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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1998, Vol. 1 No. 2 .

The Reluctant Superpower
Wayne Bert

(New York, NY: St. Martin's Press, 1997)
296pp. Index. $35.00; ISBN 0-312-17252-4

Since 1991, there has been a plethora of books on the wars of Yugoslav succession; some good, many not so good. Bert does an admirable service to the discipline by focusing less on the war itself and more upon the decision-making process in the United States. This is not a study of who said what, in which meeting, on what day. Instead, his most important contribution is the presentation of the international and domestic context which prevented robust intervention into the Bosnian conflict until August 1995.

In his introduction Bert clearly summarizes the major themes of the book. He then outlines the international setting and the self-perceived role of the US in the post-Cold War era. His discussion of past attempts to create guidelines for intervention sets the stage for the organizational culture which restricts US policy choice. After a brief summary of the history of Yugoslavia and an excellent analysis of the nature of the war, the focus returns to the United States by examining the domestic context, US interests in and perceptions of the conflict, and the resurgence of the 'Vietnam debate' engendered by Bosnia. A detailed account of US policy toward the former Yugoslavia begins half way through the book, pausing periodically to provide sound analysis and commentary. The volume contains a brief chronology of the conflict and a number of useful charts which supplement the sections.

This is an excellent book. While there is very little, factually, that is new here (that will have to wait for the series of memoirs whose publication is already underway), Bert's analysis and systematic approach make it highly accessible and of interest to policymakers and scholars alike. The publisher would be well served by releasing a paperback edition so that it could be widely read in the classroom.

Thomas Ambrosio, Virginia University

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