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國際關係理論 International Relations Theory SUN, KUO-SHYANG (孫國祥) Assistant Professor of Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies, Nanhua University (南華大學亞太研究所助理教授) power transition theory Overview I. Key components of Power Transition Theory/Fundamentals of International Politics

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international relations theory

國際關係理論International Relations Theory


Assistant Professor of Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies, Nanhua University


power transition theory
power transition theory


  • I.Key components of Power Transition Theory/Fundamentals of International Politics
  • II. Cooperation and Conflict
  • III.Historical Examples/Empirical Tests
  • IV.Diplomacy/Policy Prescriptions
power transition theory3
power transition theory


End of Cold War

How should the United States attempt to manage world politics (China)?

How will critical alliances (NATO) evolve?

How can regional conflicts be managed?

How will nuclear deterrence affect the stability of deterrence?

power transition theory4
power transition theory

I. Key components of Power Transition Theory.

PT theory has four central components:

A.     Structure of the international system

B.     Power

C.     Satisfaction

D.     Alliances

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power transition theory

A. The Structure of PT Theory

According to PT theory, the international system is hierarchically organized.

•       There is a dominant state, but the state is not a hegemon.

•       After the dominant state, there are great powers, middle powers, and small powers.

•       The dominant state sets the rules for the world.

•       Occasionally, some great powers are not fully integrated into the dominant state’s regime. They are potential challengers. Specifically, challengers must have 80% or more of the dominant country’s power.

•       There are also regional hierarchies.

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power transition theory

B. Power: “the ability to impose on or persuade an opponent to comply with demands.”Power is a function of three key elements.

  • • Size of population. Population and great power status.
  • • Economic productivity. Endogenous growth theory.
  • • (Relative) political capacity: “the effectiveness of the political system in extracting and pooling individual contributions to advance national goals.”

Countries with low economic development have difficulty extracting resources from their economy. Why?

power transition theory7
power transition theory

C. Dissatisfaction

•      The dominant power establishes the status quo (SQ).

•      Some great powers are satisfied with the SQ, others are dissatisfied.

•      Dissatisfaction can be based on historical, ideological, religious, territorial, personal, or cultural factors

•      Dissatisfied states want to change the SQ, or the rules of the game.

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power transition theory

D. Alliances

Nations that share common preferences will form stable alliances (NATO).

Alliances between satisfied-dissatisfied states will not last long.

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power transition theory

II. Cooperation and Conflict

A. Why does conflict occur?

Opportunity and Willingness.

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power transition theory

B. In terms of opportunity, two conditions are of the most importance: power parity and power overtaking.

1. Power parity.

2. An overtaking is the result of either increased productivity or political capacity.

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power transition theory

C. Ultimately, however, conflict is about different preferences and policy differences, and these stem from a country’s satisfaction with the status quo. i.e. Willingness

1. What is satisfaction? It is about “similarity of governments’ foreign policy goals;”

2. States with similar economic and political institutions are likely to be satisfied.

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power transition theory

D. In general, you ensure stability in two ways: deterrence, i.e. ensuring power preponderance, and satisfaction-building.

power transition theory13
power transition theory

E. PT theory on the initiation, timing, severity and consequences of war.

1. Who is more likely to initiate a conflict?

a. Why doesn’t a dominant power take advantage of its enormous power advantage prior to parity, to initiate war against its real or potential enemies?

2. Timing of War.

3. Severity of War.

4. Duration of War

5. Consequences of War: the Phoenix factor. Defeated great powers will quickly regain power and return to their position in the international system within one generation. Why? Policy implications?

6. Nuclear Weapons.

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power transition theory

III. Historical Examples/Empirical Tests: Britain and Germany; Iran and Iraq.

Empirical Tests of PT Theory

Power transition theory predicts that war (global or regional) will be most likely when:

1) There is parity between the dominant power and challenger, and

2) The challenger surpasses the dominant power (overtaking), and

3) The challenger is dissatisfied

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power transition theory

IV. Diplomacy/Policy Prescriptions: Potential Future Transitions

·    China overtaking the US

·        India overtaking either China or the US in the last half of the 21st century

·        Expand NATO to include Russia and perhaps China

·        Change the permanent UN Security Council members

·        Manage satisfaction through democratization and trade

·        Settle territorial disputes, such as Taiwan

·        Prevent nuclear proliferation

·        Manage local crises, but the US should not be a policeman for the world

power transition theory16
power transition theory

Created by F. K. Organski and originally published in his textbook, World Politics (1958), power transition theory today describes international politics as a hierarchy.

power transition theory17
power transition theory

Created by F. K. Organski and originally published in his textbook, World Politics (1958), power transition theory today describes international politics as a hierarchy.

power transition theory18
power transition theory

(1) a "dominant" state, the one with the largest proportion of power resources (population, productivity, and political capacity meaning coherence and stability);

power transition theory19
power transition theory

(2) "great powers," a collection of potential rivals to the dominant state and who share in the tasks of maintaining the system and controlling the allocation of power resources;

power transition theory20
power transition theory

(3) "middle powers" of regional significance similar to the dominant state, but unable to challenge the dominant state or the system structure, and

power transition theory21
power transition theory

(4) "small powers," the rest.

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power transition theory

The principle predictive power of the theory is in the likelihood of war and the stability of alliances. War is most likely, of longest duration, and greatest magnitude, when a challenger to the dominant power enters into approximate parity with the dominant state and is dissatisfied with the existing system.

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power transition theory

Alliances are most stable when the parties to the alliance are satisfied with the system structure. There are further nuances to the theory: for instance, the sources of power transition vary in their volitility, population change being the least volatile and political capacity (defined as the ability of the government to control resources internal to the country) the most volatile.

power transition theory24
power transition theory
  • Developed by Kenneth Organski in the 1950
  • Rejects Realism

A. Realists Assume System Is Characterized

By Anarchy & Equality

B. Realists Predict Equality in the Power Of

States or Coalitions Leads to Peace

  • Explains Hegemonic Wars
  • Change Triggered by Uneven Growth Rates Across Units
power transition theory26
power transition theory

1. Important Caveat: Dissatisfaction

2. Is Organski Correct?

A) Explains Distribution of Power in System

B) Satisfaction Caveat Is Dangerous

C) Hard to Test

power transition theory27
power transition theory


  • Power transition theorists argue that three conditions make war more likely: parity, overtaking, and ______________.
  • Arms races
  • Dissatisfaction with the status quo
  • Risk-acceptance
  • Alliances
  • None of the above
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power transition theory

Quiz 2. Power transition theorists make each of the following policy recommendations except:

  • NATO should be expanded to include Russia.
  • The permanent members of the United Nations Security Council should be altered to reflect the current distribution of power among great powers.
  • The U.S. should encourage the proliferation of nuclear weapons to other countries.
  • The U.S. should not become a policeman of the world, but rather focus its efforts on the preservation of its alliances that maintain power preponderance.
  • The U.S. and other countries need to resolve outstanding territorial disagreements.
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power transition theory

Quiz 3.Power transition theorists see two possible great power transitions for the future. These transitions are predicted to occur between:

  • China and the U.S., or India and China/U.S.
  • Germany and United States, or Germany and China
  • China and the U.S., or Russia and the U.S.
  • India and China/U.S., or Germany and United States
  • Canada and the U.S., or Canada and Mexico
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power transition theory

Quiz 4. Power transition theory postulates that a country’s power is a function of population, economic productivity, and _______________.

  • Military personnel
  • Military spending
  • Number of colonies
  • Nuclear weapons
  • Relative political capacity
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power transition theory

Quiz 5. According to power transition theorists, the ability for losers of great power wars to recover relatively quickly from the consequences of war (after one generation) is called the _______________.

  • Long Cycle Theory
  • Democratic Peace
  • Phoenix Factor
  • Rapid Recovery
  • Luck of the Draw