Power politics has been a permanent feature of international relations since ancient times. Every state, uses the instrument of power projection either for its rise or for maintaining and sustaining its hegemonic status. Power projection is defined as ‘the ability of a nation to apply all or some of its elements of national power – political, economic, informational, or military to rapidly and effectively deploy and sustain forces in and from multiple dispersed locations to respond to crises, to contribute to deterrence, and to enhance regional stability.’ Historically, from classical times to the rise of colonialism, the nature of power projection has rather been inclined towards the use of hard power. Episodes of battles between Athens and Sparta provide instances stretching out from the Delian League and Peloponnese League, evidently projecting the use of hard power capabilities. Thucydides, the ancient military historian discussed the nature of power projection between Athens and Sparta in his book titled ‘The History of Peloponnesian War’, and contended hard power projection as the fundamental determinant which ultimately led to the fall of the Athenian democracy. The nature of power projection between the Roman Empire and the Persian Empire, the Persian Empire and the Islamic Caliphate, the Mongolian Empire and the Abbasids Caliphate and the struggle between the European powers in the early modern period also presents glimpses of hard power projection. Even during the colonisation period, the nature of power projection was through hard power although it aimed at economic exploitation. The power projection based on hard power capabilities was altered by the US when President Wilson presented his fourteen points. The fourteen points were the first ever organized instrument of economic power projection. Following World War II, the formation of Bretton Woods institutions made economic power projection a new sine qua non for great powers. The US, on the basis of its economic power projection continued to rule the world. Marshal Plan and the Nixon Shock were also tools of purposely institutionalized economic power projection from the American side during the Cold War.
Episodes of battles between Athens and Sparta provide instances stretching out from the Delian League and Peloponnese League, evidently projecting the use of hard power capabilities.
In this context, the glory and grandeur of China’s economic power projection are unparalleled. From 1949 to 2000; or more than five decades, China enhanced its economic capabilities. For a decade, China managed its economic power capabilities by exponentially enhancing its influence on global trade. In 2013, China under the leadership of Xi Jinping announced its own Bretton Woods institutions in the form of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). It is perhaps the first time in history of great powers that one of the leading world powers has come to project its economic agenda on such a massive scale. Regardless, it must be noted that whilst a transition in power projection might be a norm in global politics, it does not come without repercussions. Such a transition that comes with the rise of a single power, dominating or altering the existing order also has the tendency to result in regional and/or global instability. The power transition between the established power (US) and the rising power (China) has reached a level where both states pose threat to peace and stability. On one hand the US is increasing its power capabilities particularly its naval power in the Asia Pacific region; employing strategies of containing China. On the other hand, China itself is continuously increasing its economic power and modernizing its military on a large scale with a rapid increase in its defense spending combined with adoption of new military doctrines. This process of power transition based on power projection mechanism between China and the US is fostering conditions of regional instability in the Asia Pacific region.
The power transition between the established power (US) and the rising power (China) has reached a level where both states pose threat to peace and stability.
The instance of power transition triggering regional instability is not the first time that such an event has taken place. History has witnessed similar disorder in regional stability every time a rising power came one on one with an established power. From 1494 to 1580 (End of Italian Wars to Spanish invasion of Portugal) a similar power transition based on power projection mechanism took place between Portugal and Spain and ultimately resulted in regional instability in Europe. From 1580 to 1688 (Treaty of Utrecht to William of Orange’s arrival in England) it could be sensed between Holland and England, from 1688 to 1792 (Glorious Revolution to Napoleonic wars) it occurred between England and France, from 1815 to 1914-1945 it was evident between England and Germany (Congress of Vienna to World War 2). The same situation stood true between USSR and the US throughout the Cold War in different regions. The aforesaid historically felt and acknowledged power struggle and its impact on regional dynamics is what we currently witness in the US-China power struggle and its impact on the Asia Pacific region on the whole.
From the above study it can be concluded that whenever power transition between a rising power and an established power based on power projection behavior has occurred, it has brought about regional instability. These certain indicators are rapid military modernization, massive modernization of weaponry, huge increase in defense spending, military doctrines linked with territorial disputes, strategic containment and antagonistic regional collaboration, trade and currency conflicts with expanding economic influence. This mechanism of power projection between great powers combined with strategic confrontation having balancing, counterbalancing acts and containment, counter containment strategies often pose threats to regional stability.
Khaqan Chughtai has done M.Phil in International Relations from the National Defense University, Islamabad. His areas of expertise are Indo-Pacific region, Middle East, European Affairs, International Political economy, Foreign Policy of USA, China and Russia, Philosophy, Theories of IR and Artificial Intelligence. Currently, he is working as an Outreach Associate at the CSCR.