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Restraining Great Powers: Soft Balancing from Empires to the Global Era, T. V. Paul

Reviewed by Jeffrey W. Taliaferro

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What types of strategies are secondary powers, such as China and Russia, pursuing to restrain, or at least delegitimate, what they perceive to be aggressive behavior by the United States? Are these strategies fundamentally different from the types of strategies pursued against overly powerful or aggressive great powers in the previous 200 years? Finally, what criteria should we use to determine whether balancing strategies have been “effective” or whether threatened states actually attempted to balance in the first place?

These questions go to the heart of the two-decade-old debate over “soft balancing”—defined as the use of international institutions and the formation of informal alignments and strategic partnerships short of full-fledged alliances with the objective of imposing marginal costs on a great power, or at least delegitimating the threatening use of a great power's economic and military capabilities. In this insightful book, T.V. Paul presents a full-fledged theory of soft balancing and finds empirical support that states have occasionally pursued soft balancing against aggressive great powers over the past two centuries.

Paul argues that soft balancing has four overlapping aims: to impede the target's ability to pr

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