Every year, ten scholars review dozens of recently published academic and popular nonfiction books for Foreign Affairs. As this year came to a close, the editors asked each of the reviewers to choose the three best books they’ve reviewed in 2016.
A Conversation With Martin Dempsey
In September 2015, General Martin Dempsey retired from the U.S. Army after more than four decades in uniform. Commissioned as an armor officer following his graduation from West Point, he served in both the Gulf War and the Iraq war and eventually rose to become chief of staff of the U.S. Army and then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He spoke with Foreign Affairs’ editor, Gideon Rose, in June.
You have said that you think this is the most dangerous the world has ever been. Why are you so concerned?
It’s the most dangerous period in my lifetime. In my 41 years of military experience, we often had the opportunity to focus on one security threat or another. First it was all about the Soviet Union, then it was peacekeeping, then it was terrorism. Now we’ve got lots of things cropping up at the same time. We have multiple challenges competing for finite resources—and grotesque uncertainty with regard to the military budget.
But are any of today’s challenges at the scale of previous ones? It sounds like you’re worried about a broad range of minor threats rather than one or two really big ones.
During the Cold War, the United States preferred to husband, rather than expend, its military power. The idea was not to fight but to defend, deter, and contain, a cold peace infinitely preferable to nuclear cataclysm. When U.S. policymakers strayed from this principle, attempting to unify the Korean Peninsula in 1950 or deploying combat troops to Vietnam in the 1960s, the results proved unhappy in the extreme.
Husbanding did not imply timidity. To impart credibility to its strategy of containment, the United States stationed substantial forces in Western Europe and Northeast Asia. For allies unable to defend themselves, U.S. garrisons offered reassurance, fostering an environment that facilitated recovery and development. Over time, regions deemed vulnerable stabilized and prospered.
Beginning in the 1990s, however, official thinking regarding the utility of force changed radically. The draft “Defense Planning Guidance” prepared in 1991 under the aegis of Paul Wolfowitz, then U.S. undersecretary of defense for policy, hinted at the emerging mood. The mere avoidance of war no longer sufficed. Describing an international order “shaped by the victory of the United States” over communism and in the just-concluded war against Iraq, the document identified opportunities to “shape the future security environment in ways favorable to [the United States].”
The Future Lies With Ubanization
For over two centuries, rising energy consumption powered by coal, oil, natural gas, hydroelectric power, and nuclear energy—combined with modern agriculture, cities, and governance—has fueled a virtuous cycle of socioeconomic development. It has enabled people in many parts of the world to live longer, healthier, and more prosperous lives. Along with these material gains have come liberalizing social values, the ability to pursue more meaningful work, and environmental progress.
Yet roughly two billion people have still not made the transition to modern fuels and energy systems. These populations remain trapped in what we call “the wood economy.” Living in the wood economy means relying on wood, dung, and other basic bioenergy. In this economy, life choices are extremely limited, labor is menial and backbreaking, and poverty is endemic. There is little ability to produce wealth beyond what is necessary to grow enough food to meet minimal nutritional needs.
Although there is broad global agreement that everyone should have access to modern energy, there is no similar clarity about how best to achieve that outcome, how to mitigate climate change and other environmental harm associated with energy development, or even what actually constitutes energy access. Too often, initiatives to address energy poverty have fetishized very low levels of household electricity consumption—a light bulb and cell phone charger, perhaps a fan and a small television—without attending to the broader context that makes higher levels of energy consumption and modern living standards possible. As a result, contemporary efforts to expand access to modern energy have overwhelmingly focused upon the provision of small-scale, off-grid, and decentralized energy technologies that, while checking the box marked energy access, are incapable of serving the variety of energy end uses that are necessary to eliminate energy poverty.
After the March 22 terrorist attacks in Brussels, for which the Islamic State (ISIS)has claimed credit, it is time to start thinking more seriously about how to thwart the group.
In this, it is important to keep in mind that ISIS is not al Qaeda. For one, the ISIS-sponsored network in Europe includes at least 90 well-trained, well-supported, and well-supplied operatives. Their tactics were honed on hot battlefields and in the bombed-out basements of war-torn Syria, not at terrorist boot camps or in the caves of the Hindu Kush, as was the case for al Qaeda. And whereas al Qaeda members mainly carried Middle Eastern passports, many ISIS members travel on European documents; the majority of those who attacked Paris in November are thought to have been citizens of European Union countries. The same is likely true of the Brussels bombers. That gives ISIS an advantage as it strikes at harder and harder targets.
Second, beyond ISIS’ core Western network are scores of unaffiliated or loosely affiliated jihadists. In fact, many of the so-called ISIS attacks have no direct logistical links to the group and are mainly inspired by propaganda and online resources. All of the ISIS-related attacks in Australia, Canada, and the United States thus far fit into this mold, including the December 2015 San Bernardino assault that killed 14 people and injured 21 others. Al Qaeda kept tighter control of those it allowed to claim its brand.
The Case for the Mixed Economy
At a debate among the Republican presidential candidates in March, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas boiled down his campaign message to its essentials: “Here’s my philosophy. The less government, the more freedom. The fewer bureaucrats, the more prosperity. And there are bureaucrats in Washington right now who are killing jobs and I’ll tell you, I know who they are. I will find them and I will fire them.”
What was remarkable about this statement was how unremarkable it was. Cruz was not taking a radical position; he was expressing his party’s orthodoxy, using boilerplate language to signal that he understood the conservative movement’s core concerns. For years, his fellow Republicans have taken comparable stands. When Texas Governor Rick Perry got into trouble while making a similar pledge in a presidential candidate debate in 2011, for example, it was not because he promised to eliminate several federal agencies—Cruz wants to eliminate even more—but because he couldn’t remember all the particular agencies he wanted to jettison.
Even if the candidates making them are elected, specific promises about, say, closing major government agencies are bound to be broken, for reasons of simple practicality. As a debate moderator had pointed out to Cruz a few weeks earlier, for example, once he had eliminated the Internal Revenue Service, there would be nobody left to see that taxes were collected, which would pose something of a problem for the functioning of the government. But the spread of this sort of thinking in recent decades has had important effects nonetheless, contributing to increased hostility to government and a major retrenchment in government activities.
Ancient Lessons for Modern Politics
Ancient Rome was a village that grew into a world empire. At the peak of its territorial reach, AD 117, it stretched from the British Isles to Mesopotamia and from the Rhine to the Sahara. Its history spans more than a millennium. Before the Western Roman Empire collapsed in the late fifth century, Romans enjoyed a standard of living not seen again in the West until the mid-nineteenth century. They had flush toilets, granite countertops, indoor heating, and even cosmetic dentistry. The government that safeguarded this way of life styled itself Senatus Populusque Romanus, or “the Senate and the People of Rome.” An advertisement for the link between Rome’s citizens and its elected leaders, the abbreviation “SPQR” was proudly displayed everywhere.
Rome’s classical era spanned the last two centuries BC and the first two centuries AD. At the beginning of that period, Rome already commanded a sizable empire, governed by democratic principles. By the end of it, Rome had become increasingly authoritarian but was still at peace internally. Engineering, literature, philosophy, theater, and the arts flowered; with lasting effects, Romans crucified Jesus and destroyed Jerusalem’s Second Temple. The events and personalities that populated this age are Rome’s most famous.
The lead package of the March/April 2016 issue of Foreign Affairs, available on ForeignAffairs.com tomorrow, deals with the slow-growth world. To complement the individual articles, we decided to ask a broad pool of experts for their take. As with previous surveys, we approached dozens of authorities with deep specialized expertise relevant to the question at hand, together with a few leading generalists in the field. Participants were asked to state whether they agreed or disagreed with a proposition and to rate their confidence level in their opinion; the answers from those who responded are below:
Most of the world’s major economies are facing a sustained period of slow-to-no economic growth—and there’s nothing that governments can do about it.
Jeff Bezos has always been a tinkerer. As a toddler, he tried to dismantle his crib, and in high school, he started his first business—an educational summer camp for middle schoolers. After graduating summa cum laude from Princeton in 1986 with a degree in electrical engineering and computer science, he went to work on Wall Street, but he quit finance in 1994 to try his hand as an entrepreneur. Amazon.com started as an online bookseller, selling its first copies in July 1995. In the years since, it has grown into a diversified retail giant, as well as a producer of consumer electronics, such as the Kindle, and a major provider of cloud-computing services. Bezos spoke to Foreign Affairs editor Gideon Rose in November.
What are the crucial qualities that make for a successful entrepreneur?
There are a few qualities that entrepreneurs benefit from. One is that view of divine discontent: How can you make something better? I think entrepreneurship and invention are pretty closely coupled. And inventors are always walking around the world thinking, “I’m kind of inured to this, but just because I’m used to it doesn’t mean it can’t be improved.” That ability to look at things with a fresh mind, a beginner’s mind, is very useful for entrepreneurs.
Entrepreneurs also benefit greatly from being willing to fail, willing to experiment. Good entrepreneurs tend to be stubborn on the vision but flexible on the details. They’re persistent on what they’re trying to accomplish, but they are willing to rewrite the details as needed as they learn and as things fail.
Another quality I would mention is passion for the mission, whatever it is. The very best products and services are always built by missionaries. They’re people who are genuinely passionate about the arena and happy to be in it. Such people wake up in the morning thinking about that idea, thinking about that particular set of customer experiences or that service or product. They’re doing that when they’re in the shower, and they’re doing that as they close their eyes at night. That’s pretty different from the mentality of somebody just trying to get in on the Internet gold rush.