Hoffmann, Stanley
July 1972
Foreign Affairs;Jul1972, Vol. 50 Issue 4, p618
This article discusses the requirements of an effective balance-of-power system. 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. 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. To use the term of Raymond Aron, the balance of power is a model of strategic-diplomatic behavior. For such a game to be played according to the rules of the balance, various conditions had to be met. First, there had to be a number of major actors superior to two of comparable if not equal power. A second condition for the functioning of the balance-of-power system in the past was the presence of a central balancing mechanism which is the ability of several of the main actors to coalesce in order to deter or to blunt the expansion of one or more powers. A third requirement for an effective balance of power used to be the existence of a common language and code of behavior among the major actors and the fourth condition for an effective balance-of-power system had to do with the international hierarchy.


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