This article is a systematic inquiry into the nature and role of soft balancing in the contemporary theory and practice of international relations. By wading into the contentious debate concerning the place and legitimacy of soft balancing, the article explores the theoretical prominence of the concept and adds methodological content to the study. Thus, the research produces a quantitative corpus-based and thematic analysis of the existing soft balancing literature to demarcate the boundary of the concept. This approach enables the author to enhance conventional theorization and not only identify the main gaps within the existing studies but go beyond the popular post-Cold War era discussion. Additionally, this article addresses the question of how soft balancing is distinguished from other concepts in the balance of power theory. Ultimately, the study reveals that despite its theoretical and empirical potential, the soft balancing research agenda remains underdeveloped, largely due to the limitation in the empirical content. Precisely, the empirical studies are limited to balance of power rhetoric akin to hard vs. soft and its implications for the United States’ hegemonic power.
Keywords: IR theory, soft balancing, hard balancing, hedging, balance of power