What is National Power ?

Meaning of National Power

Willian Ebenstein says, “National power is more than the sum total of population, raw-material and quantitative factors. It includes its civil devotion, the flexibility of its institutions, its technical know-how, its national character or quantitative elements that determine the total strength of a nation.”

Like sovereignty and nationalism, national power is a vital and potent feature of the state system. Power of some kind is the mean by that states implement their domestic as well as foreign policies. All states possess power, but very different amounts of power. We must therefore approach an analysis of power in international relations with the realization that we are dealing with a complex subject whatever the ultimate aim of international politics. Power is always the immediate aim. The statesman usually describes their goals in terms of religious, philosophic, economic or social ideal and may try to realize them through non-political means. But whenever they try to achieve these goals by means of international politics, they do so by restoring to power. Because power plays same role in the international politics as money plays in market economy.


Prof. Morgenthau defines national power as, “A psychological relation between those who exercise it and those over whom it is exercised. It gives the former control over certain actions of the latter, through the influence that the former exerts over the latter’s mind.”

According to George Shwarzen Berger, “The power is the capacity to, impose one’s will on other by reliance on effective sanctions in the case of noncompliance.”

According to Organski, “Power is the ability to influence the behaviour of other in accordance with one’s own end.”

According to Charles, “The ability to make a man to do what one’s wanted and not to do what one’s do not want.”

Power may be defined as, “A relationship between two political actors in that actor “A” has the ability to control the mind and actions of actor “B.”

“National power is a concept that denotes anything that establishes and maintain the control of state over others states.”

Basic Elements of National Power

The elements of national power can be divided into two main categories i.e. tangible and intangible.

Tangible Elements

Tangible elements are those elements that can he felt and touched. Following are the important elements of national power.


The importance of geography to a study of international relations has long been recognized. History has often been characterized as geography in nation. Napoleon once said that, “The foreign policy of a country is determined by its geography.” The importance of geography in the study of international relations cannot be ignored, because all other elements of national power depend upon the geographical location of the state. The importance of geography has been decreased to some extant due to technological development but one cannot ignore its importance because USA is the superpower of the world just because of its geographical location. Size: Size of the state as well as population greatly influence its national power i.e. the big countries have great weightage in international affairs while small states have no impact on national power but some time small state with rich natural resources have deep impact on its national power, like oily rich countries of Middle East. The size of territory increases the power of a nation. A small state cannot become powerful. England was powerful as long as she had colonies. A large state can accommodate a large population and can also have large supply of natural resources on this account. In today’s world USA, China and India are bound to play effective role in the world politics on account of their vast size.


Population is tangible element of national power. It is assumed that populous nation state are always powerful hut it is not true in developed nation-state a large number of population is a source of strength, integration, development while in developing state a large number of population is sign of its weakness i.e. unemployment, disintegration and corruption etc. population is one of the most important element of national power. Because if population of a country is engaged in industrial activities then the country will be stronger then the one, whose population is primarily engaged in agricultural activities.


Another most important element of national power is location. It determines the country’s security and its spatial relationship with outside world. England and Japan being Islands have been more secure. Similarly, USA being separated from Europe and Asia could remain in isolation for long time, and emerge as a super power because of its location. Location is more important then size because it determine the climate and influence the economic system. Location plays very significant role in national power, for example Bangladesh separated from Pakistan just because of geographical location and weak- end the national power of Pakistan.


It is an important tangible element of national power. Territory is an important element that determines the power of a state. The territorial characteristics such as boundaries, climate. strategic location, nature of land and waterways plays very important role in the enhancement of national power. For example, a mountainous country is difficult to be overcome by enemy while plain one easy to be captured.

Natural resources

Natural resources may be defined as, “Gifts of nature of established utility.” They would include, for example waterfall, fertility of soil, oil, iron, copper, gas and coal etc. Natural resources plays very significant role in national power. For example, Kuwait is very small state but due to rich oil resources it plays very vital role in international politics. Natural resources are the gifts of God and a raw material are the labour of the individual. 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 labours. For example, though Brazil had rich iron deposits they did not contribute to her national power till they were exploited with the technical assistance received from USA.


Technology is often defined as applied science. Technological change reflects the actual adoption of new methods and products; it is the triumph of the new over the old in the test of the market and the budget. Moreover, it involves a complex, social process including many elements science, education, research and development under private and public auspices, management, technology, production facilities, workers and labour organization.” It has already ushered in the age of computers, automation, and atomic and space technology. Technology is also one of the most important elements of national power. For example, USA is the global master due to advancement in technology. 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 sphere i.e. industrial, communication and military, has greatly influenced the power of the state.

Economic development

Economic development means increase in national income or increase in per capita income or economic development is the process that not only effect the economic relations of the states but social, political, cultural and religious relation also. It is also an important and contributing factor in the increasing of national power. USA emerged as a powerful state of the world because of industrial development. USA pursues an independent foreign policy due to economic development.

Political structure

The mere possession of abundance of material and human resources and formation of a good foreign policy would prove useless if the political structure or the government cannot play its role effectively. The government is required to choose the objectives and methods of its foreign policy in the light of the power available to support them with a maximum success.

Military advancement

Military advancement is the most apparent and tangible factor capable of supporting the foreign policy and promoting national. interest. Military advancement plays very important role in international politics. For example, during first phase of the World War I Germany gained superiority over British because of the use of submarines.


The national power of national state is greatly determined by the quality of diplomacy pursued by its diplomats. According to Morgenthau “The quality of diplomacy of a state gives direction and weight to other elements of power.” Diplomacy is an entire method of resolving international conflicts. Diplomacy can serve the interest of a state by protecting its people abroad, by searching out new opportunities for trade, by decumulating information about geography resources, techniques, cultural and military establishment.

Intangible Elements of National Power

So, for we have been considering tangible and material factors of national power. Now we must turn to factors that are no less important, although they are more difficult to isolate and define. These are the elements of ideology, moral. and leadership.


In the modern period the ideologies of socialism, communism, democracy, liberalism and nationalism have an international appeal. Ideology is the most important element of national power because ideology creates unity among nations and builds a sense of common interest to people. For example, the Soviet and Chinese national power is associated with the ideology of communism. An ideology is a brunch of ideas about life, society or government. USSR got the status of super power through the ideology of communism and Pakistan came into being due to Islamic ideology.


Leadership is interrelated with the other elements of national power because it is one of the measures of the extant to that those elements are utilized. According to Palmer and Perline: “Without leadership people cannot even constitute a state.”

A nation state cannot emerge without able leadership. Without it there can be no well-developed or integrated technology and without it morale is totally useless, if indeed it can exist at all. Leadership plays very important role in stimulating or discouraging governmental activities. People like Lenin, Stalin and Churchill changed the fate of their people and countries. So, we can say that leadership plays very important role in the enhancement of national power.

National Character and Morale

some writers list national character as one of the elements of national power as does Professor Hans J. Morgenthau in his politics among nations. It may be regarded as one of the major determinants of national morale although of course, it is broader then morale. But where it is more then the basis of morale, it may help to explain some other elements. National character may be thought of as climate, morale as weather. Morgenthau also says that, “National character is the degree of determination with that a nation support the home and foreign policy of its government in time of peace and war.”

SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a bachelor's degree in political science and international relations as well as a Master's degree in international security studies, alongside a passion for web development. During my studies, I gained a strong understanding of key political concepts, theories in international relations, security and strategic studies, as well as the tools and research methods used in these fields.

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