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Concept of Balance of Power in International Relations

In International Relations an equilibrium of power sufficient to discourage or present one
nation or prevent one nation from imposing its will on or interfering with the interests of
another. Balance of Power, theory and policy of international relations that asserts that the
most effective check on the power of a state is the power of other states. In international
relations, the term state refers to a country with a government and a population. The term
balance of power refers to the distribution of power capabilities of rival states or alliance
The balance of power theory maintains that when one state or alliance increases its power
or applies it more aggressively; threatened states will increase their own power in
response, often by forming a counter-balancing coalition. Balance of Power is a central
concept in neorealist theory.
It is difficult to give exact definition to balance of power because as Martin Wright says
“the notion is notoriously full of confusions”. Inis.L.Claude also says: “The trouble with
the balance power is not that it has no meaning but that it has too many meanings” But
essential idea is very simple but when principle is applied to the international relations ,
the concept of power means “that through shifting alliances and countervailing
pressures ,no one power or combinations of powers will be allowed to grow so strong as
to threaten the security of the rest” as per Palmer and Perkins.
And finally Hartman explains concept of Balance of Power in International Relations as
“a system in the sense that one power bloc leads to the emergence of other and it
ultimately leads to a network of alliances”. The concept of balance of power rests on the
assumption that excessive power anywhere in the system is a threat to the existence of the
other units and that most effective antidote of power is power”
Balance of Power and International Relations
As a policy, balance of power suggests that states counter any threat to their security by
allying with other threatened states and by increasing their own military capabilities. The
policy of forming a geographically based coalition of states to surround and block an
expansionist power is known as containment. For example, the United States followed a
containment policy towards the Soviet Union after World War II by building military
alliances and bases throughout Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.
As a theory, balance of power predicts that rapid changes in international power and
status—especially attempts by one state to conquer a region—will provoke
counterbalancing actions. For this reason, the balancing process helps to maintain the
stability of relations between states.
A Balance of power system can functions effectively in two different ways:
1. Multiple states can form a balance of power when alliances are fluid—that is, when
they are easily formed or broken on the basis of expediency, regardless of values,
religion, history, or form of government. Occasionally a single state plays a balancer role,
shifting its support to oppose whatever state or alliance is strongest. Britain played this

the Soviet Union and United States both expanded their nuclear arsenals to balance against each other. The classical European balance of power system emerged thereafter in an alliance known as the Concert of Europe. a coalition that included Sweden. In the Cold War. The alliance. During the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). and France ensured that a handful of great powers would coexist. Austria. One weakness of the balance of power concept is the difficulty of measuring power. During the Period of the Warring States in China (403-221 BC). organized in 1815 by Austrian statesman Klemens von Metternich. Early in the 19th century. Furthermore. Russia. Austria. Russia. Ultimately a state’s power derives from the size of its land mass. threatened to dominate Europe.S. These Chinese states pursued power through a constantly shifting network of alliances. In ancient Greece during the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC). succeeded in defeating Athens and restoring a balance of power among Greek cities. cohesive states accompanied the creation of irrigation systems. and Germany. population. and large armies equipped with iron weapons. peace largely . and The Netherlands defeated the rulers of the Habsburg Empire. bureaucracies. This loose alliance between Britain. the development of large. and its level of technology. Under this system. England. french emperor Napoleon I repeatedly made efforts to conquer large areas of Europe. leading some scholars to characterize balance of power as a universal and timeless principle. 2. Balance of Power in Ancient Times Historical examples of power balancing are found throughout history in various regions of the world. Prussia. particularly in its relations with France. the rising power of Athens triggered the formation of a coalition of city-states that felt threatened by Athenian power. led by Sparta. But this potential power—measured roughly by a state’s gross domestic product (GDP)—translates imperfectly into military capability. presidents consistently underestimated the strength of the Vietnamese Communists because by conventional measures of power they were much weaker than the United States. and luck. morale. with none able to dominate the others. In the 17th century the Habsburg dynasty. for example. France. which ruled Austria and Spain. The effective use of military force depends on such elements as leadership. U. and with Britain playing a balancer role. geography. Two states can balance against each other by matching their increases in military capability. leaders’ misperceptions can seriously distort the calculation of power. A broad coalition of European states—including Britain. During the Vietnam War (1959-1975). Russia. and Prussia—defeated France in a series of major battles that climaxed with Napoleon’s defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.role in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries.

we are confronted by dangers. Equally clear was what was not at issue in the security debate. Throughout the Cold War. that the European Union is somehow at risk from unrest in Southern Europe. what would be balanced?-served to solidify political alliance. viz. which defined both the actors and the objectives. Balance of Power and Cold War Balance of power so perfectly described the polarity of the Cold War that it became integral to. as well as divisions within each state. divisions among states party to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) or the Warsaw Pact. each side. Should the Union attempt to integrate its forces to defend itself against Southern Europe? Should a new wall be built? Or should the Union attempt to integrate Southern Europe into its defense structure. the precise relationship between the capacity to manufacture steel and military fitness was debatable. During World War II. in the way material objects possess mass. aggressive conquests. Although the image was so familiar as to be almost transparent. broader questions of political conduct. a great deal of political presumption was locked within its crystalline structure. and the Communist Soviet Union. The East-West order. in the hopes of minimizing the risk of violent disorder? How much of Europe (what is Europe?) should be included in this process of integration? Should this process be limited to the military sector. but were considered analytically separable inquiries. either actual or possible. not enemies. but the stakes and the terms of the argument were clear . is this effort to be? And so forth. Within the contours of the strategic argument. were obscured by the need to maintain a common front against the enemy. Germany’s rising power. but also postulated by the balance of power-without an enemy. Just as participants in a sport rarely consider the appropriateness of the rules that inform their game. indeed practically synonymous with. danger assessment is a hazy enterprise. East and West existed. But without a hard-edged notion of conflict to provide a context in which probability can be calculated.prevailed in Europe during the 19th century. the balance of power so well defined strategic questions that larger questions went unasked. Political questions. Danger may be assessed. enlarge the military potential of one side or the other? This inquiry often raised nice issues of judgment. For example. possessed by the enemies. were not unrelated. the discipline of strategic studies turned on a single inquiry: to what extent did an event. . In the context of the balance of power. for plausible example. on both sides. or should it include the economy? How complete. There is no balance of power with danger. and hence political identity. and how swift. both the United States and the Soviet Union long maintained inefficient capacity for the manufacture of steel in order to serve anticipated wartime needs. a strategic study is a far trickier business. either through NATO or the Western European Union. Today. real enough. This enemy. the concept of the East-West order. no longer exists. and there was a "balance" between them that presumably somehow "weighed" a quality called power. no conflict with danger. and alliance with Italy and Japan triggered yet another coalition of opposing states—notably the capitalist democracies of Britain and the United States. such as how to pay for the subsidy. In the words of Polish politician Bronislaw Geremek. Suppose.

policy cannot be determined by argument that one "side" enjoys some military advantage over the other. it recently appeared to make strategic sense to cut the size of our military. but for not taking enough action within the former Soviet Union to help ensure that the weapons of mass destruction remain in sane hands. Today. In contrast. the United States is criticized not for its lack of readiness. in the traditional world of enemies.) So we long preserved the capacity to respond to Soviet aggression with nuclear force. intervention is likely. because a strategic world where security is threatened by dangers rather than enemies is complex and vague in ways that the old strategic world was not. security is obtained by proactive measures designed to shore up the social order. the invasion of Panama and the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement may be understood as attempts to establish a viable social order in situations that present profound threats to our security. to avenge loved ones. even civil war. Strategy used to mean the attainment of military superiority. has its own awful logic. Rather than the purchase of military hardware. and history. it now means the pursuit of social stability. the new strategic thinking seeks stability more avidly than it seeks some ill-defined "advantage. then early intervention will often be more effective and cheaper than late intervention. The task for contemporary strategic thinking is therefore the avoidance. Similarly. our lust for drugs and the weaknesses peculiar to a highly technological economy. (Only rarely has security been thought best obtained by preemptive attack. In response to uncertainty. and so bloody on. Politics writ large has absorbed strategic studies. what is new is that stability has become virtually the only concern. If security is now better procured than defended. So. For example. rather than the development. and the various factions in what was Yugoslavia fought within that logic. it makes strategic sense for Western European states to give money to help the young governments of Central and Southern Europe stabilize their economies. security concerns now impel the provision of loan guarantees. if necessary. In a dangerous world. In this light. for example. Strategic thinking now entails politics. economics. or at least deterrence. in the gyre of public and private violence . in addition to its traditional focus on military capability. War. security is the capability to respond to the threat posed by the enemy. Contemporary strategic thinking inclines to the adage "a stitch in time saves nine." Diffuse threats to security should be addressed before they have time to gain focus and momentum. but because their failure may lead to massive immigration or civil war. not because those governments plan to invade. of the logic of war.Strategy that would confront such threats requires a view of politics considerably more nuanced than polarity. to regain territory lost by military action. The very language of the clichà is reactive. it is has for some time been argued that more decisive action by the European Community (and then the European Union) and the United Nations at the outbreak of violence in Yugoslavia might have prevented at least some of the carnage and associated risks. in part because the federal deficit was thought to hamper national competitiveness and economic unrest was seen as a greater threat to our security than invasion." Stability is hardly a new concern. The vague character of threats to social security means that when we cannot quarantine social instability (as we frequently do with those chaotic Africans).

S. when certainty about the link between American power and the survival of liberal democratic societies was lost. power for any purpose" created by the American experience in Vietnam. Yugoslavia might be merely politically fractious. and in our capacities. militarily if necessary. The transformation of strategy amounts to an imperative to intervene. and other technological developments have made it . Yet this opposition did not stop the United States from acting. Globalization. It is the event which marks the end of the Vietnam era.bemoaned since the Oresteia. North Korea claimed in 2003 that it was developing nuclear weapons to balance against U. The Reagan administration's sensitivity to the prudential and liberal aspects of the balance of power and its willingness to use American power to confront threats to selfinterest and liberal values illustrate well the liberal realist tradition's perspective on the balance of power. like Belgium or even what was Czechoslovakia. Had the logic of violence not been established. Balance of Power Today The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 left the United States as the world’s sole superpower. in the service of order. Again. The Reagan administration believed that it was necessary to counter the Soviet threat in order to purge the "intense emotional resistance against the use of U.S. foreign policy in the past decade. many are developing nuclear weapons in an attempt to dramatically expand their military capability. The changing nature of power in the contemporary international system further complicates the operation of the global balance of power. the Reagan administration's perspective included prudence and liberal conviction. and of American determination to protect ourselves--from war and defeat.S. France. Liberal Realism and Balance of Power Liberal realism's concern with the balance of power necessitates that liberal states must be willing to use power and force to support the balance of power against threats hostile to self-interest and liberal values. Russia. power. weapons of mass destruction. Instead. The restoration of the conviction that American power is necessary for the survival of liberal democracy in the modern world is the most important development in U. exposing the significant gap in military capability that now exists between the United States and the rest of the world." Kirkpatrick also emphasized the broader liberal conviction in the Reagan administration's willingness to use American power. Balance of power theory suggests that without the Soviet threat the United States. For example. as the dominant world power. will face difficulties in its relations with such states as China and the European powers. key countries such as China. For example. Small states that fear the United States are no longer able to join a counterbalancing coalition to protect their security. and Germany all opposed the United States invasion of Iraq in 2003 in diplomatic arenas such as the United Nations. Kirkpatrick suggested that "[w]hat is called the conservative revival is just this: the return of American confidence in our values. the Internet.

In the future. 2001. The weapons would. however. however. Several important assumptions underlie most thinking about deterrence. may promote nuclear proliferation. Deterrence Theory Deterrence is commonly thought about in terms of convincing opponents that a particular action would elicit a response resulting in unacceptable damage that would outweigh any likely benefit. Practitioners tend to assume. some authors suggest that the spread of nuclear weapons would deter more states from going to war against one another. after the terrorist attacks of September 11. it is argued. For example. this view is also predicated on the assumption that every state actor's rationality will work against the use of such weapons. realists see the global system as one of self help. .possible for small states and even non state groups to acquire significant power. These factors also dilute the relative importance of military power. This ties in well with the idea of global relations being one of self help and each state striving to promote its own interests at the expense of others. Indeed. and that nuclear arms races will therefore not end in nuclear warfare. theory and policy of international relations that asserts that the most effective check on the power of a state is the power of other states. The idea of the balance of power is put in place to explain the situation where states will ally themselves to prevent the hegemony of one state over all others. Rather than a simple cost/benefits calculation. deterrence is more usefully thought of in terms of a dynamic process with provisions for continuous feedback. that states are unitary actors. Another basis for the realist theory is the idea of a balance of power and the anarchic nature of the global system as there is no effective global government and the world system is anomic (without rules). In short. One of the most important assumptions during the Cold War was that nuclear weapons were the most effective deterrent to war between the states of the East and the West. The process initially involves determining who shall attempt to deter whom from doing what. for example. the United States assembled a broad coalition to invade Afghanistan. and by what means. Of course. but it is less applicable to conflicts involving terrorists and other non state groups. It has also played a key role in some of the most important attempts to develop a theory of international politics in the contemporary study of international relations. provide weaker states with more security against attacks by stronger neighbors. Balance of Power. This assumption. Deterrence also assumes that we can adequately understand the calculations of an opponent. carried into the post-Cold War era. the balance of power may continue to operate among states engaged in prolonged disputes. but it also did not end the terrorist threat to the United States. using military force to topple the Taliban government and end the Taliban’s support for al-Qaeda terrorists. and logical according to Western concepts of rationality. Conclusion The balance of power has been a central concept in the theory and practice of international relations for the past five hundred years. This application of military power did not provoke a balancing coalition of other states.