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5.1 Are today's rising powers powerful enough to affect international order?

1. Does military power help countries to achieve political goals?

  • Those (realists) who maintain that military power remains the most crucial factor in the distribution of power within the international order have stressed that there is no real contestant to US unipolar supremacy. Contemporarily, they argue, this is largely due to US dominance of military technology.
  • Those opposed to such views claim that the capacity of the United States to unilaterally reassert its global dominance in terms of its military capabilities is, and will remain, limited. Instead what such advocates stress is that there has been a long-term erosion of Western international dominance. Thus, they argue that international society is, now, far more global in terms of being constituted by a wider range of states and societies with the capacities to mobilize and express a multiplicity of interests and values.

2. To what extent does the success of economic development underpin diplomatic influence?

  • Those who highlight the persistent power of the United States in the global order, have highlighted its strength with regards to agenda-setting and its ability to determine what is decided within international institutions. Such arguments are usually linked to the material capabilities that the US demonstrates, where economic power can be a crucial form of soft power (the power of attraction and influence).
  • Equally, there are those who have stressed that the rising powers that have emerged as a form of counter-balance to US hegemony are centrally a part of the global economy of the international system.
  • Others, however, have argued that today's rising powers are not only supported by their economic resources but also, and more crucially, by the role that these powers play within functional institutions that deal with pressing global challenges (management of the global economy, climate change, nuclear proliferation, etc.).

3. Can you assess the influence of rising powers without advancing a clear view of global order?

  • As you will have seen from the chapter, the short answer to this question is: no. We can only assess the influence of rising powers if we connect it to our theoretical understanding of world politics. The different theoretical perspectives demonstrate that there is a wide spectrum of different understandings or forms of power.
  • Neo-realists, for example, are likely to argue that we can assess the influence of rising powers only if we look at what/whom they are affecting and how these states matter geopolitically. Thus, their interest lies in the (re-)distribution of material forms of power and would thus maintain that it is to be viewed in relational terms. On the other hand, some poststructuralist theorists, for example, might be more interested in questions on the production or emergence of power. Thus, rather than conceive of power as something fixed that states can possess, what such authors would stress is that the crucial question about rising powers is what allows them to be perceived as rising in the first place. In other words, how does their power emerge; what are the particular political, social and economic factors that allow for this rising power to emerge?
  • What remains clear, however, is that neither of these theoretical approaches views the influence of rising powers as lying outside their relationship to other states or surrounding political, social and economic factors. In this sense, it is evident that, while different theories have different and sometimes contesting understandings of power and thus differing approaches to their assessment of the influence of rising powers, their understandings remain relational and bound to their particular understandings of the global order.