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My top ten books every student of


International Relations should read
BY STEPHEN M. WALT

APRIL 9, 2009

Last week Tom Ricks offered us his "Top Ten list" of books any student of military history should read. The
FP staff asked me to follow suit with some of my favorites from the world of international politics and
foreign policy. What follows arent necessarily the books Id put on a graduate syllabus; instead, here are
ten books that either had a big influence on my thinking, were a pleasure to read, or are of enduring value
for someone trying to make sense of contemporary world politics. But Ive just scratched the surface here,
so I invite readers to contribute their own suggestions.

1). Kenneth Waltz, Man, the State, and War.


An all-time classic, which I first read as a college sophomore. Not only did M, S & W provide an enduring
typology of different theories of war (i.e., locating them either in the nature of man, the characteristics of
states, or the anarchic international system), but Waltz offers incisive critiques of these three "images"
(aka "levels of analysis.") Finding out that this book began life as Waltzs doctoral dissertation was a
humbling moment in my own graduate career.
2). Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel.
Combines biology and macro-history in a compelling fashion, explaining why small differences in climate,
population, agronomy, and the like turned out to have far-reaching effects on the evolution of human
societies and the long-term balance of power. An exhilarating read.
3). Thomas Schelling, Arms and Influence.

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Hes a Nobel Prize winner now, so one expects a lot of smart ideas. Some of Schellings ideas do not seem
to have worked well in practice (cf. Robert Papes Bombing to Win and Wallace Thiess When Governments

Collide) but more than anyone else, Schelling taught us all to think about military affairs in a genuinely
strategic fashion. (The essays found in Schellings Strategy of Conflict are more technical but equally
insightful). And if only more scholars wrote as well.
4). James Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed.
This isnt really a book about international relations, but its a fascinating exploration of the origins of
great human follies (like Prussian "scientific forestry" or Stalinist collectivized agriculture). Scott pins the
blame for these grotesque man-made disasters on centralized political authority (i.e., the absence of
dissent) and "totalistic" ideologies that sought to impose uniformity and order in the name of some
dubious pseudo-scientific blueprint. And its a book that aspiring "nation-builders" and liberal
interventionists should read as an antidote to their own ambitions. Reading Scotts work (to include his

Weapons of the Weak and Domination and the Arts of Resistance) provided the intellectual launching pad
for my book Taming American Power).
5). David Halberstam, The Best and the Brightest.
Stayed up all night reading this compelling account of a great national tragedy, and learned not to assume
that the people in charge knew what they were doing. Still relevant today, no?
6). Robert Jervis, Perception and Misperception in International Politics.
I read this while tending bar at the Stanford Faculty Club in 1977 (the Stanford faculty werent big drinkers
so I had a lot of free time). Arguably still the best single guide to the ways that psychology can inform our
understanding of world politics. Among other things, it convinced that I would never know as much
history as Jervis does. I was right.
7). John J. Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics.

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Why do bad things happen to good peoples? Why do "good states" do lots of bad things? Mearsheimer tells
you. Clearly written, controversial, and depressingly persuasive.
8). Ernst Gellner, Nations and Nationalism.
The state is the dominant political form in the world today, and nationalism remains a powerful political
force. This book will help you understand where it came from and why it endures.
9). Henry A. Kissinger, White House Years & Years of Upheaval.
Memoirs should always be read with a skeptical eye, and Kissingers are no exception. But if you want
some idea of what it is like to run a great powers foreign policy, this is a powerfully argued and often
revealing account. And Kissingers portraits of his colleagues and counterparts are often candid and full of
insights. Just dont take it at face value.

10). Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation.


Where did the modern world come from, and what are the political, economic, and social changes that it
wrought? Polanyi doesnt answer every question, but hes a good place to start.
So thats ten, but I cant resist tossing in a few others in passing: Geoffrey Blainey The Causes of War;
Douglas North, Structure and Change in Economic History; Valerie Hudson and Andrea den Boer, Bare

Branches: The Security Implications of Asias Surplus Male Population; Robert Gilpin, The Political
Economy of International Relations; Steve Coll, Ghost Wars; T.C.W. Blanning, The Origins of the French
Revolutionary Wars; R. R. Palmer, The Age of the Democratic Revolution; Avi Shlaim, The Iron Wall: Israel
and the Arab World; Stephen Van Evera, Causes of War; Samuel Huntington, Political Order in Changing
Societies; Tony Smith, The Problem of Imperlalism; and Philip Knightleys The First Casualty: The War
Correspondent as Hero, Propagandist, and Myth-Maker. And as I said, this just scratches the surface.
So what did I miss? Keep the bar high.

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(And for those of you who dont have time to read books, Ill start working on a "top ten" list of articles).

The Afpak muddle (part 2): How serious is


the threat?
BY STEPHEN M. WALT

APRIL 7, 2009

Does the threat of international terrorism specifically al Qaeda justify a costly, long-term engagement
in Afghanistan and Pakistan? President Obama and his advisors think so, but Im still not convinced. I
certainly understand that we have a terrorism problem; I just dont believe that it is serious enough to
warrant the level and type of effort the administration is proposing. And if the results of the recent NATO
summit are any indication, our NATO allies seem skeptical, too.
Just how serious is the threat? According to the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center, there were 14,499
terrorist attacks worldwide in 2007 (the most recent year for which it has data). All told, these attacks
killed 22,684 people and injured about 44,310. This sounds serious (and it is obviously not something to
trivialize), but over half of all terrorist attacks (and two-thirds of all those killed, wounded or kidnapped)
occurred in the context of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and thus are not a good indicator of al Qaedas
ability to threaten the American homeland or key U.S. allies. To keep these numbers in perspective, bear
in mind that over a million people die in traffic accidents worldwide each year, with many more injured.
Yet no one is proposing that we allocate additional billions to try to eliminate all highway fatalities.

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Even more significant for the issue at hand, the number of private U.S. citizens killed by terrorists in 2007
was nineteen, with zero injured and seventeen kidnapped. All of these deaths or kidnappings occurred
either in Afghanistan or Iraq. As John Mueller has argued, if al Qaeda is as dangerous as U.S. officials
maintain, why havent there been more attacks on the United States over the past eight years? In America,
the danger of drowning in a bathtub is greater than the risk of dying in a terrorist attack. And that would
be true even if the United State were to suffer one 9/11-scale attack every ten years. Given these numbers,
does it really make sense to double down in Central Asia?
In short, my concern is that we are allowing an exaggerated fear of al Qaeda to distort our foreign policy
priorities. Having underestimated the danger from al Qaeda before 9/11, have we now swung too far the
other way? I am not arguing for a Pollyanna-like complacency or suggesting that we simply ignore the
threat that groups like al Qaeda still pose. Rather, Im arguing that the threat is not as great as the
administration and most Americans, truth be told seem to think, and that the actual danger does not
warrant escalating U.S. involvement in Central Asia.
I can think of at least three counter-arguments to my position.
First, one could argue that there have been no attacks on the United States since 2001 because weve put al
Qaeda on the defensive, and that going after them in Pakistans frontier provinces will deny them a safe
haven and further reduce their ability to stage another 9/11 (or worse). This line of argument sounds
persuasive, but it falls apart on closer examination. For starters, it is not clear that al Qaeda requires a safe
haven to do damage, especially since the original organization has metastasized into smaller groups of
sympathizers (such as the group that bombed the Madrid railway station in 2004).
Equally important, the United States is not going to mount a large scale invasion of Pakistan, which is
what would be necessary to completely eliminate al Qaeda from that region. And there is little reason to
think that the Pakistani military will do the job for us any time soon. Furthermore, U.S. military strikes in
Pakistan even limited ones tend to undermine the Pakistani government and increase the risk that
Pakistan will become a failed state. As James Traub noted in last Sundays New York Times Magazine:

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Pakistan feels as if its falling apart. . .[and] American policy has arguably made the
situation even worse, for the Predator-drone attacks along the border, though effective,
drive the Taliban eastward, deeper into Pakistan. And the strategy has been only
reinforcing hostility to the United States among ordinary Pakistanis.

Fortunately, there are ways to deny al Qaeda a safe haven (or operational base) that do not require a large
U.S. ground presence in Afghanistan and do not require us to conduct extensive military operations in
Pakistan. In addition to improved homeland security and more effective counter-terrorist efforts (e.g.,
cutting off financing, monitoring communications, sharing intelligence, etc.), the United States can
launch preemptive attacks against suspected terrorist targets in Afghanistan, using Predators, cruise
missiles, or in some cases, Special Forces. If we remain vigilant, al Qaeda will not get the free pass that it
enjoyed before 9/11. This will not eliminate the threat, but it can reduce its potency.
Second, one could argue that while the risk from conventional terrorism is manageable, the real danger is
nuclear or WMD terrorism and that this threat justifies upping the ante in Afghanistan and Pakistan, even
if the commitment is costly and open-ended. Nuclear terrorism is a worrisome prospect, but doubling
down in Central Asia isnt the best response to that problem. Pakistan is the key here and our primary goal
should be making sure that its nuclear arsenal remains under reliable control. The best way to do that is to
try to prevent Pakistan from becoming a failed state. As emphasized above, using the U.S. military to go
after al Qaeda in Pakistans tribal areas is likely to destabilize Pakistan, thus increasing the chances that
nuclear materials will fall into the hands of terrorists.

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Third, one might concede that the actual danger from terrorism is slight, but the political consequences of
terrorist attacks are disproportionate to their actual impact. In this view, comparing the risk of terrorism to
highway fatalities, or to the danger of being struck by lightning, ignores the psychological and political
effects of successful terrorist operations, and rational politicians have to take the latter into account. There
is no question that this is the situation we now face in the United States, but it does not have to be that
way. Indeed, it is mainly the result of failed political leadership over the past eight years. If our leaders
react to every terrorist incident as if its a monumental disaster, and if they hype the terrorist threat for
political advantage as George Bush and Dick Cheney did the public will surely respond by
demanding that we throw more resources at the problem than is prudent. Getting the opponent to react in
foolish and self-defeating ways is one of the primary goals of most terror campaigns, of course, because
these blunders can help the terrorists win victories that they could not achieve otherwise. We did more
damage to ourselves when we invaded Iraq than Osama bin Laden accomplished on 9/11, and an openended commitment in Central Asia could easily compound that error.
What we need, in fact, is a political elite (and a responsible media) that will help Americans keep the
terrorism problem in perspective. Terrorism is a tactic that various groups have used throughout history,
and it will remain with us for the foreseeable future. Dramatic incidents like the recent Mumbai attacks
are going to happen again, no matter how hard we try to prevent them, and that includes the possibility of
attacks on American soil. But if we can keep suicidal extremists from obtaining nuclear weapons, they will
not be able to threaten our way of life in any meaningful way.
None of this is to say that we should ignore al Qaeda or any other terrorist group that is bent on attacking
the United States, or that we should not sometimes act assertively to protect Americans at home and
abroad. But the threat from al Qaeda does not justify increasing our military presence in Afghanistan, and
certainly does not justify major military operations in Pakistan.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

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