The Greenwood Encyclopedia of International Relations - Vol. 2

By Cathal J. Nolan | Go to book overview
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Suggested Reading:
Lindsey Hughes, Russia in the Age of Peter the Great (1998).
Great Patriotic War. Russian term for the German-Russian war, 1941–1945. See also eastern front; World War II.
Great Powers. This term was first used in a treaty only in 1815 and elevated to common usage by the Prussian historian Leopold von Ranke in 1833. For centuries before that it meant those states whose economic, military, diplomatic, and other capabilities made their interests and policies of inescapable concern to all other powers in the international system, and which set and either jointly or unilaterally enforced the rules of that system. Until modern technology and war completed creation of a single world political system in the late nineteenth century, the prestige of being a Great Power adhered solely to the major powers of Europe, though sometimes including the Ottoman Empire. It was applied globally with the emergence to first-rank status of Japan between 1895 and 1905.

Great Powers are the principal drafters of international law, which they tend to imbue with moral qualities that reinforce their material and political interests and to later invoke against smaller challengers. Diplomacy among the Great Powers is always a matter of cardinal concern to everyone, as failure may lead to a world war, or what political scientists like to call a systemic war.” Diplomacy between a Great Power and a hostile smaller power usually takes a form in which the smaller power repeatedly tests the point at which the Great Power’s patience might break, and it turns to brute force to impose its will. However, since power is itself transitory and contingent on time and place, it is not always clear to contemporaries which states are in fact Great Powers, and then which among these are rising in influence or are in serious decline. For instance, Austria appeared fatally weakened by the Napoleonic Wars, but it managed to survive and remain one of the major powers for more than 100 years after 1815. In contrast, Italy was accepted into the Great Power club about 1900, but World War I and World War II demonstrated that it had never really belonged in the first rank of powers. After the fact, it is easier to decide on rankings.

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