The Meaning of Power
The instrumental character of power is that of a “means to an end.” It includes the tools, resources, and abilities used to pursue goals. The meaning of power and its role in politics is understood first with a background of its dual nature.
De jure refers to the theory of power. The concept of “absolute power,” considers tangible factors. When comparing nations’ power, money and gross national product are units of measure; the United States is more powerful than Mexico. Army size and strength are also measurable. World powers, such as the U.S., Britain, and Japan, defeat countries with smaller, weaker armies. From an objective standpoint, tangible assets make a country a world power. But world powers and their leaders also possess intangible qualities.
De facto is the subjective aspect of power that is immeasurable. Charisma, such as that of Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King, could not be described, but made them successful leaders. The “will to win” or morale of people, especially athletes, is power. De facto power is continually changing because of the relative character of power, to time, situation, and contending parties. When power is applied in interaction with contending parties, the situational factors of power and politics come into play.
Power is initially proven in a political situation through credibility. The opposing party’s belief that you have power and will use it makes them take you seriously. It makes them respond to you, and the interest you are pursuing. For example, the United States wants more oil production from the OPEC nations. The U.S. has power, as mentioned before, and credibility based on its world power status. OPEC’s response will be based on this credibility along with the U.S.’s capability.
What the United States has and can do reestablishes the country’s de jure power. OPEC’s oil-producing countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Iraq, know the U.S. has a strong army. But they do not know the U.S.’s plan for using this power. The U.S. could decide to use the army, as a form of physical power if the request is denied. Or, the country could use economic power, in the form of trade restrictions. The percentage of power the U.S. utilizes depends on intention.
The importance of the country’s goals determines the United States’ intention to obtain more oil. Is this a strong intention, requiring one-hundred percent effort and power? Oil is vital to the U.S., in its industries and to its people, for their economic and personal needs. The more necessary oil is for the U.S. to achieve its goals in these areas, the more power will be utilized to get the oil. The contending party, the OPEC nations, is the outside factor in this political situation. The ways in which the United States pursues this issue may include up to eight manifestations of power.
It is best to use the less extreme measure of bargaining first. The United States may trade or provide aid to foreign countries to get the oil. Authority, the U.S.’s power of position, or prestige, the power of ideology to motivate, may manifest. These are more psychological forms of power.
Intelligence, having knowledge of the opponent’s intention, and influence, bringing information to bear, are more applicable to individual political situations than world politics. However, if the United States knew OPEC intended to restrict oil, the country could form an alliance with other countries to get more oil production from OPEC.
More extreme manifestations of power, such as manipulation, coercion, and pure force, are unlikely to occur in this situation because their application contributes more to political failure than success. In the past, Americans have rejected leaders who have engaged in war. Civilian behavior during the Vietnam War is a prime example of public dissatisfaction with government activities. Though more oil should benefit the American people, a war over oil will most likely be viewed negatively. Leaders concerned with political success will avoid war and other extreme manifestations of power in favor of more moderate actions.
This oil example is just one state of affairs with possibilities for success and failure. In pursuing oil for economic success and wealth, the United States government must retain the respect of the public. This example represents legitimacy in politics, which states that values must be compatible. I believe this is the most important principle for American leaders to keep in mind in deciding the forms of power they use and the manifestations their power takes on.