Understanding American Power: Conceptual clarity, strategic priorities and the decline debate

Adam Quinn, Nicholas Kitchen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
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What does it mean for the United States to be powerful? The prospect of a decline in American power, especially relative to a rising China, has attracted considerable scholarly and political attention. Despite a wealth of data, disagreements persist regarding both the likely trajectory of the US-China balance and the most effective strategy for preserving America’s advantage into the future. This article locates the source of many of these enduring disputes in fundamental conceptual differences over the meaning of power itself. To make the case, we first map the distinct tracks of argument within the decline debate, showing that competing positions are often rooted in differences of focus rather than disputes over fact. Most fundamental is a divide between analyses primarily dedicated to national capabilities, and others that emphasise mechanisms of relational power. On the basis of the preceding analysis, we construct a typology of competing understandings of what it means for America to be powerful, to show that a strategy suited to bolstering American power according to one definition of that goal may not support, and may even undermine, it understood in other ways
Original languageEnglish
JournalGlobal Policy
Early online date19 Dec 2018
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 19 Dec 2018


  • United States
  • Power
  • Capabilitie
  • China
  • Balance of Power


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