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Steven Lobell
"A Granular Theory of Balancing"
Tuesday, October 23, 2018, 03:30pm - 05:00pm
Mershon Center for International Security Studies
1501 Neil Ave.
Columbus, Ohio 43201

Steven Lobell

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Steven E. Lobell (Ph.D., UCLA) is professor in the political science department at University of Utah in Salt Lake City. His research interests include neoclassical realism, the political economy of security and peacemaking, societal constraints on foreign policy making, the challenges of hegemony, emerging states and the rise and decline of great powers, and economic statecraft.

Lobell is the author, co-author, or co-editor of seven books including, most recently, Neoclassical Realist Theory of International Politics (Oxford University Press, 2016) and The Political Economy of Regional Peacemaking (University of Michigan Press, 2016). Lobell has published journal articles in Security Studies, International Studies Quarterly, International Studies Review, International Interactions, Review of International Studies, Political Science Quarterly, Journal of Strategic Studies, and co-edited a special issue of International Politics on “Regional Contestation to Rising Powers.”

Lobell is the PI of Department of Defense Minerva Research Initiative award on “Power Projection, Deterrence Strategies, and Escalation Dynamics in an Era of Challenging Near Peers, Rogue States, and Terrorist and Insurgent Organizations.”


Theories of balancing are under assault. On theoretical and historical grounds, realists and non-realists challenge the claim that states balance against shifts in aggregate material capabilities. In addressing these claims, this paper presents a more granular and finely tuned theory of balancing. It contends that states do, in fact, balance effectively. While foreign policy leaders regularly ignore aggregate power developments, they do disaggregate power to identify threatening states and target their balancing against specific threatening elements. Targeted-balancing theory explains why some historical cases coded as under-balancing are really instances of appropriate balancing; why a more powerful state’s military buildup, or alliance formation against a weaker state, can constitute balancing; and why some instances of non- or missing-balancing against a more powerful state do not undermine balance-of-power theory. I provide support for my claims through an analysis of four cases, which are often coded as instances of under-balancing, and even failing to balance altogether.


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