What is the Balance of Power Theory?

By Joan Stan Polk on April 17 2019 in Politics

The balance of power theory states that the world is at its best when it's equal.
The balance of power theory states that the world is at its best when it's equal.

When one country is significantly stronger than its neighbors, they probably won’t remain unattached for long. The country with a stronger military and greater access to resources will eventually challenge and possibly conquer the weaker countries.

Or at least that is the world according to the balance of power theory. The balance of power theory, which dates back to the conflict between Greek city-states, says that every nation is safer when they have equal powers and military capabilities.

Many modern countries, like the United States and Canada, built a balance of powers into their government systems. In the United States, the Legislative branch makes and passes laws, the Judiciary interprets and defines the application of the law, and the President leads through the Executive branch. These three branches exist so that none can dominate the others.

Balance of Power Internationally

The balance of power theory, which does have its critics, was a major guiding theory in ancient Greece and later in 17th and 18th century Europe. These areas were often made up of lots of small city-states which semi-regularly tried to take over each other’s land.

The balance of power theory pushed leaders to recognize that peace was possible if no one state had too much power. One of the vital tools in ensuring this balance was the construction of allegiances. States also responded to outsized military growth in their neighbors by developing their own respective military capacity.

Balance of Power in Government

Not all countries have invested in balancing powers within their own government, but many have seen the utility in doing so. Countries like the United States and Canada have created systems of checks and balances so that each branch is autonomous and able to make sure the other departments do not take too much control. In the United States, for example, the President can veto, or shut down, laws passed by the Senate or Congress, but there is also a process for overriding a veto if the President uses this power too much.

Organizations Helping Maintain Balance of Power

Groups like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) or the United Nations (UN) work to maintain peace and cooperation among nations. These groups help balance power globally by facilitating conversation and sometimes intervening when states grow too powerful for the safety of their neighbors. In contemporary society, there is an inequitable concentration of wealth and power between states, so these organizations strive to ensure that less powerful countries have a voice in international politics.

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