Balancing Power: The Geopolitics of Emerging Global and Regional Contests and Contestants

Submitted by: Dr. Igor Okunev (Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO-University))Chair(s): Aharon Klieman (Tel-Aviv University), Igor Okunev (Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO-University))

Discussant(s): Mikhail Filippov (binghamton University)

Topics: Changing status of the Great Powers, Power in world politics: national, global, transnational

Keywords: geopolitics, great power, balance of power

Abstract The competitive, ascendant interests of Russia, China the U.S. and the E.U. are working to redefine the very structure of global geopolitics. These policy pursuits by the leading Great Powers are paralleled today by tremendous social, political and economic turbulence in the broad belt of regions and sub-regions stretching from East and South Europe across the Mediterranean and the Arab Middle East through the Persian Gulf, the Caucasus Persian Gulf and the Caucasus rimlands and Central Asia to the Pacific basin.

These changes pose foreign policy and security challenges of the highest magnitude as well theoretical questions for students of geopolitics.

• Are we on the threshold of a bipolar-, tripolar-, or multi-polar “moment” in the world?

• Who are the actors best positioned to lead in the rebalancing of power?

• What factors determine the hierarchy of influence and power?

• Where are the most likely and most readily identifiable trouble spots located?

• Lastly, which of these flashpoints has the greatest potential for tipping the delicately-poised scales between Western peace and prosperity, on the one hand, and renewed instability and turmoil?

Sponsored by the International Political Science Association Research Committee on Geopolitics (IPSA RC 41), this prospective Panel will attempt to wrestle with these and related issues.


Presentations of the Panel

Balance of Power Theory Revisited

Aharon Klieman (Tel-Aviv University)

This paper addresses the challenge of effective global governance in an age of evolutionary global change and accelerated globalization from an international relations and geopolitics dual perspective. The central argument is two-fold. First, that classic balance of power theory, dismissed by post-Cold War analysts as outdated and no longer relevant, retains its applicability for today’s global affairs. Indeed, secondly, “back to balancing” - a 21st-century expression of the continuous historical process of calibrating influence and power among multiple competitive actors - offers reasonable prospects for maintaining international stability and global order, even if not perpetual or perfect peace.

Spatial Distribution of Power: (Possible) Approach to Explanation in Geopolitics

Irina Busygina (Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO-Univers), Igor Okunev (Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO-Univers) Power (regardless of how we measure it) is distributed unevenly across the world: there are areas (regions, states, zones) where power concentrates and those which are relatively weak. Theoretically this spatial order could be stable (forming equilibrium with rigid coalitions as during bipolarity period) or dynamic when flexible coalitions are being shaped. We argue that geographical factors - size and location of a state (group of states), characteristics of neighboring territories, various internal asymmetries, the nature of center-periphery relations, etc. - could form (among others) important independent variables for analysis and prediction of interactions of states (group of states) at the global arena as well as in explanation of spatial distribution of power and its changes on the world map.


National Power. Let’s first define it

Leonhardt van Efferink (University of Amsterdam)

In the debate about the world’s most powerful countries, national power is often assumed to be measurable with help of a number of military, economic and political indicators. However, the concept of national power often remains poorly defined, if at all. The paper calls for making explicit the key elements of any definition of national power before it is applied. It develops a set of dimensions that have been either implicitly used or explicitly suggested in the academic literature. The paper examines and categorises these dimensions to clarify the complexities that the notion of national power surround. The objective of the resulting overview of dimensions is to strengthen the conceptual fundaments of future research into regional powers, great powers and global powers.

Narratives and Images: Shaping the Global Balance of Power

Dmitry Borisov (Paris Institute of Political Studies)

Discoursive practices increasingly shape our perception of the future global geopolitical setup. Depending on their interests and goals, various international actors recur to the use of spacial representations, narratives and images of self and others to propagate and cement their geopolitical vision on the one hand, as well as to undermine rival ones, on the other. We argue that the controversial and uncertain nature of the ongoing global shift in wealth and power is prompting actors to further invest in discoursive practices in order to reinforce, hinder or reverse the changing balance of power.