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Book description

Dominant narratives - from the Cold War consensus to the War on Terror - have often served as the foundation for debates over national security. Weaving current challenges, past failures and triumphs, and potential futures into a coherent tale, with well-defined characters and plot lines, these narratives impart meaning to global events, define the boundaries of legitimate politics, and thereby shape national security policy. However, we know little about why or how such narratives rise and fall. Drawing on insights from diverse fields, Narrative and the Making of US National Security offers novel arguments about where these dominant narratives come from, how they become dominant, and when they collapse. It evaluates these arguments carefully against evidence drawn from US debates over national security from the 1930s to the 2000s, and shows how these narrative dynamics have shaped the policies pursued by the United States.


‘Narrative and the Making of US National Security is an impressive accomplishment. For realists and rationalists, it provides compelling theoretical and empirical evidence for what they have intuitively known, but refused to acknowledge - that language, discourse and rhetoric are more than cheap talk. For constructivists and critical theorists, it provides a careful, systematic roadmap for how to demonstrate the open-ended but structured interplay between language and foreign policy. An original, and exceptionally well-written, book that should be the talk among international relations scholars.'

Michael Barnett - George Washington University

‘Concepts become stories become changed reality. Krebs's perfectly paced yarn demonstrates how with admirable clarity.’

Iver B. Neumann - Montague Burton Professor of International Relations, London School of Economics and Political Science

‘Politicians are unceasing in their efforts to craft rhetoric to persuade their audiences, box in their rivals, and ‘control the narrative’, yet scholarship on foreign policy has until now barely scratched the surface of this fundamental topic. Ronald Krebs breaks new ground in explaining who succeeds in shaping the battleground of foreign policy ideas, and why.’

Jack Snyder - Robert and Renée Belfer Professor of International Relations, Columbia University

‘In this stimulating and intellectually ambitious book, Ronald Krebs argues that the facts never just speak for themselves, that they have to be interpreted, and that the shaping of a society’s basic sense for the role it should play in the international arena is a deeply political process. That argument is important because of its sharp counter-intuitive edge: unpopular wars, Krebs argues, can actually shore up the prevailing world-view, whereas foreign policy success can lead to fundamental change. Those basic claims are supported by a thoughtful, honest and highly professional analysis of the historical evidence. All in all, a very impressive and thought-provoking piece of work.’

Marc Trachtenberg - University of California, Los Angeles

'This important book highlights the importance of rhetoric in the practice of international relations, an area neglected by most realists and liberals … Highly recommended.'

S. Waalkes Source: Choice

'Presidents and policymakers do not articulate grand strategies or foreign policy based on abstract theorizing: they usually tell stories. The role that dominant narratives can play in constraining the range of ‘acceptable’ foreign policy ideas can be powerful … Krebs’s book on the role that narrative plays in constraining or empowering leaders is fascinating and counterintuitive. I suspect that students of the Cold War will be particularly interested in [his] take on the birth, life, death, and rebirth of the Cold War consensus.'

Daniel W. Drezner Source: The Washington Post

'In this fascinating and erudite book, [Krebs] argues that no foreign or security policy is possible that is inconsistent with a dominant social narrative about what is important and what is prudent.'

David A Welch Source: The Journal of Interdisciplinary History

'This clever and intellectually rewarding book rests on the idea that our understanding of the world is bound up with the words we use to narrate it … I think the rigour of this analysis certainly adds to the literature and the contention on the demise of the consensus before the Vietnam War … Overall, this is a highly innovative and rewarding book that seamlessly merges narrative theory with a deep reading of US national security.'

David Ryan Source: International Affairs Review

'Krebs has written an important and fascinating book that deserves widespread attention.'

Jarrod Hayes Source: Political Science Quarterly

'Overall, the book is very engaging. Krebs lays out and follows a clear path for the reader. The book is appropriate for and will interest both students and scholars who study narrative specifically, and those in national security studies, international relations, and communications. Krebs anticipates readers’ questions in the text. He provides alternate explanations throughout the book, which is very commendable, and in the final chapter he discusses some ideas for possible further research. These include conducting analysis on other countries and other policy domains, and on the role of narrative in the new media age … this is a worthy addition to the literature on the study of narrative and international relations.'

John Sislin Source: H-Net

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