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Offensive and Defensive Realism - National Chengchi University

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Offensive and Defensive Realism
March 5, 2013
Offensive and Defensive Realism
Note:Debate over commonalities and differencesDebate over whetherThey are both realismWhether there are significant differences between them (mostly in the literature that is cited)Possible affinity between defensive realism andClassical realism (as opposed toneorealism)Constructivism, liberalinterntionalismand democratic peace theoryIn that sense, is it a “softer”, because less totally structural realism? A realism more amenable to rational choice theory? A realism more amenable to a sophisticated understanding of psychology and politics in general?Is it “neorealismplus,” or “neorealismminus,” or “notneorealism”?
Taliaferro: Security Seeking Under Anarchy
Overall question:Does the international system provide incentives for aggressive expansion or defensive selective engagement as the best way of obtaining security?Offensive realism: international system encourages offensive strategy because anarchism leads to insecurity, and only by being the strongest can a state be secure.What is important is the nature of power balances, and these lead weak states to fear strong states, strong states to fear rising states, and neighbors to fear one another. This fear leads states to tend to strike first, engage in risky behavior in pursuit of security, and to do everything possible to build up their military.
Defensive realism: condition of anarchy is underdetermining. It creates situations in which measures meant to create security, including aggression, increase the insecurity of others, thereby creating a more dangerous situation that encourages others to balance against one and to contemplate first strikes. To gain security in many instances, states are best served by signaling restraint rather than aggression, though aggression may be necessary in some instances.
In this understanding, offensive realists assume policymakers start with a perception which causes a concrete policy that has concrete effects (war, building of alliances, gathering of more resources), where defensive realistsassummpolicymakers create policies that both create concrete effects and which are meant to create perceptions.
More Differences:Neorealismvs. Neoclassical Realism
Taliaferro argues that these are complementary rather than rivals, in that one explain behavior and events that the other does not:Neorealism: explain events in an international system that involve 2 or more states– war, negotiations, alliances, arms races, etc. Explanatory variables are only at the system level.Neoclassical: Why a state pursues particular polices at various times or why a different states pursue different policies in the same systemic context.Probablisticpredictions regarding how a state will respond to systems pressures. Grand strategies, military doctrines, foreign economic policies. Explanatory variables at different levels.
Offensive vs. Defensive Realism
These are competitors that seek to explain the same phenomena and cut across the Classical/Neo divide. Most important difference is that defensive variety argues that anarchy only provides incentives for expansion under certain conditions, while offensive variety holds that anarchy always provides incentives for expansion.DefenseNeorealists: Waltz, Copeland, JervisOffensiveNeorealists: Gilpin,Mearsheimer,SchwellerDefensive Neoclassical: Walt, Christenson, VanEveraOffensive Neoclassical:Zakaria,Wohlforth
Assumptions defensive realists make:Always will be security dilemmas– no way to escape themHowever, these dilemmas do not always increase the probability of war.This is because of the presence of intervening variables between the security dilemma and action, in the form of military technology, geography and access to raw materials.These intervening variables have a greater effect than the overall balance of power in the system because they create different contexts that influence the decisionsstatesmentmake.
Assumptions of Neoclassical Defensive Realists
Importance of perceptions of capabilities and intentions amongdecisionmakers: beliefsystgems, images of adversariesDomestic politics help shape foreign policies. Emphasis on leaders and their decisions as constrained by domestic structures (but not institutions, norms, interest groups, as is the case with liberal internationalists, constructivists, democratic peace theorists).
Brooks: Dueling Realisms
Two types of realism:NeorealismPostclassical realismBecause they are both “realisms,” they have commonalities:Focus on systemsState centeredEmphasize material rather than nonmaterial factorsAssume that states pursue self-help for self-interested reasons
Generally in the areas of:Possibilities for conflict and aggressionHow states perceive threatsHow states view long and short term interestsWhether states primarily pursue power or security
Neorealistsand Threats
Brooks argues thatneorealistsview threats and security in absolute terms. Because states primarily pursue security, they are intensely sensitive to security threats.Neorealistsin particular believe that states take seriously:The high price of military preparedness for state survival in case of warThe fact that they cannot easily or accurately read intentions, thus must always assume the worstMilitary might the only effective precaution againstagression– not diplomacy, international institutions, etc.
Because of this orientation towards threats, put in terms of thepossibilityof a threat, neorealist argue that states will focus on the short term, discounting the future for the present.This is because future payoffs in the form of investments in non-military goods (such is the economy) are worthless if in the short term the state is conquered. Thus even measures to increase power in the long run (such as economic investment) are ignored in favor of bringing all possible resources to bear on current defense needs.Thus actors are not utility (or power)maximizers; rather, they attempt to avoid losses or to minimize the types of losses that might be incurred. This means they will be aggressive rather than trusting, again even if taking the latter route would pay off in increased power (and thus security) in the long term.
Postclassical Realists
Brooks holds that postclassical realists see less inherent conflict in anarchical systems than doneorealists, though they do not necessarily see the world as peaceful and cooperative, merely more peaceful and cooperative.This is because they see states as rational actors and thus as utilitymaximizers, entities that seek to maximize power because it allows them the flexible means by which to pursue many ends, including security.
As rational actors, states in the understanding of postclassical realism:Base their strategies on the probabilities of aggression and threats. If that probability is high, then will invest in military, alliances and sacrifice cooperation for security. But if not high, then will do other things that will enhance power.This is because they see devoting resources to security as costly both in absolute terms and in terms of opportunity costs. Use resources for those purposes if the threat is real; if no threat, then such use is wasteful.
Thus states in this view will also not automatically discount the future for the present. If circumstances are such that short-term outlays are not necessary, then it is better to invest resources (of whatever sort– economic, diplomatic, etc) for long term payoffs that will maximize power.Here also differ from classical realists, who saw states pursuing power as an end in itself. Postclassical see states pursuing power as the means by which to obtain other good things; thus, it is to be expended when necessary, and possibly sacrificed.
Will states move to balance other dominant states even if it appears that the dominant states do not present a high probability of threat:Japan and Germany vs. USNeorealists: will because US preponderance of power presents the possibility of a threatPostclassical: will not because US does not pose a high probability of threat, thus the rational thing to do is to concentrate on long term and economic mattes rather than costly balancing games.
Postclassical andNonrealist
Postclassical are closer to constructivism, liberal internationalism and democratic peace theory:Nation level factorsPerceptionsStates as rational actors that respond to contexts and scenarios that are complicated and diverse rather than to simple understanding of balances within a universal system
VanEvera: Offense, Defense and the Causes of War
Article about Offensive/Defensive balances as a factor in the possibilities for conflict and aggression– thus an additional factor to systemic balances.Key question: is war more likely if conquest is relatively easy (i.e., if offense is easier than usual, due to military technology, new ways of organizing armies, geography, social systems, diplomatic arrangements, balancing behaviors– all of which are factors in the offense/defense balance), not easier than defense as a whole).
Ten ways in which Easy Conquest leads to War
Empires are easy to conquer; therefore, everyone is encouraged to engage in opportunistic expansion.Self-defense is difficult, leading to feelings of insecurity and incentives for defensive expansionExpansionism in such contexts leads to fierce resistanceFirst-strike advantages are large, leading to higher likelihood of preemptive warsWindows of opportunity and vulnerability are larger, leading to higher likelihood of preemptive war
Offensive advantage-- war
6. States more often adopt fait accompli diplomatic tactics, which often lead to war due to the fact that neither side can afford to lose face7. States less likely to negotiation over differences8. States more security-minded about plans9. Arms races faster and harder to control10. Offense dominance is self-perpetuating
Some dangerous dynamics when offense dominant
Small gains and losses are magnified in importanceGreater level of competitionAggressors are fed by temptation and fear, rather than deterred by security measures others adoptMore weight given to arguments in favor of preventative war given the high stakes, particularly by states experiencing, or about to experience,relative decline.





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Offensive and Defensive Realism - National Chengchi University