Power Relationships

Most accounts of power portray it as a relationship. In its classic formulation, power can be said to be exercised whenever A gets B to get something that B would not otherwise have done. If a concern with capabilities equates power with ‘strength’, a concern with relationships equates power with ‘influence’. Capabilities and relationships are clearly not distinct, however. Power relations between states or other actors may be taken to reflect the balance of their respective capabilities. Relational power is often understood in terms of actions and outcomes – that is, the effect the actor has on another – rather than in terms of contrasting assessments of capabilities. This is particularly the case because power is about perception. States and other actors deal with one another on the basis of their calculations of relative power. This may mean, for example, that reputation can sustain national power despite its decline in ‘objective’ terms. Foreign policy decisions may thus be based on under-estimates and over-estimates of the power of other actors, as well as various kinds of misinterpretation and misperception. This may be illustrated in Russia's invasion of Ukraine where Russia's capabilities were overestimated. The invasion from a Russian point of view was underpinned by the historical and cultural relationship between Russia and Ukraine as well as the relationship between Russia and NATO. Perceptions of a threat were more significant than reality.

Relational power may be exerted by the use of diplomacy which is connected to the notion of soft power’ formulated by the American liberal academic, Joseph Nye, who defines this form of power in terms of the ability to achieve one’s end without the use of force or even coercion, effectively by winning ‘hearts and minds’

The two most prominent vehicles of public diplomacy in the UK are the British Council, which promotes British education and culture through offices around the world (see https://www.britishcouncil.org/), and the BBC World Service, which provides news and analysis in twenty-seven languages (see www.bbc.co.uk/news/world_radio_and_tv). Both receive funding from the FCDO (Foreign Office)

Broadcasting is also a major arm of public diplomacy with Voice of America (VOA), funded by Congress and administered by the US Agency for Global Media (USAGM) which oversees all non-military international broadcasting, reaching an estimated weekly global audience of 275 million with news, information, and cultural programming utilizing the Internet, mobile and social media, radio, and television

As emerging powers, both India and China have also begun to engage in public diplomacy measures, although China has been far more proactive in raising its international profile over the last thirty years or so. This has been all the more important for a country with a poor human rights record and international image problems, especially following the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989 when tanks confronted unarmed pro-democracy protestors. This incident left lasting impressions on a significant global audience through extensive media coverage.

To boost its image internationally, China in 2004 embarked on a project of developing ‘Confucius Institutes’ around the world. Modelled partly on the British Council, France’s Alliance Française, and Germany’s Goethe-Institut, these have been located mainly in established universities and, along with numerous ‘Confucius classrooms’ in schools, aim to promote learning of Chinese language and culture. As of 2019 there were 182 Institutes in European universities (including 29 in the UK alone),