The Second World War can be regarded as an illustration of people’s irresponsibility, ignorance, and vanity. Several nations tried to change the world order that had been established after World War I, and the only way to do that was to start even another war. Japan was one of the countries that wanted to change borders and spheres of influence. The Japanese sought for the completion of the nation through “imperialist expansion abroad and militarization at home.”1
Japan was one of the nations that wanted to achieve the preponderance of power.2 One of the ways to do so was to form various alliances. One of these alliances was the Axis Alliance, and the Japanese entered it signing the Tripartite Pact. More so, they wanted to create a potent regional bloc, the so-called “Greater East Asia Corposperity Sphere” that would be led by Japan and embrace most of the Asian countries3 Japan of the first part of the 20th century can be regarded as an appropriate illustration of the application of Power Balance theory, which can also explain the country’s attack on Pearl Harbor.
According to the theory, countries strive for gaining power, and the exposure to threats plays a key role in this process. The primary threats are associated with such concepts as armaments, compensation, buffer zones, intervention, divide and conquer alliance. These are tools countries use to gain power. It has been hypothesized that the level of threat, being an independent variable, correlates with the alliance formation (a dependent variable).
In the Japanese case, alliance and armament, as well as intervention, are central to the development of the expansionist perspective. Importantly, the lack of resources was a potent stimulus as well, but it was not crucial. The desire to access resources and markets rather enhanced other factors that contributed to the development of the Japanese expansionism.
The threat of armament was one of the threats all the countries faced as the first part of the 20th century (especially the 1930s) was characterized by the unprecedented growth of the military industry in many states. Such great powers as the United States, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, Germany, and France as well as Japan were all characterized by a significant level of militarism. It was clear that the war was inevitable, and nations tried to be best equipped to win it. Like any other country, Japan saw the formation alliances as a way to increase its power and respond to the military threat (if any).4 Japan alone could hardly withstand the aggression of such mighty countries as Great Britain of the USA.
Countries’ militarism was manifested in various military conflicts that took place between the two World Wars. Thus, the conflict between the Soviet Union and Japan at Nomonhan in Mongolia in 1939 is one of the illustrations of the threat of intervention.5 At that point, it is necessary to stress that the territory of Japan was unlikely to be under threat. The spheres of influence were the cornerstone of Japanese international relations policies.
Thus, the intervention in China or Mongolia was regarded as a significant threat that had to be addressed. The struggle of communists in China was also regarded as a kind of intervention, and the Japanese had to respond to defend their interests.6 Notably, the spread of communism was seen as a threat to the ideological platform. Many countries including but not confined to Japan, France, the USA, Germany, and Italy tried to prevent the further expansion of the ideology that was very different from their economic models.
Ironically, the threat associated with the alliance also contributed to Japanese leaders’ desire to form alliances. As has been mentioned above, ideologies played an important role in this process. Thus, the Soviet Union formed various alliances with countries where communist forces were strong enough. The support of the Chinese Communist Party is one of these alliances that forced Japan to ally with Germany.7 Thus, in 1936, Germany and Japan signed the Anti-Comintern Pact aimed at resisting the spread of Communism.
At that, Hotta stresses that the Axis alliance was not a “natural outgrowth” of the alliance as Japan invited other countries to sign the pact8 The Japanese leaders’ decision to join Axis was conditioned by worsening relations with Great Britain and the USA.9 Of course, the country understood that it could not stand up to the military power of allied forces alone. After the start of the war, Japan is an industrialized country that wanted to gain some regional influence had to pick the side and form an alliance to withstand the force of the other party. Japan chose the Axis and attacked the US military base located in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
On balance, it is clear that the increase in the level of threat led to an increase in the country’s desire to ally. The militarism of other nations, intervention or rather the expansion of ideologies as well as the formation of different unions in the world arena contributed to the development of sentiments concerning the formation of alliances. Clearly, Power Balance theory also explains the onset of the war as the alliances made the countries’ leaders confident in their might and ability to achieve the preponderance of power. At the same time, smaller nations tend to form alliances to defend themselves from the growing power of other nations. The alliance becomes a significant global force that can enter the world arena as well as the race for power. At a certain point, one country was to cross the line, and Germany (as well as Japan in its region) did it.
Strengths and Weaknesses of the Power Balance Theory
It is possible to note that the Theory of Power Balance has strengths and weaknesses as related to the onset of war. On the one hand, it helps identify major causes of the war. The second World War can be an illustration of the relevance of the theory. Thus, the desire of a country (Germany or Japan in the 1930-40s) to gain the preponderance of power is the basic reason and the first trigger. These dominance seekers start accumulating resources (especially armaments). They also try to form alliances and extend their territories to obtain access to more resources. Finally, they start the war or provoke other nations to start military conflict.
One of the major weaknesses of the theory is its inability to explain why countries want to gain more power. Thus, Switzerland, is an industrial and highly developed state never entered the war and seemed to be disinterested in gaining world dominance or, at least, more power in the global arena. At the same time, Germany and Japan were ready to pay a very high price (as both nations understood that the war would cost a lot of money and people’s lives) for gaining power. Nonetheless, the theory is applicable as it allows to describe and evaluate processes that led to the onset of war.
Hotta, Eri. Japan 1941: Countdown to Infamy. New York: Vintage, 2014.
Organski, A.F.K. World Politics. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1964.
- Eri Hotta, Japan 1941: Countdown to Infamy (New York: Vintage, 2014), 16-17.
- A.F.K. Organski, World Politics (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1964), 273.
- Eri Hotta, Japan 1941: Countdown to Infamy, 26.
- Ibid., 74.
- Ibid., 43.
- Ibid., 46.
- Ibid., 25.
- Ibid., 197.