Power In IR: Meaning, Definition, kinds, and dimension of Power

The power is an important element of political processes at all levels – from local to national or global. Traditionally, it has been a cornerstone of the society, and it is still a part of the human interactions. Knowing power is pivotal to getting into the intricacy of international politics. The power and the state are in close relation. Hartmann claims that power in the relations between the sovereign states is always there. So, any interaction among states whether in a friendly or confrontational manner is about power. Politics can be said to be the exercise of power in which nations and states interact through the control and interaction of resources. The power is the key in international relations to achieve national goals and strategy. This is why every nation is willing to strive, survive, and possess power. The status of a state in mutual relations with other nations is determined by its power without regard to its cultural or historical values. However, every state has its manner and type of power. Therefore, power is an important factor to be studied in international relations.

Meaning and Definition of Power

The notion of power was raised since the earliest time.
-A renowned Indian political thinker, Kautilya, in the 4th century B.C., defined power as a “brilliant” act of having military strength, knowledge, and valor. This definition states that it is the ones that help the oppressors to dominate other people.
-In the modern era, Hans Morgenthau described power as the capability of one political actor to determine how the second political entity will think or act. Power can be viewed as a concept that is very wide with different forms of relationships from physical violence to psychological manipulation. It can be the result of a person’s intrinsic qualities or a relationship between two people. In essence, power is the capacity to determine others or to put forward other independent entities, and the way of measuring the state’s power is to measure its certain attributes.

Power is, nevertheless, a subject of consideration by various thinkers, each with a distinct viewpoint. According to Schwarzenberger, it is the ability to enforce the will through the use of credible sanctions. The distinguishing power from influence is the use of influencing in the presence of threats. Schleicher also comes up with the distinction between power and influence; according to him, power is with coercion, whereas influence is by consent and persuasion. Dahl defines power as the capacity to impact the odds of events happening according to one’s preferences, demonstrating the capacity to manipulate other people’s behaviours. Hartmann mentions power being represented with a spectrum such as latent persuasion to brutality, but highlighting its multiple characters. Duchacek states that power is defined as an ability to achieve planned effects and to influence others’ actions by one’s purpose. Couloumbis and Wolfe offer a comprehensive understanding of power, breaking it down into three components: power, impact, and ability to make decisions. The use of force is based on the application of direct and expressed threats or the use of military and economic coercion. Influence is in a way connected with the ability to persuade to reach the desired result. Authority is based on the citizens’ voluntary obedience, which in turn is a result of their respect, solidarity, and admiration for outstanding leaders. This will enable us to be more precise about the differences and it will also increase our knowledge of the power dynamics and other concepts that are related to it like influence, force, and authority.

National Power
National power is the integral strength and capacity of the nation-state that is utilized to further the national goals.

This definition, as articulated by Padelford and Lincoln, embodies different assets and capabilities of a state that can collectively be utilized and put into practice for strategic purposes. This power gives a state a long-term advantage over other states and enables them to influence the ideas, thoughts, and behaviour of the world’s people as well as to shape the course of global events.

Anam Jaitly illustrates that national power is concerned not only with the ability to unite the domestic population while influencing foreign entities to align with the desired preferences of the nation but also to evoke favourable reactions from them. National power comprehension is of paramount significance for the pursuance of a broad national agenda in a dynamic international arena.

national force, according to Jangam, is the way nations conduct their foreign policies and pursue various objectives, such as territorial, political, economic, social, and cultural interests, and also the prestige and goodwill among nations. This is the point of view that emphasizes the complicated character of national power, which consists of various constituent parts.

According to Ebenstein, national power is not just about population and raw materials but also covers qualitative aspects such as the state’s social and political cohesion and technological capacity. It includes a range of quantitative and subjective things such as cooperation, devotion to civic matters, adaptability, technical expertise, and the ability to face and overcome adversity. These parts, if properly managed, may bring a nation to a state of superpower.


There are three types of power which are explained below: There are three types of power which are explained below:

  1. Physical Power:
    The term ‘ military strength’ denotes a nation’s physical power. The US and Russia are world leaders as they have strong militaries. The sources of political power within a state are often from the military’s submission to the civilians. Though there have been cases where the chain of authority has been disrupted and military intervention has ensued, it is important to note that this can fundamentally alter the political dynamics. Technological progress has led to an expansion of military power touching all branches of the armed forces, such as the army, air force, navy, and the latest nuclear capabilities. Even though strengthening the military power increases the state’s power, the military should be under the control of the civilian power, and no involvement in political events has to be allowed.
  2. Psychological Power:
    Psychological power is based on the ability to shift public opinion and apply symbolic strategies that move people to emotional reactions. Propaganda is one of the main methods through which totalitarian regimes seek to control the minds of people. Governments operate psychological power rather skilfully using similar parades like India’s Republic Day parade, emphasizing military strength, or the Kremlin’s exhibition of military might during the anniversary of the October Revolution. The propaganda is used by employing such measures as broadcasting in foreign languages as well as other techniques so that the opinion of the rival nations can be manipulated, the disloyalty and dissent against their governments is the result.
  3. Economic Power:
    Economic power is based on the ability of a country to dominate the production and circulation of goods and services, thus conditioning the behaviour of other countries. The wealthier and more developed countries, that yield economic and political might, have the power to influence the destiny of poorer nations through economic aid, trade concession, and technical cooperation. Economic development not only empowers countries with a persuasive nature but also helps them to resist foreign influences. With international trade, economically strong states can form economically dependent relationships, which in their turn define geopolitical relations. As an illustration, countries such as Nepal and Bhutan selling their products to India are examples, while the US companies are the agents of the multinational corporations that dominate the economy in Latin America. Developed countries often utilize their economic aid policies in the case of developing nations, which certainly gives them considerable financial power, but a politically doubtful benefit.


Various methods exist for a nation to exercise its influence and control over others: Various methods exist for a nation to exercise its influence and control over others:

  1. Persuasion:
    Convincing a nation means using arguments to persuade the other nation, to make them think logically, and to view issues differently. Such an approach could be used not only in international diplomacy but it is mostly implemented by small states that cannot have coercive power.
  2. Rewards:
    Governments can reward behaviour that is desired by nations by giving advice, financial assistance, military aid, or political backing. Diplomats can frame their views to curry favour with counterparts in other nations.
  3. Punishment:
    The punishment method involves by admonishing or punishing people engaged in undesired behaviour by threats or actual measures. This can be done by denying the rewards, participating in unfavorable propaganda, engaging diplomatically with an adversarial country, and supporting the adversary. More often than not, the penalties are threatened and not implemented just to show the offenders that punishment will be there if they do not behave well.
  4. Force:
    The breakdown of persuasion, rewards, and punishment may lead nations to the use of force as a way of being in control of the others. Force can range from diplomatic and economic sanctions to military campaigns up to a war. It is usually an option that is taken up when other solutions fail.
  5. Skills:
    Firstly, Greene and Elffers highlight some key skills to take and manage power successfully. Such skills include emotional control, the ability to assess risks, craftiness at deceit, patience, insight into the psychology of people, strategic planning, and the ability to make one’s goals look like something else while on the way to achieve them covertly. These abilities are the key not only for the proper performance of power management in the world arena but also to the successful resolution of the most sophisticated processes at the international level.

Dimension of Power

Deutsch outlines three dimensions of power that provide a framework for measuring and analysing the capabilities of nation-states: Deutsch outlines three dimensions of power that provide a framework for measuring and analysing the capabilities of nation-states:

  1. Domain of Power:
    The domain of power indicates an area in which one has authority. These components make up the political unit. In general, the outside domain is the key field of concern within international relations, which consists of the ability of a nation-state to be powerful over the borders. For example, the U.S. external domain spans its effects in the NATO, ANZUS Treaty parties, and other states with bilateral defence agreements. According to Rosenau, a political body is “penetrated,” when it is a part of another country’s political processes. These items are examples of this stipulation which include military bases in foreign states, the size of military missions abroad, and the provision of foreign aid. This can occur through colonialism, imperialism, and a dependency relationship.
  2. Range of Power:
    The range is all about the range that goes from the highest reward to the worst penalty that a power-holder can execute within the sovereignty of its domain. Herein, it entails both the internal as well as the external inputs. In the domestic arena, a state may rule through the use of privileges like welfare programs rights to vote, and punishment if the citizens do not comply. Internally, strong states have an impact using military actions that go beyond military interventions to diplomatic and economic support. Domestic abuse happens on the external level mirroring colonialism and neo-colonialism, while alliances and collaborative economic structures represent more balanced relationships.
  3. Scope of Power:
    Power scope involves the depth of governmental action towards a wide range of behaviors, relationships, and affairs. Such practices involve not only national activities but also operations in other countries. Technical developments have brought about a new dimension of power that can be used by states to show influence not only in a conventional way but also in a more sophisticated manner. Thus, as an illustration, some of the Latin American countries are economically and politically controlled by the US, which is due to the presence of multinational corporations. Interdependence and reciprocity are the basis of the modern power relationship, as the world nations collaborate in the search for important resources and technologies.
    They are the building blocks that enable us to see through the fog of modern international relations and understand how the states with different levels of power interact.