Power Cycle Theory and Changes in The US Relative Power; A Context for Analyzing Foreign Policy Behavior

Document Type : Original Article


1 Regional Studies Department, Faculty of Law and Political Science, University of Tehran, Tehran, Iran

2 Regional Studies Department, Law and Political Science Faculty, University of Tehran, Tehran, Iran


Extended Abstract
Since the end of the Cold War and vanishing the bipolar international system, different arguments have been made in order to explain the status of world order, US position in the international system and the US foreign policies and strategies in different regions. Some scholars have tried to explain the structure of the new international system. For example, Wohlfarth has called it unipolar while Huntington recognized it as a unipolar-multipolar system. Some other scholars have tried to explain US grand strategies as the only superpower left in the international system after the collapse of USSR. Selective engagement, off-shore balancing and strategic restraint are among strategies that they have recommended to the US, in order to maintain its position in the new international system.
On the one hand, we should notice that new rising powers like China and India have changed international equivalents of contemporary era, so it does not seem wise to simply call the international system a unipolar or multipolar system. On the other hand, understanding US position in this complex system and explaining its strategies and policies is not possible without strictly clarifying the changes of its power after the end of the cold war.
  This paper is going to examine US power changes between 1989-2017 by using Power Cycle Theory. The research is based on quantitative method. First, we have distinguished all the major powers of the international system after the Cold War which are as follows: United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia, China, Japan and India. Then we have collected all of these players data for eight indicators of national power that is introduced by Kumar. These indicators are: Population, energy consumption, energy consumption per capita, GDP, GDP per capita, total trade, military expenditure and military expenditure as a percentage of GDP. In the third phase, we have calculated each countries’ relative power in each indicator for different years as the percent of the total major actor systemic capability on that indicator. At the fourth phase, we compute each countries’ total relative power by calculating the average of its relative power on each of the eight power indicators. At the end, the Power Cycle of US and inevitably other majors have been drawn by using SPSS software.
Results and Discussion
Research findings showed that the US has experienced its maximum relative power around 1998 and has entered the declining phase of relative power after that, though it seems there are still long distances between its absolute power and other major powers’ absolute power. The findings also showed that the rate of declining US relative power has changed from an increasing phase to a decreasing phase around 2012. This point is called inflection point 2 in Power Cycle Theory.
In conclusion, according to Power Cycle theory and its special definition of relative power, the rate of changes in the relative power is much more important than the exact amount of absolute power and the US power cycle shows that the relative power of the only super power of the international system is decreasing while China’s relative power as the US main rival is increasing, tremendously. In addition to showing the changes of US power, drawing US power cycle can also help us to understand the upcoming changes in the structure of international system in a better way.


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Volume 16, Issue 59
October 2020
Pages 52-82
  • Receive Date: 16 June 2019
  • Revise Date: 05 November 2019
  • Accept Date: 26 November 2019
  • First Publish Date: 22 September 2020