Soft balancing is a conceptual product of one of the academic debates triggered by unipolarity in world politics. Examination of the soft balancing debate from 2005 to 2016 and critical evaluation of the progress and problems of the soft balancing research program suggest that the significance of the soft balancing debate does not lie in the answers offered by soft balancing scholars. Rather, its significance rests in the question that scholars pose for analysis under unipolarity—the underbalancing phenomenon—and the later endeavor to expand the soft balancing program beyond unipolarity. The future of the soft balancing program depends on continuous scholarly efforts to further clarify the concept of soft balancing, theorize a generalizable model of soft balancing across different cases, as well as demarcate the boundary of soft balancing theory from other research traditions.
Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics