The Power Disparity project will deal with the consequences of unequal power between political actors in the Baltic Sea region, especially as to effects on cooperative security and integration. It assumes that differences in power can have beneficial effects as well as undesirable ones, and seeks to understand how such consequences come about. Central query: What are the potential limits to cooperative security inherent in the origins, causes and consequences of unequal power relations between groups, nations and states in regional settings, especially relations pertaining to perceived group survival in intergroup conflict?
The Baltic Sea region has long been marked by a pronounced difference between great powers and small states. A fundamental power shift occurred around 1990. We want to know whether power disparity is now a thing of the past in the Baltic Sea region, or whether it still has relevance. The experience of a decade of new, relaxed international relations in the region would lead many to conclude that power differentials are of little importance today – or even that they have completely disappeared because of the present weakness of Russia and the integration of Germany in European structures.
Our working hypothesis is that power differentials are still politically significant, but we shall be open to other conclusions. We are especially concerned to understand the nature of the cooperative security relationships, which have been promoted by the governments of the region, with Sweden and Finland in the lead, and with the expansion of the EU and NATO as important elements. Is power disparity between Russia and its regional neighbours in itself an obstacle to better relations? The opposite possibility will also be explored: Great powers have been known to provide resources and opportunities for better relations with their neighbours. Is Russia gradually taking on this kind of role in the Baltic Sea region?
Another factor to which we want to pay attention is the possible change – weakening or strengthening – of state structures relative to transnational corporations, integration processes and other transnational phenomena. In this connection, identity aspects of states have particular relevance in the Baltic Sea region when so many fundamental reorganizations of political units have taken place and are still going on. The experience of the Baltic states in regaining independence and seeking reintegration is one prominent example of problematic ‘national’ identities; the recreation of a federal Russian state another; the consequences of German reunification a third.
We want to conduct our research in a comparative perspective. Other regions have characteristically similar – and different – patterns of power relations. Northeast Asia is one example, Southeast Asia another. In all of these regions, transnational processes (‘globalization’) have impacts on relations between governments. Knowledge of other regions will provide perspective to our work.