Sunday, October 26, 2008

Does the European concept of “the balance of power” still have meaning?

The concept of "balance of power" from 16th and 17th century Europe does not apply today as it did then. In 16th and 17th century Europe, nation-states made and broke alliances that gave more weight to their value as a population/entity among other states. A small state could be "needed" in order to upset the balance of military threat for one side or another, because the resources that state offered might turn a war. Today, on the other hand, it only takes a few nukes to decimate a country. No one wants their country or people destroyed by war, but in 16th and 17th century Europe the destruction happened more slowly. It was possible to throw in the flag before you lost it all. Whichever side (alliance) could rip the most up fastest typically won. A terrorist sect with nuclear capabilities could bring any country on present day earth to its knees. You don't need fancy alliances to upset the balance. Just things that go boom.
As to whether the United States needing a counter-balance, the last time that happened was the Cold War. The balances achieved by 16th and 17th century European alliances were based on military threat. That is not the kind of balance needed today. Economically, competition (trying to keep up with the other side) is healthy, but the US is currently out balanced in that area anyway.

3 comments:

Hanjae Lee said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hanjae Lee said...

In fact, I think that the concept of balance of power still applies today. The creation of European Union is one of the example. European countries consolidating together was definitely an act of balance of power against economic dominance of America (and possibly Japan). Three East Asian countries, China, South Korea, and Japan, also are showing some movement toward mutual alliance to survive between EU and the United States.

Gordon Webster Ellinwood said...

I agree that the idea of a "Balance Of Power" is outdated. Countries may join up to support each in times of need, U.N, E.U, but I countries no longer join forces to stop a country from world domination. Institutions like the Union of Utrecht, or The League of Augsburg aren't around today, and I don't think their disappearance can be attributed to new weapons technologies, as you said. I think it is mainly because the world has been conquered, maps no longer have blank spots, and as a result imperialism is dead. Countries are no longer looking to discover and conquer new lands. And as balances of power were only used to stop an expanding nation, they are no longer necessary.