Tom Ricks, Political Science, and Policy Relevance

I actually should thank Tom Ricks. I’ve wanted to revive this long-dormant blog for some time now, but I’ve been caught up with moving and trying to wrap up a long-term project. Ricks, the former Washington Post military correspondent, inspired me to knock the dust off this site when he made one of the silliest arguments about the policy relevance of political science on record.

In a blog post at Foreign Policy, he mocks the latest issue of the academic journal International Security as boring and irrelevant to the myriad crises the world faces. Ricks complains that with trouble . . .
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Japan Won't Go Nuclear: Should We Care if it Did?

A former classmate of mine, Mira Rapp-Hooper, recently had an excellent post at The Diplomat laying out the case for why Japan is unlikely to pursue its own nuclear deterrent. Mira is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met, and her thoughts on matters of nuclear proliferation are always worth reading. That being said, a discussion of whether this country or that will go nuclear at some point always raises a simple question in my mind:  should the United States really care?

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This question is commonly answered in the affirmative, as the general assumption seems to . . .
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A MAD, MAED World?

A recent report from the RAND Corporation seeks to elucidate several scenarios by which the United States and China could become embroiled in armed conflict.  While much will be made of a single sentence at the beginning of the report that predicts the possibility of a China stronger than Soviet Russia during the Cold War or Nazi Germany during World War II—and despite providing excellent summaries of potential East Asian flashpoints—the authors actually judge the probability of great power conflict in the Asia-Pacific to be relatively low.  More interesting are the recommendations offered for decreasing conflict—particularly, the section on . . .
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Nuclear Alarmism and China's New Great Wall

A recent foray in the Wall Street Journal by Bret Stephens touches on an interesting subject but is so needlessly alarmist it makes one long for the days of his ruminations on Lady Gaga and American’s standing in the Middle East.  The main idea of his most recent offering is that current estimates of China’s nuclear arsenal are far too low, and that it is quite possible that Beijing has far more nuclear weapons than anyone previously believed.  Unfortunately for Stephens, past history and basic nuclear strategy make it unlikely that the Chinese nuclear primacy he fears will come to fruition . . .
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Taiwan, Wounded Knee, and the Difficulty of Historical Analogies

American Taiwan boosters tend to avoid articulating the strategic value of Taiwan as a reason for continued U.S. security assistance.  Sure, shared democratic values are nice—even though they were absent in Taipei for most of the history of U.S.-Taiwanese relations—but they don’t necessarily mean anything as far as reciprocal security relations are concerned.  John Copper, writing at the National Interest, makes a solid effort to define the relationship in strategic terms, but unfortunately chooses a poor historical analogy to make his case.

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Drawing on the history of American expansion in the late 19th century, Coppers . . .
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Wanting it All: The Heritage Foundation’s Flawed Missile Defense Recommendations

The Heritage Foundation has released a new report [pdf] on President Obama’s missile defense strategy by Baker Spring.  Unfortunately, as with most of Heritage’s material on missile defense, Spring’s report has a fatal flaw that makes it unrealistic:  wanting it all.  The strategy proposed in the report goes far beyond what is necessary based on existing ballistic missile threats and is based on technologies that have proved neither reliable nor cost effective.  The report also goes beyond merely honest disagreements about strategic necessities.  It is riddled with factual errors and makes assertions about the Obama administration’s missile defense policy . . .
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Is an Arms Race in Asia Inevitable?

Does the United States need to maintain its alliances in East Asia to prevent a regional arms race?  According to a post at the Diplomat, written a few weeks back by Michael Mazza of the American Enterprise Institute, a hypothetical regional arms race is one of the major reasons the United States needs to maintain a presence there.  Coming on the heels of Charles Glaser’s provocative piece in Foreign Affairs that argued the United States could do without defending Taiwan, Massa argues that the United States must continue to defend the Republic of China to ensure U.S. allies of . . .
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Book Review: Monsoon

When hearing the word “monsoon,” most people would be forgiven for immediately imagining torrential rains, floods, and disaster.  But this entirely misses the beneficial role the monsoon winds of the Indian Ocean have played throughout history—facilitating travel, trade, and cultural exchange across vast swaths of territory long before the invention of the steam engine.  Or, in other words, because of the monsoon winds, the Indian Ocean had globalization before globalization was cool.

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Coming off his fascinating Foreign Affairs article, “Center Stage for the 21st Century: Power Plays in the Indian Ocean,” Robert Kaplan brings us Monsoon: . . .
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China’s westward expansion into Central Asia

Much has been said of China’s push outwards in Southeast Asia. We even mentioned it here, discussing the coming maritime arms race in the Pacific between China and its rivals. However, China is also expanding its influence westwards into Central Asia, which poses important strategic questions for the United States. The extent of China’s Central Asia policies is particularly evident in Tajikistan.

The two countries have for several years grown increasingly close. China is pouring investments into its neighboring country, and in the spirit of warming relations the Tajik government recently agreed to demarcate its shared border with China. On January . . .
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What Then?

Not surprisingly, former ambassador to the United Nations—and potential 2012 Republican presidential candidate—John Bolton believes that the current unrest in Egypt means it’s just the right time for…wait for it…an Israeli attack on Iran (h/t Joshua Keating).  While he might be the most frequent, Bolton is far from the only person who has made calls for attacking Iran and its nuclear facilities by either Israel or the United States in recent years.  Concerns for Israeli security are understandable considering the geographic proximity of the two nations and the abhorrent rhetoric of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but these calls rarely, if ever, attempt to explain what would come after a preemptive or preventive attack.

Continue reading What Then?