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The Myth of Accidental War

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This article was originally published by the World Policy Blog on 28 September 2017.

As the rhetoric and warlike maneuvers of the U.S. and North Korea accelerate, the media are increasingly considering the prospect of “accidental” war between the U.S. and North Korea. But if war does start, it will not be accidental. It depends on deliberate choices by both sides about whether to escalate violence or pull back and reassess. Those choices are made by politicians, who are often swayed by domestic political pressures.

The myth of accidental war is a pernicious consequence of liberal international relations theory, which argues that since the consequences of war are so horrendous, no sane person would willfully choose war. Therefore, war occurs only when “madmen,” like Hitler, are in power, or when otherwise rational leaders miscalculate the consequences of their actions. My blog last week argued that the U.S. may be slipping into war with North Korea, but it is important to understand that if it does happen, it is not accidental. It is a product of choices being made now that people and leaders need to be responsible about.

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The Six Day War and the Nuclear Coup that Never Was

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This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 29 June 2017.

On the eve of the June 1967 war in the Middle East, a small group of men in the Israeli elite considered a doomsday scenario. They all supported Israel having an overt nuclear strategy, but the dovish prime minister, Levi Eshkol, had resisted. Now, with war looming, they felt that their hour had come. Behind the scenes, these bureaucrats, scientists and officers prepared the ground for using Israel’s ultimate weapon: the nuclear bomb.

Three weeks ago, The New York Times revealed part of that story which the newspaper described as the “last secret” of the Six Day War. The truth is, evidence of these events has been out in the open for several years now. Yitzchak Yaacov, a top scientist who served as a senior officer in the Israeli army, had published his memoirs detailing the deliberations for the secret operation already in 2011. Based on this book as well as several interviews, Amir Oren, military correspondent for Haaretz, wrote in the same year a long analysis of the decision-making process surrounding this chapter in Israel’s history. And in 2014, Oxford University Press published a monograph by Or Rabinowitz that distilled all these Hebrew-language sources into an English-language text.

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Why Stalin’s Popularity Doesn’t Have to be as Terrifying as it Seems

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This article was originally published by the European Council on Foreign Relations on 29 June 2017.

Stalin’s increasing popularity in Russia is worrying, but its importance should not be exaggerated.

This week, yet another poll confirmed Joseph Stalin’s unwavering hold on the popular imagination of Russians. Surveys have documented steadily rising admiration for the Soviet leader in the last several years, but Monday’s open-ended study published by the Levada Center established him as “the most outstanding person” in history, for 38 percent of respondents. Vladimir Putin came in joint second position at 34 percent, alongside the poet Alexander Pushkin.

The poll sounds particularly alarming because instead of answering multiple choice questions, respondents were asked to name the first person to pop into their head – not just Russian, but anyone, anywhere. The fact that for 38 percent of people that was Stalin – without the respondent first being prompted – seems to confirm what many have been fearing for some time: that Russians are steadily forgiving and embracing a tyrant who oversaw a system that slaughtered tens of millions of its own people.

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Airbrushing Stalin and Mao’s Horrific Crimes

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This article was originally published by World Affairs in June 2017.

“It’s easy predicting the future,” an old Soviet joke went. “What’s difficult is predicting the past.”

There is a war going on over the interpretation of history. A search for a “correct” version of the past has been launched in a number of countries, often by embittered nationalist forces, as in Poland. But the most aggressive assault is being orchestrated by dictators like Vladimir Putin, and China’s Communist Party leadership.

There is much at stake in this revisionist enterprise. The most alarming goal is to reappraise leaders like Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong, to whitewash their atrocities and ensure that, at least for a domestic audience, they are presented as heroic figures whose crimes were miniscule in comparison with their achievements. Another objective is to depict the country in question as both the ultimate victim and the ultimate winner.

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Peace and War in Sino-America: Forget the Headlines and Follow the Trendlines for a Better World

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This article was originally published by Harvard International Review on 2 May 2017.

Throughout the 2016 presidential election, then candidate Donald Trump blasted China for its protectionist trade policies, currency manipulation, and several other accusations. Indeed, these accusations were not limited to Trump as China bashing is simply standard fare for anyone seeking elected office on campaign trails. Much of Trump’s campaign was however met with derision. As the election process unfolded, the derision soon turned to snickers. As the election continued, the snickers turned downright somber while he sailed past his Republican opponents Jeff Bush, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and others who had been deemed more likely GOP nominees.

Among the intelligentsia, the mood has turned to alarm as now President Trump has set out to do exactly as he had promised during his “America First” campaign. To show his sincerity to the campaign promise of bringing jobs back to the United States, he kicked off his first day in the Oval Office by issuing an Executive Order cancelling American participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). It was President Barack Obama’s signature trade deal creating a free-trade zone with eleven other nations for approximately 40 percent of the world’s economy. Trump also threatened to impose a 45-percent tariff on Chinese goods if China does not “behave” accordingly.

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