The New Balance of Power

And as mentioned before, what is perhaps the most crucial or decisive factor or variable which will determine the result or outcome of the conflict and dispute between the two competing alliances or blocs in our current global balance-of-power structure is the choice and decision which the “battleground” or “uncommitted” nations make amidst this conflict and dispute. As Hans Morgenthau argued: 

“With the committed nations firmly in their respective orbits, the main element of flexibility for the balance of power is provided by the prospective moves of the uncommitted nations. To which side if either are, for instance, the nations of Africa and Latin America finally going to turn? The development of the world balance of power in the immediate future will largely depend upon the course these and other uncommitted nations will take.” 

One must note that Morgenthau wrote what he wrote during the height and peak of the 20th century Cold War. Morgenthau also wrote that with the fall of Great Britain as the world’s foremost naval power, what resulted was “the disappearance of the balancer, the ‘holder’ of the balance.” But with its entry into the European Union and with the boost it got from post-World War institutional arrangements, Britain did retain its “balancer” role to a certain extent as demonstrated by “Brexit” in recent years, although not to its fullest extent as was the case during the colonial period.

It is also unlikely that a “Third Force” which can serve as an alternative to the Western bloc and the Eastern bloc can arise. The famous “Non-Aligned Movement” (NAM) arose in the 20th century in an attempt to foster an alternative to what was then the American bloc on one hand and the Soviet bloc on the other hand. But the countries and nations which could constitute this “Third Force” will ultimately have to make a choice down the road between the two major alliances and blocs of our day and age, namely, the Western bloc and the Eastern bloc. 

But as Hedley Bull wrote, the attempt or the effort towards “conquest” by any one bloc will fail in this day and age, primarily for three reasons. For one, the “nuclear stalemate” between the East and the West will inject constancy and rigidity in our balance-of-power logic and structure. Second, the distribution of power between East and West means that “it does not seem likely that any one great power will be able to achieve a position so preponderant as to make the others acquiesce in the establishment of an imperial system.” And third, there is the general theme or leitmotif to our day and age given the two aforementioned factors or reasons for why conquest cannot succeed: “[Our age] is an age of the disintegration of empires, and the prospects for universal monarchy have never seemed more bleak.” 

Perhaps we should have started out with the simplest definition of the “balance of power” as it pertains to international affairs, but it is also fitting and proper to end with it given what we have mentioned thus far. Arguably, what is meant by the ‘balance of power’ in international affairs is “a state of affairs such that no one power is in a position where it is preponderant and can lay down the law to others.” There is also the issue of whether there is a general belief in international society that a balance of power exists and whether this belief is merely subjective or whether it is grounded in reality, as Bull noted. The test for whether this belief is grounded in reality or is merely subjective is “the actual will and capacity of one state to withstand the assaults of another” and thus our belief that a balance of power exists in this day age passes as valid and true. 

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