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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:
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/hegemons, although there is no commonly accepted standard for what defines a powerful state.
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.
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.
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.
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 European continent, i.e. Nazi Germany, Napoleonic France or Habsburg Austria.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In the modern geopolitical landscape, a number of terms are used to describe various types of powers, which include the following:
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. Canada and Australia are potential future energy superpowers.
The term cultural/entertainment 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 Kingdom, United States, and Japan are generally acknowledged as the entertainment and cultural superpowers, given their abilities to distribute their entertainment and cultural innovations worldwide. South Korea is generally considered potential entertainment and cultural superpower.
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 Austro-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.
Nayef Al-Rodhan argues that statecraft in the 21st century involves the reconciliation of many interests and demands that a statesman must look beyond purely national interests. The contemporary statesman, he maintains, is constantly torn between competing interests, whether they come from other individuals, states, groups of individuals and groups of states, or more general global interests such as the interests of the international community or the planet as a whole. Reconciliation statecraft identifies the eight interests that are of particular relevance to contemporary statesman ship as individual, group, national, regional, cultural, global, planetary, and moral. Although Al-Rodhan argues that these interests are not necessarily mutually exclusive, he also cautions that they can conflict with each other. In these instances, a state must consider its long-term interest and to consider universal values of justice in order to make the right policy decisions. According to Al-Rodhan, it is only through reconciling all of these interests that future generations will be able to live in peace, security, and prosperity. History has shown that looking at international relations through the prism of only one of the eight levels of interest is not comprehensive. Al-Rodhan argues that no one level can be singled out as the determining or driving force of international relations. Although he maintains that the eight levels of interest do not necessarily compete with each other, he also notes that some conflicts can arise. Reconciliation statecraft holds that the way to ensure peace and stability in the 21st century is for the international community to reconcile all eight interests. Thus, at the core of Al-Rodhan’s principle is the idea that states that cooperate with the international community benefit their own interests as well as those of the broader global community.
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Individuals in all parts of the world have certain interests they seek to pursue. In general, Nayef Al-Rodhan argues that it is the task of the national government to enable citizens to freely pursue these interests, which may include making a decent living and having a certain quality of life. For most citizens, this will include employment, affordable housing, public and private safety, good schools, affordable health care, and state social services. Once citizens have achieved a certain degree of social security, Al-Rodhan argues they may pursue less material interests like contributing to world peace missions and encouraging their governments to avoid war. However, individuals who suffer from state brutality may welcome foreign pressure if it means a better chance of ensuring individual human rights.
The second level of reconciliation is group interests. Referring to it is an acknowledgement of the fact that international borders do not always correspond with ethnic and religious settlement patterns. Therefore, a 21st century statesman must consider the rights of groups of peoples. With regards to ethnic groups, this might entail ensuring the group’s right to maintain a common language and culture. Other key groups include women and people with disabilities. Nayef Al-Rodhan stresses that groups can sometimes oppose the individual, especially if a group’s cultural practice violates the rights or freedoms of a member of the group. Al-Rodhan says that tensions between the individual and the group can never be eliminated but notes that if a society’s laws are fair, both parties will find their interests protected.
Nayef Al-Rodhan defines national interests as interests shaped by the values of the people and governments of each individual state, noting that these values can be influenced by the geographic location of natural resources in the state, the cultural and historical experience of the state’s inhabitants, and the material needs of the state’s population. For the most part, Al-Rodhan argues that the state’s main interests are to preserve its territorial integrity and political independence. In today’s interconnected world, a state must also work to project a positive image abroad and to be a positive force in international affairs. This is a key point for Al-Rodhan as it indicates that the long-term national interests of the state are increasingly in line with the interests of the international community as a whole. However, the state’s national interests may conflict with individual interests in the case of a dictatorial regime. Similarly, some of a state’s economic interests may conflict with or supersede individuals’ needs. In some cases, special interest groups may dominate the state’s agenda to the detriment of other groups or individuals.
Although regions can be somewhat difficult to delineate, they generally include countries that share a common geographic space, history, cultural affinity, and strong economic relations. According to Nayef Al-Rodhan, regional approaches can be especially effective in dealing with transnational threats, and regions have more agility and can generally move faster than larger, more global organizations. However, individuals and groups within a state may find their needs neglected if the state prioritizes the needs and interests of the regional group over those of its citizens.
According to Nayef Al-Rodhan, members of a culture often have a strong interest or desire to perpetuate their cultural practices among their members in an unhampered way. This may include language, religion, and traditional economic base. Cultures may be threatened by migration, demographic pressure, and competition for limited resources. They may also be threatened by more dominant cultures. Therefore, Al-Rodhan argues that policymakers must find the balance between encouraging cultural diversity and limiting cultural exclusivity.
Nayef Al-Rodhan defines these interests as the common interests of the international community of states and those of the world population as a whole. To fulfill global interests, states must work closely together through multilateral institutions and pursue win-win solutions rather than behaving as though they are in a zero-sum game. For instance, the United Nations is an organization that has done much to help the welfare and well-being of peoples around the world, particularly through the UN’s Millenium Development Goals. According to Al-Rodhan, another global interest is the promotion of international prosperity. This involves, for example, increasing the standard of living in poor countries. By extension, this will improve the conditions of rich countries because poverty often breeds transnational criminal activity that ends up affecting even wealthy nations. Overall, global interests will best be served if all states obey international laws and norms and refrain from acting unilaterally.
Nayef Al-Rodhan identifies planetary interests as the preservation of the biosphere and biodiversity. This includes maintaining ecological equilibrium, reversing global warming, and preventing the further destruction of the environment from things like deforestation and air and water pollution. Biodiversity and ecological balance must be maintained both because biodiversity is valuable in and of itself and because it serves a vital function in the day-to-day activities of human life. Thus, in looking at the different interests of various human entities, reconciliation statecraft must take into account the interest of the planet on which all life depends.
Moral interests refer to a set of universal moral principles that all cultures can agree upon. Some of these morals have already been enshrined in international humanitarian law and cites the belief that innocent civilians should be protected during times of armed conflict as an example. Although Nayef Al-Rodhan argues that humans are naturally amoral, he also maintains that the state and the global system can encourage humans to behave morally. A key way to do this is to ensure that all individuals’ basic needs are met. In this way, humans can begin thinking beyond their survival instincts and begin behaving morally.
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