Contributions were received from Fabrizio Borchi, Giulia Formichetti and Sofia Zavagli.
NATO’s balancing act / David S. Yost. - Washington : United States Institute of Peace Press, 2014. - xv, 404 p. - ISBN 978-1-60127-202-7
This book by David Yost offers an encyclopaedic and detailed analysis of the evolving process undertaken by NATO as an institutional body – a trait d’union between countries with their own prerogatives and interests and the guardian of international security – since the end of the Cold War. In particular, the author highlights NATO’s essential weaknesses and unresolved issues by referring to the numerous adjustments it has had to make to adapt to the changing international geopolitical framework.
The research is masterfully structured and the book opens with an introduction on the importance of the Cold War as a stimulus for political cohesion in the Western world. It was with the end of the two-bloc system that NATO’s strategic shift towards an enlarged mission initiated.
The current international context presents risks and threats that differ from those of the Cold War era – “non-traditional security challenges”: cyber threats, space operations, energy security priorities, terrorism, and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
As a consequence of the mix between longstanding concerns and the emerging security challenges, the tasks assigned to the Alliance have been extended. Emphasizing that from the NATO Strategic Concept of 1991 to the latest in 2010, the duties of the Alliance have become highly diversified and sometimes not easily distinguishable from one another, Yost presents divergent opinions on the multi-functionality of the post-Cold War Alliance, without adopting any one explicitly. In particular, to those who compare the Alliance to an all-purpose “Swiss Army knife”, and those who talk about “strategic schizophrenia” similar to a “team of trapeze artists and jugglers”, he tactfully points out that the most urgent challenge facing the Alliance is “finding a balance among the three core tasks – collective defence, crisis management and cooperative security – and defining a more balanced responsibility-sharing equilibrium with the United States” (344-5).
The author focuses specifically on the crucial topic of non-Article 5 operations and underlines how difficult it is to talk about the missions to the Balkans in 1992, Afghanistan in 2001, Iraq in 2003, the African Union in 2005 or Libya in 2011 as crisis responses, stabilisation operations or peace operations, or even as a general means to respond to situations which could threaten international security.
In general, Yost’s analyses are so coherent and direct that the reader can draw his/her own conclusions about the future paths NATO should follow. But the author offers his recommendations, which are an evident outcome of the premises outlined in the book. In order to improve vision and political will within the Alliance, the Allies have to make straightforward use of their power, first, by controlling the evolution of the threats they could eventually face; secondly, by taking into account the spillover effects of developments in non-NATO countries; and last but not least, by achieving a more balanced and efficient burden sharing.
The author claims that a trade-off exists between the tendency to form NATO-sponsored coalitions of the willing and Alliance cohesion. Most of the time, significant weight has been given to the former, and Yost underlines the difficulty in bringing meaning back into the concept of ‘alliance’: the Atlantic Alliance was conceived as a means to guarantee mutual protection to the member states and has evolved into the guardian of international security by working together with other kinds of ‘alliances’ – UN, EU, OSCE – and involving other actors in its mission through specific partnerships aimed at putting a ‘comprehensive approach’ into effect. Nevertheless, the conclusions suggest that the factual decisionmaking power remains in the hands of a few and that national interests and domestic public opinion still have considerable weight in NATO’s balancing act.
Overall, the book’s far-reaching approach makes it essential reading for IR and security and defence academics, as well as for decision-makers at both the national and supranational levels. (Giulia Formichetti)
Importing the American way of war? : network-centric warfare in the UK and Germany / Ina Wiesner. - Baden-Baden : Nomos, 2013. - 164 p. - (Militär und Sozialwissenschaften ; 48). - ISBN 978-3-8487-0496-5 ; 978-3-8452-4790-8 (ebk)
The US-born concept of network centric warfare (NCW) has deeply influenced contemporary military thinking and the conduct of contemporary military operations. But how has it been transposed to militaries around the world (and especially US allies in Europe)? Can we find significant national specificities in the way NCW has been adopted? And how can we interpret them? This recent book by Ina Wiesner, researcher at the Akademie der Bundeswehr für Information und Kommunikation (Germany), tries to tackle these intriguing questions.
The volume, drawn from the author’s PhD thesis (European University Institute, 2011), aims to find explanatory factors for the different national patterns of NCW adoption and implementation by analysing the cases of the British and German armed forces. In selecting these case studies, the author also seeks to explain why one country (the UK) has been more successful than another (Germany) in introducing NCW.
Looking at a vast literature on the diffusion of foreign innovation, Wiesner first identifies the main drivers of NCW adoption, and classifies them under two main headings: drivers linked to effectiveness and efficiency (i.e. interoperability, resource management, etc.) and drivers linked to institutional legitimacy (i.e. appeasing the alliance, international prestige, strengthening the defence industrial base, etc.). She also identifies three key variables for the analysis of the concept adoption: timing (early or late/slow), faithfulness of the nationally adopted version of the concept to its US original, and faithfulness of implementation to the adopted concept.
Having set out this research framework, Wiesner traces the process of NCW adoption in the two case studies. She concludes that the British armed forces were deeply committed to embodying the new concept, but more independent in the formulation of a specific variant of NCW (detached from that of the US). International prestige, interoperability with the US and the pragmatic British approach towards innovation seem to stand out as the main drivers of this result. In the German military, instead, the introduction of NCW lacked general support from the onset and was implemented slowly (while showing more concept faithfulness to the American approach). The main drivers of NCW adoption, in this case, seem to have been American and NATO pressure.
Wiesner’s conclusions are well structured, detailed and convincing. Nevertheless, the weight she assigns to some specific drivers of NCW adoption may be debatable, since there could be room for different interpretations; in the perspective of a follow-up to her research, it would be interesting to further evaluate how these drivers continue to interplay in the ongoing process of NCW implementation.
What is especially interesting in the book is the clear research scheme it provides for the comparative analysis of NCW adoption: the set of variables considered by the author is comprehensive enough to address the complexity of this multifaceted adoption process, and at the same time focused enough on the main issues at stake. The process tracing method adopted by Wiesner is also very convincing. It provides a useful model for future research on NCW diffusion (especially in the context of EU and NATO countries).
This makes the book particularly appealing to scholars and students of international relations and security studies, but also sociology, public policy and organisational theory (especially dealing with innovation diffusion). The book is also recommended to public officials (military and civilian) and private actors dealing with NCW adoption and implementation. (Fabrizio Borchi)
The United States, Iraq and the Kurds : shock, awe and aftermath / Mohammed Shareef. - London and New York : Routledge, 2014. - xv, 234 p. - (Routledge studies in US foreign policy). - ISBN 978-0-415-71990-2 ; 978-0-315-86701-4 (ebk)
On 18 December 2011, the last US troops left Iraq after an eight-year war fought to free Iraq from Saddam Hussein. In August 2014, the United States began an airstrike campaign against the so-called Islamic State – an al-Qaeda spin-off group which has established itself in large swaths of Iraq and Syria – and in support of the Kurds, the only counterforce on the ground. These are only the latest events in the longstanding US involvement in the Middle East, and in Iraq in particular.
Mohammed Shareef, lecturer of International Relations at the University of Sulaimani in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, argues that not only does the United States “have an Iraq policy, but also it has a de facto policy towards Iraq’s Kurds” (3). Furthermore, the US’ Iraq policy is one of continuity rather than change, since US foreign policy – that is, the broader American goals – have not changed substantially with the new administration. What has changed are the tactics and strategies put in place to reach those goals.
Through a descriptive and analytic discourse, the author divides US Iraqi policy into three phases – after the 1979 Iranian Revolution, after the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and after the 9/11 attacks – and examines it at three levels. At the supranational level, the author integrates Iraq in the broader US ‘Grand Strategy’. The national level deals with Iraq as a nation state, with Arab Iraq as the main focus. The subnational level – the real novelty of this work with regard to the existing literature – presents US policy towards Iraq’s Kurds, considered a distinct actor.
1979, the year of the fall of the Shah and the birth of a hostile regime in Iran, is used as a significant starting point to address US foreign policy towards Iraq. Chapter 2 sheds light on the different positions of the US administrations with regard to Saddam Hussein, up to George W. Bush’s pre-9/11 administration.
A separate chapter (3) is dedicated to understanding the intellectual roots of Bush’s foreign policy. The author downplays the influence of the neoconservatives in the decision-making process that led to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, arguing that other actors played a greater role, namely President Bush himself and the so-called “assertive nationalists” and “defensive realists”.
A successful military campaign followed by a problematic aftermath: in chapter 5, the invasion of Iraq is described as a successful military campaign on the one hand, but a sequence of setbacks of the US-led post-conflict reconstruction on the other.
US foreign policy towards Iraq’s Kurds is examined in the last chapter. Thanks to the author’s knowledge of the Kurdish language, this section is an important contribution to a much forgotten story in contemporary scholarship: that of the Kurds of Iraq. Even though they are not a primary actor in the region (due to their lack of statehood), they represent a notable counterweight in the balance of power in the Middle East.
Iraq continues to grasp the attention of the international community and is proving to be a major concern for the US foreign policy agenda, regardless of the administration in office. This book effectively addresses the different actors at different levels that have played a role in shaping today’s Iraq. Overall, it represents a useful tool for those, students and scholars alike, interested in US foreign policy towards the Middle East, especially Iraq and the Iraqi Kurds. (Sofia Zavagli)