Magazine article Joint Force Quarterly

The Distribution of Power among the Major States in the Asia-Pacific

Magazine article Joint Force Quarterly

The Distribution of Power among the Major States in the Asia-Pacific

Article excerpt

While measuring a state's power is an art in and of itself, it is possible to do a first-order assessment of the relative magnitude of power among a group of states. Kenneth Waltz, the doyen of structural realism, has suggested that states can be assessed on six relevant factors: population size, military strength, economic strength, resource endowment, political stability, and competence of government.1 The following tables indicate the relative performance of seven countries (Australia, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, the United States, and Vietnam) that have been identified as actual or potential great powers or regional hegemons of a subregion of Asia based on these six factors.

Although crude, this assessment of relative state power across Waltz's six dimensions does reveal a rough distribution of power among the major states of Asia. The United States clearly remains the predominant power in the Asia-Pacific. After a notable gap, China assumes the number two spot. Another sizeable gap separates China from Japan, Australia, and India, which are all clustered around each other. An even larger gap in power separates this trio from Indonesia and then Vietnam.


(1.) Kenneth N. Waltz, "The Emerging Structure of International Politics," International Security 18, no. 2 (Autumn 1993), 50.

(2.) The relative ranking of military strength is based on defense expenditure. If the size of the armed forces is used instead, the results are largely the same, although India moves ahead of Australia and Japan. However, the general pattern of a sizeable gap between the United States and China, followed by another notable gap between China and India, Japan, and Australia, and then another gap separating these three from Indonesia and Vietnam remains.

Table 1. Population Size

Country          Population     World Rank

China          1,338,612,968           1
India          1,166,079,217           2
United States    307,212,123           3
Indonesia        240,271,522           4
Japan            127,078,679          10
Vietnam           86,967,524          13
Australia         21,262,641          54

Source: CIA World ha.ct.book2009 (Washington, DC: Central
Intelligence Agency 2009).

Table 2. Military Strength

Country        Defense Budget (USSM)  Percent of World

United States                552,568              43.1
China                         62,100               4.8
Japan                         41,039               3.2
India                         26,513               2.1
Australia                     20,216               1.5
Indonesia                      4,329          <.01
Vietnam                        3,709          <.01

Source: International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS),
Military Balance 2009 (Washington, DC: IISS, 2009). … 
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