BALANCING RISKS: Great Power Intervention in the Periphery

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BALANCING RISKS: Great Power Intervention in the Periphery, Jeffrey W. Taliaferro, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY, 2004, 304 pages, $39.95.

America's intervention in Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003 and its tendency to intervene in other wayward states make Jeffrey W. Taliaferro's book Balancing Risks: Great Power Intervention in the Periphery timely and insightful for the decisionmakers and executors of U.S. national security.

Why do great powers intervene in peripheral areas? To answer that question, Taliaferro constructs a "balance of risk" theory using a political scientist's careful logic, structure, and acumen. Leaders of great powers who perceive a loss of power, status, or prestige are motivated to embark on risky interventions to achieve or maintain their expectation levels. Under this theory, when confronted with evidence their strategy is not working, national leaders still persist in risk acceptance, regardless of the costs or diminishing returns.

Taliaferro selects three excellent cases to illustrate his theory: Germany and the 1905 Morocco Crisis; Japan and its 1940-1941 war decisions; and the United States and the 1950-1951 Korean War. …