Belfer Center Home > Publications > Academic Papers & Reports > Journal Articles > Balancing on Land and at Sea: Do States Ally against the Leading Global Power?

EmailEmail   PrintPrint Bookmark and Share

"Balancing on Land and at Sea: Do States Ally against the Leading Global Power?"

An aerial view of the USS George H.W. Bush (CVN77) aircraft carrier, Saturday, Jan. 10, 2009, in Norfolk, Va.
AP Photo

"Balancing on Land and at Sea: Do States Ally against the Leading Global Power?"

Journal Article, International Security, volume 35, issue 1, pages 7-43

Summer 2010

Authors: Jack S. Levy, William R. Thompson

Belfer Center Programs or Projects: Quarterly Journal: International Security



Scholars often interpret balance of power theory to imply that great powers almost always balance against the leading power in the system, and they conclude that the absence of a counterbalancing coalition against the historically unprecedented power of the United States after the end of the Cold War is a puzzle for balance of power theory. They are wrong on both counts. Balance of power theory is not universally applicable. Its core propositions about balancing strategies and the absence of sustained hegemonies apply to the European system and perhaps to some other autonomous continental systems but not to the global maritime system. Sea powers are more interested in access to markets than in territorial aggrandizement against other great powers. Consequently, patterns of coalition formation have been different in the European system and in the global maritime system during the last five centuries. An empirical analysis demonstrates that counterhegemonic balancing is frequent in Europe but much less frequent in the global system. Higher concentrations of power in the global system lead to fewer and smaller rather than more frequent and larger balancing coalitions, as well as to more frequent and larger alliances with the leading sea power than against it.


For more information about this publication please contact the IS Editorial Assistant at 617-495-1914.

For Academic Citation:

Jack S. Levy and William R. Thompson. "Balancing on Land and at Sea: Do States Ally against the Leading Global Power?." International Security 35, no. 1 (Summer 2010): 7-43.

Bookmark and Share


Receive email updates on the most pressing topics in science and int'l affairs.

Events Calendar

We host a busy schedule of events throughout the fall, winter and spring. Past guests include: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, former Vice President Al Gore, and former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev.