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Who wants to be a major power? Explaining the expansion of foreign policy ambition


  • Benjamin O Fordham

    () (Department of Political Science, Binghamton University (SUNY))


Some states define their interests more broadly than others, looking beyond their immediate security and mobilizing their national wealth in pursuit of more ambitious goals. The most successful of these states come to be seen by others as major powers. Though major powers and states aspiring to attain this status are very important in world politics, relatively little explicit attention has been paid to the question of why some states expand their foreign policy ambitions, adopting what can be termed a major-power foreign policy. This article evaluates three explanations for this policy choice. Some international relations theory claims that potential power is itself a sufficient motivation for the adoption of major-power foreign policy. Other theorists suggest that some triggering condition is required, such as increasing international threat or expanding international economic interests. Evidence concerning the construction of military capabilities and diplomatic activism indicates that potential power alone does not offer a sufficient explanation for the adoption of major-power foreign policy. Both international threats and economic interests act as triggers for this choice, though they appear to push states toward different types of mobilization.

Suggested Citation

  • Benjamin O Fordham, 2011. "Who wants to be a major power? Explaining the expansion of foreign policy ambition," Journal of Peace Research, Peace Research Institute Oslo, vol. 48(5), pages 587-603, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:sae:joupea:v:48:y:2011:i:5:p:587-603

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