THE TRAGEDY OF GREAT POWER POLITICS by John J. Mearsheimer

THE TRAGEDY OF GREAT POWER POLITICS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Freelance journalist Mearsheimer (Political Science/Univ. of Chicago) argues that powerful states obey rules centuries old, rules that he believes should prescribe as well as predict a state’s behavior.

Mearsheimer calls his theory “offensive realism.” Since there is no pervasive and powerful global government (the UN is a pale, frail imitation of one), states have obeyed—and should obey—a simple imperative: survival. In this deeply conservative, Darwinian view of the world, the states most likely to survive are those that can both achieve regional hegemony (as the US has done) and prevent other states from doing so anywhere else. (Mearsheimer argues that there has never been, and likely never will be, a global hegemon.) He asserts that there are two kinds of power: latent (population, wealth) and military. And the best kind of military force is a huge, well-equipped, well-trained army. Naval and air forces are at best supplementary and cannot on their own win a war (Nelson’s massive victory at Trafalgar, for example, antedated Waterloo by ten years). Mearsheimer points out repeatedly what he calls “the stopping power of water”—the notion that the US and the UK, for example, are relatively safe because they are protected by sizable bodies of water. And because he believes China is now the principal threat to the US, he declares we should attempt to slow the Chinese economy (and thus retard its military capability) rather than invite it into the family of nations. To validate his theses, he examines every major-power conflict since the Napoleonic era—slighting only the effect of prominent individuals (Napoleon, Hitler—were France and Germany just waiting for them?). Mearsheimer has done an astonishing amount of research for this provocative, important study (there are 130 pages of endnotes) and tosses into the trash-bin of history any effete Enlightenment notions about the potential perfectibility of our species. Our nations, he concludes, are like ourselves: territorial, feral, canine, vulpine.

A seminal book: controversial, scholarly, compelling—and ultimately frightening. (9 maps, 24 tables)

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-393-02025-8
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2001




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