Power in International Relations

The behavioral definition of power is useful to analysts and historians who devote considerable time reconstructing the past, but to politicians and leaders, it is ephemeral since the ability to control others can only happen with possession of resource such as population, territory, natural resources, economy, military and political stability. In the absence of these, it not prudent to assert and often the ones who did, were eventually losers. Further, power lies where the same can be materialised like in agrarian economies of 18th century Europe, population was a critical power resource for it provided taxes and recruitment for infantry. In this quest for power the homogeneity of culture does not matter as was evident by Germany’s annexation of Alsace-Lorraine since the nationalism was at its peak. In the 19th century the growing importance of industry made rapid mobilisation possible and this revolution gave rise to the shift of importance to technology whilst diminishing the value of population as an asset to power. Today, power is used as a direct method of bargaining force for realist expansion, USA’s military, for instance, uses itself as a deterrent to allies and expansion of their footprint in Middle East.

This power resource shift now can be seen in the universal-ism of country’s culture and ability to establish a set of institutions and rules to govern areas of International Relations. This transformation of power from simple population being the metric, to today hegemony in the world scenario has given birth to the theory of balance of power. This suggests that if a nation were to act arbitrarily, breaching the sovereignty of another, the international community would decide the consequences. However, this balance of power has its restrictions when it comes to ideas like bandwagoning which means the alliance of a strong nation with a stronger nation like Mussolini’s Italy supporting Hitler’s Germany. Thus, Balance of Power is simply the distribution of power among states and the restrictions imposed on them to act a certain way. This distribution of power is never equal as at all given points of time, some states would be rising and some falling. This transition in the distribution of power stimulates states to form alliances, build armies and to take risks which when is distributed unevenly, leads to hegemony or creation of an empire.


As the question of hegemony arises, it is still an ambiguous concept as the measure to declare a state, as the power hegemony is still not clear, entirely. The scope of hegemony is still not identified except in regional terms like Soviet Power in Eastern Europe or American influence in the Caribbean, or China’s hegemony in South Asia. The metric to decide hegemony has been widely associated in political and economic terms. Politically stable nations with huge military forces are often seen as more powerful than the mild ones and economically stable nations that have control over raw material i.e markets and production of goods are often seen as the power hegemony vis a vis the rest. Immanuel Wallerstein’s theory of hegemony claims that there have been only 03 instances of hegemony in modern age namely in Netherlands (1620-1650), Britain (1815-1873) and USA (1945-1967). These were all hegemons that were secured by long drawn wars with the later decline by the impositions of the Peace of Westphalia (1648), Concert of Europe (1815) and United Nations Breton Woods System (1945) respectively.

During the 20th century multi-polar international systems resulted in instability and led to 02 world wars in less than 50 years. The balance of power and the system of alliances of the early 20th century were swept away by the assassination of Franz Ferdinand of Austria in 1914 leading to World War I that caused the death of more than 15 million people in less than 05 years. Post World War I the multi-polar world emerged with a new system of alliances and the multilateral body, the League of Nations that was not able to tame the totalitarian aspirations of Hitler. The German invasion of Poland in 1939 triggered World War II, the deadliest conflict of the history, which resulted in millions of deaths. Since the end of the World War II the world has never been multi-polar again, nevertheless these historical accounts seem to indicate how multi-polarity often created an unstable/unpredictable world, which was characterised by shifting alliances and the aspiration of the rising powers to change the balance of power in order to create a new order. With the collapse of the USSR, USA that is the only power whose hegemony exists in modern-day scenario.

The balance of power has come a long way in terms of International Relations which once gave rise to 03 major instances of hegemony and now finally leading the world to another one of USA that governs most of the policies of the major institutions like WTO, United Nations, NATO and IMF. To counter the hegemony of USA, the multi polarity of the world, needs to move faster by enhancing stronger economics and technology ties in this age of globalisation.


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