2021 Outstanding Academic Titles: International Relations

Five selections from the Choice Reviews 2021 Outstanding Academic Titles list. This week we highlight Choice 2021 Outstanding Academic Titles pertaining to International Relations.

1. A world safe for democracy: liberal internationalism and the crises of global order
Ikenberry, G. John. Yale, 2020

This book provides a comprehensive overview of the development of liberal internationalism from its origins in the 19th century to its current crisis. Liberal internationalism is a set of ideas and institutions oriented around national sovereignty and free trade embraced by proponents seeking to support the current norms of (Western) liberal democracy. Ikenberry (Princeton Univ.) points out, though, that the relationship between liberal internationalism and its predecessor (imperialism) is complex, noting that liberal internationalism not only replaced imperialism but also grew out of it. Ikenberry compares the current challenge waged against liberal internationalism to those it faced in 1919, 1945, and 1991. The text makes an excellent source for retracing that history; indeed, in doing so Ikenberry shows his comparative view of the current situation to be apt. But the absence of the threat of the Soviet Union now means that there are fewer incentives for contributing to the international order. The book is written from a US and to a lesser extent a British perspective, such that Wilson and Roosevelt are presented as key architects of liberal internationalism. Ikenberry’s text succeeds in the rare accomplishment of maintaining readability while avoiding superficiality. View on Amazon.

2. Constitutionalizing world politics: the logic of democratic power and the unintended consequences of international treaty making
Milewicz, Karolina M. Cambridge, 2020

Scholars of international politics typically distinguish global from domestic society. Domestic politics is accordingly characterized by its hierarchal order, while international politics is viewed as being anarchical. The difference is critical to the thesis of this book by Milewicz (Univ. of Oxford), who contends that while domestic (and mostly Western) European states became intentionally democratic via a constitutionalizing of their politics, the same has not been true internationally. Here the “constitutionalizing” of world politics describes a gradual and unintentional process of using treaties and other mechanisms to bring order to the international scene. Drawing on Great Britain, the US, and Sweden for domestic examples, Milewicz proposes an overall theory to explain the contrasting ways different states democratize and what this difference tells us about global governance and international politics. Milewicz offers a rich legal history of these three states, alongside a detailed overview of the evolution of international law and politics. Separate chapters offer historical overviews of the rise of democracy and of constitutional law domestically, as well as the global rise of the modern state-centric order. View on Amazon.

3. Culture matters: Anglo-American relations and the intangibles of ‘specialness’
ed. by Robert Hendershot and Steve Marsh Manchester University Press, 2020

Since the 1960s, the cultural turn has transformed the academic study of politics and economics. Perhaps because it often focuses on the poor and the powerless, the cultural turn has been less prominent in diplomatic history. Consequently, the 11 authors whose essays make up Culture Matters are innovative in their exploration of the Anglo-American “special relationship,” which encompasses P. G. Wodehouse, Hollywood, Downton Abbey, and Beatlemania, among other subjects. Sam Edwards’s fascinating chapter looks at George Washington in “‘A Great Englishman’: George Washington and Anglo-American Memory Diplomacy, c. 1890–1925.” Throughout the text, identity, memory, and symbolic representation crowd out traditional topics. For more on the cultural-turn context, Pedro Aires Oliveira, Bruno Cardoso Reis, and Patrick Finney’s “The Cultural Turn and Beyond in International History” in The International History Review (2018) provides an overview, and Elizabeth T. Kenney, Sirpa Salenius, and Whitney Womack Smith’s “Blurring Boundaries: Race and Transatlantic Identities in Culture and Society” offers an example of its application in the Journal of Transatlantic Studies (2016). The impressive volume under review shows how “culture matters to the vitality of the Anglo-American special relationship and to our understanding of it” (p. 271). View on Amazon.

4. Nuclear modernization in the 21st century
ed. by Aiden Warren and Philip M. Baxter Routledge, 2020

One hundred twenty-two states voted for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) in 2017, outlawing development and use of nuclear weapons and providing a pathway for nuclear weapon states (NWS) to destroy existing weapons. Yet the nine NWSs ignore the treaty while investing billions of dollars on modernizing their nuclear arsenals. This excellent book examines such modernization efforts and their impact on international security, providing detailed information on the nuclear modernization programs of the US, Russia, and China. Examining why such programs may endanger strategic stability and the prospects for global nuclear arms control, Warren (RMIT Univ.) and Baxter (SUNY Albany) offer an outstanding collection of essays addressing how emerging technologies affect nuclear capabilities, policy implications of modernization, and strategic outlook with the return of great power rivalry. View on Amazon.

5. The return of great power rivalry: democracy versus autocracy from the ancient world to the U.S. and China
Kroenig, Matthew. Oxford, 2020

In his new book Kroenig (Georgetown Univ.) takes on the claim that China, and to a lesser extent Russia, pose a threat to the global leadership of the US. The text provides a strong theoretical argument for the advantages of democracy over autocracy in the foreign policy realm. To be successful in foreign policy, Kroenig posits, countries need to have a strong economy, effective diplomacy, and viable military power. Kroenig tests his theory through historical case studies, ranging from ancient Greece to the modern Cold War. The case studies are supplemented by Kroenig’s current assessments of China, Russia, and the US, as contenders for global dominance. The reader is offered a convincing picture that democracies fare better in foreign policy outcomes and that the US is currently in a stronger position than critics may believe. The arguments made here recall those of Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson in Why Nations Fail (CH, Sep’12, 50-0390), as referenced by Kroenig, and also align with those of Walter Mead in Power, Terror, Peace, and War (CH, Sep’12, 50-0390). On Amazon.

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