Joseph Nye on the Global Power Shifts

“Two types of power shifts are occurring in this century: power transition and power diffusion.” 


The Future of Power by Joseph Nye (2011, PublicAffairs)

If I could go back to university, one discipline that I would love to study is international relations. A topic that interests me a lot in this area is “power” – of any kind, political or communicative or entrepreneurial. Power has been a major theme in the scholarship of the political scientist and Harvard Professor Joseph Nye (@Joe_Nye).

In his 2011 The Future of Power, Nye underlines the two major power shifts that are taking place in the global information age of the 21st century, that of “transition” and “diffusion”.

He writes:

 Two great power shifts are occurring in this century: a power transition among states and a power diffusion away from all states to nonstate actors. Even in the aftermath of the financial crisis, the giddy pace of technological change continues to drive globalization, but the political effects will be quite different for the world of nation-states and the world of nonstate actors. In interstate politics, the most important factor will be the continuing “return of Asia”.

That is transition – from the West (largely US) to the East (mainly China). Now diffusion:

In transnational politics – the bottom chessboard – the Information Revolution is dramatically reducing the costs of computing and communication. Forty years ago, instantaneous global communication was possible but costly, and it was restricted to governments and corporations. Today, this communication is virtually free to anyone with the means to enter an Internet cafe. The barriers to entry into world politics have been lowered, and nonstate actors now crowd the stage. Hackers and cybercriminals cause billions of dollars of damage to governments and businesses. A pandemic spread by birds or travelers on jet aircraft could kill more people than perished in World War I or II, and climate change could impose enormous costs. This is a new world politics with which we have less experience.


“Hackers and cybercriminals cause billions of dollars of damage to governments and businesses.” (Photo: Pixabay)


The problem for all states in the twenty-first century is that there are more and more things outside the control of even the most powerful states, because of the diffusion of power from states to nonstate actors. Although the United States does well on military measures, there is increasingly more going on in the world that those measures fail to capture.

In short, most states can no longer manipulate the citizens (as they could in the past) but individual anti-social elements are in a better position to frustrate administrative plans and policies – in turn, adversely affecting larger societies.

Learn more in this TED talk:


Featured Image: Pixabay

Preview The Future of Power by Joseph Nye.

Donate Button with Credit Cards


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s