A Caspian Balance?

Again, the trump argument in the debate over whether the standard predictions of realism, that hegemony always produces a balance, applies as well to Twenty-First Century U.S. unipolarity as it has all other hegemons, is to ask, “Where is the balance?” Realists have been hard-pressed to answer this question and have made recourse to the notion of the “soft balance.” This has evoked a bit of ridicule from their neoconservative opponents, who reply that there is no such thing as soft balancing, or if there is such a thing it doesn’t count.

Well, how about last week’s Caspian Sea Leaders Summit for a hard balance (Fathi, Nazila and C. J. Chivers, “In Iran, Putin Warns Against Military Action,” The New York Times, 17 October 2007)?

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia said at a summit meeting of five Caspian Sea nations in Iran on Tuesday that any use of military force in the region was unacceptable. In a declaration, the countries agreed that none would allow their territories to be used as a base for military strikes against any of the others.

Later he had a meeting with Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in which he said he had expressed a desire for “deeper” relations between the countries, Reuters reported.

[Mr. Ahmadinejad said,] “The goal is to keep the sea clear of military competitions and keep foreigners out of the region.”

The article concedes that, “their statements appeared to have more political than military significance, and were not a departure from the status quo.” It looks to me like a departure from the status quo in so far as while it is not a clear-cut case of hard balancing — there were no mutual defense pacts signed or declarations that an attack on one would be viewed as an attack on all — a couple of states banding together in a show of solidarity to compel the hegemon to back down seems like a pretty far cry from soft balancing too.