European balance of power  

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The Balance of Power in Europe (often referred to as maintaining the balance of power) is an international relations concept that applies historically and currently to the nations of Europe. It is often known by the term European State System.


Modern Age European powers

From 16th century to the early 18th century the four major powers in Europe were England, France, Spain and the Ottoman Empire. During the 17th and 18th century United Kingdom and Habsburg monarchy were added to the group, but Spain and Ottomans progressively lost their status. In the second half of the same century Russia and the Kingdom of Prussia gained the major status.

During Early Modern European Age a group of states including Sweden, the Netherlands, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, Portugal, Papacy, Denmark–Norway, Poland, Kingdom of Bavaria were recognised as having important impact on the European balance of power.

From the late 18th century and during all the 19th century, there was an informal convention recognising Five Great Powers in Europe: France, Great Britain, Russia, Austria (later Austro-Hungary) and the Kingdom of Prussia (later the German Empire). From the late 19th century Italy was added to this group. Also two extra-European powers, Japan and the United States, were able to gain the same status from the start of 20th century.


In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, English foreign policy strove to prevent creation of a single Universal Monarchy in Europe, which many believed Spain or France might attempt to create. To maintain the balance of power, the English made alliances with other states—including Portugal, the Ottoman Empire, and the Netherlands—to counter the perceived threat. These Grand Alliances reached their height in the wars against Louis XIV and Louis XV of France. They often involved the British paying large subsidies to European allies to finance large armies.

In the 18th century, this led to the stately quadrille, with a number of major European powers—such as Austria, Prussia, Great Britain, and France—changing alliances multiple times to prevent the hegemony of one nation or alliance. A number of wars stemmed, at least in part, from the desire to maintain the balance of power, including the War of the Spanish Succession, War of the Austrian Succession, the Seven Years' War, the War of the Bavarian Succession, and the Napoleonic Wars. For much of the nineteenth century, Britain and France dominated Europe, but by the 1850s they had become deeply concerned by the growing power of Russia and Prussia.

During the nineteenth century, to achieve lasting peace, the Concert of Europe tried to maintain the balance of power. This policy was largely successful in averting a full-scale Europe-wide war for almost a century, until the First World War in 1914. One of the objectives of the Treaty of Versailles was to abolish the dominance of the 'Balance of Power' concept and replace it with the League of Nations.

This idea foundered as Europe split into three principal factions in the 1920s and 1930s: Liberal Democratic states led by Britain and France, Socialist states led by the Soviet Union, and authoritarian nationalists led by Germany and Italy. The failure of the Democratic states to prevent the advance of Nazi Germany ultimately led to the Second World War, which led to a temporary alliance between Britain and the Soviets.

In the post-Second World War era, a balance of power emerged in between the Eastern Bloc: affiliated with the Soviet Union and the Socialist nations of Eastern Europe; and the Western Bloc: affiliated with the Western democracies, particularly France, the United States, and Britain.

See also


  • Clark, Christopher. Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia 1600-1947. Penguin Books, 2007
  • Simms, Brendan. Three Victories and a Defeat. Penguin Books, 2008.
  • Strachan, Hew. The First World War. Simon & Schuster, 2006

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "European balance of power" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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