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Can India learn to be a ‘Great Power’?

India has broken into the top five economies of the world, beating, at latest count, the United Kingdom and France. Indian business leader Mukesh Ambani has said that it is only a matter of time before India enters the top three economies in the world.

This has once again raised the question: How long before India is considered a Great Power?

How does a nation become a Great Power? Well, the answer in international relations is that it depends on what you mean by Great Power.

One might think that’s quite obvious: A combination of military and economic might, but it’s a bit more complicated. For instance, how much military might is enough to be declared ‘great’? Indeed, how much economic muscle?

The neorealist Kenneth Waltz would argue that being a Great Power is about possessing a certain self-evident trait. Take the US: it has been a Great Power for several decades and continues to be one.

But what constitutes this trait?

Waltz argued that it was based on military strength, political stability, the economy, resources, population, and territory—broadly, what kind of power a country could exert, what kind of resources it had, and its status.

None of this is easy to define. At one point, Leopold von Ranke, when considering Prussia, noted that a Great Power was able to take on, and presumably defeat, the combined strength of its rivals. But non-traditional forms of assault—that could yet have a devastating impact on a nation, whether by using lone agents like in 9/11 or through biological weapons—have brought forth deep questions about what combined strength of opponents really means.

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