In the Post-World War II period, what are the important patterns of the Balance of Power?

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A key to our understanding of this issue, in my view, interestingly enough can be found in a book now little remembered but highly influential in its time, The Managerial Revolution (1941), by the American political theorist James Burnham.

Burnham, writing during World War II, predicts that the world will devolve into three "superstates," based in America, Europe, and Asia. (George Orwell wrote reviews and essays on this and other writings by Burnham and was obviously influenced by them when he wrote 1984.) However, Burnham initially believed Germany and Japan would be two of those superstates, because at the time of his writing they appeared to be "winning" the war. The particulars of his theory are perhaps less important than the general concept of a tripartite structure in global political organization. This is exactly what came about after World War II.

Though the conventional view of the Cold War is that it was a polarization, or a balance of power, between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, it's surprising to say the least that a country as large as China, which became Communist in 1949, would have been largely left out of this equation or relegated to a secondary status as a lesser member of the "Communist bloc." All three of these powers fought proxy wars in the period from 1950 to 1989.

Though the Soviet Union and China were both Communist states, the two were enemies of each other as well as of the US during much of this period. The status quo was ironically an unstable one in which the pattern was a shifting balance of power—and balance of terror—that continued among the three superstates until the collapse of the Soviet Union and the independence of its constituent "republics" such as Ukraine and of the satellite states in Europe—East Germany, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and so on.

In Korea, war and then partition had occurred in the early 1950's, while in Vietnam the initial partition of 1954, when the French were expelled, was dissolved once the Communist North was finally successful in 1975 after years of war. The Soviets were driven out of Afghanistan in 1989 after ten years of occupation during which the U.S. had aided the Afghan rebels, who then became, as the Taliban, an enemy of the U.S.

By 1991 the Cold War as it had existed was declared over, as pundits began rejoicing that Communism had been defeated. They seemed to ignore the fact that China was still a totalitarian state. But from this point on—and perhaps this is an improvement—the competition among three centers of world power came to be largely an economic rather than a military one. The balance of economic power in the past several decades has been largely among the US, the European Union, and China. With the Soviet collapse, Russia was initially left weak and in disarray. Eventually this was to change as the country underwent a resurgence of power and authoritarianism. But it still no longer has the centrality in world politics which it had as the Soviet Union.

None of these present superstates—the US, the EU, and China—are literally enemies of each other. The US and EU are usually considered allies, if anything, since the EU is largely equivalent to the European sector of the NATO alliance. Though the Cold War ended long ago, in the past several years, new instability has been created by both Brexit in Europe and the obvious connections between the Trump administration and Russia. It's anybody's guess how this will all turn out.

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