The concept of the "middle power" dates back to the origins of the European state system. In the late 16th century, Italian political thinker Giovanni Botero divided the world into three types of states: grandissime (empires), mezano (middle powers), and piccioli (small powers). According to Botero, a mezano or middle power "has sufficient strength and authority to stand on its own without the need of help from others."
No agreed standard method defines which states are middle powers, aside from the broad idea that middle powers are states that have a 'moderate' ability to influence the behaviour of other states, in contrast to small power, which have 'little' ability to influence. Some researchers use Gross National Product (GNP) statistics to draw lists of middle powers around the world. Economically, middle powers are generally those that are not considered too "big" or too "small", however that is defined. However, economy is not always the defining factor. Under the original sense of the term, a middle power was one that had some degree of influence globally, but did not dominate in any one area. However, this usage is not universal, and some define middle power to include nations that can be regarded as regional powers.
Middle power status is usually identified in one of two ways. The traditional and most common way is to aggregate critical physical and material criteria to rank states according to their relative capabilities. Because countries' capabilities differ, they are categorized as superpowers (or great powers), middle powers or small powers. More recently, it is possible to discern a second method for identifying middle power status by focusing on behavioural attributes. This posits that middle powers can be distinguished from superpowers and smaller powers because of their foreign policy behaviour – middle powers carve out a niche for themselves by pursuing a narrow range and particular types of foreign policy interest. In this way middle powers are countries that use their relative diplomatic skills in the service of international peace and stability.
All middle powers display foreign policy behaviour that stabilises and legitimises the global order, typically through multilateral and cooperative initiatives. However, emerging and traditional middle powers can be distinguished in terms of their mutually-influencing constitutive and behavioural differences. Constitutively, traditional middle powers are wealthy, stable, egalitarian, social democratic and not regionally influential. Behaviourally, they exhibit a weak and ambivalent regional orientation, constructing identities distinct from powerful states in their regions and offer appeasing concessions to pressures for global reform. Emerging middle powers by contrast are semi-peripheral, materially inegalitarian and recently democratised states that demonstrate much regional influence and self-association. Behaviourally, they opt for reformist and not radical global change, exhibit a strong regional orientation favouring regional integration but seek also to construct identities distinct from those of the weak states in their region.
Another definition, by the Middle Powers Initiative (MPI), a program of the Global Security Institute, is that "middle power countries are politically and economically significant, internationally respected countries that have renounced the nuclear arms race, a standing that give them significant international credibility." Under this definition however, nuclear-armed states like India and Pakistan, and every state participant of the NATOnuclear sharing, would not be middle powers.
Although there is some conceptual ambiguity surrounding the term middle power, middle powers are identified most often by their international behavior–called 'middle power diplomacy'—the tendency to pursue multilateral solutions to international problems, the tendency to embrace compromise positions in international disputes, and the tendency to embrace notions of 'good international citizenship' to guide...diplomacy. Middle powers are states who commit their relative affluence, managerial skills, and international prestige to the preservation of the international order and peace. Middle powers help to maintain the international order through coalition-building, by serving as mediators and "go-betweens," and through international conflict management and resolution activities, such as UN peacekeeping. Middle powers perform these internationalist activities because of an idealistic imperative they associate with being a middle power. The imperative is that the middle powers have a moral responsibility and collective ability to protect the international order from those who would threaten it, including, at times, the great or principal powers. This imperative was particularly profound during the most intense periods of the Cold War.
According to international relations scholar Annette Baker Fox, relationships between middle powers and great powers reveal more intricate behaviors and bargaining schemes than has often been assumed.
According to Soeya Yoshihide, "Middle Power does not just mean a state's size or military or economic power. Rather, 'middle power diplomacy' is defined by the issue area where a state invests its resources and knowledge. Middle Power States avoid a direct confrontation with great powers, but they see themselves as 'moral actors' and seek their own role in particular issue areas, such as human rights, environment, and arms regulations. Middle powers are the driving force in the process of transnational institutional-building."
Characteristics of middle power diplomacy include:
Commitment to multilateralism through global institutions and allying with other middle powers.
High degree of civil society penetration in the country's foreign policy.
The Middle Powers Initiative highlights the importance of middle powers diplomacy. Through MPI, eight international non-governmental organizations are able to work primarily with middle power governments to encourage and educate the nuclear weapons states to take immediate practical steps that reduce nuclear dangers, and commence negotiations to eliminate nuclear weapons. Middle power countries are particularly influential in issues related to arms control, being that they are politically and economically significant, internationally respected countries that have renounced the nuclear arms race, a standing that gives them significant political credibility.
The term first entered Canadian political discourse after World War II. Prime MinisterLouis St. Laurent, for example, called Canada "a power of the middle rank" and helped to lay out the classical definition of Canadian middle power diplomacy. When he was advocating for Canada's election to the United Nations Security Council, he said that while "...the special nature of [Canada's] relationship to the United Kingdom and the United States complicates our responsibilities," Canada was not a "satellite" of either but would "continue to make our decisions objectively, in the light of our obligations to our own people and their interest in the welfare of the international community." Canadian leaders believed Canada was a middle power because it was a junior partner in larger alliances (e.g. NATO, NORAD), was actively involved in resolving disputes outside its own region (e.g. Suez Crisis), was not a former colonial power and therefore neutral in anti-colonial struggles, worked actively in the United Nations to represent the interests of smaller nations and to prevent the dominance of the superpowers (often being elected to the United Nations Security Council for such reasons), and because it was involved in humanitarian and peacekeeping efforts around the world.
In March 2008, AustralianPrime MinisterKevin Rudd defined his country's foreign policy as one of "middle power diplomacy", along the lines of similar criteria. Australia would "influence international decision-makers" on issues such as "global economic, security and environmental challenges".
Overlaps between great powers and middle powers
The overlaps between the lists of middle powers and great powers show that there is no unanimous agreement among authorities.
People in the field of international relations, such as Professor Kirton and Roberto Gimeno, support the claim that Italy is a great power due to its status and membership in the G7 and NATO Quint. Moreover, according to a 2014 report by the Hague Centre for Strategic Studies (HCSS), Italy is listed among the great powers. Although broad academic support for India as a great power is uncommon, some in the field of political science, such as Malik Mohan and Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, consider India to be a great power too. In addition to it, Brazil is sometimes referred as a great power due to its economic power and influence. Brazil, India and Italy are also described at times as middle powers.
As with the great powers, there is no unanimous agreement among authorities as to which countries are considered middle powers. Lists are often the subject of much debate and tend to place comparatively large countries (e.g. Argentina) alongside relatively small ones (e.g. Norway). Clearly not all middle powers are of equal status; some are considered regional powers and members of the G20 (e.g. Australia), while others could very easily be considered small powers (e.g. Czech Republic). Some larger middle powers also play important roles in the United Nations and other international organisations such as the WTO.
The following is a list of 52 countries that have been, at some point in time since the post–Cold War era, considered middle powers by academics or other experts (Members of the G-20 major economies are in bold font, except for the EU member states which are attended under a collective membership of the EU):
^"Asia Power Index 2021 Edition | US". power.lowyinstitute.org. Retrieved 18 December 2021. The United States beat the regional downward trend, gaining points in five Index measures, and overtaking China in two critical rankings: for diplomatic Influence and future resources. But its gains are dogged by a rapid loss of economic influence.
^"Asia Power Index 2021 Edition | China". power.lowyinstitute.org. Retrieved 18 December 2021. The country lost points in half of the Index measures. But this has not narrowed the country's lead over the rest of the region, with lower ranked countries succumbing to their own losses.
^Éric-André Martin and Marie Krpata (October 2021). The Dilemma of Middle Powers: How AUKUS Has Reshaped the Potential for E3 Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific(PDF). Vol. 166. Ifri, Notes du Cerfa. ISBN979-10-373-0432-2. Retrieved 8 January 2022. The (US) Department of Defense defined the Indo-Pacific as its "priority theater"...This tilt is an acknowledgment of China's increased role in world economics. China's share in world GDP has risen from 4% in 2000 to 16% today. Since it joined the WTO in 2001 and with the unfolding of the economic and financial crises in 2008-2009, which diminished the West's soft power and economic and financial strengths, China has become the world's powerhouse. This has increasingly led to what may be described today as great-power rivalry between China and the US.
^Sperling, James (2001). "Neither Hegemony nor Dominance: Reconsidering German Power in Post Cold-War Europe". British Journal of Political Science. 31 (2): 389–425. doi:10.1017/S0007123401000151.
^"Asia Power Index 2021 Edition | India". power.lowyinstitute.org. Retrieved 18 December 2021. The next tier of regional powers — Japan and India — have each lost more ground in 2021 than did China. Both countries have fallen just short of the major power threshold of 40 points in 2021... One result of greater bipolarity is that US allies, such as Japan and Australia, and even key balancing powers, such as India, have never been more dependent on American capacity and willingness to sustain a military balance of power in the region.
^ abcdTobias Harris, 'Japan Accepts its "Middle-Power" Fate'. Far Eastern Economic Review Vol. 171, No. 6 (2008), p. 45: 'Japan is settling into a position as a middle power in Asia, sitting uneasily between the U.S., its security ally, and China, its most important economic partner. In this it finds itself in a situation similar to Australia, India, South Korea and the members of Asean.'
^Charalampos Efstathopoulosa, 'Reinterpreting India's Rise through the Middle Power Prism', Asian Journal of Political Science, Vol. 19, Issue 1 (2011), p. 75: 'India's role in the contemporary world order can be optimally asserted by the middle power concept. The concept allows for distinguishing both strengths and weakness of India's globalist agency, shifting the analytical focus beyond material-statistical calculations to theorise behavioural, normative and ideational parameters.'
^Robert W. Bradnock, India's Foreign Policy since 1971 (The Royal Institute for International Affairs, London: Pinter Publishers, 1990), quoted in Leonard Stone, 'India and the Central Eurasian Space', Journal of Third World Studies, Vol. 24, No. 2, 2007, p. 183: 'The U.S. is a superpower whereas India is a middle power. A superpower could accommodate another superpower because the alternative would be equally devastating to both. But the relationship between a superpower and a middle power is of a different kind. The former does not need to accommodate the latter while the latter cannot allow itself to be a satellite of the former."
^Jan Cartwright, 'India's Regional and International Support for Democracy: Rhetoric or Reality?', Asian Survey, Vol. 49, No. 3 (May/June 2009), p. 424: 'India's democratic rhetoric has also helped it further establish its claim as being a rising "middle power." (A "middle power" is a term that is used in the field of international relations to describe a state that is not a superpower but still wields substantial influence globally. In addition to India, other "middle powers" include, for example, Australia and Canada.)'
^"Operation Alba may be considered one of the most important instances in which Italy has acted as a regional power, taking the lead in executing a technically and politically coherent and determined strategy." See Federiga Bindi, Italy and the European Union (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2011), p. 171.
^"Italy plays a prominent role in European and global military, cultural and diplomatic affairs. The country's European political, social and economic influence make it a major regional power." See Italy: Justice System and National Police Handbook, Vol. 1 (Washington, D.C.: International Business Publications, 2009), p. 9.
^Marco Siddi (October 2018). "Italy's 'Middle Power' Approach to Russia". The International Spectator: Italian Journal of International Affairs. 54 (2): 123–138. doi:10.1080/03932729.2018.1519765. ISSN0393-2729. S2CID158301312. The definition of 'middle power' is contested and has been the subject of controversy among scholars. According to the Italian interpretation of this concept, Italy is a middle-ranking power with limited natural and military resources and one that can only achieve its foreign policy goals by expanding its influence in international organisations and through bilateral relations with larger powers.
^"Asia Power Index 2021 Edition | Japan". power.lowyinstitute.org. Retrieved 18 December 2021. The next tier of regional powers — Japan and India — have each lost more ground in 2021 than did China. Both countries have fallen just short of the major power threshold of 40 points in 2021... One result of greater bipolarity is that US allies, such as Japan and Australia, and even key balancing powers, such as India, have never been more dependent on American capacity and willingness to sustain a military balance of power in the region.
^Robert W. Cox, 'Middlepowermanship, Japan, and Future World Order, International Journal, Vol. 44, No. 4 (1989), pp. 823-862.
^Neumann, Iver B. (2008). "Russia as a great power, 1815–2007". Journal of International Relations and Development. 11 (2): 128–151 [p. 128]. doi:10.1057/jird.2008.7. As long as Russia's rationality of government deviates from present-day hegemonic neo-liberal models by favouring direct state rule rather than indirect governance, the West will not recognize Russia as a fully fledged great power.
^Chalmers, Malcolm (May 2015). "A Force for Order: Strategic Underpinnings of the Next NSS and SDSR". Royal United Services Institute. Briefing Paper (SDSR 2015: Hard Choices Ahead): 2. While no longer a superpower (a position it lost in the 1940s), the UK remains much more than a 'middle power'.
^ abcdeBernard Wood, 'Towards North-South Middle Power Coalitions', in Middle Power Internationalism: The North-South Dimension, edited by Cranford Pratt (Montreal, McGill-Queen's University Press, 1990).
^ abcdAndrew F. Cooper, Agata Antkiewicz and Timothy M. Shaw, 'Lessons from/for BRICSAM about South-North Relations at the Start of the 21st Century: Economic Size Trumps All Else?', International Studies Review, Vol. 9, No. 4 (Winter, 2007), pp. 675, 687.
^Gladys Lechini, Middle Powers: IBSA and the New South-South Cooperation. NACLA Report on the Americas, Vol. 40, No. 5 (2007): 28-33: 'Today, a new, more selective South-South cooperation has appeared, bringing some hope to the people of our regions. The trilateral alliance known as the India, Brazil, and South Africa Dialogue Forum, or IBSA, exemplifies the trend ... The three member countries face the same problems and have similar interests. All three consider themselves "middle powers" and leaders of their respective regions, yet they have also been subject to pressures from 'Emerging Middle Powers' Soft Balancing Strategy: State and Perspective of the IBSA Dialogue Forum. Hamburg: GIGA, 2007.
^Peter Vale, 'South Africa: Understanding the Upstairs and the Downstairs', in Niche Diplomacy: Middle Powers After the Cold War, edited by Andrew F. Cooper (London: Macmillan, 1997).
^Janis Van Der Westhuizen, 'South Africa's Emergence as a Middle Power', Third World Quarterly, Vol. 19, No. 3 (1998), pp. 435-455.
^ abYasmi Adriansyah, 'Questioning Indonesia's place in the world', Asia Times (20 September 2011): 'Countries often categorized as middle power (MP) include Australia, Canada and Japan. The reasons for this categorization are the nations' advanced political-economic stature as well as their significant contribution to international cooperation and development. India and Brazil have recently become considered middle powers because of their rise in the global arena—particularly with the emerging notion of BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China).'
^Louis Belanger and Gordon Mace, 'Middle Powers and Regionalism in the Americas: The Cases of Argentina and Mexico', in Niche Diplomacy: Middle Powers After the Cold War, edited by Andrew F. Cooper (London: Macmillan, 1997).
^ abPierre G. Goad, 'Middle Powers to the Rescue?', Far Eastern Economic Review, Vol. 163, No. 24 (2000), p. 69.
^"Asia Power Index 2021 Edition | Indonesia". power.lowyinstitute.org. Retrieved 18 December 2021. Indonesia has for the first time reached a top-ten placement in the Index. Jakarta now outranks Singapore as the most diplomatically influential player in Southeast Asia.
^ abJonathan H. Ping, Middle Power Statecraft: Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Asia Pacific (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing, 2005).
^Anoushiravan Ehteshami and Raymond Hinnesbusch, Syria and Iran: Middle Power in a Penetrated Regional System (London: Routledge, 1997).
^Gilbert Rozman, 'South Korea and Sino-Japanese Rivalry: A Middle Power's Options Within the East Asia Core Triangle', Pacific Review, Vol. 20, No. 2 (2007), pp. 197-220.
^Woosang Kim, 'Korea as a Middle Power in Northeast Asian Security', in The United States and Northeast Asia: Debates, Issues, and New Order, edited by G. John Ikenbgerry and Chung-in Moon (Lantham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008).
^"Asia Power Index 2021 Edition | Singapore". power.lowyinstitute.org. Retrieved 18 December 2021. Uneven economic impacts and recoveries from the pandemic will likely continue to alter the regional balance of power well into the decade. Only Taiwan, the United States and Singapore are now predicted to have larger economies in 2030 than originally forecast prior to the pandemic.
^"Asia Power Index 2021 Edition | Taiwan". power.lowyinstitute.org. Retrieved 18 December 2021. Uneven economic impacts and recoveries from the pandemic will likely continue to alter the regional balance of power well into the decade. Only Taiwan, the United States and Singapore are now predicted to have larger economies in 2030 than originally forecast prior to the pandemic.
^"Asia Power Index 2021 Edition | Vietnam". power.lowyinstitute.org. Retrieved 18 December 2021. Three middle powers — Vietnam, Australia and Taiwan — were the only countries to gain in comprehensive power in 2020. When neither the United States nor China can establish undisputed primacy in Asia, the actions and choices of middle powers will become more consequential.
^Bolton, Matthew; Nash, Thomas (7 May 2010). "The Role of Middle Power–NGO Coalitions in Global Policy: The Case of the Cluster Munitions Ban". Global Policy. Wiley. 1 (2): 172–184. doi:10.1111/j.1758-5899.2009.00015.x.
^ abSpero, Joshua (2004). Bridging the European Divide. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 206. ISBN9780742535534.
^"Asia Power Index 2021 Edition | Australia". power.lowyinstitute.org. Retrieved 18 December 2021. Three middle powers — Vietnam, Australia and Taiwan — were the only countries to gain in comprehensive power in 2020. When neither the United States nor China can establish undisputed primacy in Asia, the actions and choices of middle powers will become more consequential.