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11.1: Balance of Power Alliances

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    As we said in Chapter 9, Balance of Power advocates believe that the best strategy for peace is to form alliances that prevent any power from achieving domination (or hegemony).

    The basic idea is that powerful alliances will deter others from attacking you. If you have nine brothers, people leave you alone. Nation-states can combine to prevent any other state from becoming so strong that it can successfully attack.

    Critics point out that there are problems with balance of power systems:

    -Most notably, allies can drag you into war.

    -Historically, shifting alliances to maneuver for military power caused arms races and continual wars from the 1500s through the 1900s.

    -Misunderstandings and mistakes can occur regarding opponents’ intentions and actions. Typically, any move by an opponent is seen as hostile, which can lead to tit-for-tat reactions that lead to war, as in the beginning of WWI.

    -Sometimes allies do not keep their word, as when Egypt did not continue the advance it had promised to its Arab allies during the 1973 war with Israel.

    -Ambitious leaders sometimes ignore the balance of power against them and attack anyway. Sometimes they are successful, which encourages other ambitious leaders. Prussia’s Bismarck surprised everyone by unifying Germany through winning three short, sharp wars.

    Also, Balance of Power is more than a strategy. It requires:

    -Constant attention to the designs and actions of others, i.e. lots of spying.

    -Opposing other powers by carrying out military buildups and forming and shifting alliances. For instance, in the 1700s and 1800s, Britain followed a strategy of maintaining a dominant navy and switching sides repeatedly in various alliances and conflicts, always opposing the strongest country or coalition in continental Europe in order to prevent anyone from gaining control.

    -Maintaining the power of defeated states in the interest of future balancing. This is what the Concert of Europe did after Napoleon’s defeat, allowing France to continue as a major power. Britain and France violated this principle after WWI, when they did their best to destroy Germany. The backlash from that harsh peace was a major cause of WWII.

    This page titled 11.1: Balance of Power Alliances is shared under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Lawrence Meacham.

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