Loughborough University
Lorenzo Cladi - PhD thesis.pdf (1.25 MB)

The EU as a balancing power in transatlantic relations: structural incentives or deliberate plans?

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posted on 2011-02-14, 14:17 authored by Lorenzo Cladi
The purpose of this thesis is to provide a critical evaluation of the neorealist theory of international relations and its soft balancing variant through the use of case studies referring to transatlantic relations in the post-Cold War era. Each case study indicates a specific category of power. These are: i) Military - the European attempt to create a common military arm from 1991 to 2003. ii) Diplomatic - the EU's involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from 1991 to 2003. iii) Economic the EU-USA steel dispute in 2002/03. In particular, the thesis undertakes to analyse whether the EU balanced the USA in the post-Cold War period either as a result of the altered structural distribution of capabilities within the international system (unipolarity) or of a set of deliberate plans to do so. After introducing the concepts of unipolarity, hard and soft balancing, the thesis outlines three comprehensive answers that neorealist scholars have generated as to whether the USA can or cannot be balanced in the post-Cold War international system, namely the structural, the soft balancing, and the alternative structural options. Then, drawing on a defensive realist perspective, this research goes on to consider the creation of the EU as a great power in the post-Cold War era. In light of this, the thesis aims to find out whether the rise of the EU as a great power has had an impact upon unipolarity either because of structural incentives or because of a predetermination to frustrate the aggressive policies of the unipolar state. The thesis then proceeds to investigate whether throughout the case studies series the EU has balanced the USA. The case studies highlight that the EU, freed from the rigid bipolar stalemate it had been locked into during the Cold War, undertook to exert greater influence on the world stage in the post-Cold War period. To some extent the EU has accomplished this in all of the power dimensions analysed in this thesis. Nevertheless, the EU's efforts to hold sway within the international system were not aimed at addressing the relative power imbalance created by unipolarity, and there were no deliberate plans harboured by the EU to frustrate the influence of any aggressive unipolar state. Overall, this thesis found the causal logic outlined by neorealism to be convincing to the extent that the EU emerged as a great power in the post-Cold War era and had greater freedom of action under unipolarity. However, with the partial exception of the economic dimension of power, there was no persuasive evidence uncovered to support the anticipated outcome of the neorealist theoretical slant, namely that great powers tend to balance each other. Moreover, while the soft balancing claim is considered to have promise as an attempt to understand how the EU can respond to US power under unipolarity, this study did not find sufficient evidence of the EU's deliberate intentions of doing so.



  • Social Sciences


  • Politics and International Studies


Loughborough University

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© Lorenzo Cladi

Publication date



A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.

EThOS Persistent ID



  • en


Mark Webber ; Robert Dover

Qualification name

  • PhD

Qualification level

  • Doctoral