Power Dynamics and its role in Geopolitics

Quite often, casual discussions and news coverage on geopolitical events result in value judgments. For example, the reaction to USA’s role in Afghanistan or Syria is criticized on the grounds that it is morally wrong  for USA and its allies to interfere in the internal affairs of other nations. Such opinions however are simplistic as they assume that the laws and principles which apply to domestic affairs apply internationally as well. The reality is quite opposite – the morality of a nation-state within its boundaries is in most cases, based on a document like the constitution which every citizen and the government is expected to adhere to. A deviation from the principles of constitutionalism is thus considered wrong or inimical to the interests of the nation as a whole. On the other hand, the rules of the game that apply to international affairs and geopolitics are completely different. There is no constitution or a written code of conduct here. There is no sovereign authority that can impose itself on all the nations of the world. Much of international law is also based on prior consent of nations. This means that a state member of the international community is not obliged to abide by a type of international law, unless it has expressly consented to a particular course of conduct. The fundamental law which then applies to international relations is that of Power. As the Acorn explains, it is the law of the jungle, the principle of ‘survival of the fittest’ that ensures the survival of a nation and determines its influence. The significance of power is reaffirmed by the existing structure of a global organization like the UN. While around 200 members are a part of it, the permanent UNSC members which have the power to veto are the five most powerful countries at the end of WW2, when the UN was constituted.

Power, thus is to geopolitics what force is to physics. Just as an external force can change the state of inertia of a body, power and influence can change the prevailing state of geopolitics. So it is not surprising that various thinkers, diplomats and think tanks have advanced some means or another of assessing national power. And since there is no common definition for what constitutes power, every research has tried to incorporate different elements of power to come up with a hierarchical structure of the world. Earlier researchers (Inis Claude, Kingsley Davis et al) in the 1960s adopted single variable approaches to measure national power with the lone variable being indicative of either the economy or the military strength of a nation. Thereafter, it was recognized that Power is multi-causal and hence multi-variable approaches to measure power were proposed by experts like Clifford German, Trellis et al. Subsequent researches differ in the selection of the variables and the models used to combine them. In recent times, India’s National Security Index and China’s Comprehensive National Power Index are variants of this multi-variable approach.

My project at Takshashila Institution also relates to forming a Global Power Index. As a first principle and starting point, I will be using the Kautilyan definition of Power. Kautilya, in Arthashastra, says that there are three elements of Power – the Power of Energy which comes from the drive of the ruler and his/her intellectual strength, the Power of counsel and diplomacy and the Power of the army and the treasury. The first source of Power roughly translates to the modern concept of ‘soft power’ while the other two relate to ‘hard power’ of a nation. Kautilya also gave subjective weights to these three sources of power. He says that the Power of the army and treasury is more important than the Power of Energy and the Power of counsel and diplomacy is more important than the other two.

Using the above principle as a reference point my second step would be to identify the various ways in which nations influence each other. The way nations influence each other is a result of the power dynamics situation between various nations. As this report mentions, even providing humanitarian aid to another nation is taken on the basis of how it affects the donor’s power vis-a-vis the other players in a region. Over the next few weeks, I will be posting on the various ways in which nations indulge in a show of strength and classify these actions on the basis of their power sources. For example, Pakistan’s policy of transferring nuclear bomb technology to Saudi Arabia makes it powerful. Other nations looking to build a nuclear deterrence will try to engage Pakistan in various ways to get a similar aid from that country.

The ultimate aim of a Global Power Index is to be able to predict how two nations would engage with each other. The last part of my project will deal with this.

Do help me with your thoughts, comments and suggestions!

 

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3 Responses to Power Dynamics and its role in Geopolitics

  1. T Greer November 18, 2013 at 5:32 am #

    “The reality is quite opposite – the morality of a nation-state within its boundaries is in most cases, based on a document like the constitution which every citizen and the government is expected to adhere to, A deviation from the principles of constitutionalism is thus considered wrong or inimical to the interests of the nation as a whole”

    A most curious argument. You have equated what is moral with what is legal. Too many–far too many–peoples suffer because the distinction between the two is never made.

    I am an American. I love the American Constitution and wish it were followed more closely. But I stand ready to rise and condemn any American who claims that the laws of right and wrong, of justice and injustice, or of charity and barbarity come from that document. If a document is all that stands between what is good and what is bad then the game has been lost already. Good becomes whatever the drafters of the document wish it to be. Whoever has the power to decide what is in the document has the power to decide just what kind of ‘morality’ their country will adhere to.

    Under your schema, ‘Survival of the Fittest’ describes morality within nations just as well it describes the type of morality found between them. The only difference? In the former case only one has survived. Inside the state there are none left to contest the woeful notion that Might Makes Right.

    But maybe it does. You seem to think so. History’s many bloody hands hope you are right.

    • Pranay Kotasthane November 18, 2013 at 3:33 pm #

      Hi,

      Thanks for your comment. Is it not that we are bound by the morals of democracy or secularism because they are enshrined in the constitution? I agree that constitution is not the only thing that stands between what is right and what is wrong but it is definitely one of the forces. My point was that there is no such a potent force in international affairs.

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