Uncontested for a substantial period of time, the United Kingdom (UK) has been dominating world politics effectively enough to be considered once a hegemonic power by many political scientists (Nye, 1990). A version of the great empire still persists as the United Kingdom still ranks high in terms of annual military expenses compared by states with approximately $55 billion defense budget allocated in 2020 (Global Fire Powers, 2020). However, the military might alone does not seem to guarantee the United Kingdom’s once hegemonic status — even states like Turkey are closing the gap in terms of military superiority. Including Nicholas Burns, Harvard professor of international relations,  a handful of  political scientists and analysts are claiming to witness the rise of Turkey as a major power (Burns, 2012). In a world that is transitioning rapidly and growing exponentially interconnected, it is relevant to evaluate the power structures between a seemingly diminishing  power like the United Kingdom and a growing power like Turkey. Therefore this essay will suggest the criteria or factors in which a relative power of a state can be most accurately quantified and draw a stark contrast between the United Kingdom and Turkey, attempting to evaluate their comparative political powers.

The dictionary defines power as “the ability to control people and events(Cambridge University Press, 2020).” This is rather problematic because there are no clear factors or criteria to measure the ability to control people and events. Consequently,  characterizing an adequately measurable definition of political power would be a prerequisite to examining the factors that make each state powerful. For the purpose of this investigation, the definition of power involving capabilities will be adopted. This definition involves the attempt to convert certain factors that are likely to influence the power into broadly measurable quantities, striving to roughly weigh the effect each factor contributes to a state’s power (Nye, 1990). To a similar extent, the definition of political power can also be defined as wielding these necessary resources to command, influence, or engage other states to do certain things that they would otherwise not. 

Military Capabilities 

Even though the methods of measuring power nowadays have become rather ambiguous, a state’s military capability has long been considered an influential factor in evaluating power and will continue to be — at least for the foreseeable future (Ferguson, 2003). Unlike exercising soft power, implementation of hard power through the military strength of a state is more concrete and effective.  For example, a state’s willingness to comply is much greater when a state threatens to invade compared to a state complying  because of the ‘friendships’ built up by culturally exchanging goods. These illustrations are helpful as the same concept is applicable to how military strength is intrinsically related to the political power of a nation. A state never really  has to actualize its military capacity in order to exercise its military hard power. Rather, a state just needs to appear willing enough to engage in combat, and the threat of exercising that hard power is politically actualized. 

Only comparing the annual military expenses, Turkey appears to be greatly disadvantaged. Turkey placed 11th in the 2020 military strength ranking with just under $20 billion annual defense budget expenses, far behind the United Kingdom’s by more than $30 billion annually (Global Fire Powers, 2020). However the bleak assessment on the pure military expenditures do not account to a state’s overall capabilities to engage in war. Recently the UK military has been heavily criticized for its overall performance in its military logistics. Without proper escort fleets, two of the UK’s aircraft carriers are exposed with practically no aircrafts to accompany them. Even worse, the UK had to retreat troops from Canada to participate  in a joint military exercise conducted by NATO in Poland because it had no other properly trained forces available (Paola, 2016). On the other hand the Turkish military excell in the sheer number of armed forces — in 2020 Turkey had more than ten times the number of tanks and artillery deployed than the UK had deployed. The UK military is becoming a mighty force only in name, hollowing as the Turkish military interests grow. 

This projection could be turned by attempting to account the ‘nuclear privilege’ held by the United Kingdom. Nuclear capabilities precedes all other military strength as just a single nuclear warhead could wreak havoc across the entire state. One nuclear strike in Hiroshima is believed to have been enough to persuade the Japanese to surrender during World War 2 (Gartzke and Kroenig, 2009). However, throughout the decades, the United Kingdom has effectively raised its own threshold for actually utilizing its nuclear arsenal (Erasto and Tytti, 2020). Sentiment against the use of nuclear weapons have developed significantly, constructed largely by countries like the UK. The scope of situations which a nuclear state could exercise its nuclear power has been narrowed to an extent in which even threatening to use such weapons have become militarily and politically extremely costly: a state would only be justified to fire nuclear weapons in a life or death situation (Powell, 1983). This practically makes nuclear weapons useless for the UK — at least in terms of using it as political leverage. In most cases threatening other states with a possible nuclear strike is just not an option for the UK. 

Parallely, the United Kingdom has also largely restricted themselves in terms of the ability to leverage and convert their conventional military strength to effective political power. By taking the role as the ‘global police’ alongside the United States, it is now almost impractical for the UK to threaten or bully a militarily inferior state to submission. Citizens of the United Kingdom are no longer accepting of the exploitation of the state’s own strength. The international community also does not accept such behaviour.  Both internally and internationally, the UK is limited in actualizing its full military strength: to that means the royal army is a mere facade when it can not actually engage in combat. Contrary to the United Kingdom, the Turkish state is much more efficient in transforming their military superiority in the region to actual political power. For instance, the Turkish offensive into the syrian territory inorder to combat the Kurdistan forces was fully endorsed by the United States if not the passive confirmation at an international level (Petti, 2020).  Turkish initiative in indicating their determination to carry forth their military power allows them to actively leverage that military power as a valid negotiating tool, an ability that the United Kingdom seems to be losing. Through their superior status the Turkish State has implemented a neo-ottomon strategy whereby the Turkish state is no longer hesitant to actively engage in regional affairs. The Turkish state plays the most influential role in most west balkans states such as Kosovo, Albania, Northern Macedonia, and Bosnia Herzegovina (Rrustemi, 2019).

To encapsulate, the United Kingdom is so far still superior in its military strength. However, Turkey’s efficiency in transforming their military strength into actual political influence around their region is far more effective than the transformation efficiency of the United Kingdom.

Diplomatic Capabilities and Shaping Opinion 

Although military capabilities remain an impactful factor in determining state powers, the importance of state capacity for gaining control of information and knowledge is gaining traction (Wilson, 2008). The ability to set agendas at an interstate level can constitute a significant portion of a state’s political power. In many cases, diplomatic capabilities do originate from military strength but by aligning the state’s interest with the commonly accepted international value, a state without adequate military capabilities can still exercise immense political power. For instance a state known for its high standard of human rights may wield stronger political power in influencing a dictatorial state by setting the agenda for more militarily powerful states. In other words, the ability to shape the international opinion on certain agendas allows a state to effectively borrow political powers from other states. These states which are persuaded by the common agenda willingly cooperate with the values and goals of a state that is able to shape the global opinion. 

In the present days, the dominant medium in which independent states shape the global agenda is the United Nations (U.N.). Despite its criticism, the U.N. is surprisingly more relevant than most perceive it to be. Their work is influential: International Criminal Court trialed genocidal political leaders, World Health Organization successfully defended epidemics like SARS, and U.N. Children’s Fund has ended forced child marriages. U.N is the forum in which states can interact to earn the support of the globe, effectively borrowing enough power to kickstart collective work. However, beyond their humanitarian work participation in the U.N. provide legitimacy (Albright, 2003).  A state’s action wields legitimacy if other states consent to it either passively or actively. No state can practically oppose all other states — even for the US it is impractical that it will be able to engage in a full scale war against the entire world. Additionally, international approval in most cases legitimize the incumbent government locally as well. Hence, international endorsement or support is vital in forming political power.

 Turkey is positioned in a situation where it is a state that actively aspires to westernize but also the cultural values lying in the middle east. Turkey is incorporated into the western world as it is part of organizations like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and Organisation for Economic Development and Cooperation (OECD). Also the Turkish State has eagerly shown its willingness to step foot in the western political sphere, applying to become a European Union member state. On the other side, with an overwhelming islamic population, the Turkish state also subtly leads the middle eastern world (Yuvaci and Abdullah, 2013). Yet, taking to account the collective evidence, Turkey does not have the necessary global stage to bend the global opinions and agenda. 

The UK on the contrary extensively benefits from its superior international position. First UK is one of the only five states that has the permanent membership guaranteed in the U.N. Security Council. Many of the world’s global issues go through the UNSC, and it’s approval is known to even influence the public opinion of individuals states to enter in war. A local government gains more legitimacy to wage wars if they are approved by the UNSC (Tingley, 2012). Therefore the UK’s veto power in one of the most important sections of the U.N. is non the less a significant factor constituting its political power. One example that highlights the significance of the ability to take control of the U.N. agendas is the UK’s  ardent need to 

justify its co-occupation of the Iraq territory with the US after the combat ceased (Albright, 2003). Through the U.N. both the US and UK have been able to effectively shape the global standard in how states interact with each other. Although the UK did restrict its own options in the international field through their own global standard, it can not be ignored that these restrictive standards may benefit the UK ultimately. 

The UK has also been its own journey attempting to depart from the EU, but the UK’s influence in the world — or at least for Europe — at best seems gloomy. By effectively leaving the EU on the 31st of January 2020, the UK has practically lost its voice in the EU and the ability to draft regulations regarding Europe (Henley, 2020). It is unclear whether the UK will continue to have a meaningful influence on European politics. 

Handling all evidence at hand it is clear that the UK holds more international relevance than Turkey. Despite the growing Turkish ability to shape the global agendas, it is still far inferior to the extent of the UK’s influence around the globe. Though, the UK’s diplomatic capabilities are on its paths downwards. 


To Summarize UK is still the superior power in terms of the political power it possesses. It also does not contradict the growing opinion amongst many political scientists that Turkey is a rising major power. Yet, considering all evidence presented in regards to both hard and soft power wielded by the two states, the conclusion is that the UK retains its century long reputation to a certain extent. The UK possesses the necessary hard powers with its military and soft powers with its diplomatic status in the international field. What the investigation does prove is that the UK’s superior political power now may not continue into the foreseeable future. With the UK actively claiming the supposed intertwined fate with the US, it is increasingly more likely that the UK may also be boxing itself into a corner. The US pulling out from the WHO and UN Human Rights Council, as well as retreating troops from both Syria and Afghanistan, is accelerating the already diminishing US  influence in the world (Council on Foreign Relations, 2020).The UK may also be on the same track with Brexit. It is unclear if Turkey will ever overtake the UK in terms of political power, but there are certainly subtle indications for it.


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Sang Yoon (Fred) Lee
Sang Yoon (Fred) Lee

He is a student of NLCS Jeju. The article was written as a part of an IB Global Politics task.

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