Balance of Power

Topics: Cold War, International relations, United States Pages: 5 (1631 words) Published: November 10, 2012
Using two examples critically discuss the Balance of Power.

In order to understand the meaning of Balance of Power, we should ask ourselves the question what we understand by ‘power’. Hard to define it or measure it, power is the ability to “do something or act in a particular way” or as Nye (2009:65) argues “the ability to achieve one’s purposes or goals.’ In other words, the potential to influence other people to do what you want them to do. As many scholars would agree, balance of power can hardly have an exact definition. A compelling definition given by the nineteenth-century British liberal Richard Codden states that balance of power is “a chimera – an undescribed, indescribable, incomprehensible nothing”. However, in this essay we are going to try to understand, explore and critically discuss the nature of this concept using two different examples from the late 19th and 20th century history – the pre-WWI conditions and the Cold War. To begin with, the 19th century was marked by stability and absence of warfare thanks to the desire to create equilibrium, peace and constrain international violence after the final defeat of Napoleon I in 1815. The attempt to create a true balance of power was fairly achieved using another principle aiming for peace – the concert of Europe. As Sheehan (1996:122) argues ‘the concert system was not a development of balance practice but rather represented a quite different approach to international security’. Furthermore, Fay(Fay cited in Sheehan 1996:122) adds that ‘The Concert aims to secure harmony and cooperation by conciliation and by minimising the tendency of the powers to group into opposing combinations’. (Watson cited in Sheehan 1996:126), however, criticises it by calling it a ‘diffused hegemony’. He suggests that it was a variant balance of power system, but it was only focused on ‘maintaining a balance between the interests of such a small number of major states that the distinction from effective hegemony becomes blurred’. Different or not, the Concert of Europe fairly managed to create peace between the great powers. If the Concert of Europe is aiming for peace, the balance of power concepts strives rather more for stability without letting one country become stronger than another. Both of those ideas are achieved during that period which persisted from 1822 to 1854 when the revolutions of liberal nationalism became too strong to hold on to the practices of providing territorial compensation or restoring governments to maintain peace and equilibrium (Nye, 2009). The period from 1954 to 1870 was far more unstable and changeling for some countries. For instances, the Crimean War was an example of a balance of power war in which Russia was prevented from pressing the weakened Ottoman Empire by France and Britain. Political leaders dropped old rules and began to rely on the nationalism ideologies. Bismarck was not an ideological nationalist, he was rather more conservative man who wanted Germany to be united under the Prussian monarchy. On the other hand, the German politician was ready to use nationalist appeals and wars to defeat Denmark, Austria and France but nevertheless, he returned to his conservative place once he achieved his goals (Nye, 2009). Undoubtedly, during Bismarck’s period, balance of power was achieved. He successfully managed Germany’s foreign affaires by smartly creating alliances and keeping good relations with Russia and Austria which would deprive France from finding an ally. Bismarck worshipped power and peace and believed in persuasion and not the threat of violence. Nevertheless, he knew the limitations of power unlike Hitler. His flexibility in dealing with international relations brought balance and stability in Europe (Rosecrance, 1974). From 1890 to 1914 the stability had gradually worsen with the absence of Bismarck. Nye (1996:70) states several reason for that – ‘Germany did not renew his treaty with Russia; became involved in...
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