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The Tragedy of Great Power Politics

The “security dilemma,” which is one of the most well-known concepts in the international relations literature, reflects the basic logic of offensive realism. The essence of the dilemma is that the measures a state takes to increase its own security usually decrease the security of other states.

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The Tragedy of Great Power Politics

The first assumption is that the international system is anarchic, which does not mean that it is chaotic or riven by disorder. It is easy to draw that conclusion, since realism depicts a world characterized by security competition and war.

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The Tragedy of Great Power Politics

An example of a case that contradicts offensive realism involves Germany in 1905. At the time Germany was the most powerful state in Europe. Its main rivals on the continent were France and Russia, which some fifteen years earlier had formed an alliance to contain the Germans.

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The Tragedy of Great Power Politics

Great powers are determined largely on the basis of their relative military capability. To qualify as a great power, a state must have sufficient military assets to put up a serious fight in an all-out conventional war against the most powerful state in the world.6 The candidate need not have the capability to defeat the leading state, but it must have some reasonable prospect of turning the conflict into a war of attrition that leaves the dominant state seriously weakened, even if that dominant state ultimately wins the war.

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The Tragedy of Great Power Politics

This unrelenting pursuit of power means that great powers are inclined to look for opportunities to alter the distribution of world power in their favor. They will seize these opportunities if they have the necessary capability.

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The Tragedy of Great Power Politics: Review

Earlier in the year, I wrote a review of an additional chapter John Mearsheimer had written for a revised edition of The Tragedy of Great Power Politics… 881 more words

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