7 International Order – A Critique of John Mearsheimer’s New Model of Order in:

Maximilian Terhalle

Strategie als Beruf, page 151 - 154

Überlegungen zu Strategie, Weltordnung und Strategic Studies

1. Edition 2020, ISBN print: 978-3-8288-4409-4, ISBN online: 978-3-8288-7409-1,

Tectum, Baden-Baden
Bibliographic information
151 7 International Order – A Critique of John Mearsheimer’s New Model of Order In “Bound to Fail: The Rise and Fall of the Liberal International Order”, John Mearsheimer outlines his vision of a future realist international order, which, in his view, is currently replacing the (US) international order.1 While the author agrees with him on the need to contain China, he disagrees with two of the key assumptions and policy implications of his model concerning Europe. First, one of Mearsheimer’s unspoken assumptions is that NATO’s core task is not about deterring Russia. While he sees a need to “keep[.] NATO alive”, he also believes that Moscow “is likely to switch sides over time and ally with the US, simply because an increasingly powerful China is the greater threat to Russia” (48). In fact, in order “to contain Chinese expansion … [t]he US should go to great lengths to pull Russia out of China’s orbit and integrate it into the US-led order” (50). Here, Mearsheimer conspicuously neglects the fierce revisionist ambitions which Russia’s president has previously made so abundantly clear. Theoretically, this is because his structural leanings conveniently interpret Russia as a weak state (e. g. demographics, GDP) when, in fact, it is and will remain a formidable military power precisely because its vast natural resources (e. g. gas, oil) will sustain this position for decades to come. More significantly, he ignores the fact 1 John Mearsheimer, Bound to Fail: The Rise and Fall of the Liberal International Order,” International Security, Vol. 43, No. 4 (Spring 2019), pp. 7–50. Subsequent citations appear in parentheses in the text. that Russia lost the last major war, i.e. the Cold War, and has since become a frighteningly aggressive great power, deterred from major land grabs only by the American military presence in Europe, including its nuclear umbrella. If this US military credibility in Europe were to be weakened by a war between the US and China, which is “almost certain to arise” (50), as he openly admits, it is hard to believe that a revisionist Russia would not seize such an opportunity and aggrandize its territory in order for it to feel secure again, following the loss of the Warsaw Pact buffer in 1991. Thereby, Mearsheimer overlooks the fact that a deeply revisionist Russia would demand large compensation for acquiescing to the US order in Europe while America is fighting China. Effectively, such a price would most certainly have to be paid for by Europe. That Russia would demand an exceedingly high price, including large geographic concessions, is all the more conceivable as America would be in a weak negotiating position when fighting, or preparing, a war in East Asia. As a seapower, moreover, the US requires friendly European coasts; it is unclear, however, whether Russia would continue to grant the US such a privilege once the latter is involved in an ‘almost certain’ hegemonic war. Taken together, the fact that Mearsheimer is never quite clear as to when exactly NATO will be dissolved points to a larger problem he leaves unaddressed: there is no vision of what his desired integration of Russia into the US order would look like. Second and related, the rather passive role that the Europeans are to assume in such a new order may be derived from Mearsheimer’s understanding of NATO. With the US still dominating NATO, it serves as Europe’s “pacifier” (49), an argument already made by Josef Joffe in 1984. The problem is that the pacifier’s underlying assumption – that Europeans are deeply weary if not hostile of each other and would revert to their old enmities once the US left – is historically outdated. Curiously, already in 1990, Mearsheimer had rejected the notion that Europeans “will not trust” each other and were, therefore, precisely 152 Maximilian Terhalle not doomed to “continue its rich tradition of balance of power politics.”2 Briefly, European perceptions of each other have long changed. For instance, Poland’s foreign secretary, Sikorski, suggested in 2011 that he did not fear anything more than German inaction regarding Russia, only to be seconded by his Baltic colleague emphasizing that, what was indeed lacking, were German panzer battalions.3 Thus, it is absolutely not the case, as the author claims, that “virtually every European leader would like to see” (49) the US functioning as an intra-alliance management, or pacifying, tool precisely because there is no need. Much rather, they want the US to remain for the crucial purpose, which Mearsheimer denies: deterrence. For all of these reasons, Mearsheimer ignores some of the most significant recent strategic debates about this topic in Europe. These discussions have called for a European nuclear umbrella.4 Such a new British-French-German umbrella would serve as a break-out option for Europe’s deterrent capabilities from within NATO should America’s own capabilities be absorbed, or greatly stretched, by a war with 2 Mearsheimer’s reply to Bruce Russett and Thomas Risse-Kappen, International Security, Vol. 15, No. 3 (Winter 1990/91), p. 222. 3 Both quoted in Maximilian Terhalle, „Für eine Europäische Atommacht,“ Frankurter Allgemeine Zeitung November 15, 2017, p. 8. 4 In this vein, this author has written analyses with François Heisbourg, General Richard Barrons and General Klaus Naumann. François Heisbourg and Maximilian Terhalle, “6 Taboos which Europe must now face”, (published December 28, 2018); Richard Barrons and Maximilian Terhalle, “Europe Needs to Calculate for the U.S. Military’s Shortcomings”. European governments can either think very hard about the obvious implications stemming from the United States’ inability to fight two major powers at the same time or neglect them altogether”, (published August 6, 2019); and, Klaus Naumann and Maximilian Terhalle, “Deutsche Schlafwandler”, plus203825868/Nato-Deutschlands-Schlafwandeln-gefaehrdet-die-liberale-Weltordnung.html (published November 27, 2019). 153 International Order China. One, this would provide Europeans with the much-needed reassurance against a Russia that would inevitably feel emboldened by America’s geographically remote engagement in East Asia. While Russia could still join the US order in Europe, it could not do so based on its own, foreseeably forceful, terms; rather, Europeans would be in a credible position to uphold their “basic values”,5 much more so than if they followed Mearsheimer and exposed themselves, strategically unguarded, to Moscow’s ruthless revisionism. Two, responding to official and scholarly criticisms levelled against NATO, such a costly nuclear umbrella would serve as a critical means of innovative burden-sharing within the alliance. NATO would thereby remain a powerful tool in the future defense of the West. 5 Robert Gilpin, War and Peace in World Politics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981), p. 209. 154 Maximilian Terhalle

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Thinking and making strategy serve states’ vital interests. Innately bound up with power, strategy devises a future that reflects vital interests, using its willpower to protect them. Unprecedented, “Strategy as Vocation” introduces Strategic Studies while also offering Germany practical strategies.

The book contains articles in German and in English.


Strategisches Denken und Handeln dient vitalen Interessen. Es verlangt den Blick auf die Macht – und in eine Zukunft, die diese vitalen Interessen entsprechend widerspiegeln soll. Dies gilt immer, besonders aber, wenn Weltordnungen im Umbruch sind. Strategie als Beruf widmet sich den zentralen Konzeptionen der hierzulande vernachlässigten, wiewohl von Deutschen mitgeprägten Strategic Studies und bietet strategischem Denken und Handeln damit erstmalig Grundlagen auf dem Stand der internationalen Forschung an. Konkrete Strategievorschläge sind integraler Bestandteil des Buches.

Das Buch enthält deutsche und englische Beiträge.

Prof. Maximilian Terhalle (@M_Terhalle) lehrt Strategic Studies an der Universität Winchester, ist mit dem King’s College London affiliiert und berät das britische Verteidigungsministerium. Zuvor hat er einige Jahre an den Universitäten Columbia, Yale, Oxford und Renmin (Peking) geforscht und gelehrt.

Terhalle's insightful, balanced, and perceptive essays bring the tools of strategic studies to bear on a range of current international issues. Theoretically sophisticated and empirically grounded, the analysis will be of great value to both the scholarly and policy communities.”

Prof. Robert Jervis, Columbia University, New York

Maximilian Terhalle gehört zu den frühen Streitern für eine strategische Ausrichtung unseres internationalen Ordnungsdenkens und der deutschen Außenpolitik. Sein scharfsinniges Buch bietet eine klare Analyse der instabil gewordenen Welt. Und zieht daraus konkrete Folgerungen für die Verantwortung Deutschlands und seiner Partner für westliche Werte und Interessen.“

Prof. Matthias Herdegen, Universität Bonn

Maximilian Terhalle is a refreshing independent voice on European and German security policy. There is a pressing need for systematic, clear-eyed, and realistic thinking about Germany’s role in a rapidly changing world, and this wide-ranging collection of essays is an important contribution to a much-needed set of debates.”

Prof. Stephen Walt, Harvard University, Kennedy School of Government

The Germans have, for very understandable historical reasons, long been reluctant to engage in the kind of strategic thinking that comes naturally to the Anglo-Saxon world. Maximilian Terhalle, who is one of the Federal Republic’s most innovative experts in the field, is rightly dissatisfied with this opting out of the real world. His new book is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand modern German strategy, or rather the lack of it, and the need for a National Security Council in the FRG.”

Prof. Brendan Simms, Cambridge University

Drawing on wide reading and with a nod to Max Weber, this thoughtful collection of essays by Maximilian Terhalle demonstrates the importance of strategic thinking and how it can be applied to the big issues of war and peace in the modern world.”

Prof. Lawrence Freedman, King’s College London

Die NATO ist strategisch nicht hirntot. Vielleicht aber bald eines seiner Mitglieder. Wer auch immer Deutschland führen wird, täte gut daran, sich den von Terhalle vorgelegten strategischen Kompass sehr genau anzusehen. Die eventuelle Wiederwahl Trumps und der unwahrscheinliche Machtverzicht Putins und Xis bedürfen nicht nur einer erkennbar europäischen Hand im Kanzleramt, sondern auch eines völlig neuen, eben strategischen Mindsets. Terhalles Konzepte für Entscheider sowie seine konkreten Ideen für die Zukunft westlicher Sicherheitspolitik bieten genau das.“

Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, Bundesminister a.D., New York/München

Strategisches Denken fehlt im Land des Carl von Clausewitz in allen Bereichen. In der Politik, der Wirtschaft und der Entwicklung von Leitlinien, wie Europa in einer Welt im Umbruch gestaltet werden sollte. Prof. Terhalles Buch zeigt Grundlagen auf und gibt Anregungen in wesentlichen Feldern der Politik. Es sollte von Entscheidern gelesen und genutzt werden.“

General a.D. Klaus Naumann, ehem. Vorsitzender des NATO-Militärausschusses und Generalinspekteur, München

Can Germany think strategically?’ Indeed, and more broadly, can the European Union become a strategic actor? These questions lie at the heart of Maximilian Terhalle’s no-holds-barred assessment of Europe’s options as the continent faces mounting challenges from both partners and adversaries East, South and West.”

François Heisbourg, Special Advisor, Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique, Paris

Terhalle has produced a rich and wide-ranging series of essays on some of the enduring and more recent dilemmas of international security. These subtle but piercing reflections are in the best tradition of strategic studies, from Clausewitz to Freedman.”

Prof. John Bew, War Studies Department, King’s College London

A thought-provoking and illuminating series of essays that grapple with some of the toughest and most important questions facing contemporary Germany, Europe, and the United States, written by one of Germany's most forward-looking strategists.”

Elbridge Colby, Principal, The Marathon Initiative, former US Ass’t Deputy Secretary of Defence, Washington D.C.

Das neue Buch von Maximilian Terhalle, Strategie als Beruf, ist ein wichtiger Baustein bei der Grundsteinlegung für die hierzulande vernachlässigten ‘Strategic Studies’. Der Autor bürstet kräftig gegen den Strich und stellt liebgewordene Denkmuster in Frage. Man muss Terhalle keineswegs in jeder Hinsicht zustimmen. Aber wenn Deutschland und Europa tatsächlich die ‘Sprache der Macht’ erlernen wollen, wie vom EU-Außenbeauftragten Anfang 2020 gefordert, wird man nicht umhinkommen, sich mit seinen Thesen auseinanderzusetzen.“

Boris Ruge, Berlin

For too long, Germany’s deafening silence on strategic matters has struck international academic and policy observers alike. This is about to change. Maximilian Terhalle’s realpolitik-based as well as erudite deliberations on the art of strategy, closing with novel practical ideas for Europe’s future strategic security, betray exactly that.”

Prof. Christopher Coker, London School of Economics/LSE IDEAS

In Strategie als Beruf schreibt Maximilian Terhalle mit außerordentlich klarem Blick über Fragen sicherheitspolitischer Strategie und füllt damit ein Vakuum in Deutschland. Seine Ergebnisse sind unbequem für die von der Friedensforschung dominierten Debatten. Jeder, dem die Strategiefähigkeit des Landes und Europas wichtig ist, sollte seine Ideen kennen.“

Dr. Bastian Giegerich, International Institute for Strategic Studies, London

“For over a decade, Western scholars of strategy have almost exclusively focused on the likeliness of the Thucydides trap to emerge between the US and China. Remarkably, while Prof. Terhalle acknowledges their global strategic importance, he spells out what the potential trajectory of their relationship implies for NATO’s European members vis-à-vis Russia. – Realpolitik reigns.”

Prof. Wu Zhengyu, Renmin University, Peking