History is a tale of efforts that failed, of aspirations that weren’t realized, of wishes that were fulfilled and then turned out to be different from what one expected.
Henry Kissinger, 1974
A superpower is different. Unlike most other international actors, it operates on the world scale and even presumes responsibility for the international system as a whole. For William Fox, the political scientist who in 1944 distinguished the “super powers” from the rest, what made a superpower were military and geopolitical resources: armed forces and the far-flung bases from which they operate. Yet power, as Fox acknowledged, is relational; it involves the capacity to shape outcomes, to compel others to do what they would not do otherwise. Arms furnish power; but affluence coerces, ideas persuade, and culture entices. The resources on which power depends are myriad, and they are specific to context. As resources ebb and flow and the diverse contexts in which power is wielded evolve, superpowers rise and fall....
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