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.
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 hyperpowers.
Entities other than states can also acquire and wield power in international relations. Such entities can include multilateral international organizations, military alliance organizations (e.g. NATO), multinational corporations, non-governmental organizations, or other institutions such as the Roman Catholic Church, Wal-Mart, or the Hanseatic League.
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 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
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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 often attempts to stay away from the creation of powerful blocs/spheres that can create a hegemon within the region. British foreign policy, for example, has always sided against the hegemonic forces on the continent, i.e. Nazi Germany, Napoleonic France or Habsburg Austria.
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
“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.” Charles W. Freeman, Jr.
“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.
Chinese strategists have such a concept of national power that can be measured quantitatively using an index known as comprehensive national power.
Soft versus hard power
Some political scientists distinguish between two types of power: soft and hard. The former is attractive while the latter is coercive. 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.
Why is power important to international relations ?
Undoubtedly power acts as a major theme within the study of international relations, yet as a concept it is highly contested and difficult if not impossible to define.
The oxford concise dictionary of politics attempts to define power as the “ability to make people (or things) do what they would not otherwise have done.” However power can be seen in many different forms be it that of economic, political, military or psychological.
Within the many different theories of international relations the concept of power features widely yet its interpretation and significance differs throughout. As there are so many theories within the study of international relations is impossible to focus on them all and so I have decided to predominantly look at the ideas within realism.
In post war scholarship the starting point for most theorizing about international politics has been power and national interest, with power understood ultimately as a military capability and interest as an egotistic desire for power, security or wealth. The proposition that the nature of international politics is shaped by power relations is noted as a defining characteristic of realism. However this is not only a realist claim, neoliberals to see power as important along with Marxists, feminists and post modernists. Yet first by looking at the concept of power in a broad sense, free of persific theoretical judgement in order to get a preliminary understanding of the term itself.
International politics clearly occurs between all states through which administrative transactions occur involving the use of power. It can therefore be argued that all international politics are in a sense ‘power politics’
Within the contemporary international system the majority of nations collective domestic and external goals cannot be defended or achieved without influencing the behaviour of other states. Consequently goal attainment is dependent upon the reactions and actions of others. This is where the importance of power as a concept comes into the study of international politics because power includes the means by which all states influence the behaviour of others in order to protect and extend their own interests.
This probability is able to exist because states pursue various interests and can agree or disagree on any one of them pursuing them individually.
Categories of power
In the modern geopolitical landscape, a number of terms are used to describe powers of various types, these include:
Hyperpower – coined to describe the post-Cold War United States or the British Empire shortly after the Napoleonic wars.
Superpower – Fox (1944) defined the Superpower as ‘great power plus great mobility of power’ and identified 3 states, the United States, the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom.
Great power – in historical mentions, the term Great power refers to any nations that have strong political, cultural and economic influence over nations around it and across the world. (Examples: China, France, India, Russia, Germany, and the United Kingdom.)
Middle power – a subjective description of second-tier influential states that could not be described as Great powers. (Examples: Japan, South Korea, Canada, Australia, The Netherlands, and Israel.)
The term Regional power is also 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 above categories.
The term Energy superpower describes a country that has immense influence or even direct control over much of the world’s energy supplies. Russia and Saudi Arabia are generally acknowledged as the world’s two current energy superpowers, given their abilities to globally influence or even directly control prices to certain countries.
The term entertainment superpower or culture superpower describes a country in which has immense influence or even direct control over much of the world’s entertainment or has an immense large cultural influence on much of the world. Although this is debated on who meets such criteria, many agree that the United States, United Kingdom, and Japan are generally acknowledged as the entertainment and cultural superpowers, given their abilities to distribute their entertainment and cultural innovations worldwide.
Categories of power (Diagramatic representation)
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Map reflecting the categories of power in international relations.
countries most often considered to be Superpowersà¦¼
countries most often considered to be Great powers
countries most often considered to be Regional power
countries most often considered to be Middle powers
ELEMENTS OF POWER
The elements of a country’s power can be roughly categorized as those that constitute:
Its national core
Its national infrastructure
Its national economy
The core and infrastructure form the basis for economic and military power. The national core consists of a country’s technological sophistication , its transportation system and its information and communication capabilities.
Power is the foundation of diplomacy in a conflictual world. National power is the sum of a country’s assets that enhance its ability to get its way even when opposed by others with different interests and goals.
Measuring power is especially difficult as the efforts to do so have not been very successful but it helps us to see many of the complexities of analyzing the characters of power . These characteristics include the facts that power is dynamic , both objective and subjective, relative, situational and multidimensional.
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