Realism and the Balancing of Power

John A. Vasquez / Colin Elman  
Total pages
July 2003
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For upper-level undergraduate courses in International Relations and graduate-level courses in International Relations Theory Field Surveys.

Unique in approach, this text explores all aspects of an important scholarly debate over whether the contemporary theory of the balance of power as presented by Kenneth Waltz is a scientifically acceptable theory. This text allows students to examine and analyze the different views (in their original form) by all those in the debate and to come to their own conclusions. Part I presents the initial debate, including reprinted material. Parts II and III feature original pieces where scholars from different views review the debate. The resulting analyses, along with the initial exchanges, provide varying answers to the theoretical, empirical, and philosophy of science questions raised by the debate.


  • Single-volume convenience-Contains reprints of the original essays published in the American Political Science Review, and entirely new responses to those arguments by leading scholars in the field.
    • Provides instructors and students with a less expensive, more convenient access to the full range of materials available on the debate.

  • The original articles in the initial debate-Section I. Features responses from several of the leading international relations theorists in the field-Kenneth Waltz, Thomas Christensen, Jack Snyder, Colin Elman, Miriam Fendius Elman, Randall Schweller, and Stephen Walt; and in a series of separate responses (published with Vasquez's article in an APSR Forum), these scholars engage the larger philosophical and theoretical issues raised by Vasquez's critique and take issue with his substantive findings.
    • Helps students trace the shifting terms and perspectives on the accuracy and efficacy of a realist understanding of international relations, in general, and balance of power theory, in particular.

  • New contributions to the conversation-Section II. Features response from scholars who take differing methodological approaches and who have disparate views on realism and balancing of power. Authors include Jack S. Levy, Paul W. Schroeder, Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, Zeev Maoz, Richard Rosecrance, Charles L. Glaser, William C. Wohlforth, and Michael Barnett.
    • Collects some of the subsequent reactions to the original debate and more formally relates them to the original set of exchanges.

  • The different views of the book's editors-Section III. Summarizes what has come before, and emphasizes what has been learned from the debate and how the debate can be productive for the field as a whole in terms of advancing understanding and research.
    • Shows students how the new debate stands as an important example of how scholars can disagree about methods and results and nevertheless learn from one another.

  • An “Introduction for Students and Instructors”-Gives an overview of the debate, defines and clarifies in simple language some of the major concepts used in philosophy of science (as well as the disagreements among scholars over these criteria), sets the historical context of the debate, and explains why it is important for both international relations theory and foreign policy making.
    • Provides the essential background that those new to the subject will need to understand the debate.

  • An editorial commentary for each article-Highlights areas of agreement and disagreement with the other authors.
    • Teaches students how to read and assess scholarly work and strengthens their critical analytical skills.

    • Gives key terms defined for students.

Table of Contents

 1.Introduction: Appraising Balance of Power Theory, Colin Elman.


 2. The Realist Paradigm and Degenerative versus Progressive Research Programs: An Appraisal of Neotraditional Research on Waltz's Balancing Proposition, John Vasquez.
 3. Evaluating Theories, Kenneth N. Waltz.
 5. Progressive Research on Degenerate Alliances, Thomas J. Christensen and Jack Snyder.
 6. New Realist Research on Alliances: Refining, Not Refuting, Waltz's Balancing Proposition, Randall Schweller.
 7. Lakatos and Neorealism: A Reply to Vasquez, Colin Elman and Miriam Fendius Elman.
 8. The New Debate on Balancing Power: A Reply to My Critics, John Vasquez.


 9. Why Realism Does Not Work Well for International History (Whether or Not It Represents a Degenerate IR Research Strategy), Paul W. Schroeder.
10. Balances and Balancing: Concepts, Propositions, and Research Design, Jack S. Levy.
11. Is There a Balance of Power, Richard Rosecrance.
12. Neorealism's Logic and Evidence: When Is a Theory Falsified?, Bruce Bueno de Mesquita.
13. Paradoxical Functions of International Alliances: Does Regime Type Make a Difference?, Zeev Maoz.
14. Alliances, Balances of Threat, and Neorealism: The Accidental Coup, Michael Barnett.
15. Measuring Power-and the Power of Theories, William C. Wohlforth.
16. The Natural and Necessary Evolution of Structural Realism, Charles L. Glaser.


17. Closing Dialogue, Colin Elman and John Vasquez.
Combined References.


JOHN A. VASQUEZ is professor of political science at Vanderbilt University. He has published eleven books, including The Power of Power Politics: From Classical Realism to Neotraditionalism; The War Puzzle; and, most recently, What Do We Know about War? (editor). His scholarly articles have appeared in International Studies Quarterly, World Politics, Security Studies, American Political Science Review, Journal of Peace Research, IO, Journal of Politics, International Political Science Review, Millennium, and British Journal of Political Science, among others. He has been president of the Peace Science Society (International) and the International Studies Association.

COLIN ELMAN is assistant professor of political science at Arizona State University. His work has appeared in American Political Science Review, International Security, Security Studies, International History Review, and International Studies Quarterly, and he is the co-editor (with Miriam Fendius Elman) of Bridges and Boundaries: Historians, Political Scientists, and the Study of International Relations (2001) and Progress in International Relations Theory: An Appraisal of the Field (forthcoming). Elman is currently executive director of the Consortium for Qualitative Research Methods.

Reader Review(s)

"Vasquez and Elman have assembled a treasure of lucid, penetrating analyses of realist theorizing about the balancing of power. Framed by the question of how we should evaluate contending theories, this incisive volume should be required reading for everyone in the field, not just students enrolled in courses on international relations theory." - Gregory A. Raymond, Boise State University