The Balance of Power Theory

The most critical and obvious feature of international affairs is its
state of anarchy. The international stage features many indepent actors each
seeking their own best interest and security . With no sovereign body to govern
over these actors it would seem that the system would never be capable of
attaining any control. However this is not the reality of the system, we have
seen in history that it is possible to restrain the players. It is said to be
as a result of the concept of the Balance Of Power, which dictates the actions
of states and provides a basis of control that states use when dealing with each
This essay is aimed at investigating the concept of the balance of power
and will in turn discuss the following points. The use of the B.O.P. concept
to explain the behaviour of states . The ideal behaviour of states in the B.O.P.
system and the problems of B.O.P. analysis.
The concept of the B.O.P. can be a useful tool in explaining the behaviour
of states. Mostly because it is founded on the theory that all states act to
preserve thier own self interest. If they are to do this they must prevent
domination by any other state, which leads to the assumption that they must
build up power and form alliances. Throughout history we can see the B.O.P.
concept in action. The clearest example of the B.O.P. concept can be found in
the Cold War. In the Cold War the two superpowers the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.
held a stable world balance between them. Both states sought to deter
domination by the other through a build up of arms and through the creation of
strong alliance systems. Under the B.O.P. theory the logic of the Cold War
stratagies and alliances seems apparent, with the best method of security being
In an ideal system of B.O.P. all states would 1. act in relatively the
same fashion and 2. would make decisions as individual structures. However it
can be seen that in the real world the system is composed of of various types of
states. States can vary in their types of regimes and in their level of
internal stability. States goals vary depending on these factors and hence all
states will not make similar decisions as the B.O.P. theory would suggest. In
assuming that states make decision as individual, rational actors the theory
neglects the fact that though most states are run by an autonomous executive
there are also many other complex bodies involved in a states decision making.
When we veiw the individual members of these decision-making bodies we see many
different motives, hence when a decision is made it may not be the unitary
rational response that the B.O.P. theory suggests. From this we can see that
states are not run as individuals and so cannot be expected to make decisions
that way.
The major flaws of the B.O.P. theory appear to all converge at one point:
the theory itself is oversimplified. It is difficult to suggest alterations to
the theory because its main problem is also its main goal, to give a simplified
model of international relations. It is not then suggested that the theory be
abandonned, because it does offer helpful insight into inter-state relations,
instead it is suggested that it not be used as the sole analytical tool. The
B.O.P. theory because of its nature offers general explanations about
international relations which is very useful. However when studying world
affairs one needs to dig deeper to view the many variations of states.