SOFT BALANCING. In an important post on the TNR soccer blog, Alex Massie notes that it's not just the World Cup we're losing, American performance in international athletic competitions generally has been poor in recent years. He asks, "So what, fellow Goal Posters, is it about the United States that makes this country so apparently and congenitally hopeless at team sports?" In a later post Brian Sinkoff observes that, among other things, we were beset by very unfortunate officiating. The same thing happened to USA Basketball in the 2004 olympics in Athens. Coincidence? I think not. Welcome, friends, to the exciting world of "soft balancing" in international relations:

Soft balancing occurs when weaker states decide that the dominance and influence of a stronger state is unacceptable, but that the military advantage of the stronger state is so overwhelming that traditional balancing is infeasible or even impossible. In addition to overwhelming military superiority, scholars also suggest that democratic peace theory suggests a preference toward soft, rather than hard, balancing among democracies.

As opposed to traditional balancing, soft balancing is undertaken not to physically shift the balance of power but to undermine, frustrate, and increase the cost of unilateral action for the stronger state. Soft balancing is not undertaken via military effort, but via a combination of economic, diplomatic, and institutional methods.

To make a long story short, this is the problem. Frustrated by American unilateral militarism, but unable to stop it, the nations of the world are giving other teams all the calls ("a combination of economic, diplomatic, and institutional methods") in an effort to "increase the cost of unilateral action" for the United States. If you want to win these things, you need to pass a "global test" first.

--Matthew Yglesias

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