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A decade after the cold war ended policy makers and academics foresaw a new era of peace and prosperity an era in which democracy and open trade would herald the end of history The terrorist attacks of September 11 2001 sadly shattered these idyllic illusions and John Mearsheimer's masterful new book explains why these harmonious visions remain utopian To Mearsheimer great power politics are tragic because the anarchy of the international system reuires states to seek dominance at one another's expense dooming even peaceful nations to a relentless power struggle Mearsheimer illuminates his theory of offensive realism through a sweeping survey of modern great power struggles and reflects on the bleak prospects for peace in Europe and northeast Asia arguing that the United States's security competition with a rising China will intensify regardless of engagement policies This is the definitive work on offensive realism— Choice


10 thoughts on “The Tragedy of Great Power Politics

  1. says:

    Dear John MearsheimerOf all the realists you suck the least


  2. says:

    Well Elouent as the narrative is a large proportion of Mr John Mearsheimer's aggressive realism theory cannot be applied to the 21st century Personally I am not inclined to subject to his theory which reminds me of the Dark Forests laws involved in a si fi book Three Body Problems in which a rather bleak prospect will be presented for everyone Just cannot imagine such things shall occur Will detail the reasons and analysis about the book soonMr Mearsheimer wants to validate his theory by prophesying that China can not rise peacefullyIt come to my admission that I would not accept this prediction nor I will defend for China Maybe I don't have some original ideas to think about this grand uestion Even I have some I shall be vigilant that the intimate revelations of a young girl or at least the terms in which she express them are usually plagiaristic and marred by obvious suppressions But some parts of his theory could possibly wrongHis theory was based on the hypothesis of the three characters of the current international system that could contribute to the antagonism between nations and that I find uite suspicious first the current system lacks a central authority that could transcend all the nations and prevent the violation against each other second nations are always in possession of the military capabilities to attack each other third a nation can never clearly know the intentions of other nations The utmost priority of a nation is to survive all the odds in order to survive to be a hegemony can secure a nation's survivalWell these points seem to bear some resemblance with the Dark forest law that goes like the following“The universe is a dark forest Every civilization is an armed hunter stalking through the trees like a ghost gently pushing aside branches that block the path and trying to tread without sound Even breathing is done with care The hunter has to be careful because everywhere in the forest are stealthy hunters like him If he finds other life—another hunter an angel or a demon a delicate infant or a tottering old man a fairy or a demigod—there’s only one thing he can do open fire and eliminate them In this forest hell is other people An eternal threat that any life that exposes its own existence will be swiftly wiped out This is the picture of cosmic civilization It’s the explanation for the Fermi Paradox” But the international relations could not be like this in the 21st century suffice to say it could not be a zero sum game Why? here we go1 International studies will be in a dynamic process of evolving Any theory about the social development can explain the past well in some sense but we all know it is easy to define what is past than to predict the future History can provide food for thoughts for the people today but even history itself has bewildering regressions that we cannot explain 2International studies cannot be ualified very easily like maths or physics though the uantitative analysis of IR is on the way but still far from mature IR is heavily influenced by the judgments and calculations of the leaders of different nations and it is not easy to predict human being's thoughts So it seems reasonable to presume that IR would deteriorate if you think human nature is malicious But here is the uestion Is human nature bound to be malicious?? If you think it is and have uite pessimistic stance about it IR would be a dark one But if you are an optimist in the new century IR seems not that bad as we imagine WE need to have some confidence3in Chinese the military power is武 This Chinese character consists of another two characters止 戈 止 means to prevent to stop to cease And 戈 means weapon So 武 means to stop using weapons This is uite interesting the utmost function of military power is to stop using military power I think this implies some ancient wisdom Just as what art of war goesUltimate excellence lies not in winning every battle But in defeating the enemy without ever fighting 4 I think It is no use to talk about if China or any other country can rise or not What we should focus on is whether we can and how we can build a community represent human being's interests in this century To BE Continued Will analyse a bit about the difference between Aggressive Realism and Moral Realism


  3. says:

    A long heavily theoretical social science modelling of powers and great powers Mearsheimer who is uite brilliant is a Realist and argues for offensive realism as opposed to defensive realism In offensive realism nations of necessity seek to maximize their power at any cost and must seek hegemony and thus war is always inevitable In defensive realism country simply seek to survive and will seek a balance Though I admire Mearsheimer's intelligence I find a theoretical modelling approached a dubious method for solving the problems of human history One needs to approach history I think inductively not hypothetically and with a touch of poetry in one's fingers


  4. says:

    A very interesting book about great power politics and how governments either cooperate or confront each other to keep the balance of power The book discusses different strategies of confrontation containment or cooperation Many good historical examples of buck passing bloodletting and containment are given with concentration on WWI and WWII The theory of the balance of power from an offensive realist point of view is discussed and many examples are given starting from the 17th century starting with the peace of Westphalia to the French revolution to the French hegemony with Napoleon to the Crimean war WWI and then WWII The author also discusses the cold war and how America was able to contain the Soviet Union through accepting its role in Europe after WWII as a superpower and then using bloodletting at many instances to weaken the Soviet system


  5. says:

    I read this book side by side with Buzan and Waever's Regions and Powers The books is a good one and stands on its own but comes up short in comparison to Buzan and Waever's work The oddest feature of Mearsheimer’s book is that he speaks about geopolitics as if it was the 1930s the nineteenth or even the eighteenth century In essence what Mearsheimer calls offensive realism is nothing than continental realism or the realism born in 18th century Europe Just like Buzan and Waever's work Mearsheimer seeks to reterritorialize politics; however unlike Buzan and Waever where territories and states are places with histories and social structures of amity and enmity rule geography has a generic effect on world politics—large bodies of water keep regions and powers apart shared land makes states vulnerable In addition Mearsheimer’s continental realism must forget or ignore the crucial technological effects of nuclear weapons precision munitions and a great deal of the complex interdependence that underpins the world economy to come to his conclusions—the world is still about the insecurity of states and shockingly still about armies and the ability to occupy territory Mearsheimer doesn’t relegate continental realism to geographical areas outside of the North America and Europe as others would but instead posits this as a generic feature of all politics everywhere Realism is generic everywhere Africa where states barely exist and in some places loyalty is strongest at the tribal level Europe where supranational structures are now eliding stateness and other places where national and ethnic groups are often the strongest threats to the state If Buzan and Waever’s RSCT is Einsteinian physics then Mearsheimer’s offensive realism would have to be something even simpler than Newtonian physics Social structures are completely absent from his theory and material power is the only variable that matters The reactions of states and state leaders are not uite mechanical but almost and one is left to wonder what is stopping the US from using its armies to conuer Mexico Canada and Central America to create efficiencies that would allow it to vie for global hegemony Mearsheimer’s claim that armies are the most important branch is laughable—what he means is that projectable armies are important; and his analysis fails to demonstrate that most armies today are most often used not for security against external threats of states but from internal chaos and to secure borders against immigration In addition to these short comings Mearsheimer freuently neglects to make distinctions between superpowers and great powers regional hegemons and global hegemons the later he says cannot exist and offshore balancing and the alternatives of penetration and overlay Perhaps his biggest oversight is in his inability to distinguish great powers from states Much of his prescription seems to be directed not as states per se but great powers—worse his constant confusion of the term creates an ontological space where the existence of states outside of great powers is uestionable Thus when he says that it is dangerous to bandwagon or appease he neglects to inform the reader that small states may have no choice if they wish to survive In addition in his discussion of how someone should measure capabilities he fails completely to examine how the level of stateness defined by Buzan and Waever as the affinity between the government and the people should figure into this euation The book still fails to offset the gravest criticisms of realism—that it neglects cooperation as a reasonable strategic alternative to the security dilemma and that the prime motivator of state behavior need not be fear Indeed it is on this last point that Mearsheimer seems to overreach many conventional realists—fear as a motivator of state actions is so acute that states are not satisfied with security based on defensive or retaliatory military capabilities but must conuer others in order to feel secure This is in stark contrast to postclassical realists who suggest that states are sensitive to the costs of security and that a minimal defensive security is often preferred The issue of excessive state fear is an ontological assumption—the linchpin of his analysis—on which his whole house of cards is based One of the most poignant parts of Mearsheimer's book is his discussion of the problems of the global commons and how these issues will not necessarily create cooperation This is a great point but one that Buzan and Waever address better Nuclear proliferation weapons proliferation environmental problems and public health issues are likely to be handled in ways that address the particular needs of regional complexes As Mearsheimer points out this could easily be in forms of competition over scarcer resources rather than cooperation; but as Buzan and Waever convincingly argue these issues will most likely work within social structures of amity and enmity Another good point that Mearsheimer brings up is that one should not discount the possibility of backsliding on the part of democracies and supranational structures like the EU For this reason the maintenance of the EU NATO and other organizations is always a potential security issue


  6. says:

    I was old enough to remember the apocalyptic prognostications of WWIII with Mad Max and Terminator movies After fall of the Berlin Wall fell and collapse of the Soviet Union I bought into the End of History euphoria I thought that democracies have triumphed and authoritarians' days were numbered Realism seemed too cynical and pessimistic at the time My main of objection to realism was that it didn't give enough weight to the internal traits of a state in determining its behavior Democratic states have institutions and processes that make their governments accountable and rational and conversely authoritarian regimes are illegitimate that's why they stay in power only through violence therefore their international relations reflect ulterior motives and irrational calculations Realism has a certain moral relativism that I'm uncomfortable with but where I am in agreement is that the world is one bad neighborhood and all states do what they can for security I included the outline of the notes that I tookHat tip to Robert D Kaplan for recommending this bookThe Tragedy of Great Power Politics by John J Mearsheimer 2001Chapter 1 IntroductionDemocratic liberalism vs RealismDemocratic LiberalismStates as main actorsInternal traits determine behavior“Good” states are key to world powerDemocratic peace theoryRealismStates as main actors tooThe international environment determines behaviorPower calculations dominate strategic thinkingAmericans dislike realism Post Cold War hopes “End of History”Chapter 2 Anarchy and the struggle for power Why states pursue power a The international system is anarchic b Great powers have inherint offensive military potential c States can never be sure of each other's intentions d Survival is the primary goal of great powers e Great powers are rational actorsMaximize relative power with rivalsStates calculate costs and risks as well as outside response before actingPower and fear a Mutual assured destruction makes great powers feel safe b “The stopping power of water” Bodies of water greatly reduce great power offense capability c Balance of power between great powers determines level of fear A multi polar world is the most dangerousHeirarchial state goalsNon security goals Ideology or humanitarian interventionWorld peace is a gamble States are wary of collective security schemes Modern history of international relations is full of treaties and alliances that collapsedChapter 3 Wealth and powerFactors that determine a state's “latent power” a Population Percentage of military age percentage that can be mobilized or conscripted how the state motivates to the public b Material Access to natural resources and the ability to transform into military systems and infrastructure c Wealth Level of industrilization development and trade d Technology Ability to develop adapt and apply new technology e Efficiency Ability to manage all of the aboveChapter 4 The primacy of land powerContinental vs Insular great powersNuclear superiorityChapter 5 Strategies for survival a War Direct attack as rationally calculated gamble b Blackmail c Bait and bleed d Bloodletting e Balancing f Buck passing Triple Entente tried to contain Wilhemine Germany League of Nations tried to contain Nazi Germany g Appeasement h Bandwagoning Minor or weak powers wait to see which side is ascendent before joiningOperational state goals a Regional hegemony b Maximum wealth c Pre eminent land power d Nuclear superiorityChapter 6 Great Powers in actionDo great powers act as offensive realism predicts?a Great power politics involves clashing revisionist statesb Status uo power are regional hegemons that constantly seek opportunities to gain powerDefensive realists explain why some aggressors suceed while others fail by comparing “expanders” and “over expanders”Smart aggressors vs irrational aggressorsDon't blame wacky home front politics Nations make calculated risks based on surroundingsWe cannot predict the long term asymetric diffusion of military technology ie cyberwar social media etcChapter 7 The offshore balancers The United States and United Kingdom US did not fight WWI and WWII to make peace but to prevent foe from becoming regional hegemonWater stopped the US and UK because of Great Power balanceChapter 8 Balancing vs Buck passingGreat powers try to balance in a bipolar world because there is no one to pass the buck to In a multi polar world it is much easier to pass the buckStates buck pass because the cost of containing a hegemon is greatChapter 9 The causes of Great Power warBipolarity vs Multi polarityBalanced vs unbalanced polarityNeighbors of a potential hegemon naturally ally to balance the “classic security dilemma”“Power driad” diagram More unbalanced driads result in rivalries and greather potential for conflictMiscalculation Aggressors underestimate the responseEuropean history1 Napoleonic era I 1792 93 balanced multipolarity2 Napoleonic era II 1793 1815 unbalance multipolarity3 19th century 1815 1902 balanced multipolarity4 Kaiserreich era 1903 1918 unbalanced multipolarity5 Interwar years 1919 1938 balanced multipolarity6 Nazi era 1939 1945 unbalanced multi polarity7 Cold War 1945 1990 bipolarity10 Great power politics of the 21st CenturyDemocracies do not necessarily make natural allies because democracies can fail just like other systemsChina as potential regional hegemon


  7. says:

    Brilliant It's a pity so much specious vitriol has been directed at Mearsheimer in the wake of the Israel Lobby book as it's doubtless swayed some away from this as clearheaded an assessment of our present position as I've recently read Highly recommended


  8. says:

    As much as I liked this book it was a flashback to my master’s studies It was a challenging read audiobook in my case because you had to stop and think process and analyze everything every step of the way


  9. says:

    Dr Mearsheimer is one of the leading figures in the school of international relations that is realism This book again provides realism's arguments on the anarchic nature of international relations and the primacy of the interests of states


  10. says:

    The book better referred to as a treatise is a scholarly work on Professor Mearsheimer's offensive realism theory The author does well in explaining this highly pessimistic and machiavellian construct structurally and clearly Professor does not mince words in the slightest There is no euivocation or obfuscation which is so commonplace in most social science books Historic anecdotes are exciting and appropriately used in conjunction with a variety of propositions and sub propositions within the overall framework In other words the author should get perfect marks for explaining his highly original ideas lucidly He provides a great example of how a scholar should conduct his or her work in designing a comprehensive theory explaining its components using supportive evidences and contrasting and criticizing rival theories The author excels in converting highly academic work into something informative and entertaining for non experts All this makes going through the work a delightful experienceAnd yet this is not sufficient to make the theory either good enough for practical armchair analysis or good enough as an efficient let alone moral or ethical guide in current times for most political or policy leaders As hinted before the theory is extraordinarily pessimistic as it takes a dim view of humanity's collective objectives when grouped and divided as nation states On flimsy grounds the author insists that when divided along such lines and without an over arching disciplining supra national global force nation states cannot but view each other with suspicions and doomed to fight merely to survive In the author's mind any liberal or other ideals are mere chimeras behind which leaders of the greatest nation states plot their expansionist agendas Implicitly the author seems to imply that if there are any political or military leaders with genuinely non expansionist or altruistic visions they will never have a sufficient impact on the global geopolitics If any nation is unfortunate enough to have some ideologues taking over such a society will at least temporarily cease to be a great nation as per this theory There will be other ideology free entities around which will suppress such weak countries who opt out of any expansionist venturesThere are three significant issues with this theory Historically the theory appears valid than it is because of the ability to explain geopolitics of the colonializing and earliest industrial revolution beneficiary powers in the pre tech era The theory is remarkably static Its obsessive focus on land based power grab reflected in its definition of relative strength recommended strategies forecasts ignore the new power vehicles of the post industrial era These new realities not only necessitate new methods within the theory but destroy the fundamental non liberal military expansion driven construct from its roots The author fails to realize the vicious circularities that would be created leading to possibly an eventual extinction of the whole humanity if everyone explicitly believes in offensive realism as the only way to survive and feels no need to have any other values or ideals Let's explain these three in detail although not necessarily seuentially The author never entertains the thought about the context where offensive realism might not be applicable If he had started with a simple thought experiment he would have recognized its universal invalidity until the onset of the industrial revolution More importantly it would have led to the conjecture that the same could be less applicable in international geopolitics forever from roughly the publication date of the book published just before 911Post agrarian pre tech period of our race is only a phase of our existence The industrial revolution caused a material change in the way the societies interact within themselves and with each other Over time they obliterated kingdoms fiefdoms and old power structures as the urbanizing world became a conglomeration of nation states The book is about international interactions rivalry and feuds in a particular era facilitated by industrial revolution innovations not yet upended by recognition of universal human values information era deriversdrivers and marked by the forces of colonization Starting with the assumptions that go into the makeup of the theory to nearly every example used to bolster the case the author refuses to look towards a possible world that may not be about its baddest and biggest powers feuding in a land grabDespite the various religion based reformations in societies across the world for the previous two thousand years there was no concept of euality or human rights until the end of the eighteenth century There was massive progress on these fronts from the 1770s until the end of the twentieth century Still almost all the major actors on the world stage were racists sexists chauvinists feudalists power obsessed or religious fanatics because of the value systems of those eras With the industrial revolution the early innovators felt the need to use the new powers to extend their domination that was just not possible in previous times What expansionists like Alexander or Ghenghis Khan could not do ie hold on to and not just conuer vast stretches of faraway land as a prized possession suddenly became possible More importantly with larger dominion colonizing powers got bigger markets and could build a significant resource base for even territory and innovation The author's definition of the great powers of the past three centuries is tautological It excludes large nations like China that were insular India that was colonized or civilizations like Islam that had opted out Effectively the author's great powers were early industrial innovators seeking to protect their innovations from other industrial innovators and competed with them for resources and markets These nations fought bitterly and nearly endlessly for two centuries from the 1790s Offensive realism is right when it states that the way the nations feuded in international space did not correlate with their domestic political ideologies in this pre information era However the author is not only overly pessimistic and static but also willfully blind to the rise of material new forces over the last fifty years911 showed how new enemies do not need to be nation states Information fluidity shows how innovations cannot be suppressed for as long as before People on the ground are aware and less acceptable to blatantly evil state acts on alien societies Most importantly in the world of viruses nuclear bombs robots and AIs infantrymilitary are becoming less and less critical in the power gamesThe biggest problem with offensive realism is that it is one of those theories that if true should be roundedly and comprehensively eradicated rather than accepted as the author suggests No thinking human should nod a philosophy that demands stronger nations to go out there and dominate with the weaker merely accepting their fate Any world where ideologies are acceptable ruses for the strongmen of the era to justify killing millions because that's what international geopolitics is as per offensive realism would be a sad place Offensive realism would oppose any attempts at reforming such a system as the author strongly believes that the best in international geopolitics would be those who follow its guidelines Believer of offensive realism like believers of many heinous theories like euthenics need to be resisted Otherwise their arguments will lead to every nation or group justifying its own Hitler euivalent The author is not just wrong but he cannot be accepted as right