The War Ledger
The core of one argument is that “if one nation gains significantly in power, its improved position relative to that of other nations frightens them and induces them to try to reverse this gain by war. Or, vice versa, a nation gaining on an adversary will try to make its advantage permanent by reducing its opponent by force of arms. ”
The balance of power model suggests that when power is more or less equally distributed among great powers or members of major alliances peace will ensue. Conversely, as large asymmetries become discernible in the distribution of power resources, the probability of war increases markedly.
The trinity of beliefs that constitutes the balance of power model: equality of power is conducive to peace; an imbalance of power leads to war; the stronger party is the likely aggressor.
The major mechanism through which the balance of power system is maintained is the making and unmaking of alliances.
One feature of the balance of power system needs additional comment is that the system is homeostatic. Indeed, it is ultrastable. In maximizing their own power positions, nations group themselves in the kind of balances that tend to keep the system stable, peaceful, and secure. If the equilibrium is disturbed, the system favors adjustments that will return it to equilibrium.
Those who espouse the balance of power model do not clearly explain why one nation should be exempt from the otherwise universal rule of wanting to take advantage of its superiority to expand its power at the expense of others. Do all nations really wish to maximize their power? One cannot help noticing variations, over time, in the degree to which they have wished to do so. Examples; Sweden and the U.S
In collective security, the distribution of power resources between opposing factions had to be extremely lopsided; collective security required that all members of the system move against the aggressor. If peaceful a nation fails to do its duty, or if an aggressor nation were able to win over the potential defenders, then the chances of war will increase.
Collective security would provide security, if not peace.
Collective security has three main assumptions; a) when a serious international dispute threatens an outbreak of hostilities, the identity of the aggressor will be clear to all. But in many cases each side accuses the other of being aggressive. It is mostly unclear; b) all nations will be equally interested in preventing aggression and thus can be expected to regulate their political and military behavior to that end; c) alliances are the major method by which the necessary imbalance of power between aggressive and peaceful nations is to be affected. In this, the collective security and balance of power models are as one.
Main conclusions of Power Transition theory; a) even distribution of political, economic, and military capabilities between contending groups of nations is likely to increase the probability of war; b) peace is preserved best when there is an imbalance of national capabilities between disadvantaged and advantaged nations; c) the aggressor will come from a small group of dissatisfied strong countries; d) it is the weaker, rather than the stronger, power that is most likely to be the aggressor.
This model insists that the significant differences in the distribution of international power are rooted in the different capacities of member states to utilize their own human and material resources. The model argues that the source of war is to be found in the difference in size and rates of growth of the members of the international system.
PT model postulates that the speed with which modernization occurs in big countries is also quite important in disturbing the equilibrium that existed. For if development is slow, the problems arising from one nation’s catching up with the dominant one may have a greater chance of being resolved. On the other hand, if growth takes place rapidly, both parties will be unprepared for the resulting shift. The challenger may not have had the opportunity to develop a realistic evaluation of its position because its elites will be strangers to power, and the sources of new-found strength are almost entirely the result of internal changes.
COMPARISON OF THE THREE MODELS
The Goals of Elites
BoP: the leaders of a nation seek to maximize its power. Strong nations try to expand, while their potential victims, seeking to protect themselves from aggression, band together to augment their offensive and defensive capabilities.
CS: decision makers are moved by a rational desire to prevent or to defeat aggression.
PT: Differs in two ways. a) it provides no general rule to explain and predict the circumstances in which elites will move toward war. b) it warns that changes in the power structure will not, in and of themselves, bring war about. If the great powers think that the changing system challenges their positions, or if they no longer like the way benefits are divided, should the shifts be deemed dangerous.
Motivations of the decision-makers/actors
CS: desire to maximize the utility of the system
BoP: maximize individual utility
PT: a nation’s dissatisfaction with its position in the system, and a desire to redraft the rules by which relations among nations work
Both models (CS and BoP) assume that currents leading to war and peace and to the preservation of the system are manipulable, that they can and must be managed, and that foreign-policy elites are key actors.
PT does not require that the dissatisfaction felt by the challenger be judged valid by an objective observer. The truly disadvantaged nations are by definition too weak to disturb the peace.
The Mechanisms that Redistribute Power
The least costly and most certain way for a nation to improve its power position is to combine its strength with that of friends or to break the coalitions of adversaries.
PT assumes that the major source of power for a nation is its own socioeconomic and political development. How else can one explain the rise of the Soviet Union and the United Staes, or the decline of the UK and France? These major changes in the international distribution of power occurrred outside the normal pattern of alliances and have affected the stability and viability of the system far more than the alignments and realignments of coalitions.
Whether or not alliances should be considered as an important mechnism in the short-term redistribution of power in the system depends on the obersever’s interest in those periods when alliance behavior can affect such distributions.
BoP predicts that the stronger will attack, CS posits that the aggressor will be weaker than the coalition, while PT argues that the attacker will be the weaker party.
Recipe for peace
PT and CS – to preserve peace and security, the power distribution must be lopsided in favor of the defenders of the system and against the nations that wish to attack it.
BoP – an equal distribution of power between the major contesting sides, because the danger of war increases dramatically when one side begins to gain a substantial advantage over the other.
PT argues that wars occur only when a dissatisfied great power catches up with the dominant nation. Satisfied powers do not fight.
Authors dip into the BDM’s work on measuring willingness. The indicators he provides are measures of changes in alliance behavior. If alliances tighten, and interaction among alliance groups decreases, such behavior may be taken as an indication that those who have responsibility for guiding their countries in their international dealings perceive the environment as presenting a threat to the security and/or the power positions of their countries and are preparing to fight. The loosening of alliances can be taken as an indication that similar responsible elites have judged the danger to have passed or to have been a false alarm. Wars, of course, are not excluded if alliances loosen; but the frequency of their occurrence should be low and they should be presumed to be very largely the function of miscalculation.
If conflicts occur among contenders, they do so only if one of the contenders is in the process of passing the other. This process is clearly, however, a necessary but not a sufficient condition for conflict, because it can also take place without conflict.
The major powers seem to fight, whether they are weaker, as strong as, or stronger than their opponents. One finds that all conflicts occur when combatants are all unequal in strenght. This confirms BoP but we cannot predict anything aobu the behavior in the peripheral portion of the system.
In nine out of a total of eleven cases where war occurred, alliances measureable tightened before the conflict.