Soft Balancing, Institutions, and Peaceful Change

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This essay examines the role of institutional soft balancing in bringing forth peaceful change in international relations. Soft balancing is understood as attempts at restraining a threatening power through institutional delegitimization, as opposed to hard balancing, which relies on arms buildup and formal alignments. We argue that soft balancing through international institutions can be an effective means to peaceful change, spanning minimalist goals, which aim at incremental change without the use of military force and war, and maximalist goals, which seek more profound change and transformation in the form of continuous interstate cooperation aimed at a more peaceful and just world order. However, the success of soft-balancing strategies in fostering peaceful change varies widely, even in today's globalized and institutionalized international environment. We explore these variations and identify three conditions for success that can inform both academic analysis and political practice: inclusion, commitment, and status recognition. We draw lessons from two historical examples: the Concert of Europe in the early nineteenth century and the League of Nations in the early twentieth century, and discuss how current threats to the liberal international order challenge soft balancing for peaceful change.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEthics and International Affairs
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)473-485
Publication statusPublished - 2020

ID: 253734731