(In: Classic Readings of International Relations, organizado por Phil
Williams, Donald M.Goldstein e Jay M.Shafritz, Belmont: Wadsworth,
1993, p. 62 et seq.)

Kenneth Waltz notabilizou-se como pensador de proa no interior
da escola neo-realista. No texto selecionado, discute o polêmico tema
da estabilidade do sistema internacional de Estados.

A polêmica, classicamente, concentrou-se na problemática das
condições para a estabilidade – isto é, para a permanência do sistema
através do tempo. Contrariamente aos analistas que sustentam a tese
da maior estabilidade dos sistemas pluripolares, Waltz defende o caráter
altamente estável dos sistemas bipolares.28

O sistema bipolar da Guerra Fria fornece ilustração apropriada
para esta tese. Efetivamente, a prolongada confrontação das
superpotências termonucleares coincidiu com uma era de paz
duradoura. A paz da Guerra Fria – que não suprimiu mas, pelo contrário,
assentou-se sobre a multiplicação de confrontos indiretos na periferia
do sistema – foi explicada, freqüentemente, em termos do “equilíbrio
do terror”. O autor sustenta que, mais que essa circunstância histórica,
é a própria estrutura bipolar do sistema a condicionante essencial da
sua estabilidade.

O desenvolvimento da argumentação de Waltz toca também no
problema das características das alianças nos sistemas bipolares. A
hegemonia dos atores principais sobre seus coligados é avaliada
positivamente, em termos da eficácia e da durabilidade das alianças. A
Otan e o Pacto de Varsóvia forneceram exemplos das tensões específicas
de alianças dessa natureza e também de diferentes métodos de gestão
dessas tensões.

Contestada pela China, desde o cisma sino-soviético de 1960, a
liderança de Moscou no interior do Pacto de Varsóvia afirmou-se
brutalmente nos episódios da Hungria (1954), da Tchecoslováquia (1968)
e, sob forma atenuada, da Polônia (1980-l981)
Já a liderança norte-
americana, que se exerceu em ambiente político diferente, levou em
conta as particularidades da política interna dos parceiros atlânticos e
desenvolveu o hábito da negociação, mas mesmo assim não se viu livre
do desafio representado pelo nacionalismo francês do general De Gaulle,
na década de 1960.

copa da hungria 1954.

The Hungarian Revolution[4] of 1956 (Hungarian: 1956-os forradalom) was a spontaneous nationwide revolt against the government of the People’s Republic of Hungary and its Soviet-imposed policies, lasting from 23 October until 10 November 1956.

The revolt began as a student demonstration which attracted thousands as it marched through central Budapest to the Parliament building. A student delegation entering the radio building in an attempt to broadcast its demands was detained. When the delegation’s release was demanded by the demonstrators outside, they were fired upon by the State Security Police (ÁVH) from within the building. The news spread quickly and disorder and violence erupted throughout the capital.

The revolt spread quickly across Hungary, and the government fell. Thousands organized into militias, battling the State Security Police (ÁVH) and Soviet troops. Pro-Soviet communists and ÁVH members were often executed or imprisoned, as former prisoners were released and armed. Impromptu councils wrested municipal control from the ruling Hungarian Working People’s Party and demanded political changes. The new government formally disbanded the ÁVH, declared its intention to withdraw from the Warsaw Pact and pledged to re-establish free elections. By the end of October, fighting had almost stopped and a sense of normality began to return.

After announcing a willingness to negotiate a withdrawal of Soviet forces, the Politburo changed its mind and moved to crush the revolution. On 4 November, a large Soviet force invaded Budapest and other regions of the country. Hungarian resistance continued until 10 November. Over 2,500 Hungarians and 700 Soviet troops were killed in the conflict, and 200,000 Hungarians fled as refugees. Mass arrests and denunciations continued for months thereafter. By January 1957, the new Soviet-installed government had suppressed all public opposition. These Soviet actions alienated many Western Marxists, yet strengthened Soviet control over Central Europe.

Primavera de Praga

The Stability of a Bipolar World

There is a conventional wisdom, accumulated over the centuries, upon
which statesmen and students often draw as they face problems in international
politics. One part of the conventional wisdom is now often forgotten. Many in
Europe, and some in America, have come to regard an alliance as unsatisfactory
if the members of it are grossly unequal in power. “Real partnership”, one
hears said in a variety of ways, “is possible only between equals”.
If this is
true, an addendum should read: only unreal partnerships among states have
lasted beyond the moment of pressing danger. Where states in association
have been near equals, some have voluntarily abdicated the leadership to other,

or the alliances have become paralyzed by stalemate and indecision, or it has
simply dissolved. One may observe that those who are less than equal are
often dissatisfied without thereby concluding that equality in all things is
good. As Machiavelli and Bismarck well knew, an alliance requires an alliance
leader; and leadership can be most easily maintained where the leader is
superior in power.
Some may think of these two exemplars as unworthy; even
so, where the unworthy were wise, their wisdom should be revived.

A second theorem of the conventional wisdom is still widely accepted. It
reads: A world of many powers is more stable than a bipolar world, with
stability measured by the peacefulness of adjustment within the international
system and by the durability of the system itself. While the first element of the
conventional wisdom might well be revived, the second should be radically

Pessimism about the possibility of achieving stability in a two-power
world was reinforced after the war by contemplation of the character of the
two major contenders. The Soviet Union, led by a possibly psychotic Stalin,
and the United States, flaccid, isolationist by tradition, and untutored in the
ways of international relations, might well have been thought unsuited to the
task of finding a route to survival. How could either reconcile itself to coexistence
when ideological differences were great and antithetical interests provided
constant occasion for conflict? Yet the bipolar world of the postwar period has
shown a remarkable stability.
Measuring time from the termination of war,
1964 corresponds to 1937. Despite all of the changes in the nineteen years
since 1945 that might have shaken the world into another great war, 1964
somehow looks and feels safer than 1937. Is this true terror only because we
now know that 1937 preceded the holocaust by just two years? Or is it the
terror of nuclear weapons that has kept the world from major war? Or is the
stability of the postwar world intimately related to its bipolar pattern?

Stability within a bipolar system

Within a bipolar world, four factors conjoined encourage the limitation
of violence in the relations of states. First, with only two world powers there
are no peripheries. The United States is the obsessing danger for the Soviet
Union, and the Soviet Union for us, since each can damage the other to and
extent that no other state can match. Any event in the world that involves the
fortunes of the Soviet Union or the United States automatically elicits the
interest of the other. Truman, at the time of the Korean invasion, could not
very well echo Camberlain’s words in the Czechoslovakian crisis and claim
that the Koreans were a people far away in the east of Asia of whom americans
knew nothing.
We had to know about them or quickly find out. In the 1930’s,
France lay beetween England and Germany. England could believe, and we
could too, that their frontier and ours lay on the Rhine. After World War II, no
third power could lie between the United States and the Soviet Union, for
none existed. The statement that peace is indivisible was controversial, indeed
untrue, when it was made by Litvinov in the 1930’s. It became a truism in the
1950’s any possibility of maintaining a general peace required a willingness
to fight small wars.
With the competition both serious and intense, a loss to
one could easily appear as a gain to the other, a conclusion that follows from
the very condition of a two-power competition. Political action has corresponded
to this assumption. Communist guerrillas operating in Greece prompted the
Truman doctrine. The tightening of Soviet control over the states of Eastern
Europe led to the Marshall Plan and the Atlantic Defense Treaty, and these in
turn gave rise to the Cominform and the Warsaw Pact.
The plan to form a
West German government produced the Berlin blockade. Our response in a
twopower world was geared to Soviet action, and theirs to ours, which produced
an increasingly solid bipolar balance.

Not only are there no peripheries in a bipolar world but also, as a second
consideration, the range of factors included in the competition is extended as
the intensity of the competition increases. Increased intensity is expressed in a
reluctance to accept small territorial losses, as in Korea, the Formosa Strait,
and Indo-China. Extension of range is apparent wherever one looks. Vice
President Nixon hailed the Supreme Court’s desegragation decision as our
greatest victory in the cold war. When it became increasingly clear that the
Soviet economy was growing at a rate that far exceeded our own, many began
to worry that falling behind in the economic race would lead to our losing the
cold war without a shot being fired. Disarmament negotiations have most
often been taken as an opportunity for propaganda. As contrasted with the
1930’s, there is now constant and effective concern lest military preparation
fall below the level necessitated by the military efforts of the major antagonist.

Changes between the wars affected diferent states differently, with adjustment
to the varying ambitions and abilities of States dependent on cumbrous
mechanisms of compensation and realignment. In a multipower balance, who
is a danger to whom is often a most obscure matter:
the incentive to regard all
disequilibrating changes with whatever effort may be required is consequently
weakened. In our present world changes may affect each of the two powers
differently, and this means all the more that few changes in the national realm
or in the world at large are likely to be thought irrelevant. Policy proceeds by
imitation, with occasional attempts to outflank.

The third distinguishing factor in the bipolar balance, as we have thus
far known it, is the nearly constant presence of pressure and the recurrence of
crises. It woud be folly to assert that repeated threats and recurring crises
necessarily decrease danger and promote stability. It may be equally wrong to
assert the opposite, as Khrushchev seems to appreciate. “They frighten us
with war”, he told the Bulgarians in May of 1962, “and we frighten them
back bit by bit. They threaten us with nuclear arms and we tell them: “Listen,
now only fools can do this, because we have them too, and they are not smaller
than yours but, we think, even better than yours, So why do you do foolish
things and frighten us? This is the situation to be good”. Crises, born of a
condition in which interests and ambitions convlict, are produced by the
determination of one state to effect a change that another state chooses to
resist. With the Berlin blocade, for example, as with Russia’s emplacement of
missiles in Cuba, the United States decided that to resist the change the Soviet
Union sought to bring about was worth the cost of turning its action into a
crisis. If the condition of conflict remains, the absence of crises becomes more
disturbing than their recurrence. Rather a large crisis now than a small war
later is an axiom that should precede the statement, often made, that to fight
small wars in the present may be the means of avoiding large wars later.

Admittedly, crises also occur in a multipower world, but the dangers are
difused, responsibilities unclear, and definition of vital interests easily obscured.

The skillful foreign policy, where many states are in balance, is designed to
gain an advantage over one state without antagonizing others and frightening
them into united action. Often in modern Europe, possible gains have seemed
greater than likely losses, Statesmen could thus hope in crises to push an issue
to the limit without causing all the potential opponents to unite. When possible
enemies are several in number, unity of action among states is difficult to
One could therefore think -or hope desperately, as did Bethmann
Hollweg and Adolph Hitler – that no united opposition would form.

In a bipolar world, on the other hand, attention is focused on crises both
of the major competitors, and especially by the defensive state, to move
piecemeal and reap gains serially is difficult, for within a world in confusion
there is one great certainty, namely, the knowledge of who will oppose whom.
One’s motto may still be, “push to the limit”, but limit must be emphasized as
heavily as push. Caution, moderation, and the management of crises come to
be of treat and obvious importance.

Many argue, nevertheless, that caution in crises, and resulting bipolar
stability, is accounted for by the existence of nuclear weapons
, with the number
of states involved comparatively inconsequent. That this is a doubtful deduction
can be indicated by a consideration of how weapons may affect reactions to
crises. In the postwar world, bipolarity preceded the construction of two
opposing atomic weapons systems. The United States, with some success,
substituted techonological superiority for expenditure on a conventional
military system as a deterrent to the Soviet Union during the years when we
had first an atomic monopoly and then a decisive edge in quantity and quality
of weapons. American military policy was not a matter of necessity but of
preferences based on a calculation of advantage, some increase in expenditure
and a different allocation of money would have enabled the United States to
deter the Soviet Union by posing credibly the threat that any Soviet attempt,
say, to overwhelm West Germany would bring the United States into a large-
scale conventional war. For the Soviet Union, war against separate european
states would have promised large gains; given the bipolar balance, no such
war could be undertaken without the clear prospect of American entry. The
Russian’s appreciation of the situation is perhaps best illustrated by the
structure of their military forces. The Soviet Union has concentrated heavily
on medium-range bombers and missiles and, to our surprise, has built relatively
few intercontinental weapons. The country of possibly aggressive intent has
assumed a posture of passive deterrence vis à-vis her major adversary, whom
she quite sensibly does not want to fight.
Against European and other lesser
states, the Soviet Union has a considerable offensive capability. Hence nuclear
capabilities merely reinforce a condition that would exist in their absence:
without nuclear techonology both the United States and the Soviet Union
have the ability to develop weapons of considerable destructive power. Even
had the atom never been split, each would lose heavily if it was to engage in a
major war against the other.

If number of states is less important than the existence of nuclear power,
then one must ask whether the world balance would continue to be stable
when three or more states are able to raise themselves to comparable levels of
nuclear potency. For many reasons one doubt that the equilibrium would be so
secure. Worries about accidents and triggering are widespread, but a still greater
danger might well arise. The existence of a number of nuclear states would
increase the temptation for the more virile of them to maneuver, with defensive
states paralyzed by the possession of military forces the use of which would
be back in the 1930’s, with the addition of a new dimension of strength which
would increase the pressures upon status quo powers to make piecemeal

Because bipolarity preceded a two-power nuclear competition, because
in the absence of nuclear weapons destructive power would sitll be great, because
the existence of a number of nuclear states would increase the range of difficult
political choices, and finally, as will be discussed below, because nuclear
weapons must first be seen as a product of great national capabilities rather
than as their cause, one is led to the conclusion that nuclear weapons cannot
by themselves be used to explain the stability – or the instability – of
international systems.

Taken together, these three factors – the absence of peripheries, the range
and intensity of competition, and the persistence of pressure and crises – are
among the most important characteristics of the period since World War II.

The first three points combine to produce an intense competition in a wide
arena with a great variety of means employed. The constancy of effort of the
two major contenders, combined with a fourth factor, their preponderant power,
have made for a remarkable ability to comprehend and absorb within the
bipolar balance the revolutionary political, military and economic changes
that have occurred.

The effects of American-Soviet preponderance are complex. Its likely
continuation and even its present existence are subjects of controversy. The
stability of a system has to be defined in terms of its durability, as well as of
the peacefulness or adjustment within it.

Some dissenting opinions

The fact remains that many students of international relations have
continued to judge bipolarity unstable as compared to the probable stability
of a multipower world. Why have they been so confident that the existence of
a number of powers, moving in response to constantly recurring variations in
national power and purpose, would promote the desired stability? According
to Professor Morgenthau and Kaplan, the uncertainty that results from
flexibility of alignment generates a healthy caution in the foreign policy of
every country. Concomitantly, Professor Morgenthau believes that in the present
bipolar world, “the flexibility of the balance of power and, with it, its restraining
influence upon the power aspirations of the main protagonists on the
international scene have disappeared”. One may agree with his conclusion
and yet draw from his analysis another one unstated by him: “The inflexibility
of a bipolar world, with the appetite for power of each major competitor at
once whetted and checked by the other, may promote a greater stability than
flexible balances of power among a larger number of states”.

What are the grounds for coming to a diametrically different conclusion?
The presumed double instability of a bipolar world, that it easily erodes or
explodes, is to a great extent based upon its assumed bloc character. A bloc
improperly managed may indeed fall apart. The leader of each bloc must be
concerned at once with alliance management, for the defection of an allied
state might be fatal to its partners, and with the aims and capabilities of the
opposing bloc. The system is more complex than is a multipower balance,
which in part accounts for its fragility. The situation preceding World War I
provides a striking example. The dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire
would have left Germany alone in the center of Europe. The approximate
equality of alliance partners, or their relation of true interdependence, plus the
closeness of competition between the two camps, meant that while any country
could commit its associates, no one country on either side could exercise control.

By contrast, in 1956 the United States could dissociate itself from the Suez
adventure of its two principal allies and even subject them to pressure. Great
Britain, like Austria in 1914, tried to commit, or at least immobilize, its alliance
partner by presenting him with a fait accompli. Enjoying a position of
predominance, the United States could, as Germany could not, focus its
attention on the major adversary while disciplining its ally. The situations are
in other respects different, but the ability of the United States, in contrast to
Germany, to pay a price measured in intraalliance terms is striking.
It is important, then, to distinguish sharply a bipolarity of blocs from a
bipolarity of countries. Fénelon thought that of all conditions of balance the
opposition of two states was the happiest. Morgenthau dismisses this judgment
with the comment that the benefits Fénelon had hoped for had not occurred in
our world since the war, which depends, one might think, on that benefits had
otherwise been expected.

The conclusion that a multipower balance is relatively stable is reached
by overestimating the system’s flexibility, and then dwelling too fondly upon
its effects. A constant shuffling of alliances would be as dangerous as an
unwillingness to make new combinations. Neither too slow nor too fast: the
point is a fine one, made finer still by observing that the rules shoud be followed
not merely out of an immediate interest of the state but also for the sake of
preserving the international system. The old balance-of-power system here
looks suspiciously like the new collective-security system of the League of
Nations and the United Nations. Either system depends for its maintenance
and functioning upon a “neutrality of alignment” at the moment of serious
To preserve the system, the powerful states must overcome the constraints
of previous ties and the pressures of both ideological preferences and conflicting
present interests in order to confront the state that threatens the system.
In the history of the modern state system, flexibility of alignment has
been conspicuously absent just when, in the interest of stability, it was most
highly desirable. A comparison of flexibility within a multipower world with
the ability of the two present superpowers to compensate for changes by their
internal efforts is requisite, for comparison changes the balance of optimism
and pessimism as customarily applied to the two different systems. In the
world of the 1930’s, with an European grouping of three, the Western
democracies, out of lassitude, political inhibition, and ideological distaste,
refrained from acting or from combining with others at the advantegeous
moment. War provided the pressure that forced the world’s states into two
opposing coalitions. In peacetime the bipolar world displays a clarity of relations
that is ordinarily found only in war. Raymond Aron has pointed out that the
international “système depend de ce que sont, concrètement, les deux pôles,
non pas seulement du fait qu’ils sont deux”. Modifying Aron’s judgment and
reversing that of many others, we would say that in a bipolar world, as compared
to one of many powers, the international system is more likely to dominate.

External pressures, if clear and great enough, force the external combination
or the internal effort that interest requires. The political character of the alliance
partner is then most easily overlooked and the extent to which foreign policy is
determined by ideology is decreased.

The number of great states in the world has always been so limited that
two acting in concert or, more common historically, one state driving for
hegemony could reasonably conclude that the balance would be altered by
their actions. In the relations of states since the Treaty of Westphalia, there
have never been more than eight great powers,
the number that existed, if one
is generous in admiting doubtful members to the club, on the eve of the First
World War.
Given paucity of members, states cannot rely on an equilibrating
tendency of the system. Each state must instead look to its own means, gauge
the likelihood of encountering opposition, and estimate the chances of sucessful
cooperation. The advantages of an international system with more than two
members can at best be small. a careful evaluation of the factors elaborated
above indicates that the disadvantages far outweigh them.


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