Power and International Relations

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In this essay, am going to covering why power is the most important factor in international relations, and why power has changed throughout the years, is power or isn’t power the primary factor in international relations? There are several ways that power can be defined, it cannot be categorised in one area, as power is defined in many aspects. When discussing power in terms of international relations, this concept is described as very complicated as many aspects need to be considered. One definition of power in IR is one actor exerting influence over another, this is also known as hard power, or power can be described as having the most control over resources for example oil, gold or food. From another point of view power can be described as something which a state possess which another do not in terms of wealth, knowledge etc. There are many ways power can be obtained, the most significant of these manly include military size and effectiveness, size of the state, technological advancements and its wealth. States would these criteria would be regarded as a ‘superpower’. The importance of power capability has changed throughout history, with one being more important than the other. For example with the US having very advanced military power, compared to china with their technological advancement and being economical stable.
The concept of power is primarily used by realist thinkers like Machiavelli and Morgenthau. Machiavelli was known as more of an extremist realist with his famous quote from the prince “it’s better to be feared then to be loved”. Political theorist like Machiavelli believed that power was the most important thing realism theory emphasis that moralist most put aside.
The realism few on power, is based on state versus state relationship, in that their is no overarching power in the world. Also the realism theory states that as a result of not having a world government state seek to protect their own interest against neighbouring or rival states. Realism is centred around military power also known as hard power. However on the other hand liberalist believe that co-operation interaction between states is a much more effective means then military threat. Soft power allows states to come to a compromise, both in a ‘win-win’ situation. An example of this is Iran coming to a compromise with the United States on the issue of nuclear weapon. With both countries being rational and open-minded, allowing for life being saved if a war had broken out.

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Constructivists believe the world is socially constructed. What we perceive the world to be, is what the world is. Constructivist also emphasis on human interactions the relationship between presidents, for example the relationship between Tony Blair and George W Bush. Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani has a good relationship with the likes of John Kerry and with the US president.
The reason why power is concerned the most important thing in international relations is because of a concept called security dilemma. Security dilemma is the ability to defend yourself militarily from neighbouring states, and in order to do these, a state most recruit more soldiers, build better weapons to one up your opponents. The realism theory supports this argument, the realism theory emphasises that there is no overarching anarchical power which becomes the mediator between state conflict, and in order for state to defeat themselves military enhancements most come into play. An example of this is the beginning of World War 1 many European states felt very vulnerable, and unsafe around their neighbouring states, and were forced to protect themselves. Feeling weak as a state upsets the balance of power.
However on the other hand the reason why power isn’t the most important thing in international relations is because power based on realism theory is very limited and one dimensional, not considering other theories, explain power as state vs state hard power. None governmental organisation (NGO) can equally be as influential as the state. None- governmental organisation vary from Greenpeace to human right activist like amnesty international, who are self-interested an equally as influential as any powerful state the reason being with the amount of members they have. An example of this is Amnesty international pushing for the death sentence to be abolished, with some success, with the death sentence lifted in Singapore. Furthermore Mediators like the United Nations and before that League of Nations power is not important is avoided cold war German after ww1 reparation to countries they done wrong Interdependce (mutual dependt on one another

Source of power come from owner ship and property. This is supported by the Marxist view that (Marxist)
The financial aspect power is equally as significant. Money was very influential during the Italian renaissance, with Medici bank at one point being known as the largest and most respected bank in Europe. Money allows a state to advance in certain areas e.g. technological and militarily. As Susan Strange stated “money can be both a source and a target of power in international affairs”, a state which is financially well off will succeed in many aspects in international relations then states with less financial backing. An Example of this is the Medici family funding artist and architectures, this brought in allot of revenue for the city, and this is evident in Leonardo Da Vinci’s work. This gave Florence a statues; power as very influential state.
In contrast power throughout history has been very influential the reason for this is because of religion. Known as Republica Christiana. Gives the world a sense of meaning, and why we’ve been placed into this world, and what are propose in life is. Throughout history many forms of religion were used to explain violent actions. The Greeks used varies Gods from Zeus the God of light to Ares the God of war. This varies God gave the Greeks a reason to go to war., believing it’s morally right comparing themselves to barbarians, who fight for no real higher power. While Italians in the 15th and 16th century had the pope as a political figure. The pope in the 15th century had considerable power compared to the pope today. One of the infamous character is Pope Alexander IV, who used the power which was given to him in an unjust way, Nicollo Machiavelli mentioning him in his book the prince “Alexander VI did nothing but deceive men” Alexander VI craved for power, as he knew the importance of it, and the seat of pope would allow him to attain that. The reason why religious power was so important in international relations is because no person would go against god if commanded to.
In contrast power is not the only significant factor in international relations as many other factors are considered. One of these factors is collective security, where the security of one state is the security of all states. This was shown in 1648 when the treaty of Westphalia was signed by varies empires in Europe, to end the thirty year war between countries in Europe. The principle of sovereignty was introduced, meaning nothing is higher than the state, that all states are equal, states rule over their own territory, without the intervention of other states. This goes against the statement that power is the most important factor in international relations, as these countries were trying to avoid powerful countries ruling other people’s state. The constructivist theory also supports this as, communication and relationship was formed to make the Westphalia treaty successful.
It is however, important to note that power is very influential in international relations, with the impact natural resources has. The scramble for Africa by European countries, with Britain in South Africa, the French in West Africa and Italians in the East. This allowed European countries acquire materials which European countries lack in, e.g. gold, silver, coca and oil. European countries exerted as much influence and power over these countries, as they believed they were superior compared to the Africans, believing they wouldn’t know what to do with these resources that these resources would be a better use to us then to them. The power they allegedly had over the Africans was knowledge. Back in the 1700s and 1800s century the primary factor for Europe was to obtain gold from Africa. However in 21st standard oil has been a dominant factor in the last 20 to 30 years with the US invading other countries for it. Saudi Arabia is known for its oil wealth these materials were very influential in making countries like Britain the way it is.
On the other hand power in international relations is not the only significant factor, this was evident in September 11th 2001 when Al Quada took responsibility on the attack on the world trade center in New York. If power was so influential and important as the realism theory emphasises, Al Quada and any other terrorist groups would of never contemplated on attack the ‘superpower’ figure like the US. With the attack on the world trade center, this diminished the U.S’s states as the world police, as it took them 7years to find and execute the leader Osama Bin Laden.
Power is the most important thing in international relations if it was leaders wouldn’t yearn for it. Leaders like George W Bush, Kaddafi, Hitler and Osama Bin Laden etc. With power come respect and rewards which allows these leaders to leave a legacy. Leaders with their influence on government and the people allow them access to power. An example of this is George W Bush declaring the war on terror invading countries like Afghanistan and Iraq. With the man behind president Bush, Dick Cheney initiating it. This allowed the Bush to fight terror and quire resources from Iraq. US presidents over the years have been seen as less affective and powerful with domestic issues, and must of their power is exercised in foreign policy, Bush, Clinton, Reagan etc. In order to leave a legacy presidents must exercise their power of commander and chief. This backs up the realism theory in that power is exercised through military force if a threat is detected. Another reason why power is very influential in international relations is the power of state leaders in politics. The power of persuasion is a very powerful tool when used right, this is also known as soft power, “the ability to influence other actors by persuading them to follow or agree to norms and aspirations that produce the desired behaviour”. The reason why is important factor in international relations is because, persuasive power is less confrontational, and allows state to get what they want from other actors.
The introduction of Democracy, allowed power to be less frequently used. With the democratic peace theory, which highlights democratic countries rarely go to war with each other. Throughout history as countries got more democratic wars started to decrease especially during the 1900s and 2000s. It is said that states are “ no longer able to continue the practice of gunboat” without other factors like economic, political and social factors coming into play. The reason democratic states rarely go to war is as military force is a costly device to use, state have learned over the years that co-operation on issues is very much an effective way of negotiating. The model of interdependence is very significant, as an example of this is the relationship between the United States and Canada, each state is mutually dependent on one another.
Feminist believe that the realism approach to power, anarchy and sovereignty is a masculine form of interaction. The reason why so many wars have gone on over the years is because the way men have handled the situation, with irrational behaviour. Women in International relations are less frequently mentioned then men, with men being leaders, diplomats etc. Recognising the contribution women bring to the table with women being more rational and human relations, more liking using soft power then hard. On average feminist believe women are more effective with conflict resolution then men. This is not a psychological different but a biological difference women have this innate ability to resolute conflict. The constructivist theory supports this idea of communication and relationships being formed.
The changing nature of power throughout the years based on the realism approach the realism approach was the main approach when it came to power but this has slowly diminished. With the events of 9/11 with the US failing to defeat Al Quada by military force. It took the US 10years to track down and kill the leader Osama Bin Laden, suggesting military power is not always the viable option. Furthermore power in terms of realism causes millions to die, this is why it’s not the most significant factor in IR, as hard power is considered irrational and not the always best solution.
Power after the cold war shifting from a bipolar to a uni-polar world, with the United States branded as the worlds ‘hyper power’ having political hegemony. But power in recent years has shifting with the development of BRIC countries theorists are suggesting the world is moving towards a multi-polar world. With power now being dispersed throughout the world.
In conclusion i believe power is the most important factor in international relations, the reason being throughout the years having military, political or economical power allows a state to exert great influence over the others. On the other hand this may cause death on both sides, but this is the decision great leaders have to make in order to protect and gain as a state. From the time of Alexander the great to the 1800s century power has been very influential. But this has now slowly changed. Military power is used less frequently now, this is because the risk is to high compared to the reward.



Works Cited

Ragin, C. (1994) Constructing Social Research. Thousand Oaks, Ca: Pine Forge Press
John snow (1993) are black people racist? The guardian
David M Andrews, (1996) ‘money matters: currency relations and power politics’ Wiley.
Niccollo miechevelli (1505) ‘The Prince’, W.K. Marriott
Joshua S. Goldstein, (2010) International Relations Fifth Edition
Alasdair Blair & Steven Curtis,(2009) International Politics An introductory Guide
Jonathon white: ‘Death sentence lifted in Singapore’ (2013) [online] available http://www.amnesty.org.au/adp/comments/33362/
Is power the only important factor in International relations?


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