- NBR - The National Bureau of Asian Research

Assessing National Power in Asia

Ashley J. Tellis


This chapter explains how three distinct conceptions of power—as resources, ability, and outcomes—informed the framework of this study and presents an overview of each chapter in the volume.

Main Argument

The many diverse expressions of power can be compressed into three broad conceptions: power as resources, power as ability, and power as outcomes. Framing national power in terms of resources, ability, and outcomes is a useful means of evaluating the countries of the Asia-Pacific region. Resources are the dominant consideration in competitive social environments, but solely examining resources can be deceptive. Almost as important is national performance, which accounts for variance in converting raw materials into physical and social products. This broad conception of power provides a better baseline for understanding strategic competition than a narrow focus on military metrics because disruptive scientific and technological advances can allow dynamic nations to rapidly overtake their competitors in future capabilities. By examining the resources of the major countries in the Asia-Pacific and their ability to convert these resources into national performance, this volume in the Strategic Asia series lays the foundation for a three-year study of each nation’s likelihood of achieving its desired outcomes in international relations.

Policy Implications

  • Political realism emphasizes national power as the most important determinant of whether a state can achieve its strategic objectives.
  • National performance, which encompasses state-society relations and the capacity for rationality in strategic action, determines whether a nation can effectively convert material resources into elements of national power.
  • Military capability must necessarily be included in any portrait of national power even if it is not by itself an effective predictor of regional outcomes.