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Catastrophic Consequences

Civil Wars and American Interests

Civil war and other types of radical domestic upheaval are replacing international war as the preeminent threat to American security and economic well being, according to Steven R. David. Catastrophic Consequences argues that civil conflicts are of even greater importance than deliberate efforts to harm the United States because the damage they inflict is unintended and therefore impossible to deter.

David examines the prospects for and potential aftereffects of instability in four nations vital to U.S. national interests—Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, China, and Mexico. It is not, he argues, a rising China that threatens America, but one that is falling apart. Likewise, it is not a hostile Pakistani regime over which the United States should worry, rather it is one that cannot keep the country together. Similarly, a conflict-torn Mexico or Saudi Arabia poses a far greater danger to America than does either of those states growing stronger.

In assessing these threats, David contends that the United States’s only viable option is to view other-state civil upheaval similarly to natural disasters and to develop a coherent, effective emergency response mechanism, which does not exist today in any systemic, nationwide form.

About the Author

Steven R. David is a professor of political science and vice dean for Centers and Programs at the Johns Hopkins University. He is the author of Choosing Sides: Alignment and Realignment in the Third World and Third World Coups d'Etat and International Security, both published by Johns Hopkins.

Reviews

"In this sobering study, David argues that domestic upheaval and state collapse are replacing rising states and great-power rivalry as the chief threats to U.S. interests and global security... that spreading democracy or intervening to build better states are not good options. Rather, civil war must be seen as a problem akin to natural disasters: you assume disasters will occur and prepare for the worst."

- G. John Ikenberry - Foreign Affairs

"David is not a doomsayer or an advocate or liberal interventionism. He does not argue that the United States can or should mediate in civil wars. Instead, he calls for a cold-hearted examination of countries suffering collapse, with disciplined attention to the potential damage to American interests... David's book offers a promising new beginning for a difficult and pressing set of issues."

- Jeremi Suri - Political Science Quarterly

"In his provocative study, Steven David raises the question of what the most imminent concern for the United States' interests is... powerful account of a new set of issues to consider for Americans and the rest of the world."

- Niil S. Satana - International Studies Review

Endorsements

"Steven David makes a powerful case that civil wars, rather than traditional international conflicts, are now the most likely source of serious threats to American interests. David's analysis of the probable causes and potential consequences of major unrest in four key countries is persuasive and sobering, as are his conclusions: lacking reliable means to prevent such conflicts, the best we can do is to prepare for their consequences. This provocative and original study should be read by policy makers as well as scholars."

- Aaron Friedberg, Princeton University
Johns Hopkins University Press
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