On the balance of power

The next time someone you know says something about the “balance of power” in the international arena to justify their position, take a deep breath and yell at them that they should read The Balance of Power by Martin Wight”

It’s a relatively short, pithy affair, but he gets to the point in the first two pages: the “balance of power,” as a phrase or concept, has been used on every side of the nine-sided die to justify one thing or another-its a “chimera.” He lists nine historical definitions of the phrase–everything from “An even distribution of power” to “A special role in maintaining an even distribution of power” to “Predominance” to “The principle of equal aggrandizement of the Great Powers at the expense of the weak.”

…the balance of power becomes once more a respectable and indeed indispensable part of the diplomatic vocabulary, and an object of almost metaphysical contemplation by the strategic analysts. (Diplomatic Investigations, 174)

It’s not necessarily a useless term, if defined in context, but Wight argues that the phrase has taken a mythical quality it doesn’t deserve.

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