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The purpose of
this policy brief is to evaluate the implications of diffusing power and
influence in the international system from a major international relations
paradigm: classical realism. To begin with, realism,
a theory formed after World War II, is used in international politics to
describe the relations between states and how international politics work (Lecture
3). Some of the most used terms in realism are anarchy, conflicts, survival,
self-help, power, status, and States (FLS, 2016, p. xxvii). According to realists the political power in
international politics is not equally divided which means that some states are
strong, some states are not. This is an indication that the weakest states work
to survive, and to do so they build military institutions. In doing so, other
states feel insecure and also try to build military institutions to survive and
to defend themselves. This then leads to a situation where states are unable to
trust other states (Lecture 3). This is called self-help, the notion when
states must depend on themselves only (Lecture 3). Therefore, the focus of the
analysis for realists is the struggle for power among states in that anarchic
international system. Major actors for realists are states and these states are
rational actors and act rationally in order to make decisions. In international
politics, there are two types of realism – 
classical realism and structural realism. Classical realists say that
the drive for power and the will to dominate leads to struggles between states,
and that it is the human nature that results in conflicts between states (Lecture


While it is
without a doubt able to clarify some important events, structural realism can’t
clarify all or even the majority of events. As a result of that, classical
realism is more fitting in this context because by considering a wider scope of
elements, classical realism is able to explain contemporary events and in this
case, a hypothetical scenario 25 years from now. However, it is noteworthy that
a single theory used to demonstrate international relations will not be
adequate and various other approaches are necessary to determine the future of
the global economy that we live in.

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The whole idea of the balance of power is a part of realism
in international relations which I will use to address the implications of
diffusing power and influence in the international system. The balance of power
is simply described as a theory of state behavior where states act to preserve
a balance in the system (Lecture 3). Thus, by using the theory of balance of
power, the scenario that follows will estimate the likelihood of conflict and
cooperation in the next 25 years. Assuming that all of these states (emerging
powers in 2030): A – USA, B – China, C – India, D – Russia, and E – Canada are
all roughly equivalent in power, the idea of balance of power behavior is that
states act to preserve a balance of power in the system to prevent any one of
these states from dominating the others. In other words, it appears that any of
these countries are growing in power to the extent that it could dominate the
entire system, or conquer all the other states in the system (Lecture 3). These
other states will act to balance that power in an effort to achieve an
equilibrium in the system. 


Balancing can be achieved in two different ways. 1) states
can balance against a growing power by increasing their own power (FLS, 2016,
p. 190-191). For instance, State A (US)
experiences a growth in power (a combination of economic and political reasons),
thus state A’s power in the system becomes enhanced. According to the theory
balance of power, the other states will be insecure and will want to take
measures to ensure that they balance against this growth in power by state A
because they would not want state A to grow to the extent that is capable of
dominating the system or conquering all the other states. Thus, they’re going
to be balancing in one of two different ways. The first way is by increasing
their own power (FLS, 2016, p. 191).
For instance, state D (Russia) looks at state A and the government of state D
sees that state A has increased its power and will want to balance that power
to make sure that state A doesn’t dominate the system. Like so, state D can try
to increase their own power and that might involve increasing their military
capacity etc. Thus, the idea then is that they will have achieved a balance
between state A and themselves.


However, not all countries are capable of increasing their
power because there may be resource constraints and monetary constraints etc. The
second way to balance power is through alliances (lecture 3) and in this case
state B (China) and state C (India) may look at the growth in power by state A and
will want to balance against that growth in power but will not have the potential
to increase their own power, thus forming an alliance. The idea of forming an
alliance indicates that states B and C are combining their efforts in order to
balance the growing power of state A. And so, either through increasing their
own power or by forming alliances, states engage in this type of balance of
power behavior and therefore the balance of power in the system is maintained. As
a result of this, state A will no longer be in a position where it could perhaps
come to dominate the system.


Furthermore, preserving the balance of power could mean
there would be a long period of peace. For example, if this system that we have here is in equilibrium and
stays that way, there might be no war in the system. But
sometimes preserving the balance of power does require war (FLS, 2016,
p. 191). For instance, in the event that state A decides to attack state
E (Canada), countries B, C and D are going to be worried because if state A
conquers state E, it will take the economic power, the resources, the
population etc. of that state and add it to its own, increasing its own power. States B, C, and D will want to prevent that by
going to war to support state E against state A. In this case, the balance of
power behavior actually leads to war because war becomes necessary to restore
or maintain a balance in the system.


states increasing their own power or engaging in alliances can change over
time. Alliances can shift: today B and C can be an alliance but in 25 years C
and D would form an alliance. This change in an alliance is determined by which
state is considered more threatening to the system and how the distribution of
power is maintained. The whole idea of this, realists say captures the history
of international relations; the history of the rise and decline of state power,
the history of shifting alliances. All of this originates with a basic theory
that states are engaging in policies to achieve a balance of power amongst them
in the system to ensure that system cannot be dominated by one actor (lecture


What is interesting
about the balance of powers theory is that we can apply it to the future. Looking
back in history, it has been argued that most of the balance of power systems
in the world have been multipolar systems, meaning there were multiple centers
of power in the system. For example, Europe prior to World War I and World War
II in those periods the system was multipolar in that there were a number of
different countries that had the most power in the system and we traditionally
call those the great powers (Mearsheimer, 1990).

Today, with the
United States acting as a hegemon, it is interesting because what this means is
that if balance of power theory holds for the future, we should see states
balance against the United States. Balance against this single hegemonic actor
and the extent to which we are seeing that kind of behavior or not seeing that
kind of behavior is a part of the contemporary debate in international
relations. Essentially, for realists, the way that
you have a change in the distribution of power in the international system is
through war and the demise.


Likewise, the strengths of realism are that it is simple,
straightforward and there is historical evidence to help support the theory. On
the other hand, critics argue that there’s too much emphasis on conflict that
realists tend to underestimate the role of international institutions. It makes
an argument about why states act the way they do and how they act when faced
with certain situations.


Overall, since globalization
has changed the international framework, states are significantly more reliant
and interconnected even today. And in 25 years this will only expand further
and will not be a place for isolated states any longer. Issues that emerge will
find solutions collectively instead of states acting alone. Similarly, growing
non-state actors, a growth in the global middle class – products of an
increasingly globalized economy- will have played the main role in attempting
to solve these global issues while making a worldwide market and economy.
Finally, by doing so, this will unify states and will make them more dependent on
each other.


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