The Arnold A. Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies

and the Harriman Institute present,

Book Talk: “Narrative and the Making of US National Security” 

with Ronald Krebs, Beverly and Richard Fink Professor in the Liberal Arts, University of Minnesota

Moderated by Jack Snyder, Robert and Renée Belfer Professor of International Relations, Columbia University and member, SIWPS


Seating is limited; first come, first seated.


SUMMARY:  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, Prof. Ron Krebs will show where these dominant narratives come from, how they become dominant, and when they collapse. Based on his recently published book, he will illustrate and evaluate these arguments using evidence drawn from US debates over national security ranging from the 1930s to the 2000s.

BIORon Krebs is Beverly and Richard Fink Professor in the Liberal Arts and Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Minnesota. He is the author most recently of Narrative and the Making of US National Security (Cambridge UP, 2015). He is co-editor of “Rhetoric & Grand Strategy,” a special issue of Security Studies (2015), co-editor of In War’s Wake: International Conflict and the Fate of Liberal Democracy (Cambridge University Press, 2010), and author of Fighting for Rights: Military Service and the Politics of Citizenship (Cornell University Press, 2006). Prof. Krebs’ articles on a wide range of topics in international relations have appeared in leading scholarly journals, including International OrganizationInternational Security, the European Journal of International RelationsInternational Studies Quarterly, and Security Studies, as well as in outlets like Foreign Affairs,, Slate, and the Washington Post (for a complete listing, see his website). Prof. Krebs has been named a Fulbright Senior Scholar to Israel and a McKnight Land-Grant Professor at the University of Minnesota. Prof. Krebs currently sits on the editorial boards of Security Studies and the Journal of Global Security Studies.



“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