The tragedy of great power politics. New York: W.W.. Norton & Company. Chapter One. Introduction. Many in the West seem to believe that "perpetual peace". Great powers, as I have emphasized in my recent book, strive to gain power over their The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, W.W. Norton, New York,. N.Y. Full citation: Mearsheimer, J. J. (). Anarchy and the struggle for power. In: The tragedy of great power politics. New York and London: W W.
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JOHN J. MEARSHEIMER / Tragedy of Great Power Politics. One might ask, if the theory describes how great powers act, why is it necessary to stipulate how. Editorial Reviews. bestthing.info Review. This hardheaded book about international relations contains no comforting bromides about "peace dividends" or "the. “Backed by an impressive historical review and a refreshingly systematic analysis of power [S]ure to provoke debate among scholars An ambitious.
Survival dominates other motives because, once a state is conquered, it is unlikely to be in a posi- tion to pursue other aims. But in order to do so we first of all have to exist.
The fifth assumption is that great powers are rational actors. They are aware of their external environment and they think strategically about how to survive in it.
In particular, they consider the preferences of other states and how their own behavior is likely to affect the behavior of those other states, and how the behavior of those other states is likely to affect their own strategy for survival.
Moreover, states pay attention to the long term as well as the immediate consequences of their actions. As emphasized, none of these assumptions alone dictates that great powers as a general rule should behave aggressively toward each other. Nevertheless, when the five assumptions are married together, they create powerful incentives for great powers to think and act offensively with regard to each other.
In particular, three general patterns of behavior result: fear, self—help, and power maximization. State Behavior Great powers fear each other. They regard each other with suspicion, and they worry that war might be in the offing.
They anticipate danger. There is little room for trust among states. For sure, the level of fear varies across time and space, but it cannot be reduced to a trivial level. From the per- spective of any one great power, all other great powers are potential ene- mies. This point is illustrated by the reaction of the United'Kingdom and France to German reunification at the end of the Cold War.
Despite the fact that these three states had been close allies for almost forty-five years, both the United Kingdom and France immediately began worrying about the potential dangers of a united Germany.
Moreover, there is no mechanism, other than the possible self-interest of third parties, for pun- ishing an aggressor. Because it is sometimes difficult to deter potential aggressors, states have ample reason not to trust other states and to be prepared for war with them. The possible consequences of falling victim to aggression further ampli- fy the importance of fear as a motivating force in world politics.
Great pow— ers do not compete with each other as if international politics were merely an economic marketplace. Political competition among states is a much more dangerous business than mere economic intercourse; the former can Anarchy and the Struggle for Power lead to war, and war often means mass killing on the battlefield as well as mass murder of civilians. In extreme cases, war can even lead to the destruction of states.
The horrible consequences of war sometimes cause states to view each other not just as competitors, but as potentially deadly enemies. Political antagonism, in short, tends to be intense, because the stakes are great. States in the international system also aim to guarantee their own sur- vival. Because other states are potential threats, and because there is no higher authority to come to their rescue when they dial , states can- not depend on others for their own security.
Each state tends to see itself as vulnerable and alone, and therefore it aims to provide for its own sur- vival. In international politics, God helps those who help themselves. This emphasis on self-help does not preclude states from forming alliances. States operating in a self-help world almost always act according to their own self-interest and do not subordinate their interests to the inter— ests of other states, or to the interests of the so-called international com- munity.
The reason is simple: it pays to be selfish in a self-help world.
This is true in the short term as well as in the long term, because if a state loses in the short run, it might not be around for the long haul. Apprehensive about the ultimate intentions of other states, and aware that they operate in a self-help system, states quickly understand that the best way to ensure their survival is to be the most powerful state in the system.
The stronger a state is relative to its potential rivals, the less likely it is that any of those rivals will attack it and threaten its survival. Weaker states will be reluctant to pick fights with more powerful states because the weaker states are likely to suffer military defeat.
The Balance of Power in World Politics
Neither Canada nor Mexico, for example, would countenance attacking the United States, which is far more powerful than its neighbors. The ideal situation is to be the hegemon in the system. Specifically, they look for opportunities to alter the balance of power by acquiring additional increments of power at the expense of potential rivals. States employ a variety of means—economic, diplomatic, and military—to shift the balance of power in their favor, even if doing so makes other states suspicious or even hostile.
The trick, of course, is to be the win- ner in this competition and to dominate the other states in the system. Thus, the claim that states maximize relative power is tantamount to arguing that states are disposed to think offensively toward other states, even though their ultimate motive is simply to survive.
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In short, great powers have aggressive intentions. The pursuit of power stops only when hegemony is achieved. Is twice as much power an appropriate threshold? Or is three times as much power the magic number? The root of the problem is that power calculations alone do not determine which side wins a war.
John. J. Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (New York: W. W. Norton, 2001), 29-54.
Clever strategies, for example, sometimes allow less pow- erful states to defeat more powerful foes. Second, determining how much power is enough becomes even more complicated when great powers contemplate how power will be distrib- uted among them ten or twenty years down the road.
The capabilities of Anarchy and the Struggle for Power individual states vary over time, sometimes markedly, and it is often diffi- cult to predict the direction and scope of change in the balance of power.
Remember, few in the West anticipated the collapse of the Soviet Union before it happened. In fact, during the first half of the Cold War, many in the West feared that the Soviet economy would eventually generate greater wealth than the American economy, which would cause a marked power shift against the United States and its allies. What the future holds for China and Russia and what the balance of power will look like in is difficult to foresee.
Given the difficulty of determining how much power is enough for today and tomorrow, great powers recognize that the best way to ensure their security is to achieve hegemony now, thus eliminating any possibili- ty of a challenge by another great power. Only a misguided state would pass up an opportunity to be the hegemon in the system because it thought it already had sufficient power to survive.
In short, states do not become status quo powers until they com- pletely dominate the system. He argues that states pursue power because of the anarchic system in which they operate. In international politics, there is no hierarchy, no " night watchman " to turn to when one state attacks another so states are forced to rely only on themselves for security.
Thus, states seek to expand their power both militarily, geographically and economically in order to increase their security. A state's power in international politics, Mearsheimer argues, derives from the strength of its military for two reasons: Mearsheimer argues that the presence of oceans in the world prevents any state from reaching world hegemony. He posits that large bodies of water limit the power projection abilities of militaries and thus naturally divide up powers in the globe.
He uses the example of the isolation provided to Britain by the English Channel , which allowed it to act as an offshore balancer on mainland Europe. Britain, he argues, never had ambitions to control or dominate continental Europe. Instead it aimed only to maintain the balance of power and ensure that no state could become so powerful as to achieve regional hegemony on the continent. For much of the 19th century, Britain had an industrial capacity that would have allowed it to easily invade and dominate much of Europe.
However, Britain chose not to attempt domination of the continent, in part because it calculated that its aims of achieving security could be more cheaply achieved if the European powers could be played off against each other.
By doing so, it would be occupied on the European continent and unable to challenge Britain across the English Channel or interfere with Britain's economic interests in Asia and Africa.
Therefore, the central aim of American foreign policy is to be the hegemon in the Western Hemisphere only, and to prevent the rise of a similar hegemon in the Eastern Hemisphere. In turn, the proper role for the United States is as an offshore balancer, balancing against the rise of a Eurasian hegemon and going to war only as a last resort to thwart it.
In addition to their principal goal, which is survival, great powers seek to achieve three main objectives. Their highest aim is to achieve regional hegemony. Mearsheimer argues although achieving global hegemony would provide maximum security to a state, it is not feasible because the world has too many oceans which inhibit the projection of military power. Thus, the difficulty of projecting military power across large bodies of water makes it impossible for great powers to dominate the world.
Regional hegemons try strongly to prevent other states from achieving regional hegemony. Instead, they try to maintain an even balance among of power in regions and act to ensure the existence of multiple powers so as to keep those multiple powers occupied among themselves rather than being able to challenge the regional hegemon's interests, which they would be free to do if they were not occupied by their neighboring competitors.
The tragedy of Great Power politics
Mearsheimer uses the example of the United States, which achieved regional hegemony in the late s and then sought to intervene wherever it looked as though another state might achieve hegemony in a region:. Great powers seek to maximize their share of the world's wealth because economic strength is the foundation of military strength.
Great powers seek to prevent rival powers from dominating wealth-producing regions of the world.
Had the Soviets gained control of these areas, the balance of power would have been altered significantly against the United States. Mearsheimer asserts that great powers seek nuclear superiority over their rivals. Great powers exist in a world of multiple nuclear powers with the assured capacity to destroy their enemies called mutually assured destruction MAD.
Mearsheimer disagrees with the assertions that states are content to live in a MAD world and that they would avoid developing defenses against nuclear weapons. Instead, he argues that great powers would not be content to live in a MAD world and would try to search for ways to gain superiority over their nuclear rivals. The United States was a strongly expansionist power in the Americas. Mearsheimer points to the comment made by Henry Cabot Lodge that the United States had a "record of conquest, colonization and territorial expansion unequaled by any people in the 19th century.
Neither Wilhelmine Germany, nor imperial Japan, nor Nazi Germany, nor the Soviet Union had nearly as much latent power as the United States had during their confrontations But if China were to become a giant Hong Kong, it would probably have somewhere on the order of four times as much latent power as the United States does, allowing China to gain a decisive military advantage over the United States.
Charles Kupchan of the Council on Foreign Relations called it an "important and impressive book" in which Mearsheimer "elegantly lays out his theoretical approach to the study of international politics". However, he is very critical of the way Mearsheimer uses history to compound his theory. Furthermore, Kupchan decries Mearsheimer's conviction in his own theory and his inability to be "more open to eclecticism in explaining politics among the great power".
John A. Hall , of McGill University , found the book's arguments strengthened by "a tightness and coherence". Robert Kaplan outlines a similar prospect for Tragedy:.
If China implodes from a socioeconomic crisis, or evolves in some other way that eliminates its potential as a threat, Mearsheimer's theory will be in serious trouble because of its dismissal of domestic politics. But if China goes on to become a great military power, reshaping the balance of forces in Asia, then Mearsheimer's Tragedy will live on as a classic".
One review held that rapprochement between Britain and the United States at the end of the twentieth century and the success of the European Union in transforming Europe's geopolitical landscape cast serious doubt on the notion that balancing and destructive rivalry are inescapable features of international system. Had Mearsheimer analyzed episodes of lasting peace that defy the predictions of balance-of-power theory, he would perhaps be less convinced of the pervasive logic of offensive realism.
Another critique of Mearsheimer's views is that they ignore transnational superstructures, such as capitalism , non-state actors , and individual institutions, within a state.Kaplan, The Atlantic. The hunter has to be careful, because everywhere in the forest are stealthy hunters like him.
It cannot be otherwise. For sure, great-power rivalry will sometimes produce a stable international order, as happened during the Cold War. If wealth were an accurate measure of power, those less powerful states should have joined forces with the Soviet Union to check the United States, not the other way around.
It is also important to have industries that are producing the newest and most sophisticated technologies, because they invariably get incorporated into the most advanced weaponry.
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