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Rational Theory of International Politics:
The Logic of Competition and Cooperation
Charles L. Glaser

Honorable Mention for the 2011 Best Book, International Security Studies Section of the International Studies Association

Paperback | 2010 | $37.50 | £31.95 | ISBN: 9780691143729
328 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 6 tables.
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Within the realist school of international relations, a prevailing view holds that the anarchic structure of the international system invariably forces the great powers to seek security at one another's expense, dooming even peaceful nations to an unrelenting struggle for power and dominance. Rational Theory of International Politics offers a more nuanced alternative to this view, one that provides answers to the most fundamental and pressing questions of international relations.

Why do states sometimes compete and wage war while at other times they cooperate and pursue peace? Does competition reflect pressures generated by the anarchic international system or rather states' own expansionist goals? Are the United States and China on a collision course to war, or is continued coexistence possible? Is peace in the Middle East even feasible? Charles Glaser puts forward a major new theory of international politics that identifies three kinds of variables that influence a state's strategy: the state's motives, specifically whether it is motivated by security concerns or "greed"; material variables, which determine its military capabilities; and information variables, most importantly what the state knows about its adversary's motives.

Rational Theory of International Politics demonstrates that variation in motives can be key to the choice of strategy; that the international environment sometimes favors cooperation over competition; and that information variables can be as important as material variables in determining the strategy a state should choose.


"This ambitious book offers a deductive theory of state security policies that builds on work by Kenneth Waltz, John Mearsheimer, and Alexander Wendt. Unlike Waltz and like Wendt, Glaser contends that the anarchic structure of the international system does not automatically lead to competitive policies; cooperation is possible if states properly assess their rivals' motives. . . . [T]his is an important work for serious students of security studies."--Choice

"Glaser should be commended for demonstrating how even realist assumptions can lead to cooperative and peaceful outcomes in international politics. The manner in which he reaches these conclusions is also praiseworthy, particularly his attention to detail. Glaser interrogates important realist concepts and lays bare their conceptual and methodological shortcomings, before correcting or adapting them appropriately. This makes Glaser's restatement of realism the most sophisticated yet."--Benjamin Martin, Political Studies Review

"Rational Theory of International Politics is an important book that should not be missed by those interested in IR. The book offers a comprehensive theory of rationalism which does much to forward the internal debates of the realist school. The analysis of material variables, where Glaser's mastery of the topic is evident, is the highlight of the book. Further, the extended analysis of information variables is a most welcome addition to a school that has largely ignored their importance."--Sophia Dingli, Millennium: Journal of International Studies


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Table of Contents:

Preface ix
Chapter One: Introduction 1
Chapter Two: Setting Up the Theory 23
Chapter Three: The Theory 51
Chapter Four: Extensions of the Theory 93
Chapter Five: Counterarguments 127
Chapter Six: Placing the Theory in the IR Theory Landscape 148
Chapter Seven: Evaluating the Theory from Within 172
Chapter Eight: Evaluating the Theory--Important Cases and Useful Comparisons 206
Chapter Nine: Applying the Theory to Arms Races; Testing It with Counterfactuals 228
Chapter Ten: Summary and Policy Implications 269
Bibliography 283
Index 305

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