Where exactly is the periphery of U.S. international relations? If nothing else, this useful volume should get you thinking about this question. One possible answer, a straightforward one, is delivered right on the book’s front cover, which depicts two maps, one showing Latin America and the other centered on the Middle East and stretching from the Mediterranean to Central Asia. And indeed, those among the fourteen chapters in this volume that focus on a single geographic region are centered on Latin America, Africa, or the Middle East. But the book, as suggested in its subtitle, is concerned not simply with exploring a fixed periphery but considering how and why the margins of U.S. foreign relations have shifted over time, how regions considered peripheral among U.S. policymakers came to be seen as central, as did Cuba after Castro’s ascent to power in 1959 or the Middle East did after the Oil Crises of the 1970s. This volume, which emerged out of a conference held at the University of Nottingham in 2010, is made up of fourteen chapters split into two parts. The first part, “Themes,” comprises five chapters that paint on a broad spatial and temporal canvas and focus, respectively, on the themes of geostrategy, development, culture, anti-Americanism, and war as they pertain to the relations between the United States and the Global South in the postwar era. The nine chapters of the second part, “Case Studies,” are more circumscribed in time and space, each focusing on a specific region and/or time period in the recent history of U.S. foreign relations, proceeding chronologically, more-or-less, from the development of U.S. geostrategic thinking in the run-up to World War II to the post-2001 “global war on terror.” Diplomatic historians have, of course, long written about the history of U.S. relations with regions, such as the Middle East or South Asia, once seen as peripheral to U.S. strategic interests. But it is only fairly recently that we have seen wide acceptance of the argument, made perhaps most famously in Odd Arne Westad’s Global Cold War (2005), that the regions once known as the Third World comprised, in fact, the central arena of international politics and conflict in the postwar era.1 As part of this flourishing literature, the current volume traces the evolution of U.S. foreign policy from a time of near exclusive focus on relations with the major powers across the Atlantic and the Pacific—China, Japan, the major European powers—to growing concern with regions previously seen as marginal, notably the Middle East, Latin America and, a bit later, Africa. As is often the case with edited volumes, the essays in this one vary in tone and format. Some are variations on their authors’ previously published work; others, previews of forthcoming studies. Some showcase fine-grained archival work while others rely mostly on secondary sources. The five “thematic” essays in Part I are written by established scholars and cover ground that will be largely familiar to readers of their previous work; still, these chapters offer welcome summaries of important themes in the history of U.S. relations with the Global South and should prove useful, not least, for teaching purposes. The nine “case study” essays all repay careful reading; for this reader, some of the more revelatory among them included Philip Dow’s account of the influence of American missionaries on U.S. policy in Congo in the pivotal crisis years of 1959 to 1963; Christopher R. Dietrich’s argument about the surprising connections between oil money and international terrorism in the 1970s; and Maria Ryan’s exploration of the lesser-known arenas of the post-9/11 “war on terror,” namely in Africa, the Caucasus, and the southern Philippines. Interestingly, Ryan’s treatment of the southern Philippines aside, relations with Southeast Asia are largely missing in this volume. This absence cannot but bring to mind the paradigmatic case in the history of postwar U.S. foreign relations of a region that shifted from a peripheral concern for Washington’s policymakers into a central one, indeed so central that it consumed U.S. politics for more than a decade and remains even today inescapable in any debate about the deployment of U.S. military power abroad. But of course, Vietnam was not the first time that the seemingly peripheral suddenly became central. The United States’ first major overseas war was fought in the Philippines, a place that few Americans had ever heard of prior to the Spanish-American War. Some decades later, Franklin Roosevelt’s wartime meetings with Middle Eastern and African leaders—the king of Saudi Arabia, the Sultan of Morocco, the Emperor of Ethiopia—signaled the rising importance of places that had previously been viewed as marginal to U.S. interests. Sometimes, in fact, places became central to U.S. interests partly because they were declared to be peripheral to them. One such place is the Korean peninsula, also outside the scope of this volume, where Dean Acheson’s “perimeter speech” of January 1950 helped convince the North Korean leader Kim Il-sung to launch an attack on the south some five months later in order to reunite the peninsula under his rule. Vietnam itself could also be seen as a place that became central because it was deemed relatively marginal, as Washington’s consistent post-1945 preference for the French claims of imperial privilege over the Vietnamese demands for self-determination contributed to the escalation of a conflict and eventually led to the U.S. military intervention there. Then again, perhaps the tendency of places along the western rim of the Pacific—the Philippines, Korea, Vietnam—to shift repeatedly from marginal to central concerns for U.S. policymakers suggests, as Michael Hunt and Steven Levin argued recently, that the region was never actually peripheral at all.2 Perhaps most importantly, however, this volume invites its readers to contemplate the concept of periphery in the history of U.S. foreign relations: how it is defined, how it shifts over time, and how the very definition of a region as peripheral in the first place is both contentious and consequential. After all, as this volume reminds us, there are many ways to define centrality and marginality in international relations. We can consider economic factors (industrial development, natural resources, etc.), military power (both conventional and not, both actual and potential), demography and geography, culture and civilization (the West vs. the “Rest”), and other factors as well. In the end, the history of marginality in U.S. foreign relations is one of subjective perception, reflecting as it does certain ways of seeing the world. Writing the history of the shifting margins of U.S. foreign relations requires exploring the contours of these perceptions, their evolution, and their consequences. Footnotes 1 Odd Arne Westad, The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times (Cambridge: MA, 2005). 2 Michael H. Hunt and Steven Levine, Arc of Empire: America's Wars in Asia from the Philippines to Vietnam (Chapel Hill, NC, 2012). © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: email@example.com. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
Diplomatic History – Oxford University Press
Published: May 14, 2018
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