John Mearsheimer

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John Mearsheimer
China, in short has the potential to be considerably more powerful then even the United States.

John J. Mearsheimer (born December 14, 1947) is an American professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago. He is an international relations theorist. He is the leading proponent of a branch of realist theory called offensive realism, a structural theory which, unlike the classical realism of Hans Morgenthau, blames security competition among great powers on the anarchy of the international system, not on human nature.


  • In the anarchic world of international politics, it is better to be Godzilla than Bambi.
    • "China's Unpeaceful Rise", Current History (2006) vol. 105 (690) p. 162
  • ... after the war, he became a big proponent of the argument that chemical warfare or gas warfare was actually a more humane form of warfare than shrapnel and bombs, because he saw what all those shrapnel and bombs did to all the boys who climbed out of the trenches and tried to cross no man's land, with German machine guns and artillery on the other side, he said I'll take the gas any day. I'm not making the case for gas warfare, but the idea that getting killed by gas is, more horrible than getting ripped apart by shrapnel and bullets is not one I buy. And when I see the Obama administration putting pictures of people killed by gas up on the internet, I say "let's put pictures of the people who got killed by shrapnel up there, and lets have a debate about which pictures look worse". It won't even be an interesting debate, getting killed by shrapnel, in my opinion is a lot more gruesome and a lot worse.
  • Furthermore there's the whole argument that the administration made, that so many people were killed by chemical weapons. Their number was around 1,400, the fact of the matter is that over 40,000 other people were killed with bombs and bullets, before those 1,400 people. If 40,000 people were killed, and that didn't provide a moral justification for intervention, what's the moral justification for killing people... when 1,400 die with chemical weapons. I don't get it, in fact, I don't think there's a moral case to be made for intervention.
  • We have a huge amount of evidence that it was nato expansion and the more general policy of making Ukraine a western bulwark on Russia’s border that motivated him to attack on February 24th... For Putin to have said time after time that nato, that Ukraine in nato, was an existential threat to Russia, when in fact it wasn’t, and this was all done to disguise the real motive, which was to incorporate Ukraine into a greater Russia for the purposes of satisfying his imperial ambitions is an argument that is just not supported by the historical record. Putin was very clear, as were all his lieutenants, that their great fear was that Ukraine was becoming a Western bulwark on Russia’s borders. For them, that was an existential threat. It was simply unacceptable.

The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (2001)[edit]

  • The cycle of violence will continue far into the new millennium. Hopes for peace will probably not be realized, because the great that shape the international system fear each other and compete for power as a result. Indeed, their ultimate aim is to gain a position of dominant power over others, because having dominant power is the best means to ensure one's own survival.
    • Preface, p. xi
  • The sad fact is that international politics has always been a ruthless and dangerous business, and it is likely to remain that way.
    • Chapter 1, Introduction, p. 2
  • The liberal tradition has its roots in the Enlightenment, that period in the eighteenth-century Europe when intellectuals and political leaders had a powerful sense that reason could be employed to make the world a better place.
    • Chapter 1, Introduction, p. 15
  • In an ideal world, where there are only good states, power would be largely irrelevant.
    • Chapter 1, Introduction, p. 16
  • Preserving power, rather than increasing it, is the main goal of states.
    • Chapter 1, Introduction, p. 20
  • In the 1930s, Adolf Hitler believed that his great-power rivals would be easy to exploit and isolate because each had little interest in fighting Germany and instead was determined to get someone else to assume the burden. He guessed right.
    • Chapter 2, Anarchy and the Struggle for Power, p. 38
  • A state's potential power is based on the size of its population and the level of its wealth.
    • Chapter 2, Anarchy and the Struggle for Power, p. 43
  • States have two kinds of power: latent power and military power.
    • Chapter 3, Wealth and Power, p. 55
  • Simply put, the most powerful state is the one that prevails in a dispute.
    • Chapter 3, Wealth and Power, p. 57
  • Specifically, the presence of oceans on much of the earth's surface makes it impossible for any state to achieve global hegemony.
    • Chapter 4, The Primacy of Land Power, p. 84
  • The German air offensives against British cities in World Wars I and II not only failed to coerce the United Kingdom to surrender, but Germany also lost both wars.
    • Chapter 4, The Primacy of Land Power, p. 99
  • Decapitation is a fanciful strategy.
    • Chapter 4, The Primacy of Land Power, p. 109
  • The most dangerous states in the international system are continental powers with large armies.
    • Chapter 4, The Primacy of Land Power, p. 135
  • States care about relative wealth, because economic might is the foundation of military might.
    • Chapter 5, Strategies for Survival, p. 143
  • The ideal situation for any state is to experience sharp economic growth while its rivals' economies grow slowly or hardly at all.
    • Chapter 5, Strategies for Survival, p. 144
  • Bandwagoning is a strategy for the weak.
    • Chapter 5, Strategies for Survival, p. 163
  • Important benefits often accrue to states that behave in an unexpected way.
    • Chapter 5, Strategies for Survival, p. 166
  • The Soviet Union and its empire disappeared in large part because its smokestack economy could no longer keep up with the technological progress of the world's major economic powers.
    • Chapter 6, Great Powers in Action, p. 202
  • This self-defeating behavior, so the argument goes, must be the result of warped domestic politics.
    • Chapter 6, Great Powers in Action, p. 211
  • Offensive realism predicts that the United States will send its army across the Atlantic when there is a potential hegemon in Europe that the local great powers cannot contain by themselves.
    • Chapter 7, The Offshore Balancers, p. 252
  • When an aggressor comes on the scene, at least one other state will eventually take direct responsibility for checking it.
    • Chapter 8, Balancing versus Buck-Passing, p. 269
  • A potential hegemon, as emphasized throughout this book, must be wealthier than any of its regional rivals and must possess the most powerful army in the area.
    • Chapter 8, Balancing versus Buck-Passing, p. 293
  • When World War II started on September 1, 1939, the German army contained 3.74 million soldiers and 103 divisions.
    • Chapter 8, Balancing versus Buck-Passing, p. 307
  • In short, unbalanced bipolar systems are so unstable that they cannot last for any appreciable period of time.
    • Chapter 9, The Causes of Great Power War, p. 337
  • The optimists' claim that security competition and war among the great powers has been burned out of the system is wrong. In fact all of the major states around the globe still care deeply about the balance of power among themselves for the foreseeable future.
    • Chapter 10, Great Power Politics in the Twenty First Century, p. 361
  • Great powers must be forever vigilant and never subordinate survival to any other goal, including prosperity.
    • Chapter 10, Great Power Politics in the Twenty First Century, p. 371
  • I believe that the existing power structures in Europe and Northeast Asia are not sustainable through 2020.
    • Chapter 10, Great Power Politics in the Twenty First Century, p. 385
  • China, in short has the potential to be considerably more powerful than even the United States.
    • Chapter 10, Great Power Politics in the Twenty First Century, p. 398

Why John Mearsheimer Blames the U.S. for the Crisis in Ukraine, by Isaac Chotiner, The New Yorker, March 1, 2022[edit]

  • I think all the trouble in this case really started in April, 2008, at the NATO Summit in Bucharest, where afterward NATO issued a statement that said Ukraine and Georgia would become part of NATO. The Russians made it unequivocally clear at the time that they viewed this as an existential threat, and they drew a line in the sand.
  • Nevertheless, what has happened with the passage of time is that we have moved forward to include Ukraine in the West to make Ukraine a Western bulwark on Russia’s border. Of course, this includes more than just NATO expansion. NATO expansion is the heart of the strategy, but it includes E.U. expansion as well, and it includes turning Ukraine into a pro-American liberal democracy, and, from a Russian perspective, this is an existential threat.
  • If Ukraine becomes a pro-American liberal democracy, and a member of NATO, and a member of the E.U., the Russians will consider that categorically unacceptable.
  • When you’re a country like Ukraine and you live next door to a great power like Russia, you have to pay careful attention to what the Russians think, because if you take a stick and you poke them in the eye, they’re going to retaliate. States in the Western hemisphere understand this full well with regard to the United States.
  • We overthrew democratically elected leaders in the Western hemisphere during the Cold War because we were unhappy with their policies. This is the way great powers behave... We went around the world trying to create liberal democracies. Our main focus, of course, was in the greater Middle East, and you know how well that worked out. Not very well.
  • With Ukraine, it’s very important to understand that, up until 2014, we did not envision NATO expansion and E.U. expansion as a policy that was aimed at containing Russia. Nobody seriously thought that Russia was a threat before February 22, 2014.
  • We invented this story that Russia was bent on aggression in Eastern Europe.... This is a story that we invented so that we could blame him (Vladimir Putin). My argument is that the West, especially the United States, is principally responsible for this disaster. But no American policymaker, and hardly anywhere in the American foreign-policy establishment, is going to want to acknowledge that line of argument, and they will say that the Russians are responsible.
  • My argument is that... {Vladimir Putin]... not going to re-create the Soviet Union or try to build a greater Russia, that he’s not interested in conquering and integrating Ukraine into Russia. It’s very important to understand that we invented this story that Putin is highly aggressive and he’s principally responsible for this crisis in Ukraine.
  • If Russia thinks that Ukraine presents an existential threat to Russia because it is aligning with the United States and its West European allies, this is going to cause an enormous amount of damage to Ukraine. That of course is exactly what’s happening now.
  • The strategically wise strategy for Ukraine is to break off its close relations with the West, especially with the United States, and try to accommodate the Russians. If there had been no decision to move nato eastward to include Ukraine, Crimea and the Donbass would be part of Ukraine today, and there would be no war in Ukraine.

Quotes About Mearsheimer[edit]

  • The Great Delusion is a provocative and timely work. But Mearsheimer’s account of the political theories that underpin liberal hegemony is confused and in some respects plainly wrong, while the prospect of American policymakers converging on a consistently realist approach to foreign relations seems remote.
    One difficulty is that Mearsheimer bases his argument for realism on a misconceived dichotomy. For him, liberalism comes in two versions: progressive liberalism, which favours active government intervention in order to promote positive rights to welfare alongside negative freedoms from censorship and the like, and modus vivendi liberalism, which focuses on the protection of these negative freedoms above all else. Progressive liberals to have come to prominence over the past fifty years ‘include Ronald Dworkin, Francis Fukuyama, Steven Pinker, and John Rawls’. Modus vivendi liberals of recent times, Mearsheimer tells us, include myself and the American political theorist Stephen Holmes. In a longer time frame, ‘John Locke is a quintessential modus vivendi liberal, as are Adam Smith and Friedrich Hayek.’
    It is flattering to be included in such distinguished company, but Mearsheimer’s analysis reflects a fundamental misunderstanding. No political theorist of whom I am aware would represent Locke, still less Hayek, as a theorist of modus vivendi liberalism. Both were classical liberals who prioritised negative freedom from coercion by the state over other freedoms and values. The progressive liberals Mearsheimer cites hold to a more positive conception of freedom that includes endowing people with the capacities needed for effective action. Such liberals recognise important rights to equality and welfare. Modus vivendi liberals do not fit into this dichotomy since they are ready to promote both positive and negative liberties if they can be shown to help individuals and communities with different beliefs and values to coexist productively in society. The canonical thinker of modus vivendi liberalism is not Locke but Hobbes, for whom all rights, other than the right to avoid a violent death, are subject to the overriding imperative of peace.
    Such a misunderstanding might not seem too damaging to Mearsheimer’s argument for realism, but it is not without consequences. Mearsheimer suggests that modus vivendi liberalism might offer a template for the kind of realist foreign policy he favours. Yet Lockean liberalism, which he invokes in support of his argument, sits uneasily with realism because Lockean rights are universal. For classical liberals as for progressive liberals, only one kind of regime can be fully legitimate: one that respects human rights, however defined. All other regimes are at best approximations of this ideal.
    Because its principles are supposed to be universally authoritative, Lockean theory has a built-in bias in favour of liberal hegemony. It is easy to move from the belief that liberal regimes are everywhere the best to the belief that existing liberal regimes have a duty to promote similar regimes throughout the world. (Modus vivendi liberals, by contrast, reject the idea that any regime could be the best for everyone.) Classical liberals have an inherent tendency to support what is now called liberal interventionism.
    • John Gray, "Get Real", Literary Review (Dec 2018)


  • Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and former Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard have been listed by Ukraine among a number of American politicians, academics and activists Kyiv claims have promoted "Russian propaganda."... The list—which also includes retired U.S. Army Colonel Douglas Macgregor, military strategist Edward Luttwak, political scientist John Mearsheimer and journalist Glenn Greenwald—does not explain what the consequences are for those who Ukraine clearly considers responsible for promoting the Kremlin's line.... Mearsheimer is on Ukraine's blacklist for having said NATO provoked Vladimir Putin into war... Mearsheimer... [said] he was disappointed with being listed as a Russian propagandist, while he defended his claim that the war was provoked by the U.S. wanting to accept Ukraine into NATO.

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