Balance of Power

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19 Mar 2014
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The Realist Road to Security:
Balance of Power 02/25/2014
Caricaturized View of Realism
War is just plain cool, learn to accept it, it’s inevitable
Realism is a Theory Based on Power Politics
Main Assumptions
1. States are primary actors
2. Unitary-Rational States (Unitary State Assumption)
3. Anarchy defines the International System
4. All States must pursue power to survive
5. States balance against threats
6. Morality has no place in international politics
7. International politics > Domestic politics
8. Value Relative over Absolute Gains
Why do Realists Claim that States Must Pursue Power or that Morality has No Place in World Politics?
The world is anarchic and it is a self-help system. To survive states must have power
Also, if there is no higher authority, then there is no international law that states must abide by
Why is International Politics Seen as More Important than Domestic Politics by Realists?
If you do not take care of international politics, there may no longer be any domestic politics (if let’s say
you’re conquered)
Domestic politics is only important to the extent that it strengthens or weakens a state
States are essentially the same, so domestic regime type and institutions do not matter much for world
politics (all states play by the same rules—anarchy—there are no rules)
Makes conflict in the system inevitable
Realists understand the implications of the security dilemma but see them as unavoidable
States survive by:
Internal development (only reason why domestic politics are relevant)
Conquest (take another’s resources)
Power Distribution
Distribution of power is crucial for realism
Neorealism, or structural realism emerged in the 1990s
Explains patterns of international events in terms of the system structure (distribution of power) rather than
the internal makeup of individual states
Approach is more scientific, but loses richness of classical realism (geography, political will, diplomacy)
Recently, neoclassical realists have sought to restore some complexity to the neorealist approach
Polarity refers to the number of independent power centers in the system
Multipolar system: Has five or six centers of power, which are not grouped into alliances
(e.g., late 19th century)
Tripolar system: Has three centers of power
(e.g., China, the U.S, and U.S.S.R. in the 1970s)
Bipolar system: Has two centers of power
(e.g., U.S and U.S.S.R.—Cold War)
Unipolar system: Has a single center of power around which all other revolve (hegemony)
(e.g., U.S in 1990s and even still today)
Balance of Power Theory
Alliances may form to create or preserve a balance of power:
A situation in which the military capabilities of two states or groups of states are roughly equal
When a balance of power exists, no state or bloc has a clear military advantage over the other
^^assumption is that balance is good
A power imbalance may threaten the weaker side’s interests
Alliances form when two or more states need to combine their capabilities in order to match the capabilities
of another state
In 1894, France and Russia allied together because each feared Germany’s power
Each state’s own survival depended in part on the survival of the other
Why Does Polarity Matter?
Two explanations for the relationship between polarity and war/stability:
Complexity: The decision making environment becomes more complex as the number of great powers
Hierarchy: The fewer the number of great powers, the more concentrated is power in the international
system. At the extreme is hegemony
Why stable?
Less complicated—clearly defined enemies
No side able to militarily defeat the other side
Either side is too strong
Rules can be established between the two sides
In other words, in a bipolar system, the world is more certain
Why unstable?
Rivalry is likely to be tense
Singular focus on the rival
Can lead to a desire to defeat the rival and attempt hegemony
States do not always behave rationally
Means a single state can unbalance the system
If a war does break out, expect it to be very long, bloody, drawn out
Even still, more likely to see peace in bipolar systems
Why stable?
Power divided prevents any single power from rising
Similar to checks and balances of the US form of government
Quick and fluid balancing
Why unstable?
Introduces a great deal of uncertainty  bad thing
What are the balancing groups?