International Politics as A Struggle for Power | CSS Notes

In international politics a situation where two or more people or organizations compete for influence. A power struggle ensues, and the winner is the person who makes his structure prevail. a political power struggle between the Liberals and National Party. In CSS and PMS examinations questions about the power struggle in politics are always given. Especially in CSS on the subject of International Relations (IR), the question about international politics and their mutual relations must be given. So, here in this article, I am going to analyze International Politics as A Struggle for Power in International Relations.

Let’s discuss the power struggle in International Politics first:


“Power is a central concept in International Relations – the central one for realists but, surprisingly, difficult to define or measure.”

Definition of Power

As Morgenthau stated, it is very difficult to give a workable definition of power. Power can be social, economic, or political. Most definitions of power are contentious, but some theorists hold that there cannot be a value-free account either of what power is or when it exists.

The safest definitions are typical, formal, and perhaps unreasoning and void. One very common definition of power in modern political science is the ability of someone to make the other do something which others would not have done or to stop someone from doing something which he would have liked to do.

Power is often defined as the ability to get another actor to do what it would not otherwise have done or not to do what it would have done. It means that actors are powerful to the extent that they affect others more than others’ s affect them. These definitions depict power as an influence.

If the actors are able to get what they like, they must be powerful. However, there is a problem with these definitions that it is difficult to Know the reaction of a second actor as how he would do in absence of the first actor’s power. is influence and influence measures power.

State Power

Power is the ability or potential to subdue others. Such potential is based on specific characteristics of states such as their size, level of GDP, and professional skills and capability of armed forces. This is power as capability. Capabilities are easier to assess and measure than influence and are less circular in logic.

However, it is a cumbersome exercise to assess the capabilities of states to explain how one state lays its influences on another. It will require an accurate account of various kinds of potentials. All states have different sizes of populations, territories, and variant military capacities.

The most impressive indicator of a state’s power is its total GDP which consists of the overall size of the economy, technological level, and wealth. But, sometimes, even GDP is puzzling and economists find it difficult. GDP though is a useful tool to evaluate material capabilities but not to measure accurate.

Non-material elements are also an important ingredient of power. Capabilities are meant to influence others so that political leaders are in a position to mobilize and use them effectively and strategically. For this national will, diplomatic skills and popular support for the government are required. Some scholars emphasize the power of ideas which is the ability to make the best use of the influence of capabilities through a psychological process.

This process includes the domestic mobilization of capabilities often through religion, ideology, or especially nationalism. The international influence is also achieved by framing the rules of behavior to see how others watch their own national interests.

If a state shares its values with others states on a wider scale, it would be able to influence other states easily. “For example, the United States has influenced many other states to accept the value of free market and free trade. This has been called soft power”.However, dominance is not the only way to influence others as is demonstrated by the concept of “Soft Power”.

The centrally more important rules of reciprocity and identity can also work in the process of influencing others. A mother can calm down a screaming kid by growling at the child or promising to buy a toy or by simply telling the kid to be a good boy/girl. “Because power is a relational concept, a state can have power only relative to other states. Relative power is the ratio of the power that two states can bring to bear against each other.

It matters little to realists whether a state’s capabilities are rising or declining in absolute terms, only whether they are falling behind or overtaking the capabilities of rival states”.

Assessing Power

Power is a state’s capability that enables it to function independently in all spheres of the state’s activity. This capability needs to be assessed and estimated before a state embarks on a venture involving the state’s potential and capability. The reasoning of power explains that the more powerful will eventually prevail in the event of a war. Therefore, the assessment of the relative power of the two foes should help predict the result of each war.

These calculations could take into account the nation’s relative military capabilities and the popular support for each one’s government, among other factors but more Important is the total size of each nation’s economy i.e., the total GDB which indicates population size and the level of per capita income.

When the US attacked Iraq in 2003, it was the most powerful state in the world. Iraq, on the other hand, had fought two costly wars and had to sustain a decade of sanctions that excessively curtailed its capabilities creating acute power disparity. In GDP, the United States was far ahead of Iraq with a massive population.

The size of US forces was much bigger and more capable technologically. However, in 2003 the United States, despite being more powerful, lacked some of the power elements it possessed during the 1991 Gulf War.

During the Gulf War, the US had on its side the UN Security Council’s moral backing and a broad coalition of allies that included some of the most powerful states and partners who came forward with all sorts of assistance to pay for most of the cost of war.

Despite these shortfalls, the US military easily overpowered its weak opponent and ensured the regime change in Iraq in a short time and with low US casualties.

Four years later, the US control of Iraq remained flimsy and wobbling as a strong insurgency, challenging the US, broke out and severe religious violence threatened Iraq’s security. Also, the challenge to the support for American policies visibly diminished all over the world.

This situation proves that in order to establish political control even on a vanquished state or get others to do what you want it requires many other elements beyond just military might. GDP does not always predict who will win a war.

Basics of Power

State power is a combination of different elements. such as natural resources, industrial capacity, moral legitimacy, military capability, and popular support of government. All these ingredients make an actor’s power. Though the combination may vary from one actor to another, overall power relates to the rough quantities of the elements on which that power is based.

Elements on which an actor can bank in the long term include total GDP, population, territory, geography, and natural resources. These characteristics change gradually. Less perceptible long-term power resources include political culture, patriotism, the education level of the population, and the strength of the scientific and technological base.

A state’s credibility depends on how it keeps its words and commitment which is a long-term power base of a state. Similarly, it is important for a state’s cultural values to habitually develop an understanding and appreciation of other states’ power of ideas.

The Japanese attack on the US fleet at Pearl Harbor in 1941 demonstrates the significant role that long-term power resources play. The Japanese attack wrecked US naval capabilities in the Pacific. In a short time, Japan acquired superior military skills. It was able to capture territories in Southeast Asia and drove the US out of the region.

However, in the long run, the US with massive economic potential was able to rebuild its military capabilities over the next few years which repulsed Japan’s onslaught. The US avenged its humiliation at Pearl Harbor by dropping the atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 which nearly wiped mankind from the earth.

There are other capabilities that enable actors to exert influence in the short run. In this respect, military forces’ capabilities carry great importance. In a short-term battle, the size, composition, and preparation of the belligerent state’s military forces bear great significance than their respective economies or natural resources.

Another capability is a state’s ability to quickly produce sophisticated weapons to meet the needs of the armies in a battle.

An efficient bureaucracy adds much to a state’s capabilities which enables it to collect information, regulate international trade or participate in international seminars and conferences. Money is an important capability because it can buy other capabilities.

Aid can be provided to buy the population’s loyalties with consumer goods which reduces resources available for building up military capabilities. If one element of power can be converted into another, it is fungible which means it can buy or replace another capability. Generally, money is the most fungible capability because it can buy other capabilities.

Military force is considered the most important element of national power in the short-run while other elements such as economic strength, diplomatic skills, or legitimacy are also important because they are exchangeable to the military to buy with these elements.

Tanks and gold are two different capabilities. In land warfare to control the territory, the tank is obviously a more powerful instrument available and another tank is to lead the defense against the first tank. A stockpile of gold or its equivalent in hard currency reserves is a different power capability that has value all the time.

In the long-term, gold is better because it can always acquire tanks and therefore, fungible, but tanks cannot be turned into gold. But in the short-term tanks have greater utility because if the enemy tanks invade a territory gold will not be able to stop them.

In 1990 when Iraq attacked Kuwait which had gone for gold corned not be stopped In the short term Iraq much stronger and occupied Kuwait.

Geography is another element of power and is called geopolitics. Location is an important factor in geopolitics. States use geography to enhance their military capabilities by securing allies and bases close to a rival power or along strategic trade routes. Controlling oil pipeline routes in Central Asia is a geopolitical issue.

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