Balance of Power: Theory and Practice in the 21st Century

In This Review

Balance of Power: Theory and Practice in the 21st Century

Edited by T.V. Paul, James J. Wirtz, and Michel Fortmann
Stanford University Press, 2004
400 pp. $70.00
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The balance of power is one of the oldest and most enduring concepts of international relations. In a world of powerful and threatening states, it is often the only dependable strategy. It is surprising, therefore, that since the end of the Cold War, the dynamics of power balancing have been all but absent: the great powers have not formed counterbalancing coalitions to guard against U.S. predominance and are unlikely to anytime soon. This book, which brings together leading international security experts to assess the current status of balance-of-power theory, confirms the peculiarity of today's international system. The authors do not settle the debate about why this is so-whether the cause is nuclear weapons, economic interdependence, democratic peace, or the relatively benign character of U.S. hegemony. Jack Levy argues that balance-of-power theory emerged to explain European dynamics but never claimed universal validity. Robert Ross argues that China is pursuing an indirect form of balancing through internal mobilization but may never be in a position to build a true anti-U.S. coalition. The editors conclude that states are pursuing an array of security strategies, including "soft balancing," in today's unipolar world. But the logic and stability of this new situation remain unclear.