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Middle power is a term used in the field of international relations to describe states that are not superpowers or great powers, but still have large or moderate influence and international recognition. There is no single specific definition of which countries are middle powers.



There is no standard agreed method to decide which states are middle powers. Some researchers use Gross National Product (GNP) statistics to draw lists of middle powers around the world. Economically, middle powers are generally those that are not considered too "big" or too "small", however that is defined. However, economics is not always considered the defining factor. Under the original sense of the term, a middle power was one that had some degree of influence globally, but not dominance over any one area. However, this usage is not universal, and some define middle power to include nations that can be regarded as regional powers.

According to academics at the University of Leicester and University of Nottingham;

"middle power status is usually identified in one of two ways. The traditional and most common way is to aggregate critical physical and material criteria to rank states according to their relative capabilities. Because countries’ capabilities differ, they are categorized as superpowers (or great powers), middle powers or small powers. More recently, it is possible to discern a second method for identifying middle power status by focusing on behavioural attributes. This posits that middle powers can be distinguished from superpowers and smaller powers because of their foreign policy behaviour – middle powers carve out a niche for themselves by pursuing a narrow range and particular types of foreign policy interest. In this way middle powers are countries that use their relative diplomatic skills in the service of international peace and stability. Both measures are contested and controversial, though the traditional quantitative method has proved more problematic than the behavioural method."[citation needed]

According to Eduard Jordaan of the University of Stellenbosch;

"All middle powers display foreign policy behaviour that stabilises and legitimises the global order, typically through multilateral and cooperative initiatives. However, emerging and traditional middle powers can be distinguished in terms of their mutually-influencing constitutive and behavioural differences. Constitutively, traditional middle powers are wealthy, stable, egalitarian, social democratic and not regionally influential. Behaviourally, they exhibit a weak and ambivalent regional orientation, constructing identities distinct from powerful states in their regions and offer appeasing concessions to pressures for global reform. Emerging middle powers by contrast are semi-peripheral, materially inegalitarian and recently democratised states that demonstrate much regional influence and self-association. Behaviourally, they opt for reformist and not radical global change, exhibit a strong regional orientation favouring regional integration but seek also to construct identities distinct from those of the weak states in their region."[1]

Middle power diplomacy

According to Laura Neak of the International Studies Association;

Leaders of the G-20 countries and others present at the London Summit. Most members of the G-20 are middle powers while some are great powers.

"Although there is some conceptual ambiguity surrounding the term middle power, middle powers are identified most often by their international behavior–called 'middle power diplomacy' - the tendency to pursue multilateral solutions to international problems, the tendency to embrace compromise positions in international disputes, and the tendency to embrace notions of ‘good international citizenship’ to guide...diplomacy. Middle powers are states who commit their relative affluence, managerial skills, and international prestige to the preservation of the international order and peace. Middle powers help to maintain the international order through coalition-building, by serving as mediators and "go-betweens," and through international conflict management and resolution activities, such as UN peacekeeping. Middle powers perform these internationalist activities because of an idealistic imperative they associate with being a middle power. The imperative is that the middle powers have a moral responsibility and collective ability to protect the international order from those who would threaten it, including, at times, the great or principal powers. This imperative was particularly profound during the most intense periods of the Cold War."[2]

According to Tomoe Otsuki of the University of British Columbia; "Middle Power does not just mean a state’s size or military or economic power. Rather, 'middle power diplomacy' is defined by the issue area where a state invests its resources and knowledge. Middle Power States avoid a direct confrontation with great powers, but they see themselves as ‘moral actors’ and seek their own role in particular issue areas, such as human rights, environment, and arms regulations. Middle powers are the driving force in the process of transnational institutional-building." (Soeya Yoshihide)[citation needed]

Characteristics of middle power diplomacy include :[citation needed] (Soeya Yoshihide)

In March 2008, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd defined his country's foreign policy as one of "middle power diplomacy", along the lines of similar criteria. Australia would "influence international decision-makers" on issues such as "global economic, security and environmental challenges".[3]

The Middle Powers Initiative (MPI), a program of the Global Security Institute, highlights the importance of middle powers diplomacy. Through MPI, eight international non-governmental organizations are able to work primarily with middle power governments to encourage and educate the nuclear weapons states to take immediate practical steps that reduce nuclear dangers, and commence negotiations to eliminate nuclear weapons. Middle power countries are particularly influential in issues related to arms control, being that they are politically and economically significant, internationally respected countries that have renounced the nuclear arms race, a standing that gives them significant political credibility.

History of the term

The concept of the ‘middle power’ dates back to the origins of the European state system. In the 15th century, the Mayor of Milan, Giovanni Botero, divided the world into three types of states – grandissime (empires), mezano (middle powers) and piccioli (small powers).

According to Botero, a mezano or middle power “has sufficient strength and authority to stand on its own without the need of help from others”.[4]

The term entered Canadian political discourse after the Second World War. Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent, for example called Canada "a power of the middle rank" and helped to lay out the classical definition of Canadian middle power diplomacy. When he was advocating for Canada's election to the United Nations Security Council, he said that while "the special nature of [Canada's] relationship to the United Kingdom and the United States complicates our responsibilities", Canada was not a "satellite" of either but would "continue to make our decisions objectively, in the light of our obligations to our own people and their interest in the welfare of the international community."[5] Canadian leaders believed Canada was a middle power because it was a junior partner in larger alliances (e.g. NATO, NORAD), was actively involved in resolving disputes outside its own region (e.g. Suez Crisis), was not a former colonial power and therefore neutral in anti-colonial struggles, worked actively in the United Nations to represent the interests of smaller nations and to prevent the dominance of the superpowers (often being elected to the United Nations Security Council for such reasons), and because it was involved in humanitarian and peacekeeping efforts around the world.

List of middle powers

Middle powers according to Adam Chapnick in The Middle Power (1999)[6]

The following is a list of countries that have been called middle powers by academics or other experts.

The United Kingdom, China and France are often considered great powers due to strong economies and their status as recognised nuclear powers and their permanent seats on the UN Security Council. Some academics also believe that Germany and Japan are not middle powers but great powers, due to their economic strengths and global influence.[7] The overlaps between the lists of middle powers and great powers, and between the lists of small powers and middle powers, show that there is no unanimous agreement among authorities.

See also


  1. ^ a b c Jordaan E (2003) The concept of a middle power in international relations, informaworld
  2. ^ Bishai LS (2000) From Recognition to Intervention: The Shift from Traditional to Liberal International Law
  3. ^ Shanahan D (2008) Time to go global, urges Rudd, The Australian
  4. ^ Rudd K (2006) Making Australia a force for good, Labor eHerald
  5. ^ H.H. Herstien, L.J. Hughes, R.C. Kirbyson. Challenge & Survival: The History of Canada (Scarborough, ON: Prentice-Hall, 1970). p 411
  6. ^ Adam Chapnick, The Middle Power 1999.
  7. ^ "Encarta - The Great Powers". Archived from the original on 2009-11-01. 
  8. ^ a b c Mace G, Belanger L (1999) The Americas in Transition: The Contours of Regionalism (p 153)
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae Solomon S (1997) South African Foreign Policy and Middle Power Leadership, ISS
  10. ^ a b c d Inoguchi K (2002) The UN Disarmament Conference in Kyote
  11. ^ a b Wurst J (2006) Middle Powers Initiative Briefing Paper, GSI
  12. ^ Cooper AF (1997) Niche Diplomacy - Middle Powers after the Cold War, palgrave
  13. ^ Patience A (2004) State Society and Governance in Melanesia, ANU
  14. ^ a b c Buzan, Barry (2004). The United States and the Great Powers. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Polity Press. pp. 71. ISBN 0745633757. 
  15. ^ Hazleton WA (2005) Middle Power Bandwagoning? Australia's Security Relationship with the United States, allacademic
  16. ^ Caplan G (2006) From Rwanda to Darfur: Lessons learned?, SudanTribune
  17. ^ Ferguson RJ (2002) Brazil: An Emerging, Revisionist 'Great Power'?, International Relations
  18. ^ a b Heine J (2006) On the Manner of Practising the New Diplomacy, ISN
  19. ^ a b c d Behringer RM (2005) Middle Power Leadership on the Human Security Agenda, SAGE
  20. ^ a b c d e Pratt C (1990) Middle Power Internationalism, MQUP
  21. ^ Crosby AD (1997) A Middle-Power Military in Alliance: Canada and NORAD, JSTOR
  22. ^ Petersen K (2003) Quest to Reify Canada as a Middle Power, Dissident Voice
  23. ^ a b c d Jonathan H. Ping Middle Power Statecraft (p 104)
  24. ^ a b Ploughshares Monitor (1997) Scrapping the Bomb: The role of middle power countries
  25. ^ a b according to P. Shearman, M. Sussex, European Security After 9/11, Ashgate, 2004, both UK and France were global powers now reduced to middle-power status.
  26. ^ Otte M, Greve J (2000) A Rising Middle Power?: German Foreign Policy in Transformation, 1989-1999, St. Martin's Press
  27. ^ Sperling J (2001) Neither Hegemony nor Dominance: Reconsidering German Power in Post Cold-War Europe, CUP
  28. ^ Higgott RA, Cooper AF (1990) Middle Power Leadership and Coalition Building
  29. ^ Ahouie M (2004) Iran Analysis Quarterly, MIT
  30. ^ Foreign Affairs Committee (2006) Iran
  31. ^ Er LP (2006) Japan's Human Security Rolein Southeast Asia
  32. ^ Armstrong DF (1997) South Korea's foreign policy in the post-Cold War era: A middle power perspective
  33. ^
  34. ^
  35. ^
  36. ^
  37. ^,25197,24712289-7583,00.html
  38. ^ Pelllicer O (2006) Mexico – a Reluctant Middle Power?, FES
  39. ^ a b Spence JE (2005) The End of South Africa’s Honeymoon, Project Syndicate
  40. ^ Middle Powers Initiative (2004) Building Bridges: What Middle Power Countries Should Do To Strengthen the NPT, GSI
  41. ^ a b Spero, Joshua (2004). Bridging the European Divide. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 206. ISBN 0742535533, 9780742535534. 
  42. ^ Kirton J (2006) Harper’s Foreign Policy Success?
  43. ^ Loo BF (2005) Transforming Singapore's Military Security Landscape: Problems and Prospects, allacademic
  44. ^ Tan ATH (1999) Singapore's Defence: Capabilities, Trends, and Implications, questia
  45. ^ Pfister R (2006) The Apartheid Republuc and African States, H-Net
  46. ^ Rudengren J, Gisle P, Brann K (1995) Middle Power Clout: Sweden And The Development Banks
  47. ^ ASEAN [1]

External links

Further reading

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