HST 504 – Week 1
balance of power
―Scramble for Africa‖
- First half of the 20 century: the automobile, wireless communication, the telephone, the computer or
television. Looming over all these transformations was the precarious international states system.
- Many governments in 1900 were preoccupied not only with the power they had inside their own countries
but their position in the international community as well. Since the emergence of the practice of diplomacy, a
formal international order, and state sovereignty
- By the early 19 thcentury, especially after the defeat of Napoleon, a hierarchy of states emerged
- The top of this pyramid of hegemony was occupied by the most powerful, known as the Great Powers.
- The Great Powers were the movers and shakers of the international community
- They exercised more weight than others—politically, territorially, militarily, and/or economically. Russia,
Great Britain, Germany (earlier Prussia), Austria, France and (to some extent) Italy—constituting the club of
states with most clout, known as the ―Concert of Europe
- They shaped the outcomes of wars, dictated peace treaties, created alliances, made trade agreements, and
resolved (or instigated) conflicts
- achieving and/or maintaining Great Power status became a preoccupation of almost every state as soon as
it emerged on the international stage
- When Napoleon’s domination over Europe ended at the beginning of the 19 th century, statesmen decided to
create a system that would contain international violence and prevent the spread of wars.
- They created a balance of power to deter any single state from achieving hegemony (i.e., control and
domination over the entire continent). T
- his required all the Great Powers to cooperate—using statecraft and even armed force when necessary—to
maintain the existing order.
- No single hegemonic superpower or supranational organization could singlehandedly regulate international
relations, resolve crises or impose its own rules on the entire system.
- All of the Great Powers had to coordinate and regulate their own behaviour.
- Flexibility defined the approach that states had to take to retain a balance of power. If a country was
defeated in war, it still had to be readmitted into the international community.
- If one country made gains (e.g., economic, territorial, etc.), all others had to be compensated.
- The system worked as long as all the major players remained of comparable power vis-à-vis each other.
- Moreover, it functioned smoothly because the Great Powers were flexible in shifting their alliances as the
situation required. - As soon as one state attempted to dominate, all others would cooperate to subvert the usurper. Even armed
force was justifiable as long as it was utilized for limited ends and did not seriously threaten the existence of
- All the European statesmen realized that the balance of power could not survive unless there was a general
consensus amongst all the players on fundamental assumptions, structures and ai