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balance of power
Balance of power - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
balance of power in international relations — when there is parity or stability between competing forces; balance of power (parliament) — when an individual ...
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Note added at 37 mins (2008-06-18 10:58:48 GMT)
Political Dictionary: balance of power
Probably the oldest concept in the study of International Relations going back at least to the work of Thucydides. It is closely associated with both diplomatic parlance and realist theory. Its logic derives from the self-help imperative of the international system's anarchic structure, in which states are obliged to give priority to survival and security. In pursuing this logic, states will usually join together to oppose any expansionist centre of power that threatens to dominate the system and thus threaten their sovereignty. Balance of power behaviour is central to conceptions of the national interest and to alliance policy. If successful, it preserves individual states and the anarchic structure of the system as a whole. Its opposite is ‘bandwagoning’, in which states seek security by joining with the dominant power. Realists conceive balance of power as an automatic tendency in state behaviour. In an international society perspective, balance of power is a conscious policy shared amongst a group of states, and serving as the principle by which they regulate their relations. Neither ‘balance’ nor ‘power’ are measurable, and their interpretation is much debated.
— Barry Buzan
Britannica Concise Encyclopedia: balance of power
In international relations, an equilibrium of power sufficient to discourage or prevent one nation or party from imposing its will on or interfering with the interests of another. The term came into use at the end of the Napoleonic Wars to denote the power relationships in the European state system. Until World War I, Britain played the role of balancer in a number of shifting alliances. After World War II, a Northern Hemisphere balance of power pitted the U.S. and its allies (see NATO) against the Soviet Union and its satellites (see Warsaw Pact) in a bipolar balance of power backed by the threat of nuclear war. China's defection from the Soviet camp to a nonaligned but covertly anti-Soviet stance produced a third node of power. With the Soviet Union's collapse (1991), the U.S. and its NATO allies were recognized universally as the world's paramount military power.
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Columbia Encyclopedia: balance of power,
system of international relations in which nations seek to maintain an approximate equilibrium of power among many rivals, thus preventing the preponderance of any one state. Crucial to the system is a willingness on the part of individual national governments to change alliances as the situation demands in order to maintain the balance. Thucydides' description of Greece in the 5th cent. B.C. and Guicciardini's description of 15th-century Italy are early illustrations. Its modern development began in the mid-17th cent., when it was directed against the France of Louis XIV. Balance of power was the stated British objective for much of the 18th and 19th cent., and it characterized the European international system, for example, from 1815–1914. After World War I the balance of power system was attacked by proponents of cooperation and a community of power. International relations were changed radically after World War II by the predominance of two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, with major ideological differences between them. After the 1960s, with the emergence of China and the Third World, a revived Europe and Japan, it reemerged as a component of international relations. With the collapse of the USSR in 1991, the United States, as the sole remaining superpower, has been dominant militarily and, to a lesser degree, economically.
See H. J. Morgenthau, Politics Among Nations (1960); H. Butterfield and M. Wright, ed., Diplomatic Investigations (1966); P. Keal, Unspoken Rules and Superpower Dominance (1984); R. J. Lieber, No Common Power: Understanding International Relations (1988).
US Foreign Policy Encyclopedia: Balance of Power
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.
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