Concept of Power
Que. Discuss the determinants of power. What is the difference between determinants of power and elements of power.
International politics has been dominated by realists paradigm. For realists, international politics can be defined as the struggle for power. According to Morgenthau, ‘Whatever may be the ultimate end, power is always the immediate end.’ Thus power is the mosst central concept in international politics. Power is traditionally defined as the ability of states to influence other states. Power is always a relational concept, relative concept, and compelling in nature.
The elements of power can be discussed as following.
// You can discuss yourselves – size, location etc.
It is said that ‘USA is what it is, not because of who they are but because of where they are.’ It’s topography, presence of resources, isolated location demography etc. have been major factors behind hegemonic position of USA.
2. Political factors.
If country is politically stable, if there is a domestic consensus on foreign policy, it becomes the element of strength.
3. Social factors.
It is easier to make foreign policy decisions if social composition is homogenous. If society is heterogenous, it becomes difficult. e.g. India could not have the sound policy towards Israel for long because of the domestic compulsions, the sentiments of minorities.
4. The role of leadership.
Though structural realists eliminate the personality factor, yet leadership does play a role. Kautilya, one of the earliest scholars on geo-politics gave the theory of the elements of state known as ‘Saptang theory.’ He calls King as ‘Nabhi‘. The strong King can convert even the weak elements of sovereignty into the elements of strength.
We can also see the changing trends in US foreign policy since Mr. Trump have assumed the office.
5. Role of intelligence.
The strength of countries like Russia, USA, Israel, Britain comes from the highly professional intelligence bodies.
6. Role of technology.
Technology itself has become the determinant power. To some extent, technology has reduced the importance of geography.
7. Economic status. /You can explain.
8. Military status. /You can explain.
Determinants of power.
Elements of power become determinants of power only when country can make skilful use of the elements.
Measurement of power.
Since countries do not disclose their real status in terms of military capabilities, it is difficult to calculate the amount of power exactly. However it does make sense for countries to measure their own power and powers of others. On the basis of amount of power, countries are categorized as
1| Superpowers. e.g. USA. It is an extra-ordinary power, other countries even in combination cannot defeat superpower.
2| Great powers. e.g. Russia, China, Britain, France. The countries which are capable of defending their interest on their own. There are P5 members besides USA.
3| Middle powers. e.g. India, Pakistan, Israel, Vietnam, Iran. The countries which can defend themselves in coalition with others.
4| Small powers. All countries are called as powers out of respect.
Types of powers.
Que. Which type of power has greater significance in 21st century?
There are two forms of powers. Hard power (Carrots and sticks) and Soft power (invisible, cultural and ideological).
|Hard Power||Soft Power|
|Materialistic or resource intensive.||Non materialistic.|
|Compelling in nature.||Relies on consent.|
|It is at the disposal of state.||It is dispersed among the institutions of civil society.|
|State can use it any time.||Hence may not be used as and when required by the state.|
|Can be acquired in short time.||It takes long time to build.|
Traditionally, realists give greater weightage to hard power. However liberals like Joseph Nye held that the importance of hard power has declined considerably in 21st century because of complex interdependence. One of the reason for decline of USA’s hegemony is the greater reliance on hard power.
However later on he modified the views and accepted that soft power alone may not work. He gave the concept of Smart Power, popularized by Hillary Clinton. According to Hillary Clinton, we cannot work with 19th century concepts, there is a need for the skilful use of military, economic, cultural and diplomatic powers. Joseph Nye defined Smart power as an approach ‘which underscores’ the necessity of strong military power, but invest heavily in institutions, partnerships and alliances.
e.g. Obama’s foreign policy was based on the concept of 3D’s. i.e. Defence, Diplomacy and Development.
Joseph Nye is also concerned about the rise of Sharp Power as an alternative to the Soft Power, Sharp Power represents the power of authoritarian states, the power of propaganda, which aims to attack the credibility of western liberal democracies e.g. China’s policies.
John Chipman has given the concept of Fast Power. According to him, speed has become the determinant of power. According to him, what matters in 21st century is not the heft but how much a country is agile and adaptive. The rule of the present world is not the survival of the fittest rather the survival of the fastest.
Polarity of power thesis.
It is given by structural realists like Kenneth Waltz and Mearsheimer. What is the thesis? According to them, bipolar world order is most stable and least dangerous. What does polarity denote? The distribution of power across the globe. So far we have seen 3 models.
1) Multipolar world. Most unstable. Frequent wars. In a situation of multipolarity, greater confusion prevails, more fingers are on the trigger button, difficult to keep watch, greater chances of even the accidental war.
2) Unipolarity. Most unstable. Why? 1_Single hegemon will overstretch, free riders will take the advantage, there will be relative decline of power of the hegemon. 2_When there is single superpower, the country may suffer from Megalomania. Means it will think that there are no limitations on its powers. Will itself start destroying the order which it has built by taking unilateral actions. Like USA undermined UNSC e.g. in case of 2nd war against Iraq in 2003. Same can be said about USA’s approach towards WTO.
3) Bipolarity. Most stable for following reasons. 1_Strategic balance between the two superpowers. 2_It is easy to keep watch on the actions. 3_The two superpowers will contain anarchy in their own zone of influence.
Que. Does India support multipolar world order? Why?
Yes. India believes that it can exercise strategic autonomy.
What does multipolar world means?
Decline of USA and rise of China, rise of Russia, Iran, India. It is questionable as to why India supports the rise of China despite the fact that China is the biggest security threat and presently US and India are strategic partners.
Does India support multipolar south Asia?
No. India favours Indian hegemony in South Asia, does not want China in South Asia.
Concept of balance of power.
Que. Discuss the relevance of concept of Balance of Power in 21st century.
Oldest concept, treated as maxim. David Hume called it common sense. According to him, Balance of power will remain relevant so long common sense is relevant.
It is a feature of Westphalian world order.
Militaristic concept. The first formal recognition of balance of power was in 1713 in treaty of Utrecht, the famous historian APJ Taylor mentions 1848 to 1914 as the golden age of balance of power. European countries formally adopted the concept in 1815 in Vienna Congress which has given rise to the concert of Europe where the countries of Europe gave guarantees to ensure the balance of power so that peace is maintained. The concert of Europe gave 100 years of peace to Europe. i.e. Still 1914.
Britishers were the masters in the art of balance of power, it was the hallmark of the British foreign policy.
// Balance of power is confusing concept. Sometimes it is loosely used in newspaper. But it is not in terms of economic but in terms of militaristic power. Sometimes Q may be asked about BoP in contemporary times… so be careful.BoP is also called ‘murky’ concept. i.e. ambiguous, not clear.
Que. What are the main assumptions of Balance of Power?
1_It is based on the working of the Westphalian world order.
2_Sovereignty is the sacred concept of Westphalian world order, defined in terms of territorial integrity.
3_Since land is a source of wealth, acquiring the land of neighbours is a conventional wisdom among states.
4_In Westphalian world order, the structure of international politics is anarchical.
5_Anarchy compels states to acquire power.
6_The means to acquire power is arms race or alliances.
7_War is a recurrent feature in balance of power system, Prominent reason why Woodrow Wilson wanted to find alternatives to balance of power.
8_War in itself a technique of balance of power.
9_The rule of the game is whenever any state tries to gain preponderance (extraordinary power) like France under Napoleon, all states will have to come together to balance the state so that it does not establish hegemony.
10_War is the ultimate way to maintain the balance.
11_In balance of power system, no actor is ousted from the system. The defeated state is brought back in the system.
12_The balance of power also show that there are no permanent friend and permanent enemies.
The Techniques of Balance of power include
1] Arms race.
3] Partitioning the territory.
4] Establishment of buffer states so that the two major powers do not come in direct confrontation against each other.
5] Disarmament of the defeated country and imposition of reparations (war fines) to weaken it further.
Balance of power, despite being recognized as the fundamental law is seen as ‘murky concept’. There is a vagueness in the way balance is explained. Sometimes balance means A=B, sometimes balance denotes A-B = Remaining. (What extra one party has is balance, similar to economic concept.). There are different ways scholars describe balance concept.
Morgenthau has summarized four meanings of balance of power.
1] A policy aimed at establishing certain state of affairs.
2] An actual state of affairs.
3] An approximately equal distribution of power.
4] Any distribution of power.
Ernst Haas has given eight meanings of balance of power.
1] Equilibrium resulting from the equal distribution of power among states.
2] Equilibrium resulting from unequal distribution of powers among states.
3] Equilibrium resulting from the domination of one state which acts as balancer. e.g. Britain.
4] A system providing for relative stability and peace.
5] A system characterized by instability and war.
6] A way of describing power politics.
7] A universal law of history.
8] A guide for foreign policy makers.
Relevance of Balance of Power in 21st century.
Que. Why there is question-mark on the relevance of Balance of Power when it is seen as the most fundamental law?
The relevance of BoP is called into question first by the liberals/idealists like Woodrow Wilson. According to Woodrow Wilson, balance of power is prone to war. Balance of power can convert any local war between two countries into world war because countries are linked in alliances. Hence it is said that BoP gives protection against measles but create conditions for plague, a bigger epidemic. Even Pandit Nehru was a critique of BoP, he described BoP as ‘nervous state of peace’. Means there is always a fear of war as countries posses nuclear weapons. Hence Woodrow Wilson wanted to end the reliance of countries on BoP and gave the concept of collective security. Even Pandit Nehru had huge faith in collective security. However collective security could never emerge as a viable alternative to balance of power so that states leave their alliance on power politics.
Balance of power as a concept has been either modified or challenged by the scholars of different schools of thought because of its inadequacy.
1] Modification by realists.
Stephan Walt gave the concept of ‘Balance of Threat’. According to him, countries actually balance not power, but threat. The extent to which country will go for building its power will rely on its threat perception. He suggested four conditions which may determine threat perception
1_Aggregate power of the neighbour (enemy country).
2] Kenneth Organski has given ‘Power Transition Theory’. According to the theory, war happens more not when there is a balance of power rather when power transitions takes place. When a new country start acquiring power, it makes other countries insecure. Normally war is started by the countries which are more insecure and weaker.
3] Social constructivists suggest that the balance of power theory overlooks the role played by norms and values, they overemphasis on the material structure. Here the material structure is anarchy but it is the result of norms and values that anarchy is interpreted in the specific way giving rise to power politics. As suggested by Alexander Wendt, Anarchy is what states make of it.
4] In contemporary times scholars have given the concept of Asymmetrical Balancing. The traditional BoP theory only includes states as actors. In present times, terrorist organizations have to be included as security threats. Since there is an asymmetry between states and non state actors, the concept of asymmetrical balancing has been added.
5] Realist scholars have also added the concept of Soft Balancing to the traditional concept of hard balancing. Hard balancing denotes militaristic approach, soft balancing denotes political approach. When there is a single superpower, other countries cannot check superpower militarily but through the platforms like UNSC, they can form a coalition of like minded countries to check the actions of single superpower.
Theoretically nuclear weapons also challenges the relevance of the need of balance of power. According to Bernard Brodie, states should try to gain nuclear deterrence rather than the balance of power.
The concept of BoP has been questioned because the ideal conditions of operation of BoP has ceased to exist.
What are ideal conditions?
1) Westphalian world order rather than anarchical society or complex interdependence.
2) Balance of Power as a concept makes sense in regional situations. Politics at present has become not only international but global. It would not be possible to imagine the working of balance of power globally.
3) Balance of power operates in multipolar situation, it neither operates in the state of unipolarity nor bipolarity.
4) BoP is based on conventional warfare. The nuclear weapons and the technological warfare may cause the BoP go into irrelevance. The emergence of nuclear weapons has been a serious challenge to balance of power. In some regions, like western Europe BoP has become redundant because of emergence of security community.
5) Since in present times, the challenge to the security of states come from non-state actors. Non state actors can operate from any soil. Failed states are most fertile soils. If attack comes from non-state actors capturing a country which is friendly, it would not be easy to initiate war.
However it does not mean that Balance of Power as a concept is altogether irrelevant. David Hume, rightly held that BoP is a common sense. He held that ‘so long common sense remains relevant, BoP will remain relevant.’ It is to be noted that non-state actors are actually the proxies, it is true that nuclear weapons, has challenged the importance of the conventional weapons but it is also true that nuclear weapons are not to be used. Hence the importance of conventional weapons will never go out of relevance. Even in the 21st century, we can observe nations exercising the game of BoP.
In which region we see BoP?
We can see the game of BoP going on in Asia Pacific. It is because of the game, the centre of gravity of international politics has shifted towards Asia Pacific. The rise of China has forced USA to go for Asia rebalance/Asia pivot policy. As a part of Asia pivot policy, there is a greater deployment of US marines in the region. The neighbours of China like India, Japan, Australia are going for the formation of alliances and quasi-alliances. According to the scholars, there is a high probability of conventional war between India and China as a part of USA’s policy of buck passing or bait and bleed. All the major countries are acquiring conventional weapons.
Similarly Eastern and Southern Europe in the neighbourhood of Russia may also emerge as a theatre of war. The countries are going for military exercises in a big way. However in Europe, deterrence as a concept will have greater relevance considering neither Russia nor NATO has ‘no first use’ approach.
So long common sense remains relevant, Balance of Power will remain relevant.David Hume