Abstract

The development of the concept of soft balancing is an attempt to stretch balance of power theory to encompass an international system in which traditional counterbalancing among the major powers is absent. There are two fundamental faws, however, in current treatments of soft balancing: the failure to consider alternative explanations for state actions that have the effect of constraining the United States, and the absence of empirical analysis of the phenomenon. A comparison of soft balancing and four alternative explanations in the main cases highlighted by proponents of the concept-Russia's strategic partnerships with China and India, Russian assistance to Iran's nuclear program, the European Union's efforts to enhance its defense capability, and opposition to the U.S.-led Iraq war in 2003—reveals no empirical support for the soft-balancing explanation. The lack of evidence for the relevance of balancing dynamics in contemporary great-power relations indicates that further investments in adapting balance of power theory to today's unipolar system will not yield analytical dividends.

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