Balance of Power in Connection with Neorealism

von tjl11

The following article describes basic and common approaches towards the connection between the International Relations theory of Neo-Realism and the element Balance of Power. It should clarify the outcome of certain theories by explaining the effects on the actors and on the system itself. It will mostly deal with judgments and ideas given by Kenneth Waltz due to its strong connection to the Neo-Realism theory. In order to understand the more advanced term Balance of Power it is necessary to give the requested background information regarding Neo-Realism, its meaning for the system and the Balance of Power and the internal and external factors.

Balance of Power

Simply said, the Balance of Power principle is a method to sustain security and a stable environment in an international system. Right here the Neo-Realism comes into play since the theory puts the emphasis on the security of the acting rational units. The units in a system all have different aims and capabilities, which creates the need for balance to avoid domination. This balance may occur via internal means (weapon productions, better economy) or external means (contracts). The external means are interesting for us since they deal with cooperation and include different actors. Although before the contracts appear, the units find themselves in a special position. This is the first stage when it comes to contract building. The units can…

a)… completely avoid being part of the system by declaring, that they do not want to interact with the remaining units (“Opting Out”).
b)…wait for special events or simply give the system more time to evolve in order to make better decisions (“Fence Sitting”)
c)…take the opportunity of an event with a closing time window. This might happen through a sudden decision of actions against a country or the conclusion of an agreement.

The actual contracting has the purpose to balance the system, meaning to disperse power in an international system. How this turns out depends on the intentions of the specific actors. There are two different approaches. The first one presumes, that at least one of the actors has the intention to acquire a good, for instance power. The second one implies that the actors only have the intention to keep the system as it currently is and to not change any balance.

Balance of Threat

Apart from Waltz’ theory S. Walt gave a similar approach towards the balance in an international system. In contrast to Waltz, Walt underlines the fact that the balance in a system may also be influenced or governed by threats. The main difference lies within the fact that the balance does not occur due to power (Waltz) but due to the threats in a system. Waltz depicts several factors that play a role in this theory such as intention, arsenal or proximity.

Both theories are linked to Neo-Realism and deal with the terms “Security and Power” as the main reason for balancing. The idea behind these theories is to ensure a stable system no matter the trigger (power or threat). It is quite surprising that the outcome of Waltz’ and Walt’s concepts appears to be quite the same. This occurrence proves that the linking between Balance of Power and Neo-Realism is present and makes different assumptions possible.

T. Lower