Taming American Power
The Global Response to U.S. Primacy
W.W. Norton & Co.
New York, NY, 2005
IF THE UNITED STATES is the 800-pound gorilla of world affairs, then, as the old joke goes, it should be able to do anything it wants. Increasingly, however, weaker states are maneuvering to restrain the world’s only superpower, according to Stephen Walt, author of the new book Taming American Power: The Global Response to U.S. Primacy.
“Although the United States is by far the world’s most powerful country, it cannot just clear its throat, say what it wants, and get other states to obey,” says Walt, academic dean and professor of international affairs at the Kennedy School. “Therefore, looking at how other states are trying to grapple with the 800-pound gorilla is both intellectually interesting and of considerable practical value.”
In the book, Walt details how the United States has used its power since the end of the Cold War and how other countries have reacted to it, employing strategies ranging from balancing (states trying to increase their own strength or allying with others in opposition to the United States) to delegitimization (states trying to undermine the belief that U.S. primacy is morally acceptable).
Any singular world power would face some antagonism, Walt observes. But he argues that U.S. actions rather than its primacy alone cause widespread resentment. “Opposition to the United States is driven primarily by the ways that the United States uses its power, both in the past and at present, and especially when the United States acts in an overweening or hypocritical fashion,” he writes.
Walt places much, though not all, of the blame for negative world opinion on Bush administration actions such as its preventive war in Iraq and its rejection of certain international agreements. He also notes that Americans typically fail to understand what the rest of the world thinks about their country and its dominant global position.
The author emphasizes that he is not against America’s position of primacy. The rest of the world doesn’t necessarily want a weaker United States but a wiser one, he says.
“The United States has to find ways to use its power so that others will welcome it rather than looking for ways to try to oppose it or hinder it,” Walt says. “The great paradox is that the United States actually has to be smarter in how it conducts its foreign policy, because our power is going to make others nervous even when our intentions are benevolent.”
In order to change world opinion — and in the process enhance the U.S. position — Walt advocates a policy of “offshore balancing,” in which the United States would reduce its global military “footprint,” work with multilateral institutions, and use its power abroad only in response to direct threats. This strategy, he writes, “husbands the power upon which U.S. primacy rests and minimizes the fear that U.S. power provokes.”
Many parts of the world are eager to embrace the United States, according to Walt. But he fears the consequences if the United States continues on the same course.
“If I have a real nightmare scenario it’s that we start to see the world as more and more threatening, we do more and more to try to limit that threat, the things we do make people more and more worried and angry, so we end up in a spiral where the world gets increasingly alarmed by American power, just as we get increasingly alarmed by foreign opposition,” says Walt. “That’s the fate to be avoided at all costs.” — LR
Lan Samantha Chang MPA2 1991
W.W. Norton & Company
New York, NY, 2004
Set primarily in China in the 1930s and 1940s, Lan Samantha Chang’s first novel, Inheritance, explores the intricacies of arranged marriage, sibling bonds, Communism, gender, family loyalty, and family secrets. Seven years in the making, the book is narrated by Hong, the daughter of Junan, who makes a pact with her sister Yinan never to leave each other after their mother drowns herself because she will never have a male son. War and betrayal ultimately do tear the two sisters apart and Hong, living in America years later, decides to figure out what happened. (See Newsmakers, page 11, for details on Chang’s new appointment as director of the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop.)
Explaining Victory and Defeat in Modern Battle
Stephen Biddle MPP 1985, PhD 1992
Princeton University Press
Princeton, NJ, 2004
When it comes to modern warfare, many believe that what matters most is having the biggest, most technologically savvy, state-of-the-art militaries. But, as author Stephen Biddle, an associate professor of national security studies at the U.S. Army War College Strategic Studies Institute, argues in his new book, “Real battle outcomes cannot be explained by material alone.” Doing so, he writes, creates surprises and, in some cases, serious consequences for military operations caught off guard. (For example, when the United States underestimated the poorly equipped but well-managed North Vietnamese troops during the Vietnam War.) To really predict and analyze war, Biddle argues that a nonmaterial factor — what he calls “force employment” — must be factored in. Force employment, or the doctrines and tactics used by the military during combat, he writes, “has been pivotal in the twentieth century and is likely to remain so.”
DNA and the Criminal Justice System
The Technology of Justice
David Lazer, editor
Cambridge, MA, 2004
The first use of DNA in a criminal investigation happened in 1987. In the nearly two decades since, the use of DNA to convict the guilty and free the wrongly accused has grown, becoming, as Kennedy School Professor David Lazer writes, “the gold standard for identification.” However, for all the good it can do, DNA also has a potential dark side as the balance between societal interests is weighed with individual rights. This book, which grew out of a Department of Justice conference on DNA held at the Kennedy School in 2000, looks at some of those good uses and dark sides, with chapters written by a host of conference participants, including Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer and Kennedy School Professor Sheila Jasanoff, on the history of DNA, legal issues, the growth of controversial DNA databases, genetic privacy, and the science involved.
Taking Faith Seriously
Mary Jo Bane, Brent Coffin, Richard Higgins, editors
Harvard University Press
Cambridge, MA, 2005
As the title clearly says, the editors of this book want their readers, particularly scholars, public officials, and citizens, to “take faith seriously.” Too often, they write, religious practices and organizations, and the impact they have on public life — both positive and negative — are ignored or underrated, especially by scholars. Using nine case studies written by academics, including the Kennedy School’s Mary Jo Bane, Julie Wilson, Brent Coffin, and Peter Dobkin, the book attempts to show the complex role that religion plays in our civic lives, from inspiring people to help one another to increasing social capital to challenging democracy in secular societies to building relationships regardless of race or income. Showing this complexity is important, they write, because “a healthy democracy draws strength from a rich civic and social life, many forms of which are religious.”