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Elements of National Power in International Relations


National Power:

Prof. Morgenthau defines power as “a psychological relation between those who exercise it and those over whom it is exercise”. He further states that whatever the ultimate aim of international politics, power is always the immediate aim. According to Schwarzenberger “the power is the capacity to impose one’s will on others by reliance on effective sanctions in case of non-compliance. In the words of Charles P. Schleicher “power is the ability to exercise such control to make others to what they otherwise would not do by rewarding or promising to reward them by depriving or threatening to deprive them of something they value”.

In the broad sense, power can be defined as the ability or capacity to control others and get them to do what one wants them want to do and also to see that they do not do what one does not want them to do. Therefore it is the ability to control the behaviour of other states in accordance with one’s own will. Ebenstein says “national power is more than the sum total of population, raw material and quantitative factors. The alliance potential of a nation, its civics devotion, the flexibility of its institutions, its technical know-how, its capacity to endure privation; these are but a few quantitative elements that determine the total strength of a nation. Power is neither good nor evil in itself. It is socially and morally neutral.

Elements of National Power:

It is believed that wealth, resources, manpower and armies are the real foundations of power. But it is not the mere possession of these which makes a nation powerful. It is the possession of certain elements and their skilfully uses which makes a nation powerful. Let us examine those elements which serve as the basis or the foundation of national power.


The importance of the geographical factor, upon which the power of a nation depends, has been recognised since ancient times. The Geo politicians, especially Mackinder and Spykman, have attached great importance to geography. Mackinder said “who rules Eastern Europe commands Heartland, who rules Heartland rules the world Islands and who rules the world Islands rules the world. Spykman likewise says about Rhineland “who controls Rhineland rules Eurasia; who controls Eurasia controls the destiny of the world”.

The most important among geographical factors are the size of the country, its topography and location. The size of the territory increases the power of a nation. A small state cannot become powerful. The size gives a nation room for manoeuvre. Instead of conquerors swallowing the territory it is rather the territory that swallows the Conqueror. It is well-known that Napoleon and Hitler failed when they tried to occupy Russia. Similarly, China was saved from total disintegration when Japan attacked in 1937 on account of its vast size.

Natural Resources:

The natural resources and the raw materials available in a country also greatly contribute to the national power. While the natural resources are the gifts of nature, the raw materials, are the result of human labour. The natural resources include minerals, flora, fauna, fertility of soil, waterfall etc. The raw materials includes food, rubber, cotton etc. However, the natural resources do not by themselves create power. They have to be exploited with the help of capital, technical know-how and skilled labour. For example though Brazil had rich deposits of iron they did not contribute to her national power until they were exploited with the technical assistance received from USA. Again the power of a nation does not depend on the availability of one or two natural resources, but on the availability of a large number of them. In present times raw materials like oil, uranium and atomic energy have also greatly affected the national power of the country.


Technology implies the application of science and new methods of production. In recent years technology has come to exercise profound influence on the power base of a state as well as the course of international relations. Technology at least in three spheres: industrial, communication and military has greatly influence the power of the state. The industrial technology adds to the power of the country by enabling it to increase its production and attaining economic surplus. The transport technology has resulted in improvement in methods of transportation of ideas, people and goods. It has exercised profound influence on the nature of diplomacy and thereby affected the nature of international relations. The diplomats are no longer expected to act on their own and receive full directions from the foreign office. The military technology has played an even more important role in increasing the power of the state. It is well known that Britain was able to dominate over the vast colonies spread all over the world chiefly due to her military advancement. Similarly in the post-World War II period, USA and Soviet Union were able to acquire supreme positions due to their military and industrial technology.


The population is an important contributory factor to the national power. Generally large population is considered a source of strength, but sometimes it can also be a source of weakness for the state. If the state can utilise its human resources effectively and give them a decent standard of living and provide constructive outlets for their talents and energies the large number of people can be an asset. On the other hand if a state cannot provide necessities to its large population the same is a source of weakness. Generally large population is a source of strength in the developed countries while in the underdeveloped countries it is a source of weakness. Emphasising the importance of large population Mussolini once said “let us be frank with ourselves. What are 14 million Italians compared with 95 million Germans and 200 million Salvs? But the strength of the country does not depend on the number of people alone. The quality of the population is even more important. If the population of a country contains too many children and old people they are a liability in so far as they constitute a serious strain on the economic resources of the country. A country with a large adult population is assured of a strong labour force and can exploit the available resources more profitably. If the people profess greater technical capacity, ability they can exercise more effective control over the forces of nature and contribute to the growth of national power.

National Character and Morale:

Quantity alone does not contribute to the national strength. Quality of the population has great bearing on national power. National character and national morale standout both for their elusiveness from the point of view of national progress and for their permanent and often decisive influence upon the weight and nation is able to put into the scales of international politics. It was due to the national character of the small European nations that for long they could dominate the large Asian and African nations. National morale contributes towards the national character. National morale is defined as the degree of determination with which a nation supports the foreign politics of its government in peace or in war. If the country is wrecked by internal divisions, jealousies and dissensions it will either not be able to demonstrate any morale or as if there is any morale it will not be effective.

Economic Development:

The economic development is another determinant factor of the strength of the country. Mere possession of raw materials does not make a nation powerful. Much depends on the capacity of the state to exploit and utilise these resources. The country must have surplus production if it wants to become economically developed. Those nations whose industrial capacity is greater are considered economically developed and therefore powerful. The decline of France’s power in comparison to Germany after 1870 was due to her industrial backwardness. Similarly the Soviet Union became great power after she acquired top-level industrial capacity and improve capacity to wage nuclear war. The technology of modern warfare and communications has made the overall development of heavy industries an indispensable element of national power.

Ideological Element:

Ideas and ideology form the other elements of power. The ideas which a government holds or supports about the socio-economic pattern go a long way in determining the extent of popular sympathy and support for it at home and abroad. In the modern world, democracy, liberalism and nationalism have great international appeal. Whereas socialism and communism have lost ground they acquired in the last century. The ideology is closely linked with national power. Most of the ideologies are concerned with the achievement of power as the immediate goal of foreign policy by explaining and justifying it in ethical, legal and biological terms. They are also used as a cover to hide the real nature of the objectives of foreign policy. The ideology can be an effective instrument in forging unity among the various states professing faith in similar ideologies and thus contribute to the enhancement of their power.


The quality and wisdom of leadership, both political and literary, is another important element of power. In every political system important and crucial decisions are taken by political leaders. They have to determine the proportions in which the allocation of resources should be made between military and civilian programs. They decide the nature of relation with other states and declare war and conclude peace or treaties of friendship. Their decisions if successful create direct impact on the power of the states. The country is bound to be stronger and more powerful if its leaders have the strength, wisdom and intelligence.

 Military Preparedness:

This factor has been recognised as element of power since the earliest times. Military preparedness is the most apparent and tangible factor capable of supporting the foreign policy and promoting national interest. The technological innovation, leadership and quantity and quality of the Armed Forces are vital factors in the military preparedness of state. The technology of warfare has mostly determined the fate of nations for which the inferior side was unable to compensate in other ways. A nation to be strong must possess a sufficient army composed of highly trained and heavily armed units. A small army may not prove to be effective. Similarly, very large army, however, ill-equipped and ill trained also proves weak


Finally, the national power of the country is greatly determined by the quality of diplomacy pursued by the state. According to Morgenthau it is the quality of a nation’s diplomacy which gives direction and weight to other elements of national power. Our good diplomacy can bring the different elements of national power. A good diplomacy can bring the different elements of national power to bear the maximum effect upon those points in the international situation which have a direct bearing on the national interest. Morgenthau highlights the importance of diplomacy by saying “diplomacy is the brain of national power, as national morale is its soul. If its vision is blurred, its judgement effective, and its determination people, all the advantages of geographical location, of self-sufficiency in food, raw material and industrial production, of military preparedness, of size and quality of population will in the long run avail a nation little.

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