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John J.

Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (New York: Norton, 2001) Offensive realist account of international politics, focusing on great power behavior. While largely an explanatory theory, also prescriptive in that states should behave according to offensive realist dictates because they outline the best way to survive. Definition of Power Based on material capabilities, specifically the sum of military and latent power. Not equivalent to outcomes of conflict because tautological, and non-material factors often influence outcome (i.e. Vietnam War). Offensive realists argue only that superior capability more likely to result in successful outcome. - Military Power – armed forces and supporting naval/air forces. Dominance of land power because success defined by ability to conquer and control territory. Must also calculate ‘inherent’ (geographic) limitations on power projection, particularly the stopping power of water. Contribution of naval and airpower limited to their roles in supporting land power. Nukes don’t eliminate dominance of land power b/c great powers still compete for security in nuclear age (supports with evidence of alliance patterns formed during Cold War and difficulty of achieving nuclear superiority). - Latent Power – state’s ability to translate assets of population and wealth into military power (‘mobilizable’ latent power). Mearsheimer focuses primarily on wealth b/c it incorporates both demographic and economic dimensions of power. Assumptions: 1. Anarchic international system – deep cause of competition 2. Great powers [GP] inherently possess some offensive military capability 3. Uncertainty about other states’ intentions, and intentions can change quickly. So states focus on and balance against offensive capabilities of potential rivals NOT intentions. 4. Survival = primary goal, especially maintaining territorial integrity and domestic autonomy Unit of Analysis: Great powers = rational actors that think strategically and consider others’ preferences; they pay attention to both long-term and immediate consequences. Resulting Patterns of Behavior: - Fear – variation in distribution of power variation in level of fear. Key relationship = power gap between potential hegemon and second most powerful state in system. • Bipolarity generates least amount of fear. More stable than multipolarity because fewer potential conflict dyads, and miscalculation less likely because simplicity breeds certainty, which bolsters peace. • Unbalanced multipolarity - multipolar systems with a potential hegemon generates most fear and least stable because rival GP’s assume worst, which generates spirals of fear. • Balanced multipolarity - system without potential hegemon likely to have power asymmetries, but less fear than unbalanced system and more fear than bipolar. - Self-help (to survive) - Power Maximization – best way to survive; states care about relative not absolute power.

attempted to balance. though conceding power to dangerous adversary might make sense as a short-term strategy for buying time to mobilize resources needed to contain the threat. (Cold War scenario) o Multipolar system – amount of buck-passing depends on magnitude of threat and geography. which holds that structure + survival pushes all states to maintain existing BOP. o U. and so may act as an offshore balancer. Balancing – either internal (resource mobilization) or external (alliance formation).S. Offensive realism dictates that states should avoid band-wagoning or appeasement. Buck-Passing – drawbacks include the buck-catcher failing to deter aggressor. o Post-WWII. Balanced multipolar systems – balancing coalitions unlikely to form and buck-passing widespread. • Evidence • Examines foreign policy behavior of 5 GP’s in past 150 years: o Japan – 1868-defeat in WWII o Germany – 1862-Hitler’s defeat in 1945 o Soviet Union – 1917-1991 (collapse) o United Kingdom – 1792-1945 o U. initially passed the buck during WWI. the Soviet Union represented potential hegemon in NE Asia and Europe against which U. During the Cold War. • • . then reconsidered and checked aggressor/potential hegemon.S. Mearsheimer argues that this is not the case b/c of stopping power of water. more likely that threatened states will form a balancing coalition. More relative power the aggressor holds. – 1800-1990 Finds that BOP and security considerations main driving forces behind aggressive policies of Germany. Unbalanced multipolar system – threatened states have incentive to work together and we should see more balancing coalitions.S.S. maintained forces in Europe to check Soviet Union. Passing prevalent when no potential hegemon or when threatened states aren’t contiguous. • No state likely to achieve global hegemony because of stopping power of water.- - System does not have status quo powers except for regional hegemons. though did act as offshore balancer in Europe. This departs from defensive realism. Instead they acted as offshore balancers. and the Soviet Union. or becoming so powerful threatens to upset BOP • Choice between balancing and buck-passing a function of structure of international system: o Bipolar system – threatened GP balances because no other GP to catch the buck. Although UK and US appear to have behaved in ways contradictory to offensive realism. Regional hegemons prefer that no other region has one great power. Did not seek regional hegemony b/c of stopping power of water. o UK did not translate its wealth into military power during mid-19th century or attempt to dominate Europe. U. Japan.

1939-45 (6 yrs) – unbalanced multipolarity Cold War. 1945-90 (46 yrs) – bipolarity • Potential complicating factor – only period of bipolarity characterized by presence of nukes. 1815-1902 (88 years) – balanced multipolarity Kaiserreich era (16 yrs) – unbalanced multipolarity Interwar years. never as a potential hegemon. 21st Century Europe remains bipolar (US as offshore balancer and Russia) Northeast Asia is multipolar (China. 1793-1815 (22 years) – unbalanced multipolarity Nineteenth century. but rather differing calculations of relative power. Also. US and UK. Russia and US as offshore balancer) but with no potential hegemon and relative weakness of China and Russia Critiques/Questions • Limited definition of power and overemphasis on land power – how realistic is the assumption that the aim of war is conquest and control of territory? Does conquest pay nowadays? How might other forms of power directly contribute to goals other than conquest? Completely overlooks non-military sources of power. Soviet Union/Russia. balanced and unbalanced multipolar) affect likelihood of GP war in Europe from 1792-1990. France. i. Great Powers include: o Russia (entire period) o Austria (1792-1918) o UK (1792-1945) o Germany (1792-1945) o Italy (1861-1943) o Excludes Japan because never major power in European Politics o Includes US only as an offshore balancer. Napoleonic era I.• • Tests theory of how different distributions of power (bipolar. Has Great Power war become prohibitively costly and thus less likely? Anarchy as deep cause of war cannot (alone) account for when security competition results in war. consider whether he provides ‘good’ case studies and whether one could employ a quantitative test of his theory.e. Limited to Great Powers. and which substantially undermines his claim of bipolarity as most stable system. Same great powers during period under examination. 1919-38 (20 yrs) – balanced multipolarity Nazi era. Cannot disaggregate effects of nuclear stability and bipolarity (which he recognizes. Behavioral patterns Mearsheimer identifies could be attributable to particular relations between these states (Germany/Prussia. and sometimes Japan) rather than structure of international system. Structural theories only crudely predict wars b/c nonstructural factors sometimes play important roles in determining whether state goes to • • • . 1792-93 (1 year) – balanced multipolarity Napoleonic era II. Mearsheimer concedes that it is impossible to determine the relative influence of bipolarity and nukes in producing stability. given that n=1 to support this). Joseph Nye’s notion of ‘soft power. Very little variation in a small number of cases. b/c anarchy is a constant.’ Blainey’s critique that objective power balance not cause of war.

terrorist attacks. image/perception of rising power + relative power strategy of balancing or buck-passing)/ Connections to IR Literature • Revival of structural realism. Also. What utility is the observation that bipolar systems are more stable than multipolar systems? Does this tell us why states go to war? • Mearsheimer suggests that the structure of international system (anarchic) largely determines how states think and act towards each other. which may decrease incentives to go to war. Soviet Union) [NB Waltz doesn’t disaggregate system into regions] • States worry less now about survival than about economic prosperity or development. Is there any reason to think that this discourse will change? Do normative structures (particularly norm of sovereignty) pose a problem for Mearsheimer? Also. not essential features or constitutive properties of anarchy.e. States worry more now about nontraditional threats [SARS.] than potential hegemons. etc. . • Differs from hegemonic stability theory in that views the existence of one global hegemon as impossible.war. concern with the stopping power of water should be evident in FP decision-making. Both Waltz and Mearsheimer view bipolarity as most stable system. Wendt’s critique that neo-realists privilege structure of anarchy over process – self-help and power politics are institutions (one particular culture of anarchy). They emerge causally from process (state practices/interactions) in which anarchy plays only a permissive and not determinative role. Van Evera’s argument about offensive warfare culture may provide domestic-level support for this assumption. and thus realism has dominated international political discourse. • What would evidence for not balancing look like? • No definition of a region – how can we identify which region a rising power belongs to? (i. Could Herrmann and Fischerkeller provide a compatible theory of foreign policy? (i. • Relies on idea of prevalence of offensive strategies – in this sense. but Mearsheimer is an offensive neo-realist in that he views only regional hegemons as status quo states (whereas Waltz views all states as status quo). • Does Mearsheimer have an underlying theory of foreign policy? For example. we should see evidence of state leaders recognizing and responding to rising powers through balancing and buck-passing.e.