Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Political Science Literature Review 2

Game Theory and the Spiral Model

From Morgenthau to Mearsheimer?

By Konstantinos Travlos

(Prepared for P.S. 580 Prof. John Vasquez University of Illinois at UC,2008)


How does Offensive realism, as presented by Prof. John Mearsheimer in “Tragedy of Great Power Politics”, relate to the intellectual foundations of realism put forward by Hans J. Morgenthau?[1] This is the question I will try to answer by focusing on three elements of Mearsheimer’s theory: the concept of power and its role in international politics, the concept of uncertainty in international politics, and the question of state behavior, and look at how they relate to the work of Morgenthau. My goal is to show that, as far as these three concepts are concerned Mearsheimer essentially refines Morgenthau’s descriptions of international politics. This refinement, though, is not the only possible one of Morgenthau’s description of international relations. Other’s have done so in a different way than Mearsheimer, like Defensive realism as presented by Charles Glaser in “The Necessary and Natural Evolution of Structural Realism’.[2]



John Mearsheimer (University of Chicago)

Briefly put John Mearsheimer’s treatment of the three concepts is as follows. First, power is always defined as latent or actual military capability. It is a central component of security in the International System, and since all states seek security, all states seek power, which is essentially increased military capability. Power always contains an offensive element.[3] This is the central cause of uncertainty in Mearsheimer’s theory. States, due to anarchy, are uncertain of the intentions of other states. More importantly they are uncertain on how much power is enough to make them secure from the uncertainty of the intentions of others. As a result states are power maximizers. They seek as much power as they can get. Thus states seek to control or conquer as much of the resources of military capability as they can by becoming regional hegemons, since geography in the form of the stopping power of water precludes a world hegemony.[4]


Hans Morgenthau (University of Chicago)

Mearsheimer in his book argues that his theory is different from Morgenthau’s “Human Nature Realism”. His main claim is that in Morgenthau state behavior is driven by the vagaries of human nature, while in his theory by anarchy.[5] A closer look will show whether this difference is valid. For Mearsheimer uncertainty about intentions and its corollary, uncertainty about the adequacy of power is driven by anarchy. Anarchy does not make an explicit appearance in Morgenthau. In fact motives, what we would call intentions, are early on considered unimportant by him. Morgenthau’s driving force in international relations is the will of societies to seek interests as defined by power.[6] In his “The National Interest” Morgenthau defines the national interest as made up of a shifting periphery and a permanent core: survival.[7] Thus both Morgenthau and Mearsheimer see states seeking survival. But they differ about the relationship of power to interests. For Morgenthau it seems tautological. For Mearsheimer power is a means to survival. For Morgenthau there is no question about uncertainty of intentions. Since survival is power every state has the same intentions; to attain as much power as possible. [8]


In Mearsheimer the reason states seek as much power as possible is that they are uncertain about intentions and about the adequacy of power levels to secure them from the uncertainty of others intentions. But is this difference a crucial one? If one delves deep enough into “Tragedy of Great Power politics” than it doesn’t seem so. In footnote 8 on page 414 Mearsheimer explains that the uncertainty of intentions in the international system is not caused by anarchy per se, but by the possibility of a state being motivated by non-security calculations or goals.[9] And since the structure of the system creates only one interest, security, this possibility can only be caused in the individual or domestic level of analysis. Levels which explain international behavior for Morgenthau. Thus at its foundation Mearsheimer’s concept of uncertainty is built on the levels of analysis used by Morgenthau. Anarchy needs “human nature” to make sense.

On the question of power, both Mearsheimer and Morgenthau see power as a crucial element of international relations. Mearsheimer defines power in very tangible terms and more narrowly than Morgenthau. Morgenthau describes power as all the ways in which “man control the mind and actions of other men”.[10] Morgenthau clearly says that power is not only military force. Power is a multifaceted phenomenon. Few of its elements are tangible; Geography, Natural Resources, the Technology and Quantity of military forces and Population. Indeed since Mearsheimer clearly does not consider intangible concepts like strategy, or governance quality, as parts of power, he commits for Morgenthau the sin of “Militarism”.[11] And yet I would argue that Mearsheimer’s definition of power is contained in Morgenthau’s description.


Mearsheimer essentially is collapsing the tangible elements of Morgenthau’s power, into the concepts of actual and latent military capability. Military technology and quantity go into actual military capability, geography, natural resources and population into latent power. Everything else, like national morale or strategy, is made an outcome. Mearsheimer does this because a rational actor makes informed decisions based on a calculation of costs and benefits. Intangible concepts cannot be measured and calculated and thus cannot influence a rational actors decisions. Power influences decisions, and thus must be calculable.[12] Taking into consideration that Morgenthau gives rationality to states, this refinement by Mearsheimer doesn’t seem wrong.


This leads me to the final question. Does the behavior of states, in the context of Mearsheimer’s definitions of power and the role of uncertainty, differ from the behaviors of states Morgenthau describes? Mearsheimer’s power maximizers are Morgenthau’s imperialists. Morgenthau’s Imperialists seek World Empire, Continental Empire or Local Preponderance. The only limits on which of the three goals a state will seek are balancing powers, geography and localized claims. Taking into consideration that Morgenthau himself, sees World Empire as rare and questions the relevance or certainty of balancing; only geography and localized claims really limit Imperialist powers.[13] In Mearsheimer’s theory geography remains in the form of the stopping power of water but localized aims are subsumed by the goal of regional hegemony.[14]

Furthermore, Morgenthau’s definitions of Continental Empire and Local preponderance are so abstract, and Mearsheimer’s definition of regional hegemony so contingent on geography, that they could easily contain each other.[15] Thus when it comes to the behavior of states Mearsheimer and Morgenthau seem to agree. However, Morgenthau sees two other state behaviors in the international system; Status Quo and Prestige. But then, Morgenthau’s status quo powers, willing to adjust power and to protect empires or hegemonies, bear a great resemblance with Mearsheimer’s regional hegemon.[16] It must be noted that Mearsheimer ignores prestige states. Keeping this in mind, one is hard pressed not to note the degree to which Mearsheimer’s three concepts we focused on are nestled within Morgenthau and how much they seem as a refinement of Morgenthau’s descriptions.


However this intellectual pedigree should not be seen as proof that the only possible refinement of Morgenthau is Mearsheimer’s. Defensive realism as presented by Charles Glaser, although owning more to Waltz, contains refinements of Morgenthau when it comes to the definitions of power and the behavior of states. Like Mearsheimer and Morgenthau, defensive realists see states as motivated by the quest for security. Like Mearsheimer, and unlike Morgenthau, they see this motivation as birthed by anarchy. Unlike Mearsheimer, but like Morgenthau they see military capabilities as only one element of power. Indeed this is where Defensive Realists provide a refinement of Morgenthau. What is crucial with power is not the military capabilities that are part of it, but the character of these capabilities; offensive or defensive. [17]


The character of power, rather than power itself, will define the intensity of the uncertainty about intentions. Here defensive realists take a number of intangible elements of Morgenthau’s description of power; quality of national forces, and leadership and together with technology give them preponderance as causal factors over the ones Mearsheimer uses. This leads them to put the security dilemma in the central position for their theory. If the defense dominates in the international system, than the worst case scenario behavior of Mearsheimer is unneeded and indeed counterproductive.[18] States will behave like Morgenthau’s status quo states. Indeed, prudence, Morgenthau’s cardinal virtue, should guide rational state behavior. In this way states avoid the security dilemma. If one remembers Morgenthau’s talk about the perils of relying only on military power (military imperialism) and the international isolation it my lead to, the defensive realists seem to be making a similar case.[19]


Defensive realists also accommodate and refine Morgenthau’s variation in state behavior, since they can explain Status Quo behavior through a defense dominate world, and provide an indication of where to look for explanations for Prestige oriented states and Imperialists states. That is the domestic level of analysis, once more the level of Morgenthau and interestingly the level of neoclassical realism.[20]


In conclusion Mearsheimer seems to refine Morgenthau’s description of international politics. Defensive realists also refine some of Morgenthau’s concepts but generally are more heavily indebted to Kenneth Waltz. Mearsheimer, although making the case for a structural theory, seems far too close to Morgenthau to not raise some questions about the structural character of his theory.


[1] John J. Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, Norton, New York 2001, Hans J. Morgenthau, Politics among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace, McGraw Hill, NY 2006

[2] Charles Glaser, “The Necessary and Natural Evolution of Structural Realism”, in Realism and the Balancing of Power: A New Debate, ed John Vasquez and Colin Elman, Prentice Hall, N.J.,2003.

[3] John J. Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, on power see pp 5,30, 56-58, 61, 133-136, on survival as goal see pp 31,33,46

[4] John J. Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, Norton, New York 2001 on uncertainty pp 3,31-32,34-35, on regional hegemony see pp 35,37-40, on stopping power of water see 41,77,84,114-119

[5] John J. Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, 2001 pp 17-22

[6] Hans J. Morgenthau, Politics among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace, McGraw Hill, NY 2006 on motives page 5, on power and interests 5,10-11,29,37,50-51

[7] Hans J. Morgenthau, “ Another Great Debate: The National Interest of the United States”, APSR 46(1952), 961-978

[8] John J. Mearsheimer, 2001, pp 56,61 Hans J. Morgenthau, 2006 pp 5,10-11,29, 50-51

[9] John J. Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, Norton, New York 2001 page 414

[10] Hans J. Morgenthau, Politics among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace, McGraw Hill, NY 2006 pp 30-31,33

[11] Hans J. Morgenthau, 2006, on power and force pp 31,73, on multifaceted character pp 122-162, on “Militarism” pp 173-174

[12] John J. Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, Norton, New York 2001 on actual power pp 55-56,83-87,133-135 on latent power pp 55, 61 on outcomes and argument pp 57-60

[13] John J. Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, Norton, New York 2001,on power maximization pp 30-40, Hans J. Morgenthau, Politics among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace, McGraw Hill, NY 2006 on state behavior pp 50-51,56-59,65-74, on balance of power 173-174, 214-219

[14] John J. Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, 2001 on regional hegemony and stopping power of water 41,114-119, on state goals pp 46-48

[15] John J. Mearsheimer, 2001 pp 40-42 , Hans J. Morgenthau, 2006 pp 66-69

[16] John J. Mearsheimer, 2001 on the regional hegemon as a status quo power 40,234-238, Hans J. Morgenthau, 2006 pp 51-55

[17] Charles Glaser, “The Necessary and Natural Evolution of Structural Realism”, in Realism and the Balancing of Power: A New Debate, ed John Vasquez and Colin Elman, Prentice Hall, N.J.,2003.pp 268-269, Hans J. Morgenthau, Politics among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace, McGraw Hill, NY 2006 on power and military capabilities see footnote 11

[18] Charles Glaser, “The Necessary and Natural Evolution of Structural Realism”, 2003 pp 269,270, On Morgenthau and technology, leadership and quality see footnote 11.

[19] Hans J. Morgenthau, 2006 pp 70-73, Charles Glaser, 2003 pp 269-270,272

[20] Charles Glaser, “The Necessary and Natural Evolution of Structural Realism”, in Realism and the Balancing of Power: A New Debate, ed John Vasquez and Colin Elman, Prentice Hall, N.J.,2003 pp 272-273

2 comments:

littlejohn said...

interesting analysis, I would tend to fall on the side of Mearsheimer since his position does seem to include all of the other guy's (position) within it...

I was also fascinated by the idea of a water barrier as a limit to state power...something my landlocked Bleiherzeners would dearly wish for...

--dave

Konstantinos Travlos said...

The Stopping power of water, is an interesting if problematic concept (I might do a quantitative analysis of it, one day for a short paper).

I tend to like Mearsheimer's early work, and had the good fortune of actually taking two course with him in Chicago. He is an interesting and smart guy. Methodologically problematic, but theoretically interesting.

But his latest work leaves a lot to be desired.