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Power & the Balance of Power

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Power and the Balance of Power

The first concept that we will discuss is power, and its related concept, the balance of power.
Power is an important concept in global relations, and a fundamental idea within the school of thought known as Realism. Realism is based on the assumption of anarchy, or the absence of a central order, as the key description of global relations. This is supposedly a self-help system, in which states compete with each other for power. Power is defined as the ability to get someone to change their behaviour in a direction desired by a stronger actor. The idea of power and the balance of power go back only 300 years, but there is evidence, according to Realists, that the Ancient Greeks and Romans pursued power politics.

The idea of the balance of power is that interstate interaction will be stable if states, operating under Realist principles, seek to balance each other in their relations. By acting prudently, "carefully, with foresight, avoiding rash acts," no state will seek to upset the system. Each state will check the others, and no state will grow powerful enough to overthrow the others. A state that seeks domination will be defeated, so no state will attempt this.

The classical balance of power operated only under a certain number of conditions:
1. There were a large number of states for alliance formation.
2. There were clear geographic confines in the system e.g. the European continent.
3. There must be flexibility/freedom of action; there are no constraining international organizations and no permanent alliances.
4. States should be close to equal in power.
5. There must be a consensus on these rules among states -- e.g. no revolutionary states.
6. There can be no quick mobilization for war or wars of annihilation.

A number of examples are usually given to illustrate the Balance of Power. The classic...

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