Academic journal article Military Review

The Tragedy of Great Power Politics

Academic journal article Military Review

The Tragedy of Great Power Politics

Article excerpt

THE TRAGEDY OF GREAT POWER POLITICS, John J. Mearsheimer, W.W. Norton & Company, NY, 2001, 448 pages, $27.95.

In The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, John J. Mearsheimer presents a convincing but troubling description of the nature of the international system and the behavior of regional great powers. Mearsheimer's thesis is that great powers behave according to certain "offensive realist" principles, which can be distilled from study of the history of great powers over the last two centuries.

Regardless of advances in technology, development of international organizations, or the increasing influence of economic associations, great powers will always pursue security. Security for a great power is best obtained through regional hegemony. In modern times, only the United States has achieved this coveted position, yet it is destined always to try to prevent a great power in another region from achieving it. Great powers are doomed (hence the tragedy mentioned in the title) to endless cycles of pursuing hegemony or preventing competing great powers from achieving hegemony. Mearsheimer warns great powers (especially the United States) that failure to realize the true nature of the international system will condemn them to ruin. Thus, offensive realism is not only descriptive, it is prescriptive.

Mearsheimer does not use mere assertion to prove the competitive nature of great power politics. Instead, he takes the argumentative battle to his theoretical adversaries. In clear layman's prose, he describes-and takes apart-competing realist and liberalist internationalrelations theories. As a result of this book, Mearsheimer will likely become known as the main proponent of offensive realism in international thought.

Mearsheimer does an outstanding job of presenting and contrasting the tenets of offensive, defensive, and human nature realism. He does a lessthorough job of describing liberalist theories, but the work is not intended so much as a textbook as it is an overwhelming body of evidence to describe, prove, and expand on offensive-realist theory. …

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