Soft balancing

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Soft balancing is a recent addition to balance of power theory used to describe non-military forms of balancing evident since the end of the Cold War, particularly during and after the 2003 Iraq War. Soft balancing as a strategy can be attributed to the work of Robert Pape[1] and T. V. Paul.[2] It was criticized by Stephen Brooks and William Wohlforth.[3]

Soft balancing occurs when weaker states decide that the dominance and influence of a stronger state is unacceptable, but that the military advantage of the stronger state is so overwhelming that traditional balancing is infeasible or even impossible. In addition to overwhelming military superiority, scholars also suggest that democratic peace theory suggests a preference toward soft, rather than hard, balancing among democracies.

As opposed to traditional balancing, soft balancing is undertaken not to physically shift the balance of power but to undermine, frustrate, and increase the cost of unilateral action for the stronger state. Soft balancing is not undertaken via military effort, but via a combination of economic, diplomatic and institutional methods. In other words, soft balancing uses "non-military tools to delay, frustrate and undermine aggressive unilateral U.S. military policies".[4] Being non-military, soft balancing is regarded as ineffective: “Soft” balancing is “balancing that does not balance at all.”[5]

Soft balancing is contrasted with hard balancing and bandwagoning.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ “Soft Balancing against the United States,” International Security, 30/1, (Summer 2005): p 7-45.
  2. ^ “Soft Balancing in the Age of US Primacy,” International Security, 30/1, (Summer 2005): p 46-71.
  3. ^ Stephen G. Brooks & William C. Wohlforth, "Hard Times for Soft Balancing", International Security, 30/1, (Summer 2005): p 72–108.
  4. ^ Robert Anthony Pape. "Soft Balancing against the United States" in International Security, Volume 30, Number 1, Summer 2005.
  5. ^ Thomas S. Mowle & David H., Sacko,The Unipolar World: An Unbalanced Future, (New York: Macmillan, 2007), p 147.