S.P. Huntington

International Security, Vol. 17 No. 4 (Spring, 1993) pp. 68-83

 A summary

In a Nutshell

Primacy means a government is able to exercise more influence on the behavior of more actors with respect to more issues than any other government can. With respect to this kind of power, absolute levels (or gains) of power are meaningless. An actor gains or loses power only with respect to some other actor. A state wants international power, partly for ego reasons, but mostly to protect its security and prevent, deflect or defeat threats to that security. It may also promote its values abroad.  This primacy is also a means of achieving one’s international goals without recourse to war.

 Economic primacy in particular is important. To economists, absolute gains are important, but to politicians and states it is relative gains. Economic prosperity is not only a means of increasing well-being, but a means of increasing power. Thus the realist theory of international relations, whereby international politics is anarchic and in order to ensure security states must maximize their power indicates that economic development is another tool for attaining power.  As such decisions about international economics, trade etc. need to be made bearing in mind the relative gains to be made. Thus even if a trade agreement increases substantially economic prosperity in all signatory states, it would not be in the interest of a state to be party to that agreement if it meant losing some economic power relative to another state such that its primacy was challenged.

 In the context of the rise of Japan as an economic superpower, Huntington argues that loss of primacy to Japan would be highly damaging. Thus the US needed to adopt a power maximizing strategy to prevent Japan exploiting the openness of the US economy and to induce Japan to open further its markets.

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