Balances of Power versus Balancing: A Conceptual Analysis

Susan B. Martin
Content Type
Working Paper
Christopher H. Browne Center for International Politics, University of Pennsylvania
This paper responds to recent criticisms of balance of power theory by arguing that those criticisms represent a misunderstanding of both the contributions and limitations of systemic balance of power theory. At the same time, it acknowledges that there are some problems with current work on balance of power, in particular with work that uses systemic balance of power theory as a basis for studies of state behavior. I argue that the problems with this current work are a result of the failure to make the adjustments required by the change in the level of analysis that occurs when one moves from systemic theory to the study of state behavior. In particular, there has been little analysis of what it means for a state to “balance.” To address this problem, I develop a definition of balancing behavior that is consistent with systemic balance of power theory, and then use that definition to develop a general model of balancing behavior. I then show how that general model can be used to integrate and evaluate different hypotheses concerning the balancing behavior of states. I conclude that both systemic balance of power theory and studies of the balancing behavior of states can contribute to our understanding of international politics, and therefore argue that we should resist the suggestion of critics that balance of power theory should be abandoned.
International Relations, Government, Politics