Resolve In International Politics


Resolve In International Politics
By Joshua D. Kertzer
Princeton University Press – £29.95/$39.50

Desire, wish, will, are states of mind which everyone knows, and which no definition can make plainer.

                                                                                 William Jones

This is a book which undoubtedly needs to be fully read by the pending/upcoming Donald Trump administration, but probably won’t. Reason being, Resolve In International Politics is far too sensible, far too considered and, I hasten to add, far too internationalist in both tonality and persuasion.

From the very outset of the first chapter (which, lest it be said, opens with the above quote), author Joshua D. Kertzer writes: ”On January 12, 2010, an earthquake struck the island nation of Haiti, reducing much of the capital city Port-au-Prince to rubble. In the days afterward, as the casualty estimates grew by the hundreds of thousands and the international community turned its attention toward rebuilding the ravaged country, pundits pontificated on the uphill battle faced by a country that had suffered as many man-made disasters as natural ones. Bob Herbert, writing in The New York Times, struck an optimistic note: the Haitians would succeed, he argued, because they had shown ”resolve among the ruins.”

Herbert is not alone in positing resolve and its synonyms – willpower, self-control, dedication, tenacity, determination, drive, and so on – as a solution to political problems.”

No, he’s not alone, but from what I’ve so far seen and read of Messrs. Newt Gingrich, Steve Bannon and Corey Lewandowski et al, the pending US powers that be look far too isolationist and overtly yahoo orientated to be taken remotely seriously.

As statesmen at least. Let alone deduced as serious contenders thereof.

This essentially explains why, as mentioned above, Trump and co would be more than wise to fully digest this book’s six chapters and two equally important Appendixes (‘Supplementary Theoretical Materials’ and ‘Supplementary Empirical Materials). Especially if international relations and politics are to continue on some sort of even keel.

For as Kertzer states throughout, political endeavour really is far more than just a metaphor – or some sort of figure of speech.

By combining laboratory and survey experiments with studies of great power military interventions amid the postwar era of 1946 to 2003, the Assistant Professor of Government at Harvard University emphatically shows how time, risk preferences, honour orientation, self-control and leaders – along with members of the public – help define the tumultuous variant of situation(s) they invariably face.

And in so doing, weighing the fundamental trade-offs between the costs of fighting and the costs of ”backing down.”

As Columbia University’s, Robert Jervis has said: ”Resolve is central to much international relations theorizing, but all too often is underanalyzed. Not in this book. Kertzer develops and tests the foundations of resolve by combining the characteristics of the actor and the situation. Using experiments and historical data, Resolve In International Politics moves us a big step forward.”

As a continuing caveat, this book has critical implications for the understanding of public opinion about foreign policy, leaders in military interventions, political psychology and international security as a whole; all of which, Trump and his cohorts of calamity continue to know absolutely NOTHING about.

Admittedly, these 204 pages may be a dry and rather more scientific read than need be, which may explain why it will probably appeal more to those who are actively involved in international politics than the laymen reader or mere cultural bystander. That there are a number of specific Tables scattered throughout – from ‘Rationales for international theorizing’ to ‘Treatments effects based on initial decision to invade,’ from ‘Demographic characteristics and the duration of intervention’ to ‘Little evidence of heterogeneous casualty treatment effects’ – goes some way in substantiating as much.

That said, Rose McDermott of Brown University has stated: ”A tour de force, this rich and original book will become the seminal and definitive treatment of this topic.” So there you go (Donald).

David Marx


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