The Balance Of Power Theory Essay

2003 words - 8 pages

The Balance of Power TheoryThe theory of the balance of power-where the distribution of power is equally shared amongst the appropriate entities-is a concept crucial to the study of International Relations and of war. When studied in relation to the nineteenth century, we can see that the concept is a major part of both contemporary and modern literature, thinking and politics. When analysed in relation to this era-a time where 'no general or systemic'[1] war occurred- the theory has been taken to act as a cause of war, a condition of peace and an amalgamation of both. Arguably the final conclusions are subjective, but there are several factors to be examined to gain a proper overview of the theory's application to this time.If we study it in relation to it being a cause of war, there are substantial areas where there is evidence to suggest that this is a viable argument. The first of these is the so-called 'security dilemma'-a concept generally integrated within the balance of power. We can see that this era was characterised by the view that since 'all states may at any time use force, all states must be prepared to do so'[2]. This climate of fear that was created manifested itself in arms races, formation of alliances and in many cases open conflict. This was made possible by the nature of the anarchic system of European international politics. This system, ever since the Westphalian eradication of the Papacy and Holy Roman Empire as the leaders of European policy was characterised by the lack of higher authority than the nation-state, meaning that each entity was sovereign. The inference from this is well noted by analysts, and it is therefore logical to suggest that 'in anarchy, security is the highest end'[3]. The lack of overall authority meant that a self-help system of alliance and military force dominated the region and the idea that war was a 'corollary of the balance of power'[4] with the consequence that it was frequently turned to as a solution of a threat to the equilibrium of the international system, which in turn substantiates the idea that balance of power theory acted as a cause of war in the nineteenth century.This idea is closely linked to the next area of argument. Since it is true that 'power…matters in a relative'[5], it encouraged statesmen to do as much as possible to solidify and strengthen their own position. Consequently the use of alliances and coalitions was a fundamental strategy of the age. States would form alliances for immediate purposes and then switch them when a better opportunity presented itself. Whilst this was perhaps not as fluid as the preceding century, it was still a factor-for example Britain and Russia fought as allies against France up to 1815, whilst forty years later (1854-56) Britain and France were now allies fighting Russia. Whilst it was argued that this system encouraged peace, the obligations of alliances resulted in war in areas outside purely national interests, a good example of...

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