Leadership and Transformative Ambition in International Relations
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Leadership and Transformative Ambition in International Relations

Mark A. Menaldo

This enriching book explores a theoretical gap in international relations and the role of leader ambition. It presents the idea that some leaders transcend political constraints and as a result, they fundamentally reshape their domestic polity while introducing change to the international system.
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Chapter 2: The strategic perspective of leadership: ambition as political survival

Mark A. Menaldo


In Chapter 1, I criticized defensive and offensive realism on the grounds that both theories derive leaders’ political ambition from the incentives and constraints of the international structure. I also argued that whereas defensive realism understates the role of ambition, offensive realism overstates it. According to both these realist theories, leaders’ ambition and behavior are tightly coupled to the demands imposed by international anarchy. This chapter examines a theory of strategic interaction and its relationship to transformative ambition. Unlike realism, this theory examines how leaders respond to domestic incentives and constraints as well as international circumstances. I concentrate my attention on The Logic of Political Survival, an ambitious theoretical and empirical study conducted by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, Alastair Smith, Randolph Siverson, and James D. Morrow (2003) in which they explain how leaders make domestic and foreign policy decisions that are compatible with national incentives.1 Although leaders are aware of international circumstances when they form foreign policy goals, their aims primarily reflect the interests of the groups that help keep them in power.

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