Date of Award


Document Type

Honors Project

University Scholars Director

Dr. Jeff Keuss

First Advisor/Committee Member

Dr. Katya Drozdova

Second Advisor/Committee Member

Dr. Kathleen Braden


Group of Twenty, G20, hard power


This essay analyzes the shifting hard power capabilities of the nineteen states in the G-20 from 1991-2011, to compare the competing “declinist” and “anti-declinist” hypotheses. Hard power refers to the quantifiable resources a state has, such as military forces or money, as opposed to soft power, which is a relational power to convince others to act in a certain way. The declinist hypothesis, exemplified by such authors as Christopher Layne and Arvind Subramanian, argues that the United States is in rapid decline compared to states such as China, India, Brazil, and others, as seen through a smaller gap in power between the United States and its closest competitor in 2011 as compared to 1991. The anti-declinist hypothesis, demonstrated by authors such as Michael Beckley and Josef Joffe, holds that the United States is either more powerful or as powerful in 2011 as it was in 1991.

The specific arguments of both declinists and anti-declinists are evaluated, and while this essay finds that the declinist hypothesis is more accurate than the anti-declinist one, the declinist literature overestimates the extent of the decline. Ultimately, this essay finds that the United States has declined sharply compared to China, but is still the supreme power in the world, as it is more powerful than both China and Russia, the second and third powers (respectively), put together.

This conclusion is reached through the construction and application of a multivariable hard power formula, which takes into account scholarly insights into the nature and analysis of power, and which is built upon the work of other scholars in the field. This work makes a contribution to the overall field of International Relations by refining and updating the previous scholarship and applying it to a pressing issue in the field.

At the end, this work considers several other alternative hypotheses, such as the Rise of the Rest, which argues that many non-Western states are about to join the ranks of the Western powers, and finds that these alternative hypotheses are not very accurate. Many states are rising slightly, especially China, but the overall distribution of hard power in the world still greatly favors the traditional Western Great Powers, such as the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Japan.


A project submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the University Scholars Program.

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