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John J. Mearsheimer: Can China Rise Peacefully?

The video is a lecture by John Mearsheimer on the topic of whether China can rise peacefully, assuming that it would continue to rise. Mearsheimer outlines his theory of great power politics, focusing on the potential for conflict as China seeks to assert itself as a regional hegemon. American foreign policy has historically focused on preventing the rise of regional hegemons, as exemplified by its actions against Imperial Germany, Imperial Japan, Nazi Germany, and the Soviet Union. Mearsheimer argues that the structure of the international system, characterized by anarchy and the distribution of power among states, naturally leads to competition and conflict, especially when a rising power challenges an established one.

However, extrapolating from Mearsheimer’s analysis and applying it to the question of America’s peaceful decline, a few points can be considered:

  1. Power Transition Theory: Mearsheimer’s arguments align with the broader contours of power transition theory, which suggests that periods of significant shifts in global power—such as a potential American decline coinciding with the rise of China—are historically fraught with tensions and conflicts.
  2. U.S. Strategy and Behavior: According to Mearsheimer’s view on great power politics, the U.S. is likely to resist any challenge to its hegemony, especially in the Western Hemisphere, under the premise of the Monroe Doctrine mentioned in his lecture. This implies that America might not readily or peacefully accept a decline in its predominant global position.
  3. Historical Precedents: Mearsheimer’s analysis of past great powers and their behavior could suggest that peaceful transitions of power are challenging to achieve. Historical precedents of great power declines often involve conflict, although these conflicts can vary widely in their nature and scope.
  4. The Role of Nuclear Weapons: The presence of nuclear weapons in the arsenals of both the U.S. and China introduces a deterrence factor that could potentially prevent direct large-scale conflict between them, owing to the mutual assured destruction doctrine. This could influence the manner in which a possible American decline unfolds, pushing towards either a more cautious engagement or strategic competition in non-conventional areas.
  5. Conclusion: While Mearsheimer’s lecture does not directly answer whether America can decline peacefully, his theory suggests that significant challenges exist for a peaceful decline of a hegemonic power like the U.S., particularly in the face of a rising competitor like China. The historical and theoretical context points towards a period of strategic competition, with potential flashpoints and conflicts. However, the unique contemporary context—including nuclear deterrence, economic globalization, and the potential for international cooperation on common challenges—could offer pathways to manage tensions and avoid direct conflict.

In summary, whether America can decline peacefully remains an open question, highly dependent on the actions and policies of both the U.S. and China, as well as the international community’s ability to navigate the complexities of a changing global order.

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