Courtesy Reuters

Weighing the Balance of Power

The end of the bipolar postwar world" has been acknowledged by the latest presidential State of the World message. Although it is elliptic in describing the new design for a lasting and stable "structure of peace," there is little doubt that the blueprint for the future is inspired by the past. It is the model of the balance of power which moderated, if not the aspirations at least the accomplishments, of rulers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It restrained violence (without curtailing wars). It provided enough flexibility to ensure a century of global peace after the Congress of Vienna, despite drastic changes in the relative strengths and fortunes of the main actors.

If, in the quest for international stability, this model is in favor again, it is not only because of the preferences of that student of nineteenth- century diplomacy, Henry Kissinger. It is also because the Yalta system is coming to an end. For many years, the world has ceased to resemble the confrontation of Athens and Sparta. Nuclear weapons have muted the rivalry. The universal drive for independence has made each rival's hegemony over, or interventions outside, his camp costly and delicate (on the communist side, it has led to the Sino-Soviet break). The very heterogeneity of a world filled with stubborn crises which do not let themselves be absorbed by the East-West conflict has made the cold war irrelevant for some areas and has dampened it in others, given the superpowers' reluctance to allow themselves to be dragged into partly alien causes and to let confrontations by proxies turn into direct clashes.

In such circumstances, the balance-of-power model is tempting. As long as the world remains a contest of actors without any supranational force, the ambitions of troublemakers have to be contained by the power of the other states; but equilibrium would be assured in a more shifting, subtle and supple way than in the recent past of fixed blocs. In a world of several main actors,

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