Balance of Power

Home Up





Multipolarity characterized the international system for most of its history from its beginning after the Thirty Years war in 1648 through the end of World War II in 1945.  Five to nine major powers predominated in the system.  The system was basically Euro-centric.

Major Powers:  France, United Kingdom, Spain, Austria-Hungary, Russia, Prussia (Germany after 1871), Italy (after 1860), United States, Japan

Bipolarity characterized the international system for two periods: 
    a.  just before World War I when the Triple Alliance (Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy) confronted the Triple Entende (United Kingdom, France, and Tsarist Russia) and again
    b. after World War II when the United States (and its Allies organized in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization--NATO) confronted the Soviet Union (and its Satellites, using a perjorative term, organized in the Warsaw Pact). With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, this bipolar system came to an end. 

Hegemonic Dominance of the United States marks the period since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.  The United States has emerged as the world's only superpower.

The international system has seen previous periods of hegemonic predominance.  At the beginning of the formation of the modern State System, Habsburg Spain came close to establishing its dominance over Europe.  Later France under Louis XIV and again under Napoleon threatened the existence of the state-system.  After 1871, Germany gained predominance within Central Europe and threatened the system in World Wars I and II.

Hegemonic predominance has generally led to the formation of coalition or alliance of states to check the power of the dominant state.

So far, hegemonic states have failed to institutionalize their power.  If successful, the hegemon would establish a world empire or world state in place of the existing state system based on the sovereign equality of states.

    REGIONAL BALANCES OF POWER.  In addition to the global balance of power, there are also various regional balances.  The regional balance of power will be determined largely by the countries that are located in the given region.  However, the dominant hegemonic state and other major powers, not located in the given region, may also play a role in the given region.  The United States, for example, is an actor in all the regional balances of power within the world.

    ALLIANCES and the Balance of Power, both Global and Regional.  States form alliances to increase the power that they exercise in the world.  This is true both of major powers and weak states.  Hegemonic states assemble alliances to gain both legitimacy for their actions and to achieve overwhelming superiority over their adversaries.  Weak states seek to build alliances to compensate for their weaknesses.

    WAR, unfortunately, remains a normal condition within this system of sovereign states.  Despite efforts to establish peaceful methods of conflict resolution between states, the international system remains anarchic.  The international system continues to remain in a Hobbesian State of Nature where each "warres" against all.

WAR is a normal condition within a system of states.  There are are many different types of war.  
Wars are classified:
    a.   according to the types of weapons used.  For example,
         nuclear and non-nuclear or conventional wars.
    b.   according to the geographic extent of the war.
         For example, global or world wars wars and civil wars.
    c.   according to the power of the belligerents.  For
         example, major powers fighting each other (world
                    wars; minor powers fighting in a particular region 
                     (wars between India and Pakistan).
    d.   according to the level of violence used.  Terrorism appears to be
                 a new kind of low level warfare.  


    Nuclear Weapons since 1947.  Nuclear Powers and Non-Nuclear Countries.  Nuclear Proliferation.

    Chemical Weapons have been used at least since World War I

    Biological Weapons.  Germ warfare.  As far as we know, this has not been used in actual warfare but there is a growing risk that it may be used particularly by weak states and terrorist organizations.

    ABC Weapons:  Atomic, Biological, Chemical


Global Balance of Power

            Military              Economic

                US                    US
                                      European Union

Regional Balances of Power

North America
    Canada, US, and Mexico

Central America and Caribbean
    Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Honduras, Cuba, Haiti

South America
    Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Bolivia, Columbia, Venezuela

Pacific Region
    Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Philippines

East Asia
    China, Korea, Japan

South East Asia
    Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Thailand

South Asia
    Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan

Middle East
    Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Emirates, Syria,
    Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon

North Africa
    Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya

Sub-Saharan Africa
    Nigeria, Ghana, Congo (Zaire), Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania

South Africa
    Republic of South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia

Eastern Europe
    Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania

Western Europe
    United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Spain


High Seas

Outer Space


POWER is an elusive concept but widely used in political science.  Power may be defined as the ability to persuade others to do things that they would not do ordinarily unless pressured to do so.  Within domestic politics, power is usually based on numbers, wealth, and organizational skills.  A small group that is well organized may exercise considerable influence even without large sums of money.  In international politics, power depends on both geopolitical factors and idiosyncratic factors.

Inequalities of State Power

bulletMajor Powers
bulletMinor States
bulletClient States
bulletMini- and Micro-States

Bases of State Power

Bases of National Power depends on many variables, such as:

    Geopolitical Factors

bulletLocation of the state--coastal or landlocked
bulletSize--large or small territory
bulletPopulation--large or small
bulletNatural Resources--oil, iron ore, forests, etc.
bulletTechnology-developed or under-developed
bulletType of Government--dictatorship or democracy
bulletType of Economy--market or centrally planned
bulletSize and Equipment of Military--nuclear or conventional

Idiosyncratic Factors
bulletWill and Leadership
bulletMorale of Military
bulletDegree of Popular Support
bulletNature of Friends and Allies 
bulletNature of Foes and Enemies

Tools of State Power for the Conduct of Foreign Policy

bulletForeign Aid
bulletForeign Trade
bulletCultural Exchange Programs
bulletIntelligence Operations
bulletOvert and Covert Operations
bulletAnalysis of Data
bulletEconomic Warfare
bulletTrade Wars
bulletPrice Fixing
bulletTrade Embargo
bulletSeizure of Assets
bulletCurrency Manipulations
bulletDenial of Raw Materials
bulletBreaking Diplomatic Relations
bulletGunboat Diplomacy
bulletMilitary Maneuvers


Hit Counter

Copyright Dr. Harold Damerow
Senior Professor of Government and History
Coordinator of International Studies

Union County College
Cranford, NJ 07016
 August 27, 2010