What Makes a Major Power?
37 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2007
Date Written: August 8, 2007
Research in international relations commonly finds that major powers behave differently than do other states. Indeed, the assumption that major powers are potentially active anywhere on the globe is the basis for treating dyads that include them as politically relevant in many studies. In spite of their importance, relatively little attention has been paid to what makes a major power. The possession of substantial material power is obviously an important part of the story, but becoming a major power also entails a policy choice. This paper considers three explanations for this choice, two drawn from the realist tradition, and one from the liberal tradition. Implications of these three explanations are tested against two policies characteristic of major powers: the development of military power and the construction of power projection capability. The results tend to support the liberal argument that economic stakes in the world beyond their borders drives these policy choices, but there is some evidence for the offensive realist claim that potential power also plays an important role in these choices.
Keywords: major power, power projection, realism, liberalism
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