Balance of Power
A. E. Campbell and
Richard Dean Burns
The balance of power appears at first sight a simple concept. It has been defined as "a phrase in international law for such a 'just equilibrium' between the members of the family of nations as should prevent any one of them from becoming sufficiently strong to enforce its will upon the rest." Yet the phrase has always been of more use in political polemic than in political analysis. Like other phrases with a strong emotional appeal it is vague, and it would lose its appeal if it were more precise. Its obscurities are several, but the most important is that it blends the descriptive and the normative. The condition is one, the term "balance" implies, toward which international life is forever tending. That is the descriptive element. But the condition is also one that may be upset, and right-thinking statesmen should constantly be on the alert to preserve or restore it. That is the normative element. These two elements reinforce one another. Because such a balance will be established in any event, it is sensible and moral to work toward it. Because people work toward it, it will be more readily established. Difficulties arise if either element is weakened. At what point is it right to abandon an old balance and accept a new one? Can a balance exist if people are unconscious of the need to maintain it?
Behind all the interpretations of the balance of power lies the appeal to realism in the conduct of international affairs. Realism remains the best, perhaps the only persuasive, argument for restraint; and it is common ground that the doctrine of the balance of power is a device to promote restraint, whether it is argued that lack of restraint is wrong, or dangerous, or ultimately bound to fail. In that sense the balance of power in international affairs is clearly related to the idea of checks and balances within a government, which is equally a device to impose restraint on men who might otherwise, seduced by power, abandon it.
Allison, Graham, and Gregory F. Treverton, eds. Rethinking America's Security: Beyond Cold War to New World Order. New York, 1992. A stimulating collection of essays by leading thinkers.
Butterfield, Herbert. "The Balance of Power." In Herbert Butterfield and Martin Wight, eds. Diplomatic Investigations. London, 1966.
Cronin, Patrick M., ed. From Globalism to Regionalism: New Perspectives on U.S. Foreign and Defense Policies. Washington, D.C., 1993.
Dehio, Ludwig. The Precarious Balance. Translated by Charles Fullman. New York, 1962.
Dosch, Jöm, and Manfred Mols. International Relations in the Asia-Pacific: New Patterns of Power, Interest, and Cooperation. New York, 2000.
Gaddis, John Lewis. The United States and the End of the Cold War: Implications, Reconsiderations, Provocations. New York, 1992.
Gulick, Edward V. Europe's Classical Balance of Power. Ithaca, N.Y., 1955. Focuses on the struggle against Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna.
Haas, E. B. "The Balance of Power as a Guide ofPolicy-Making." Journal of Politics (1953).
Henrikson, Thomas H. Balance-of-Power Considerations for U.S. Foreign Policy in the Post-Soviet Era. Stanford, Calif., 1993.
Hinsley, F. H. Power and the Pursuit of Peace. Cambridge, 1963. Dated but still useful.
Kegley, Charles W., and Gregory Raymond. A Multipolar Peace: Great-Power Politics in the Twenty-first Century. New York, 1994.
Kegley, Charles W., and Eugene R. Wittkopf, eds. The Future of American Foreign Policy. 2d ed. New York, 1994.
Kissinger, Henry. "Balance of Power Sustained," In Graham Allison and Gregory F. Treverton, eds. Rethinking America's Security: Beyond Cold War to New World Order. New York, 1992.
Krauthammer, Charles. "The Unipolar Movement." In Graham Allison and Gregory F. Treverton, eds. Rethinking America's Security: Beyond Cold War to New World Order. New York, 1992.
Lang, Daniel G. Foreign Policy in the Early Republic: The Law of Nations and the Balance of Power. Baton Rouge, La., 1985.
Link, Arthur S. Wilson the Diplomatist. Baltimore, 1957. A small classic on the American statesman who gave most thought to this problem.
Morgenthau, Hans. Politics Among Nations. 5th rev. ed. New York, 1978.
Nye, Joseph S., Jr. "What New World Order?" In Charles W. Kegley and Eugene R. Wittkopf, eds. The Future of American Foreign Policy. 2d ed. New York, 1994.
Wight, Martin. "The Balance of Power." In Herbert Butterfield and Martin Wight, eds. Diplomatic Investigations. London, 1966. An elegant and perceptive essay, historical in approach.
——. "The Balance of Power and International Order." In Alan James, ed. The Bases of International Order. London, 1973.
Wolfers, Arnold. Discord and Collaboration. Baltimore, 1962. Adopts the approach of political science.
Wright, Moorhead, ed. Theory and Practice of the Balance of Power 1486–1914. London, 1975. A convenient short selection of European writings.
See also Alliances, Coalitions, and Ententes ; Cold War Evolution and Interpretations ; Cold War Origins ; Cold War Termination ; Collective Security ; Post–Cold War Policy ; Protectorates and Spheres of Influence .