"International Security Journal Highlights"
Belfer Center Programs or Projects: International Security
Vol. 35, No. 4
International Security is America’s leading journal of security affairs. It provides sophisticated analyses of contemporary security issues and discusses their conceptual and historical foundations. The journal is edited at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center and published quarterly by the MIT Press. Questions may be directed to IS@Harvard.edu.
“Graceful Decline? The Surprising Success of Great Power Retrenchment”
Paul K. MacDonald and Joseph M. Parent
In recent years, the relative power of the United States has been eroding. For great powers facing relative decline, retrenchment—retracting grand strategic commitments—has never been seen as a viable response: it shows weakness and is difficult to implement domestically. A comparison of eighteen cases of acute relative decline since 1870, however, demonstrates that retrenchment has occurred more often and has been more effective than is generally perceived. Retrenchment neither invites attack nor requires aggression; instead it allows states to maximize security given their available means, and many states—especially hegemonic powers—often regain their prominence.
“Europe’s Troubles: Power Politics and the State of the European Project”
In the 1990s, the European project—economic, political, and military integration—seemed destined for success. During the Cold War, the rise of the Soviet Union spurred the creation of the European Community and economic integration, and analysts predicted that political and military integration would soon follow. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, however, Europe lacked a compelling geostrategic reason to pursue full integration. Unless the balance of power changes and the health of the economy improves, Europeans have no incentive either to integrate further or to preserve their economic community, and the European Community’s future is uncertain.
“The Right to Be Right: Civil-Military Relations and the Iraq Surge Decision”
Peter D. Feaver
Civil-military relations theory encompasses a debate between professional supremacists and civilian supremacists over how much to defer to the military on wartime decisions. In the case of the 2006 Iraq surge decision, President George W. Bush’s top military commanders opposed the decision, whereas civilian supremacists pressed for its early implementation. Instead of following the dictates of one school over the other, however, Bush pursued a civil-military hybrid model that gave the surge a chance to work. Compromise, then, might be the best way to reconcile differences on wartime decisions between professional and civilian supremacist groups.
“The Security Curve and the Structure of International Politics: A Neorealist Synthesis”
The question of how much power a state needs to maximize its security is at the core of realist theory. The “security curve,” a modified parabolic relationship between relative power and security, synthesizes multiple realist theories into a single framework: as a state moves along the power continuum, its security increases along with its power until it reaches the security threshold (i.e., offensive realist theory), at which point its security decreases as opponents balance against it (defensive realist theory), and finally increases again as states are forced to bandwagon with it (hegemonic stability theory). The security curve is useful for analyzing the respective positions of China, which is approaching the security threshold, and the United States, which is too powerful for states to balance but unable to unify the system.
“Preventing Enemy Coalitions: How Wedge Strategies Shape Power Politics”
Timothy W. Crawford
Wedge strategies—or states’ attempts to prevent or break up threatening or blocking alliances—can trigger significant power shifts in international politics. The most successful wedge strategies include selective accommodation (e.g., concessions and compensation) to detach and neutralize potential adversaries. Examples include Great Britain’s use of defensive wedge strategies to accommodate Italy in the 1930s and Germany’s offensive efforts to accommodate the Soviet Union in 1939. Wedge strategies have important implications for balance of power politics in general and, in particular, for U.S. alliances in Asia, which could be fractured by a rising China.
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