Book - MIT Press

Offense, Defense, and War


Offense-defense theory argues that the relative ease of offense and defense varies in international politics. When the offense has the advantage, military conquest becomes easier and war is more likely; the opposite is true when the defense has the advantage. The balance between offense and defense depends on geography, technology, and other factors. This theory, and the body of related theories, has generated much debate and research over the past twenty-five years.

This book presents a comprehensive overview of offense-defense theory. It includes contending views on the theory and some of the most recent attempts to refine and test it.


“Why wars occur, and how they can be prevented, are perennial questions for analysts of national security affairs and students of international politics.  Central to those questions are the concept of the offense-defense balance and the role that it plays in bringing on, or preventing, war.  This volume brings together the best scholarship published over the last thirty years on these subjects.”

-Robert J. Art, Christian A. Herter Professor of International Relations, Brandeis University

Offense, Defense, and War is sure to be an invaluable book for students of international politics.  It contains virtually all of the key works on offense-defense theory, a truly important set of ideas about how states behave toward each other.”

-John J. Mearsheimer, R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science, University of Chicago

“Offense-defense theory, and the debates it spawned, were a major step forward in the field of international politics.  It brought together the study of diplomatic and military history; military strategy, operations and technology; civil-military relations; and realist international relations theory.  Whether or not one accepts the findings of the theory's key advocates, it changed fundamentally the intellectual foundations of the international relations field, and what it means to be a scholar of the causes of war.  This collection includes key works by most of the three generations of scholars who have contributed to this important development.”

-Barry R. Posen, Ford International Professor of Political Science, Security Studies Program, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

For more information on this publication: Please contact International Security
For Academic Citation: Brown, Michael E., Owen R. Coté, Sean M. Lynn-Jones, and Steven E. Miller, eds. Offense, Defense, and War. Edited by Michael E. Brown, Owen R. Coté, Sean M. Lynn-Jones and Steven E. Miller. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, October 2004.

The Editors

Steven E. Miller