Balancing in Neorealism

Author
Joseph M. Parent, Sebastian Rosato
Content Type
Journal Article
Journal
International Security
Volume
40
Issue Number
2
Publication Date
Fall 2015
Institution
Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
Abstract
Does neorealism offer a convincing account of great power balancing behavior? Many scholars argue that it does not. This conclusion rests on a misunderstanding of neorealist theory and an erroneous reading of the evidence. Properly specified, neorealism holds that great powers place an overriding emphasis on the need for self-help. This means that they rely relentlessly both on arming and on imitating the successful military practices of their peers to ensure their security. At the same time, they rarely resort to alliances and treat them with skepticism. There is abundant historical evidence to support these claims. Since 1816, great powers have routinely achieved an effective balance in military capabilities with their relevant competitors and promptly copied the major military innovations of the period. Case studies show that these outcomes are the product of states' efforts to ensure security against increasingly capable rivals. Meanwhile, the diplomatic record yields almost no examples of firm peacetime balancing coalitions over the past 200 years. When alliances have formed, great powers have generally doubted the reliability of their allies and of their opponents' allies. Thus neorealism provides a solid foundation for explaining great power balancing behavior.
Topic
International Relations, Geopolitics, Grand Strategy, International Relations Theory
Political Geography
United States, Prussia, Global Focus