Arms and Influencefootnote1 presents an American view of present international relationships. It is a world of a permanent contest of nerves, in which nations have to use all methods at their disposal to persuade other nations to behave in desirable ways; a world potentially without rules, but from which rules have to be extracted only to be explicitly imposed. The ideological tool-kit used to isolate the rules compounds industrial negotiation, games theory, communications theory, behaviourism and child psychology. The instruments are nuclear weapons and conventional forces.

The nuclear weapons are used to deter or to compel action. ‘Modern technology has drastically enhanced the strategic importance of pure, unconstructive, unacquisitive pain and damage, whether used against us or in our own defence. This in turn enhances the importance of war and threats of war as techniques of influence, not of destruction, of coercion and deterrence, not of conquest and defence, of bargaining and intimidation.’ The threat of more to come would be used during a nuclear war, should one occur.

Conventional forces are used to back up threats when they may not have been sufficiently overt. When the United States went into the Lebanon, he explains, they were sending a clear signal to the Soviet Union not to intervene in the Lebanon, Jordan or Iraq. When naval installations were destroyed in North Vietnam after the Gulf of Tonkin incident, it was designed as ‘a communication which would be received by the North Vietnamese and Chinese with high fidelity’. These forces also embody a threat. The function of the troops in Berlin is to die, should this be necessary, and thus to trigger off a larger war should the status quo be disturbed.

us diplomacy and its military instruments are the Pooh Bah of international politics. According to Piaget, says Shelling, children learn the principle of ‘making the punishment fit the crime’ at a very early age. So why not grown-up nation states? Unfortunately only the larger states even qualify for human status. Mossadeq’s Iran was a small puppy which had to be house-trained; North Vietnam a dog which has killed a chicken. On the other hand, the Soviet Union behaves like a recalcitrant child, and China like a thief in the night. Faced with such indiscipline, America must impose order, and may even be eventually forced to wreak the wrath of God upon the world.

But so far the us has attempted to maintain the status quo; its main problem is to understand it. Shelling anticipated the problem and its possible solution in a previous book.footnote2 He pointed out then that ‘civilized modern students of international affairs’ are at a disadvantage compared with Machiavelli or the ancient Chinese, because they have concepts like trust and good faith at their disposal. To cope with the modern world we must learn once more from the ancients, who ‘drank wine from the same glass to demonstrate the absence of poison, met in public places to inhibit the massacre of one by the other, and even deliberately exchanged spies to facilitate transmittal of authentic information’.