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Journal of Cold War Studies 5.2 (2003) 103-104

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George H. Quester, Before and After the Cold War: Using Past Forecasts to Predict the Future. London: Frank Cass, 2002. 219 pp. $24.50.

This book is a collection of previously published and outdated essays, going back to the 1960s, held together with the thinnest of justifications. The author quite properly asserts that we can learn from our past failures at prediction. His essays indicate that, like the rest of us, he has had his fair share of wrong predictions and misplaced fears. But he does not attempt to make analytical sense of these predictions or of the essays or of anybody else's right or wrong predictions. The eleven essays, which cover topics that include nuclear nonproliferation, women in combat, the future of Communist Eastern Europe, and international driving standards, are not bracketed by much in the way of introduction or conclusion. [End Page 103]

The three-page introduction is neither informed nor reflective. It suggests at the outset that political analysis is as unreliable as weather forecasting. This is an insult to weather forecasters. Unlike political analysis, weather forecasting has improved considerably in recent decades through improved data collection, more sophisticated computer models, and higher-capacity computers. More importantly, research on prediction indicates that weather forecasters are the most humble professional community. They have the least confidence in their predictions and the greatest willingness to acknowledge errors. Perhaps this is because they receive constant and undeniable feedback about their mistakes. International relations is different, as the rest of the introduction unwittingly reveals. Realists, especially neorealists, have been consistently wrong in almost every forecast they made about the post-Cold War world. They suggested, among other things, that in a multipolar world there would be more conflict among the great powers, that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization would decline or even break up in the absence of a Soviet threat, and that Japan and Germany would seek to acquire nuclear weapons. Realism might have predicted, Quester argues, that the successor states of the Soviet Union would be at each other's throats. He notes the truth of this counterfactual prediction for the former Yugoslavia, the Caucasus, and Central Asia, and he might have mentioned Moldova as well. Quester ignores the absence of violence, or acute hostility, in central or eastern Europe and in most of the other successor states of Central Asia. So his counterfactual is only half true. He also conveniently ignores the actual predictive failures of realism noted aboveā€”the only way one could possibly conclude that realists would be "denied credit" for their "accurate forecasts." This is not a book about rethinking old assumptions but about justifying them on the most tendentious grounds.

The one-page conclusion (it spans two pages) offering a few undeveloped, random thoughts, represents the full added value of the book.


Richard Ned Lebow
Dartmouth College