“At the core of the balance of power theory is the idea that national security is enhanced when military capabilities are distributed so that no one state is strong enough to dominate all others.”
In International Relations an equilibrium of power sufficient to discourage or present one nation or prevent one nation from imposing its will on or interfering with the interests of another. Balance of Power, theory and policy of international relations that asserts that the most effective check on the power of a state is the power of other states. In international relations, the term state refers to a country with a government and a population. The term balance of power refers to the distribution of power capabilities of rival states or alliance
The balance of power theory maintains that when one state or alliance increases its power or applies it more aggressively; threatened states will increase their own power in response, often by forming a counter-balancing coalition. Balance of Power is a central concept in neorealist theory.
Palmer and Perkins say, “That through shifting alliances and countervailing pressures,no one power or combinations of powers will be allowed to grow so strong as to threaten the security of the rest”.
Balance of power in ancient times:
In the 17th century the Habsburg dynasty, which ruled Austria and Spain, threatened to dominate Europe. During the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648), a coalition that included Sweden, England, France, and The Netherlands defeated the rulers of the Habsburg Empire.
Early in the 19th century, french emperor Napoleon I repeatedly made efforts to conquer large areas of Europe. A broad coalition of European states—including Britain, Russia, Austria, and Prussia—defeated France in a series of major battles that climaxed with Napoleon’s defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.
During World War II, Germany’s rising power, aggressive conquests, and alliance with Italy and Japan triggered yet another coalition of opposing states—notably the capitalist democracies of Britain and the United States, and the Communist Soviet Union.
Balance of power and Cold War
Balance of power so perfectly described the polarity of the Cold War that it became practically synonymous with the concept of the East-West order.
The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 left the United States as the world’s sole superpower. Balance of power theory suggests that without the Soviet threat the United States, as the dominant world power, will face difficulties in its relations with such states as China and the European powers. For example, key countries such as China, Russia, France, and Germany all opposed the United States invasion of Iraq in 2003 in diplomatic arenas such as the United Nations. Yet this opposition did not stop the United States from acting, exposing the significant gap in military capability that now exists between the United States and the rest of the world. Small states that fear the United States are no longer able to join a counterbalancing coalition to protect their security. Instead, many are developing nuclear weapons in an attempt to dramatically expand their military capability. For example, North Korea claimed in 2003 that it was developing nuclear weapons to balance against U.S. power.
The changing nature of power in the contemporary international system further complicates the operation of the global balance of power. Globalization, the Internet, weapons of mass destruction, and other technological developments have made it possible for small states and even non state groups to acquire significant power. These factors also dilute the relative importance of military power. For example, after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States assembled a broad coalition to invade Afghanistan, using military force to topple the Taliban government and end the Taliban’s support for al-Qaeda terrorists. This application of military power did not provoke a balancing coalition of other states, but it also did not end the terrorist threat to the United States. In the future, the balance of power may continue to operate among states engaged in prolonged disputes, but it is less applicable to conflicts involving terrorists and other non-state groups.
Hans Morgenthau’s Concept of balance of power
In Politics Among Nations, Morgenthau defined international politics as “the struggle for power” and “power politics.” “The aspiration for power,” he wrote, “is “the distinguishing element of international politics.” “The struggle for power,” he continued, “is universal in time and space and is an undeniable fact of experience.”
He set forth six principles of political realism:
1. Politics is governed by objective laws that have their roots in human nature.
2. Statesmen conduct themselves in terms of interest defined as power.
3. Interest determines political conduct within the political and cultural context which foreign policy is formulated.
4. Prudence is the supreme virtue in international politics.
5. Nations are entities that pursue their interests as defined by power and should not be judged by universal moral principles.
6. Political realism rejects the legalistic-moralistic approach to international politics.
Morgenthau identified the elements of national power as geography, natural resources, industrial capacity, military preparedness, population, national character, national morale, the quality of diplomacy, and the quality of government. He judged the quality of diplomacy as the most important of these factors. A nation’s diplomacy, he wrote, “combines those different factors into an integrated whole, gives them direction and weight, and awakens their slumbering potentialities by giving them the breadth of actual power.”
(Read the link for understanding application of this theory in terms of rise of China. http://thediplomat.com/2015/05/hans-morgenthau-and-the-balance-of-power-in-asia/ )