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The Tragedy of Great Power Politics

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The update of this classic treatise on the behavior of great powers takes a penetrating look at the question likely to dominate international relations in the twenty-first century: Can China rise peacefully? To John J. Mearsheimer, great power politics are tragic because the anarchy of the international system requires states to seek dominance at one another s expense, The update of this classic treatise on the behavior of great powers takes a penetrating look at the question likely to dominate international relations in the twenty-first century: Can China rise peacefully? To John J. Mearsheimer, great power politics are tragic because the anarchy of the international system requires states to seek dominance at one another s expense, dooming even peaceful nations to a relentless power struggle. The best survival strategy in this dangerous world is to become a regional hegemon like the United States in the Western Hemisphere and to make sure that no other hegemon emerges elsewhere. In a new concluding chapter, Mearsheimer examines the course of Sino-American relations should China continue its ascent to greater economic and military power. He predicts that China will attempt to dominate Asia while the United States, determined to remain the world s sole regional hegemon, will go to great lengths to contain China. The tragedy of great power politics is inescapable."


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The update of this classic treatise on the behavior of great powers takes a penetrating look at the question likely to dominate international relations in the twenty-first century: Can China rise peacefully? To John J. Mearsheimer, great power politics are tragic because the anarchy of the international system requires states to seek dominance at one another s expense, The update of this classic treatise on the behavior of great powers takes a penetrating look at the question likely to dominate international relations in the twenty-first century: Can China rise peacefully? To John J. Mearsheimer, great power politics are tragic because the anarchy of the international system requires states to seek dominance at one another s expense, dooming even peaceful nations to a relentless power struggle. The best survival strategy in this dangerous world is to become a regional hegemon like the United States in the Western Hemisphere and to make sure that no other hegemon emerges elsewhere. In a new concluding chapter, Mearsheimer examines the course of Sino-American relations should China continue its ascent to greater economic and military power. He predicts that China will attempt to dominate Asia while the United States, determined to remain the world s sole regional hegemon, will go to great lengths to contain China. The tragedy of great power politics is inescapable."

30 review for The Tragedy of Great Power Politics

  1. 5 out of 5

    Blamb009

    Dear John (Mearsheimer): Of all the realists, you suck the least.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Brit Cheung

    Well, Eloquent 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 soon. Mr Mearsheimer wants to validate his theory Well, Eloquent 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 soon. Mr Mearsheimer wants to validate his theory by prophesying that China can not rise peacefully.It 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 question. 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 wrong. His 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 quite 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 survival. Well, 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 go. 1. 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. 2. International studies cannot be qualified very easily like maths or physics though the quantitative 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 question. Is human nature bound to be malicious?? If you think it is and have quite 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 confidence. 3. in 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 quite 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 goes:Ultimate 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. 5 out of 5

    AC

    A long, heavily theoretical (social science) modelling of powers and great powers. Mearsheimer, who is quite 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 A long, heavily theoretical (social science) modelling of powers and great powers. Mearsheimer, who is quite 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. 4 out of 5

    Wissam Raji

    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 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. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Clausen

    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 more than continental realism or the realism born in 18th century Europe. Just like Buzan and Waever's 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 more 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 quite mechanical but almost, and one is left to wonder what is stopping the US from using its armies to conquer 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 frequently 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 questionable. 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 equation. 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 conquer 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. 5 out of 5

    Will

    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.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Shawn

    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. 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 took. Hat tip to Robert D. Kaplan for recommending this book. The Tragedy of Great Power Politics by John J. Mearsheimer (2001) Chapter 1. Introduction Democratic liberalism vs. Realism Democratic Liberalism States as main actors Internal traits determine behavior “Good” states are key to world power Democratic peace theory Realism States as main actors too The international environment determines behavior Power calculations dominate strategic thinking Americans 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 actors Maximize relative power with rivals States calculate costs and risks as well as outside response before acting Power 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 dangerous. Heirarchial state goals Non-security goals: Ideology or humanitarian intervention World peace is a gamble. States are wary of collective security schemes. Modern history of international relations is full of treaties and alliances that collapsed. Chapter 3. Wealth and power Factors 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 above Chapter 4. The primacy of land power Continental vs. Insular great powers Nuclear superiority Chapter 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 joining. Operational state goals: a. Regional hegemony b. Maximum wealth c. Pre-eminent land power d. Nuclear superiority Chapter 6. Great Powers in action Do great powers act as offensive realism predicts? a. Great power politics involves clashing revisionist states b. Status quo power are regional hegemons that constantly seek opportunities to gain power Defensive realists explain why some aggressors suceed while others fail by comparing “expanders” and “over-expanders.” Smart aggressors vs. irrational aggressors Don't blame wacky home-front politics - Nations make calculated risks based on surroundings We cannot predict the long-term asymetric diffusion of military technology, i.e. cyberwar, social media, etc. Chapter 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 hegemon. Water stopped the US and UK because of Great Power balance. Chapter 8. Balancing vs. Buck-passing Great 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 buck. States buck-pass because the cost of containing a hegemon is great. Chapter 9. The causes of Great Power war Bipolarity vs. Multi-polarity Balanced vs. unbalanced polarity Neighbors of a potential hegemon naturally ally to balance, the “classic security dilemma” “Power driad” diagram: More unbalanced driads result in more rivalries and greather potential for conflict. Miscalculation - Aggressors underestimate the response. European history 1) Napoleonic era I, 1792-93 balanced multipolarity 2) Napoleonic era II, 1793-1815, unbalance multipolarity 3) 19th century, 1815-1902, balanced multipolarity 4) Kaiserreich era, 1903-1918, unbalanced multipolarity 5) Interwar years, 1919-1938, balanced multipolarity 6) Nazi era, 1939-1945, unbalanced multi-polarity 7) Cold War, 1945-1990, bipolarity 10. Great power politics of the 21st Century Democracies do not necessarily make natural allies because democracies can fail just like other systems. China as potential regional hegemon

  8. 5 out of 5

    PeppyKC

    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. 4 out of 5

    James Murphy

    We tend to be enthusiastic about books which offer ideas you already hold, books which reinforce your way of thinking. So it's no surprise that I liked John Mearsheimer's The Tragedy of Great Power Politics. He articulates what I have for years thought is the true nature of international relations. The book is a long argument for Mearsheimer's theory about what drives the relations between nations. He calls it offensive realism, his theory that the collection of the world's great powers is an We tend to be enthusiastic about books which offer ideas you already hold, books which reinforce your way of thinking. So it's no surprise that I liked John Mearsheimer's The Tragedy of Great Power Politics. He articulates what I have for years thought is the true nature of international relations. The book is a long argument for Mearsheimer's theory about what drives the relations between nations. He calls it offensive realism, his theory that the collection of the world's great powers is an anarchic system in which they're not committed so much to maintaining peace but instead work toward maximizing their share of world power. Hegemony is the foundation on which the architecture of his theory is built. Nations strive toward hegemony in their region while neighbors work to balance the situation with power and threats and with alliances while at the same time maneuvering their own power toward their own hegemony. Those times in history when there have been potential hegemons have been the most volatile, whether the primary actor was Napoleonic France, Wilhelmine Germany, Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, or Japan. He supports the detailed points of his theory with examples from the modern era beginning in 1792 and running through the end of the Cold War in 1990. His focus is on Europe because most of the world's great powers are there and most of the great power conflict in recent history has arisen from their intense competition. The long last chapter, however, deals with the rise of China and his view that given the tendency of nations to behave according to the motivations of offensive realism, given China's natural impulse to work toward regional hegemony while its neighbors try to limit it with balancing coalitions and alliances, China and the U. S. can probably not avoid confrontation in the western Pacific. His outlook for a peaceful rise of China is pessimistic. The tragedy is the reality of history and the future.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Ali

    WHY IS THE GLASS so half-empty? Because, Mearsheimer tells us, structure of the world makes it so. There is no hierarchy (no world sheriff), states can hurt each-other, and cannot be certain of one another's intentions, current or future. So to survive, for a rational actor, is to become more powerful; powerful enough that no other state can challenge them. But here is the thing: by acquiring relative power, states unbalance the international system. Unbalanced system is not stable; someone WHY IS THE GLASS so half-empty? Because, Mearsheimer tells us, structure of the world makes it so. There is no hierarchy (no world sheriff), states can hurt each-other, and cannot be certain of one another's intentions, current or future. So to survive, for a rational actor, is to become more powerful; powerful enough that no other state can challenge them. But here is the thing: by acquiring relative power, states unbalance the international system. Unbalanced system is not stable; someone needs to balance it. So states go to war. Hence the tragedy. Mearsheimer agrees with Waltz that a bipolar system makes for the most stable world (apart from global hegemony, which he thinks of as unlikely because of the stopping power of water), but his analysis goes deeper. Great powers want to become regional hegemons, and to stop other great powers from doing the same in their own regions. To do so they prefer to pass the buck to a regional power, a buck-catcher, often with a border with the potential hegemon. If the buck-catcher fails to balance the aggressor, the great powers have to deploy armies overseas and act as an offshore balancer. States are never status-quo, because survival is never sure. Trade will not save us, because security will always trump economy. The book is filled with historical anecdotes and exhibits, from the rise of Napoleon till the presidency of W., to show for the theory of offensive realism. The writing is eloquent and bold, the read entertaining. Does his ideas apply to the 21st century? Despite my idealist proclivities, I cannot tell why not. At the end of the day, offensive realism is a social science theory; as always a double edged sword. We cannot predict the future. All we can do is to raise our half-empty glasses to peace, and hope for the best.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    This is a restatement and working out of the Realist school of international relations, which dictates that military power and security competition dictates all relations between states, and that power logic determines everything. It's a good explanation of both the theory itself and the consequences thereof, though the historical examples are a little tiresome in places. It is not however a good defense of the basic assumptions of realism; they're taken as given, and rely on the last 200 years This is a restatement and working out of the Realist school of international relations, which dictates that military power and security competition dictates all relations between states, and that power logic determines everything. It's a good explanation of both the theory itself and the consequences thereof, though the historical examples are a little tiresome in places. It is not however a good defense of the basic assumptions of realism; they're taken as given, and rely on the last 200 years of Western history for proof, but that's a really small sample size from which to dictate *all* international relations and laws thereof. The end of the book also contains a warning about the US policy towards China encouraging economic growth is a bad idea, and we should try to retard economic growth in China to avoid a multipolar world. It's odd, because few things would be more likely to produce the sort of power competition he says is inevitable, and the assumption is that the poverty of their millions is worth our power. Of course I violently disagree and question that, but this book didn't provide me enough backing besides historical example to begin a debate with the author in my head. So as an explanation of realism and a manual for thinking like a realist, it works, but as a defense of the same, not so much.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Samuel

    It feels out of touch nowadays to consider a social or political theory that is still mainly rooted in the 20th century framework. Reading this book was no exception. The thesis argument is compelling, and at first glance, it makes one wants to dive in deeper over what Mearsheimer wants to convey. As I read further in, however, the heavy Western-centric examples of IR during the Napoleonic Era and the First and Second World Wars, makes me cringe. If nothing, it is harder to utilize his theory in It feels out of touch nowadays to consider a social or political theory that is still mainly rooted in the 20th century framework. Reading this book was no exception. The thesis argument is compelling, and at first glance, it makes one wants to dive in deeper over what Mearsheimer wants to convey. As I read further in, however, the heavy Western-centric examples of IR during the Napoleonic Era and the First and Second World Wars, makes me cringe. If nothing, it is harder to utilize his theory in the ever more complex IR world in the post-Trump Era. It will make you feel the same way if you are reading Huntington in an IR Intro classroom in 2019. Nevertheless, the updated version on his take about China's rise is worthy of further analysis and discourse, considering how Xi Jinping, in his newfound absolute power, will make the utmost effort to put China as the new regional, if not world hegemony that will replace Trump's America and Far Right's Europe. Some critical thinking cap is needed to analyze this scholarly work further on.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin

    The fairly astute reasoning applied to national self-interest to the anarchy of world affairs that leads to struggle among powers and strategies for the growth of power and control by dominant states and their various policies to further the quest for growing control. It gets specific based on factors like resources and geography of various powers and how it makes for the planning of all the players. It assumes that states are always rational actors until say a demagogue takes over one of them The fairly astute reasoning applied to national self-interest to the anarchy of world affairs that leads to struggle among powers and strategies for the growth of power and control by dominant states and their various policies to further the quest for growing control. It gets specific based on factors like resources and geography of various powers and how it makes for the planning of all the players. It assumes that states are always rational actors until say a demagogue takes over one of them and has no idea of geopolitical grand strategy and causes chaos. If states are run by competent people a lot of this book applies but at the moment one major player the US is not run by someone competent. Hard to say what will happen in our situation but this is a fairly good guide for a lot of historical moments just not ours.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Eileen Ying

    possibly one of the worst books i've ever read, written by a white man who probably had way too much fun concocting military strategy and imagining mass destruction. here is the premise encapsulated in a single sentence: "states should behave according to the dictates of offensive realism, because it outlines the best way to survive in a dangerous world" (11). basically he's saying that it's perfectly rational and reasonable for states to seek hegemony. and that china and the US will soon be possibly one of the worst books i've ever read, written by a white man who probably had way too much fun concocting military strategy and imagining mass destruction. here is the premise encapsulated in a single sentence: "states should behave according to the dictates of offensive realism, because it outlines the best way to survive in a dangerous world" (11). basically he's saying that it's perfectly rational and reasonable for states to seek hegemony. and that china and the US will soon be embroiled in a massive war.

  15. 4 out of 5

    evelynslibrary

    [Used this as a textbook for university. I'm not going to rate it since I didn't read it for fun but I wanted to count it because I had to read all of it.]

  16. 4 out of 5

    Louis

    John Mearsheimer’s The Tragedy of Great Power Politics offers a rebuttal to Francis Fukuyama’s theory about the “end of history”, offering a theory of “offensive realism.” Instead of viewing the collapse of the Soviet Union as ushering in an unprecedented era of peace, Mearsheimer suggests we should be cautious: multipolar worlds are more likely to descend into violence and war than other arrangements of international systems. Furthermore the actions of states and driven primarily by John Mearsheimer’s The Tragedy of Great Power Politics offers a rebuttal to Francis Fukuyama’s theory about the “end of history”, offering a theory of “offensive realism.” Instead of viewing the collapse of the Soviet Union as ushering in an unprecedented era of peace, Mearsheimer suggests we should be cautious: multipolar worlds are more likely to descend into violence and war than other arrangements of international systems. Furthermore the actions of states and driven primarily by self-interest and self-preservation—humanitarian objectives aren’t necessarily incompatible with this objective but they play a secondary role—which can lead to conflict. Mearsheimer examines the relationship between wealth, power, and military strength. The most important source of power is still over land; air power has rarely been effective on its own and there are limits to naval power. Beyond mutually assured destruction the efficacy of nuclear power is limited—conventional warfare still dominates. The ultimately question posed by Mearsheimer is: can China continue to ascend peacefully? Mearsheimer proposes that China seeks to be a regional hegemon and the United States will seek to prevent China from achieving this goal. Furthermore, Mearsheimer suggests that, per his theory of “offensive realism” China and the United States will prioritize security over economic stability. Mearsheimer’s prediction of China seems to be at least partially bearing out: i.e. it is clear that China seeks to be a regional hegemon. However, the extent to which the United States is prepared to try to prevent China from dominating the region, or forcibly annexing Taiwan, remains to be seen. Whether the China is actually prepared to go to war over Taiwan—China would suffer blowback if it actually did so—remains to be seen. The role of the economic interdependence between the United States and China, as a mitigating factor in conflict, is not settled either. Furthermore, as Mearsheimer notes, the ability to project military power is largely dependent on its economic security. If recent developments in China are any guide—China faces unsustainable debt levels and may be approaching a ceiling on the rate of growth—China may not be able to sustain as powerful a military as easily as would be required to fulfill Mearsheimer’s scenario.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Brian

    John Mearshieimer presents an excellent theory in the form of offensive realism that stands up to close scrutiny in his book the Tragedy of Great Power Politics. By clearly laying out his definitions of what state goals are and how he measures power he makes a compelling case for regional hegemony and the stopping power of water. By utilizing several case studies to prove his theory the points are well made. His analysis of military power is very interesting and well done. It is hard to find good John Mearshieimer presents an excellent theory in the form of offensive realism that stands up to close scrutiny in his book the Tragedy of Great Power Politics. By clearly laying out his definitions of what state goals are and how he measures power he makes a compelling case for regional hegemony and the stopping power of water. By utilizing several case studies to prove his theory the points are well made. His analysis of military power is very interesting and well done. It is hard to find good realist IR theory these days as so many people doubt that such a system is relevant in a post cold war world. Mearshiemer makes one of the better cases for it existing today and for categorizing the state of anarchy that exists in the world. He rightly recognizes that the potential for great power conflict is not likely in Europe and the Russia is to weak to invade there. His characterization of Asia is very strong and the possible conflict between China and the US is clearly analyzed and presented. My only criticisms and they were not enough to drop the book down a star was that Africa and the Middle East was virtually ignored. Resource conflict is a major potential area of violence in the future and much of this focused on technological or military threats leaving out the recent prospects of resource conflict. By looking at a regional system these areas should have been included. Overall though excellent realist theory and a very enjoyable read.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Scott

    outstanding theory on how to view the interactions of great powers/countries. through this theory no confusion will remain as to what the hell is going on in international politics. like why do we make this trade deal with so-and-so country when they hate us? why do we support this civil war and not that one? why did we sign this treaty and not that one? why are we at war with this country and not that one? why did the cold war happen? why does italy suck so much? he comes in like a wrecking ball on outstanding theory on how to view the interactions of great powers/countries. through this theory no confusion will remain as to what the hell is going on in international politics. like why do we make this trade deal with so-and-so country when they hate us? why do we support this civil war and not that one? why did we sign this treaty and not that one? why are we at war with this country and not that one? why did the cold war happen? why does italy suck so much? he comes in like a wrecking ball on conspiracy theorism. conspiracies cannot operate through this lens, it just doesn't add up at all. good stuff go read it

  19. 4 out of 5

    Aurbal

    He makes some very good points, but for the most part he does not really make a good theory that revolves around world politics as he basically disregards three continents and only really focuses on about four countries. He tends to conveniently forget a lot of facts and a lot of history, and oversimplifies events so that it fits his theory.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Nguyen Hoang

    The theory itself may still have many flaws, but overall it's a good overview of international relationship over the last three century. Quite easy to read and those who love history would definitely find this book interesting.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Adam Petrikovič

    Brilliant! This book is a useful historical analysis of great power politics. Written in 2001, Mearsheimer explains the mechanics that govern the international system and predicts the developments of the past decade with astonishing accuracy.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Adrian

    An essential guide to great power politics in the 20th century. Do not apply to the 21st century.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Simon Mould

    A must read for those that want a realist perspective on the lessons of history that can be appropriated to IR theory.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Casper R

    Too simplistic theory for a complex world.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Elena

    um...not exactly a fan of offensive realism, me...but it's a good book nonetheless.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    This is a sobering analysis, based on extensive research of the history of great powers between 1792 and 2000, of what drives "great powers" (i.e., countries like the U.S., Russia, and China at the present time, and countries like the U.K., France, Germany, Italy and Austro-Hungary in times past). The author's premise is that "offensive realism" is the driving force and the theory that determines how countries will behave. Offensive realism, according to the author, paints a gloomy picture: This is a sobering analysis, based on extensive research of the history of great powers between 1792 and 2000, of what drives "great powers" (i.e., countries like the U.S., Russia, and China at the present time, and countries like the U.K., France, Germany, Italy and Austro-Hungary in times past). The author's premise is that "offensive realism" is the driving force and the theory that determines how countries will behave. Offensive realism, according to the author, paints a gloomy picture: while creating a peaceful world is desirable, the harsh world of security competition and war makes this likely unattainable. The author contends that all nations are driven by the need for security; the greatest security is assured by accretion of more and more power - in fact, the most powerful country would be one that is the hegemon of the world - one that the author readily admits, despite the powerful situation of the U.S. in 2000, is impossible to achieve. The author, however, does acknowledge that the U.S. is the sole country to achieve hegemony in its geographical region - i.e., the Americas. Offensive realism is based on five basic assumptions: -- the international system is anarchic - in other words, there is no overarching institution or power that can police the actions of nation states -- great powers inherently possess offensive military capabilities -- states can never be positive about other states' intentions -- survival is the primary goal of great powers -- great powers are rational actors. The author then spends the next 9 chapters of the book defending these assumptions using history (primarily history of Europe and Northeast Asia) as examples. And his conclusions, in my opinion, largely are substantiated by history. He identifies three different political situations among countries: a bi-polar world (the best and only example is the Cold War, which was dominated by the two super powers, the U.S. and the Soviet Union); a balanced multi-polar world (examples being the late 1900's in Europe or the inter-war years in Europe between WWI and WWII) - in a balanced multi-polar world, all great powers states are roughly equal in their power and no one state has exceptional power over the rest); and an unbalanced multi-polar world (examples are Napoleonic France, Germany just before WWI and Nazi Germany) - in an unbalance multi-polar world, one country is so powerful that it threatens to become a regional hegemon. In the author's view, a bi-polar world is most secure and least likely to result in great power conflict. The next safest situation is a balanced multi-polar world. The least safest (and most likely to result in war between great power nations is an unbalanced multi-polar world (again, Napoleonic France, Wilhelmine Germany and Nazi Germany are cited as prime examples. This book was written in 2000. Interestingly, the author contends (at that time) that the U.S. should refrain from encouraging China from becoming more powerful economically, based on the assumption that the greater power China acquires, the more likely it will act to become a regional hegemon in NorthEast Asia. The author also supports the withdrawal of U.S. troops from both Europe and NorthEast Asia, believing that their roles as peace keepers have been superseded by events. In this, I think history has proven him to be wrong. He did not anticipate the resurrection of Russia as a power - and a threat to become a European hegemon; he also did not anticipate the mad antics of North Korea's leadership that would result in a rogue nuclear state threatening the U.S. Both of these developments argue, in my opinion, for the continuation of a strong U.S. presence in both Europe and Asia. As for nuclear weapons, the author attributes to their existence a motivation to avoid war. In the days of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), no nuclear armed country would seriously consider the use of nuclear weapons. This, of course, assumes rational leaders - which is not necessarily the case today in either North Korea or the U.S. under the present Trump administration. I believe that the author has contributed significantly to the understanding of Great Power Politics - as sobering and pessimistic as his conclusions may be. Seventeen years after the writing of this book, history is proving to be even more sobering and pessimistic than the author anticipated.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Derek

    This has been one of the most difficult books I’ve read in a long time. That is not to say that the writing is bad at all. The writing and organization are slightly dry and academic, but overall the Mearsheimer accomplished his stated goal of writing so as to be able to communicate with and inform a broad spectrum of the public. Nor are his arguments poorly written. He makes a pretty compelling case for his paradigm: that states are compelled by their central motive of security in an inherently This has been one of the most difficult books I’ve read in a long time. That is not to say that the writing is bad at all. The writing and organization are slightly dry and academic, but overall the Mearsheimer accomplished his stated goal of writing so as to be able to communicate with and inform a broad spectrum of the public. Nor are his arguments poorly written. He makes a pretty compelling case for his paradigm: that states are compelled by their central motive of security in an inherently anarchic (as in, without structure or hierarchy upon which to call to help settle disputes and carry out justice) to increase their power relative to their neighbors/rivals, ideally until they achieve a regional hegemony; that this competition will naturally lead to friction, shifting alliances, and conflicts as each tries to obtain power at each others expense, or to respond to the growth in power of their rivals. The logic he presents behind the paradigm is impeccable. He extensively examines the history of Europe from the time of the Napoleonic period (as well as the history of Japan as a great power, roughly the late 1800s to 1945) to test and validate his arguments, and it does appear to corroborate his position. However, that does seem a fairly narrow range of time and region, relatively speaking, on which to make your case. I would have appreciated some effort to see how well this model fits other regions and periods. No, the subject matter I found well argued and compelling. What made the book difficult was, for me, the ethical dimension. As a descriptive theory, I think it is very insightful. However, in the Introduction, Mearsheimer specifically insists that this is not merely a descriptive theory, but prescriptive as well, suggesting how policy makers *should* view the world and by what values they should shape their decisions. By prescribing this paradigm and the actions to which it leads, Mearsheimer is essentially sanctioning them as ethical. He acknowledges in the very title that the outcomes are often tragic for many parties, but he nonetheless prescribes them. I struggle greatly with this perspective. Assuming I’m understanding the book and its arguments correctly, is he really arguing that denying another community or nation the statehood, sovereignty, democratic autonomy, or opportunities to prosper as we do is ethically appropriate if it enhances, even prospectively, our security, as the quote by Otto Von Bismark about the Poles suggests? Is he really arguing that the theft of Native American lands by the US, and the virtual genocide waged against them, was an appropriate and ethical action by the US in enhancing US power and prospects for hegemony? Or that, in order to increase the latent power (industrial development) necessary to enhance security power, the development plans of the Soviet Union and of Communist China which lead to the deaths of so many were ethically acceptable policies? My soul shudders at the thought. Perhaps he is right, and this is the only course, precarious as it is, for any sort of security for the communities that make up a state. But it makes me despair. It reminds me a great deal of the amoral arguments of libertarianism, with its defense of selfishness and acceptance of any abuses of power by economic entities as ethically acceptable. Yet this book comes across as far better argued on some level than what I’ve read of M Friedman or of Ayn Rand. It is not nearly as easy to dismiss. I’d love a chance to speak with Mearsheimer. In addition to the aforementioned questions about what he is arguing, I’d love to ask him what role the public is supposed to play in this paradigm. Is there a place for a peace movement? Are we just supposed to accept any foreign policy decisions on the assumption that the state should expand power no matter how it feels to us? A great departure from virtually anything I’ve read on foreign policy and international politics from any perspective—be it interventionist conventional duopoly paradigms, or the more isolationist leanings of the far liberals or the libertarians. Very thought provoking and worth reading for anyone seriously interested in foreign policy.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Paul O'Leary

    I could swear I bought this book in the summer of '01 in Cambridge. Maybe I'm romanticizing it. Well, it's sat on my self until the summer of '17, so, you might well ask, what the hell happened to the romance? In truth, this was very much a book of its time. By its time, I'm referring to the pre- 9/11 world. The world and age after communism fell. A new zeitgeist offered itself which prophesied that governments were soon to be moribund, or next to pointless; that corporations would be society's I could swear I bought this book in the summer of '01 in Cambridge. Maybe I'm romanticizing it. Well, it's sat on my self until the summer of '17, so, you might well ask, what the hell happened to the romance? In truth, this was very much a book of its time. By its time, I'm referring to the pre- 9/11 world. The world and age after communism fell. A new zeitgeist offered itself which prophesied that governments were soon to be moribund, or next to pointless; that corporations would be society's major, if not sole, institutions. War in turn would become a thing of the past, as random destruction is generally unprofitable and looks too chaotic on flow charts. Interestingly enough, even a slimmed down version of the above which allowed for governments to continue to exist usually embraced the collapse of all war into a sort of world agreement where we would all simply put away our differences and just concentrate on making money. Mearsheimer's book, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics disabuses its reader of any of these notions. This is why I say buying this volume in the summer of '01 would have been a romantic act. Since this book, however, seems to have hit the selves in October of '01, after 9/11, it seems that this book found its market too late; for romantic purposes, that is. And apparently my memory will deceive me for aesthetic purposes. After 9/11 the message of this book wasn't rendered false, rather it was rendered sadly superfluous. But the author can't be faulted for that. The Tragedy of Great Power Politics alerts the reader to the fact that not only has ghastly power politics not gone away, but it never shall. Above all else, governments seek to survive; in order to ensure this, according to Mearsheimer, they must engage in Offensive Realism, a systemic political logic of a Thucydidean sort. This is quite distinct from Waltz's Defensive Realism, as survival and security cannot come from maintenance of the status quo. Governments must seek to exploit before they are exploited. This may mean conquest, but it can more readily mean passing responsibility to another government. Total hegemony is the absolute end goal. Since this goal is or has been historically impossible, stasis means pause before self-interest prompts further maneuvering. This is a game with unlimited hours of playtime. In fact, the game is ensured of outlasting all of its players. The United States has achieved the only regional hemispheric hegemony in history, according to Mearsheimer. Still, this means that its interests are only secure on the western continent. There's still plenty to be insecure about elsewhere(as we all are so aware of now). Mearsheimer also separates himself out from under the very long shadow of Morgenthau's Politics Among Nations. Power politics is not about a bunch of bully boys who have captured the state and imagine it would be kinda cool to jump into some Nietzschean grand war. Mearsheimer claims the actions of states are inherent to the logic of international politics itself. It would be against political logic not to exploit an opportunity or fail to pass the buck when interest dictates its obvious logical course. Mearsheimer has therefore reduced governmental shenanigans on an enormous scale onto a determinant graph of near inevitability(for the most part). Needless to say, this makes a certain type of reader uneasy. Those who seek the arrival of peace on earth? Miffed. Those who imagine that an international organization of law might eventually make us more civilized on a global scale? Flustered. Those who hope for even marginal improvement in the behavior of powerful states? P.O.ed to the nth degree. Sure, Mearsheimer is generalizing. He admits this. The details can appear to belie the systemic logic of politics. They just won't actually. Not in broad strokes. I have to admit, sometimes Mearsheimer's straitjacket of Offensive Realism feels tighter than it need be. Or actually is. After all, the United States is a regional hegemon mostly because it claims to be. Obviously local states in the western hemisphere have thumbed their noses at the Stars and Stripes with glee as well as a fair amount of impunity. Another point of unease for me was Mearsheimer's frequent tendency to focus on big events in order to demonstrate the utility of his theory while downplaying the importance of the "great men" who caused these events to take place: Napoleon, Hitler etc. Mearsheimer's political logic requires him to discount their important influence on the direction of actual events. Undoubtedly, he'd argue that though these folk might be sui generis figures who had their influence this doesn't take away from his overall argument or touch the validity of the Great Power logic. I'm inclined to insist such personnel details should not be discounted too much. Or as much as Mearsheimer appears comfortable with. Mearsheimer wins the argument mostly because his argument is everywhere now and peer pressure has its consequences. One of these consequences happens to be that the need to read The Tragedy of Great Power Politics has been substantially reduced from those Arcadian pre-9/11 days. If you are inclined however, these 400 pages fly by and Mearsheimer makes his case with little room left for appeal.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Dennis Murphy

    The Tragedy of Great Power Politics by John J Mearsheimer is a book of extremes. It is the logical conclusion of five presumptions on how to view international relations: 1. International system is anarchic, no one to govern governments. 2. States have inherent offensive capability. 3. States cannot know another states intentions. 4. Survival is the primary goal of nations. 5. Great powers are rational actors. This in turn creates a pattern of behavior that nations undertake in order to best The Tragedy of Great Power Politics by John J Mearsheimer is a book of extremes. It is the logical conclusion of five presumptions on how to view international relations: 1. International system is anarchic, no one to govern governments. 2. States have inherent offensive capability. 3. States cannot know another states intentions. 4. Survival is the primary goal of nations. 5. Great powers are rational actors. This in turn creates a pattern of behavior that nations undertake in order to best position themselves in the international system: 1. Nations fear each other, or at the very least are suspicious of them. 2. God helps those who help themselves, therefore it pays to be selfish. 3. States care how power is distributed, and will work to maximize their share. The world of Dr. Mearsheimer, who I almost studied under when I applied to the Harris School in the University of Chicago, is bleak and pessimistic. This is not my characterization, it is one he readily acknowledges himself. He uses history in order to inform his views on the present, and on a number of things he has been rather spot on. Mearsheimer may be wrong about many things, but he has been right enough to make him one of the most credible proponents of offensive realism in the entire discipline of international relations. Flaws emerge with his presumptions, as well as his operating assumption. This is a theory that examines the past to inform the present and future, as well as a proscriptive appeal to what nations should be doing as rational actors. The primary issue stems with his notion of anarchy, and his firm anchor to the historical examples he uses to inform his opinion on relations. He, himself, notes that there are flaws in his analytical framework. Sometimes nations do not act the way they should, and sometimes domestic factors instill irrationality within the state. He says it best in the first chapter when he suggests that Offensive Realism is sometimes not the best way to view the world, and that it is sometimes misleading in its implications, but it is a powerful flashlight in a dark room. While it is not perfect, it maintains and retains a massive degree of utility in the discipline. My only concern is that the historical framework may have limited usefulness as our world enters into a phase of unpredictable and unprecedented action and interaction. Thomas Christensen spent a great deal of his book counteracting the claims of pessimists. They may be potentially right, but Christensen felt no need to indulge them, and argued fairly persuasively that a number of their arguments do not measure up to intense scrutiny. Dr. Mearsheimer was one of those pessimists. The Liberal Order is an effective mechanism against the worst impulses of the anarchic order, and their paradigm is built on the economic and political integration of nations and how this inhibits zero-sum logic systems. While others may fearmonger about a Rising China, those with capital and will suggest that a rising China has the potential for the greatest amount of wealth and prosperity generation in human history, and will say the same about India and Africa as they follow behind. Mearsheimer is someone I do not agree with, but he is someone I respect. Had the University of Chicago proven a more welcoming environment, then I would have been fortunate to have audited some of his classes as I continued my own studies. Odds are that should I ever become a published academic, my work will act in counter to his. Even so, it is hard to imagine him and his work as anything other than a monolithic contribution to my field. He deserves respect, and this book should be read by any who pretends to competence in IR studies. 90/100 (A-)

  30. 4 out of 5

    Sadhana

    I would definitely recommend Mearsheimer's book to anyone interested in international relations and foreign policy. Mearsheimer is a realist who uses offense realism as a mechanism for determining the outcome of world events, and advice that countries use the ideals offense realism in order to survive in the dangerously competitive world of foreign politics. His theories based on offense realism can be connected to the events happening at the moment. If policymakers and countries used the ideas I would definitely recommend Mearsheimer's book to anyone interested in international relations and foreign policy. Mearsheimer is a realist who uses offense realism as a mechanism for determining the outcome of world events, and advice that countries use the ideals offense realism in order to survive in the dangerously competitive world of foreign politics. His theories based on offense realism can be connected to the events happening at the moment. If policymakers and countries used the ideas of offense realism then they would know that in order to survive, two countries- like the United States and North Korea, both that have a nuclear arsenal threatening nuclear action and war on each other is a terrible idea. In order to preserve and protect their own country, two hegemons of different hemispheres with vast military capability are unlikely to wage war according to offense realism, but as we see, that's not what's happening today. Mearsheimer argues States should behave according to the dictates of offensive realism because it outlines the best way to survive in a dangerous world. So Mearsheimer basically argues that if they want to survive, great powers should always act like good offense realists. The central idea that Mearsheimer is trying to convey through the book is whether power is an unlimited goal for each country, to keep striving for more and more power or whether it is strictly based on survival of a country. In order to answer his question, he takes into account different aspects like power, wealth, military capabilities, strategies for survival, and the primacy of land power. With all that said, Mearsheimer argues that survival is the reason for the great power competition, and the only guarantee of survival is to be a hegemon because no other state can seriously threaten such a mighty power. The ultimate goal of a state is to become the hegemon in the system. However, Mearsheimer points out that there is no one hegemony but rather regional hegemons. For example, the United States is the Hegemon of the western hemisphere being the only country with the military and economic skills to being a great power. At the end of the day, offense realism is a descriptive theory created by Mearsheimer in an effort to predict the future of international relations between countries. So although this theory is seemingly effective in a country's survival, it's ineffectiveness to come into practice is unfortunate because it seems very prevalent in today's time.

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