It is important to note that the changing dynamics of international relations have a significant impact on the power these countries have and, in some instances, can also lead to conflicts and fundamental power shifts in the region. This power is usually defined by various factors such as their economic growth rate, military buildup, or political status in international relations. Various theories have been suggested to understand these aspects of international politics and the occurrence of conflicts. Here, I will discuss the Power Transition theory; proposed by A.F.K. Organski in 1958. This theory looks at international politics from a structural focus for the first time and discusses the fundamental shifts in power. It was proposed to mainly understand the conflicts between the major powers in international relations; on various occasions has been used to predict the occurrence of war among great powers. This theory suggests that regional peace is sustained as long as the status quo is not challenged.
In order to better understand the power transition theory, it is essential to understand the meaning of status quo. According to Organski, status quo is essentially defined as “the general patterns of diplomatic, economic, and military interactions of members of the international system” (Lemke 24). The theory suggests that as long as the status quo is not challenged, there will be no conflicts in the region but as soon as any state challenges the dominant state, it leads to violent conflicts in the region.
I would now like to talk about some factors that affect the occurrence of conflict according to the power transition theory. The regional shifts in power are closely interlinked with various factors, which makes power theory complex and, at the same time, a great predictor of war. Studies have shown that the extent of dissatisfaction with the dominant states plays a significant role in a conflict. According to the power transition theory, challenger dissatisfaction can help predict war’s occurrence and severity. This is an important and crucial factor because the extent to which a state is dissatisfied that it is ready to start a conflict with the dominant state suggests that the power dynamics in the region need to shift or that an intervention is important. For an armed group to hold its power in the region, it should provide sufficient goods to the prospective “challenging” actors so as to gain their support.
However, it should be noted that the power of the challenging state, in terms of military buildup, political status in international relations, and the rate of economic growth, is directly related to dissatisfaction. For instance, a weak dissatisfied state is not the cause of threat to the dominant state. The strong state is not threatened, whereas the weak state does not even try to challenge the status quo (Lai 7). If the states are satisfied by the goods distributed by the dominant state, then it is more likely that the states would challenge the dominant one; but if the challenging states are themselves weak, it is less likely for them to challenge the status quo. Moreover, a nation’s alliance formation is equally essential in predicting the occurrence of a conflict, as it adds to the state’s strength or political power, increasing its status in international relations. The alliance between weak and strong states all the while keeping in mind their geographical interests.
Next, I will look at the fundamental power shifts in East Asia. With the case study of China and Japan, hence discussing the real-life application of the power transition theoryChina and Japan are two great powers, holding more than 70% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the region (Yoshimatsu 106). Some analysts refer to this relationship as a “power bargain” (Goh 1). Geographically, these two countries are separated from each other by the East China Sea. Organski’s theory of power transition is a classic perspective to help us understand the power relations in any region; hence I will be using this theory to analyze the complex relationship between China and Japan. In this paper, I will talk about the dynamics of their relationship starting from the first Sino-Japanese war fought in 1894. The war broke out when Japan attacked the Chinese soldiers in Korea and ended in Japan’s success.
At the time of the war, China and Japan were both emerging powers striving for industrialization and economic growth; as power was unequally distributed among these states, it made the rising conflict between the two states of great importance in international politics. According to Fröhlich, this war represented one of the critical events in the history of East Asia and had a long-lasting impact on the power dynamics revolving around the two countries. Japan’s success created an imbalance in the region; Japan was the first country in East Asia to modernize itself along the lines of Western Nation States. The immense growth of Japan, not only in economic but also in the political, legal, and industrial spheres, changed its status and power in international relations.
Before the war broke out, the Qing dynasty held power in the region, which increased the dissatisfaction in Japan and led to war. The leading cause of this war was Korea; the Qing empire was unwilling to give up their last tributary state (Fröhlich 215). Korea served as the leading client state for China, but due to the geographical and economic prospects, Japan saw its interests and started the war. Here, we can see that as the theory suggests that dissatisfaction of the challenging state plays an important role in the breakout of a conflict. Japan’s discontent with the status quo was strong enough for it to start a war and change the entire power dynamic in the region. The once known powerful Qing dynasty was broken and Japan held more power than China. Often, analysts refer to this war as a wake-up call for China and most Asian countries as it helped them realize that they have been left far behind from Western society at this point.
However, Japan was not able to hold this position for long i.e., during the second Sino-Japanese war which started in 1937. During the second world war, China gained immense respect in international politics for showing tremendous resistance to its Japanese enemy. Applying Organski’s theory of Power Transition, a major power transition also happens in this era. It became hard for China to maintain its authority or legitimacy over the region. This war initially started in an undeclared clash in Northern China but eventually became a part of World War II (Moore & Mitter 227). China made alliances with the greater powers of the world in WWII and emerged as a stronger power than Japan.
Towards the end of the war, the United States, an ally of China, detonated two nuclear bombs on two major cities of Japan; Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This was the main event that resulted in fundamental power shifts in the region. The bombing impacted Japan and deteriorated all the growth Japan had done in the past years. The bombings killed 140,000 people in Hiroshima, and a further 74,000 in Nagasaki (ICAN). It not only destroyed Japan’s economic stability, but also its status in international politics. Since Japan became too weak, it was no longer a threat to the international powers. This resulted in strengthening China not only in the political status in international politics but also gave China a chance to grow economically into a superpower as the main competitor of the region has suffered a blow.
The power dynamics in the Middle East have been very complex since the beginning with tons of major upsets. After the Second World War, it became necessary for Japan to stand on its own feet after losing its status and position in international relations. This period was followed by the Cold War era. During the Cold War, Japan grew economically and rose to be an emerging power not only regionally but also from a global perspective (Nishida 64). According to the author, Japan was the only Asian member of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) at that time. Here, we see another power transition from China to Japan.
However, the long-lasting rivalry between China and Japan took the form of trade in this era which lead to their interdependent economic relationship which is currently observed in East Asia. Currently, its almost hard to ignore the Chinese presence in Japan in their economic sector. However, these countries never had a stable relationship, i.e., even now, there is still tension between China and Japan since the Diaoyu Islands in late 2012 (Tuosheng 1). It has become harder to establish trust between the two states ever since the beginning of their diplomatic relationships. One of the main reasons is the dispute China and Japan have over the East China Sea. This can be explained with the help of power transition theory; both the countries are striving for power and to be the superpower in the region. Here power is usually defined from an economic perspective.
Organski proposed the power theory to help analysts analyze past wars and predict future conflicts, and it is a very simple, logical theory to look at things. All the countries are normally striving for power, be it the US, Russia, China, Japan, or India. And the history has been a witness to various conflicts based mainly on power; as we have talked about China and Japan in this paper. The complex relationship between China and Japan is best explained with the help of Organski’s power transition theory. It helps us understand the basic logic and thinking that goes behind war.
If we talk about contemporary politics, it can be said, that both the countries still have their differences and since, China has emerged as a rival to the US (which again, is explained through the power transition theory), Japan has been seen as forming allies with the US. With the help of power transition theory, political analysts have predicted that in the near future, China and Japan may have a conflict, given their immense differences over power. The conditions given by the theory are almost fulfilled in the current situation; currently, power is almost equally distributed among the countries, and both of them are striving for power, among which one of them has to be successful. Having said that, it is important to remember that war is never a solution in any situation. Countries should always resort to peaceful methods, because war not only destroys the stability of the country but also has a huge and long-lasting impact on the region, as is seen with the case of Japan and China.
Fröhlich, Judith. “Pictures of the Sino-Japanese War of 1894–1895.” War in History, vol. 21, no. 2, Sage Publications, Ltd., 2014, pp. 214–50, http://www.jstor.org/stable/26098308.
Goh, E. (2011). Japan, China, and the Great Power Bargain in East Asia. EAI Fellows Program Working Paper Series No. 32 https://www.eai.or.kr/data/bbs/eng_report/2011103118375220.pdf
Lai, David. “THE POWER TRANSITION THEORY.” THE UNITED STATES AND CHINA IN POWER TRANSITION, Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College, 2011, pp. 5–28, http://www.jstor.org/stable/resrep12113.7.
Lemke, Douglas. “The Continuation of History: Power Transition Theory and the End of the Cold War.” Journal of Peace Research, vol. 34, no. 1, Sage Publications, Ltd., 1997, pp. 23–36, http://www.jstor.org/stable/424828.
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