Balance of Power: History and Theory
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The balance of power is one of the most fundamental concepts behind international politics and provides a structure for explaining some of the essential principles behind international relations. Yet despite its widespread importance it remains an enigma and is surrounded by controversy. "The Balance of Power" traces the evolution of the theory from the eighteenth century to the present day. It incorporates classical anlysis and recent research to give a detailed account of the concept in practice and the operation of the international system while challenging traditional views of the balance of power. Its exploration of the way the balance of power operated in key historical periods shows how the generally accepted development of the concept is based on a misunderstanding of the historical reality.
never showed any understanding of what a balance of power system was or how it might be maintained, arguing, for example, that a state should help the stronger side in a war in order to share in prestige—an idea totally at variance with balance of power thinking and medieval rather than modern in outlook. As Butterfield (1966:134) points out, Machiavelli’s failure to think in terms of the balance of power is all the more surprising because he was deeply interested in the question of how a state
have argued that the balance of power has had as one of its purposes the deterrence of war. Similarly, Van Dyke (1966:221) and Organski (1968:280) argued that one of the benefits to be derived from a balance of power system was the preservation of peace. However, the majority of authors of whom Gulick (1955:89), Liska (1957:38) and Wight (1979:184) are representative, have argued that its function was not to preserve peace, but to preserve the system and, within it, the autonomy of the major
possible combinations and therefore a flexibility in terms of possible responses. The advantages of a multi-state balance system based upon flexible alliances, over a simple bipolar balance can be seen through Richard Rosecrance’s concept of the ‘regulator’. Rosecrance (1963: 220–1) argued that any international system which has stability as a goal is composed of a number of elements—a source of disturbance, a ‘regulator’, and an array of environmental factors which translate the interaction of
would naturally have produced strains after 1870. Neither Britain nor France could welcome this new and dangerous rival. It was easy to perceive of Germany, not just as a rival but as an enemy. The result of British fears was the Entente Cordiale with France in 1904 and the Anglo-Russian agreement of 1907, which changed the nature of the European balance and produced a direct confrontation between the Triple Alliance and the Triple Entente. Like the Bismarckian system which had preceded it, the
twentieth century has been guided by other techniques for managing the international system, such as collective security and the nuclear balance of terror. But this is not entirely true. The international system between 1945 and 1990 was marked by the pursuit and maintenance of equilibrium between the superpowers and their respective blocs. It was clearly not the classical system in which the balancing of power was crucial to the maintenance of the system and the avoidance of instability, but