The Fastest Edited Volume in History

And my thoughts on economic sanctions and the Russo-Ukrainian War

By Daniel Drezner, Professor of International Politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy

I have edited not one, not two, but three books designed for fellow scholars and policy practitioners. I have contributed to — hold on a sec, need to check the old cv — more than 25 edited volumes. As someone intimately familiar with the process, I can attest that edited volumes are a nightmare of an assignment for most academics. 

True, if done well, they represent a high-quality compendium of perspectives on whatever the topic is at hand. But they almost never go well. Editing a book of different contributors makes herding cats seem simple. Sure, some folks will put forward quality work. But there are always a few contributors who are perennially late in handing in their drafts, or their revisions. With some edited volumes, the review and publication process can take so long that the book feels outdated by the time it is available for review. Under no circumstances would I recommend junior scholars to ever edit a book — the potential opportunity costs are too great. 

All of this is to say that I am in awe of Hal Brands for editing the just-released War in Ukraine: Conflict, Strategy, and the Return of a Fractured World (Johns Hopkins University Press). This is for multiple reasons. First, he assembled a Murderer’s Row of contributors, including Michael McFaulStephen KotkinLawrence FreedmanAnne ApplebaumMichael KofmanDara MassicotFrank Gavin, and Kori Schake, among others. Oh, and yes, I also wrote something in there about economic sanctions.

Second, this edited volume might be the fastest academic publication I have ever seen in my career. The original query for this project came less than six months ago. The conference with the draft papers was last month. And the book is now out and free to read for one and all. Going from idea to publication in less than six months would be astonishing for a commercial press. It simply does not happen in the world of academia. 

Here’s Brands’ description of the project from his introductory chapter

In this volume—the product of a conference at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies timed to coincide with the second anniversary of Russia’s invasion—some of the world’s leading analysts assess the conflict’s origins, trajectory, and implications. They offer their appraisals of the most geopolitically consequential crisis of the 21st century so far.

Those appraisals are, necessarily, provisional: This volume is an effort to write history in real time. Coming to grips with a war in progress is like shooting at a moving target. Perspectives on events inevitably shift as time passes and the rest of the story plays out. A history of the US Civil War written in 1862 or even 1864 might have looked very different than one written after Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox. A history of the Cold War produced in the 1970s might have yielded fundamentally different conclusions than one produced after the Soviet Union’s collapse. But if history in real time is hard, it is also essential. How else can policymakers and analysts make sense of—and react intelligently to—world-shifting events as they occur?

The chapters that follow represent a collective effort to explore the unfolding history and global significance of the Ukraine War. The focus is less on providing a blow-by-blow account of the war—something that might well be outdated by the time you read these words—than on understanding its deeper causes and essential elements and explaining how this war is reshaping the world as a fraught new era begins.

My chapter is entitled, “Lose-Lose: The Economic Sanctions of the Russo-Ukrainian War.” Here’s an excerpt from my introductory section:

Any assessment of the myriad uses of economic statecraft during the Russo-Ukrainian war must be acknowledged to be preliminary as of this writing.

Despite this caveat, it is difficult not to conclude that the array of economic sanctions employed by both Russia and the US-led coalition opposing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been largely unsuccessful in achieving its goals. From the US perspective, we know that economic sanctions failed at two of three aims: deterrence and coercion. Western efforts to hinder Russia’s ability to prosecute its war of aggression have been more successful, but those sanctions have not been a pivotal factor affecting the war itself. The Russian Federation’s countersanctions meant to pressure Europe into remaining neutral have also not worked as intended, as European support for Ukraine has persisted. To be sure, all of these sanctions have imposed significant economic costs on their intended targets. Those economic costs, however, have not translated into political concessions. Furthermore, both sides have still engaged in significant amounts of energy trade despite the imposition of sanctions and countersanctions.

Does this assessment mean that the sanctions employed during the war have been in vain? That is a more complicated question. For the United States and its allies, sanctions are an important part of norm enforcement, and the Russo-Ukrainian war challenges one of the most important norms in international relations. The sanctions against Russia also create long-term stresses on the Russian economy, which could serve Western interests. For both the European Union and Russia, the sanctions are a tool of geoeconomics enabling a reorientation of their foreign economic policies. The war has revealed both the hard limits of economic sanctions between great powers and why they are nonetheless a persistent feature of 21st-century world politics.

You’ll have to read the whole thing in order to see my longer take on this subject.1And I would encourage interested readers to check out the entire volume1

I also addressed this question in a previous Drezner’s World entry.

(This post is republished from Drezner’s World.)

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