Friday, March 25, 2022

Rachel Elizabeth Whitlark's "All Options on the Table"

Rachel Elizabeth Whitlark is Assistant Professor in the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs, Georgia Institute of Technology. Her articles have appeared in Security Studies, International Studies Quarterly, and International Studies Perspectives.

Whitlark applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, All Options on the Table: Leaders, Preventive War, and Nuclear Proliferation, and reported the following:
Page 99 of All Options on the Table examines a moment from President Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign that showcases Clinton’s views on how and where threats manifest in the global system. Specifically, page 99 describes Clinton’s “New Covenant for American Security” speech in which he identified the threat from the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) as posing a central challenge to international politics and argued that the United States should proactively combat that WMD threat. I use this and other material to define Clinton’s nuclear beliefs – those beliefs leaders hold about what nuclear proliferation means generally within the international system and what particular adversaries’ acquiring nuclear weapons portends for their state – that are suggestive for how leaders will undertake counter-proliferation decisions later once in executive office. As I demonstrate, these beliefs and early salience of nuclear threats for Clinton carry over to the start of his presidential administration: indeed, combating proliferation was a top priority — expressed both rhetorically through Clinton’s presidential speeches and substantively in executive orders that formalized the need to confront “the unusual and extraordinary threat [that the] proliferation of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, and the missiles that can deliver them” pose to the United States. Subsequent pages of the book track these beliefs and action to later in the Clinton presidency, including the U.S. confrontation of North Korea’s advancing nuclear weapons program in 1994.

Though the passage on page 99 is a deep dive into Bill Clinton’s nuclear beliefs, it is illustrative of the evidentiary approach I take throughout the book to identify and define leaders’ nuclear beliefs more broadly. I explore each leader’s pre-executive period to investigate their earliest thinking on what nuclear and other threats mean for international politics and their state’s security. With Clinton, as with the other leaders I explore in this book – U.S. Presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush, as well as Israeli Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin, Menachem Begin, and Ehud Olmert – I scour available evidence from their formative years. This means I explore their military service, university education, and previous political offices, using letters to family and friends, draft collegiate theses, and personal diaries to assess their earliest views of international politics and where threats manifest and how best to combat them.

For example, one document germane to assessing Kennedy’s nuclear beliefs is his Harvard undergraduate thesis, titled “Appeasement at Munich.” There, Kennedy highlighted dangers that emerge internationally when imperial powers threaten democracies. He criticized Britain’s slow recognition of the Nazi threat and Europe’s failure to rearm promptly before the looming Second World War. Why England Slept, the published book form of Kennedy’s thesis, concludes that proactive defense and preparedness are critical to forestalling dangerous global challenges wherever they emerge. Using Kennedy’s thesis and other materials, I define his nuclear beliefs and explain how we should expect Kennedy to be predisposed to behave once president. Kennedy was deeply concerned about the systemic challenge of nuclear proliferation and not confident in the United States’ ability to deter Communist China once nuclear armed from undermining U.S. security and foreign policy; he was therefore likely to consider and potentially use preventive military force to destroy Communist China’s nascent nuclear program. I repeat this exercise throughout All Options on the Table to assess each leaders’ nuclear beliefs and analyze their response to the challenge of nuclear proliferation when on the horizon.
Visit Rachel Elizabeth Whitlark's website.

--Marshal Zeringue