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military leaders adoption of offensive doctrines

Internal balancing was on full display prior to World War I. Great powers dueled with defense budgets, procured parallel weapons technologies, and most conspicuously there was the Anglo-German naval arms race. Presently, internal balancing appears only in attenuated form. Chinese defense spending and technology aspires to American levels, but places its hopes in the future. Contemporary European powers have first-rate capabilities in third-rate quantities, and show little desire to catch up.24

Externally, the World War I alliance system remains the model of entangling alliances. When Germany pushed Russia out of the Dreikaiserbund, the Franco-Russian alliance formed, which gradually pressed the Germans and Austro-Hungarians together, which led to the courtship of Britain, then the formation of the Entente Cordiale, and efforts to pull Italy away from Germany. By the time the alliances stood toe-to-toe, they were approximately equal in size and strength. Realists explain this as a battle about polarity. World War I was a fight over incipient bipolarity, a bid for continental hegemony, and an unstable moment of transition as Germany’s rise was jeopardized by Russia’s looming ascent. Others were forced to pick sides because the rules of great power politics were up for grabs.25

History fails to color completely within the lines of this theory. There were long delays between moves and countermoves; a fair amount of financial cooperation and diplomatic blandishment between blocs; and substantial reluctance to fight for alliance partners. Russia repeatedly reminded France that it would not partake in a war of revenge over Alsace-Lorraine. France repeatedly responded that it could offer silver words but no real steel for Russian adventurism in the Far East. Britain and Germany almost aligned more than once. Britain and Russia approached rupture on the eve of war.