De-Juridifying ‘Balance of Power’ – A Principle in 19th Century International Legal Doctrine

16 Pages Posted: 6 Dec 2011

See all articles by Milos Vec

Milos Vec

University of Vienna, Law Faculty

Date Written: December 5, 2011


“Balance of Power” has always been one of the leading justification narratives in international relations. In the introduction section this paper gives an overview of the usages of the principle which is not limited to a particular epoch or geographic area. However, it was classically attributed to the European state system, to brand the era between the treaty systems of Utrecht 1713 and Vienna 1815 when it was discussed as legal and political principle. My paper argues that the international legal doctrine of the 19th century became increasingly reluctant in juridically approving this principle. This shift indicates a vanishing sympathy for the balance of power as an adequate instrument to regulate 19th century interstate relations; this was likewise related to a rejection of the restorative Vienna order. Most international lawyers disguised their reserve behind the formal-positivist distinction between international law and politics (which could be understood as moral and political decision). The principle of the balance of power was devaluated as a mere expression of Realpolitik. At the end of the 19th century, the majority of international lawyers regarded the balance of power as political, not juridical principle. It was shifted to the historiography of international law and to political sciences.

Suggested Citation

Vec, Milos, De-Juridifying ‘Balance of Power’ – A Principle in 19th Century International Legal Doctrine (December 5, 2011). ESIL 2011 4th Research Forum, Available at SSRN:

Milos Vec (Contact Author)

University of Vienna, Law Faculty ( email )

Schottenbastei 10-16
Vienna, A-1010


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