Security Studies Program Seminar
Balancing at Sea: Do States Ally Against the Leading Global Power?
Jack S. Levy
Board of Governors' Professor of Political Science
February 24, 2010
I. The Argument:
- Levy argues that the balance of power theory is not universally applicable. States do not always balance against hegemonic threats. Balance of power theory, like all theories has scope conditions.
- Levy notes that it is useful to distinguish between:
- balancing against hegemonic and against other states
- land powers and sea powers
- continental systems (especially Europe) and transregional maritime systems.
- He argues that counter-hegemonic balancing coalitions tend to form against dominant continental powers but not against dominant global powers.
II. Overview of Levy’s talk:
- The talk first addresses balance of power theory and then goes on to discuss the land/sea distinction. Levy then sets forth his central hypotheses, research design, data analysis and summary of the findings. Finally, he closes with a discussion of the implications for balancing against the U.S. and the implications for balance of threat theory and balance of power theory (BOP)
III. Balance of Power Theory
- There are multiple balance of power theories, with many disagreements, but all BOP theories posit that 1) avoiding hegemony is the primary instrumental goal of states 2) threats of hegemony generate great power balancing coalitions 3) sustained hegemonies rarely if ever form in multi-state systems. (2 & 3 – counter-hegemonic balancing strategies → balanced outcomes)
- There is no agreement that states balance against the strongest state in the system, independently of the magnitude of their superiority. It might make sense if we say that great powers balance against a dominant great power in the system, but that says nothing about balancing against leading but non-dominant states.
- Levy also makes the distinction between “balances” and “balancing.” When talking about theories of balance he is referring to non-hegemonic outcomes. Balancing is used to talk about balancing strategies.
IV. Underspecification of BOP theory
- Levy notes that the BOP theory has been underspecified in the existing literature to date. It fails to identify:
- system over which hegemony might be established
- basis of power in system
- actors in the system (great powers and others)
- Historically, the key distinction is between the European system and the global system, but the literature tends to neglect the interaction between the two systems and nobody has really talked about the interaction of the European system and the global system and how that works.
V. Counter-hegemonic Balancing Coalitions in History Formed Against:
VI. Little mentioning of balancing coalitions against global dominance of:
Classic cases: Hapsburg (early 16th cent), Spain (Philip II, late 16th cen) Spain and Austria (early 17th ), France (Louis XIV, late 17th cent), France (Napoleon, late 18/early 19th, Germany (Wilhelm II, early 20th), Germany (Hitler, mid 20th cent).
- Netherlands in early 17th century (commercial, financial and naval dominance)
- Britain in 18th and 19th century
- U.S. in late 20th and early 21st century, although there is now some discussion on the lack of balancing against the United States.
- Was this puzzle for Morgenthau, etc? Levy says no because there was an implicit great power and Eurocentric bias in balance of power theory and they were mostly talking about the system of Europe and talking about the prevention of hegemony in Europe. A lot of the balance of power thinking is written by British writers and they are talking about BOP on the continent and not in the world.
VII. Land Powers and Sea Powers:
Levy argues that land powers and sea powers differ in terms of: goals, strategies, threats they pose and the responses they elicit from other great powers.
- Continental powers: Their main goal is territorial expansion and control. They tend to build large armies for that purpose and they pose a major threat to neighbors in terms of invasion and occupation.
- Sea powers: Their power is not based on territory, but is based on economic wealth of global empires and on the naval strength that sustains it. Economic hegemony does not require territorial or political control and sea powers have smaller armies, so they pose fewer threats to other great powers. Levy quotes Norman Angell: “Marinism does not encroach on social and political freedom and militarism does.” As a result, states have fewer incentives to balance against sea powers. In addition, wealthy seas power tend to be dominate economic powers and they play a role in providing public goods for the system and this further reduces incentives for balancing against and incentives to ally with the dominant naval power. This creates incentives for land-sea alliances.
VIII. Counter-hegemonic balancing, Europe 1495-2000
- Levy notes that in an earlier paper (Levy and Thompson 2005), he looked at this issue of counter-hegemonic balancing in Europe. In that article, they defined high concentration of power as having 1/3 of the capabilities in the system.
- They find that there is a strong tendency for great powers to balance against high concentrations of power and broad coalitions form against concentrations of power
- They find that there is a weak tendency to balance against weaker concentrations of power.
- These findings provide strong support for counter-hegemonic balancing hypothesis, but only weak support for traditional bop hypothesis that states balance against the strongest state in system.
However, Levy notes that there ought to be caution in generalizing, as this is a most likely case.
- He then asks, Do great powers balance against great power in system? Well, maybe a little bit, but not systematically…but do they balance against states with high concentration of power? Yes, and that is found to be statistically significant.
IX. Summary of Hypotheses on power dynamics in global maritime system
- Great powers generally do not balance against the most powerful sea power in the system, even if it is significantly increasing in strength
- The stronger the leading sea power’s relative capability position, the less likely it is that other great powers will balance against it.
- The stronger the leading sea power’s relative capability position, the less likely that large coalitions will form against it.
- The stronger the leading sea power’s relative capability position, the more likely it is that one more great powers will ally with it.
- Alliances with leading sea power tend to be broader than are alliances against the leading sea power.
X. Research Design
- The research looks at great powers and global powers (from Levy 1983 and Modelski and Thompson 1988). The measure of naval power is from Modelski and Thompson book on sea power (1988). – different measures are used over different periods.
- For alliance formation, they generated a database of alliances that are targeted against the leading state in the system
- For a long time, BOP discussion was mostly theoretical, but then the work became more empirical over time…However, there is one flaw in most of the research designs in that they tend to focus on the wars that actually occur and ask if states balance against the strongest power. This is a problem because there is a selection bias. By looking at just wars that occur the studies don’t look at wars that don’t occur, and they don’t ask if the wars didn’t occur because of balancing or because of anticipation of balancing.
- So, in this study, the unit of analysis in is period of time and Levy measures the concentration of power and asks if there was balancing or not against the leading power….
XI. Overview of Balancing at Sea:
There was no balancing against Portugal (8 decades as leading sea power); there was 1 coalition against Spain (over 2 decades as leading sea power); there was 1 coalition against Netherlands (over 5 decades); there were many coalitions against France and many coalitions against Britain (2 centuries, in 3 general wars); 1 coalition against the U.S. (9 decades)
First Table (copied from slide)
Is there an alliance against the leading sea power:
|Alliance vs. lead state
||<50% share naval power
||50% share or higher
About 88/456 balancing against leading power in system (regardless of its relative strength).
Note: Only 8% balancing against dominant sea power, whereas in Europe it was 55%
Chi sq = 8.67
XI. Size of Coalitions against the Leading sea Power
- You don’t have many broad coalitions and the stronger the leading sea power the fewer broad coalitions there are.
- Alliances with the leading sea power: the stronger the leading sea power, the higher the probability of allying with them – differences modest, but in the right direction and statistically significant.
XII. Summary of findings:
- European system: (Levy and Thompson 2005) Balancing against hegemonic threats (but not against lesser threats), and broad coalition against hegemonic threats.
- Global Maritime System:
- little balancing against dominant global states
- frequency of balancing decreases with concentration of power
- balancing coalitions are small in size
- size gets smaller as concentration increases
- alliances with dominant sea power are more common and larger than are alliances against it
- Balancing behavior varies across systems….So, whatever the validity of BOP in European system over last 5 centuries, we can’t transfer that logic to the global system.
XIII. Explanations for Absence of Balancing Against the U.S.
- Waltz and Layne argue that it is just a matter of time until we see balancing against the U.S.
- The U.S. is a benevolent hegemon (Walt) and poses no territorial threat.
- Offshore balancers seek only regional hegemony – do not provoke (Mearsheimer)
- The U.S. is too strong; balancing is too risky (Brooks and Wohlforth)
- LEVY’s ARGUMENT: historically, little balancing against global maritime powers; U.S. is global maritime power; hence little balancing against U.S.
-Notes that balancing against continental hegemons occurs based on who they are, but balancing against global hegemons is based on what they do.
XIV. Balance of Power Theory and Balance of Threat Theory:
- Both theories neglect categorical differences in nature of the system and power (land/sea distinction)
- BOP theory:
- it argues that threats are endogenous to power
- it is correct for high power concentrations in Europe
- it is wrong for lower power concentrations in Europe and in global system, where intentions are more important
- focuses exclusively on threats; underestimates importance of public goods provision by dominant global states
- Balance of Threat Theory:
- underestimates the extent to which threats are endogenous to near-hegemonic power in European system
- it is correct about importance of perceived threats in global system
- overall, the theory neglects extent to which land/sea distinction provides good first approximation of threat.
A few questions and answers:
Q: Why do you keep referring to navies as global powers?
A: Levy points out that they are looking at the global system. The research is making a comparison between global maritime system and the European continental system.
Levy also adds that they will do more statistical analysis to control for proximity, rivalry and a number of other variables. And the research is also going to include case studies, but they have not yet decided on the cases. A few particular ones of interest include: Spain in last 2 decades of 16th century, France in last 2 decades of 17th cent, when one state was both the leading land power and the leading sea power.
Q: Question on one of the assumptions: The talk assumes absence of balancing against UK and the US, but this could be a result of the absence of literature that focuses on these themes. If you turn to 19th century UK, the French seem to be engaging in a lot of what they might term balancing w/us and others. To what extent is the absence of balancing behavior something we ought to look at more closely? Also, some say today new proliferators like NK and Iran are actually balancing. What do you think about that?
A: Levy notes that they have defined balancing narrowly in a way that it is defined in the literature. He also points out that the research looks at external balancing rather than internal balancing – so, that is a limitation. He notes that the bias strengthens their findings for the European system but concedes that it weakens their findings for the global system because the bias works in the direction of supporting our hypotheses. He agrees that it would be useful to look into the point raised by the questioner and to also determine whether or not the states writing or talking about balancing or trying to balance are doing so based for the purpose of strategic rhetoric or actual perceptions.
Q: A few questions 1) you hear arguments about how DPT is overloaded with dyads in post-WW2 period? I wonder how your study might be overloaded by Great Britain.
A: that is interesting and that would be fairly easy to decompose. The results for Europe and global system are so stark – I’d be surprised if those would go away.
Q: The questioner also points out that it would be helpful in cross-tab to have joint land/sea powers included.
Q: Question relating to the capital intensity of naval fleets and difficulties of command and control at sea – is there an inherent bias biasing sea power? what happens when technological and organizational developments undermine the causal mechanisms you spell out for sea power (for example, increase jointness). Questioner notes that Japan would be good case to look at because mil power is so dependent on sea power. Questioner also points out that nuclear weapons may also change calculations and causal assumptions.
A: Levy notes that after 1945, there is a little bit less confidence in all of this because of nuclear weapons, etc…However, he notes that in measuring sea power, they do include subs w/ballistic missiles and number of warheads on the submarines. Naval battles can be more decisive than land battles because if you lose it takes more time and resources to regenerate at sea than on land.
Q: Question about what is driving this whole argument. Do states not balance against sea powers because they actually ARE less threatening (due to less threatening goals, etc) or because other states perceive them to be less threatening or because of the argument about naval powers providing public goods? There are lots of potential explanations for the argument presented.
Q: Relatedly, another questioner asks, what does speech evidence tell us about this? Why are countries bandwagoning against the sea power? Couldn’t sea powers be using economic standing to bribe other states to ally with them or not balance against them?
A: Levy agrees that we need to look more at speech evidence- press, leaders’ statements, etc. He also says that we could use that to track whether the dominant maritime states are in fact perceived as less threatening than a comparable land power. He also says the bribery point is interesting because maritime states may be better able to bribe via their resources.
Q: Questions on the DV and IV – since you define IV based on number of ships, it could be that DV (balancing) determines your number of ships. When they decide to balance, they build up number of ships and that reduces the percentage that the greater power has? Why not have a more composite measure of seapower (including fleet, seaman, etc)
A: Levy says this is an interesting point to further look into and says that they don’t just count ships. We count the number of first line ships – ships that could engage in battle with another leading navy and that they don’t look at ship-building capacity.
Rapporteur: Tara Maller
back to Wednesday Seminar Series, Spring 2010