Empirical categorization of middle powers and how different middle powers are treated in international organizations: The case of India and South Korea

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3 Citations (Scopus)


Which countries are middle powers in international relations? While the term “middle powers” has witnessed a steady increase in its use in the past two decades, answers to the question are likely to be diverse, depending on to whom one asks the question. The paper tries to provide objective criteria that would allow one to define the entire population of middle powers and theorize how different types of middle powers are regarded and treated by other countries, most significantly, by great powers. Specifically, we contend that those middle powers with larger potential capability than realized capability, labeled as “middle powers with lots of unrealized potentials,” will initially receive favorable treatments in international organizations, but that favorable treatments will gradually diminish as those middle powers begin to close the gap between their potential and realized capability. In comparison, those countries with limited potential capability but with higher realized capacity, labeled as “mature middle powers,” will be treated in an unbiased manner by other countries. We demonstrate the plausibility of this argument with India and South Korea as examples of each type of middle power within the context of the International Monetary Fund. We show that India initially received some favors—in the form of larger political representation, larger than its size of economy warrants—within the International Monetary Fund when its potentials had not begun to materialize, but once realization of its potentials began, favors that India used to receive have gradually evaporated. In comparison, South Korea has been treated more “objectively” in the International Monetary Fund where its representation closely follows the size of its economy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)149-165
Number of pages17
JournalInternational Area Studies Review
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2021 Jun

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This research has been supported by the Global Research Network program by the National Research Foundation of Korea (Project Number: NRF-2016S1A2A2912646).

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2021.

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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