Sources of threats

Because balancing and bandwagoning are more accurately viewed as a response to threats, it is important to consider factors that will affect the level of threat that states may pose: aggregate power, geographic proximity, offensive power, and aggressive intentions.

Aggregate Power

The greater a state’s total resources (e.g., population, industrial and military capability, and technological prowess), the greater a potential threat it can pose to others. The total power that states can wield is thus an important component of the threat that they pose to others. Although power can pose a threat, it can also be prized. States with great power have the capacity to either punish enemies or reward friends. By itself, therefore, a state’s aggregate power may provide a motive for balancing or bandwagoning.

Geographic Proximity

Because the ability to project power declines with distance, states that are nearby pose a greater threat than those that are far away. States are more likely to make their alliance choices in response to nearby powers than in response to those that are distant. Proximate threats can lead to balancing or bandwagoning. Small states bordering a great power may be so vulnerable that they choose to bandwagon rather than balance, especially if a powerful neighbor has demonstrated its ability to compel obedience.

Offensive Power

States with large offensive capabilities are more likely to provoke an alliance than are those that are incapable of attacking because of geography, military posture, or something else. Offensive power is the ability to threaten the sovereignty or territorial integrity of another state at an acceptable cost. The immediate threat that offensive capabilities pose may create a strong incentive for others to balance. However, this tendency may be one reason that spheres of influence emerge: states that are close to a country with large offensive capabilities may be forced to bandwagon because balancing alliances are simply not viable.

Aggressive Intentions

States that are viewed as aggressive are likely to provoke others to balance against them. Indeed, even states with rather modest capabilities may prompt others to balance if they are perceived as especially aggressive. Perceptions of intent are likely to play especially crucial role in alliance choices. Intention, not power, is crucial. When a state is believed to be unalterably aggressive, other states are unlikely to bandwagon. Thus, the more aggressive or expansionist a state appears to be, the more likely it is to trigger an opposing coalition.