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Argumentative Essay Supporting Defensive Realism Over Offensive Realism in International Relations Theory

In international relations theory, realist approaches dominate discourses on state behavior in an anarchistic global system. Meanwhile, the realist theory holds that states seek power and security in pursuing national interests above all other factors. According to Singh (3), Within the larger realist framework, a significant debate occurs between offensive and defensive realism, espoused by scholars such as John Mearsheimer. This paper argues, however, that the concept of defensive realism offers a more nuanced and compelling view when analyzing state behavior in world politics.

According to offensive realism, great powers are intrinsically motivated towards hegemonic ambitions and actively seek any chance to further their domination at the expense of competitors. This view suggests a constant process of revisionist power-maximization, constrained only by the opposing powers’ ability to provide counterbalance. On the contrary, a critical analysis of historical documents shows that during anarchy, even states do not fight incessantly for supremacy (Zhang 3). Defensive realism gives a more plausible account because anarchy might stimulate states to pursue self-help, but their most profound interest is preserving the current power distribution pattern. States only subject this allocation to revisions if significant changes in the international system structure occur, implying a more sophisticated approach closer to historical reality and the intricacies of global politics.

In addition, offensive realism fails to adequately address states’ perceptions and miscalculations of power that usually limit their behavior. According to Grafov (5), the Cold War era offers an interesting case in point, as the US did not involve itself in direct conflicts with the USSR due to fears of retaliation following a nuclear attack. Such considerations are reflected by defensive realism that allows for recognizing uncertainty as an adjacent component in fueling security dilemmas leading to self-limitation on state actions. Moreover, offensive realism fails to address instances of great powers’ coalitions since it is concentrated on noncompetitive relations. On the other hand, defensive realism allows states to work together sometimes and mitigate a risk that may lead to changing world order.

Defensive realism interprets the security features of international anarchy and portrays a worldwide image regarding state behavior. This view focuses on the complicated tangle that restricts and restrains states in competitive power battles, which define global relations. At the same time, states will always seem to find ways to enhance their image and influence; practical obstacles limit accomplishing set goals. Defense conception allows one better than abstract calculations based on offensive realist concepts to reach this goal (Grafov.6). That is, defensive realism focuses on protection rather than the power to maximize indefinitely and provides highly focused detail into complex issues that form the basis for interaction among states at an international level.

That is, defensive realism represents a mid-position between positive and negative worldviews – an assessment of the somewhat cautious yet competitive game for power in terms of security played by great powers against each other on an unstable global stage. Such stability has to be maintained, as power shifts must not lead to upsets but are inevitable since states aspire for increased status. With its more sophisticated approach, defensive realism enhances the understanding of state behavior because it offers a framework better reflecting actual patterns in international relations. In the end, defensive realism provides a more suggestive and illuminating view of understanding what happens between states in an anarchic system.

Works Cited

Grafov, Dmitry. “Offensive versus Defensive Realism.” Contemporary Arab Affairs, vol. 12, no. 3, 3 Sept. 2019, pp. 21–40, Accessed 12 Jan. 2020.

Singh, Danny. Main International Relations Theories. 1 Jan. 2023, pp. 7–65,

Zhang, Baohui. “From Defensive toward Offensive Realism: Strategic Competition and Continuities in the United States’ China Policy.” Journal of Contemporary China, vol. 31, no. 137, 30 Nov. 2021, pp. 1–17,


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