Getting the Better of the Balance

“Conquest” is also met with greater political opposition and activism in this day and age than ever before, as Hedley Bull argued, which is yet another factor or reason as to why attempts and efforts at conquest are likely to fail in a postmodern age. Moreover, and as mentioned before, what underpins the difficulties and obstacles towards conquest are the three underlying trends of our postmodern age, namely, the rise of China, the ongoing process of ‘decolonization’ in many regions of the world, and the ‘demystification’ of European cultural hegemony. Once these three underlying trends of a postmodern age are accounted for, many of the socioeconomic and sociopolitical challenges which we face can be seen in a better light. And with a better understanding of the nature of these challenges, responses and solutions to these challenges have a better chance of emerging. 

Nevertheless, the paradox of the ‘balance of power’ in international affairs which we have discussed before is that in order to maintain the balance and equilibrium, states must pursue “maximum power” as well as “superiority of power in their own behalf” with the aim of “changing the distribution of power permanently in their favor.” Both diplomatic and military pressure is brought to bear so that other states are compelled to “make the concessions that will consolidate the temporary advantage into a permanent superiority” to borrow from Hans Morgenthau. 

Hence, much of what is going on along the fringes of Europe at the moment amidst the conflict between the West and Russia can perhaps be understood through the aforementioned points about the balance of power. Arguably, if the basic aim of Russian diplomatic and military pressure on Europe is seen as the permanent change of the global balance of power, then it cannot be deemed as irrational or senseless, even though we are prompted to dismiss such actions on the part of Russia as irrational and senseless. 

Morgenthau argued that there are three types of wars which are “intimately connected with the mechanics of the balance of power.” For one, there is “preventive war” which relates to the previous point about achieving maximum power and the superiority of power in order to get the “the better of the balance” per se. Second, there are “anti-imperialistic wars” which are aimed at thwarting wars of conquest and hegemony. And third, there is “imperialistic war” which is aimed at conquest and hegemony. 

Where Russia’s war against Ukraine fits amongst these three different categories of wars as set out by Morgenthau is up for debate. Russia, obviously, has characterized its war in Ukraine as an “anti-imperialistic war” with the aim of thwarting a real and potent military threat along its Western frontier. And as a defender of the status quo, the United States is driven into this war, given that war becomes the main tool in defending the status quo and preventing its reversal or undoing when it is challenged, even if war is not an effective and potent tool when it comes to salvaging the status quo as a result of the balance of power. Whereas the ideology behind the politics and economics of the status quo power is hegemony, the ideology behind the politics and economics of the revolutionary powers is the balance of power, as Morgenthau highlighted. Thus, without the balance of power principle, Russia would not be able to justify what it is doing over the long run. But given that the balance of power is grounded in reality, it appears as though Russia will be able to justify its actions and its conflict and war with Europe over the long run. 

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