Is Soft Balancing the Driving Force Behind Sino-Russian Cooperation in Central Asia? - An Empirical Test of the Soft Balancing Theory
Abstract: In an age of American unipolarity it is not surprising that questions regarding the perseverance of the current international structure constantly recur in contemporary international relations debates. As the discussion about whether the balance of power theory vanished with the Cold War continues, soft balancing has become a popular way to describe second-tier states' use of non-military tools to delay, frustrate, and undermine aggressive unilateral U.S. military policies. Problematic, however, is to define what differentiates soft balancing from typical diplomatic friction. Furthermore, if other states' actions are not responses to American power, then it does not make sense to invoke either traditional balance of power theory or the soft balancing argument. These concerns have been raised by critics of the theory, yet no one seems to have conducted a rigorous empirical evaluation of the soft balancing theory by putting it side by side with alternative explanations. In this article I remove this bias by discussing four alternative explanations to the theory in one case typically framed as soft balancing: Sino-Russian cooperation in Central Asia. I conclude that the simplicity of the balance of power theory and its soft balancing addendum makes them easy to adopt, but also easy to overuse.
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