How to measure the Power of a nation?


Having discussed various methods of power, let us consider the question, ‘How much power?’ Is there a desire for irresistible power over all other nations? or Are there limits beyond which no nation dares to do?

Many have seen no limits to the craving for power. Many observe in all periods of history have taken the view that it is insatiable. During the Peloponnesian Wars, Thucydides, an Athenian spokesman, declared, “Of the goals we believe, and of men we know that by a necessary law of their nature they rule wherever they can.”

Thomas Hobbes described “a perpetual and restless desire for power that ceased only in death” as “a genera! inclination of all mankind. “


Bertrand Russell says, “Men desire to expand, and their desires in this respect are limited only by what imagination suggests as possible.

Every man would like to be God……. of the infinite desires of man, the chief are the desires for power and glory.” Bertrand de Jouvend asks. “Can it be doubted that power administers to conquers and conquers to administers? The instinct of growth is proper to power; it is part of its essence.”

These generalizations, however, are somewhat general and seem to be true.

Our study of the theory and practice of power remains incomplete if we do not consider the question fts to how can we measure the power of a nation. To answer this question is really a difficult task because so many unseen factors are involved in the measurement of a nation’s power.


The results of war, however, cannot provide an adequate criterion on power because power revealed in war is not the only kind of power. Power in war and power in peace, though related, are not the same. A militarily weak nation might have a good influence in times of peace.

Switzerland and Sweden have never exercised military influence in over 100 years, but it would be wrong to assume that either nation is powerless.

Moreover, usually nations do not fight alone in a war and more often they line up in groups. As Orgonski remarks: “With half the world in flame; it is impossible to determine individual contribution of each nation and preposterous to consider being on the victorious side as a sign of individual power.”

In World War II, a combined effort by USA, USSR, Britain and many other leaser powers defeated Germany, Italy and Japan.


To USSR had sided with Germany, Italy and Japan, could USA and Britain defeat all these four powers, or if Germany had sided with USA, could these two defeat USSR and Britain? No one really knows. Hence, it would not be an easy task to assess the over-all power of each nation.

Another important factor which makes it difficult to measure national power is wrong estimation of one’s own power and that of the opponent. The State’s power depends not only on influencing the behavior of other nations but also on the estimate how strong ether nations are and how strong she is herself.

The States, in fact, must make these estimates in advance of any actual test of strength. But more often nations guess wrongly about their power relative to that of other nations. For example, Mussolini’s Italy, during the 1930’s was regarded to be a major power.

She was regarded to hold an invincible military force. World War II proved the mistake of this belief. But until the War, Italy was able to exercise its power over other nations because their estimate of Italy’s power was much greater than what it actually was. Or, take the case of France and Germany at the end of World War I. Even though Germany had been weakened completely due to the First World War, she humbled France within no time.


With all these difficulties in assessing the power of any nation, we generally use one method. We look at international controversial and important issues, and we see whose point of view prevails.

In this way, we regard a nation powerful if her view prevails. It is on this basis that we regard United States and Soviet Union as the two major powers of the world, for we have seen their views prevail on the international scene.

But even this method is not sound because it is based only on past experience. We cannot be sure who will win a controversy if it begins, tomorrow. Organski rightly remarks that, “It is not safe to assume that the nations whose power is now increasing or declining will necessarily continue in the same direction.”

For predicting the future power of nations, we need not only an understanding of the past results but also some of the elements of national power which may determine the power of a nation.

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