Theory Primer: “Offensive” or “Political Realism”


Time to break our your Mearsheimer and Morgenthau.  As  Stephen Walt says, “paraphrasing Trotsky: You may not be interested in power politics, but power politics is interested in you.”

In the years ahead, the United States will need to relearn Power Politics 101, a subject at which it used to excel. In a world of renewed great-power competition, U.S. leaders have to play hardball with friends and foes alike, to ensure that rivals respect American power and allies do not take advantage of it. Presidents and their advisors will have to set clear priorities and stick to them, instead of being blown off course by each new crisis or upheaval, or letting foreign policy be guided by individual officials’ whims or fixations (case in point: Kerry and the Middle East). And they are going to have to do a much better job of explaining why and where the United States is engaged overseas, both to reassure allies and to retain the support of a population that increasingly questions the benefits of an expansive U.S. role.

via The Bad Old Days Are Back.

Here is a reading list for the current era (in case you forgot your Intro to International Politics course):

  • Robert Kaplan on Mearsheimer’s “appeal to historical precedent” and aims at “the historic precedent of lesser evil rather than that of absolute good.”
  • This type of realism hasn’t been very popular of late.(See “Is Anybody Still a Realist” by Jeffrey Legro and Andrew Moravcsik in International Security, Fall 1999.)
  • In fact, as Daniel W. Drezner notes in a great  multi-part series in, “realism might not be the most popular paradigm among IR scholars” but still gets a “healthy fraction of academics” and some attention in IR courses.
  • Another of the main proponents of realism (“realist constructivism”) and the author of the “Clash of Civilizations,” Samuel Huntington.
  • What are the implications of offensive realism on diplomacy and international organizations?  Not much.  (See Mearsheimer’s “The False Promises of International Institutions” in International Security 19:3

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