What We Are Reading Today: Secret Wars: Covert Conflict in International Politics 

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Updated 06 September 2018
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What We Are Reading Today: Secret Wars: Covert Conflict in International Politics 

  • The book shows that covert interventions can help control escalation, but they are almost always detected by other major powers

 

AUTHOR: Austin Carson

Secret Wars is the first book to systematically analyze the ways powerful states covertly participate in foreign wars, showing a recurring pattern of such behavior stretching from World War I to US-occupied Iraq. Investigating what governments keep secret during wars and why, Austin Carson argues that leaders maintain the secrecy of state involvement as a response to the persistent concern of limiting war.

Keeping interventions “backstage” helps control escalation dynamics, insulating leaders from domestic pressures while communicating their interest in keeping a war contained.

Carson shows that covert interventions can help control escalation, but they are almost always detected by other major powers.

However, the shared value of limiting war can lead adversaries to keep secret the interventions they detect, as when American leaders concealed clashes with Soviet pilots during the Korean War.

Escalation concerns can also cause leaders to ignore covert interventions that have become an open secret.

From Nazi Germany’s role in the Spanish Civil War to American covert operations during the Vietnam War, Carson presents new insights about some of the most influential conflicts of the twentieth century.

Parting the curtain on the secret side of modern war, Secret Wars provides important lessons about how rival state powers collude and compete, and the ways in which they avoid outright military confrontations.

Austin Carson is assistant professor of political science at the University of Chicago.


What We Are Reading Today: American Default by Sebastian Edwards

Updated 24 September 2018
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What We Are Reading Today: American Default by Sebastian Edwards

  • In 1933, when in a bid to pull the US out of depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt depreciated the US dollar in relation to gold, effectively annulling all debt contracts
  • Revaluing the dollar imposed a hefty loss on investors and savers, many of them middle-class American families

JEDDAH: The American economy is strong in large part because nobody believes that America would ever default on its debt. Yet in 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt did just that, when in a bid to pull the country out of depression, he depreciated the US dollar in relation to gold, effectively annulling all debt contracts. American Default is the story of this forgotten chapter in America’s history.

Sebastian Edwards provides a compelling account of the economic and legal drama that embroiled a nation already reeling from global financial collapse.

It began on April 5, 1933, when FDR ordered Americans to sell all their gold holdings to the government. This was followed by the abandonment of the gold standard, the unilateral and retroactive rewriting of contracts, and the devaluation of the dollar.

Anyone who held public and private debt suddenly saw its value reduced by nearly half, and debtors — including the US government — suddenly owed their creditors far less.

Revaluing the dollar imposed a hefty loss on investors and savers, many of them middle-class American families. The banks fought back, and a bitter battle for gold ensued. In early 1935, the case went to the Supreme Court. 

Edwards describes FDR’s rancorous clashes with conservative Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes, a confrontation that threatened to finish the New Deal for good— and that led to FDR’s attempt to pack the court in 1937.

At a time when several major economies never approached the brink of default or devaluing or recalling currencies, American Default is a timely account of a little-known yet drastic experiment with these policies, the inevitable backlash, and the ultimate result.