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Capsule Review

American Force: Dangers, Delusions, and Dilemmas in National Security

In This Review

American American Force: Dangers, Delusions, and Dilemmas in National Security (A Council on Foreign Relations Book)
American American Force: Dangers, Delusions, and Dilemmas in National Security (A Council on Foreign Relations Book)
By Richard K. Betts
Columbia University Press, 2011 384 pp. $29.50 Purchase

Betts describes himself as a Cold War hawk who became a post–Cold War dove. In this collection of essays, he addresses all the central issues of recent U.S. strategy: the maintenance of primacy and the prospective rise of China, humanitarian intervention and the struggles in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the problems posed by weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, and the possibility of a link between the two. This is not mainstream international relations scholarship. Betts combines serious thought, common sense, and deep historical knowledge, rather than simply applying abstract theories, and his conclusions are expressed in plain English, rather than with mathematical models. His judgments are therefore contingent, but they are always considered and often incisive. Betts is not opposed to the occasional use of force for the right purposes, and he explains why it is difficult to get strategic policy right. But he deplores the persistent American tendency toward military activism, especially in pursuit of what he describes as a “liberal empire.” As he himself recognizes, he is by no means a lone voice arguing for American restraint, but he is certainly among the most articulate.

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