What is Power in the 21st Century?: Main Argument & Definitions

What is Power in the 21st Century?: Main Argument & Definitions

  11 Nov 2019   , ,


What I’m going to try to argue to you
today is that the traditional division between international relations, foreign
policy security on the one hand, and comparative politics is eroding, and
that if you actually, so it kind of corresponds
to the difference between CISAC and CDDRL. So international relations is supposed to
be relations between states, whereas comparative politics looks at what
goes on inside states. And I would argue that today if you are
going to understand the relationship between states
internationally, you have to get smart about what goes on
inside them. And actually understand some of the
state-building, nation-building processes because that’s
become critical to power. But I’m going to, and, and so this is my
general argument, that there’s been a shift in the nature of power itself. Power is the currency of international
relations theory and if that changes, then a lot of the
theories are going to have to change. And I’m putting this forward as a
proposition not as a fact, and I think it’s something we can think
about and, and, discuss when we get to the to the end
of the class. So, I’m a, political scientist. I gotta start with a few definitions. What is power? Generally speaking, power is the ability to get somebody to do
something that you want them to do. And in IR theory there’s been a
distinction made between what’s been called deterrence which is stopping
someone from doing something bad to you. Like dropping a nuclear weapon on you. And what is sometimes called compellence
which is actually making that other party do something that they would not otherwise
be inclined to do. Now, I think that in addition to the
concept of power, it’s also important to talk about a related
concept which is that of authority. So authority is basically power that is
legitimately exercised. All right? That is to say, I can force you to obey a
traffic law or to sign up for ObamaCare or something like
that. But in general, power is much more effective when it is
voluntarily complied with. If I have to force you to do something, it
takes police, guns, you know, armies, a lot of hard power. If I can get you to do something
voluntarily because you believe that I’ve got the legitimate
authority to actually tell you to do something then things are going to go a
lot better. And in fact, if you look at most laws
let’s say here in the United States. Why is it that people are law-abiding? Is it they’re afraid of the police coming
after them and arresting them? In most cases, the answer is no. It’s because most citizens believe that
the government has the legitimate authority to ask them to do
certain things. Pay their taxes, obey traffic rules. And the like. And so compliance is more voluntary, all
right? So when we get to the realm of
international relations, these concepts of power and authority are
also important. Joe Nye at Harvard has distinguished
between the hard power and soft power. So, hard power is actually this power to
either deter or compel. And he divides hard power into two sorts. One is hard military power, which is actually what most of us think
about, when we talk about hard power. It’s aircraft carriers, bombers weapons of
various sorts that use violence in order to make things
happen to other people internationally. But he also says that there is a
non-military form of hard power which takes the form of sanctions
you know, economic warfare, bribery. A lot of things that get people to do
things that they would not otherwise want to do because, in a sense, you’re forcing
them. So you’re not forcing them militarily, but
you’re still compelling them to do things. But then he says there’s a third kind or,
or so, those are the two varieties of hard
power. Says there’s a third kind of power which
he calls soft power. And this is what corresponds to authority
in a domestic situation. That is to say soft power is getting
people to do what you want because they like you or
they admire you. Or in some respects, they, they believe
that your example, and what you say you want is
legitimate, all right? And he says that, in a certain sense,
is one of the really important forms of power so that, for example, during the
Cold War, which I guess is a not even a memory to most people in
this room, but during the Cold War, in eastern Europe, countries that were
occupied by the former Soviet Union. They actually looked up to the United
States as an example of a free society, market economy, great individual freedoms. And when the hard power of the Soviet
Union disappeared, that model was extremely powerful. And therefore the United States could
exercise influence in Eastern Europe after the fall of the
Berlin Wall in ways that didn’t have anything to do with it’s
military, military forces. Now okay, one more definition. I’m sorry I have to go through all of
this, but I think it’s important. What’s a state? All right? The sociologist, the great sociologist Max
Weber, in the 19th century gave what I think is the classic and most useful
definition of a state. He said a state is a legitimate monopoly
of violence, or coercion over a defined territory, right? So that there are four actually important
aspects to that, definition. That states are about violence. It’s the ability to use power and coerce people that makes a state different
from a multinational corporation, an NGO, a labor union, other kinds of social
organizations. It is hierarchical. It exercises its authority over a
territory. Its got a monopoly of power. So if there are multiple militias and power centers in a given area that’s not a
state. There’s no state there. And then the last issue has to do with
legitimacy, that people accept the authority of the state, and are not
simply being coerced as a matter of power. So it’s the legitimate exercise of power
and states are centralized and hierarchical. At the top of the state, you’ve got this
thing called the sovereign. It can be a democratically elected
sovereign like the President of the United States or the Prime Minister of
Great Britain or it can be an unelected one like the
leadership in China. But that sovereign has got the authority
then to make decisions on behalf of the entire hierarchical
structure, right? And so, all of international relations
theory has revolved around the interactions between
these, these sovereigns standing at the top of
these hierarchies.

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