Book Review of Arms and Influence by Thomas C. Shelling

Book Details

The book under observation is written by Thomas C. Schelling who was a leading American economist and a professor on the subject of international affairs. He was also a scholar who delved in the subject of nuclear strategy, armament control and national security affairs. The book, titled “Arms and Influence” was published as an extension to his work on Strategy of Conflict and came out in 1966. The publisher of the book is his alma mater, The Yale University Press. The book delves into the subject of nuclear and military power being exploited to attain bargaining power. (Schelling, 1966)

The book “Arms and Influence” lays an emphasis on the diplomacy observed regarding violence and is a fine example of a work on the subject of world economics and international affairs. The title of the book is common among many works about the cold war. It can be a frightening revelation for the minds which do not dwell on the unthinkable. Schelling tells us that nuclear weaponry is not anymore a pre-requisite for hurting the enemy nations a means to attain bargaining power over other nations. It is a mere strategy to keep other nations at bay and prevent them from taking a certain action. (Schelling, 1966) The concept of “brinkmanship” is introduced as a methods to achieve the same but it increases the possibility of a potential war between nations. (Powell, 2003)The book also explores the concept of coercion which describes how latent violence is put to use for the exploitation of the wants and fears of the rival nations. Other concepts which the book dives in are salami tactics, brute force, deterrence, the law of last chance and the concept of pure hurting. Schelling also explains about the nuclear paradox which states that to induce an environment of stability, there is a necessity for vulnerability and as nations develop invulnerability, it increases the chances of conflict among nations by causing instability.

Significance of the Book

The impact of nuclear stockpiling and gathering power on the relationship between nations is highlighted in this work. This work is significant due to its introduction of new concepts which impact international relations with an emphasis laid on Schelling’s older works. (Schelling, 1960) The importance of this work increases day by day due to the relevance with the current political scenario between nations. The concept of coercion and deterrence are still present and reflected from the events occurring in the world which have an impact on world politics and international relations.
This book has also influenced the works of Tyler Cowen in how violence and nuclear stockpiling has an indirect effect on world economics. (Cowen, 2007) The book strikes a chord on concepts which are about global scenarios and depicts the impact on wider contexts about the aftermath on international ties and external policies. The concepts laid down in this book have been coined in several books and articles surrounding war and global political equilibrium. There is also a notable direct influence observed in the works of Mark Klieman in the book “When the Brute Force Fails” in which the concept of brute force has been emphasized and critiqued. (Kleiman, 2010). Several of Robert Jervis’s works also mention Schelling’s concepts about nuclear warfare like “Psychology and Deterrence” and “The meaning of Nuclear Revolution”. (Jervis, Snyder, Morgan, Stein, & Lebow, 1985)

The book “Arms and Influence” is a profound work in the field of international conflict. The primary focus of this book is on the notion on how nations use military capabilities in order to attain superior bargaining power of other countries. This notion can be cemented with the current scenario as nations have been stockpiling nuclear power either for fuel or for defense purposes which is reflected as a notion of superiority. According to Schelling, if this goes on as usual by nations increasing their military power to have an upper hand and indirectly creating an atmosphere of equilibrium, then there is a probability that the balance might be lost and an atmosphere of panic will arise. According to him, it is an intricate political process. He explains it through various events that have been occurring around the world in a process of backing it up with facts but fails to engage in deliberate conversations with co-strategists who have been writing on theories on brute force and deterrence like Glenn Snyder and J. David Singer.
This process can be witnessed throughout the book as there are many instances where concepts and theories are explained with vividness but fails to rely upon the studies by social scientists and theorists before him. (Guetzkow, 1966) Rather than utilizing the growing insights on the matters, Schelling adheres to quoting historians where there is a dire need of consideration of public attitudes about political scenarios. He is fairly original in his approach towards the clarification of strategies but tends to be influenced in his thoughts from earlier works.
Fairly inspired from his earlier work, the roots of certain concepts can be traced easily to his earlier theories and concepts. In a generalist view, he has established a conventional sense of wisdom that Nuclear Deterrence is what kept the world safe during the cold war and forced stability among nations but there are many who change this inference and suggest looking away from conventional wisdom. (Wilson, 2008) advises against this theory by commenting that stockpiling and arousing a sense of threat has been problematic in the course of history. But the fact remains that nuclear weapons as an entity will remain a powerful and fatal force and is gradually propagating and the possibility of a backfire becomes stronger as external threats like terrorism surpass national boundaries and policies. Nuclear deterrence remains a highly conflicted subject as many historians and theorists conflict the theory while many have been supporting it by bringing up the cold war scenario but nuclear stockpiling remains to be a ticking time bomb.
The concept of coercion is a totally distinct concept, theorists like Robert Pape refer to the same concept as compellence but nevertheless, Compellence has been hailed as a far more relatable and applicable concept as compared to deterrence. Schelling’s views about world politics are less historically intuitive than some but his seminal work remains to be noted in the area of game theory. There is a sense of detachment from the general theory of conflict which was focused in his earlier works, and the emphasis has been shifted to explanation of the context of his concepts in relation to the field of international affairs. Although Schelling is a Nobel Prize winner, he has thoroughly explained his strategic notions in a required strategic fashion but his ideas have been challenged often as not the right path for the future as it can taint the canvas of international relations and increased secrecy and a world which is always at a brink of mass destruction and war.
Cowen, T. (2007). Discover Your Inner Economist. Dutton Adult.
Guetzkow, H. (1966). Arms and Influence. American Sociological Review, 889-890.
Jervis, R., Snyder, J., Morgan, P., Stein, J., & Lebow, R. N. (1985). Psychology and Deterrence. JHU Press.
Kleiman, M. (2010). When the Brute Force Fails. Princeton University Press.
Powell, R. (2003). Nuclear Deterrence Theory, Nuclear Proliferation, and National Missile Defense. International Security, 86-118.
Schelling, T. C. (1960). The Strategy of Conflict. Harvard University Press.
Schelling, T. C. (1966). Arms and Influence. Yale University Press.
Wilson, W. (2008). THE MYTH OF NUCLEAR DETERRENCE. Nonproliferation Review, 421-439.


Posted on

March 7, 2018

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.