Author’s Response to Sarang Shidore’s Review of Hall Gardner's IR Theory, Historical Analogy, and Major Power War H-Diplo (September, 2019) https://networks.h-net.org/node/28443/reviews/4705504/shidore-gardner-ir-theory-historical-analogy-and-major-power-war
Response by Hall Gardner, American University of Paris
Let me first thank Sarang Shidore for writing a fair and generally positive review of my book, IR Theory, Historical Analogy and Major Power War (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019). I agree with Shidore that I probably could have addressed concepts of neoclassical realism more extensively, but I did not do so because the focus of my critique was on the still predominant school of neo-realism. Nevertheless, I did implicitly address a number of neoclassical concerns with leadership (mis)perceptions of rival actors (both states and anti-state actors) in the international system and the perceived threats (both domestic and foreign) that those actors and the international system impose in my discussion of “radical disaccord” and the “insecurity-security dialectic” (97-126).
The concept of the “insecurity-security dialectic” does relate to points raised by neoclassical realism in that it examines both international and domestic threat perceptions that impact a leadership’s decisions. I could possibly have incorporated a more explicit discussion of neoclassical realism in IR Theory, Historical Analogy, and Major Power War. Even so, Shidore’s review misconstrues a number of points made in that book that I hope to address in this reply so as to clarify my argument as to why alternative realism does represent a new approach to IR theory.
Shidore argues that the concept of “Alternative realism seems to be defined more by what it is not than what it is.” Yet this misses the point that alternative realism does clearly define priorities in terms of national interests, but with a broader conception of that "national interest" than that of neo-realism. The first priority of alternative realism is to avoid situations that would draw a state and its population into major power wars or into interminable conflicts with no clearly defined goals or objectives. This point is clearly discussed throughout IR Theory, Historical Analogy, and Major Power War, but I will try to make it more explicit here.
While powerful groups and factions may possess personal interests in engaging in destructive conflicts, the state and differing sectors of society as a whole rarely possess a strong interest in engaging in such conflicts. And rarely do the opposing states and societies. Even if one side believes it can ‘win’ such a conflict, the human suffering and direct and indirect costs can be enormous. It is not always certain which side will ‘win’ such conflicts and so-called winners could turn out to be losers in the long term.
Alternative realism recognizes this dilemma and argues that the power and influence of such groups and factions that push for war must be challenged and neutralized, if possible, in order to prevent even deeper domestic social and political conflict that could also widen and intensify. Failure to neutralize the power and influence of such groups that push for military intervention rather than accept diplomatic and compromise solutions can result in endless wars, social protest, if not violent revolutions.
One of the major reasons for placing rival major powers with conflicting interests on the UN Security Council was to sustain a dialogue between those rivals so as to reduce the possibilities of either direct conflict or proxy wars between those major power rivals. Traditional realists, such as former US Secretary of State and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, may have been more tolerant of so-called ‘limited’ wars, but only so long as ‘limited’ wars did not provoke major power wars. But even those so-called ‘limited’ wars do not serve the general interests of the state and population if they become costly, interminable, and destructive to national morale—much as Hans Morgenthau, in opposition to Kissinger, argued in response to the brutal American conduct in the Vietnam war. Surprising many, Morgenthau, as an alternative realist on this issue, opposed US military intervention in Vietnam.
This brings me to the concept of Contact Group diplomacy which is designed to help transform, if not resolve, both major and regional power conflicts (including so-called ‘limited’ conflicts) by incorporating into negotiations as many states (and third actors such as non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and anti-state movements) that are concerned with such a dispute or conflict as is possible and practical. The point of Contact Group diplomacy is to prevent major power wars, endless wars, as well as widening regional conflicts that could then transmogrify into major power wars.
In criticizing my concept of Contact Groups, Sarang Shidore argues, “Though the idea of an informal contact group has its advantages, Gardner’s argument that a change of diplomatic format would do the trick is less than credible. The Ukraine dispute, for example, has degenerated into bitter acrimony on both sides with an ongoing hot conflict. This is the case notwithstanding the work of the Trilateral Contact Group—precisely the sort of approach that Gardner recommends.”
But this is not at all the case: I do not recommend the Trilateral Contact Group as a final step in the negotiation process as Shidore argues that I might. The Trilateral Contact Group (which involves Ukraine, the Russian Federation, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) can only represent a first step toward a concerted negotiation/ conflict transformation process. The Trilateral Contact Group by itself will not succeed if it is not soon followed up by American and NATO participation in negotiations with the Europeans and Russians leading to a rapprochement with Moscow.
As I argue in IR Theory, Historical Analogy, and Major Power War and elsewhere, the conflict in eastern Ukraine and over the Crimea will not be transformed toward less conflictual situation until Washington, in working with NATO and the European Union, resolves to engage in full-fledged diplomacy with Moscow. Such diplomacy should be designed to forge a general entente between the U.S., the European Union, and Russia over a neutral Ukraine, among other issues to be negotiated—that include a concerted approach to the rise of China.
Shidore further argues that “the centrality of historical influences, polycentrism as representing the world order, the importance of non-state actors, absolute gains trumping relative gains, and the promise of informal diplomacy—appear to come more out of various well-trod pathways of liberal and constructivist thinking than any brand new theoretical approach. But the reader is left even more confused at one point by an extensive taxonomy of states centered on space and power, apparently drawn from theoretician George Liska, which bears more than a passing resemblance to the early twentieth-century framework of geopolitics. Is ‘alternative realism’ then simply a smorgasbord of various international relations frameworks, excluding neorealism? The reader is never provided a clear answer.”
But this misses the point. This so-called “taxonomy of states” is not a “smorgasbord” but instead seeks to develop a synthesis of the geo-strategic and geo-economic perspectives of IR theorists as varied as George Liska, Immanuel Wallerstein, Halford Mackinder, Nicolas Spykman, and Saul. B. Cohen, among others. The purpose is to develop the methodology for what I believe to be a unique comparative geo-historical approach that makes it possible to compare and contrast differing global systems and major and regional power rivalries throughout history. It is these geo-historically structured centers of power and influence that the alternative realist must confront and engage with in diplomatic terms if state leaderships are to minimize the real possibility that contemporary geopolitical and geo-economic conflicts will cascade into the next major power war.
As I argue in IR Theory, Historical Analogy, and Major Power War, such an alternative realist position was considered and attempted before both World War I and World War II. British and German elites did attempt to establish an entente relationship moving toward an Anglo-German alliance that would prevent a major power war. But those efforts to establish a major power entente failed miserably before both world wars, in large part because Anglo-German diplomacy was unable to find a concerted diplomatic approach toward both French and Tsarist Russian/Soviet disputes with Germany.
The point raised here it that these systemic historical analogies to diplomacy in the pre-World War I and pre-World War II periods do not necessarily mean that the quest for a general entente relationship between the U.S., European Union, and Russia—that will concurrently find a way to channel the rise of China—will fail in contemporary circumstances.
The path to global peace is possible, by means of critically looking at the failure of past examples of international diplomacy from an alternative realist perspective that raises the questions: What alternative policies might Britain, as the then core-hegemonic power, have pursued to prevent major power war before both World War I and World War II? And are those alternative policies relevant from the standpoint of the United States, as the contemporary core-hegemonic power, to the constellation of geopolitical and geo-economic powers and forces, involving rivals such as Russia, China, Iran, among others—as a diplomatic approach to prevent a possible major power war in the near future?
What is needed is effective leadership with foresight that is willing to sustain concerted negotiations in the long term despite the domestic and international hurdles that such a leadership will confront in seeking such a major power entente with Russia and new diplomatic approaches toward China and Iran, among other states. Whether such a leadership that is willing to engage in an alternative peace-oriented, yet realistic, strategy in an effort to prevent wider regional wars, if not major power war, will actually come to power in the United States represents another question. But that is not the fault of alternative realism.
Hall Gardner, American University of Paris
 These points are developed in my chapter on “Alienation and the Origins and Prevention of War” in Hall Gardner and Oleg Kobtzeff, eds., The Ashgate Research Companion to War: Origins and Prevention (Ashgate 2012). See also my discussion of the five inner/outer dimensions of the “insecurity-security dialectic”: “Countdown to World War Trump: Iran and the new “Butter Battle” arms rivalry” Wall Street International Magazine (18 September 2019) https://wsimag.com/economy-and-politics/57509-countdown-to-world-war-trump.
 Hans J. Morgenthau,.A New Foreign Policy for the United States (New York, NY: Praeger, 1969); Hans Morgenthau, Truth and Power: Essays of a Decade, 1960–70 (New York, NY: Praeger, 1970);
 Gardner, Crimea, Global Rivalry, and the Vengeance of History (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), World War Trump: The Risks of America’s New Nationalism (Prometheus Books 2018).
 George Liska, Ways of Power (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990); Immanuel Wallerstein, The Politics of the World Economy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984); Halford Mackinder, Democratic Ideals and Reality (London: Constable and Co. 1919/1942); Nicolas J. Spykman, The Geography of the Peace (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co, 1944); Saul B. Cohen, Geopolitics of the World System (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2003)