Politics Among Nations
The balance of power and policies aiming at its preservation are not only inevitable bur are an essential stabilizing factor in a society of sovereign nations; and the instability of the international balance of power is due not to the faultiness of the principle but to the particular conditions under which the principle must operate in a society of sovereign nations.
Two assumptions are at the foundation of equilibrium; a) the elements to be balanced are necessary for society or are entitled to exist b) without a state of equilibrium amog them one element will gain ascendancy over the others, encroach upon their interests and rights and may ultimately destroy them.
Consequently, it is the purpose of all such equilibriums to maintain the stability of the system without destroying the multiplicity of the elements composing it. If the goal were stability alone, it could be achieved by allowing one element to destroy or overwhelm the others and take their place.
The means employed to maintain the equilibrium consist in allowing the different elements to pursue their opposing tendencies up to the point where the tendency of one is not so strong as to overcome the tendency of the others, but strong enough to prevent the others from overcoming its own.
Two factors are at the basis of international society: multiplicity and antagonism of its elements.
Struggle for power on the international scene can be carried on in two typical patterns.
1) Pattern of Direct opposition: in this pattern the balance of power results directly from the desire of either nation to see its policies prevail over the policies of the other. So long as the bop operates successfully in such a situation, it fulfills two functions:
a. It creates a precarious stability in the relations between the respective nations, a stability that is always in danger of being disturbed and, therefore, is always in need of being restored. These relations are subject to continuous change.
b. If BoP operates under these conditions, the other function is to insure the freedom of one nation from domination by the other.
2) Pattern of Competition: A’s desire to dominate C is balanced by B’s power. This has two functions:
a. This creates a precarious stability and security in the relations between A and B.
b. Safeguards the independence of C against encroachments by A or B.
The balancing process can be carried on either by diminishing the weight of the heavier scale or by increasing the weight of the lighter one.
The other method of balancing the power of several nations consists in adding to the strength of the weaker nation. This method can be carried out by two different means;
a) Either B can increase its power sufficiently to offset, if not surpass, the power of A, and vice versa;
b) Or, B can pool its power with the power of all the other nations that pursue identical policies with regard to A, in which case A will pool its power with all the antions pursuing identical policies with respect to B.
The former alternative is exemplified by the policy of compensations and the armament race as well as by disarmament; the latter by the policy of alliances.
In the latter part of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century, the principle of compensations was again deliberately applied to the distribution of colonial territories and the delimitation of colonial or semi-colonial spheres of influence. No nation will agree to concede political advantages to another nation without the expectation, which may or may not be well founded, of receiving proportionate advantages in return.
Proportionate reduction of armaments is similar to territorial compensation, for both techniques require a quantitative evaluation of the influence that the arrangements are likely to exert on the respective power of the individual nations.
Whether or not a nation shall pursue a policy of alliances is, then, a matter not of principle but of expediency, pragmatism. A nation will turn away from alliances if it believes that it is strong enough to hold its own unaided or that the burden of the commitments resulting from the alliances is likely to outweigh the advantages to be expected.
The distribution of benefits is thus likely to reflect the distribution of power within an alliance, as is the determination of policies. A great power has a good chance to have its way with a weak ally as concerns benefits and policies, and it is for this reason that Machiavelli warned weak nations against making alliances with strong ones except by necessity.
For an alliance to be operative – that is, able to coordinate the general policies and concrete measures of its members – those members must agree not only on general objectives, but on policies and measures as well.
THE HOLDER OF THE BALANCE
The system may, however, consist of two scales plus a third element, the “holder”, of the balance or the “balancer”. The balancer is not permanently identified with the policies of either nation or group of nations. Its only objective within the system is the maintenance of the balance, regardless of the concrete policies the balance will serve. It waits in the middle in watchful detachment to see which scale is likely to sink. Its support of lack of support is the decisive factor in the struggle for power.