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 identify 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. From time to time we will also feature an original book review or book essay of note. Good reading! And please let us know how you like the format.
William P. Kiehl, Ed.D.
Contributing Editor, Books
Not by Bread Alone by Robert Nalbandov
Blood, Dreams and Gold by Richard Cockett
Democratic Politics in a European Union Under Stress Edited by Olaf Cramme and Sara B. Hobolt
Global Inequality by Brank Milanovic
In Europe’s Shadow by Robert D. Kaplan
War by Other Means by Robert D. Blackwill and Jennifer M. Harris
Since its independence in 1991, Russia has struggled with the growing pains of defining its role in international politics. After Vladimir Putin ascended to power in 2000, the country undertook grandiose foreign policy projects in an attempt to delineate its place among the world’s superpowers. With this in mind, Robert Nalbandov examines the milestones of Russia’s international relations since the turn of the twenty-first century. He focuses on the specific goals, engagement practices, and tools used by Putin’s administration to promote Russia’s vital national and strategic interests in specific geographic locations. His findings illuminate Putin’s foreign policy objective of reinstituting Russian global strategic dominance. Nalbandov argues that identity-based politics have dominated Putin’s tenure and that Russia’s east/west split is reflected in Asian-European politics.
Nalbandov’s analysis shows that unchecked domestic power, an almost exclusive application of hard power, and determined ambition for unabridged global influence and a defined place as a world superpower are the keys to Putin’s Russia.
Robert Nalbandov is an assistant professor of political science at Utah State University and the author of Democratization and Instability in Ukraine, Georgia, and Belarus and Foreign Interventions in Ethnic Conflicts.
Richard Cockett, a former correspondent for The Economist, has traveled to every corner of Myanmar (also known as Burma) to uncover the roots of its troubled condition. The Burmans, the majority ethnic group (who are mostly Buddhist), live on the country’s central plain. A horseshoe-shaped ring of “hill tribes,” many of which are Christian and which are classified into 135 officially recognized ethnic groups, surrounds them. This picture is further complicated by the legacies of the British colonial period, when the country experienced an influx of Hindus and Muslims from various parts of India, as well as Chinese merchants, Iraqi Jews, and others seeking commercial opportunities. Faced with so much ethnic and religious diversity, post-independence military regimes tried to “purify” the country through assimilationist education and language policies, exclusionary citizenship laws, and a military-dominated economic model, all of which have only exacerbated divisions.
Cockett’s lucid analysis of these complexities makes clear his affection for the country. But he evinces little hope that the current quasi-military regime or the opposition can overcome these conflicts and make Myanmar anything more than a “stunted democracy.”
This book offers the first comprehensive political analysis of the Euro crisis that erupted in Greece in 2010 and subsequently threatened the very survival of the Euro area. It has left a profound mark on democratic politics all over Europe, changing public attitudes and voting preferences, institutional and societal norms, and deeply anchored political traditions.
The contributors to this volume reveal the extent to which policymakers are torn between the pressures emanating from financial markets and the demands put forward by their own constituents; how they struggle to reconcile national preferences with wider European interests; and how a polarized and politicized Union seeks to maintain some degree of cohesion. The emerging picture is that of a European Union under serious stress, transformed by new governance structures and a shifting balance of power. In response, the authors evaluate the prospects of a more legitimate and democratic Europe. They provide a rich and pluralist set of new analyses and proposals, aimed at understanding and navigating the myriad tensions that surround the EU in the aftermath of the crisis. If the European project is to regain the trust of its citizens, such considerations must take a central place in public debate.
One of the world’s leading economists of inequality, Branko Milanovic presents a bold new account of the dynamics that drive inequality on a global scale. Drawing on vast data sets and cutting-edge research, he explains the benign and malign forces that make inequality rise and fall within and among nations. He also reveals who has been helped the most by globalization, who has been held back, and what policies might tilt the balance toward economic justice.
Global Inequality takes us back hundreds of years, and as far around the world as data allow, to show that inequality moves in cycles, fueled by war and disease, technological disruption, access to education, and redistribution. The recent surge of inequality in the West has been driven by the revolution in technology, just as the Industrial Revolution drove inequality 150 years ago. But even as inequality has soared within nations, it has fallen dramatically among nations, as middle-class incomes in China and India have drawn closer to the stagnating incomes of the middle classes in the developed world. A more open migration policy would reduce global inequality even further.
Both American and Chinese inequality seems well entrenched and self-reproducing, though it is difficult to predict if emerging plutocracy, populism, or war will derail current trends. For those who want to understand how we got where we are, where we may be heading, and what policies might help reverse that course, Milanovic’s compelling explanation is the ideal place to start.
From the New York Times bestselling author Robert D. Kaplan, named one of the world’s Top 100 Global Thinkers by Foreign Policy magazine, comes a riveting journey through one of Europe’s frontier countries—and a potent examination of the forces that will determine Europe’s fate in the postmodern age.
Robert Kaplan first visited Romania in the 1970s, when he was a young journalist and the country was a bleak Communist backwater. It was one of the darkest corners of Europe, but few Westerners were paying attention. What ensued was a lifelong obsession with a critical, often overlooked country—a country that, today, is key to understanding the current threat that Russia poses to Europe. In Europe’s Shadow is a vivid blend of memoir, travelogue, journalism, and history, a masterly work thirty years in the making—the story of a journalist coming of age, and a country struggling to do the same. Through the lens of one country, Kaplan examines larger questions of geography, imperialism, the role of fate in international relations, the Cold War, the Holocaust, and more.
Here Kaplan illuminates the fusion of the Latin West and the Greek East that created Romania, the country that gave rise to Ion Antonescu, Hitler’s chief foreign accomplice during World War II, and the country that was home to the most brutal strain of Communism under Nicolae CeauÈ™escu. Romania past and present are rendered in cinematic prose: the ashen faces of citizens waiting in bread lines in Cold War-era Bucharest; the Baragan Steppe, laid bare by centuries of foreign invasion; the grim labor camps of the Black Sea Canal; the majestic Gothic church spires of Transylvania and Maramures. Kaplan finds himself in dialogue with the great thinkers of the past, and with the Romanians of today, the philosophers, priests, and politicians—those who struggle to keep the flame of humanism alive in the era of a resurgent Russia.
Today, nations increasingly carry out geopolitical combat through economic means. Policies governing everything from trade and investment to energy and exchange rates are wielded as tools to win diplomatic allies, punish adversaries, and coerce those in between. Not so in the United States, however. America still too often reaches for the gun over the purse to advance its interests abroad. The result is a playing field sharply tilting against the United States.
In a cogent analysis of why the United States is losing ground as a world power and what it can do to reverse the trend, War by Other Means describes the statecraft of geoeconomics: the use of economic instruments to achieve geopolitical goals. Geoeconomics has long been a lever of America’s foreign policy. But factors ranging from U.S. bureaucratic politics to theories separating economics from foreign policy leave America ill prepared for this new era of geoeconomic contest, while rising powers, especially China, are adapting rapidly. The rules-based system Americans set in place after World War II benefited the United States for decades, but now, as the system frays and global competitors take advantage, America is uniquely self-constrained. Neglect and resistance, leaving the United States overly reliant on traditional military force, hamper its geoeconomic policies.