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Structural and Institutional Theory


The key objective of this paper is to investigate the Balance of power theory based on realism. According to realist theorist, power is what drives international politics. Great powers will measure their power based on their military as well as economic power relative to each other. Nations considers it important not only to have considerable amount of power, but to ensure that there is no chance to have it shifted or tilted towards another power. It is a theorist conviction that international politics is all based on the control and power politics. However, realists as well have different opinions as to why countries would compete for power. While institutional realists believe human nature plays a vital role, structural realists believe it does little to influence.

Structural realists argue it is in fact the international system structure that bends a nation hand to seeking power. The fear of attack by other powers leads a nation to look for extra power for the sake of self protection in case of an attack. In situations where there is no higher authority than the rests, the possibility of a war breaking out is high. Thus superpowers are in a cage where the only choice they have is power competition for their own survival. Further, structural theorists are of the view that regime type or cultural differences will actually be of little influence as international system has common play ground for all the competing powers. For example, whether a country is a democracy or an autocratic will have no bearing on its activities towards other world countries.

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The balance of power theory will therefore be as result of great powers getting to a level where cost of engaging in war is higher than the cost of peace. That means there exists some sought of checks for each power and they could suffer great loss equally. The presence of unbalance power is dangerous as it nations would rather get to war than have the death of their state. In addition, it could culminate into creation of a hegemonic power which threatens the existence of other nations.

First Premise and First Deduction

The first premise indicates that there ought to be an order for the peace to be enjoyed. The precise argues that order will precipitate to a peaceful relationship among world countries. It argues through a dichotomous structure whereby if the first precise is true, and the second is true, then the solution from both of them must be true. That means nations will have their decisions guided by the manner in which they view the world order. In the opinion of theorist, where a balance of power is stable, anarchy can as well be stable. A situation can therefore occur if there is guarantee over the other. For instance, during the war between Austria-Hungary and Serbia, it was only after the Germany’s support of the former that it openly declared war against the latter.

In most cases, that comes into play especially where a balance of power exists. In this situation, it was the German factor that determined the actions taken by the two conflicting countries. For a proper balance of power to come into play, it is necessary that an order by a superpower be established. Further to curtail the influences of the said power, an equal power should also be present, to ensure that one power do not unilaterally use its powers to oppress the world.

On the other hand, first deduction implies that a balance of power can as well result to balance of conflict. That situation is more prevalent when the powers involved gets into conflict and none is willing to give up or appears to get defeated in a short period. Such a conflict can last for quite some time until one power is dominated by the other. A good example was the situation that persisted after the World War Two when Cold War emerged. The persistence of the cold war was based on the fact that both the Soviets and the Americans wielded enough power to bring each other down. Although the conflict did not burst into an all out war, the conflict lasted long enough until 1991, when the Soviet collapsed thus getting weakened in the process. The deficiency of balance of power created a new World Order whereby the United States emerged as a hegemonic power in the world.

Second Premise and Second Deduction

The second principle for a balance of power in structural theory is that states ought to act rationally for survival. The mainly goal of every state is to succeed and eliminate any threat that could question their power. At times, a state will be required to become a unitary actor, to avoid being thrown out of the international system by their competitors. The conclusion in that kind of a situation would vary into three options including; self-help, self-interest, and distrust. Whatever choice a state makes will have far reaching effects on its position on international politics. A self interest approach will involve mechanisms that are meant to enhance survival with much less interest to the concerns of other nations. On the other hand, self help approach will involve a strategy of forging alliances with likeminded and powerful nations, to create a force that guarantees its protection. Finally, a distrust approach mainly happens in an anarchy situation.

Institutional Theory

The theory is more supportive of a rational cooperation among states, as opposed to drifting towards a war. It is founded on rule-based organizations that explain the nature of conflict, war and the cooperation in existence. The institutional frameworks are of two types, Domestic and International Bargaining Institutions. Domestic institutions will focus on analysis of both war states and peace states, while the International Bargaining Institutions envisages pushing nations to making credible commitment for peace. Further, it also develops mechanisms on how to enforce the commitments made.

First Premise and Deduction

The first principle of this theory is progression of non-antagonistic interests. It advocates for elimination of conflicts among states even in situations where anarchy is prevalent.  The results of that could be retaining the status quo as the balance of power. However, balance of power is variable based on the nature of domestic and international institutions and could lead to conflict from cooperation of states.

Second Precise and Deduction

The second principle is war-fighting disutility. It is considered that there will be no gains but losses if a war is to take place. War-fighting will have heavy costs ranging from those of combat to mobilization of domestic resources. Secondly, if there is a probability of defeat, it could be a precursor for many nations to avoid a war. Nations do not engage in what they premeditate to loose and will seek a compromise before a war erupts. The results of this are that bargain gets considered as a viable option that will lead to high payoffs in comparison to war. In fact, a win without war could be considered as the best by a state.

However, a war would erupt under a number of conditions. One, if the domestic policies represent a war state, then it could occur. A case in hand was the Nazi Germany aggression during the Second World War. The country had already opted for an expansionist policy that considered Germans as superior race. To the eyes of the allied powers, Germany was viewed as a war state that sole interest was to draw other nations into conflict by attacking them.

Secondly, in case the international bargaining or enforceability structures fails, then the states involved may result to war. That was more evident when the League of Nations could not fulfill its obligation of stopping the Italian attack on Ethiopia, despite the two being members of the League of Nations. Thirdly, incomplete as well as disinformation may contribute to nations going into war for the wrong reasons. The case of Cold War could be more evidential in that the two super powers involved distorted information to favor their actions. A number of governments during the cold war were ousted under the guise of being dictatorial. Power play lead nations into applying double standards while handling political, economic as well as humanitarian crisis in different parts of the world.

Finally, a war is likely to occur where the bargain option is unavailable. For example, in the case of Austria-Hungary conflict with Serbia. Austria-Hungary did not offer any chance to dialogue, and it had been looking for an avenue to kick start a war with Serbia, which it did after the death of the latter’s king. They argued that Serbia attempted to take over their influence over the Balkans.

World Wars

When the world wars came, it was clear that the existing balance of power had failed. Certainly, alliances and nations had believed too deeply in their power and felt unperturbed by the responses of those who opposed them. After the First World War, the guiding principle appeared to have failed, and the states formed the League of Nations with the hope of making its membership global and maintain peace.

However, the group did not enjoy the membership from stronger countries such as the United States. Furthermore, those that joined the League saw themselves as equal, and none of them wielded the much-needed power to stop the aggression of the other. Members failed to respond to unilateral attacks, weakening its effectiveness in preventing aggression while promoting peace. Although legally the group may have existed, its presence was not felt on the ground. Failure to disarm aggressive members forced the nations to dishonor their commitment and lead their separate way to such an extent that they did not see the warnings of the Second World War.

Ultimately, the League failed to bring the World War to an end and became ineffective in conducting its operations. It was only until the end of Second World War that the United Nations was formed to take over the mandate of the League of Nations. The United Nations is well institutionalized and has gained the membership of the majority, or almost all, of the countries of the world. Moreover, the new organization has created the Security Council that is supposed to oversee its decision making with major powers having veto power over affairs they consider dangerous to their countries. Again, the restrictive law requiring the consent of all the UN members, as it had been the case with the League of Nations, has been avoided. That is meant to reduce bureaucracy in the affairs of the organization. The resolutions of the UN General Assembly are passed by the majority vote.

Characteristics of Balance of Power

In order to maintain the balance of power within the world, several factors ought to be met. First, there ought to be two states that wield power, provided that they do not intend to attack each other. Again, each of the powers ought to be in a position to deter the other from infringing on the international treaties and conventions. That ensures that mutual respect is preserved between the two and that they are forced to operate from the same focal point. Moreover, the powers in question should also be in a position to overcome threats that face them as well as be ready to challenge them.

Second, the power and influence of a superpower ought to be strong enough to offer protection to those nations that give their support, especially the other superpower. Furthermore, to keep the balance of power operational, the powers should be willing to take responsibility. Occasionally, there may be superpowers that remain reluctant to take responsibility for offering leadership. That is likely to cause a vacuum, allowing the other superpower to take charge hegemony. Finally, for a power to be effective, it ought to have its sphere of influence. That means that nations that follow its leadership with little or no question are likely to stick to it during the times of crisis.

Post Second World War

Despite the end of the Second World War in 1945 and the subsequent formation of the United Nations, the world had been split into two blocs. The Eastern Bloc was characterized by the communism and lead by the Soviet Union and the Western bloc that was mainly capitalist and was under the leadership of the United States of America. The two powers divided the world into two political hemispheres, whereby the allies of each were warming up to the other.

Their activities were based on the need to gain control and to keep each other in check to ensure that their individual interests were not violated. That kind of an atmosphere created the mistrust among the powers that at least had control over a particular region. It was an arrangement that opened up the balance of power in the postwar world. The two superpowers emerged as undisputed and managed to preserve their influence in their areas o after the end of the Second World War.

The rise of two powers gave birth to a bipolar world, where influences stemmed from two different schools of thought. That kind of a situation had advantages as well as disadvantages. In some ways, it was necessary that such an arrangement existed; however, it could have mutated into a catastrophe that would have returned the world back to war. The competition between the two powers would have eventually threatened the liberal democracy that was still young, especially in the newly independent countries.


In a nutshell, it is evident that the balance of power is both a necessity and a treat to the existence of the world. The successes of the theory are based on the intentions of the super states to utilize their power. While the bipolarity allows checks and avoids hegemony, if not carefully implemented, it can wipe out its own gain. In most cases, the supporters of this theory promote the idea that all nations should have a side to lean to.

The support could be a result of respect, friendship, or fear. Thus, if a weak country does not join one bloc, it will be forced to join the other. In exchange for supporting the superpower, the weak nations are offered protection, technology, or trade incentives. The powers are determined to keep their influence, offering conditional assistance and protection to the less powerful. It is a common knowledge that one power will not unilaterally overlap the interests of the other and a dialogue is the only way out.

While the powers have a win-win situation for both of them, that might be quite different for the less powerful nations, mostly those that do not have any protection. Such nations could be harassed from both sides, creating a weak point. However, it is not always true that protection is granted at all times. Sometimes, the superpower views the cost of protection as too much and decides to avoid the conflict all together in favor of better relations with the other power.

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