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Balance of power theory reconsidered : the distribution of capabilities and alliances 1816-1939 Fergusson, James Gordon


This study examines the European International system from 1816 to 1939, focusing on the relationship between the distribution of capabilities and alliances. Two distinct versions of Balance of Power theory are employed to test this relationship. The manual version posits a direct or positive relationship between an unequal distribution and the number of alliances in the system. The semi-automatic or balancer version posits the same relationship but limits its applicability to a single Great Power, Great Britain. The findings support the semi-automatic version and also indicate an inverse relationship between equality and alliances. Finally, an examination of the relationship between polarization, defined as the pattern of alliances in the system, and the distribution of capabilities is undertaken. No clear relationship is found between polarization and an unequal distribution, although some evidence points towards a relationship between po1arization and war. The analysis concludes by positing conflicting, if not contradictory, security demands and thus conflicting behavior for continental and insular Powers. This finding sheds some light on conflicting evidence in the quantitative literature on the relationship between the distribution of capabi1ities and war, and may provide an additional explanation for the level of hostility between the Soviet Union and the United States since World War II.

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