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We have explained both strands of thought.
Offensive and defensive realism.
We do this through explaining offensive
And then showing flaws with this theory and
how defensive realism is better suited to
explain rise of China
For offensive realism we mainly analyze
Mearsheimers theory.
And then finally we summarize the salient
features of defensive realism.

Realist Theory
Assumptions of Realist Theory:

International system is anarchic

Sovereign states are central actors in world politics
and are rational agents
There is no central authority governing the
behaviours of states
The structure of the international system shapes the
behaviour of the states
States often fail to cooperate

Mearsheimers Theory and the Rise of China

Waltzs theory - Structural Realism

Offensive vs. Defensive

Methods of seeking security:

Offensive realists intentionally decrease

the security of others
Defensive realist states do not seek
security in this manner

Conflict of Interest:

Offensive realist states Conflict of

interest is genuine and genuinely
irreconcilable (Either I kill you or you will
kill me)
Defensive realist states Conflicts of
interest are genuine but not necessarily
Some conflicts can be avoided

Offensive vs. Defensive Realist


Chinas realist stance

If Offensive Rational choice for other

states is containment
If Defensive Rational choice for other
states is engagement

Kydds Four Criteria

Ideology (Intolerant or Tolerant)
Policy towards its domestic minorities
Policy towards its weaker neighbours
Military and arms control policy

Main goal to guarantee survival by pushing for
regional hegemony(impossible to attain global
If offensive realism theory is correct then we should
expect China will seek to maximize power gap
between itself and powerful neighbors(like Russia and
Japan) and also make sure no other states in Asia have
the means to threaten it.
Also likely to force out US forces out of Asia(like US did
with European powers when pushing for hegemony).
Come up with a version of Monroe Doctorine.

How will the US react??
US played a key role in defeating Imperial
Germany, Imperial Japan, Nazi Germany and Soviet
Union who made a push for regional hegemony.
US policy makers will react to China the same way
they reacted to Soviet Union during cold war>weaken China till the point they dont pose a
How will others react?
The neighbors will do whatever they can to prevent
this from happening.
In the end a US lead coalition of regional powers
would check the rise of China

OFFENSIVE REALISMMearsheimers Theory

Maximize power and pursue hegemony
Rejects that balancing will happen against the
potential hegemon(because of collective action
involved in balancing the states will indulge in buck
No way to predict Chinas current or future intentions.
Difficult to distinguish between Chinas defensive and
offensive military capabilities.
Chinas peaceful behavior in the past is not a reliable
indicator of the future.

OFFENSIVE REALISMMearsheimers Theory

Apply the same points to the US.
Assuming the worst, both states will amass power
which will result in security competition with a
potential for war.
China will inevitably make a bid for regional hegemony
with US and regional states trying to contain China.
So he concludes that rise of China can not be

OFFENSIVE REALISMMearsheimers Theory Analyzed

The fact that we cant predict Chinas intentions is not
a reason to assume that they will have the worst
possible intentions.
This uncertainty will cause states to fear China.
These states can either by increasing costs of conflict
for China or by decreasing Chinas fear about other
states intentions(by increasing trade with China
,incorporating them in IOs, or use costly signals to
build confidence)

Mearsheimers Theory Analyzed

Out of all bids for hegemony only US was successful.
But he uses this as a model to explain what China will
do which is a flawed argument)
But during USs rise to hegemony there were no
credible regional balancers and European powers were
consumed with politics in Europe and lacked
incentives to check US expansion.
But Chinas situation is not at all same as that of the
China has many regional powers like Russia and Japan
and a rising power in India(Korea and Vietnam also
have good military strength)
It also has a foreign balances in US which can project
its strength and lend its support to the regional

Mearsheimers Theory
Claims we should ignore Chinas past peaceful behavior.
But it makes sense for rational states to use past behavior
to calculate the severity of the threat posed.
Chinas peaceful behavior has yielded many advantages
for it.
Like-strengthened relations, international
treaties,membership in IOs etc)
Makes sense for China to not be hostile as that may harm
the relations they have built over so many years.
Thus it is flawed to suggest past behavior is irrelevant
Preemptive action by US also makes no sense as China will
probably not attempt regional hegemony
Even if it does so it wont threaten USs regional hegemony.
Also US will lose allies and they will incur huge diplomatic
All this shows that Mearsheimers offensive realism theory
is flawed and incoherent.

Another author(Tang) believes the following criteria
are better suited to differentiate.
Whether a state recognizes security dilemma
and understands its implications
Whether a state exercises self constraint and is
willing to be constrained by other countries.
But as we know China does exercise self constraint as
can be seen in its conflict with Japan over Senkaku

Scholars who argue that China will balance against the
US point to the rapid expansion of Chinas military
Even though it is true that Chinas military budget has
grown drastically in the past few years, China spends
little compared to the US.
This rise in spending has coincided with Chinas
economic development.
China spends only about 2% of its GDP on military
expansion compared to USs 4%
Hence even this argument is not a valid one.

Many scholars view Chinas growing active multilateral
diplomacy in East Asian cooperation as being directed
towards weakening USs position in Asia.
They site treaties like ASEAN-China FTA as example of
These are overly simplistic theories as they ignore
domestic decision making processes in China.
Most of these treaties were largely driven by Chinas
economic reformers.

Optimistic view on rise of China
China will still look to gain power and shift the balance
of power in its favor.
But it shall do so peacefully.
It wont push for hegemony->Does not make sense for
great powers to push for hegemony as their rivals will
form a balancing coalition to crush them.
A powerful China with a limited appetite should be
reasonably easy to contain and to engage in
cooperative endeavors.
Regional States armed with nuclear weapons will form
another deterrent in pushing for hegemony.

Hard to see Chinas gains by conquering regional
countries->Chinas economy is growing at a
tremendous rate and it will face fierce resistance from
population that falls under its control.
Defensive realists allow for the possibility of China not
acting rationally(similar to that of Imperial Germany,
Japan etc). But they maintain that the behaviour of
those great powers was motivated by domestic
political pathologies, not sound strategic logic.
Rise of China will change the world from unipolar
system to bipolar system which could lead to great
power wars.
But even though bipolar systems are not as peaceful
as unipolar systems it is still relatively peaceful.


Mearsheimers theory of offensive realism

is a modification of Waltzs structural
Anarchic structure of international system seek balance of power
US dominance
Imbalance of power globally
Not likely to cooperate
Balance of power in East Asia is unstable
Great power rivalry - suboptimal
outcomes (Cold War)

If states were irrational - leaders not

concerned about a states survival
thenn tendency to risk it all for
hegemony. Rational, security-seeking
states have no reason to engage in
such bids, however.