Ben Rimland

The Game of Alliances

Review: Victor Cha, 'Powerplay: The Origins of the American Alliance System in Asia'

NATOMuch like physics, international relations can be divided into two worlds: a stripped-down, normative world of theory, and a full-fat, often unclear and contradicting "real life." Like the vacuumed, frictionless world of ideal physics, IR theory streamlines nations into hyper-rational, calculating “State As” and “State Bs” that make decisions predicated upon game theory modeling. These choices always result in the ideal outcome for one or both sides. Meanwhile, IR scholarship of the historical record, analyzing the messiness of the real world, is often content merely to explain how things are, rather than how they should be. Where an IR theory elegantly traces ideal models that vaguely echo real life, pure historical analysis steals bits and pieces of disparate theories to graft a sometimes-contradicting "model" onto the real world.

In Praise of the Japan That Can Be

Review: Clyde Prestowitz, ‘Japan Restored’

TokyoClyde Prestowitz’s rousing Japan Restored documents the contemporary phenomenon of students, businesspeople, and indeed entire nations “passing over” Japan in favor of supposedly more dynamic and vibrant societies elsewhere in Asia. Like many Japan watchers, Prestowitz finds this to be a curious habit. The thought of passing over a country with a population the size of Britain and France combined, the most technologically advanced military in East Asia, and one of the world’s largest economies seems nothing short of bizarre.