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Offshore balancing is a strategic concept used in realist analysis in international relations. It describes a strategy where a great power uses favored regional powers to check the rise of potential hostile powers.
It arguably permits a great power to maintain its power without the costs of large military deployments around the world. It can be seen as the informal-empire analogue to federalism in formal ones (for instance the proposal for the Imperial Federation in the late British Empire) It was primarily used during the Cold War between the US and Soviet Union.
According to political scientist John Mearsheimer in his University of Chicago "American Grand Strategy" class, offshore balancing is the strategy used by the United States in the 1930s and also in the 1980–1988 Iran-Iraq war. Mearsheimer argues that when the United States gave Lend-Lease aid to Britain in the 1930s, the US was engaging in offshore balancing by being the arsenal of democracy, not the fighter for it.
This is consistent with offshore balancing because the US initially did not want to commit American lives to the European conflict. The United States supported the losing side (Iraq) in the Iran–Iraq War to prevent the development of a regional hegemon, which could ultimately threaten U.S. influence. Furthermore, offshore balancing can seem like isolationism when a rough balance of power in international relations exists, which was the case in the 1930s.
- Christopher Layne (1997). "From Preponderance to Offshore Balancing: America's Future Grand Strategy". International Security.
- John J. Mearsheimer (December 2008). "A Return to Offshore Balancing". Newsweek.
- Stephen Walt (November 2011). "Offshore Balancing: An idea whose time has come". Foreign Policy.
- Zachary Keck (February 2014). "Stephen Walt is Not Obama's George Kennan". The Diplomat.
- Hal Brands (September 2015). "The Limits of Offshore Balancing". Strategic Studies Institute.
- Mearsheimer, Walt (June 2016). "The Case for Offshore Balancing" (PDF). Foreign Affairs.
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