However, there needs to be a differentiation made between ‘anarchy’ and ‘chaos’ in international affairs. As mentioned before, anarchy and conflict are ultimately resolved by the ‘balance of power’ principle due to the lack of an enforcement mechanism of international law which overarches the international system, whereas chaos amounts to a descent into destruction and ‘oblivion.’ And if anarchy and conflict are ultimately resolved by the ‘balance of power’ principle, then it is perhaps worth examining yet again what has been said about the complex and mysterious ‘balance of power’ principle in international relations literature, even though we have explored this issue or subject in the past.
It has been written that the ‘balance of power’ principle requires a mechanical, methodical, and scientific approach towards the social sciences. Great Britain brought the ‘balance of power’ into prominence during the age of European empires as the world’s “offshore balancer.” In regards to some of the basic aims and goals of a “balance of power” policy, it has been written:
“Through the balance of power principle a state could preserve or maximize its independence of action: by manipulating alliances states could create a counterpoise against any state whose ascendancy they feared. According to this notion, a balance of power policy allows a state to throw its weight where it is most needed in order to safeguard its own independence.”
Hence, the balance of power principle is essentially a counterweight or safeguard against the rise of a hegemonic power which seeks to unilaterally dominate the world. We have now seen the balance of power principle put into practice in the 21st century as a result of American global hegemony and the rise of China which resulted from the balance of power principle.
It has been said that the two foremost primary sources on the balance of power principle and the subject of global order are Hedley Bull and Henry Kissinger. Thus, we must also consider what these two intellectuals and scholars have said about the balance of power principle if we are to undertake a proficient survey of this issue or subject. For one, Bull has argued:
“There is no general consensus in international society, at least in explicit terms, as to the need for a balance of power or how it should be maintained, but one can say that there does exist a general balance of power, whose basis is the Soviet-American relationship of mutual nuclear deterrence, and that this balance is not wholly fortuitous but is brought about partly by Soviet and American contrivance, in which a Soviet-American sense of common interests plays some part.”
How the balance of power has been brought about by the contrivance of both Americans and Russians and what the common interests are between America and Russia are points which Bull did not explain. In turn, Kissinger has argued that an international system defined and shaped by the balance of power principle in the 21st century means that the United States “can neither withdraw from the world nor dominate it.” America has “never felt comfortable” with a balance of power leading to an imperfect “equilibrium” to borrow from Kissinger. The aim of “stability and moderation” on the part of a balance of power system contradicts a hegemonic and imperial policy that aims towards defining and shaping the international system in one’s own image.
But as Kissinger also noted, one major paradox which has not yet been reconciled is the rise of globalization and economic interdependence amidst an emerging balance of power system between opposing blocs of nation-states. This paradox, ultimately, will have to be resolved through cooperation between the two parallel poles of the international system, namely, the United States and China. At the moment, we are only in the nascent stage of such cooperation, given that the dust of American hegemonic pursuits over the course of the last couple of decades has yet to fully settle.