Power theory requires that power-acts must be clearly defined and fully comprehended, who is influencing or controlling by what acts. Variables included in a two broad definitions usually are very difficult to be analysed properly. Only those acts can be understood and empirically analysed which are performed against the wishes of a person or a nation.
All political interactions, domestic or international, involve the phenomenon of power. But its concept lacks precision. Scholars have attempted to analyse sources, goals, instruments, and effects of power, but lack unanimity over its referents. The concept of power must be explained in the context of various political systems and subsystems, and in a manner that empirical generalisations are derived therefrom. Along with them, it is desirable that a scientific theory is developed which is able to explain power in its various forms and their specificity and uniqueness.
Power as a relational phenomenon to produce induced behaviour presents a unifying and centralising principle. To make the concept empirical, two things must be kept in view: (a) power is behavioural, and (b) relationship between elements of power and power-behaviour must be established in a manner that it may form the basis of explanation, prediction, and empirical experiment. This is what an empirical theory does Power is a relational, interpersonal, and interactive process.
A man or a nation can exercise power only if there is someone else to act upon. Power is not a thing or commodity which can be possessed without exercising it. Weapons, wealth, property, organisation, etc. are important elements, bases, or sources of power. They are considered important as they provide opportunity to exercise control over others. It is improper to treat them all-important, and forget to relate them with actual power-behaviour.
Empirical power goes to the extent a political actor influences the behaviour of others. Power does not exist or remains ineffective if a nation is unable to change or modify the behaviour of other nations. When we say a nation is militarily more powerful, it simply means that it alone has more weapons and a bigger army to change the behaviour of nations concerned, and also has a will to do so when an occasion arises.
Often the analysts of power have not tried to compare the variables or elements of power with power. For this purpose, an adequate concept of power must be developed. It can relate power-behaviour with elements of power, and evolve appropriate hypotheses or suggest propositions. A behavioural approach to power is justified on two grounds: (a) As power involves influence or control, it is an observable empirical activity. The power-weilder must be in possession of relevant elements of power.
He must comparatively be free from obstructions or restrictions, and also have capacity or ability to use them. All of these things can be subsumed as ‘capability’, (b) The power-weilder must have the will or resolution to control other Power-setting requires both – capability as well as the will. Or as a potential power, it should be ingrained with credibility, so that it may be empirically observed.
The need to measure power also directs us to adopt the behavioural approach. A scientific power theory aims at comparing and measuring power. Elements or cases of power do not provide standardised units (like currency notes, weights, etc.) for measurement and quantification.
A millionaire cannot be compared with a highborn man. Scholars like Quincy Wright have also found this difficulty that political and social power, because of qualitative variations, cannot be uni-formally measured like physical power. Solution of the problem lies in making activities of political actors as basis of measurement. We can measure the behavioural consequences of wealth and status, jointly and separately, observing the number of persons a power-weilder controls over.
For this purpose, power has to be defined or translated into behavioural terms. According to Robert A. Dahl, A has power over B to the extent, A induces B to do acts which otherwise he would not do. Goldhammer and Shils define it as a person having power to the extent he is able to influence others behaviour according to his own intentions. Dahl’s explanation, thus, overlooks internationality of political actors, leaving aside power-acts like manipulation, propaganda, etc.
A nation, even after doing an act under the influence of another nation, can claim that it has done it at its own will. The clause ‘according to his own intentions’ makes the conventional statements, as, ‘against his will’, ‘despite resistance’, ‘which otherwise he would not have done’, etc. redundant.
But if Goldhammer and Shil’s clause is accepted, should all acts pertaining to fulfillment of one’s will or wish be regarded as acts of power? Should a small nation’s wish to live in isolation or neutral be regarded as indicator of its power? Isaac suggests that (i) such acts of power-behaviour should be performed both by the influencer and the influenced; and (ii) there should be some contact or communication before the actualisation of power relations between them. Without some form of contact, power relations cannot exist at all.
In accordance with the behavioural explanation of power a political actor influences the behaviour of others in terms of his own intentions or will. But there arises another difficulty. Unilateral or causal relations do not exist in power-settings. Many acts of power trigger off feedback or mutually influencing operations. If nation A influences the behaviour of nation B, there is an opportunity that B also influences the behaviour of A.
Of course, this analysis, in addition, makes the comparison of their power, at least more difficult, if not impossible. In case there is interval of time, the personal behaviour of the actor must be put under observation. Quantum of power and direction would also tell which side has more power.
Thus, influence on the acts of behaviour of the actors is regarded as the main unit of observation and measurement of power. There are various forms of political acts by which an actor can influence the behaviour of others. They can broadly be divided in three forms: (i) force, (ii) domination and (iii) manipulation. In force, there is exercise of physical acts, namely, empirically observable physical sanctions.
In a situation of domination, the actor expresses his intentions to the other party and realises that situation or intended behaviour. Often force and domination go together. Force is used to make domination effective. In manipulation, the actor does not let others know the aims or objects of his behaviour, namely, exercise of power. It includes actions, which cannot be easily understood or observed. However, techniques are developed to know latent intentions and observe and measure relevant influence. Rest of the acts are open and manifest.
Power theory requires that power-acts must be clearly defined and fully comprehended, who is influencing or controlling by what acts. Variables included in a two broad definitions usually are very difficult to be analysed properly. Only those acts can be understood and empirically analysed which are performed against the wishes of a person or a nation. In power relations, such acts among actors often take place. A strategy is required which may empirically link these stimuli and responses, and produce generalisations.
If a set of a activities is regulated before another set of activities, a correlation between them or probable association can be established. After visualising an observable contact between the two nations, if we find a form of some activity from out of their total behaviour, it can be assumed that power relations exist. Many members of parliament change their public statements after having a meeting with the prime minister. Sometimes, the principle of ‘anticipated expectations’ is also used and applied. Only after bringing power into observable dimensions, it becomes probable to measure it.
It is clear that a scientific power-theory cannot consider the state as the sole repository of power. Trietscke, Nietsche, Kauffmann etc. regarded the state as embodiment of power. Such an extremist view subordinates all activities, organisations, groups, etc., to the state. In modern times, state has monopoly over the exercise of legitimate power, but power, both in coercive and non-coercive forms, also operates beside the state.
There are non-state actors of power, such as the terrorists like Al-Queda. The power-principle, or theory in a loose sense, enables us to perceive political activities in an organised and meaningful manner, and is useful to understand the behaviour of nations and other political actors.
Steven Lukes in his book Power: A Radical View (1974) discusses three ways of exercise of power: decision-making, agenda-setting and thought control.’ The postmodern thinker, Michel Foucault (1926-84), discovers a link between power and systems of thought through the idea of a ‘discourse of power’.
But, it may be pointed that power is not the only sole material making up a political systems, and its legal organisation known as state. There are many other factors and contents which constitute political systems and subsystems. If the concept of power is confined only to force or coercion, the theory would prove misleading and too narrow to be of any use. Along with power, we have to study its other forms also. Most important of them are influence, authority and legitimacy.