John Mearsheimer & Robert Wright: Russia Hawks and China Hawks

On the Nonzero podcast, journalist Robert Wright talks with legendary International Relations theorist John J. Mearsheimer about his upcoming book, How States Think: The Rationality of Foreign Policy, among other topics. Recorded April 19, 2023.

0:00 John’s upcoming book, How States Think: The Rationality of Foreign Policy
2:51 Is the US to blame for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine?
10:00 Is Putin less rational than John assumes?
22:20 Why John is a Russia dove and a China hawk
29:50 Does China pose a threat to freedom around the world?
36:57 Why John thinks China’s rise threatens American security
47:58 Has globalization made great-power peace possible?
56:14 Should the US defend Taiwan against a Chinese invasion?

13 thoughts on “John Mearsheimer & Robert Wright: Russia Hawks and China Hawks”

  1. Robert Wright has done an outstanding job of preparing for this interview. The China questions and answers are illuminating. Thanks to Eric Garris for including the time stamps.
    Like Wright, I cannot wrap my head around why Trump and Biden chose to turn China into an adversary. That part of the conversation begins at 25.50. My take is that Wright thinks it isn’t rational and Mearsheimer thinks that there are higher priorities for decision makers than being rational.

  2. This is Eric Zuesse, and I just want to say that I am shocked at your posting this interview and at the way you characterized Mearsheimer and his views. Mearsheimer is exceedingly presumptuous and his presumptions are basically false. He says that China has the same ideology now that it did under Mao, but Deng Xiaoing revolutionized China’s Government by throwing overboard much of Mao and mixing socialism with capitalism, and by restoring the National College Entrance Examination that had been cancelled for ten years under Mao’s Cultural Revolution, and he thereby established the competitive merit-based economy which has caused China’s economy to soar. A higher percentage of Chinese, in Western-surveys of of nations around the world, consider their Government a democracy than of any other nation, and far higher percentage than of Americans who believe that our Government is a democracy. All of Mearsheimer’s garbage about “balance of power” ignores the reality that China is already by far the richest country in the world in human capital and that Russia (which he denigrates as a worldpower) is by far the richest country in the world in natural resources. His is a socio-culturally blindered view of the world, which is very much from a U.S. perspective, and which ASSUMES (falsely) that continuing America’s being the #1 world power would be a good thing for the world. Your having introduced him as a “legendary International Relations theorist John J. Mearsheimer” falsely assumes the U.S.-cultural supremacist political-‘science’ view, which is responsible for our country’s being controlled now by its military-industrial complex. You call yourself Ugh! You are besmirching your very name.

    1. I’m not going to attempt to address the substance of your opinions on Mearsheimer, China, Russia, or US foreign policy. The most I could really say about that is that we’re, not SpecificApprovedDoctrinalLineOnEveryIssue.Com.

      But it’s hardly “shocking” that would post an interview with a guy whose work it’s been lauding and promoting for years and who likewise has been known to promote our work (most recently in a letter supporting our current fundraiser).

      1. My only thought regarding the information you just now supplied, is that it seems to me to be not so much an EXPLANATION of why your introductory lead-in said “legendary International Relations theorist John J. Mearsheimer” and promoted his new book, but instead as having been your EXCUSE for having done so, because compromising truth in regards to anybody, or what’s often called “I’ll scratch your back if you’ll continue to scratch mine,” is exactly what is WRONG with all of the Establishment ‘news’-media, and you CLAIM to NOT BE a part of that.

        But I shall, upon further reflection about the matter, also note here that I have found Mearsheimer, both in his writings and in his interviews, to shade truth quite a lot in order for him to achieve the acceptance and high personal honors that he has been receiving throughout his career from the Establishment. I am mentioning that now because both your site and Mearsheimer do that enough so that it isn’t ONLY in this particular instance that I am being irked by it: I have noticed it before, and regard your site as being a libertarian vehicle of the Establishment, instead of as being authentically anti-Establishment and 100% committed against censorship and for democracy, which means never to shade the truth AT ALL — not for anybody. So: I do not regard this particular instance as being an exception. What “shocked” me was instead the blatancy of it in this particular instance.

        1. We’re an antiwar site. Any other expectation is a preference or prejudice you bring with you, not something we’re obligated to conform to or necessarily resemble.

          And as I said in my previous reply, I’m not going to argue with you about Mearsheimer, because my opinion of him and his work is irrelevant to the question of whether it should be “shocking” that a guy who’s often prominently featured at this site has once again been featured at this site.

    2. thanks for this. I agree fully with your remarks on Mearsheimer as regards Russia. He is dead wrong about Russian power and stubbornly resists listening to anyone who thinks otherwise. The regrettable thing is that other U.S. academics are even worse than M . They are as a group all Putin haters, meaning Russia haters. Of course, academics don’t count for much. It is the devils in the State Dept under the wings of Victoria Nuland that are causing the trouble.

      1. Blinken, Sullivan, Nuland. Of course there are counterparts in the GOP. Just such stupidity, waste of valuable resources that would make for a more better world, and U.S.A.

      2. It’s a phenomenon that’s been built into the socio-cultural fabric of the nation. It was a discussion that was decided in Mark Twain’s day. I call it the Cult of Personality/Nemesis/Celebrity effect. Instead of a working understanding of the institutions which actually wield the power, they chase after a persona as the solution. Basically every major problem is Hitler and killing it will solve the problem.

        The exceptionalism is a carry over from Europe’s six centuries of dominance that is coming to an end with the Information Revolution.

    3. Several months ago, my wife and I met a couple from China. The man is and engineer and former project manager. His wife still works. He said that China has opened up and people are traveling. He said he has taken cruises to many places and has enjoyed all. One of the cruises he mentions was to Catalina, CA., and Baja California. I asked him which country he enjoyed the most during his work years and in retirement. Without hesitation, he said Germany was their favorite. We did not discuss the political realm. The point made by him, was China is more open, allowing travel, etc. It is pointless for our administrations to make China, and also Russia, pariahs, just for world dominance. Just pointless.

  3. Mersheimer is not anti-war. He is anti specific wars that, in his view, do not serve the imperial interest. He calls this “realism” (presumably because only he can see what is “real”, while everyone else lives in a dream world). He is fundamentally unwilling or unable to accept the proposition that our world can evolve to function outside the zero-sum paradigm that has defined its past and present. This is why on the question of Russia, he sounds rather reasonable to an anti-war audience, while on the question of China, he is every bit as rabidly hawkish as the Pompeos and Boltons of the world. The only difference between them is that Mersheimer doesn’t sugar-coat his arguments with feigned sentimentalism and ideological doublespeak, it’s just good ol’ fashioned imperialism, served cold, with a side of perpetual smile, garnished with an occasional guffaw.

    What’s more curious is that he thinks the Chinese are just like him, that the Chinese leadership is made up of “realists” like himself, and therefore he knows what they want and can predict with virtual certainty what they will do. In this sense he is every bit as hubristic and blind to his own projections as the Neocons he so loves to criticize.

    The debate between Mersheimer (and others like him) and the conventional warmongers is not whether America should throw its weight around in other parts of the planet, but where. Sadly, after watching “Chimp Empire” on Netflix, it’s not difficult to see where this mentality came from, and why the “alpha males” among us are so firmly wedded to it.

  4. I used to like John Mearsheimer until I found out he is a China Hawk. He should only be hawkish on ending wars, sanctions, coups & drone strikes.

    1. He’s part of the “realist” school. They’re not anti-war per se. They’re just occasional opponents of particular wars.

      But I guess being against some wars is at least better than never having seen a war you didn’t like.

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