Power (international relations)
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 multilateral international organizations, military alliance organizations like NATO, multinational corporations like Wal-Mart, non-governmental organizations, the Roman Catholic Church, Al-Qaeda, or other institutions such as the Hanseatic League.
- 1 Power as a goal
- 2 Power as influence
- 3 Power as security
- 4 Power as capability
- 5 Hard, soft, and smart power
- 6 Power as status
- 7 Modern Age European powers
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 Further reading
- 11 External links
Power as a goal
Primary usage of "power" as a goal in international relations belongs to political theorists, such as Niccolò Machiavelli and Hans Morgenthau. Especially among Classical Realist 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 Count von Clausewitz is considered to be the quintessential projection of European growth across the continent. In more modern times, Claus Moser has elucidated theories centre of distribution of power in Europe after the Holocaust, and the power of universal learning as its counterpoint. Jean Monnet was a French left-wing social theorist, stimulating expansive Eurocommunism, who followed on the creator of modern European community, the diplomat and statesman Robert Schumann.
Power as influence
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.
Spheres, blocs, and alliances
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.
Power as security
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 capability
American author Charles W. Freeman, Jr. described power as the following:
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.
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.
Hard, soft, and smart power
Some political scientists distinguish between two types of power: Hard and Soft. The former is coercive while the latter is attractive.
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.
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.
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.
Power as status
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.
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:
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.
Categories of Power
In the modern geopolitical landscape, a number of terms are used to describe various types of powers, which include the following:
- 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. 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Other categories of power
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.
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, the United Kingdom, and the United States are generally acknowledged as the worlds cultural and entertainment superpowers, given their abilities to distribute their entertainment and cultural innovations worldwide.
Modern Age European powers
From the 15th century to the early 18th century citation needed] 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.[
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 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.
- Balance of power in international relations
- International relations of the Great Powers (1814–1919)
- Lateral pressure theory
- National power
- Peace through strength
- Power (social and political)
- Power transition theory
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