Threat Determines Vietnam War: Balance of Threat Theory

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  7
Wordcount:  1799 Words
Date:  2023-01-04


The threat received from other states is the one that determines the behavior of states' alliance. The balance of threat theory is the critical approach to be used in uncovering the causes of the Vietnam wars. Where the anticommunist allies supported the Republic of Vietnam (ROV) which was on the south and among the anticommunist associates the United States which held the superpower was one of them. While the Northern Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) was entirely supported by China, the Soviet Union, and other communist nations. Therefore, the alliances were founded to encounter the threat of communism of which the United States never wanted it to spread within the surrounding countries, and the U.S. involvement was the primary cause of the war which was stirred by capitalism and communism. It is therefore essential to demonstrate the origins of the Vietnam War using the Balance of Threat Theory.

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Balance of Threat Theory

The world history provides evidence that countries that have always been fighting each other can end up forming strong alliances. For instance, Britain and France spent centuries when they never got along with each other; however, during War II they quickly became inseparable and instant allies. Thus, resulting to a significant question in the foreign policy for the past many years and the appropriate answer was provided by Stephen Walt in his book "The Origins of Alliances" which was published in 1987 and offered a detailed insight about the Balance of Threat Theory. The theory explains the primary reasons why nations create alliances against a perceived threat like the spread of communism to the neighboring countries of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (Muscato, 2019). Hence, it is an intriguing concept to aid in explaining the states' behavior throughout the world.

The balance of threat theory was first proposed by Stephen M. Walt in his article that was titled the 'Alliance Formation and the Balance of World Power" which was published in 1985 in the International Security Journal. Two years later he elaborated the theory using his book "The Origins of Alliances" where this theory was a modification of the Balance of Power Theory in the international relations neorealist school. The Balance of Threat Theory argued that the behavior of the state's alliance is decided by the perceived threat from other countries. Therefore, Walt believed that the nations would balance by allying toward a perceived threat, but weak states are most likely to the bandwagon by the imminent danger to protect their security. He used the example of the European states alliance patterns before and during World War II and I, where nations with notably higher combined power decide to ally against the expansionism of German threat. Since, it was evident that more countries allied and accepted the non-aggressive powers rise while functioning to balance those nations with much less powerful, though more aggressive (Muscato, 2019). Therefore, he argued that the perceived threat determined states' security ideas and there was no need to maintain a balance of power hence giving birth to the balance of threat theory.

Stephen Walt never stopped there but continued how to determine the perceived threat through four elements including the geographic proximity, aggregate power, offensive intentions, and offensive capabilities. The components offer the four main criteria that states apply in the evaluation of the posed a threat by other states, and they aid in determining on how powerful, close, military capability and whether the state is acting aggressively. However, it is essential to categorically state that the balance of threat theory usually relies upon a few fundamental assumptions. The most significant is the security definition because back in the 1980s when he proposed this theory, the world was mainly attentive about global welfare potential between the nuclear superpowers. Therefore, the nuclear threat defined security ides of the countries (Muscato, 2019). Although in the contemporary world the threats are very different because the non-state violence like terrorism is the main one today; thus, changing the balance of threat nature.

However, most scholars trust that it works best when used to state-to-state relationships as well as state-supported violence and aggression. Stephen Walt had published the balance of threat theory in the continuation of the Cold War, and possibly the best conflict is seen in action. The main question was who to align with the United States of America or the USSR and for what reason? Evidence shows that by the 1980s, the U.S. was the most powerful nation which had one broad support coalition against the USSR and he believed that this theory explained everything (Muscato, 2019). Therefore, the theory concludes that most states allied with the non-aggressive states.

The Application of the Balance of Threat Theory in the Causes of the Vietnam War

It is worth noting that the war was mainly based on the two different ideologies that are communism and capitalism. The major perceived threat that stirred the United States to join the Vietnam War is the fear of the expansion of communism in South East Asia. Fundamentally, it can be said that the War represented the struggle for power between the United States and Russian for the global dominion. It was clear that the U.S. was for the capitalist who was an open market economy while the communist government of Russia entirely supported the closed-state economies and China became a natural ally of Russia having felled to Communist control in 1949. Therefore, the perceived threat of communism that was fully supported by Russia, thus making Russia and Chinese the significant threats to the United States in stopping the spread of communist to South Asia (Short, 2014). Therefore, several allies were formed for those who supported communist that is China, the Soviet Union who allied together with the Northern Democratic Republic of Vietnam while the United States allied with the Southern Democratic Republic of Vietnam which was non-communist.

December 1960 was the year when the National Liberation From which was commonly known as Viet Cong attempted to challenge the Vietnamese government on the South which led to erupting of the civil war for the South Vietnam control. Though, Hanoi was for the uniting of the country under the communist leadership. Just like Walt argued that the threat received from other states is the one that determines the behavior of states' alliance; therefore, the United States based on the attempted Viet Cong challenge they had to retaliate to prevent the overrunning of communists in South Vietnam which led to the second Indochina War. In general, the action by the communist allies to challenge the government of South Vietnamese determined the behavior of the communist alliance. For instance, John F. Kennedy administration in 1961 expanded the United States support for the Vietnamese government on the south by increasing the United States military advisers, and military assistance was doubled as well as the authorization of the application of herbicides, napalm, and defoliation (Short, 2014). Based on domino theory, the United States believed that if South Vietnam felled for communism, the surrounding nations such as Thailand, Malaysia, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, and Laos would also adopt the communism.

Also, the attack of the United States destroyers in the Tonkin Gulf by two torpedo North Vietnamese boats led the congressional authorization of the application of military force in the resolution in Tonkin Gulf which resulted to the basis for the U.S. full-scale military dedication to Vietnam. President Lyndon Johnson was motivated by domestic political as well as the international balance of power considerations to avoid appearing the weak in the view of his political opponents domestically. Therefore, being an excellent example of how the behavior of the alliance is determined by the action of the perceived threats put in place by other states (Short, 2014). It can be concluded American feared that the dominance of Communist in South East Asia would probably strengthen the global presence of Russia making various U.S. president to take steps to stop the perceived Russian aggression in the area.

Conclusions Derived From the Theory and What We Learn From the Theoretical Perspective

From the theory, it can be concluded that the creation of the alliances especially on the United States side was against the communist states like the Russia who allied to ensure the full spread of communist (Short, 2014). Hence, proving that the war was caused by two differing ideologies both capitalism and communism. Also, it can be deduced that the threat received from other states is the one that determines the behavior of states' alliance. For instance, the communist states attempt to spread the communism established the action to be taken anticommunism states. From this theoretical perspective, we can, therefore, learn that the war was majorly caused by the differing ideologies about communism and capitalism which lead to different states alliance for those who support the doctrines and those who do not hence causing the Vietnam Wars.

Another Theory That Will Provide Better Insights and Further Research Needed

The Realism theory will provide a better insight into why the two nations Russia and the United States different ideology and even launching military attacks towards each. The theory will show that they were fighting for power which became the fundamental causes of the war in Vietnam (Jackson, Sorensen & Moller, 2019). The further Research needed to provide a complete answer for the roots of the Vietnam War would be identifying the origin of communism in Vietnam and the reason why some states supported while others being against it. Thus, this will provide an insight into why the Vietnam War erupted in a whole dimension.


From the discussion, it is vividly clear that the differing ideologies about communism and capitalism caused the Vietnam War. Therefore, different states formed alliances of those who supported communist and those who were anticommunist compelling to the Balance of Threat Theory where alliances were built against a perceived threat. Also, the threat received from other states is the one that determines the behavior of states' alliance; for instance, the attempt of the communist states to spread the communism to South Vietnam led to the anticommunist states' alliance to react by launching attacks towards the communist state like Russia. Therefore, it can be concluded that the Vietnam War was majorly caused by the deferring ideologies between the anticommunist alliance and communist alliance and the behavior of the states' alliance was determined by threat received from other states. For instance, the United States perceived that if Russia achieved to spread communist in South Vietnam, it would be more powerful than them; therefore, they had to fight to ensure they never realized it.


Jackson, R., Sorensen, G., & Moller, J. (2019). Introduction to international relations: theories and approaches. Oxford University Press, USA.

Muscato, C. (2019). Balance of Threat Theory. . Retrieved from

Short, A. (2014). The origins of the Vietnam War. Routledge.

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Threat Determines Vietnam War: Balance of Threat Theory. (2023, Jan 04). Retrieved from

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