-winning journalist, reveals how, through the close collaboration of Truman and Vandenberg, the United States created the United Nations to replace the League of Nations, pursued the Truman Doctrine to defend freedom from Communist threat, launched the Marshall Plan to rescue Western Europe’s economy from the devastation of war, and established NATO to defend Western Europe.
Lawrence J. Haas is a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council and former communications director for Vice President Al Gore. His writings have appeared in the New York Times, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, and many other outlets. He has published several books, including Sound the Trumpet: The United States and Human Rights Promotion.