Opinion: The Balance of Power Delusion

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Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive, LLCOpinion: The Balance of Power DelusionAuthor(s): Zbigniew BrzezinskiSource: Foreign Policy, No. 7 (Summer, 1972), pp. 54-59Published by: Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive, LLCStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1147753 .Accessed: 15/06/2014 04:46Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at .http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp .JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org. .Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive, LLC is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extendaccess to Foreign Policy.http://www.jstor.org This content downloaded from on Sun, 15 Jun 2014 04:46:24 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditionshttp://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=wpnihttp://www.jstor.org/stable/1147753?origin=JSTOR-pdfhttp://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsphttp://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jspOpinion THE BALANCE OF POWER DELUSION by Zbigniew Brzezinski 6I think it will be a safer world and a better world if we have a strong, healthy United States, Europe, Soviet Union, China, Japan, each balancing the other, not playing one against the other, an even balance." Thus, according to President Nixon, can "a generation of peace" be attained. The President's fascination with the balance of power concept deserves closer scrutiny on two levels: first, to what extent does the concept fit actual or likely power realities in the world-in other words, how accurate is it as an analytical device for understanding contemporary world affairs; second, to what extent does the concept provide us with a desirable as well as realistic set of goals-in other words, does it represent policy goals that are responsive to the interests both of the United States and of the global community more generally? The 2-1/2 + y + z Powers World A balance of power should not be confused with diplomatic maneuvers designed to offset the power of another state or to increase one's leverage vis-a-vis another party. A balance of power implies something more enduring and more stable. At the minimum, it means an approximate equilibrium in actual military power between the principal potential adversaries, as well as the existence of a system of relations in which excessive ambitions of one or several parties in the balance are contained by the very existence of these more stable relations. The Each issue of FOREIGN POLICY carries a guest editorial by a distinguished contributor. The editors are pleased to continue this series with Professor Brzezinski's ar- ticle. 54. This content downloaded from on Sun, 15 Jun 2014 04:46:24 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditionshttp://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jspBrzezinski fundamental purpose for which such a balance of power system is designed was ably spelled out some centuries ago by Fenelon (Francois de Salignac de La Mothe) , at the close of Louis XIV's reign, for the edification of the monarch's grandson, the Duke of Burgundy: "To hinder one's neighbor from becoming too strong is not to do harm; it is to guarantee oneself and one's neighbors from subjection; in a word, it is to work for liberty, tranquillity, and public safety; because the aggrandizement' of one nation beyond a certain limit changes the general system of all nations connected with it. ... The excessive aggrandizement of one may mean the ruin and subjection of all the other neighbors. .... This attention to the maintenance of a kind of equality and equilibrium between neighboring states is what assures peace for all."' The underlying guarantee of peace inherent in a balance of power system is that it provides a reasonably clear indication of what might happen to a potential disrupter if war breaks out. This suspended negative sanction enhances the positive appeal of the status quo. The enhanced appeal of the status quo in turn serves to curb excessive ambitions, thereby reinforcing what is actual. Implicit in this arrangement is not only an equilibrium of power, but also some shared interest in the status quo and, last but certainly not least, a high degree of control over that status quo by power arrangements and diplomatic contrivances. It is my argument that none of these three conditions in fact exist: an "even balance" neither exists nor is it likely to exist in the foreseeable future; neither the five "powers" nor the three share even an approximate commitment to the status quo; and that status quo is in fact highly tenuous and cannot be maintained through reliance on traditional power or diplomacy. Of the five powers mentioned by the President, only two are truly powers in the sense that they wield effective military, political, and economic leverage. Indeed, their power is so highly 1As quoted by Sidney B. Fay "Balance of Power" International Encylopedia of the Social Sciences (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1930), p. 396. 55. This content downloaded from on Sun, 15 Jun 2014 04:46:24 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditionshttp://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jspdisproportional to all the others that on the power plane the world is, and is likely to remain, a bipolar one. Hence the figure 2 in our subtitle. However, the unique quality of the power wielded by the United States and the Soviet Union is that it is largely non-usable; it can only be used through indirection or threat, but its ultimate, full utilization is no longer considered even by its principals as very probable. The "delicate balance of terror" thus entails also the paralysis of power, and this paralysis enhances the role of third parties. Accordingly, China, since it is acquiring a respectable (though still minor) nuclear force and wields considerable political leverage, can significantly affect the American-Soviet relationship. Its impact on it, however, is not to create "a balance" but rather to increase uncertainty, to complicate planning, to stimulate more "options." The triangular relationship may thus confine the opportunities of one party but simultaneously widen them for the other. More, rather than less, diplomatic movement may ensue. Nonetheless, with China playing a more important role we have something which might be called a 2-1/2 powers world, though certainly not a stable balance. The "y" and "z" entities-which in algebra indicate uncertain quantities-are clearly Europe and Japan. Neither has, nor is it likely soon to have, considerable military power. Neither has now, nor is it likely soon to have, clear political purposes. Because both Europe and Japan are major economic forces, their potential political roles are important. It therefore makes a great deal of difference both for the United States and for the Soviet Union with which of them Japan and Europe are more closely associated. I strongly suspect that Mr. Nixon, contrary to his reference to "an even balance," feels the U.S.-European relationship and the U.S.-Japanese relationship neither is nor should be co-equal with the Soviet-European or the Soviet-Japanese relation- ship. But if that is the case, then too one is not speaking of an existing or an aspired balance. 56. This content downloaded from on Sun, 15 Jun 2014 04:46:24 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditionshttp://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jspBrzezinski With regards to ideological consensus, suffice it to say that the two major reasons for the relative success of the Congress of Vienna structure was that it did rest on an essentially shared concept of legitimacy, and that socio- economic and political change in Europe during the nineteenth century was not sufficiently rapid or forceful to disrupt the power arrangements superimposed upon it. Today, we are still quite far away from an ideological consensus among the 2-1/2 powers, though ideological cleavages may in fact be declining. Global conditions, moreover, are far more unsettled than during the nineteenth century, and the pace of change, especially in the Third World, is hardly susceptible to effective manipulation from outside, especially from a rather static and traditional balance of power vantage point. Progressive deterioration of social-economic, as well as political, conditions in the Third World is bound to impose increasingly difficult political as well as moral choices on the 2-1/2 + y + z powers, potentially even further sharpening the already existing differences among them. Triangular Priorities What we now have, and are likely to have for some time, is a combination of a bipolar power world with a multiple state interplay. In effect, two overlapping triangles, one still essentially competitive in nature and one basically cooperative. The largely competitive triangle involves America-China-Russia; the cooperative one America-Europe-Japan. These are the central foci of the multiple power game, assuming that there is no sudden imbalance in the supporting power axis involving a bipolar checking relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union. There are, to be sure, some other triangles as well but they are clearly of a secondary import: Moscow has repeatedly toyed with the notion of exploiting detente in Europe to play the Russia- Europe-America game; lately the Gromyko visit to Japan seemed to indicate that there might be both a Russia-Japan-America game and a Russia-Japan-China game. Neither of the latter 57. This content downloaded from on Sun, 15 Jun 2014 04:46:24 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditionshttp://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsptwo, however, seems likely to become very active or central. More probable is the appearance of a Japan-China-America triangle, given political pressures within Japan. Within these various triangular relationships the United States has gained considerable diplomatic room for maneuver. The United States is now actively engaged in two major and two minor triangular maneuvers; the other parties only in one of each. This can be expressed in the following diagram: Japan Europe I United States I I I I I China Russia We are, however, dealing with maneuvers rather than a balance of power, with the maneuvers being possible as long as the bipolar checking relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union is not skewed one way or the other. And that being the case, it is then appropriate to ask whether the above triangular maneuvers are equally important or desirable. This raises the question of priorities and emphases. In international politics, policies are rarely a matter of fundamentally contrasting choices; most often, a shift in emphasis is of great importance in itself. Of the two major triangular relationships, the cooperative one with Europe and Japan clearly needs to be made more cooperative for the sake of human progress; the competitive one with Russia and China needs to be made less competitive (or more stably regularized) for the sake of international peace. The Administration, both through its actions and its misleading usage of the concept of balance of power, has created more than just an impression of attaching the highest importance to the Washington-Peking-Moscow triangle. 58. This content downloaded from on Sun, 15 Jun 2014 04:46:24 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditionshttp://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jspBrzezinski Nixon's emphasis on the Washington-Peking- Moscow summitry has already had a negative effect on American-European and American- Japanese relations, in turn tempting both Peking and Moscow to play more actively the secondary triangular games. Stability is not likely to be enhanced by drift in Atlantic and Pacific relations. Moreover, given the generally more unsettled global conditions, it does seem desirable to widen as rapidly as possible those areas of international cooperation for which the preconditions already exist. Shared political values as well as economic prowess clearly dictate the desirability of transforming the existing cooperation between Europe, Japan, and America into a more binding community of the developed nations. Failure to do so would be very costly for the future of mankind. At this stage of history only these three major units have the potential for developing truly cooperative relations, and this opportunity should not be forfeited. To argue the above is not to advocate the continuation of the cold war. Minimizing conflicts with China and the Soviet Union, regularizing relations with each, and using the Washington-Peking-Moscow triangular game to increase one's constructive leverage in dealing with the two Communist capitals is obviously desirable. But it would be unhistorical to assume that this particular triangular relationship can quickly attain the kind of cooperative character that is already prevailing between the United States, Europe, and Japan, notwithstanding recent economic and political frictions generated by Nixon's initiatives. To delay widening the latter for the sake of the former also seems unwise, for international cooperation, aid to the Third World, greater economic and scientific specialization and division of labor are tasks of immediate urgency. An unrealistic and fundamentally untenable balance of power approach is thus neither existentially nor normatively the relevant concept with which to seek "a generation of peace." 59. This content downloaded from on Sun, 15 Jun 2014 04:46:24 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditionshttp://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jspArticle Contentsp.54p.55p.56p.57p.58p.59Issue Table of ContentsForeign Policy, No. 7 (Summer, 1972), pp. 1-184Front Matter [pp.1-1]With This Issue... [p.2]"X" Plus 25[Introduction] [pp.3-4]Interview with George F. Kennan [pp.5-21]What Containment Meant [pp.22-40]How Containment Worked [pp.41-53]Opinion: The Balance of Power Delusion [pp.54-59]Will the Balance Balance at Home? [pp.60-86]Letters-1 [p.87]Prime Time in ChinaWho Produced the China Show? [pp.88-95]Playing Second Fiddle to the Tube [pp.96-103]Letters-2 [pp.104-107]Can We Do Business with Radical Nationalists?Algeria: Yes [pp.108-131]Chile: No [pp.132-158]Are Bureaucracies Important? (Or Allison Wonderland) [pp.159-179]Letters-3 [pp.180-182]Back Matter [pp.183-184]