Modern Geopolitics and Security: Strategies for Unwinnable Conflicts

  • Published

Modern Geopolitics and Security: Strategies for Unwinnable Conflicts by Amos N. Guiora. Taylor & Francis Group, 2014, 165 pp.

Author Amos Guiora presents Modern Geopolitics and Security as a comprehensive and authoritative examination of a difficult subject, both in layout and title. Guiora’s experience in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) implementing the Oslo Peace Process from 1994 to 1999 delivers a perspective to international relations thought not often seen—firsthand experience. His current position as professor of law and co-director of the Center for Global Justice at the University of Utah reveals an adeptness at international law but perhaps a limited knowledge of academic international relations.

Intentionally stated, the title raises in the reader a hope that perhaps there exists a comprehensive, simply defined analysis of geopolitics which offers a solution to the many unwinnable conflicts currently transpiring. Unfortunately, the author fails to reveal a concrete thesis; rather, he offers a three-fold purpose: “To engage in a practical discussion regarding geopolitics. To provide specific examples regarding the interaction among geopolitics, strategy, and power. To suggest mechanisms whereby strategic thinking can be implemented in the context of the limits of power and dwindling resources.”

Grouping the major thoughts into seven chapters, he attempts to move logically through the continuum from “International Security and Diplomacy” to “The New World”; however, the book becomes derailed in the middle with a quasirelevant chapter on “Negotiating Agreements” that neither adds to the subject nor develops his intent. Beginning with an extensive introduction, Guiora correctly identifies the need to commonly define terms such as geopolitics, diplomacy, self-defense, and sovereignty. This inaugural section, coupled with the following chapter, offers the unfamiliar reader a fantastic primer on the increasingly complex topic of geopolitics, its factions, and peculiarities with an unlikely impetus decrescendo. He moves from a relatively successful background to a less clear chapter on “Self-Defense, Humanitarian Intervention, Leadership, and International Cooperation.” Less clear and perhaps confusing because, rather than provide understanding of academic geopolitics, Guiora begins a lengthy discourse on international law, the UN charter, and a nation-state’s humanitarian intervention imperative. Further distancing the reader, the author offers his unique negotiating experience in the form of a 20-page chapter less about negotiation than his own acquirement. The following chapter begins a discussion on the weighty subjects of sovereignty and failed states, but either through extreme complexity—assuming the reader has extensive subject knowledge—or extreme simplicity, fails to reveal more than the initial concept. Academically, sovereignty is a major shift in international relations theory stipulating that nation-state physical boundaries are decreasingly relevant in the connected world. Guiora offers a controversial tilt to the subject stating that in “future military conflict, states are more likely to confront non-state actors, rather than other nation-states.” With no explanation of why physical boundaries are less pertinent, the reader is launched directly into a practical scenario of how one nation-state may violate the border of another, followed by a clumsy analogy to America’s “Wild West.” The text concludes with its first mention of an “unwinnable conflict” by briefly discussing the process of militant radicalization juxtaposed with economic factors. Finally offering an articulate conclusion, Guiora offers a relative framework necessary to identify an unwinnable conflict as one where: “Sovereignty has been minimized. Self-defense is broadly expanded. Diplomacy is largely negated. Intervention is inconsistent. International cooperation . . . has taken a back-seat. Negotiation is largely nonexistent. Leadership is profoundly called into question. Security is not enhanced.” Noticeably absent from this final analysis is an actual strategy to affect unwinnable conflicts; rather, an ominous warning that decision makers bear great responsibility. Given that a thesis was never clearly expressed, it is difficult to say whether the book achieved its purpose. However, reflecting upon the three-fold purpose, he did succeed in “[engaging] in a practical discussion regarding geopolitics,” as much of the discussion centered on this topic but often failed to reach a conclusion or deepen understanding.

As enticing and necessary a manuscript to the effect of this title would be, this text does not suffice. Lacking a clear thesis, deep understanding, and firm conclusion, this book promises much and delivers little. A strategic examination reveals an argument without clear purpose, intricacies given depth before basic frameworks are detailed, clumsy metaphors and analogies that do not enhance understanding, confusing or irrelevant graphics, and chapters that rarely draw a solid conclusion. The author has, without a doubt, an uncommon firsthand experience, which may explain his biases. First, a background in international law, not international relations, leads to an overdeveloped legal argument which is a mode that is largely unwritten and unenforceable. As many nations have proved recently, international law is merely an afterthought in a world that values action. Second, the author’s obvious attraction to international law, collective bargaining, and nonstate-centric view reveal a neoliberal perspective on international relations theory. Born from Utopian thought, this view differs from neorealism in that it holds international institutions and cooperation in the highest regard. Followers believe the interdependence of nation-states limits motives for anything other than cooperation. This view shaped the author’s analysis in several areas; most specifically in that of humanitarian intervention where he suggests that the responsibility of a nation to act is a foregone conclusion. The discussion examined none of complexities involved in such a decision and cited repeatedly the source “Responsibility To Protect” which is not an academic source but a nongovernmental organization that believes “The international community has a responsibility to assist States in fulfilling this responsibility” and the “international community should use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means to protect populations.” These heavy biases limit the objectivity of the work and inherently, the real-world applicability of a neorealist counterargument.

Professor Guiora’s philosophy on international law is indeed thought-provoking and would be of interest to those in its field of study, however, Modern Geopolitics and Security: Strategies for Unwinnable Conflicts is a misleading title. For the avid reader or international relations scholar, this book is far too simple, yet at the same time disarrayed. Perhaps a better title would be A Neo-Liberal Introduction to Geopolitics and International Negotiation. The reader craving original thought on geopolitics is best left looking elsewhere.

Capt Adam R. Boyd, USAF

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."