Is Balance of Power Relevant in Contemporary Global Politics?

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IS BALANCE OF POWER RELEVANT IN CONTEMPORARY GLOBAL POLITICS? Paul, E. V., James J. Wirtz, and Michael Fortmann, eds. Balance of Power: Theory and Practice in the 21st Century. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford Univ. Press, 2004. 384pp. $27.95

Although this book features a number of excellent essays, it is hard to understand why it was ever written. One would have profited more from rereading Ernst Haas's brilliant 1953 essay on the topic ("The Balance of Power: Prescription, Concept, or Propaganda," World Politics 5, no. 4 [July 1953], pp. 442-77).

In his introductory essay, E. V. Paul poses several theoretical and empirical questions about the balance of power. However, the real issue is whether the concept is relevant in contemporary global politics. Frankly, I did not think that anyone (except, perhaps, John Mearsheimer) seriously believed that balance of power exhibits anything much about the real world.

Happily, the contributors to this volume reach a similar conclusion. Jack Levy sets the tone with a rigorous and well reasoned historical analysis. He concludes that "the tendency to treat the theory ... as universal is misleading," because of the limited "scope conditions" in which the theory was applied. Douglas Lemke focuses on the utility of balance of power as defined by Mearsheimer's version of "offensive realism" and determines that the concept is so "vaguely stated" that he finds it "impossible to imagine a scenario that would be inconsistent" with it. In his imaginative effort to add an economic dimension to balance-of-power theory, Mark Brawley suggests that it "is typically too parsimonious to be of great use," and James Wirtz concludes that the theory cannot predict outcomes in the post-Cold War world. Edward Rhodes continues to flog this dead horse, concluding that "liberalism and nuclear weapons mean that states will not seek to balance power."

The regional analyses change little. Europeans, Robert Art concludes, want more influence on U.S. policy but are not doing much about it; balanceof-power theory, declares William Wohlforth, "does not apply" to Russia or its neighbors; Benjamin Miller can find "no countervailing coalition . . . against U.S. hegemony" in the Middle East; and, according to Michael Barletta and Harold Trinkunas, there is no "evidence of balance of power behavior in Latin America in the post-Cold War period. …