Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Mearsheimer: Review of Chapters 3 and 10 of Tragedy of Great Power Politics"

Mearsheimer: Chapters 3 and 10 of "The Tragedy of Great Power Politics"

Part I: Summary

In Chapter 3, Mearsheimer says that power is of two types: latent and effective (or military) power (p.55). Latent power is composed of the resources a state has available to build military power (p. 60). These resources include, but at not limited to, wealth and population (p. 61). Population is important because without people, you cannot build armies (p.61). There must actually be soldiers to fight in the army. Wealth is important because unless a state has wealth, there is no way to equip, train, pay and provide for the military forces of a country (p. 61). However, great wealth does not mean great military power, although great military power means great wealth because it takes a lot of wealth to support an army (p.75). Effective power – military power – is based on the size of a state’s army (p. 56). The indicator is the army because occupation and takeover require actual boots on the ground – which is the function of an army, not a navy or air force (p.56).

Mearsheimer says that his definition of power – that of a measurement of material resources – is the best one to use because power has to be the ability of state A to force state B to do something that state B doesn’t want to do (p. 57). Power must exist before it is exercised, and so the only way to measure that is to measure the resources that a state can use to force their will on another state (p. 60). If the measurement of power was based on the outcomes of conflicts, there would be no way to measure which state was the more powerful state until the outcome is complete (p. 60). Additionally, if power was to be based on outcomes, then there would be no way to account for resources that don’t have to do with capabilities in a calculation of power, such as: strategy, intelligence, morale, health of population, and weather (p. 60). Therefore, the definition of power must be based in resources because they can account for material and non-material sources of power (p. 60).

However, this does not mean that a state with a lot of latent power will be a powerful state and be able to turn that into effective power (p.75). States have different levels of ability to turn latent power into military power (p.79). So a state that can turn latent power into military power more effectively, even if that state might have less latent power, will be more powerful (p. 79). An organized economy can play a great role in the effective transformation of latent power to effective power (p. 81). Additionally, states buy different kinds of military forces. One state will buy more in the navy, while the other will spend more on its army. The states that spend more on its army will have more power, even if the other state has a larger overall military, because boots on the ground equals power (p.81).

The important difference to understand is how wealth and power are distributed among the great powers (p. 82).

In Chapter 10, Mearsheimer states that claiming that security competition and war among great powers is over –to be replaced with cooperation – because the Cold War is over, is wrong (p.361). Cooperation will not replace security competition because all great powers still care about gaining power because states still fear each other and anarchy reigns (p.361). Therefore, because there has been no structural change, there will be no behavioral change (p. 361). Mearsheimer also argues that there will be no structural change because no one wants to give up “being a state” and nationalism is one of the most powerful political forces in the world (p.366).

Part II: Analysis

Mearsheimer says that the balance of power among great powers is equal to the balance of military power (p. 56). However, he then says that the balance of power isn’t a good predictor of military success because there are other factors that can supply one side with an advantage: strategy, intelligence, morale, weather and disease (p. 58). These two ideas seem to be at conflict with each other. If the balance of power is military power, but the balance of power isn’t a good predictor of military success, then how can you know when a hegemon emerges? A hegemon has to have enough military power to rule their part of the world and prevent other states from coming in and interfering. This concept seems to indicate that at some point the balance of power does equal, and must be a good predictor of, military power. Otherwise, a system that is based on military capabilities would have no way of knowing what type of world it was in. Those two statements seem to be inconsistent with each other.

According to Mearsheimer, the world didn’t change after the end of the Cold War (p. 361), and then goes about showing how other theories are wrong. International economic interdependence will not make a structural change because the world is probably not more interdependent than it was in the early 20th century (p. 365). No where does Mearsheimer validate his assumption that there is as much interdependence today as there was then. It is simply a bold statement without any facts to back it up. He also discredits the democratic peace theory on the basis of near misses (p.368). However, near misses indicate that there was no war. The causes behind the near misses are never explained by Mearsheimer, he simply states that they had nothing to do with democracy (p.368). I would be more convinced if he had facts to prove that, instead of assumptive statements. Democracy affects everything in it to some extent, so I have a hard time believing his statement that near misses have nothing to do with democracy. Mearsheimer’s only basis for discrediting other theories is his emphasis on anarchy.

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