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Balancing or hard balancing, in realist theories of international relations, refers to a state joining a weaker coalition to counter the influence or power of a stronger coalition. The term is derived from balance of power. Balancing is opposed to the neologism bandwagoning.

Balancing occurs when weaker states decide that the dominance and influence of a stronger state is unacceptable and that the costs of allowing the stronger state to continue their policies unchecked is greater than the cost of action against the stronger state.

Balancing can be internal, in which case the weaker state engages in a military build up and other internal reallocations of resources to increase their power with respect to the stronger state. Balancing can also be external, in which case multiple weaker states form a coalition against the stronger state, tilting the balance of power in their favor.

Balancing is a military action, intended to increase the power or threat of power of one state relative to another. Scholars also note the existence of soft balancing, in which weaker states conclude that stronger states need to be checked but that a military response is infeasible. In this case, states engage in other methods to undermine the stronger states. Contrasted to soft balancing, traditional balancing is then called hard or military balancing.

The efficiency of balancing behavior is an important determinant of the stability of the international system. If balancing happens quickly and efficiently it is extremely difficult for a regional hegemon to emerge, this is the view taken by Kenneth Waltz in Theory of International Politics. Mearsheimer believes that balancing is less efficient due to buck passing and other strategies of free-riding. This generates an international system where rational states can make a bid for regional hegemony.Template:Polit-term-stub

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