Book Reviews

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Bullets Not Ballots

Jacqueline Hazelton’s provocatively critiques of what has become conventional wisdom in counterinsurgency (COIN) efforts — that winning “hearts and minds” is key to success. Rather, the author theorizes that COIN success comes from co-opting and buying off rival elites and cutting off popular support for the insurgents by controlling the civilian population with “brute force.” The “conventional” story of the British experience in Malaya comes under particular scrutiny and criticism with the author disputing the narrative that the “good governance” approach was what won the day. In reality it was agreeing to form a state that favored one ethic group over others and brutal control over civilians that brought success. The policy recommendations and implications here are clear which makes the book rare among theoretically-grounded work in international relations.

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Becoming Kim Jong Un

In piecing together Kim’s wholly unique life, Dr. Pak (now Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs) argues that his personality, perceptions, and preferences are underestimated by Washington “policy wonks,” who assume he sees the world as they do. As the North Korean nuclear threat grows, Becoming Kim Jong Un gives readers an authoritative and important behind-the-scenes look at Kim’s character and motivations, creating an insightful biography of the enigmatic man who could rule the hermit kingdom for decades—and has already left an indelible imprint on world history.


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Tempting Fate: Why Nonnuclear States Confront Nuclear Opponents

The book Tempting Fate puts forth a simple but meaningful question: why do states who do not have nuclear weapons pick fights with states who do? The puzzle is straightforward and casual observers might posit simple answers — e.g those non-nuclear states don’t think nuclear weapons would ever actually be used. Paul Avey pushes beyond that most simple answer to flesh out a more complex strategic calculus on the part of non-nuclear countries. Assessing the strategic situation, the weaker, non-nuclear state will calculate — dependent on the exact circumstances — where red lines are that might escalate a conflict beyond conventional weapons and act to stay below the nuclear threshold. The author uses four case studies to support his argument, each rich and built on primary sources.


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The Logic of American Nuclear Strategy: Why Strategic Superiority Matters Copy

For decades, the reigning scholarly wisdom about nuclear weapons policy has been that the United States only needs the ability to absorb an enemy nuclear attack and still be able to respond with a devastating counterattack. So long as the US, or any other nation, retains such an assured retaliation capability, no sane leader would intentionally launch a nuclear attack against it, and nuclear deterrence will hold. According to this theory, possessing more weapons than necessary for a second-strike capability is illogical. This argument is reasonable, but, when compared to the empirical record, it raises an important puzzle. Empirically, we see that the United States has always maintained a nuclear posture that is much more robust than a mere second-strike capability. In The Logic of American Nuclear Strategy, Matthew Kroenig challenges the conventional wisdom and explains why a robust nuclear posture, above and beyond a mere second-strike capability, contributes to a state's national security goals. In fact, when a state has a robust nuclear weapons force, such a capability reduces its expected costs in a war, provides it with bargaining leverage, and ultimately enhances nuclear deterrence. This book provides a novel theoretical explanation for why military nuclear advantages translate into geopolitical advantages. In so doing, it helps resolve one of the most-intractable puzzles in international security studies.