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The breakup of the Soviet Union in made the concept of a European balance of power temporarily irrelevant, since the government of newly sovereign Russia initially embraced the political and economic forms favoured by the United States and western Europe. Both Russia and the United States retained their nuclear arsenals, however, so the balance of nuclear threat between them remained potentially in force. We welcome suggested improvements to any of our articles. You can make it easier for us to review and, hopefully, publish your contribution by keeping a few points in mind.

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Start Your Free Trial Today. Learn More in these related Britannica articles:. Its members adopted the balance-of-power diplomacy first evolved by the Italians as well as the Italian practice of using resident ambassadors who combined diplomacy with the gathering of intelligence by fair means or foul.

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History at your fingertips. Sign up here to see what happened On This Day , every day in your inbox! By signing up, you agree to our Privacy Notice. The dilemma of rise accords with the principle whereby national interests are defined by national strength, as previously discussed. Meanwhile, this corollary also follows the assumption of the zero-sum nature of power. The more overseas interests a rising state acquires, the more conflicts with other states it must face. All realists assume that uneven development of national comprehensive strength between states is a law of nature.

Based on the uneven development assumption, moral realism develops two corollaries:. Among the four, political strength is operational and the other three are resources that can play a role in international politics only when they are exploited by political elements, mainly governments. Political strength is composed of ideology, strategy, political will, political system, governmental institution and so on, but all relate to governments run by politicians. Therefore, moral realism regards political leadership as the key element of political strength.

Both political leadership and culture are soft strengths, but the former plays the active role and the latter only a passive role. If a state is small but the achievements of its government are significant, the state will become significant. When the Soviet government announced its demise it still had a much stronger military, economy, and cultural purchase than most countries. Its collapse was due to the reduction to zero of its political leadership, whereby all resource elements of strength stopped functioning. Although the strength of the American economy and military kept growing from to , its comprehensive strength went into a relative decline.

Thus, changes in international configurations are caused not only by the rise and fall of their material strength, but also influenced by increases and decreases in their alliances. Leading powers with high strategic credit are able to both establish and expand unbreakable alliances, and vice versa. How can a ruler demonstrate his benevolence if he does not show mercy to those coming over to pledge allegiance? How can a ruler prove his morality without demonstration of his authority and benevolence?

Without morality, how can he be the head of an alliance? Corollaries 4 : Under the anarchical international system all states engage in self-help for their own security, but adopt different strategies to pursue security. Realism assumes that states can rely on no one but themselves for security due to the absence of organizations in the anarchical international society legally monopolizing military force. The security dilemma thus becomes inevitable. Moral realism has a different view on the functions of states from Waltz, who asserts that there is no functional differentiation among states.

National politics consists of differentiated units performing specified functions. Take America, Japan and the Vatican as examples. Moral realism argues that it is necessary to distinguish categories of states in order to understand why the change of world leading power may lead to the change of international norms, and even of the international system. Their transitions are driven by the changing types of dominant states.

In those two periods the dominant states were different in character, thus they established different international norms before and after WWII. For instance, annexation was a common norm in the former period and became prohibited in the latter one. Differing from offensive realism, moral realists assert that different types of states will adopt different security strategies. Offensive realists argue that all great powers have to employ offensive strategy to maintain their dominant positions in the anarchical international system. Suspicious of this logic, moral realists believe there is more than one strategy through which a great power can obtain or maintain its dominance, just as doctors may use either Chinese herbal medicine or modern medical treatment to cure the same disease.

Moral realists agree that offensive strategies are popularly adopted by great powers in our history, but are not the only availability. In any given age the leading power will be faced with an international system, international norms, and military technology different from those of the previous age. It has more chance of improving its power through a newly invented strategy than by copying the existing ones.

Inter-state society is an anarchical system wherein weak and small states cannot survive through their own limited military capability. They therefore often entrust their security to a great power or a military organization. To believe that moral realism regards all use of military force as immoral action would be a misconception. On the contrary, moral realism suggests that absolute non-use of military forces is an immoral principle.

When a dominant power adopts absolute non-use of military forces, therefore, it is no different from not undertaking the responsibility to maintain international security and justice. Consequently, in the eyes of other states this kind of leading power has neither morality nor strategic credibility. The shift of the centre of the world has occurred several times over the past five centuries, and power transition is one of the most important subjects in IR studies.

Moral realism attempts to explain the reason why, under certain conditions, a rising state can win in a competition against the dominant state which is the stronger of the two and has more powerful material strength. What is happening in this century is that China is reducing its power disparity with the US, which is regarded as much better than China in many respects, including political system, ideology, technology, education, economy, and military.

Moral realists try to develop a new paradigm to explain this phenomenon by attributing political leadership to the transition of world power from a dominant state to a rising state. The following sections will discuss the relations among types of political leadership, international strategic credibility, international norms, and the international order. During the Cold War, political scientists carried out many studies on types of political leadership and their impact on policymaking. Robert H. Jackson and Carl G. Drawing insights from their opinion, moral realism suggests that a rising state wins the strategic competition against a dominant power mainly because its political leadership is of a different type and also stronger than that of its rival.


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Moral realism suggests that foreign strategy is determined by two factors: objective strategic interests, and subjective perceptions. Because political leadership is a part of political strength, moral realism defines the strength as a quiescent condition, namely, the level of national strength will not change as soon as the type of political leadership does. Meanwhile, moral realism defines political leadership as a dynamic state, namely the type of a given state may change while the level of national strength remains the same.

Thus, different types of political leadership will prefer different foreign strategies on the condition of similar strength. In terms of foreign policymaking, strategic decisions are made by a leading group of policymakers rather than just the supreme leader. Nevertheless, in most cases the supreme leader represents the type of leading body of policymaking.

Moral realism hence judges the type of a given political leadership by the policymaking of a state leader, rather than by his personality or individuality. Figure 2 shows that moral realism is a binary theory, with comprehensive strength and political leadership as the two independent variables.

States could be categorized into four classes in accordance with their comprehensive strength, namely, dominant states, rising states, regional states, and small states. For instance, the tributary system in East Asia has existed for more than years without substantial contact with other parts of the world, due to backward transportation technology.

It is thus reasonable to regard Ancient East Asia as an independent inter-state system. During the Spring and Autumn period of ancient China five hegemons successively established themselves, each of whom obtained dominant positions in that system in different periods. The Soviet Union of the s and contemporary China are typical rising states.

Today, Germany and Brazil are deemed as regional powers, and India and South Africa as sub-regional powers. It is important to note that all the above categories are based on the relative strength, rather than absolute strength, of states. For example, Canada and Australia are generally equal in terms of strength, but the former lacks regional influence compared with the latter due to their different geopolitical status. Canada is a small state because it is a weak neighbour of the US, the sole superpower, while Australia is a regional power in Oceania because its strength is greater than that of all of its neighbours in the continent of Oceania.

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Based on the above categories of state strength, both dominant and rising states will define their top strategic interest as the dominant influence within an independent inter-state system; regional powers only keep a watchful eye on the dominance in their particular region; and small states just pay attention to their own survival interests. Political leadership could be categorized into four types: inactive, conservative, proactive, and aggressive. As disciples of economic determinism, they count economic benefits as the supreme national interest, and view economic strength as the foundation of comprehensive strength.

They are disciples of political determinism, and believe in the philosophy of human effort as the decisive factor. They attribute the rise and fall of states to national political leadership rather than anything else. Figure 3 illustrates the values of the four key variables in moral realist theory. Because each of the strategic and political perceptions has four values, there are totally 16 strategic preferences based on the combinations of interests and political perceptions. The four types of leadership can be applied to explain the relationship between the strategy preferences and leadership types of states at all levels of national strength.

However, moral realist theory is developed mainly to explain why a rising state can replace a hegemon. Thus the following section will focus only on the strategic preferences of rising states with different political leaderships. Although all rising states must face the rise dilemma, different types of rising states will favour different strategies to overcome such straits.

Inactive leaders of a rising state prefer the foreign strategy of avoiding the rise dilemma. Avoiding danger is instinctive to all animals, including human beings. It is natural for most political leaders to avoid the problems that accompany rise. For example, on the one hand, it is almost impossible for China to be peacefully united with Taiwan, but on the other, there would be a danger of war between China and the US if China were to unite with Taiwan through military force.

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Faced with this dilemma, inactive leaders will transfer the policy of uniting Taiwan to that of protecting peace and benefits. This policy avoids the danger of war cross the Taiwan Strait by abandoning the goal of national unification. In the case of power transition, inactive leaders of rising states are often unable to resist the dramatically increasing external pressure mainly derived from structural conflicts between themselves and dominant states.

As long as rising states lower their strategic goals they can substantially reduce tension with dominant states. In most cases, it is highly possible that inactive leaders of a rising state will suspend or terminate the goal of rise. There are two obvious advantages to the inactive approach: first, this choice requires lesser leadership capability; second, it can easily be proved effective by rapidly reducing contention with dominant states. The conservative leaders of a rising state often adopt a foreign strategy that focuses on economic and trade cooperation.

Believing the essence of rise dilemma is caused by economic conflicts between rising states and hegemons, such leaders prefer to reduce external pressure through the economic cooperation approach. Although the strategy of economic cooperation cannot reduce external pressure as effectively as that of avoiding conflicts, including the risk of war, it can temporarily ease tensions between rising states and hegemons. The proactive leaders of a rising state favour alliance strategies that establish a good neighbourhood supportive of the rise of their country.

This type of strategy will inevitably intensify the structural conflicts between rising states and hegemons, as the latter will necessarily step up containment of the former. Faced with the growing strategic containment that hegemons impose, the proactive leaders of rising states will seek allies, especially political support and security cooperation from their surrounding countries, in order to break the containment of hegemons.

The strategy of making alliances with neighbours runs the risk of war against hegemons, and is often adopted by political leaders able to offer strong political leadership through proactive thinking. In contemporary China, adopting the alliance strategy requires of policymakers an even stronger mind and a greater political will than would be the case for other countries, because the idea of making alliances has been demonized as Cold War mentality. They point out that China lacks staunch strategic supporters in international society, and that for China to gain international support, no other strategy is more effective than making alliances.

The aggressive leaders of rising states favour the policy of military expansion. Reaping benefits through violence and aggression is a human instinct, because using violence has the advantage of achieving goals directly and quickly. The aggressive leaders of a rising state often adopt the opportunistic policy of initiating military attacks against small or secondary states, including the allies of hegemons. Their strategy can result in major wars resulting from the escalation of war between a rising state and one that is an ally of the hegemon.

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As military expansion strategy carries a high risk of failure, aggressive leaders must be immune to the instinctive human fear of war. The above analysis matches four idealtypus of strategies inactive, conservative, proactive, and aggressive with four idealtypus of leadership of rising states. In fact, there are various transitional types of strategy preferences, political leaderships, and states among those idealtypus that are measured by national strength.

Readers can accordingly predict the change in strategy preferences. Therefore, the next section will discuss the relationship between types of international leadership that rising states provide, and the changes they make to the international configuration and norms, on the premise that the strategy adopted by rising states successfully increases their strategic credibility in an international system.

The type of international leadership a rising state offers determines whether or not it values its international strategic credibility. Among the above four types of leadership, inactive and aggressive leaders do not value international strategic credibility; and conservative leaders prefer to maintain credibility at a low cost. By contrast, proactive leaders would regard international strategic credibility as a national interest as well as a strategic instrument for enlarging international power.

Moral realist theory argues that the strategic credibility of a rising state has dramatic impact on changes in the international configuration, evolution of international norms, and redistribution of power in a new international order. High international strategic credibility helps a rising state change the existing international configuration. As an operational element of comprehensive strength, political strength enacts the role of multiplier of resource strength efficiency.

It thus becomes possible for a rising state with high strategic credibility to reduce the strength disparity with the dominant state even when its material strength is inferior to that of the hegemon. Through improving its strategic credibility, a rising state is able to gain more allies and wider international political support.

This process will gradually change the strength structure between rising states and dominant states. When the camp headed by a rising state overwhelms that led by a hegemon in terms of strength, the hegemon will have no other choice but to relinquish its leading position to the rising state. This is why moral realists view the number of allies as a key index of international strategic credibility and political popularity. The main approach whereby a major state establishes international strategic credibility is that of providing security protection for secondary or small states through alliances with them.

In the s and s the newly unified German Second Empire under the Chancellorship of Otto von Bismarck was not only the strongest Continental military power but also spun a web of alliances that left France — resentful of its defeat in — isolated.

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The Austro-German alliance of developed into the Triple Alliance including Italy in , and Russia too concluded agreements with the German-led bloc. But after Wilhelm II became Emperor he allowed the connection with Russia to lapse, facilitating the formation in of a Franco-Russian alliance. Even so, for a time the two groupings balanced each other, and Russia and France were in rivalry not only with Germany but also in Central Asia and in Africa with Britain. So secure did Germany still feel that from it too challenged Britain through a major programme of North Sea battleship building.

After , the line-up became more ominous. Russia was weakened for several years after its defeat by Japan. Germany tried but failed to form a German-Franco-Russian bloc excluding Britain. In Italy had reached a separate understanding with France. After Europe experienced a succession of diplomatic crises that heightened antagonism between the two blocs. From the Anglo-German naval race lost impetus, as a land arms race between the Austro-German and Franco-Russian alliances superseded it.

In retrospect it is easy to discern the warning signs. But at the time they were less evident, and as late as spring tensions seemed to be easing. Nonetheless, a general war was not inevitable until deliberate decisions created it. He has published extensively on the causes, course, and consequences of the First World War.