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Myths of Empire


“Offensive realists” believe that states are expansionist because anarchy in the international system forces them to be assertive in defending their interests; failing to expand invites threats.  This author asks why a belief in this myth takes hold in some societies and governments – but not others.  The entrenchment of this myth has prevented appropriate strategy changes even when the costs of aggressive policies accumulate and nations are led to ruin.  Realism’s weakness is in its deliberate discounting of domestic factors in explaining why states adopt a particular grand strategy and cling to it when it is clearly failing.  Snyder provides a powerful argument about why this occurs and more importantly, what it implies for our strategic discourse.

Central Argument:


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About the author: David A. Lake is Distinguished Professor of Political Science at the University of California, San Diego. He has published widely in international relations theory and international political economy. At UCSD, Lake has served as Research Director for International Relations at the Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation (1992-1996 and 2000-2001), chair of the Political Science department (2000-2004), Associate Dean of Social Sciences (2006-2015), Acting Dean of Social Sciences (2011-12), and Director of the Yankelovich Center for Social Science Research (2013-2015). The recipient of UCSD Chancellor’s Associates Awards for Excellence in Graduate Education (2005) and Excellence in Research in Humanities and Social Sciences (2013), he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2006 and a was fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences in 2008-2009. He received his Ph.D. from Cornell University in 1984 and taught at UCLA from 1983-1992.