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Balance of Power

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"Minister, Britain has had the same foreign policy objective for at least the last five hundred years: to create a disunited Europe. In that cause we have fought with the Dutch against the Spanish, with the Germans against the French, with the French and Italians against the Germans, and with the French against the Germans and Italians. Divide and rule, you see. Why should we change now, when it's worked so well?"
Sir Humphrey, Yes, Minister

A concept in international relations, but one with a lot of relevance in fiction.

To give a hypothetical example, you have five countries:

  • A — a Great Power
  • B — another Great Power, roughly equal and hostile to A
  • C — a lesser power associated with A
  • D — another lesser power roughly equal to C, associated with B
  • E — another power (Great or lesser) that is neutral

A+C equals more or less B+D, so any kind of war between them would be indecisive or have an outcome that is hard to predict. A protracted war would be incredibly expensive, and bloody, to boot. It's in everyone's interests to prevent or limit A-B conflict.

However, if E decided to align itself with A or B, that trio could have a decisive advantage in a limited conflict (before the duo brings their full resources to bear). A protracted conflict between the five would be even more incredibly bloody and expensive than one between the four, however, and its outcome would still be in doubt despite the slight advantage held by one side. Furthermore, it might be in E's best interests to keep A and B balanced against each other, leaving itself free to steer an independent course as neither of the two would wish to drive it into the other's camp by behaving too aggressively against E.

The problem with these arrangements is that not all the powers involved will always have an accurate idea of the other powers' intentions or the relative strengths of all the powers. This can prove disastrous when a power decides to start a war because its leadership isn't in touch with reality.

This trope is a major reason for both Realpolitik and Enemy Mine - A may not necessarily like C, but if both feel B is the bigger threat they will have a good reason to cooperate.


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    Anime And Manga 
  • The One Piece 'verse has a Balance of Power crucial to the overall plot of the story. The type A and B greater powers consist of Marine Headquarters versus the Four Emperors, the World Government's military and the four most powerful pirate crews in the world, respectively. In the middle are the Seven Warlords of the Sea, who, on paper at least, are a Type-C lesser power aligned with and aiding the World Government against the Emperors. However, almost all of them are carrying out their own agendas on the side and some of them have casual and even friendly contact with some Emperors and up-and-coming pirates, making them more of an Type-E neutral power in practice. Threats to this balance include single-minded pirates like Monkey D. Luffy and the deliberate actions of Dragon the Revolutionary. This situation comes under direct threat 2 times: During and in the aftermath of the Marineford War, Whitebeard is killed, Blackbeard usurps his seat in the Emperors, 3 Warlords either resign or are kicked out, and the Marines lose Aokiji due to not wanting to work under Akainu as the Fleet Admiral, and Sengoku and Garp resigning their position due to the former disapproval regarding hiding the news of the escaped criminals from Impel Down and the latter failure over protecting Ace. The second time was during the duration of the Reverie and Wano arcs, as Doflamingo is exposed for using his position to carry out multiple illegal operations like weapons dealing, Un-person, pulling a coup by framing the incumbent king for murder (he did those himself), as well as trying a genocide once his crimes come to light. Big Mom and Kaido team up to defeat Luffy once and for all, and the above mentioned crimes by Doflamingo and the events of the Alabasta Arc compel Riku Dold, Cobra and Admiral Fujitora to suggest the abolishment of the Seven Warlords, which passes by a majority vote, leading to the shattering of the entire balance for good. Oh, and both Kaido and Big Mom get defeated and replaced as Emperors by Buggy and Luffy.
  • Late in the story, Naruto has revealed that the Tailed Beasts, the Bijuu, and their hosts, the Jinchuuriki acted as a balance among the various nations. Konoha and Suna, each having only one bijuu, allied with one another after the last war to deter Kumo and Iwa which both hosted two; Kiri's natural defenses and two bijuu allow it freedom in operation but it lacks the unity needed to take advantage of that. Taki's single bijuu and lesser standing make it an ideal buffer between Kumo and Konoha. Most of the lesser villages align with other villages, have treaties via their daimyo lords, or are located in places where attacks will spark retribution from neighbors. The existence of a free Bijuu would spur other villages to attempt to claim it and gain an advantage, thus necessitating its capture.
    • Despite the long time it took to be introduced, this balance was eventually revealed to be crucial to Naruto's backstory. Because maintaining it was one of the biggest reasons that the Fourth Hokage sealed the Nine Tailed Fox inside of him. The village had secretly hosted the Fox since the First Hokage captured it until it was released by Tobi. Losing control of the Fox would have left the village at a strategic disadvantage and started an arms race by the other villages to capture it.
  • The Vatican Treaty in Rebuild of Evangelion dictates that no single country can have more than three active Evas at any given time.
  • In Beelzebub, the balance lies in the hands of the Tohoshinki, the four strongest delinquents of Ishiyama High, who kept all the other delinquents at the school in check. When Oga defeated all four, he became the strongest delinquent at Ishiyama and united the entire school under his reign. Unfortunately, he destroyed the school not long after. This action would affect the later "Return to Ishiyama" arc, where due to the destruction of the school (which had to be reconstructed twice thanks to the "Akuma Academy" arc), Oga and the Tohoshinki were unable to keep all the other delinquents in check (the students of Ishiyama were spread out during construction), resulting in a power struggle, where over thirty groups are vying for the top spot, and aim on taking out them first. Essentially, the main goal of the arc is to put Oga on top again in order to get the school under control, and restore the Balance.
  • In Heavy Object the world is dominated by four supernations all of which are constantly skirmishing with one another. Because their strengths are roughly equal, none of the supernations are willing to engage in all-out warfare with another and will often enact temporary truces where they work together against a common enemy.
  • Before the start of That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime, a complex balance was in place between the various major powers of the world, such as the various nations and the Demon Lords. Then Rimuru come along and unwittingly breaks the balance by opening up what was previously a neutral zone for one of the Demon Lords to try to claim for themselves. Thanks to Rimuru's interference, the plan fails and in the end the entire neutral zone reorganizes itself into a new nation under Rimuru's rule. Rimuru and his nation quickly grow into a massive powerhouse, which even further disrupts the balance that previously existed.

    Fan Works 
  • In Aeon Natum Engel, the defences of Esoteric Order of Dagon-controlled Iceland are partly based on this principle; neither the New Earth Government nor the Migou can attack without weakening their position against the other, thus stopping them from taking the territory. Of course, the assumption that the NEG is after the Dagonite-controlled territory turns out to be painfully flawed.
    • In Aeon Entelechy Evangelion the NEG and the Migou had a status quo for six years since the Fall of China, with no major morale-breaking loses for the NEG since then. Then Mot shows up and destabilizes the Eastern Front.
  • The Good Hunter features a three-power example. The Order of the Chief God and the Demon Lord's realm (the extremists, in particular) are two major powers locked in conflict for an unknown period of time (assumed to be very long). The former routinely organises crusades against monster kind, while the latter converts foreign territory to its own, like Lescatie. Though the two powers are seemingly equal, the latter has the advantage in the long run, due to the monsters' seduction powers, as well as the Order showing signs of decline. The third faction, the Oberon League, is a gathering of neutral city-states outside the influences of the previous two powers. The League, a steadily rising power in its own right, keeps them balanced against each other (e.g. being trade partners with the Order, allowing monsters to settle in their territory peacefully, etc.). What's more, the League has the ear of the Moon Scented Hunter, providing the faction an even larger advantage. The balance comes into play as Lilith analyses the current state of affairs: she couldn't exploit the situation where the Order is losing influence because that would force more people into the arms of the League, and her plan for human-monster unification would be hindered should her realm ally with the League. By the time period where the Wild Hunt is established, it is heavily implied that the three powers are locked in a "Three Kingdoms" stalemate.
  • Second Wind: While the overall arrangement is generally the same as it is in canon, the Straw Hats are technically a part of the balance (in this timeline) thanks to their alliance with Whitebeard. This usually wouldn't be a problem, except Luffy and Zoro, as time-travelers, are New World-grade pirates — and the world at large doesn't realize this until they manage to defeat Aokiji at Water 7. Pirates capable of such a feat are very scarce, even in the New World, and thus the Straw Hats have (unintentionally) tipped the balance in favor of the Yonkou. This becomes a plot point later on, as the World Government is so desperate to restore the previous status quo that they are willing to throw the collective force of the Marine's entire top brass at the Straw Hats, up to and including Sengoku himself, to make sure they don't enter the New World and join Whitebeard's forces.

  • Some of the intrigue in The Godfather comes from the families negotiating about this.
  • The United States and the Soviet Union in Thirteen Days are the A and B. The biggest C's and D's in the movie are Cuba (whose hosting of Soviet missiles was the central issue of the movie) and Turkey (whose hosting of American missiles plays into the negotiations); other players include Chile and Romania (the UN Security Council meeting) and the rest of Latin America via the Organization of American States (unanimous vote in favor of the US "quarrantine"). China and India are also mentioned when the former instigated a border-clash over some mountains in the himalayas—though they don't play a role in the plot itself, their mention even when the Kennedy administration's primary focus was already on Cuba and the Soviet missiles there illustrates the breadth of scope the US had in its foreign policy during the Cold War.

  • In The Third World War, the war starts because the USSR is worried about losing D (the Warsaw Pact) and is won by the West partly because of the role of two Es, namely Ireland and Sweden.
  • Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia of Nineteen Eighty-Four; at any point, two are allied with each other, but the alliance always crumbles before the third is defeated because one of the two grows too powerful, and the alliances are reshuffled.
  • Romance of the Three Kingdoms initially starts with a bunch of warlords carving out territory for themselves throughout China, but eventually the power consolidates around the three main rivals Cao Cao, Liu Bei, and Sun Quan. The balance sets in after the Battle of Red Cliffs, where the Sun and Liu factions put a large damper on Cao Cao's quest to reunify China.
  • Isaac Asimov:
    • Foundation Series: "The Mayors":
      • Hari Seldon congratulates Terminus for using the "Balance of Power" against the Four Kingdoms during the first Seldon Crisis (occurs in "The Encyclopedists") to avoid invasion. The nearby nations had gone from nuclear power to coal-powered spaceships. When Salvor Hardin, the Mayor of Terminus, tells Anacreon that Terminus retains their nuclear power, it looks like Terminus is going to get invaded for its technology. But Hardin also told the other three kingdoms, so not long after Anacreon conquered Terminus, the other three formed a coalition against them. Now none of the Four Kingdoms can invade Terminus, under threat of joint retaliation from the other three kingdoms.
      • During the second Crisis, Mayor Hardin managed to prove to the rulers of the Four Kingdoms and to the citizens of Terminus that the Scam Religion he created to distribute the technology of Terminus meant that the Foundation was now in charge of the Four Kingdoms rather than their frightened supplicant. However, Seldon warns that the new balance of power won't allow Terminus to expand very far, hinting at the next Seldon Crisis (occurring in "The Merchant Princes").
    • "Let's Get Together":The two superpowers, "Us" and "Them", have been at war for over a hundred years. An uneasy truce exists, one that would be broken if either gained enough of an advantage.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire or "How Can Seven Kingdoms Continue To Be United Without The Tyrants Who Welded It Into One With Violence and Diplomacy Still Being In Charge?" The answer for the Seven Kingdoms under King Robert Baratheon is... finding a new balance to replace the old proved a rather tough process containing more downs than ups. And, it only gets vastly more tricky as the series progresses. Permanent schism remains very much on the cards at every point, mainly due to the number of people vying for control while simultaneously trying to juggle everybody else. And, that's without Icy Doom coming from the North and Hot, Angry Dragons coming from the East to complicate things.
  • The Silicoids in Sergey Lukyanenko's Line of Delirium are obsessed with the idea of universal balance. This is the core tenet of their culture, and it shapes everything from interpersonal relations to interspecies diplomacy. During the early stages of the Vague War, they took humanity's side in the conflict, as humans were getting beaten on all fronts. By the end, though, they decided that the new Human Empire was strong enough to keep up the Balance and left.
  • In Vernor Vinge's The Witling, Thengets del Prou and Ajão discuss this at some length; the balance of power on Giri is tenuously equalized between three demographics. It's probably to be expected, considering that almost Everyone Is a Super. Any two of the major demographics could dominate the third if they united. Prou remarks that if the aristocracies and populace united against the Guild, the Guild would be destroyed, but at the cost of millions of lives. To elaborate:
    • The Guild, whose less-than-600 members are incredibly powerful but drastically outnumbered by the rest of the Azhiri, who number around four hundred million. Prou notes that "a single Guildsman can destroy whole cities", and with some quick mental calculations, Ajão realizes he's not boasting.
    "Ajão realized he was telling the literal truth. If a hundred-ton moon rock were exchanged for an equivalent volume of—say—air at Giri's surface, the net potential energy released would be equivalent to a small fission bomb. Perhaps that explained the strange glassy plain Draere had photographed in the southern hemisphere."
    • The aristocracies, who command well-trained armies and defensive strategic locations.
    • The rest of the population, who pose a threat through sheer numbers.
  • The Dresden Files: The Summer and Winter Courts of the Fey have a cyclic balancing act. From the summer solstice to winter solstice, the Summer Court goes from the height of its power to weakest while the Winter Court goes from its weakest to its strongest. This is reversed on the other half of the year. This balance is kept because if one side were to overcome the other it would lead to the destruction of the world as it is. If Winter wins there will be another ice age. If Summer wins, then there will be an infusion of growth in all living things, from people, to plants, to deadly viruses. As a result, if one side tries to gain some outside power, then the other side will seek to stop that power or gain some equal measure of strength. In Cold Days it is revealed Winter has at least three times as many soldiers as Summer but they are out protecting all of Reality from entities from Outside Reality and who would destroy Reality if they had their way. Summer's forces are there to keep Winter from using the remaining portion to hurt humanity, as Mab, Queen of Winter, will sacrifice anything she needs to in the name of protecting Reality (herself included).
  • This idea is always in the background of John Christopher's Sword of the Spirits trilogy, with the various post-apocalyptic English city-states all squabbling and skirmishing with each other, but avoiding outright conquering of rivals. This begins to break down as the series progresses although at the end, the protagonist predicts that it will be the looming return of 20th century technology that will truly destroy the status quo.
  • The Scholomance: In Magical Society, the majority of political power is concentrated in the enclaves, which are more-or-less magical city-states located in pocket dimensions.
    • Type A is represented by the New York enclave, which has been the dominant power in the magical world since roughly World War II after they took over the maintenance of the titular school from the London enclave.
    • Type B is represented by the Shanghai enclave, which has been gradually rising to prominence and power ever since it was restored forty years ago by Li Shan Zheng.
    • Type C are the majority of the enclaves of the western world, who are primarily allies of the New York enclaves, while Type D are the eastern enclaves, many of which were sponsored by the Shanghai enclave and are thus their allies.
    • Technically, there is no 'E', as there aren't enough independent enclaves to tip the balance towards either of the two, though that position can easily be fulfilled by a once-in-a-generation talent like Orion or El, who are both powerful enough to destroy enclaves entirely on their own given enough mana.
    • While this doesn't come into play in the first book, it does come into play in the second after the recently-arrived freshmen in El's senior year reveal that the Bangkok enclave has just been destroyed, and no one knows who is responsible. While it's entirely possible that Bangkok fell due to a mal attack or through some over-ambitious development of magical weaponry, it's also entirely possible they were taken down by another enclave. And if that is the case, there's no way that enclave would've done that without New York's tacit support, as Bangkok is one of Shanghai's allies. As such a thing usually precipitates a full-on enclave war, this causes a lot of tension between the New York and Shanghai enclavers within the school, which El finds herself in the middle of thanks to her close association with the former through Orion and Chloe.

    Live-Action TV 
  • One of the central themes of Babylon 5 is the galactic balance of power between Humans, Narns, Centari, Vorlons, Minbari, and the League of Non-Aligned Worlds. It starts off being about as equitable as might be reasonably expected, but naturally it all turns to custard by season 2.
    • It's pretty much shown that the "balance" between the younger races is mainly due to political, religious, etc. choices by the more powerful races. While Humans, Narns, and the League are roughly equal, Centauri technology is well ahead of them and the Minbari are even farther ahead to where the Centauri never tried challenging them even at their most aggressive. The real balance of power exists between the Vorlons and the Shadows, who far outstrip any of the younger races in power. They are the A & B of the story and their struggle is about how many C's and D's they can get to fight for their causes.
  • Game of Thrones: The only way to stay in power is to maintain one of these. Before the conquest, the Seven Kingdoms were relatively stable despite frequent warfare because of this trope. Then Aegon the Conqueror broke the deadlock and united them using dragons. The Targaryens served as an Outside-Context Problem (from Westeros' perspective) for most of its near 300 years of reign. They held power by dragons but they also managed to keep a lid on all kinds of regional grudges and jealousies when they were in charge and they kept the Faith of the Seven on a leash, removing their militancy and curbing some of their most fundamentalist strains. Then the dragons died out and eventually Robert's Rebellion overthrew the Targaryens by uniting five of the nine factions against them. Then Joffrey's ascent annihilates the equilibrium into half a dozen warring factions, as there is a Succession Crisis and all the old problems come out - regional grudges, over-ambitious vassals, dislike between the North and the South and the far south as well as religious fundamentalism being back and all of them trying to go back to some ideal past before Aegon's Conquest.
  • In Star Trek, The Federation, Klingon Empire, and Romulan Star Empire all see themselves as A with the other two acting as B and E at different times over the course of more than a century. Once other powers like the Borg and Dominion came into play, this balance fell apart. Section 31 made it its mission during DS9's final season to permanently tip the balance in favor of the Federation.
    • This was the them of the TOS epsiode "A Private Little War". Kirk finds out the Klingons have started arming one group on a primitive planet. His only solution is to arm the other side to keep one from overwhelming the other. He chooses the possibility of perpetual hostilities over the genocide of one side.
    • This also comes up in Star Trek: The Next Generation when a Starfleet captain resolves a Hostage Situation by illegally giving weapons to the hostage takers. He then gives the same weapons to the hostage takers' enemies to restore the balance — and this leads to decades of civil war.
  • This idea gets mentioned often in Stargate SG-1. The Goa'uld System Lords were stuck in a stalemate for millennia, and the Tok'ra and Asgard tried to keep it that way, since it meant that they were too busy scheming and backstabbing amongst themselves to be a significant threat to the rest of the galaxy (the Asgard would've wiped the floor with the Goa'uld had it not been for the threat of the Replicators tying up their resources elsewhere). Then the Tau'ri show up and sort of accidentally take out the most powerful of the System Lords, followed by several other Goa'uld both major and minor, causing a rapid reorganization of the Goa'uld power structure; the Tau'ri keep winning since most of the Goa'uld don't know how to counter them, and the ones that do tend to be the biggest thorns in the side of Earth (Apophis, Sokar, etc.). Near the end of the show, the Goa'uld as a whole are soundly defeated, which then leads to other factions stepping up to fill in the Evil Power Vacuum.
  • In Into the Badlands the Barons are warlords who control fixed territories and are each in charge of one main trade resource. The Barons do not really mind when one Baron is deposed through Klingon Promotion or even assassinated by another Baron. However, they take a grim view when one Baron seizes territory belonging to another Baron since this upsets the balance of power. When Baron Quinn goes to war against the Widow, he seizes her oil fields which immediately sets all the other Barons against him.

    Tabletop Games 

    Video Games 
  • Balance of Power, the classic Chris Crawford game published by Mindscape is the Trope Codifier, obviously, as the player must deal with global politics.
  • Mass Effect has Treaty of Farixen, which determines how many dreadnoughts each Citadel power may have. The Systems Alliance, which represents the bulk of humanity, is limited to 1 per 5 Turian Hierarchy dreadnoughts, or 1 per 3 for the Asari Republics and Salarian Union. So they decided to build more carriers instead. They move up to being formally allowed to build equal numbers to the Republics and Union by the second game.
    • Sort of subverted: all the powerful treaty signatories are closely allied and the only powers that could possibly compete with them (e.g. the Geth Collective) are outside the treaty, the purpose of the treaty is more about enforcing the unipolar power of the Citadel Council races than making any sort of balance of power. Similar to the treaty that blatantly inspired it, the Washington Naval Treaty, it's also not really impactful. Not only does it say nothing about carriers, it doesn't put limits on cruiser tonnage either, despite a "cruiser" being by all indications just a dreadnought scaled down to 50-80% of the length (and thus 1/8 to 1/2 the volume/mass).
  • Final Fantasy XII has this as a major driving factor behind its plot. What triggers the game's main story is that the balance between two empires, the Archadian and the Rozarrian empires, has been overturned when the Archadian Empire annexes the E power Dalmasca and destroys another one, Nabradia, both of which also served as buffer states between the two empires.
  • Three of the Ancients in Eternal Darkness have fallen into a precarious form of this, represented in-game as Elemental Rock-Paper-Scissors. Each seeks to destroy the one weak to their power and achieve ultimate power - all ignorant that the Dead God Mantorok saw this coming a long time ago and through three Alternate Universes tricks all three into killing each other.
  • The Origin System in Warframe is ruled by the Grineer and the Corpus. The two are roughly equal in power, so they usually use their might to leverage things whenever they get into a market dispute, as the Grineer happen to be the Corpus' largest customer. the Tenno, who are few in number but can decimate whole armies of either faction via one of their own, oppose both sides and assist the various smaller groups in the system who the Grineer and Corpus oppress. The fourth major faction, the Infested, want to eat everyone, and thus whenever an Infested Outbreak occurs, everyone usually teams up to stop the plague monsters. The balance finally breaks down in The New War, but in a way none of the major powers of the system considered: when a faction F, the Sentients (who have incredibly advanced Biotechnology and immeasureable numbers) invades the Origin System and start killing everyone, forcing all of the factions in the Origin System to pull an Enemy Mine just to survive.
  • Yakuza: Like a Dragon has the "Ijin Three", the three rivaling organized criminal factions in the city of Ijincho, Yokohama: the local Seiryu Clan, the Chinese-linked Yokohama Liumang, and the Korean-linked Geomijul. Each faction is approximately equal in power and influence with each other, and all three are in a constant state of cold war with each other that could ignite at the slightest provocation. Ironically, it is this volatility between the Ijin Three that keeps Ijincho safe from outside influences such as the Tojo Clan and the Omi Alliance: no one dares try to take it over for concern that it would spark an all-out gang war that could tear the city assunder.


    Real Life 
  • Great Britain's foreign policy from the late 1500s until the 20th century was keeping a balance to ensure that no one got big enough to invade England or challenge its supremacy. The reasons for this was that England had a much better naval tradition than a land-based military, and continental supremacy depended on the latter. As such England always keyed its foreign policy in Europe with the view that it could prevent or hamper the growth of a great power, and/or cultivate allies whose armies could serve, to put it crudely, as Cannon Fodder, facing the bulk of the damage of land and lives relative to England.
    • Henry VIII did the opposite (joining the strongest side) to try and grab territory around English Calais (where the Valois and Habsburg lands overlapped). But the minute he launched the Protestant Reformation, albeit inadvertently, he burned that bridge, and made England into the allies of "weaker" Protestant nations, leading them to support the Dutch, albeit only nominally, while secretly undermining Spain. Elizabeth I didn't want England to back any losing horse, or be put in a position where she would have to commit, so she ran her regime much more cautiously, publicly avoiding war with Philip II of Spain, while privately and covertly patronizing English smuggling and piracy in the Caribbean against Spanish colonies. British-Spanish and British-French wars in the later 17th and 18th centuries were over trade, trade posts, and (to a much lesser extent) colonies. And eventually the English fought Protestant Republican Dutch too.
    • During The Napoleonic Wars, England ensured a fortress of ships defended it from French invasion, and she relied on using her great financial resources to suborn and subsidize European allies, especially Prussia, Austro-Hungary, and Russia, to break alliances and battle against the French. The largest land battles of the Napoleonic Wars, Borodino and Leipzig, the latter of which saw Napoleon lose at the height of his powers, did not cost a single British life.
    • Britain did oppose Russian expansion in The Balkans and Central+Far-Eastern Asia, but only so she could nab The Middle East and India and trading posts in China for herself - Anglo-French Rapprochement (as per the Crimean War) and the Anglo-Japanese Alliance were cornerstones of this.
      • Britain didn't oppose German expansion on principle either, they just did it because it was cheaper than opposing French expansion (because France's Empire was bigger and shared more borders with Britain). This later facilitated an uneasy Anglo-Russian rapprochement when France became Russia's ally in the 1890s, allowing Britain to cut down even further on defence costs. Likewise when Prussia went to war, it was predicted (rightly) that the bulk of the battle would be fought on the soil of their continental allies and it was necessary for England's traditional view of attrition that they nurture continental allies to bear the brunt of the enemy's fire.
    • Intervention on the side of the Entente in World War I was done to smooth over domestic unrest because Irish Home Rule was about to come into effect and the country was being wracked by massive social unrest instigated by Womens' Rights Activists (who wanted female suffrage) and striking Labour Unions (who wanted an end to child-labour, lethal working conditions, and seventy-hour weeks) - meanwhile, the left wing of the Labour Party was doing its best to channel all of this into Revolution. The 'best' solution - a years-long, cripplingly-expensive War Of Attritionnote - demonstrates the seriousness of Britain's 1914 domestic political crisis.
  • Some newly found Soviet conversation logs from around 1990 prove that Margaret Thatcher was actively opposing the reunification of Germany even when the whole east of Europe was already revolting against the Soviets. Only to keep the Balance of Power intact. Confirmed by the diaries of her junior minister Alan Clarke, who was disappointed that she didn't back the reunification he realized was inevitable. Even at that time she was quite obviously not in favour of the reunification, so probably no one is surprised about the discovery.
  • Pre-World War I Europe was much like this, except that there were three to six top-tier powers (Britain, Germany, and France at minimum, then Austria-Hungary, Russia, and Italy), with alliances shifting more frequently than you can shake a stick at. On top of that, there were the smaller powers, such as the neutral Low Countries, and the newly-minted and aggressively nationalistic countries of the Balkans (Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece, and Romania topping the list in belligerency and grandiose designs).
  • The foreign policy of the German Empire from 1871 to 1890 was almost entirely built around this trope. The main goal of Reich Chancellor Otto von Bismarck was to diplomatically isolate France and at the same time prevent this from happening with Germany itself. He believed that if Paris succeeds in concluding an alliance with Russia and/or Austria-Hungary, then the German Empire simply will not be able to defend itself. As a consequence, Germany made a number of alliances with the Great Powers of Europe, mainly with Russia, Italy and Austria-Hungary. Such a system was supposed to prevent the emergence of a new major war in Europe (since without allies, France could not challenge Berlin), and at the same time, assert the dominant position of Germany on the continent. However, after the resignation of Bismarck in 1890, the German Empire began to pursue a noticeably more aggressive foreign policy, doing almost everything so that all of Bismarck's achievements very quickly sank into oblivion.
  • The Cold War was very much about this, although the Superior Firepower and Mnogo Nukes meant that outright war was relatively unlikely. Instead, the US and USSR decided to fight by proxy. There is some variation as both the United States and Soviet Union were so powerful that even if one of them lost a useful ally like China - as per the Sino-Soviet split and Sino-American rapprochement - the balance never shifted firmly in favor of the other side.
    • Other countries during the Cold War had become sick of the American and Soviet deadlock and so tried to Take a Third Option. Nations such as India, Yugoslavia and Egypt formed the Non-Aligned movement. While Charles de Gaulle had become skeptical of NATO and a pro-American foreign policy that kept France dependent to the Western bloc, to this end he opened trade relations with the Soviet Union, pulled itself out of NATO and developed nuclear potential and tried to constantly veto England's involvement with Continental affairs, factors which made him highly unpopular both at home and abroad. Ironically when France finally had a socialist President like Mitterand, they started moving away from the Soviet Union and drifted towards liberalization of economy and the Western bloc in the 80s.
  • For much of its existence, the USSR also had an internal balance of power: the three-way rivalry between the Army, the Communist Party, and the KGB. Whenever one of these elements threatened to become too powerful, the other two would cooperate to weaken it. As soon as the threat was eliminated, the alliance would dissolve.
    • The Constitution of the United States similarly invokes this situation among three branches of the Federal Government (the Congress, the Presidency, and the Supreme Court), the idea being that if the government is busy fighting itself it can't oppress the people. Historically the leading branch has swung back and forth between Congress (embodied by the Speaker of the House) and the Presidency as the A and B, with the Supreme Court staking its claims to power on occasion as the E starting with Marbury v. Madison.
  • The Peloponnesian War represents how the equation can go awry. It was very bad to be an E. Both A & B (Sparta and Athens) decided that the situation was a lot more stable if there weren't any Es around, and generally went about destroying them. Also, it was the Cs & Ds (like Corinth) who started and restarted the war between A & B, figuring that the worse off the superpowers were, the better off the medium powers were.
    • Except there was one Enormous E - the Persians. While they failed in direct assault, they always had more than enough gold to ensure the balance was maintained. At least two Greek invasions of Asia were forced to stop due to the Persians bribing the invaders' neighbors into a backstab. In the end, a treaty was signed making the Persian king the main power ensuring peace in Greece.
    • Ancient Mayan city-states declined in a similar way, as well as poisoning water supplies.
  • Ancient Rhodes, a noted Merchant City in the Hellenistic era, survived by its expertise in maintaining the balance between the Successor States, and ensuring that its small but extremely skilled navy was capable of tilting the balance back whenever one warlord became more powerful then the Rhodians liked.
    • Renaissance Venice did this as well between Spain and the Ottomans.
  • Wolfers was a political scientist who wrote about how a balance of power is impossible to achieve because, even if it is attained (or roughly attained), it's never in A or B's interest to maintain a situation where they are as powerful as their foe, which means that they fight client wars in spheres of influence and get into arms races.
    • Arguably Balance of Power is best thought of as a classic strategy to ensure the survival of one faction (as witness Rhodes and Venice above), rather then a way to keep the general peace. In other words the main point is that other people are fighting each other rather then ganging up on you. The exception, of course, is the modern iteration of the strategy, Mutually Assured Destruction: where if A and B fight, everyone loses.
  • Before the Second World War there was Great Britain and France, the expanding Axis Powers, and the Soviet Union, each with an ideology that was unacceptable to the other two. Both the Soviets and the British knew that, if they went to war with Germany, afterward they would be weakened and the other would exploit it and attack immediately. In the end the Soviet Union made a pact with Hitler to divide Poland and force Britain to go to war with the Axis Powers.
  • During the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan, the mujhadeeen were supplied with weapons and training by both Western and Islamic countries... And China, in spite of it being a Communist power like the Soviets. The reason why can be traced back to the aforementioned Sino-Soviet Split, since China had no interest of being encircled by the USSR if Afghanistan became another satellite state like other countries in the Soviet bloc and it didn't help the pro-Soviet Afghan government supported Vietnam, which was China's enemy at the time.