The notion that Great Powers fulfill a leadership role in international politics is old, influential, and contested. As the actors in the international system with the greatest capacity for taking action, Great Powers are assumed to think both further ahead and in broader, more systemic terms than other states; they then use their preeminent positions to organize others to promote public goods, reaping benefits along the way thanks to their direction of events. At the core of this understanding is the assumption that Great Power actions are, or ought to be, inspired by something more than simple self-interest and the pursuit of short-term gains. As an organic creation of international practice, Great Power leadership was traditionally the domain of historians and international legists; early students of the topic utilized inductive reasoning to derive general precepts of Great Power sociology from the landmark settlements of the 18th and 19th centuries. The framing of Great Powers as a leadership caste originated in the struggle against Louis XIV, was given tentative institutional form through settlements such as the Treaty of Utrecht (1713), and deepened considerably in both institutionalization and sophistication in the 19th century Concert of Europe. The return of France to full Great Power status, the Congress (1878) and Conference (1884) of Berlin, and the suppression of the Boxer Rebellion (1899–1901) all demonstrated the willingness and ability of the Powers to cooperate in the management of international change. In the early 20th century, the leadership of the Great Powers was both challenged as an unjust agent of catastrophe as well as increasingly formalized through recognition in new international institutions such as the League of Nations and the United Nations. Theorists of international relations began to formulate theories based on Great Power management at the time of the discipline’s beginnings in the early 20th century. Realists and liberals frequently utilize Great Power concepts to explain processes of equilibrium, hegemonic competition, and institution building, while approaches influenced by constructivism focus on the role of ideas, statuses, and roles in the formulation of Great Power identities and policies. The doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) is a 21st-century manifestation of the application of Great Power leadership to international problems; though hailed by some as the future of Great Power management, it provokes controversy among both theorists and practitioners. Similarly, extensive scholarly attention has been devoted to the management and accommodation of “rising powers.” These are states that appear likely to obtain the status of Great Power, and there is extensive debate over their orientation toward and potential management of international order. Finally, the position of Russia and China within this literature has provoked deep reflection on the nature of Great Power, the responsibilities of rising and established powers, and the place of Great Power management amidst the globalized challenges of the 21st century.
Wesley B. O'Dell
Public diplomacy is a subfield of political science and international relations that involves study of the process and practice by which nation-states and other international actors engage global publics to serve their interests. It developed during the Cold War as an outgrowth of the rise of mass media and public opinion drivers in foreign policy management. The United States, in a bipolar ideological struggle with the Soviet Union, recognized that gaining public support for policy goals among foreign populations worked better at times through direct engagement than traditional, often closed-door, government-to-government contact. Public diplomacy is still not a defined academic field with an underlying theory, although its proximity to the originator of soft power, Joseph Nye, places it closer to the neoliberal school that emphasizes multilateral pluralistic approaches in international relations. The term is a normative replacement for the more pejorative-laden propaganda, centralizes the role of the civilian in international relations to elevate public engagement above the level of manipulation associated with government or corporate propaganda. Building mutual understanding among the actors involved is the value commonly associated with public diplomacy outcomes of an exchange or cultural nature, along with information activities that prioritize the foreign policy goals and national interests of a particular state. In the mid-20th century, public diplomacy’s emphasis was less scholarly and more practical—to influence foreign opinion in competition with nation-state rivals. In the post-Cold War period, the United States in particular pursued market democracy expansion in the newly industrializing countries of the East. Soft power, the negative and positive attraction that flows from an international actor’s culture and behavior, became the favored term associated with public diplomacy. After 9/11, messaging and making a case for one’s agenda to win the hearts and minds of a Muslim-majority public became predominant against the backdrop of a U.S.-led global war on terrorism and two active interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq. Public diplomacy was utilized in one-way communication campaigns such as the Shared Values Initiative of the U.S. Department of State, which backfired when its target-country audiences rejected the embedded messages as self-serving propaganda. In the 21st century, global civil society and its enemies are on the level of any diplomat or culture minister in matters of public diplomacy. Narrative competition in a digital and networked era is much deeper, broader, and adversarial while the mainstream news media, which formerly set how and what we think about, no longer holds dominance over national and international narratives. Interstate competition has shifted to competition from nonstate actors who use social media as a form of information and influence warfare in international relations. As disparate scholars and practitioners continue to acknowledge public diplomacy approaches, the research agenda will remain case-driven, corporate-centric (with the infusion of public relations), less theoretical, and more global than its Anglo-American roots.
Scholarship in international studies has usually tended to focus on the great powers. Yet, studying small state behavior can in fact reveal deep-seated structural changes in the international system and provide significant insights into the management of power asymmetries. Overcoming the methodological limitations of gigantism in scholarship and case study selection is another epistemological benefit. Rather than conventional assumptions of weaknesses and vulnerabilities, research on small states has moved in fascinating directions toward exploring the various strategies and power capabilities that small states must use to manage their relationships with great powers. This means, even in some cases, attempts to forcibly shape their external environments through military instruments not usually associated with the category of small states. Clearly, small states are not necessarily hapless or passive. Even in terms of power capabilities that often define their weaknesses, some small states have in fact adroitly deployed niche hard power military capabilities and soft power assets as part of their playbook. These small states have projected influence in ways that belie their size constraints. Shared philosophies and mutual learning processes tend to underpin small state strategies seeking to maximize whatever influence and power they have. These include forming coalitions, principled support for international institutions, and harnessing globalization to promote their development and security interests. As globalization has supercharged the rapid economic development of some small states, the vicissitudes that come with interdependence have also injected a new understanding of vulnerability beyond that of simply military conflict. To further complicate the security environment, strategic competition between the major powers inevitably impacts on small states. How small states boost their “relevance” vis-à-vis the great powers has broader implications for questions that have animated the academy, such as power transitions and the Thucydides Trap in the international system. While exogenous systemic variables no doubt remain the focus of analysis, emerging research shows how endogenous variables such as elite perceptions, geostrategic locations and availability of military and economic resources can play a key role determining the choices small states make.