The diplomatic profession took a lot of incoming fire in 2018. A rich field of new books reveal deeper concern for and care of diplomatic practice in the operation of global relations. These books top my list for the year:
The Marshall Plan: Dawn of the Cold War, Ben Steil, Winner of the 2018 American Academy of Diplomacy Douglas Dillon Award.
Called “A stylish history of the 1940s effort to rebuild Europe is a case study in far-sighted statesmanship” by Tony Barber in FT, Steil reinforces the facts surrounding one of modern U.S. diplomacy’s greatest hits: rebuilding Europe and engaging to secure its future security and economic interests. It worked, as Melvyn P. Leffler observes, due to U.S. alignment of “interests with capacities in Europe” and a calculated realism regarding Soviet influence.
The Internationalists: How a Radical Plan to Outlaw War Remade the World, Oona A. Hathaway and Scott J. Shapiro
Even though Max Boot didn’t find the argument persuasive, the thesis is bold:
They claim that while “it did not end war between states,” the Kellogg-Briand Pact did mark “the beginning of the end.” More than that, “it reshaped the world map, catalyzed the human rights revolution, enabled the use of economic sanctions as a tool of law enforcement, and ignited the explosion in the number of international organizations that regulate so many aspects of our daily lives.” Oh, and it led to “the replacement of one international order with another.”
How Democracies Die, Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt
As Dan Drezner wrote earlier this year in WaPo:
… with great care, these two comparative politics scholars used their background in Latin America and Eastern Europe to explain how institutionalized democracies break down. They then take these guidelines and train their analytical lens on the United States.
Is the U.S. in trouble? The willingness of President Trump to disregard norms–some of which help to mitigate political differences–may lead to unfavorable outcomes. How does this look? One of the authors, Steven Levitsky, explains to Dave Davies on NPR’s Fresh Air:
LEVISKY: The rules themselves, particularly in a very simple, short Constitution like that of the United States, can never get a – can never fully guide behavior. And so our behavior needs to be guided by informal rules, by norms. And we focus on two of them in particular – what we call mutual toleration, which is really, really fundamental in any democracy, which is simply that among the major parties, there’s an acceptance that their rivals are legitimate, that we may disagree with the other side. We may really dislike the other side. But at the end of the day, we recognize publicly – and we tell this to our followers – that the other side is equally patriotic, and that it can govern legitimately. That’s one.
The other one is what we call forbearance, which is restraint in the exercise of power. And that’s a little bit counterintuitive. We don’t usually think about forbearance in politics, but it’s absolutely central. Think about what the president can do under the Constitution. The president can pardon anybody he wants at any time. The president can pack the Supreme Court. If the president has a majority in Congress – which many presidents do – and the president doesn’t like the makeup of the Supreme Court, he could pass a law expanding the court to 11 or 13 and fill with allies – again, he needs a legislative majority – but can do it. FDR tried.
The Origins of the Chinese Nation: Song China and the Forging of an East Asian World Order, Nicolas Tackett.
James Palmer writes in FP.com:
At a time when the Chinese Communist Party—itself a foreign import—is attempting to wipe out the complexities and nuances of China’s long, multicultural history, Tackett’s book is a reminder of just how fascinating and messy the story of the Chinese nation actually is.
Many other books are worth considering from 2018, focusing on economics, security, theory, and practice–as well as the what the world may look like* 100 years from now:
- The Secret World: A History of Intelligence, Christopher Andrew
- Does terrorism work? A history, Richard English
- Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment, Francis Fukuyama
- The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia, Masha Gessen
- The Nationalist Revival: Trade, Immigration, and the Revolt Against Globalization, John B. Judi
- The Jungle Grows Back: America and Our Imperiled World, Robert Kagan
- Seapower States: Maritime Culture, Continental Empires and the Conflict That Made the Modern World, Andrew Lambert
- The Retreat of Western Liberalism, Edward Luce
- The Dawn Of Eurasia: On The Trail Of The New World Order, Bruno Maçães*
- The Great Delusion: Liberal Dreams and International Realities, John Mearsheimer
- The Heart of War: Misadventures in the Pentagon, Kathleen J. McInnis
- Revolution Française: Emmanuel Macron and the Quest to Reinvent a Nation, Sophie Pedder
- LikeWar: The Weaponization Of Social Media, P.W. Singer and Emerson T. Brooking
- The Hell of Good Intentions: America’s Foreign Policy Elite and the Decline of U.S. Primacy, Stephen Walt
My jury of one is still out on a single best read on Brexit, but I do feel confident giving an Honorable Mention to one to watch for in 2109: George Packer’s hagiography of Richard Holbrook will be based on exclusive access to the diplomatic l’enfant terrible’s papers. Holbrook continues to be one of the few figures looming large in U.S. diplomacy at the end of the 20th century. Release is scheduled for 7 May 2019 from Knopf, and hopefully the hype lives up to the legend.