Thursday 11 Aug 2022 | 06:25 | SYDNEY
Thursday 11 Aug 2022 | 06:25 | SYDNEY

Lowy Institute books of the year II

11 December 2012 10:34

Part 1 of this series by Lowy Institute research staff here.

Every Nation for Itself: Winners and Losers in a G-Zero World by Ian Bremmer. Selected by Visiting Fellow Stephen Grenville.

The G20 is on our minds at the Lowy Institute, but Ian Bremmer's Every Nation for Itself  argues that America's loss of international dominance and its inward focus after the perceived failures in Iraq and Afghanistan leave it unable to provide global leadership. Without such leadership, the various 'Gs' have become irrelevant talk-shops. This is a very US-centric view, seeing America as the benevolent primary provider of global public goods in the form of security and economic rules.

But we have seen these swings to isolation before, where a bad foreign experience leaves America unable to respond. In the past this introspection has proven temporary. The more vexed issue is whether a world no longer ready to accept the advanced-country decision-making embodied in the 'old-boys club' of the G7 (with its close commonality of interests) can adapt unwieldy apparatus such as the G20 into an effective form of global governance.

The Generals, by Tom Ricks. Selected by Military Fellow James Brown.

Tom Ricks' central questions are simple: how well did US military generals perform in Iraq and Afghanistan and have they been held accountable for their performance? They're tough questions to ask in the US, where military leaders are lionised and professional war fighting is becoming more specialised and impenetrable. Ricks concludes that at least two of the most senior military commanders fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan should have been relieved for poor performance.

Inspired by Ricks, I posed a similar question to several politicians recently: how do you know Australia's generals are good at their job? There was unvaryingly strong trust in the abilities of our uniformed military leaders. But just as important as trust is verification. Ricks successfully argues that some US military leaders were fascinated by tactics but inept at strategic thinking. Might we face similar issues in Australia?

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, by Max Brooks. Selected by Sam Roggeveen, Editor of The Interpreter.

Released in 2006, this novel came to my attention only last month when Daniel Drezner blogged about it. The title is eye-catching but misleading; this is really a story about a global pandemic, not a war. The scope is vast yet the tone surprisingly intimate and engaging for a book that might easily be dismissed as low-grade genre fiction. Brooks is excellent on the details. He knows military kit but never fetishes it. And he shows real cultural deftness as his novel trots around the globe.

There was a pleasant surprise for me on the acknowledgments page, where Brooks lists General Sir John Hackett as an inspiration. I had clean forgotten about Hackett's Third World War: The Untold Story, but I read it in high school and now realise it was a major influence on my interest in strategic studies and international relations. Books really do shape our lives, don't they?