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Power (international relations)

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Title: Power (international relations)  
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Power (international relations)

The chamber of the United Nations Security Council

Power in international relations is defined in several different ways. Political scientists, historians, and practitioners of international relations (diplomats) have used the following concepts of political power:

  • Power as a goal of states or leaders;
  • Power as a measure of influence or control over outcomes, events, actors and issues;
  • Power as reflecting victory in conflict and the attainment of security;
  • Power as control over resources and capabilities;
  • Power as status, which some states or actors possess and others do not.

Modern discourse generally speaks in terms of state power, indicating both economic and military power. Those states that have significant amounts of power within the international system are referred to as middle powers, regional powers, great powers, superpowers, or hegemons, although there is no commonly accepted standard for what defines a powerful state. The G7, the BRIC and the G20 are seen as forum of governments that exercise varying degrees of influence within the international system.

Entities other than states can also acquire and wield power in international relations. Such entities can include Roman Catholic Church, Al-Qaeda, or other institutions such as the Hanseatic League.


  • Power as a goal 1
  • Power as influence 2
    • Spheres, blocs, and alliances 2.1
  • Power as security 3
  • Power as capability 4
  • Hard, soft, and smart power 5
  • Power as status 6
    • Definitions 6.1
    • Categories of Power 6.2
      • Other categories of power 6.2.1
  • Modern Age European powers 7
  • See also 8
  • References 9
  • Further reading 10
  • External links 11

Power as a goal

Primary usage of "power" as a goal in international relations belongs to political theorists, such as

  • Powermetrics Information Network

External links

  • Handel, Michael I. (1990). Weak States in the International System. Cass.  
  • Lane, Jan-Erik; Maeland, Reinert (2008). "International Organisation as Coordination in N-person Games".  

Further reading

  1. ^ Useem, Jerry (2003-03-03). "One Nation Under Wal-Mart: How Retailing's Superpower—and our Biggest, Most Admired Company—Is Changing the Rules for Corporate America". CNN. Retrieved 2010-05-22. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ Bauer, Richard H. "Hans Delbrück (1848-1929)." Bernadotte E. Schmitt. Some Historians of Modern Europe. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1942.
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ "The SIPRI Military Expenditure Database".  
  8. ^ "The 15 countries with the highest military expenditure in 2009".  
  9. ^ A.J.P.Taylor, "Origins of the First World War"
  10. ^ Ensor, Sir Robert (1962) 2nd ed. "Britain 1870-1914" The Oxford History of England.
  11. ^ Marcella, Gabriel (July 2004). "Chapter 17: National Security and the Interagency Process". In Bartholomees, Jr., J. Boone. U.S. Army War College Guide to National Security Policy and Strategy. United States Army War College. pp. 239–260. 
  12. ^  
  13. ^ Evans, G.; Newnham, J. (1998). Dictionary of International Relations. London: Penguin Books. p. 522. 
  14. ^ Kim Richard Nossal. "Lonely Superpower or Unapologetic Hyperpower? Analyzing American Power in the post–Cold War Era". Biennial meeting, South African Political Studies Association, 29 June-2 July 1999. Retrieved 2007-02-28. 
  15. ^ Ovendale, Ritchie (January 1988). "Reviews of Books: Power in Europe? Great Britain, France, Italy and Germany in a Postwar World, 1945-1950". The English Historical Review (Oxford University Press). 103, number 406 (406): 154.  
  16. ^ Heineman, Jr., Ben W.; Heimann, Fritz (May–June 2006). "The Long War Against Corruption".  
  17. ^ Roberson, B. A. (1998). Middle East and Europe: The Power Deficit. Taylor & Francis.  
  18. ^ Rudd K (2006) Making Australia a force for good, Labor eHerald
  19. ^ Vital, D. (1967) The Inequality of States: A Study of Small Power in International Relations
  20. ^ "Report: Canada can be energy superpower".  
  21. ^ "Australia to become energy superpower?".  
  22. ^ "The other superpower".  
  23. ^ "The cultural superpower: British cultural projection abroad". Journal of the British Politics Society, Norway 6 (1). Winter 2011. Retrieved 24 October 2014. 
  24. ^


See also

From the late 18th century and during all the 19th century, there was an informal convention recognising Five Great Powers in Europe: France, Great Britain, Russia, Austria (later Austria-Hungary) and the Kingdom of Prussia (later the German Empire). From the late 19th century Italy was added to this group. Eventually two extra non-European powers, Japan and the United States of America, were able to gain the same great power status from the start of 20th century.

During Early Modern European Age a group of other states including Sweden, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, the Papal States, Denmark–Norway, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and Bavaria were recognised as having important impact on the European balance of power.

From the 15th century to the early 18th century the five major powers in Europe were England, France, Portugal, Spain, and the Holy Roman Empire. During the 17th and 18th centuries the Habsburg monarchy and the Dutch Republic were added to the group, whilst Portugal, Spain and the Ottomans progressively lost their power and influence. In 1707 Great Britain (created by the unification of the kingdoms of England and Scotland) replaced England, and progressively became more powerful during the 18th century, becoming embroiled with other European powers, particularly France, for control of territory outside of Europe, such as North America and India. In the second half of the 18th century Russia and Prussia gained major status.

Modern Age European powers

The term cultural or entertainment superpower describes a country which has an immensely large cultural influence on much of the world or has immense influence or even direct control over much of the world's entertainment. Although this is debated on who meets such criteria, Japan,[22] the United Kingdom,[23] and the United States[24] are generally acknowledged as the worlds cultural and entertainment superpowers, given their abilities to distribute their entertainment and cultural innovations worldwide.

The term energy superpower describes a country that has immense influence or even direct control over much of the world's energy supplies. Saudi Arabia and Russia, are generally acknowledged as the world's current energy superpowers, given their abilities to globally influence or even directly control prices to certain countries. Australia and Canada are potential energy superpowers due to their large natural resources.[20][21]

Other categories of power

  • Superpower: In 1944, William T. R. Fox defined superpower as "great power plus great mobility of power" and identified 3 states, the British Empire, the Soviet Union and the United States.[13] With the steady decline of the British Empire by the mid 1950s and the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United States is currently the only country considered to be a superpower.[14]
  • Great power: In historical mentions, the term great power refers to the states that have strong political, cultural and economical influence over nations around them and across the world.[15][16][17]
  • Regional power: Used to describe a nation that exercises influence and power within a region. Being a regional power is not mutually exclusive with any of the other categories of power. A primary regional power has often an important role in international affairs outside of its region too.
  • Middle power: A subjective description of influential second-tier states that could not quite be described as great or small powers. The majority of them exert a strategic degree of influence as minor or secondary regional powers. A middle power has sufficient strength and authority to stand on its own without the need of help from others.[18]
  • Small power: The International System is for the most part made up by small powers. They are instruments of the other powers and may at times be dominated; but they cannot be ignored.[19]

In the modern geopolitical landscape, a number of terms are used to describe various types of powers, which include the following:

Categories of Power

France was not strong enough to oppose Germany in a one-to-one struggle... If the mark of a Great Power is country which is willing to take on any other, then France (like Austria-Hungary) had slipped to a lower position. But that definition seemed too abstract in 1914 to a nation geared up for war, militarily stronger than ever, wealthy, and, above all, endowed with powerful allies.[12]

In his famous 1987 work, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers British-American historian Paul Kennedy charts the relative status of the various powers from AD 1500 to 2000. He does not begin the book with a theoretical definition of a "great power", however he does list them, separately, for many different eras. As well, he uses different working definitions of a great power for different era. For example:

Much effort in academic and popular writing is devoted to deciding which countries have the status of "power", and how this can be measured. If a country has "power" (as influence) in military, diplomatic, cultural, and economic spheres, it might be called a "power" (as status). There are several categories of power, and inclusion of a state in one category or another is fraught with difficulty and controversy.


Power as status

Others have synthesized soft and hard power, including through the field of smart power. This is often a call to use a holistic spectrum of statecraft tools, ranging from soft to hard.

Joseph Nye is the leading proponent and theorist of soft power. Instruments of soft power include debates on cultural values, dialogues on ideology, the attempt to influence through good example, and the appeal to commonly accepted human values. Means of exercising soft power include diplomacy, dissemination of information, analysis, propaganda, and cultural programming to achieve political ends.

Hard power refers to coercive tactics: the threat or use of armed forces, economic pressure or sanctions, assassination and subterfuge, or other forms of intimidation. Hard power is generally associated to the stronger of nations, as the ability to change the domestic affairs of other nations through military threats. Realists and neorealists, such as John Mearsheimer, are advocates of the use of such power for the balancing of the international system.

Some political scientists distinguish between two types of power: Hard and Soft. The former is coercive while the latter is attractive.

Hard, soft, and smart power

Chinese strategists have such a concept of national power that can be measured quantitatively using an index known as comprehensive national power.

Power is also used to describe the resources and capabilities of a state. This definition is quantitative and is most often used by geopoliticians and the military. Capabilities are thought of in tangible terms—they are measurable, weighable, quantifiable assets. Thomas Hobbes spoke of power as "present means to obtain some future apparent good." Hard power can be treated as a potential and is not often enforced on the international stage.

Power is the capacity to direct the decisions and actions of others. Power derives from strength and will. Strength comes from the transformation of resources into capabilities. Will infuses objectives with resolve. Strategy marshals capabilities and brings them to bear with precision. Statecraft seeks through strategy to magnify the mass, relevance, impact, and irresistibility of power. It guides the ways the state deploys and applies its power abroad. These ways embrace the arts of war, espionage, and diplomacy. The practitioners of these three arts are the paladins of statecraft.[11]

American author Charles W. Freeman, Jr. described power as the following:

Power as capability

Power is also used when describing states or actors that have achieved military victories or security for their state in the international system. This general usage is most commonly found among the writings of historians or popular writers. For instance, a state that has achieved a string of combat victories in a military campaign against other states can be described as powerful. An actor that has succeeded in protecting its security, sovereignty, or strategic interests from repeated or significant challenge can also be described as powerful.

Power as security

Under certain circumstances, states can organize a sphere of influence or a bloc within which they exercise predominant influence. Historical examples include the spheres of influence recognized under the Concert of Europe, or the recognition of spheres during the Cold War following the Yalta Conference. The Warsaw Pact, the "Free World", and the Non-Aligned Movement were the blocs that arose out of the Cold War contest. Military alliances like NATO and the Warsaw Pact are another forum through which influence is exercised. However, "realist" theory attempted to maintain the balance of power from the development of meaningful diplomatic relations that can create a hegemony within the region. British foreign policy, for example, dominated Europe through the Congress of Vienna after the defeat of France. They continued the balancing act with the Congress of Berlin in 1878, to appease Russia and Germany from attacking Turkey. Britain has sided against the aggressors on the European continent—i.e. the German Empire, Nazi Germany, Napoleonic France or Habsburg Austria, known during the Great War as the Central Powers and, in the World War Two were called the Axis Powers.[9][10]

Spheres, blocs, and alliances

Political scientists principally use "power" in terms of an actor's ability to exercise influence over other actors within the international system. This influence can be coercive, attractive, cooperative, or competitive. Mechanisms of influence can include the threat or use of force, economic interaction or pressure, diplomacy, and cultural exchange.

NATO accounts for over 70% of global military expenditure,[7] with the United States alone accounting for 43% of global military expenditure.[8]

Power as influence

[6].Robert Schumann was a French left-wing social theorist, stimulating expansive Eurocommunism, who followed on the creator of modern European community, the diplomat and statesman [5]Jean Monnet [4] has elucidated theories centre of distribution of power in Europe after the Holocaust, and the power of universal learning as its counterpoint.Claus Moser is considered to be the quintessential projection of European growth across the continent. In more modern times, [3]Count von Clausewitz thinkers, power is an inherent goal of mankind and of states. Economic growth, military growth, cultural spread etc. can all be considered as working towards the ultimate goal of international power. The German military thinker Realist Especially among Classical [2]

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