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’.

Arms and Influence embodies an attempt to learn from these ancient tactics. Although he claims to use historical examples as illustrations, Shelling deploys them as a series of analogies. Thus Russian intervention in Budapest in 1956 is held to be like the Persian campaign in Asia Minor as described by Xenophon, and quotation is made also from Thucydides, Caesar and Shakespeare. It is relatively unimportant that he is capable of misunderstanding the past in the most elementary way—for example, he believes that the Crusaders sacked Jerusalem ‘while the mood was on them . . . burned things that they might, with time to reflect, have carried away instead, and raped women that, with time to think about it, they might have married instead’—what are serious are his misconceptions about the present, whether or not he claims to derive them from history.

Shelling manages to maintain at one and the same time that the principles of inter-state relations have been the same at all times and places and that the advent of nuclear weapons has brought about a new diplomatic revolution. But the distrust and bad faith that he sees as specific to the nuclear age have been features of international relations since as well as before Machiavelli’s time, and in any case are not the most important factors. Perhaps his horror indicates the traumatic effect of America’s first sustained entanglement with the international system. What he would like us to believe is that once nuclear weapons exist all forms of international relations are based on blackmail. In other words that principles of foreign policy are determined by the overall level of military technology, and that therefore a revolution in military technology leads to a corresponding revolution in the field of international politics. But this is not the case. The political division of the world in 1945 to 1949 was not in any way dependent on the balance of terror and was more influential in determining principles of foreign policy for both sides than the subsequent development of nuclear strike capacity. This is not to deny that weapons technology is an important part of the infra-structure of the international system. However, its theoretical implications have been mediated through the changes and developments in military doctrine, a field which Shelling ignores. Moreover, he fails to realize that the choice of weapons themselves is a political decision determined by politico-military objectives. The Vietnamese, for example, would be highly unlikely to use napalm or bombers against villages in the South.