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Rising Powers And Global Balance Of Power

Info: 5466 words (22 pages) Essay
Published: 11th May 2017 in Politics

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No one can forecast the future with certainty, though immediate future can be predicted with relative correctness based on contemporary realities, tendencies and realities. The cold war has ended. The US no longer faces the constant threat of aggression from its erstwhile adversary, the former USSR. Did someone ever forecast the demise of USSR, US emerging as the sole super power or the attack on the Twin Towers? Aggression grows in unsettled or disorderly times and explodes in power vacuum. The world is dynamic and so is the notion of power. Throughout history we can see the “Balance of Power Concept” in action. The states of Europe held each other in balance through the first 300 years of the modern state system. The clearest example of the balance of power concept can be found in the Cold War wherein two superpowers, the US and the USSR, held world balance between them. Both states sought to deter domination by the other through arms buildup and the creation of strong systems of alliances.

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Today power is distributed in a pattern that resembles a complex three dimensional chess game. On the top chess board, military power is largely unipolar, on the middle, economic power is multipolar, the bottom is the realm of transnational relations that cross borders outside the government control which includes non state actors. Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has been the sole super power in the world. No single state acted as effective counterweight to the US. However, some shifts have been witnessed recently due to globalization, market forces and operation of non state actors without regard for national boundaries and loyalties which has made the balancing phenomenon more complicated. Therefore, some recent studies in the field of International relations advocate that power politics including balancing of power has become obsolete and the theory of balance of power has lost its relevance. This phenomenon has raised a series of questions and just a few are:-

a. Has the phenomenon of balance of power lost its relevance?

b. Will the world be without any state in the global lead role?

c. Is the world transforming to multipolarity?

d. Are traditional measures and sources of power losing their relevance in the world?

e. Are effects of globalization rendering the state borders and notion of sovereignty irrelevant?

f. How are non state actors including VNSAs influencing the balance of power?

g. Will the geo-economics really replace geo-politics?

h. Will the current powers allow the shift in balance of power without violence?


Past and contemporary global order.

Myths and realities of rising powers and global balance of power.

Rising global trends in balance of power.

Pakistan – 2050, challenges and opportunities.

Major conclusions and Recommendations for Pakistan


4. Prehistoric and Medieval Periods. During the Period of the Warring States in China (403-221 BC), the development of large, cohesive states accompanied the creation of irrigation systems, bureaucracies, and large armies equipped with iron weapons. These Chinese states pursued power through a constantly shifting network of alliances. In ancient Greece during the Peloponnesian Wars (431-404 BC), the rising power of Athens triggered the formation of a coalition of city-states that felt threatened by Athenian power.

5. Pre World Wars Period

a. In the 17th century the Habsburg dynasty, which ruled Austria and Spain, threatened to dominate Europe. During the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648), a coalition that included Sweden, England, France, and The Netherlands defeated the rulers of the Habsburg Empire.

b. Early in the 19th century, Napoleon repeatedly made efforts to conquer large areas of Europe. A broad coalition of European states-including Britain, Russia, Austria, and Prussia-defeated France in a series of major battles that climaxed with Napoleon’s defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

c. The classical European balance of power system emerged thereafter in an alliance known as the Concert of Europe, organized in 1815 by Austrian statesman Klemens von Metternich. This loose alliance between Britain, Russia, Austria, Prussia, and France ensured that a handful of great powers would coexist, with none able to dominate the others. Under this system, and with Britain playing a balancer role, peace largely prevailed in Europe during the 19th century. It is not an accident that the doctrine of the balance of power-alike in international and in domestic politics-received its classic and most rigorous statements at a time when foreign policy was largely a matter for rulers who could use the war potential of their states for their own aggrandizement. It was because a ruler had to be able to wage effective war that he had to be allowed the armed force that contributed to his domestic control.

d. British reliance on a navy rather than on a standing army was important to the growth of British liberties-and later to American liberty. In a sense, therefore, the international balance of power was needed to check the pretensions of rulers who lacked any effective domestic check. The balance of power, however, although it may act to restrain the actions of those who believe in the doctrine, is in the first instance a device to restrain others.

6. Inter and Intra World Wars Period (1914-1945)

a. When World War I broke out, although all parties made some effort to maintain or protect the balance of power (which, of course, they interpreted differently), none of them could argue that governments, or princes, were behaving in the way that one would expect. German apologists had to contend that Germany was surrounded by malevolent foes and that the survival of Germany was at stake. The allies had to contend not merely that Germany was too powerful for comfort, but that German militarism threatened a European civilization that would otherwise be peaceful. The argument, in short, could not be cast in terms of the balance of power.

b. In order to contain German and its allies, a formidable alliance was formed in Europe. German threat was such that USA broke away with the centuries long stand of neutrality and joined the alliance against Germany. Status quo however, was maintained in Europe. Historians will long continue to debate the causes that finally brought the United States into the war.

c. Same was the case in World War II, where, a status quo was required to be maintained and German advances were to be stopped, alliance on the lines of World War I was formed. The alliance completely decapacitated German led axis powers. In both the World Wars, the entry of the United States so quickly and completely tilted the balance of power in favor of the side it joined. Had the United States been regarded as an element in the balance; the wars in the form they took would never have broken out and it is here that the world saw the introduction of WMD.

7. Cold War Period

a. It was well recognized that the United States and the Soviet Union were in direct and unique competition. The appalling consequences of nuclear war introduced a new kind of stability. The so-called balance of terror or balance of deterrence ensured that each nuclear power was anxious not to give the other power any sort of signal that would justify an attack, and was also anxious not to identify such a signal. This caution was compatible with, and even required, an arms race.

b. The ideological struggle reflected the knowledge of both great powers that they contended in a fast-changing world; and the Cold War began to lose intensity, not when the protagonists decided to abandon it but when world circumstances changed and new elements began to contribute to the balance.

c. It became almost conventional to speak in terms of a world of four poles-the United States, the Soviet Union, Europe and Japan.

d. US led West used all means and opportunities to balance Soviet military power and kept on trying to contain Soviet Union. On the other hand Soviet Union formed an alliance with the opposite block countries to counter the US. Struggle of countering each power continued till the Soviet Union finally collapsed. With the subsequent disintegration of the Soviet Union, the United States became incontrovertibly the world’s dominant power.

8. Post Cold War

a. After the disintegration of Soviet Union, USA emerged as sole global power hence as per the ground realities, the entire world had to align its policies with the US. Without an apparent foe to challenge its security, the major question confronting U.S. foreign policy was what would succeed the Cold War’s bipolar balance of power.

b. The issue among academics and political commentators was whether the United States should emphasize its dominant position as a “unipolar” global power, or seek a leading role in a tripolar or multipolar system.

9. Conclusions from Historical Perspective. In nut shell post cold war power balance is categorized by US unilateralism, West’s political, economic and social control to the extent that the situations symbolize with that of eighteenth and nineteenth century’s colonization. Striking conclusions of the post cold war power balance are as under:-

a. The end of the Cold War in US and Europe and the ongoing integration of the European economies alongside attempts at greater political integration in the continent have given rise to a view that traditional concepts of security are no longer relevant. There is a powerful perception that the idea of the state and its sovereignty has been made irrelevant by processes that are taking place at both the global and local level. Concept of security has been widened to the extent that currently it includes everything under the sun.

b. Concept of Balance of Power has also been changed from the known enemy threat to fear of unlimited unknowns. Interpretations of the balance has also been changed from balance among nation states to balance among civilizations and much beyond.

c. Post cold war era reintroduces the phenomena of colonization with changed face of chaining the third world through economic, trade and technology transfer policies under the umbrella of IMF, world bank, various technological regimes and UN.



10. Preamble:

Balance of Power’ strategies amongst nations and regional and security alliances have been a recurrent and normal feature of global history. Power shifts when they take place generate corresponding responses in strategic jockeying by established powers to recreate new balance of power to ensure the continuance of the old established order. The present world order-characterized by an unprecedented number of democratic nations; a greater global prosperity, even with the current crisis, than the world has ever known; and a long peace among great powers-reflects American preferences, and was built and preserved by American power in all its political, economic, and military dimensions.

The perception of US decline today is certainly understandable, given the dismal economic situation since 2008 and the nation’s large fiscal deficits, which, combined with the continuing growth of the Chinese, Indian, Brazilian, Turkish, and other economies, seem to portend a significant and irreversible shift in global economic power. Some of the pessimism is also due to the belief that the United States has lost favor, and therefore influence, in much of the world, because of its various responses to the attacks of September 11. The detainment facilities at Guantánamo, the use of torture against suspected terrorists, and the widely condemned invasion of Iraq in 2003 have all tarnished the American “brand” and put a dent in America’s “soft power”-its ability to attract others to its point of view. With this broad perception of decline as the backdrop, every failure of the United States to get its way in the world tends to reinforce the impression.

Powerful as this sense of decline may be, however, it deserves a more rigorous examination. Measuring changes in a nation’s relative power is a tricky business, but there are some basic indicators: the size and the influence of its economy relative to that of other powers; the magnitude of military power compared with that of potential adversaries; the degree of political influence it wields in the international system-all of which make up what the Chinese call “comprehensive national power.”

Moreover, a great power’s decline is the product of fundamental changes in the international distribution of various forms of power that usually occur over longer stretches of time. Great powers rarely decline suddenly. A war may bring them down, but even that is usually a symptom, and a culmination, of a longer process.

After the brief overture we will now try to reconstruct the developments that are providing basis for the ongoing debates on the subject and also formulate basic definitions for the terms and phrases being used in this study.

11. Definitions

Rising Power. Rising power is a ‘national power’ having certain ingredients to threaten the status quo of global settings. Pedelford and Lincoln have described it as: “Strength composed of economic, psychological, moral, military and political elements, successfully directed to the furtherance of national interests, co nstitute rising national power”. In our opinion, this is by far the best definition of rising power in that it takes into consideration both classical and modern views regarding the sources of power and also touches on the objectives for which it is used. Rising power operates in international field in this sense. However, it should be noted that the concept of rising power is Relative, Conditional and Situational.

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Relativity of Rising Power. It is relative in that it has no absolute dimension. Power is rated by the effect it can bring about. State ‘A’ may be powerful vis-à-vis ‘B’ but can at the same time be weaker than ‘C’. For instance, India is stronger than Brazil but at the same time weaker than China in terms of economic might.

Conditional. Rising power is conditional in that it depends on variety of factors, the exact role of which is difficult to assess. States ‘A’ and ‘B’ may have equal resources, military strength etc yet they may differ in effective power. A strong sentiment of Nationalism, for instance, in State ‘A’ may inspire popular support to government action and policies and may prepare the people for greater sacrifices. This is bound to add to A’s power. If any such sentiment is totally absent in State ‘B’ and the nation is torn by intense internal dissentions, this may make it weaker vis-à-vis ‘A’ despite its equal or even superior resources and military preparedness. India and Brazil are cases in point.

Situational. Rising power is situational in the sense that it depends on specific international situation. Despite unchanged condition of resources and military might of both, the power equation between States A and B may change because of changed international situation. B may at once become powerful vis-à-vis A because of some favourable turn in the international situation. Development of friendly relations between America and India and the formation of an unwritten alliance between US, India and Israel has affected China and Pakistan equation with her neighbours.

12. Shift in Global Balance of Power – A Myth or Reality

The global shift of power to Asia and the global strategic dominance of the United States has been the subject of discussion since many years. Main theme of the debates and discussion is that whether United States power is in ‘absolute decline’ or ‘relative decline’. Either way, with the global shift of power to Asia what would inevitably follow is that the global balance of power would also be acquiring newer contours.

The shape of the global order is largely a function of the prevailing balance of power. As discussed earlier, since 1945, this global order has been dominated by the United States, a question arises that will the relative U.S. decline and the ‘rise of the rest’ lead to the decaying of this established order? The international system is both complex and contradictory at the same time. The world being dynamic, predictions and forecasts tend to be subjective than objective. Nobody predicted – at least not out loud- the fall of the Berlin Wall, Japan’s loss of influence, the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001, the upsurge in Islamic fundamentalism, Arab Spring and the meteoric rise of the oil prices. Without wishing to predict the future, and instead taking the current situation as a starting point, the international system is characterized by three general tendencies.

a. A new international order which is both uni and multi-polar at the same time.

b. The rise of Asia (China) which will come to dominate the 21st century in the economic dimensions of world order.

c. The (re)enforcing of the religion.

13. New Uni and Multi-Polar International Order

a. Moving Towards Geo-Economics. During the Cold War, international system was differentiated by the ideological confrontation between two superpowers. In the early stage of the post Cold War, the tripartite world dominated by Europe, the USA and Japan characterized the environment. The current constellation of global forces and alliances is much less clear than it was in the two previous stages. In this third stage, a world order which is multi-polar and uni-polar at the same time is taking shape. It amounts to an a la carte menu which makes room for both old and new powers as well as old and new alliances.

The world is uni-polar in the military and political spheres on account of the clear domination of USA, and multi-polar in all other facets of international relations. The upcoming world economies of the BRICS-countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South-Africa) up to now seem to follow an approach of pursuing geo-economics while avoiding to reopen the existing conflicts, at least for the time being. China is following a comprehensive approach towards national power. India is also pursuing geo economics while simultaneously modernizing its military might for a more dominant and perceived global role. Other countries and alliances/blocks also follow to varying extent different models to modernize their economies.

Sanjaya Baru puts it: “India’s economic opening up in 1991 created the basis for India’s re-integration with not just the global economy but also its own wider Asian neighborhood. That was the geopolitical and strategic consequence of India’s improved economic performance and greater openness since 1991. India’s “Look East” and “Look West” policies were logical consequences of her re-integration into the global economy. The geo-economic and geopolitical consequences of the reforms of 1991 were not an accident. They were well understood at the time based on an analysis of what had happened to the “closed” Soviet and Soviet-style economies in the 1970s and especially 1980s, and the “open” economies of east Asia, including Dengist China.” [1] 

b. Contemporary Political Order-Future Trajectories. No phenomenon dominates the current global political landscape more than the USA being the sole Super Power. The US is currently the only country that has the military might that influences global affairs and deploys military power across the globe. However, there are other power centers such as China, EU and Russia. NATO also figures out at this power calculus. Prior to the collapse of the Soviet Republic in 1990, the erstwhile Cold War ensured a balance of power which greatly stabilized the global political landscape.

In contrast however, the current uni-polarism has presented attendant consequences for the world. This has been seen in unprecedented anti US sentiment around the globe. Conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and the US- Iran debacle therefore reflect a current global political system which is becoming increasingly unstable partly due to US unilateralism.

14. The New Hierarchy of International States

Although there are many other players in the globalised world – multinational companies, the churches, and social movements amongst them – nation states continue to determine the pecking order of international power. The European Union (EU) is no exception to this. Its principle springboard into the international arena is economic, both diplomatic and military spheres remaining the prerogative of member states. Its failure to present itself to the world as a body which acts and speaks with one voice, means that the European model of using integration as an instrument for international influence has not succeeded in establishing itself as an alternative to the nation state.

When considering the international state hierarchy, various terms continue to co-exist which have not been clearly defined: (1) superpower (USA), (2) global power or great global power (China, India, Russia), (3) emerging powers (Brazil, Russia, India, China, BRIC), (4) medium sized powers (Brazil, Canada, South Africa and others), (5) regional power (several), (6) smaller powers (Luxemburg or Haiti, for example).

a. Superpower and Global/ great power. When considering the international state hierarchy, various terms continue to co-exist which have not been clearly defined. To belong to the category of Super Power like USA or global/ great power like China, India and Russia. Besides quantifiable statistics, two components which are more difficult to evaluate are prerequisites: first of all, an efficient diplomacy and foreign policy capable of projecting power and, secondly, the perception and/or recognition of that status of power by third party countries. In line with these criteria, the following quantifiable data allow us to single out a number of influential countries by size, economic weight, growth, military capacity or their contribution to the international system. Apart from these criteria, there are other factors which allow us to reassess certain countries in the international hierarchy: above all, the demand for energy, which justifies the international importance of Iran, Iraq and even Russia in the international system. To a large extent, oil also explains Middle Eastern countries’ strategic position in international politics. After all, a third of all “black gold” is produced in Arab states. Another criteria is a country’s technological level, something which explains, amongst other things, China’s economic success (electronics industry) and also India’s (software). Another more recent element is the use of religion as a political instrument, justifying the international relevance which countries like Israel, Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan have acquired in recent years.

b. Emerging Powers, Medium Size/Regional and Smaller Powers. In terms of quantifiable data, China tops the list along with India and Brazil, in the hierarchy of international power. Other countries (like Mexico, Iran, Pakistan, Indonesia or South Africa) are on the waiting list or in the “second row”. Amongst these, it is worth distinguishing between soft powers and hard powers, depending on the resources, military, economic, diplomatic or cultural. In line with this, apart from the so-called BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) whose basis is economic, other emerging powers with global influence can be identified: in terms of hard, or military power, Pakistan (nuclear power) and Iran (potential nuclear power), in terms of economic weight, Mexico and South Africa and, for reasons of population, Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nigeria also feature.

15. Emerging Blocks.

It is commonly perceived that some emerging blocks and regional alliances like SCO, ASEAN and BRICS respectively will gradually transform the existing power balance in the future.

a. Shanghai Cooperation Organization – SCO. SCO was originally founded to counter terrorism and separatism on its member states’ territory. The security interests of the organization are now increasingly complemented by economic and trade issues. The bloc is expected to counter US influence in areas including Chinese neighborhood and Russia’s ‘near abroad’.

b. Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS). An acronym for the economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa combined. The general consensus is that the term was first prominently used in a Goldman Sachs report from 2003, which speculated that by 2050 these five economies would be wealthier than most of the current major economic powers. The BRICS thesis posits that China and India will become the world’s dominant suppliers of manufactured goods and services, respectively, while Brazil and Russia will become similarly dominant as suppliers of raw materials. It is important to note that the Goldman Sachs thesis isn’t that these countries are a political alliance (like the European Union) or a formal trading association – but they have the potential to form a powerful economic bloc. BRICS is now also used as a more generic marketing term to refer to these four emerging economies.

16. Regionalism.

The study of regions, regionalism, regionalization, regional governance, regional integration, regional cooperation and other proximate terms have burgeoned since the 1990’s, along with the real world emergence of the so called ‘new regionalism’ in that period. Major regional forums include the European Union (EU), the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Organization of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to count few of them. Regionalism appears to be growing rapidly. Regionalism in fact is a byproduct of globalization, yet, it offers a collective response to the coercive dimensions of globalization. Therefore, the political unanimity of thought against countries of a particular regional organization such as ASEAN, would not be easy to muster when seen in the backdrop of such coercion if applied against a country which is not part of any such regional dispensation. The core regions are politically stable and economically dynamic. They organize for the sake of being better able to control the rest of the world, the world outside their own region. The intermediate regions are closely linked to the core regions. They will be incorporated as soon as they conform to the criterion of “core-ness”, that is, economic development and political stability. The peripheral regions, in contrast, are politically turbulent and economically stagnant. Consequently they must organize in order to arrest a process of marginalization. Their regional arrangements are at the same time fragile and ineffective. Their overall situation makes “security regionalism” and “developmental regionalism” more important than the creation of free trade regimes. They are necessarily more introverted. The core regions are those regions which are politically capable, no matter whether such capability is expressed in the form of a political organization or not. So far only one of the three core regions, namely Europe, aspires to build such an organization. The other two, that is North America and East Asia, are both economically strong, but so far they lack a regional political order. Structurally close to core are the intermediate regions, all in preparation for being incorporated in the core, the speed depending on their good, “core-like”, behaviour. They are:-

a. Central Europe, obediently waiting first in line for membership in the European Union.

b. Latin America and the Caribbean, in the process of becoming “North Americanized”.

c. China, South-East Asia and the “European Pacific”, or Oceania (Australia, New Zealand), all now being drawn by Chinese and Japanese capital into the East Asia economic space.

17. Remaining in the periphery are thus the following five regions:-

a. The post-Soviet area, the major parts of it now in the process of being reintegrated in the form of Commonwealth of Independent States (perhaps laying the ground for a future core region).

b. The Balkans, where the countries have lost whatever little tradition of cooperation they once might have been involved in.

c. The Middle East, a region defined from outside and with a most unsettled regional structure.

d. South Asia, with a very low level of “regionness”, because of the “cold war” (sometimes getting hot) between the two major powers, India and Pakistan.

e. Finally, Africa, where in many countries the political structures called “states” are falling apart.

19. Major indicators. By 2025, According to an International Futures model measuring GDP, defense spending, population, and technology for individual states, the relative political and economic clout of many countries will shift. The United States however, will find itself in the position of being one of a number of important actors on the world stage, albeit still the most powerful one. The relationship between achievements in science and technology and economic growth will be one of the leading factors of the US power. As per National Innovation System (NIS) contracted global survey of scientific experts, the United States currently boasts a stronger innovation system than the developing economies.

Main indicators and determents of the major powers in 2025





Military Spending







Graphically the data could be depicted as

International Organizations, 2020-2025 (%/year)

21. Analysis.

Five very different countries: China, India, Brazil, Russia and South Africa are emerging. The shape of the global order is largely a function of the prevailing global power balance. Nevertheless, there are three conditions that could lead to the end of this liberal international order.

a. Though it is possible that another hegemon would rise at some point, this is unlikely to happen at least in the next two decades. We have had two dramatic transitions in the global system in the last century, but both happened as a consequence of the collapse of major powers. The end of the Second World War saw the demise of not just Germany and Japan but many European great powers, leaving a bipolar order dominated by the U.S. and the Soviet Union. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 converted that bipolar system into a unipolar one. While there are plenty of predictions of other great powers rising, there are none that suggest the U.S. will collapse. And short of that, what we are likely to witness are gradual rather than dramatic changes in the balance of power, and these will take a lot longer than two decades. Hence, the possibility of a new global order framed by another global hegemon is not very likely in the immediate future.

b. The second possibility, more probable than the first, is the rise of several new powers such as China, Russia, Brazil, India, South Korea who are growing strong enough to share the stage with proportional strength with the U.S., even if they do not necessarily match the U.S. Such a multipolar order could gradually erode the current international liberal order. But this will not be because these powers do not share the norms of the curre


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