Friday, January 21, 2011

Non-Fiction Friday?

This is the paper. I promise you, it is really this fantastic in real life. Be amazed.

The Tragedy of Great Power Politics
John J. Mearsheimer

The Tragedy of Great Power Politics by John J. Mearsheimer argues that in a situation of international anarchy, war is inevitable, but is rarer when there are fewer great powers. Therefore, no matter what the circumstances, the world is safer when bipolar than with a multipolar system. Mearsheimer aims to answer the question of why nations go to war by using examples and logic. Through this, he tries to find a way that war can be prevented in the future.

Mearsheimer first establishes his views on the inevitabilities of the international system. States will always seek power, which has held to be true over time. He believes that states pursue power because they fear being left behind other powers. However, since they never know how much power the other nations have, states will just be trying to be stronger, even when they're the strongest power. They use this power in many ways, primarily to protect their state. Once they feel secure, they will use it to expand. In general, nations located on continents are more likely to require vast armies and use those armies to expand their control of the land outside their borders. The important thing is to have the most power relative to the competition, not to reach some point in which a nation would feel confident in their power and see gaining it to be an unnecessary expenditure. International politics is a security competition, not a search for peace. When a nation has more power, it doesn't fear any other nation that may want to attack or expand into their territory. However, this struggle is significantly altered by the addition of nuclear weapons. If there are four great powers and each of them has an unknown number of nuclear weapons, they will all be fearful of each other. They will not invade lesser powers for fear of what their fellow great powers will do in return. They will not attack another great power because they do not know which side has nuclear superiority. In all, great powers that retain an unknown amount of nuclear weapons are less likely to start wars than their non-nuclear counterparts. Although nuclear arms can lessen the threat of a great powers war, they are not a surefire recipe for peace. States use nuclear arms as a way to attain superiority, and superiority is not the same as peace. No great power ever truly aims for peace. In a situation in which one great power is threatening smaller powers, other great powers may involve themselves, but they do not do so simply out of concern for the smaller powers. If a great power is to become involved in a conflict between another great power and a smaller power, they probably believe that the other great power may become a threat to themselves or resources that they value. Even then, entering a conflict as a peacemaker is very risky, given that it is likely to anger the aggressor and if it is not successful, can be disastrous. As few great powers are willing to be martyred for peace, it is rare that a great power will protect a smaller power unless they see considerable rewards involved for them. This section primarily discussed the things that Mearsheimer considers to be basic facts of international relations. The way he manages to use examples from history to support his claims makes it difficult to disagree with him. His points are logical, and it's interesting to see the actions of nations laid out in a way that takes them apart and turns them into case studies to make his views clear.

Mearsheimer then discusses the relationship between wealth and power. His view is simple: wealthier countries have more power. However, there are many conditions that apply to his claim. He separates power into latent power and military power. Latent power is simply how much wealth is in the economy, and military power is the amount of strength in the military. In general, latent power directly correlates to military power, but there are some exceptions. Military power consists of resources, natural and human, and money to invest in military. Latent power also extends into general societal wealth. If wealth is concentrated in a small portion of the population, the latent wealth of the society is not as high as if the wealth was somewhat distributed throughout. Some countries focus solely on latent power because they are not great powers, but smaller powers that are not in danger of being attacked by other powers. Other countries that feel that they are at a high risk of being attacked tend to focus more on military power, disregarding the need for economic influence on the international stage. Power is important if a nation wants to win wars and avoid being crushed by other nations. However, the most powerful nation will not always win. The country that wins in a war will have the best combination of strategy, intelligence, resolve, weather, disease (and lack of), and resources. With this, there have been multiple instances in which the most powerful country in the equation was not the one that left with a victory. Mearsheimer points to the examples of Russia and Napoleonic France as well as the United States and North Vietnam. Between Russia and France, France had significantly more wealth and power, but their army had been fighting for too long and lacked resources. Russia had the weather on their side, and used it to their advantage by letting the French armies freeze before they had the chance to fight. The United States had a huge advantage over North Vietnam in both power and wealth, but North Vietnam had better strategy (one that didn't involve a costly army) and much more resolve.

In the next section, Mearsheimer discusses the importance of land power. He believes that while ships and planes are nice to have around, the real measure of strength is land power, the size of an army. Given that every great power aspires to become a regional hegemon, the ones most likely to become regional hegemons are the nations that maintain armies of considerable size and strength. The United Kingdom proves this point well. Although they were a great power for quite some time, they never attempted regional hegemony because they were stopped by a water barrier and did not have the land strength to expand beyond that. Instead, they turned to colonies as a way to expand power and attain natural resources, without the need to conquer their comrades in Europe. In a modern war, air power can start bombing campaigns and act as the most aggressive part of a military. However, they cannot win a war, and they must be followed by a land army. A navy can be useful in an amphibious operation, but it's collaboration between a nation's army and navy that makes amphibious operations possible. In an invasion situation, a land army is the only force that can topple a dictator and the forces supporting them. In the past, nations have been functioning under the delusion that using special forces to assassinate a dictator would fix an entire country’s problems. This was the idea behind many schemes to kill Fidel Castro during the Cold War. Mearsheimer states that such schemes would not help because the entire government supports the dictator. In addition, it’s quite possible for a country to rally around a fallen leader, which would be counterproductive. Mearsheimer has established very solid claims to the idea that land power is king and all other military merely supports it.
In the section that follows, Mearsheimer explains the different strategies that can be used to retain power. The first is obvious: War. However, it can be controversial and the stakes are high. In addition, it tends to create empires, which are expensive to maintain and generally not beneficial. Blackmail is another strategy, although it rarely works. The bait and bleed strategy is when one power starts a war between to other powers and sits on the sidelines while they bleed each other white. Balancing is when a country avoids war, but insures that their military is adequate, should they be forced into war. Balancing is effective and reigned supreme for most of the Cold War. Bandwagoning, going into war because other people are, and appeasement should be avoided at all costs, as they tend to drag countries into war unnecessarily.
Through his frequent use of examples, Mearsheimer proves his points in a way that makes sense, even to people who have not studied international relations extensively. Although the book is dense and difficult to read, it is very interesting to anyone interested in a historical explanation for the age old question of why nations go to war.

And no, I really didn't have a good reason to post this on my blog.

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