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We will examine the power theory in this unit. We should at this juncture remember that the issue of power and how it is used is central to the study of Political Science and international relations. The power approach is a way of understanding relations among nations in contradistinction to the legalistic and institutional approaches to the study of international politics. It takes the position that a country’s National Interest is ensured through the potential use or use of power, which creates a balance of power that ensures that all countries respect one another. We will also discuss the Decision Making theory in this unit.
At the end of this unit, you should be able to:

  1.  Discuss the power Approach as a theory in Political Science and International Relations;
  2. Explain what balance of power means; 
  3.  Discuss the various theorists of the power approach; 
  4. Discuss the Decision Making Theory;
  5. The Neo-Classic Modernization Theory; 
  6. The International Interdependency (Globalization) Theory. 


3.1 Power Theory

The power theory in the study of international politics evolved from the weakness of the utopian-idealist school of the pre-World War II era that emphasized the legalistic and institutional approach. The idealist believed that the international court and the League of Nations would prevent a war situation. However, at the close of World War II the futility of this approach became evident, with the Realists, stressing power and national interest rather than ideals. The main proponents of this school were Hans Morgenthau, E.H. Carr, R. Niebhur, George Kannan and Henry Kissinger. Their thesis was that the pursuit of national power is a natural development in the international system. That those states, which do not strive for power, encourage war, for, if all states strive for power concurrently, peace will evolve because the struggle itself creates balance of power and eliminates hegemony. Hans Morgenthau in his book, Politics Among Nations, argued that national interest should best be defined in terms of power pursuit. In fact, post-World War II is power politics.

Martin Wright noted that in Modern International Politics the idea of power predominates over the ideas of right. George Schwarzenbeger also, analyzed power as a prime factor in international politics. By definition, power is the ability of an actor in the international scene to use tangible and intangible resources and assets in such a way as to influence the outcome of international events to its own satisfaction. Power is a means to an end and it may at times become an end in itself.

The possession of power is meaningless if its application is unable to bring about required results. Whether exercised or not, its possession influences attitudes, roles and politics. Hence most states were careful in the hey days of the cold war (probably being non-aligned) not to incur the wrath of the super-powers of the United States and the Soviet Union, the international “policemen” of the world.

The analyses range from the country’s strategic location through economic, diplomatic, national orientation and military capability. Thus, the United States bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (Japan) Tripoli and Benghazi (Libya), arrest of Manuel Noriega, a Sovereign leader from Panama, invasion of Grenada, getting the UN Security Council to pass resolutions in quick succession against Iraq in Kuwait, operation of Kuwait, Nigeria’s ECOMOG intervention in Liberia/Sierra Leone,
Soviet Union in Afghanistan, etc, could be explained within the power framework. The problem is that this theory considers other issues of morality and legalism irrelevant. It is also too radical and belligerent, for it portends to that power is the only way a state can achieve its national interest without having setbacks.

3.1.1 The Decision-Making Theory

Pioneered by R.C. Snyder and the associates in the 1950s, the model suggests that international events are functions of the wishes and demands of statesmen and not states, passed into decision made; whether rational or irrational. It also assumes that the decisions of this group are products of conscious effort based on adequate knowledge and guided by skill and training (available alternatives – the seeming best with less losses and high probability of better successes).

Moreover, the growing personalization of political power in most post- colonial states means that the motivation and personality of the key leadership groups are important domestic determinants of foreign policy. This could be deduced from case histories and biographical materials and from speeches, statements and remarks made not only by the small foreign policy elite and members of legislation but also by other groups such as political parties, interest and pressure groups, and mass media. The controversial decision by General Babangida to annul the June 12, 1993 presidential election, evolved from a set-up of military cabal in the armed forces and an element of the Northern oligarchy and not the whole set-up of that military administration, for example. It is important to note the fact of rationality and irrationality in decision- making. It is therefore assumed that rational decisions will evolve in an open society where information flow, debates and discussions are free as against societies that are closed. In other words, irrational decision will be common in societies where information flow is controlled, censored or open to a few. While open societies are characterized by civilian democracies, where irrelevances and emotionalism are supposed to be played down, military regimes are normally characterized by closed systems where differing opinions are frowned against. This was the case with the military in Nigeria where the press was harassed and persecuted.

As we started earlier, United Nations of the mid-1940s is not certainly the same as the UN of the mid-1970s the only thing, which continues to remain, is the fact that it is still the international political institution. As such, most of the newly independent countries, which joined this international institution after gaining their independence, found themselves having to have to slow down their enthusiasm about the hope and the goodwill they have been anticipating within the UN system.
Looking at page 1 Article (purpose and principles) of the Charter of the world body, there is no question about its good intention as regards security for mankind. When the UN promised to remain international peace and security, and to that end to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and the suppressions of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, the young nations were really taken in. They thought very sincerely that the world body would deliver what it had promised them in its charter. They found it to be their only saving grace since its principles of justice and international law could at least offer all the confidence and hope.

However, the fear and ever growing insecurity of the weaker nations have continued to grow. The question of the settlement or adjustment of international disputes could not be truly answered by the United Nations. We have witnessed the activities of the UN Peacekeeping Force in the world over the last thirty-five years. It could be seen that the United Nations peacekeeping Force and other activities relating to war (civil or otherwise) were only restricted to the developing countries. The UN Charter has given us to understand that the relations among nations are based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of people. But this is quite open to question in the light of what prevails today in world politics, especially after the 11 September, 2001 terrorist bombing of the World Trade Center (WTC) and the Pentagon, in the USA. At least the African nations in the UN can no longer take this argument very seriously since the question of colonialism in Africa has not been answered, which also negates the principle completely. To achieve international peace and security, and to solve international problem peacefully, there must be encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms “for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion”.

Therefore, the negation of this political reality by the imperialist powers of the world, who still wish to enslave others, has brought about the demand for changing the global balance of power. The debates and the discussions on the re-structuring of the United Nations system are all the time being sabotaged by the same enemies of human calamitous end. This factor has led the democratic dispensation of Obasanjo’s regime to take Nigeria out of the International Monetary Fund (I.M.F). If we examine the constitutional scheme of the United Nations we shall see that it was built upon three political assumptions: (1) that the great powers acting unison, would deal with any threat to peace and security, regardless of its source; (11) that their combined resort to war, and (111) that no such threat would emanate from one of the great powers themselves. Before now, the international scene was dominated by cold war between the different ideological schools of major powers. As such they could not act in unison whenever their divergent interest was at stake. This fact was established in many regions in the world in which conflict resulted as a result of foreign interference. And the developing world is not free hitherto.

Because this constitutional scheme of the United Nations has been defied by the political reality of the postwar world, the need for re-structuring is also pertinent indeed. In our earlier discussion in the chapter, we have shown how the young nations in the UN system have been bringing about some structural changes beyond the anticipation of the founding fathers. In the same token these same representatives of the weaker societies are today asking for a new political order based on equality and justice. Hence this political demand is in conformity with the charter, so, there is no contradiction whatsoever. Many warnings are signals: Morton A. Kaplan has engaged in an analysis with the intent to explain under what conditions different international system persist, vanish or change from varying starting points. But it would seem unlikely that the developing countries as a group may be able to off set the present bipolarity, given that fact that military capability is actually something that counts. So, the question of re-structuring the UN system is something like a political daydream. However, the weaker nations are trying to do this.

A major problem confronting them too is the fact that in as much as they demand political justice and equality at the international level, they are required to do the same at home. So, there are many questions yet to be answered about this situation. One only hopes that the basic contradiction would be solved so that that humanity could be saved from all the evils and tyrannies confronting it. 

Self Assessment Exercise

Discuss the Decision Making Theory.


The power theory is one theory in political science that has remained relevant in the contemporary times, for good or for bad. It should be regarded as the realist theory of politics espoused principally by the Realist School of politics. In international politics, it is applied as realpolitik. Though, it is proactive in character, and often achieves result, the problem is the cost of achieving that result. A good example is the huge loss of money, material and human lives as a result of US belligerent intervention in Iraq. Though the immediate objective was achieved through the principle of power politics, the cost of achieving this may not justify the act. The Decision Making theory on the other hand, maintains that statesmen and not necessarily states make decisions on behalf of their countries. And that sometimes these decisions may or may not be rational.


We have examined the power theory and its application to the international system. We also presented some of the key theorists of the power approach. Further, we examined the nature of the Decision Making theory.


 Discuss the position of the Realist School of International Politics.

  1. The Decision Making Theory is relevant in International Relations. Discuss. 


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