Great powers

Great powers

● Great powers must have significant regional influence within their ‘near abroad’.

● They should have the capacity for significant military outreach.

● They should possess a major role in international organisations, providing them with significant structural power.

● They will have some of the strongest economies in the world.

The term ‘great power’ originates from the early 19th century, when it was used to describe the combatants of the Napoleonic Wars – Austria, France, Great Britain, Prussia and Russia. There is no single agreed definition. Some thinkers have defined it in terms of military power or capability.

Others, such as Kenneth Waltz the founder of neo-realism – use these criteria.

• Population and territory.

• Resources.

• Economic development.

• Political stability.

• Competence and military strength.

A further relevant criterion is the ability to project power beyond the state’s geographical region. Of the five countries represented at the Congress of Vienna in 1814–15, which agreed a peace settlement to end the Napoleonic Wars, Great Britain came closest to satisfying all the criteria for great power status. In 1922, the British Empire covered nearly a quarter of the globe and ruled about one-fiſth of the world’s population. It was the foremost naval power and the richest and most developed economy in the world.

By the start of the 20th century, Germany was challenging Britain militarily and its rapid industrialisation at the end of the 19th century made it a rival economically too. The United States was also beginning to emerge, predominantly as a developing economy. The Monroe Doctrine – the guiding principle of US foreign policy since 1823 – prohibited the country from interference in European affairs, which stopped it becoming a military power until the Second World War.