A New Concert of Powers

Courtesy Reuters

The world does not need to be reminded that it exists in a formal state of anarchy. There is no international government. Nor is there sufficient interdependence or division of labor among states to transform international relations into a social system akin to domestic affairs. Under prevailing circumstances there are only three methods by which that anarchic system can be regulated or prevented from lapsing into chaos: the traditional balance of power; nuclear deterrence; and rule by a central coalition. Each system has been employed at different times during the last two hundred years.

The balance of power held sway during most of the nineteenth and the first part of the twentieth century. It was an inefficient mechanism at best, providing no automatic equilibration of power relationships. It also gave rise to both world wars this century. Under this system nations found it difficult to respond credibly to an aggressor state. While the balancing system aimed to restrain conflict, it did not fully control the aggressive policies of major nations.

Deterrence, used during the period of bipolarity from 1945 to 1989, was more successful. Through the threat of nuclear retaliation the system constrained the behavior of the two superpowers. With forces stationed in other countries the great powers largely solved the chronic problem of credibility of engagement that had beset the nineteenth?century balance. But deterrence was an expensive and tension?laden system. Major wars were prevented only through recurrent crises of resolve, such as Berlin, Cuba and the Yom Kippur War. Nuclear weapons were never used in anger, but the world veered uncomfortably close to the brink from time to time.

The arms race also involved the expenditure of about $500 billion per year by the Soviet Union and United States alone. The opportunity costs of such staggering sums prevented the so?called superpowers from dealing effectively with domestic social problems, as well as denying them rapid and continuous economic growth. Like seventeenth?century Spain, the U.S.S.R. and the United

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