Importance of the balance of Power

5 May 2016

The concept of Balance of Power is a tenet of Realism that seeks to explain the formation of alliances in international relations. This is done in the context that Realism as a Theory argues that states as actors in the international system act out of self interest, need to survive in a hostile environment and to maximise profit. Balance of Power can be understood best when one looks at structural realism. Smith 2005 argues that Balance of Power is not a theory about everything.

Importance of the balance of Power Essay Example

Balance of Power is a positivist theory about the way in which the systemic stress limits the behaviour of states (Smith et al 2005:198-202). Throughout time, Balance of Power has shown resilience and offers continuity in the international system: it argues that the is a system of independent political units with no central authority above them; therefore, the system is anarchic (ibid 2005). States fundamentally want to survive and act accordingly in order to maintain their sovereignty (ibid). This is the framework under which this essay is to be understood. We can take China as an example that wants to maximize its power through the establishment of relations with Africa as a region.

This phenomenon is referred to by realist scholars as ‘soft balancing’ (Volsky 2008). The aim is not to just look at china’s engagement as an unexpected surprise but to see it as a natural step in the growth trajectory of china through the lenses of Balance of Power and structuralism theory. I advocate that due to the balance of power theses advanced by structural realism, China had to engage Africa as a region in order to increase its relational power to the United States, who after the Cold War became unipolar actors in the world system (Brown 2001:111).

African states because of state interest found a security blanket in China, a political ally and a new market that they could negotiate better terms of trade with. The purpose of this paper therefore is to describe Balance of Power and to use to a small extent the case of China’s engagement with Africa as an example of Balance of Power. Definition of terms

Power In order to understand the balance of power it of a crucial state for the purpose of this assignment to first start with explanation power. According to Joseph and Nye (1993:50) power can be defined as an ability to achieve one’s purpose or goals. The dictionary tells us that it is the ability to do things and to control others.

Similarly, according to Robert Dahl, a Yale political scientist as quoted from Joseph and Nye (1993:50) power is defined as the ability to get others to do what they otherwise would not do. In this sense the ability to control other may be associated with particular resources, as most of the political leaders view power in this perspective.

This remind us of what the USA did as its desires was to manipulate the position of the Nuclear weapons during the arms race which almost pushed the world into the brink of Nuclear War which could have wiped the entire world in an twinkling of an eye. For the purpose of this essay, we will set aside power as an individual term and focus on the issue on the table, the Balance of Power. It is often possible that, as according to the definition of power as discussed above, once power in an international context is vested in one Country or State manipulation of other State by the super power is likely to break out and peace is usually a haphazard thing to consider.

According to Kinsella, Starr and Russett (2013:79) one of the core principle of realist theory is that international stability is most likely when there is a balance of power. And a balance exists when no single state or coalition of states dominates the international system. IN other words balance of power refers when the political power is distributed or shared among states and not vested on one super power.

As a general concept, balancing refers to a defence policy of joining with the less strong. Many realists argue that this is exactly the type of State behaviour we observe when looking back through history, and there are good reasons for it. Any attempt to give the reader a more complete understanding in this essay is by starting discussing this term of the Balance of Power within the context of three meanings as quote from Nye (1993:53), they write that balance of power can be understood in this sense: Balances As Distribution of Power

According to these authors, Balance of power can mean, in the first sense, any distribution of power; this means that it refers to a special (and more rarer) set of situations where power is distributed equally. Similarly, according to Kegley and Wittkopf (1995:472) Balance of Power at the core of its meanings is the idea that peace will result when military power is distributed so that no one state is strong enough to dominate the others. Deriving from these two authors Balances as the distribution of power, may refer to the situation where the military power is shared with the less strong states or distributed among the weak to equalise power in order to avoid war and manipulation of power by super powers.

Kegley and Wittkopf (1995:473) write that to help maintain an even distribution of power, realists recommended rules of behaviour that promoted fluid and rapidly shifting alliances. They continue to write that, they recognised that alliance competition would not automatically achieve equilibrium and that a balance would develop only if states practise certain behaviours.

One requirement was that a great power not immediately threatened by the rise of another power or coalition would perform the role of ”the balancer” by offsetting the new challenger’s power. Jackson and Sorensen (2003:3) writes that Balance of Power is a doctrine and an agreement whereby the power of one state (or group of states) is checked by countervailing power of other states. Balance of Power As Policy

The second use of the term refers to balance of power as a policy of balancing. According to Nye (1993:54) Balance of power predicts that states will act to prevent anyone state from developing a preponderance of power. Similarly, Wight (1994:167) write that the balance of power is not a legal principle and therefore not one of international war; but it is the principle of international policy, and one that is indispensable to the existence of international law.

This prediction means that once the powerful state finds that another state is rising into power and threatens the other, the already powerful will join the weak so that its independence might not be risked for joining the strong would mean bandwagoning which means joining whoever seems stronger and share in victor’s again. The balance of power is a legal principle and there for not one of international law; but is the principle of international policy, and one that is indispensable to the existence of international law.

This supports the fact that balance of power is used as an instrument of international policy, it enable the international policy to be possible. In this assignment, under this discussion it will be of no good to omit the views of the British leaders on balance of Power. Kinsella et al (2013:79) writes that British diplomats saw a special role for their country in the balance of power and Britain had long performed the role of balancer, a role that British Prime Minister Winston Churchill considered both noble and essential to the defeat of tyranny on the European continent:

“For four hundred years the foreign policy of England has been to oppose the strongest, most aggressive, most dominating Power on the continent… it would have been easy and must have been very tempting to join with the stronger and share the fruits of his conquest.

However, we always took the harder course, joined with the less strong Powers, made a combination among them, and thus defeated the continental military tyrant whoever he was, wherever nation he led.” In this perspective Britain had a tendency of to throw its weight behind the lesser state or coalition when the balance was threatened by the rise of a would-be tyrant. Similarly, Nye (1993:54) writes that Balance of power is a policy of helping the underdogs because if you help the top dog, it may eventually turn around and eat you.

This means that, one of the reason for the super power to join forces with the weak is for the fact of not risking their independency, for once they join with the already strong the stronger might change their mind and attack its allies so in this way their independency might be at risk.

A balance of power policy does not necessarily assume that states act to maximize power, hence states might even choose a different course of action if it wished to maximise powers, as according to this, their main intensions is to promote the balance of power and to suppress any tyranny that might seem to rise which would threaten this balance and eventually result to war. The importance of Balance of Power

Now ignoring the process of explain this concept of Balance of power, now we enter into the main subject of this assignment which is to focus on the importance of the balance of power and this main discussion will focus on trying to explain this in the view point of the Realists.

The Balance of power is one of five core institutions that maintain order in international society (Bull1997, Diez, Bode and Da Costa 2011:7). In this sense without the Balance of Power in the international environment war is likely to occur and any State can easily manipulate the other for there is no policy that is preventing it from doing so. According to Martin Wight (1994:166-167) there are three reasons why there should be the Balance of Power or the distribution of power. First, would be to protect the independence of states, the so-called ‘liberties of Europe’, and society of Nations. In support of this Morgenthau (1967:168) write that the other function that a successful balance of power fulfils under these conditions is to insure the freedom of one nation from domination by the other.

This means that for the independence of each and every state to be secured the balance of power system should be in operation and that all states should adhere to this system in other to ensure the security of its inhabitants and the entire state. According to Wight, balance of power in Europe means in effect the independence of its states several states and the balance of power was seen as a condition, not only of national security, but also of domestic happiness.

The second reason for an even distribution of power is to consolidate the interdependence of states, to make it manifest and more explicit. Similarly, Morgenthau (1967:168) writes that one of the two functions the balance of power is supposed to fulfil is stability in the power relations among nations. In other words this balance of power system enables the interdependence of states to be strong or it intensifies the diplomatic ties and makes this relationship between states to be in public eye.

The third reason for the balance of power is to make international Law possible. Similarly, Sir Travers Twiss (1844:187) writes that the balance of power was recognised as a rule of positive at Utrecht; this arguable, but there is wide agreement that international law can exist only if there is a balance of power.

This is one of the importances of the balance of power for with the absence of the international law order cannot be easily maintained in the world, and thus war can easily breakout. According to Morgenthau (1967:196) the balance of power system acts as the tool which is necessary for the preservation of peace and security in the modern world. In other words balance of power is necessary for the prevention of war and for the preservation of peace and therefore when war is prevented and peace preserved security by nations is attained. Criticism of the Balance of power

To the conclusion of this essay, it will be of great insight to include some of the criticism of the balance of power in order to bring about objectivity in this essay. According to the led Realists themselves there is an argument that stability occurs when there is an equal balance, but others argue that stability occurs when one side has a preponderance of power, so that the other dare not attack it (Nye 1993:53).

This means that the very architects’ of the balance of power system are not all supporting this system. According to Viotti and Kauppi (1993:64) balance of power has also been criticised as leading to war as opposed to preventing it, serving as poor guide to statesmen, and functioning as propaganda tool to justify defence spending and foreign adventures. Similarly, Kegley and Wittkopf (1995:476) the outbreak of World War I, perhaps more than any other event, dis credited balance of power politics and promoted the search for alternative to it.

The catastrophic proportions that war led many to view balance-of-power mechanism as cause of war instead of an instrument for its prevention. Not only these authors that criticised the balance of power but also the most important figure in the world politics shared the same views regarding this system As according to Kegley and Wittkopt (1995:477) President Woodrow Wilson voiced most vehement opposition to balance of power politics and similarly Hitler said in 1941:

‘What Britain called the balance of power was nothing but the disintegration and disorganisation of the continent’ (Wight, 1994:173). Following all these criticisms, the balance of power seem not to be regarded as the successful system in the international politics following the outbreak of world war one and two and other evens prior to these world wars. However, to some extant this system did manage to preserve peace and security especially in the 19th and the 20th century.

Conclusion The importance of the concept of Balance of Power is seen when one looks at the world as made up of states that want to go to war with each other. Balance of power offers mutual destruction as an alternative therefore it becomes very attractive to many realist theories and state actors as a way to justify and to make sense of an anarchic world.

There have been many examples throughout history where balance of power has been utilised by states at both continental and international levels. These include but are not limited to the foreign policy of Britain that wanted to counter balance the Dutch Empire, Napoleons France and Nazi Germany respectively.

Currently the formations of Brazil, India, China, Russia and to an extent South Africa, is a third world counter balance of power to the Western Hegemony that has been dominant since the end of World War II. This essay has therefore explain the concept of Balance of Power and located in the literature of power in international relations.

The importance of the concept of balance of power is argued to be found most relevant by Realist scholars who see the world as an anarchic world and therefore states need to bandwagon (weak states) and semi strong states form alliances to balance the overwhelming power of a unilateral state. The opposite of a Balance of Power world is a unipolar and to a smaller extent a bipolar world. The issue of unipolar and bipolar world however has not been dealt with in this paper.

The importance of Balance of Power in the lenses of Neo-liberalism has also not been dealt with; as state alliances, which Balance of Power tries to explain in realist terms, is a central tenet of liberalism and neo-liberalism.

Bibliography 1. Diez. T, Bode. I, and Costa. A. F, 2011. Key Concepts in International Relations. SAGE publication, Thousand Oasks, Califonia. 2. Kinsella. D, Russett and Starr, H, 2013. World Politics the Menu for Choice. WADSWORTH CENGAGE learning, United States of America. 3. Jackson. R. and Sorensen. G, 2003.

Introduction to International Relations, second edition: Theories and approaches, OXFORD university press 4. Kegley. C. W, Jr and Wittkopf. E. R, 1995. World Politics: Trend and Transformation, Fifth Edition 5. Tim. D, M. Kurk and Smith. S, 2010. International Relations Theories: Discipline and Diversity, Second Edition, OXFORD university press, New York. 6. Morgenthau, H. J, 1967.

Politics among Nations: the struggle for power and Peace, Fourth edition, Alfred. A. KNOPF, New York. 7. Nye. J. S, JR, 1993. Understanding International Conflict: An introduction to theory and history, Harper Collins College Publishers, New York. 8. Viotti. P. R and Kauppi. V. M, 1993. International Relations Theory: Realism, Pluralism, Globalism, Second Edition, Macmillan Publishing Company, Canada Toronto. 9. Wight. M, 1994. International Theory: The Three Traditions, edited by Gabriele Wight and Brian Porter, Leicester University Press, London

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