Whatever Happened to the Balance of Power?

By Freedman, Lawrence | The World Today, February 2001 | Go to article overview

Whatever Happened to the Balance of Power?


Freedman, Lawrence, The World Today


In his inaugural address, President Bush spoke of 'shaping a balance of power that favours freedom.' What have the end of the Cold War, environmental issues, international crime and humanitarian interventions done for the balance of power? Is it a concept worth bothering with and do we need to worry about new centres of power?

THE NOTION OF A `BALANCE OF POWER! STILL RESONATES, at one level, because it provides such a good title for any snapshot of the current distribution of strength and authority in the international system. It is a guide to who is up and who is down in the continuing struggle for domination and influence.

At another level it helps make sense of the workings of that system, explaining why old rivals suddenly form alliances and old allies fall out, why arms races and even wars begin, and, on occasion, why there can be outbreaks of reasonableness and calm. And then, at yet a further level, it moves from being a partial interpretative device and becomes a distinctive view of the world. In this sense it is as much prescriptive as descriptive, arguing why an aspiring great power with radical intentions must be `balanced, or what must be done to avoid a major war and maintain a global equilibrium, even as weapons are accumulated and antagonistic groups eye each other nervously.

At each level the balance of power approach has long had its critics. The concept is bound up with the realist' tradition, which is now regularly dismissed as the ultimate in old thinking. At its most simplistic, realism starts with a model of the international system as being hopelessly anarchic. Its inspiration has been found in gloomy musings about human nature and the folly of idealism, as if international politics is only animated by the lust for power, a self-feeding compulsion to aggrandisement contained only when countered by another similarly-motivated power. States, the most coherent units within this system, are obliged to organise their own security rather than rely on some international organisation to do it for them. They normally do this through reliance on military power.

OLD MODELS

The critics argue that this model is obsolescent. Reality is diverging from `realism: They warn that attempts to impose classic balance of power models on the contemporary scene miss the new types and structures of power arising out of the swirling patterns of international trade and financial markets, creating complex inter-dependencies that shape and channel political activity.

The old models are also, they claim, insensitive to the growing importance of the norms of human and minority rights when pitched against those of states. Instead of remaining caught in this flawed security framework, dominated by the distribution of raw military power, many critics urge that more attention be paid to the new security agenda geared to eradicating disease and poverty and preventing environmental catastrophe. These issues are beyond the capacity of individual states to resolve and can only be addressed at a global level.

To the critics the persistence of old thinking is frustrating. Politicians, along with their foreign policy advisers and academic courtiers, still appear boxed in by the old models. Take two stories in the International Herald Tribune of 28 December 2000 - as it happens the day I began to write this article. One front page story carries what might seem to be a wholly atavistic headline - German Bid for Dominance Resisted by France. The main headline - Will Gaullist Grandeur Obstruct a New Europe? - carried the real message. The story was about France's bid to hold on to parity with Germany in voting rights at the EU's December Nice summit, despite having only two-thirds the population. The conclusion was that President Jacques Chirac's reluctance to relinquish a distinctive leadership role for France appeared as rigid and archaic, and that, although he had conceded this point, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder had emerged as the winner by demonstrating the centrality of Germany to modern European decision-making, without having to work in tandem with France. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Whatever Happened to the Balance of Power?
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.