Craig A. Snyder, ed. Contemporary Security and Strategy: Second Edition. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008. xviii + 285 pp. $102.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-230-52095-0; $37.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-230-52096-7.
Reviewed by James Fielder (University of Iowa)
Published on H-War (October, 2012)
Commissioned by Margaret Sankey
Fielder on Snyder, Contemporary Security and Strategy: Second Edition
In the first edition of Contemporary Security and Strategy (1999), Craig A. Snyder contended that the end of the Cold War significantly transformed strategic studies. A mere two years later, strategic thinking was again challenged by the war on terror. Snyder addresses this second transformation in his 2008 second edition of Contemporary Security and Strategy. The second edition is a comprehensive update, including discussion on terrorism and non-military security challenges such as human trafficking and climate change. For those holding on to well-annotated and dog-eared first editions, the revision is well worth the upgrade.
Contemporary Security and Strategy is a collection of lucid essays arranged into three thematic divisions: theory, traditional topics, and contemporary issues. First, following Snyder’s opening road map in chapter 1, chapters 2 through 4 respectively address realism, critical theory, and approaches to non-military security threats. Sean-Lynn Jones opens the theoretical section with his chapter 2 essay on realism. Note that, unlike their separate chapter treatments in the first edition, Jones discusses realism and rational choice concurrently in the second edition. Jones also refreshingly discusses new ideas on how terrorism fits within realism’s traditional state-centricism. While otherwise a clear and succinct treatment, a minor critique is that Jones overlooks Thomas Schelling’s The Strategy of Conflict (1960, 1981) and Bruce Bueno de Mesquita’s The War Trap (1983), two seminal rational-choice examinations of war.
David Mutimers’s chapter 3 essay on critical theory is perhaps the most challenging read of the entire text. While enlightening, it will likely force readers with little background in critical theories to spend some quality time reviewing the additional readings section (A. Wendt’s 1999 Social Theory of International Politics is a good foundational work, which is listed in the full bibliography). The author also uses block quotes extensively in the chapter. On the one hand, this detracts from the author’s own thought process. On the other hand, critical theories lean towards qualitative over quantitative measurement; thus, the author may have preferred verbatim definitions so as to properly ground readers. The final theoretical essay (chapter 4) best places the word “contemporary” in contemporary security strategy, in that J. Peter Burgess notes that security theories must address non-military threats such as climate change and organized crime. Indeed, contemporary theory raises questions on the place of the nation-state in increasingly globalized world (p. 60).
Next, Snyder refers to chapters 5 through 7 as traditional topics of security strategy. In chapter 5, J. Marshall Beier provides a broad overview of the causes of war literature, followed by Geoffrey Till’s review of the evolution of strategic thought in chapter 6. Andrew Latham completes the theme in chapter 7 by framing the transformation of war and revolution of military affairs. As with the critical theory chapter, Beier’s chapter 5 essay on the causes of war may be overwhelming to readers unfamiliar with the causes of war literature, a point that even Beier concedes (p. 81). Still, Beier adroitly and succinctly covers the literature, particularly identifying major works (such as D. Lemke’s 2002 Regions of War and Peace) for further review.
One minor critique is for Till’s chapter 6 essay on the evolution of strategy. While otherwise a sound work--particularly for not overlooking Soviet contributions to operational art--the chapter ends jarringly without conclusion. Given the breadth of the chapter, it was surprising that Till did not tie the work together with his own final assessment and point to the way ahead. Still, the chapter succeeds at presenting a comprehensive review from classics such as Sun Tzu and Jomini through twenty-first-century expeditionary operations.
The final thematic division covers a range of contemporary security issues, with Andy Butfoy’s and J. D. Kenneth Boutin’s respective essays on nuclear strategy (chapter 8) and proliferation (chapter 9) dovetailing well with one another. First, Butfoy not only reviews pre- and post-Cold War U.S. strategies, but also the capabilities strategies of other nuclear states. Butfoy also raises the germane questions on nuclear compellence, or use of nuclear weapons to coerce another state into following a course of action. This leads to Butfoy’s discussion on why smaller states pursue nuclear weapons (for example, prestige, perceived legitimacy, etc.). The smaller state is at a disadvantage without second-strike capability; yet, in a compellence situation a single warhead remains a powerful bargaining chip. Boutin’s follow-on essay on nonproliferation takes a stand by offering normative ideas on the direction nonproliferation policy should take.
In chapter 10, Boyle’s discussion on terrorism includes both established definitions and the problems associated with identifying what terrorism is and is not. In particular, Boyle moves away from the “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” (p. 171) argument in order to clarify terrorism’s distinct characteristics. This includes arguing against what he rightfully refers to as oversimplified links between Islam and terrorism (p. 176). Additionally, although entitled “Terrorism and Insurgency,” Boyle’s essay also covers counterinsurgency operations in brief.
In chapter 11, Michael J. Arnold examines the increasing unilateral and multilateral intervention, both combat-oriented operations such as punitive attacks and interdiction, and peace-oriented such as humanitarian assistance and stabilization operations. While overall a sound essay, the final two sections on successful operations (pp. 203-209) overlook associated friction. Since Arnold does discuss operational failures earlier in the chapter, sober reflection on risks seemed warranted in the conclusion.
In chapter 12, Nick Bisley argues that, while the United States may be the sole great power, U.S. unilateralism has also resulted in anti-U.S. balancing that is quite strong in aggregate (although Bisley astutely points out that unilateralism is also a function of other powers not stepping in to take on global responsibilities). At the same time, increased globalization and associated transnational linkages continue to raise the question of whether the concept of “great powers” is still relevant. Finally, Snyder’s own chapter 13 essay on regional security not only completes the third theme, but also brings the previous themes to bear in order to understand the increasing importance of regional power blocs.
Overall, Synder’s volume is an exceptional read. The essays address immediate and future issues without overlooking the historic record of theoretical and strategic thought. The volume is suitably concise for the classroom and office reference, yet is also not a simple regurgitation of facts. Rather, the authors raise questions themselves, which will inspire not only classroom discussion but also potential research avenues. It is worth noting, however, that this volume has since been superseded by a third edition published in December 2011.
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Other works Cited
Bueno de Mesquita, B. (1983) The War Trap, New Haven: Yale University Press.
Lemke, D. (2002) Regions of War and Peace, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Schelling, T. 1960 (revised 1981) The Strategy of Conflict, Cambridge (MA): Harvard University Press.
Wendt, A. (1999) , Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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James Fielder. Review of Snyder, Craig A., ed., Contemporary Security and Strategy: Second Edition.
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