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Encyclopedia > Balance of power in international relations

In international relations, a balance of power exists when there is parity or stability between competing forces. As a term in international law for a 'just equilibrium' between the members of the family of nations, it expresses the doctrine intended to prevent any one nation from becoming sufficiently strong so as to enable it to enforce its will upon the rest. Foreign affairs redirects here. ... This article or section is in need of attention from an expert on the subject. ... For other uses, see Nation (disambiguation). ... This article does not cite any references or sources. ...

"BoP" is a central concept in neorealist theory. Within a balance of power system, a state may choose to engage in either balancing or bandwagoning behavior. In a time of war, the decision to balance or to bandwagon may well determine the survival of the state. Main International Relations Theories and derivates Realism & Neorealism Idealism, Liberalism & Neoliberalism Marxism & Dependency theory Functionalism & Neofunctionalism Critical theory & Constructivism Neorealism or structural realism is a theory of international relations, outlined by Kenneth Waltz in his 1979 book, Theory of International Politics. ... For other uses, see State (disambiguation). ... For other uses, see balance. ... This Bandwagon article does not cite any references or sources. ...


A doctrine of equilibrium

The basic principle involved in a balancing of political power, as David Hume pointed out in his Essay on the Balance of Power, is as old as history, and was perfectly familiar to the ancients both as political theorists and as practical statesmen. In its essence it is no more than a precept of commonsense, born of experience and the instinct of self-preservation; for, as Polybius very clearly puts it (lib. i. cap. 83) A principle (not principal) is something, usually a rule or norm, that is part of the basis for something else. ... This article needs additional references or sources for verification. ... This article is about the philosopher. ... Statesman is a respectful term used to refer to politicians, and other notable figures of state. ... For the American independence advocacy pamphlet by Thomas Paine, see Common Sense. ... Look up Experience in Wiktionary, the free dictionary This article discusses the general concept of experience. ... For other uses, see Instinct (disambiguation). ... Self preservation is part of an animals instinct that demands that the organism survives. ... Polybius (c. ...

"Nor is such a principle to be despised, nor should so great a power be allowed to any one, as to make it impossible for you afterwards to dispute with him on equal terms, concerning your manifest rights."

As Professor L. Oppenheim (Internal. Law, i. 73) justly points out, an equilibrium between the various powers which form the family of nations is, in fact, essential to the very existence of any international law. In the absence of any central authority, the only sanction behind the code of rules established by custom or defined in treaties, known as 'international law', is the capacity of the powers to hold each other in check. If this system fails, nothing prevents any state sufficiently powerful from ignoring the law and acting solely according to its convenience and its interests. In the context of international relations and diplomacy, power (sometimes clarified as international power, national power, or state power) is the ability of one state to influence or control other states. ... Homeostasis is the property of an open system, especially living organisms, to regulate its internal environment to maintain a stable, constant condition, by means of multiple dynamic equilibrium adjustments, controlled by interrelated regulation mechanisms. ... This article or section is in need of attention from an expert on the subject. ... In communications, a code is a rule for converting a piece of information (for example, a letter, word, or phrase) into another form or representation, not necessarily of the same type. ... It has been suggested that Convention (norm) be merged into this article or section. ... The first two pages of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, in (left to right) German, Hungarian, Bulgarian, Ottoman Turkish and Russian A treaty is an agreement under international law entered into by actors in international law, namely states and international organizations. ... For other uses, see Law (disambiguation). ...

is a lie!

Historical perspective

Preserving the balance of power as a conscious goal of foreign policy, though certainly known in the ancient world, resurfaced in post-medieval Europe among the Italian city states in the 15th century. Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan, was the first ruler to actively pursue such a policy, though historians have generally (and incorrectly) attributed the innovation to the Medici rulers of Florence whose praises were sung by the well-known Florentine writers Niccolò Machiavelli and Francesco Guicciardini. (14th century - 15th century - 16th century - other centuries) As a means of recording the passage of time, the 15th century was that century which lasted from 1401 to 1500. ... Portrait of Francesco Sforza, ca 1460, by Bonifazio Bembo: Sforza insisted on being shown in his worn dirty old campaigning hat. ... Type Anti-tank Nationality Joint France/Germany Era Cold War, modern Launch platform Individual, Vehicle Target Vehicle, Fortification History Builder MBDA, Bharat Dynamics (under license) Date of design 70s Production period since 1972 Service duration since 1972 Operators 41 countries Variants MILAN 1, MILAN 2, MILAN 2T, MILAN 3, MILAN... Machiavelli redirects here. ... Guicciardini Francesco Guicciardini (March 6, 1483 - May 22, 1540) was an Italian historian and statesman. ...

Universalism, which was the dominant direction of European international relations prior to the Peace of Westphalia, gave way to the doctrine of the balance of power. The term gained significance after the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, where it was specifically mentioned. Internationalism is a political movement which advocates a greater economic and political cooperation between nations for the benefit of all. ... Ratification of the Treaty of Münster. ... A map depicting the major changes in Western Europes borders as a result of the Treaties of Utrecht and Rastatt. ...

It was not until the beginning of the 17th century, when the science of international law assumed the discipline of structure, in the hands of Grotius and his successors, that the theory of the balance of power was formulated as a fundamental principle of diplomacy. In accordance with this new discipline, the European states formed a sort of federal community, the fundamental condition of which was the preservation of a 'balance of power, i.e. such a disposition of things that no one state, or potentate, should be able absolutely to predominate and prescribe laws to the rest. And, since all were equally interested in this settlement, it was held to be the interest, the right, and the duty of every power to interfere, even by force of arms, when any of the conditions of this settlement were infringed upon, or assailed by, any other member of the community. (16th century - 17th century - 18th century - more centuries) As a means of recording the passage of time, the 17th century was that century which lasted from 1601-1700. ... For other uses, see Discipline (disambiguation). ... Hugo Grotius (Huig de Groot, or Hugo de Groot; Delft, 10 April 1583 – Rostock, 28 August 1645) worked as a jurist in the Dutch Republic and laid the foundations for international law, based on natural law. ... The word theory has a number of distinct meanings in different fields of knowledge, depending on their methodologies and the context of discussion. ... This article is about negotiations. ... For other uses, see Europe (disambiguation). ... For other uses, see Community (disambiguation). ... A potentate (from the Latin potens, powerful) is an informal term for a person with potent, usually supreme, power. ... This article is about the moral/legal concept. ... Duty is a term loosely appliedDuty to any action (or course of action) whichDutyDuty is regarded as morally incumbent, apart from personal likes and dislikes or any external compulsion. ... In the context of international relations and diplomacy, power (sometimes clarified as international power, national power, or state power) is the ability of one state to influence or control other states. ... For other uses, see Community (disambiguation). ...

This 'balance of power' principle, once formulated, became an axiom of political science. Fénelon, in his Instructions, impressed the axiom upon the young Louis, duc de Bourgogne. Frederick the Great, in his Anti-Machiavel, proclaimed the 'balance of power' principle to the world. In 1806, Friedrich von Gentz re-stated it with admirable clarity, in Fragments on the Balance of Power. The principle formed the basis of the coalitions against Louis XIV and Napoleon, and the occasion, or the excuse, for most of the wars which Europe experienced between the Peace of Westphalia (1648) and the Congress of Vienna (1814), especially from the British vantage point (including, in part, World War I). This article is about a logical statement. ... The Politics series Politics Portal This box:      Political Science is the field concerning the theory and practice of politics and the description and analysis of political systems and political behaviour. ... François de Salignac de la Mothe, more commonly known as François Fénelon (1651 - 1715), was a French Roman Catholic theologian, poet and writer. ... Louis, Dauphin of France and Duke of Burgundy (August 16, 1682 - February 18, 1712) was the son of Louis, le Grand Dauphin, and Maria Anna of Bavaria. ... Frederick II (German: ; January 24, 1712 – August 17, 1786) was a King of Prussia (1740–1786) from the Hohenzollern dynasty. ... 1806 was a common year starting on Wednesday (see link for calendar). ... Friedrich von Gentz (1764-1832), German publicist and statesman, was born at Breslau on the 2nd of May 1764. ... Louis XIV redirects here. ... Napoléon I, Emperor of the French (born Napoleone di Buonaparte, changed his name to Napoléon Bonaparte)[1] (15 August 1769; Ajaccio, Corsica – 5 May 1821; Saint Helena) was a general during the French Revolution, the ruler of France as First Consul (Premier Consul) of the French Republic from... Ratification of the Treaty of Münster. ... 1648 (MDCXLVIII) was a leap year starting on Wednesday (see link for calendar) of the Gregorian calendar (or a leap year starting on Saturday of the 10-day slower Julian calendar). ... The Congress of Vienna was a conference between ambassadors, from the major powers in Europe that was chaired by the Austrian statesman Klemens Wenzel von Metternich and held in Vienna, Austria, from November 1, 1814, to June 8, 1815. ... Year 1814 (MDCCCXIV) was a common year starting on Saturday (link will display the full calendar). ... “The Great War ” redirects here. ...

During the greater part of the 19th century, the series of national upheavals which remodelled the map of Europe obscured the balance of power. Yet, it underlay all the efforts of diplomacy to stay, or to direct, the elemental forces let loose by the French Revolution. In the revolution's aftermath, with the restoration of comparative calm, the principle once more emerged as the operative motive for the various political alliances, of which the ostensible object was the preservation of peace. Alternative meaning: Nineteenth Century (periodical) (18th century — 19th century — 20th century — more centuries) As a means of recording the passage of time, the 19th century was that century which lasted from 1801-1900 in the sense of the Gregorian calendar. ... Eugène Delacroixs Liberty Leading the People, symbolising French nationalism during the July Revolution 1830. ... This article is about negotiations. ... The French Revolution (1789–1815) was a period of political and social upheaval in the political history of France and Europe as a whole, during which the French governmental structure, previously an absolute monarchy with feudal privileges for the aristocracy and Catholic clergy, underwent radical change to forms based on... A military alliance is an agreement between two, or more, countries; related to wartime planning, commitments, or contingencies; such agreements can be both defensive and offensive. ... Gari Melchers, Mural of Peace, 1896. ...


It has been argued by historians that in the sixteenth century England came to pursue a foreign policy which would preserve the equilibrium between Spain and France, which evolved into a balance-of-power policy:

The continental policy of England [after 1525] was fixed. It was to be pacific, mediating, favourable to a balance which should prevent any power from having a hegemony on the continent or controlling the Channel coasts. The naval security of England and the balance of power in Europe were the two great political principles which appeared in the reign of Henry VIII and which, pursued unwaveringly, were to create the greatness of England.[1] Henry VIII redirects here. ...

In 1579 the first English translation of Guicciardini's Storia d'Italia or History of Italy popularised Italian balance of power theory in England. This translation was dedicated to Elizabeth I of England and claimed that "God has put into your hand the balance of power and justice, to poise and counterpoise at your will the actions and counsels of all the Christian kings of your time".[2] Elizabeth I redirects here. ...

Sir Esme Howard claimed England adopted the balance of power as "a corner-stone of English policy, unconsciously during the sixteenth, subconsciously during the seventeenth, and consciously during the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries, because for England it represented the only plan of preserving her own independence, political and economic".[3]

See also

Superpowers redirects here. ... Balance of Threat theory was proposed by Stephen M. Walt in an article entitled “Alliance Formation and the Balance of Power” published in the journal International Security in 1985. ... Klemens Wenzel von Metternich The Age of Metternich refers to the period of European politics in between the final defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815 and the Revolutions of 1848. ...


  1. ^ J. Pirenne, The Tides of History: From the Expansion of Islam to the Treaties of Westphalia: Volume II (London: 1963), p. 429.
  2. ^ Michael Sheehan, The Balance of Power: History & Theory (Routledge, 2000), p. 35.
  3. ^ Sir Esme Howard, 'British Policy and the Balance of Power', The American Political Science Review, Vol. 19, No. 2. (May, 1925), p. 261.


  • Waltz, K. N. (1979). Theory of International Politics. New York: Random House.

Waltz described IR in a systemic way, consisting of an anarchic structure and interacting units. His BOP-theory says that (smaller, weaker) states will balance the power or preponderance of more powerful ones to ensure that the latter do not become too powerful and dominate all other. For Waltz, a bipolar structure, as given in the Cold War, seems to be the best, i.e. the most peaceful one. Most relevant for his theory are chapters 1, 4-6. Image File history File links Broom_icon. ...

  • Walt, S. (1987). The Origins of Alliances.

Walt puts the BOP-theory on a new basis and calls it balance-of-threat (BOT) theory, since some states do not balance each other, because they do not perceive one another as threats (e.g. the West in the Cold War, worked together against the Warsaw Pact, but didn't balance each other).

  • Mearsheimer, J. J. (2001). The Tragedy of Great Power Politics. New York: W. W. Norton.

Mearsheimer tries to mend BOP theory after it was unable to predict or explain the end of the Cold War. He describes himself as an "offensive realist" and believes that states do not simply balance, but because they want to survive in an anarchical system they get frequently aggressive. This is in contrast to Waltz, whom he describes as "defensive realist", who says that states primarily seek survival through balancing. Mearsheimer is an ardent critic of other IR theories (such as neoliberlism, constructivism etc.) and warns heavily of the Chinese rise in their relative power position.

  • Virginia.edu - 'Balance of Power', Dictionary of the History of Ideas
  • Hedley Bull, Anarchial Society (United States of America: Macmillan Ltd, 1977).
  • John Lewis Gaddis, Surprise, Security and the American Experience (United States of America: Harvard University Press, 2004).
  • Ernst B. Haas, "The balance of power: prescription, concept, or propaganda", World Politics, Vol. 5, No. 4, (1953), pp. 442-477.
  • Lawrence Kaplan & William Kristol, The War Over Iraq (San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2003).
  • William Keylor, A World of Nations (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003).
  • Hans Morgenthau, Politics Among Nations: The struggle for Power and Peace: Fourth Edition (New York: Knofp, 1967).
  • Paul W. Schroeder, "The Nineteenth century system: balance of power or political equilibrium?", Review of International Studies, 15, (1989), pp. 135-153.
  • Michael Sheehan, The Balance of Power: History and Theory (London: Routledge, 2000).

This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain. Encyclopædia Britannica, the eleventh edition The Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition (1910–1911) is perhaps the most famous edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica. ... The public domain comprises the body of all creative works and other knowledge—writing, artwork, music, science, inventions, and others—in which no person or organization has any proprietary interest. ...



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