Free Essay: Pros and Cons of Offensive and Defensive Realism

Published: 2023-01-30
Free Essay: Pros and Cons of Offensive and Defensive Realism
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Goal Politics Government Community
Pages: 7
Wordcount: 1748 words
15 min read

Realism refers to the practice and study of international politics, and it focuses on the duties of the nation. The broad assumption in realism is that every country is motivated by national interests that are, at times, hidden as moral concerns. At its most essential level, the national interest is straightforward to define, where every state seeks preservation of their territorial integrity and political autonomy (Booth 7). When a country has political independence and territorial integrity, the national interests tend to vary. For example, some nations could develop interests in having more land or resources, while others would wish to expand their own economic or political systems into other regions. On the one hand, offensive realism refers to a structural theory, which is part of the neorealist school of thought first introduced by John Mearsheimer. According to offensive realism, the international system's anarchic nature is responsible for aggressive state behavior in the international politics. On the other hand, defensive realism was founded by Kenneth Waltz, where he claimed that the global system's anarchic state makes countries maintain reserved and moderate policies for security purposes (Booth 10). Defensive neorealism contends that aggressive expansion causes imbalance to the ability of states to abide by the theory of balance of power, and this minimizes the primary goals of the country. Powerful nations aim at establishing hegemony in their regions while also focusing on ensuring that no rival state dominates over the others. Realism presents life as it truly is, portraying actual, typical people, their problems and situations as truthfully and accurately as it can be.

Trust banner

Is your time best spent reading someone else’s essay? Get a 100% original essay FROM A CERTIFIED WRITER!

Offensive Realism

Summary of the Offensive Theory

In Mearsheimer's, "Reckless states and realism." Realism and World Politics" he presents a theory of offensive realism that challenges the ideas of Waltz on defensive realism. The important elements in Mearsheimer's offensive realism are the great powers influencing world politics, each state's offensive military capacity, and survival as the main objective of countries. Additional elements of the theory are countries acting rationally to form appropriate strategies to maximize the survival chances (Mearsheimer 242). Offensive realism claims that the anarchic international system is necessary for the survival of states. In his theory, Mearsheimer formulates different predictions connected to the behavior of power. Offensive neorealism is a diversion from defensive neorealism, especially in areas concerning the accumulation of power. Mearsheimer's offensive realism aims at fixing the bias in the status quo that is evident in the defensive neorealism of Kenneth Waltz (Mearsheimer 242). According to waltz, "Force is more useful than ever for upholding the status quo, though not for changing it" (Mearsheimer 242). While both Waltz and Mearsheimer claim that states are majorly focused on the maximization of their security, they do not agree on the power exercised in the process. Offensive neorealism suggests that nations always seek power while focusing on aggressive goals.

The international system offers great powers with robust incentives for assurance of survival and increasing security. Anarchy, an essential aspect of the global network, alongside the uncertainty of the intentions of states makes countries fear each other and look forward to self-help approaches towards guaranteeing their survival. To minimize the fear of aggression countries have towards one another, they always aim to increase their relative power that is explained through their physical capabilities. Mearsheimer contends that states look for opportunities for changing the balance of power by obtaining extra power increments at the expense of other rivals (Mearsheimer 242). To this end, countries aim at increasing their military strength to the disadvantage of other nations in the system. Mearsheimer claimed that great powers understand that the best ways of ensuring they have security are by accomplishing hegemony and removing the possibility of a challenge from another higher control. Moreover, Mearsheimer argues that it would be difficult to estimate if nations have attained the desired levels of power which they seek.

Pros of Offensive Realism

The offensive neorealism of Mearsheimer offers an alternative complement to the defensive neorealism of waltz. The offensive theory adds to the argument of the defensive neorealism that the international system's structure hinders the behavior of states. The offensive neorealism theory provides solutions to the method that defensive neorealism does not explain. Mearsheimer's approach aims at rectifying the bias in the status quo, where anarchy leads to more incentives for nations to increase their share of power. Primarily, this theory offers explanations of the number of conflicts that happen in countries. The arguments provided by Mearsheimer are part of the alliance and foreign policy theory. At the same time, the offensive theory by Mearsheimer expounds more on structural defensive realism by placing into argument foreign policy and international politics. Offensive neorealism is part of the explanations of both the individual state behavior and the global results related to the systemic level of assessments (Mearsheimer 243). Moreover, including more variables such as geography and the distribution of power improves the potential of offensive neorealism to make crucial assumptions related to the pursuit of aggressive actions by most nations.

Cons of Offensive Realism

Offensive neorealism claims that every nation is a revisionist, and this removes the central idea where the entire concept of security dilemma is founded. The measures of aggressive powers aim at maximizing the security of states is a threat to other countries, and this leads to intensified competition among states. There are also flaws in the analysis levels included in the theory of offensive neorealism (Mearsheimer 245). Including the non-structural geography variable in explaining excellent power, behavior changes the focal point of analysis of the approach to regional ones. In consideration of the regional analysis of security in the method, offensive neorealism does not precisely define what a region is, and this leaves room for disapproval from scholars. Additionally, there are issues related to the geographic variable. According to Mearsheimer, the approach of "stopping the power of water" hinders high power from accomplishing global hegemony (Mearsheimer 242). However, this constraint does not apply to cases of the capacity of an emerging rival to exercise its powers beyond the neighbors. The approach of "apparently water" hinders America from exerting its influence on other states, but it does not impede them from threatening the primary of America in the West. The classification of regional hegemons by offensive neorealism as powers of status quo is difficult to reconcile with the emphasis of the theory on excellent skills. The water constraint cannot change a state that maximizes the potential to one that values the status quo.

Domestic politics are not part of Mearsheimer's theory. There is no focus paid on the influence of internal political functioning, its society or economy that plays crucial roles in the decision-making process of a country. There are no considerations paid to the transnational threats, including terrorism, and the way Mearsheimer focuses on security ignores interests not related to security such as national unification, human rights, and ideology. These three key aspects, alongside the competition of power, are essential elements of international politics. The way Mearsheimer emphasizes on the issuance of state capacity and military capabilities for conquering territories is an implication of missing out on other means through which influence is gained and exercised. Offensive neorealism does not consider the very idea that wars are costly (Mearsheimer 244). These associated costs make combat ineffective. Given these inefficiencies, Mearsheimer's constant fighting approach does not give countries more security since the costs deplete the states' resources of fighting. There are also grave concerns in the offensive neorealism viewpoints about the rising power of China and the regional hegemony in the United States of America. There is no actual reason to believe that China would seek its survival instead of depending on cooperative mechanisms (Mearsheimer 247). Mearsheimer does not accurately judge America as a regional hegemon taking part in offshore balancing. Instead of regional hegemony focused on the dominance of the western hemisphere, the statistics provided in the article point to the United States of America aiming to accomplish global domination. The effect is based on the predictions by Mearsheimer relating to the strategic behavior of the U.S. in the future, mainly in terms of the country's military involvement abroad.

Defensive Realism

Summary of Defensive Realism

In his book, Theory of International Politics, Kenneth Waltz claimed that defensive realists believe that the international system's nature encourages nations into undertaking moderate and defensive policies (Booth 48). Defensive realists claim that countries are not intrinsically aggressive and that their primary concern is not the maximization of power but the maintenance of their position within the system. This is an essential point of departure from the theory of offensive realism where anarchy is the basis of states pursuing aggressive expansion of territories. Defensive realists claim that there are many problems in support of the dynamic development of states by offensive realism theory. According to the defensive realists, countries aiming to accomplish hegemony in the international system must counterbalance other nations through the maintenance of the status quo.

Pros of Defensive Realism

Defensive realists show the disconnection between state and individual security. The defensive realists contend that states do not have the same vulnerability as men are in the state of nature, and destroying them is a difficult task altogether. States, especially the major powers, afford to wait for proof of attack instead of resorting to pre-emptive strikes or inappropriate reactions to possible threats. This aspect gives room for overcoming or minimizing the influence of the spiral model or security dilemma of neorealism. Defensive realists do not deny the opportunities for the existence of expansion of states, or the exploitation of these opportunities. Sometimes all countries need to maintain the status quo, and they must become the aggressor towards preventing later aggression against their allies and themselves. This is particularly relevant for nations which do not have protective geographical barriers, even when they use policies promoting the status quo (Waltz 18). Therefore, there is an abrupt approach to balancing behavior. Instead, the balancing practice likely intimidates other nations, and aggressive plans are likely to be executed.

Moreover, the defensive realists contend that the elite beliefs and perceptions are crucial to the causation of conflict among nations. Alongside security dilemma and geography, defensive realists argue that the opinions are modifications to the structure. These perceptions upset the balance of power, and they manifest in different ways (Booth 160). The impressions can make elites inflate threats for the mobilization of resources and promotion of expansion, or at the same time prevent elites from rectifying or recognizing their reducing power in the international system because of the prioritization of domestic over global concerns.

Cite this page

Free Essay: Pros and Cons of Offensive and Defensive Realism. (2023, Jan 30). Retrieved from

Request Removal

If you are the original author of this essay and no longer wish to have it published on the SpeedyPaper website, please click below to request its removal:

Liked this essay sample but need an original one?

Hire a professional with VAST experience!

24/7 online support

NO plagiarism