Clausewitz starts off this chapter with an extension of the range of resources that the defender has at his disposal, these in addition to those listed in Chapter 3 as being responsible for defensive strategic success. This includes the militia (which exhibits distinct advantages and limitations as compared to the army; fortresses; the people (as in assisting the army operating on their own territory) which can be armed and become yet another source of power – the people in arms; and finally the defender’s allies. In describing this last source of the defender’s power, Clausewitz provides his view of the balance of power in Europe:
If we consider the community of states in Europe today, we do not find a systematically regulated balance of power and of spheres of influence, which does not exist and whose existence has often been justifiably denied; but we certainly do find major and minor interests of states and peoples interwoven in the most varied and changeable manner. Each point of intersection binds and serves to balance one set of interests against the other. The broad effect of all these fixed points is obviously to give a certain amount of cohesion to the whole. Any change will necessarily weaken this cohesion to some degree. The sum total of relations between states thus serves to maintain the stability of the whole rather than to promote change; at least, that tendency will generally be present.
This, we suggest, is how the idea of the balance of power should be interpreted; and this kind of balance is bound to emerge spontaneously whenever a number of civilized countries are in multilateral relations.
To what extent this tendency of the common interest helps maintain existing conditions is another question. One can certainly imagine changes in relations between individual states that would strengthen this effect, and others that could weaken it. The first kind are attempts to perfect the political balance, and as their aim reflects that of the common interest, the majority of the parties would be in favor. The other kind, however, are deviations, hyperactivity of individual states, actual cases of disease; one should not be surprised that diseases occur in a loosely constituted polity such as a multitude of states of various sizes after all, they also occur in the marvelously structured organic whole of living nature.
We have here Clausewitz’s view of international relations with the tendency to be towards maintaining the status quo. We see here a close relationship between international relations during peace (a state of rough balance) along with the states of balance, tension and movement used to describe wars between political communities (Bk III/Ch 18). Notice that in Clausewitz’s time, no “systematically regulated balance of power” existed, whereas today we have “attempts”, that is institutions – for instance, the World Bank, IMF, G-8 to monitor and maintain economic stability – which are seen as in every one’s interest. In fact forming and furthering these institutions is a major part of what has adequately maintained US supremacy up to this point in time, that is a hegemonic power acting, or seemingly acting, in the best interests of all.
The problem comes in when the strongest power is seen as acting only in its own interests, or as Clausewitz mentions, the “hyperactivity of individual states” . . .
It may be objected, of course that history offers examples of single states effecting radical changes that benefit themselves alone, without the slightest effort by the rest to hinder them. There have even been cases in which a single state has managed to become so powerful that it could virtually dictate to the rest. We would reply that this does not disprove the tendency on the part of common interests to support the existing order; all it shows is that at the moment the tendency was not sufficiently effective. Aspiration towards a goal is not the same as motion, but that is not to say that it is a nullity – witness the dynamics of the heavens.
We therefore argue that a state of balance tends to keep the existing order intact – always assuming that the original condition was one of calm, equilibrium . . .
As in normal human relations, people resent being ordered about, but if you make it a question of what is in their own best interests . . . appear to be even subordinating your own interests to those of the group, who is to complain? That was essentially US policy imo up to the mid 1990s.
So why is this whole system of a balance of power not more obvious?
The balance of power system only reveals itself when the balance is in danger of being lost. As long as the natural weight of states is sufficient, without noticeable distortion or moral exertion, to keep everything in its place and the whole machine steady – that is, free of violent oscillations – there is no question of a balance of power system; the balance simple exists in itself. We see this in northern Europe, where Sweden, Denmark, Poland and Russia existed from the days of Gustav Vasa to the Thirty Years War without the dominance of any state, and without any effort to prevent such dominance.
Clausewitz, Historical and Political Writings, p 244.
Very close to Weber here as in actual structures of power only being visable when they are under stress, but perceptions count as well. Epochs approach the possibility of war in different ways. In 1908 Hans Delbrück wrote:
Bismarck founded the Triple Alliance to protect Germany against a simultaneous attack from Russia and France. At that time the only rival of England in the other parts of the world were these two powers. Germany counted on the benign neutrality of England in any continental war. How the world has changed! It is correct that we are now in danger, but no Bismarck could warn us of this danger because we are the relatively strongest power and weaker powers naturally ally against the strongest. But we cannot and do not want more of the European continent. The decision to go to war lies with Russia . . .
Conclusions? Cohesion, which I will return to later, exists both within the political community and within what we can call “international society” (following a classical realist view here). Should international society share the same basic interests, that is continuation of the status quo, then we have a stable balance of power. Should one state/political community attempt to reorder this status quo they court the possibility of bringing the other states in against them. Should this state attack a weaker state, the defeat of the weaker state could be intolerable to the status quo powers which will in turn prompt their involvement (in whatever way). Should a hegemonic state that has established various “attempts” to promote the status quo and a satisfactory balance of power change policy and subvert those very same “attempts” – even unintentionally – then the hegemonic state risks becoming its own worst enemy.