Is Great Power status essentially material or normative?

Is Great Power status essentially material or normative?
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    Is Great Power status essentially material or normative?* Since Thucydides assertion in the Melian dialogue, the nature of power in world politics has been a primary source in theorising about international relations. What constitutes great power status therefore, involves a perennial debate amongst scholars as to where power comes from, and how effectively it is used for the policy ends that states are attempting to achieve. Since the notion of status   itself is not a permanent feature granted to great powers in international relations, assessing Great Power status is arguably easier through historical criteria than giving it a definition. 1  The status of a Great Power, however, is one given to those states who “may be defined as a political force exerting an effect coexistence with the widest range of the society in which it operates.” 2  Recently, there has been a wealth of literature in understanding the role and nature of great powers following the emergence of non-Western regional powers, including China, India and Brazil. 3   The scholarly debate over definitional and objective aspects as to what constitutes great power status revolves around the nature of power itself. This essay will proceed along the lines of Barry Buzan’s categorization of two distinct ‘classical’ approaches in great power literature. 4  In the first section of this essay, it will inform the following sections by assessing the fundamental principles of international anarchy and hierarchy as the conceptual centre of great power literature. Following this, the material argument theorised in the works of structural realism will be pursued. In the final section, normative arguments will attempt to qualify the material approach but maintain that the status of a Great Power has to be one that is recognised by other powers, particularly those of lesser capability. Status has to be determined by the level of authority a state exerts. The structural realist approach is therefore lacking because it fails to consider how material capabilities gives rise to social empowerment. 5   I  A theoretical examination in reviewing the nature of the system in which states operate, before diverging into the appropriateness of power in achieving the status of a Great Power, is a necessary inquiry before engaging in more complex questions in the following sections. International anarchy  –   the absence of higher authority above the state  –   remains the central tenant and starting point in theorising about international relations. 6    Yet, although the international system is a “decentralized system of sovereign equals” formalised in international law under the Treaty of Westphalia, there is a general understanding that some powers are recognised as different than others entailing a 300159: Being Great Student Number: 201405160  Word Count: 3,180 1   Martin Wight, Power Politics   (London: Leicester University Press, 1995), p. 41 2  A. J. Toynbee, The World after the Peace Conference  , (Oxford University Press, London: Humphrey Milford, 1925), p. 4 3  Manjeet S. Pardesi , ‘Is India a Great Power? Understanding Great Power Status in Contemporary International Relations’  Asian Security  , Vol. 11, No. 1 4  Barry Buzan, The United States and the Great Powers: World Politics in the Twenty-First Century   (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2004), p. 59 5    Justin Morris, ‘From ‘Peace by Dictation’ to International Organisation: Great Power Responsibility and the Creation of the United Nations’ The International History Review  , Vol. 35, No. 3, p. 515   6   Hedley Bull, ‘Society and Anarchy in International Relations’ in Herbert Butterfield and Martin Wight (eds.), Diplomatic Investigations: Essays in the Theory of International Politics   (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1966), p. 35; See Also : Helen Milne r, ‘The Assumption of Anarchy in International Relations Theory: A Critique’ Review of International Studies  , Vol. 17, No. 1 ; Ian Clark, ‘How Hierarchical Can International Society Be?’ International Relations  , Vol. 23, No. 3    system of hierarchy. 7  However, competing conceptions of international anarchy and its effects upon state behaviour for which are reliant upon prescriptions to mitigate the situation follows a recognition of hierarchical relationships within the international system. 8  Hierarchy, defined by “the number of actions over which the dominant state can legitimately issue commands” brings   into the fore ‘classical’ writings that attempt to describe, or indeed prescribe, materially enforced or socially determined relationships. 9   The first of such approaches, the structural realist account, assumes a particularly materialist understanding that reflects its positivist theorising in assuming outcomes within an international structure. For Kenneth Waltz, anarchy is the ordering principles of the international system. 10  Anarchy is seen by structural realists as the existence of functionally similar units acting in a position of self-help; their differences are “of capability, not of function.” 11  Accordingly, hierarchical orders are determined by the distribution of capabilities across the units of the system fulfilling similar tasks. Great power status is positional in terms of the hierarchical relationship that is determined by its capability as “managers of international affairs.” 12  The distribution of capabilities is further defined by the polarity of the system  –   whether multipolar or bipolar  –   and for which lies the categorising of Great Powers. The extent of this argument in viewing the capabilities   of states as the formation of great power status nevertheless remains controversial amongst scholars, inc luding within the realist camp by Waltz’s qualification of anarchy. 13  Structural realism’s observations remain an important aspect  in defining great power status. But the extent to  which it can maintain that capabilities are the only element of status will be further developed, despite its offering of an inherently one-dimensional observation. Indeed, Waltz was clear to mention the limitations of his theory on a number of accounts, describing it as “indeterminate” but nevertheless maintaining such accounts accord to greater “explanatory power” than “descriptive accuracy.” 14  Rejecting this, altho ugh not in its entirety, the second ‘classical’ approach defined by English School and constructivist scholars view hierarchy primarily as a socially determined phenomena that exists alongside international order. While the English School scholars, principally Hedley Bull and Martin Wight still stand on the behavioural implications of anarchy, they disagree  with structural realists the extent to which the ‘ juxtaposition ’  of units determines chaotic and disorderly inter-state relations as the hallmark of self-help systems. 15  Through historical inquiry, international order is preserved by the formation of an international society; “a group of states, conscious of common interests and common values… bound by a common set of rules in their relations with one another, and share in the working of common institutions .” 16  Accordingly, the hierarchy of states is qualified by a sense of recognition in its ability to maintain order and not simply that of its relative capabilities in which other states have to balance against one another to maintain their position. 17  Great powers are therefore, in terms of the English School an institution 7   Helen Milner, ‘The Assumption of Anarchy in International Relations Theory: A Critique’ Review of International Studies  , Vol. 17, No. 1, p. 75 8   Bull, ‘Society and Anarchy in International Relations’ , pp. 48-50 9  Buzan, The United States and the Great Powers  , p. 59 10   Kenneth Waltz, Theory of International Politics   (Long Grove: Waveland Press, Inc. 1979), p. 88-9 11  Ibid, p. 96 12  Ibid, p. 194 13   See: Barry Buzan, The Logic of Anarchy (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993) 14  Waltz  , Theory of International Politics  , p. 115   15  Tim Dunne, ‘Society and Hiearchy in International Relations’ International Relations  , Vol. 17, No. 3, p. 304 16  Hedley Bull, The Anarchical Society: A Study of Order in World Politics   (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 1977), p. 8 17  Waltz, Theory of International Politics  ,   p.126; See Also: Glenn Snyder, ‘Mearsheimer’ s World-Offensive Realism and the Struggle for Security’   International Security  , Vol. 27, No. 1    that are accorded the right to act responsibly in maintaining peace and security on behalf of members of the international system. 18  In direct contrast to the structural realist assumption of anarchy, and acting as a qualifier of the behavioural expectations that structural realist pose, the constructivist argument contends that “ structures of human association are determined primarily by shared ideas rather than material forces. ” 19  Status is determined by the nature and means of maintaining hierarchical relations between states. This in turn is what creates international order.  Although the sovereign equality of states is central to this examination, it should be noted that it is equally under stress in systems of hierarchy, particularly in the materialist distinction given  Western responses to international terrorism and humanitarian intervention practices. 20  The following sections will highlight the two approaches made above in greater detail and will reveal that the nature of status in international relations is a complex undertaking since the notion  –   by definition at least  –   does not presume a state of permanency (independent) but rather one that fluctuates (dependent) over different time periods and srcinating from difference sources of power. As Martin Wight has observed, it is “easier to answer historically, by enumerating the great powers at any date, than by giving a definition, for there is always a broad agreement about the existing great powers.” 21   II  The primary ‘classical’ approach in great power literature explains status as an essentially material construct. For structural realists, assessing great power status through material capabilities endows a “general agreement” amongst scholars that can identify the great powers during a particular period empirically, and for which “common sense can answer it.” 22  Although this creates the possibility of providing an attractive theoretical simplicity in understanding great powers which is the hallmark of positivist theories, it misappropriates the various sources of power in international politics and contradicts structural realist attempts to provide social-scientific definitions. 23   For structural realists, great power status is given to those “of greatest capability [who] set the scene of action for others as well as themselves.” 24  Determining the sources of power that gives status within a hierarchical relationship, Waltz identifies “size of population and territory, resource endowment, economic capability, military strength, political stability and competence.” 25  However, translating power into the maintenance of the hierarchical relationship produces competing debates over its currency in international relations based upon a divergence over the structural effects of anarchy. This split in structural realism between ‘defensive’ and ‘offensive’ realism produced a wealth of literature at the end of the Cold War and reveals the inherent difficulties in measuring power to hierarchy and therefore the authority of the relationship. 26  Defensive realism holds that anarchy produces benign incentives to gain power; because states 18  Bull, The Anarchical Society p. 196 19    Alexander Wendt, Social Theory of International Politics   (Cambridge: University Press, 1999), p. 1   20  Lake, ‘ Escape from the State of Nature’ , p. 57 21  Martin Wight, Power Politics   (London: Leicester University Press, 1995), p. 41; See Also: Paul Kennedy 22  Waltz, Theory of International Politics, p. 131 23  Barry Buzan, The United States and the Great Powers: World Politics in the Twenty-First Century   (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2004), p. 62 24  Waltz, p. 25  Ibid, p. 131 26   See  : John J. Mearsheimer, ‘Back to the Future: Instability in Europe After the Cold War’ International Security  ,  Vol. 15, No. 1; for the overview of the defensive realist account; Charles L. Glaser, ‘Realists as Optimists: Cooperation as Self- Help’ International Security  , Vol. 19, No. 3    operate in a system of self-help, absolute gains may produce recurrent security dilemmas. 27  In consequence, cooperation in systems of hierarchy are determined by means of limiting other states in eroding their own relative capabilities. 28  For Waltz , “the first concern of states is not to maximise their power but to maintain their position in the system.” 29  John Mearsheimer on the other hand has maintained that anarchy provides strong incentives for states to increase their relative material capabilities acting exclusively out of self-interest. An inherently materialist argument, offensive realism holds that status quo powers are rarely to be found in international relations and with this, great power is to be inextricably linked in military terms. 30  I t is, as Mearsheimer calls it, the “ultima -ratio of international politics ”   because it is the surest way to hold one’s own in a system of anarchy. 31  Measuring power however is inherently difficult. The most widely used definition of power in which “A has power over B to the extent that he can get B to do something B would not otherwise do” provides little explanation in how it is to be achieved. 32  In international relations, measuring power and the weak association of capability that comes with it, is dependent upon structural constraints and relative distribution of power within the system. Indeed, categorizing Great Powers through a materialist definition is challenged by the preponderance of American hegemony that has removed the initiative of traditional Great Powers in claiming regional influence and independently managing their own sphere of influence. 33  This is further complicated by the fact that a state’s position within the system, as matter of their hierarchical relationship with one another can be preserved through the formalisation of legalised hierarchies. Although this will be expanded in the following section, since its operation is only constituted within the framework of international society, the idea of status of a Great Power as capability is in itself determined by legal categories of international law. 34   The materialist recognition of great power status is a tentative approach in categorizing states that possess the definitional requirements of a Great Power. However, it is lost in consistency because it assumes that the accumulation of power directly correlates to changes in patterns of behaviour. As Barry Buzan has argued, it depends whether the state possessing a level of capabilities translates it into assuming a great power role or not. 35   China’s struggle for status recognition has been a particular area of interest in great power literature. 36  Although in relative and material terms, it is the second most powerful state in the world with a gross domestic product of US$11.2 trillion -which is well ahead of its other UNSC peers- it is defined as a “status seeker” a “frustrated great power” and “the most status - conscious country in the world” provides a 27   Gideon Rose, ‘Neoclassical Realism and Foreign Policy’ World Politics  , Vol. 51, No. 1 p. 149 28    Joseph M. Grieco, ‘Anarchy and the limits of cooperation: a realist critique of the newest liberal institutionalism’ International Organization  , Vol. 42, No. 3, p. 498;    Waltz, Theory of International Politics,  p. 198 29    Waltz, Theory of International Politics  , p. 126 30  Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2001) p. 21 31  Ibid, p. 56 32   Robert A. Dahl, ‘The Concept of Power’ Behavioural Science  , Vol. 2, No. 3, pp. 202-3 33   Ian Clark, ‘Towards an English School of Hegemony’  European Journal of International Relations  , Vol. 15, No. 2, pp. 222 34  Gerry Simpson, Great Powers and Outlaw States: Unequal Sovereigns in the International Legal Order (Cambridge: University Press, 2004), pp. 68-9 35  Buzan, The United States and the Great Powers  , p. 63 36   See: Xia Liping, ‘China: A responsible great power’  Journal of Contemporary China  , Vol. 10, No. 26;   Beverley Loke, ‘Conceptualising the Role and Responsibility of Great Power: China’s Participation in Negotiations toward a Post- Second World War Order’ Diplomacy and Statecraft  , Vol. 24, No. 2; Zheng Bijian, ‘Chinas “Peaceful Rise” to Great Power Status’ Foreign Affairs  , Vol. 84, No. 5;    contemporary example that material preponderance does not buy the rights of status. 37  The problem in measuring power however is arguably to take issue with the positivist approach to international relations theory. As David Lake has observed, “indicators are never direc t measures, only more or less valid reflections of the underlying theoretical constructs.” 38  Indeed, to test the theoretical observation of the materialist approach by taking China as an example, it is likely to be qualified by its ability to engage in a conventional conflict against a power of comparable status. But even if China were to engage in a conflict, and whether it won or lost it, is not simply a measurement of its relative power but rather its efficiency in dispensing its power to achieve its national interests. Britain, for example, maintained dominance over much of the 18th Century primarily due to its naval capability and not through a preponderance of military power on all levels.  Waltz makes it clear, - though more of a sign of backtracking - that materialist definitions are more suited in explaining questions concerning relations among the Great Powers, commenting that “economic, military and other capabilities… cannot be sectored or separately weighed.” 39 Like Morgenthau however, power is “always a relative one” and it is subject to the issues of grand strategy, the broader political circumstances, which will determine the position of the state and not simply its power as seen on paper or on the parade ground. 40   Material capabilities of states are a necessary attribute in achieving the status of a Great Power. However, measuring such capabilities and how they relate to other states in a hierarchical fashion is limited to a one-dimensional view of politics, particularly when considering Mearsheimer’s offensive realism. Accordingly, great power status is not simply given with a preponderance of military or economic power. In the contemporary world in particular, military capability of an offensive type can be considered an anathema to Great Power status if it is not afforded the normative expectations of great power responsibility. III  The second ‘classical’ approach to great power literature is closer to a social theorising of international relations by two main threads, the English School and constructivism. The English School’s principle founder, Hedley Bull, defines great powers through a recognition of its material capability for great power as “members of the club” who are “comparable in status… [and] all in the front rank in terms of military strength.” 41  Crucially however, great power status   is socially defined and requires that they are “recognised by others to have, and conceived by their own leaders and peoples to have, certain special rights and duties.” 42  This social recognition of hierarchy  within the English School places greater emphasis on the role authority and legitimacy than the 37    Joshua Freedman, ‘Status insecurity and temporality in world politics’  European Journal of International Relations  ,  Vol. 22, No. 4, p. 798; Shozo Suzuki, ‘Seeking Legitimate Great Power Status in Post -Cold War International Society: China and Japan’s Participation in the UNPKO’ International Relations  , Vol. 22, No. 1, pp. 48-52; Yong Deng, Chinas Struggle for Status: The Realignment of International Relations (Cambridge: University Press, 2008), p. 8   38   David Lake, ‘Escape from the State of Nature: Authority and Hierarchy in World Politics’ International Security  ,  Vol. 32, No. 1, p. 62 39  Waltz, Theory of International Politics  , p. 131   40  Hans J. Morgenthau, Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace  , 3rd ed. (New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1960) p. 166; See also: Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000  (London: Unwin Hyman Limited, 1988); Paul Kennedy, Grand Strategies in War and Peace   (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991) 41  Hedley Bull, The Anarchical Society: A Study of Order in World Politics  , 3 rd  ed.   (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2002), p. 194-5 42  Ibid, p. 196
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