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Why Leaders Choose War: The Psychology of Prevention (Praeger Security International)

5 out of 5 stars 1 customer review
ISBN-13: 978-0275990855
ISBN-10: 0275990850
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Editorial Reviews


"The old American way of war, in which problems abroad were avoided until they spilled over and directly threatened American security interests, has been superseded by the new Bush doctrine of preventive attack. Renshon, writing while still in the PhD program at Harvard, uses the lens of political psychology to examine five historical cases of prevention. These include American war planning from 1946 to 1954; British action in the 1956 Suez Crisis; Israel's bombing of Iraq's nuclear reactor in 1981; Indian preventive war planning from 1982 to 2002; and America's preventive war plan against Iraq in 2003. Renshon's theory of psychological motivations highlights six factors thought to influence the preventive war decision, including declining relative power, bad faith image of the adversary, a conviction that war is inevitable, the perception that there is a brief window of opportunity in which to act, a situation that appears to favor a first strike, and black-and-white thinking. These are filtered through the psychology, beliefs, and judgments of individual leaders, supplemented by discussions of governing constraints, personal dynamics including risk tolerance, and state reputation. Ultimately, Renshon argues the most profitable manner in which to understand preventive war is through a detailed psychological examination of individual leaders. Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty." - Choice

"[I]t will interest many psychologists (particularly psychologists who are interested in history and politics). Renshon provides an interesting analysis of the choices for and against preventive war and places these events within important historical contexts. Furthermore, he helps the reader appreciate the difficult decisions world leaders face when responding to adversarial actions by other countries….[w]orth reading." - PsycCritiques

"Renshon's analysis is sure to capture the attention of policymakers, scholars, and students alike (including my own undergraduate honors students, among whom the book inspired lively debate), and makes a strong contribution to security studies and to political psychology….I strongly and wholeheartedly recommend Why Leaders Choose War: The Psychology of Prevention, as is fosters critical thought and contributes to theory building by placing leaders front and center in explaining why countries make the consequential decisions to advocate or to oppose preventive war or preventive strikes. An engaging read for a variety of different audiences." - Political Science Quarterly

"Jonathan Renshon's purpose in this engaging and useful book is to help us better understand the conditions under which leaders well resort to preventive military action. Correctly noting that this is an understudied yet important question, Renshon methodically sets out to point us in the direction of answers….The case studies are clearly written, well-researched, and efficient. Indeed, readers interested only in the cases themselves will find them very useful as capsule histories….[h]e sets out merely to take the first steps down the road to a comprehensive theory. This he has certainly done. May the journey continue." - Political Psychology

"Renshon examines the US invasion of Iraq, President Eisenhower's rejection of preventive war against the USSR, British-French-Israeli war against Egypt in 1956, Israel's bombing of Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981, and two decades of India-Pakistan conflicts to explore why leaders opt for preventive war or not. He investigates the causal weight of five factors that may contribute to a decision for preventive war; declining power in relation to an adversary, an inherent bad faith image of the adversary, a belief that war or serious conflict is inevitable, the belief that there is only a short window in which to fact, and a situation that is believed to favor the offensive. In the end he finds that it is the psychology of the individual leader that will tip the decision the one way or another, even in the presence of all five of the factors." - Reference & Research Book News


"Jonathan Renshon makes a contribution not only to the current debates about the strategic sense of preventive war but also to the longer term questions of the circumstances in which political leaders consider launching this type of action. The case studies demonstrate just how complex such decisions can be." (Professor Sir Lawrence Freedman, Department of War Studies, Kings College London)

"Although some claim that the emphasis on preventive action in the Bush Doctrine and in the American war in Iraq is a clear departure from two centuries of American foreign policy, and perhaps from the conduct of diplomacy more generally, Why Leaders Choose War provides a convincing demonstration of the central role of prevention in the international politics of the last half century and before. Renshon's emphasis on the psychology of political leaders breaks new theoretical ground in the analysis of prevention, and his historical studies of cases in which prevention was seriously considered are well researched and quite informative. Renshon offers an important perspective on a critical issue of contemporary security policy in uncertain times." (Jack S. Levy, Board of Governors' Professor, Department of Political Science, Rutgers University)

"As timely as today's headlines, Renshon's work will require scholars to reconsider their understanding of the process of preventive military action. In arguing that leaders and their perceptions play an influential role in these choices, this book provides must reading for those interested in understanding the complex dynamics of decisions to use force. Scholars and the informed citizen alike have much to learn from this insightful volume." (Douglas C. Foyle, Assistant Professor, Government Department^LWesleyan University)

"A remarkable debut book by a young scholar that augurs for an outstanding academic career. Using a sophisticated comparative case study approach, Why Leaders Choose War adds substantially to our understanding of leaders' motivations for preventive war." (Jerrold M. Post, Professor of Psychiatry, Political Psychology and International Affairs, Director, Political Psychology Program, Elliot School of International Affairs, George Washington University)

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Product Details

  • Series: Praeger Security International
  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Praeger (May 30, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0275990850
  • ISBN-13: 978-0275990855
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 0.9 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,198,472 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

By L. Davinha on August 21, 2010
Format: Hardcover
A very interesting book. It is very well written (jargon-free anlysis). Renshon presents a theory for preventive war based on six different variables: 1) declining power motivation; 2) inherent bad faith relationship with adversary; 3) belief of inevitability of war; 4) belief in window of opportunity; 5) situation favouring the offensive; 6) black-and-white thinking.

Looking to identify and assess the decision-makers motivations for preventive action, the author uses a comparative case study method to test his theory. The cases selected are the Suez Crisis, Israeli strike against Iraqi nuclear facility, US Cold War strategy, India-Pakistan conflict, and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Renshon concludes by highlighting the importance of individual leaders perceptions in choosing preventive action. The author also reflects on the association between preventive action and the failure of deterrence, calling attention to the future policy options between these two strategies.
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