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Napoleon--the greatest player of the balance of power

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Napoleon--the greatest player of the balance of power

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  • April 12, 2007
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The balance of power is one of the most eternal themes of European diplomacy. Since 1648 to 1814, from the thirty years war to the decline of Napoleon, the main European powers were always trying to benefit themselves by playing the game of the balance of power. A great number of brilliant brains struggled to win, but only a few of them succeeded. Among these winners, Napoleon Bonaparte is remarkable. Not only because he was the one who broke the balance of power in Europe, he began to influence the balance of power since his early times, and expanded the balance of power system later by helping the US. In this paper, the term “balance of power” and Napoleon’s early victories will be explained first; then specifically, his relation with his major rival Britain will be discussed; finally, the importance of the participation of the United States will be evaluated in the third part.

The concept of the balance of power is ancient. It is originated from the need of peace and security of different states. In his book The Balance of Power: the System of International Relations, 1648-1815, Evan Luard states that “a true balance of power policy occurs only when a state allies itself with the weaker of two possible partners, because it recognizes that the other may finally prove the greater menace”. That means, to build up a balance of power system, the two or more rivals have to be equal in strength. The rule of balance of power is obeyed when weaker powers ally to fight against a stronger one, or two combinations of stronger and weaker powers confront each other. When one side is too strong to balance the other side, the balance of power is destroyed.

Why did the other powers in Europe form a coalition against France in 1793? The reason originated from the French Revolution. Before the revolution, among the five major powers in Europe (Britain, France, Austria, Prussia and Russia), there remained a roughly equality. The revolution caused a change of ideology in...