Offensive realism, weaker states, and windows of opportunity: The Soviet Union and North Korea in comparative perspective

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Both the Soviet Union and North Korea were weaker and declining nations compared to the United States and South Korea, so that it is logically or empirically wrong to argue that such weaker states had windows of opportunity. Then why did so many scholars support the theory of windows of opportunity of weaker states? This article argues that it is largely because they give too much emphasis to the offensive intentions of weaker states and often ignore the balance of power among nations. Either explicitly or implicitly, their arguments depend on the assumption about revisionist states and imply that weaker states may attack their stronger opponents if they have revisionist aims. This article demonstrates that these arguments cannot be theoretically supported. It argues that offensive realism, which many of these arguments are theoretically based on, does assume a revisionist state necessarily manifests offensive behavior. Because a state's behavior is determined not only by what it wishes to do but also by what it possesses, a weaker state is not easily expected to behave offensively even with an offensive intention (Mearsheimer 2001). In fact, due to the power gap, the cold war ended peacefully and the Korean peninsula has enjoyed a long peace since the Korean War. This article, however, does not conclude that simple deterrence always works for weaker states. In fact, weaker states may challenge stronger opponents, and history has demonstrated that there are a number of cases in which the weaker fought the stronger despite the unfavorable balance of power (Paul 1994). This paper discusses this issue and concludes that weaker states may challenge stronger states under some circumstances but not due to windows of opportunity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)39-48
Number of pages10
JournalWorld Affairs
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2005


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