Elements of national power

saddam hussain samo
Saddam Hussain Samo on the elements of national power for CSS, PMS and other competative examinations

As explained in the previous article entitled “National power and its characteristics,” the national power is multimultidimensional and includes all the elements of a state such as geography, people, government, national infrastructure, technology, natural resources and so on. These all elements contribute to the power of any country directly or indirectly.

The following are the elements of national power

  1. Geography
  • Location of a country
  • Topography of a country
  • Climate of a country
  • Size of a country
  1. People
  • Population
  • Age distribution
  • Education
  • Health
  • Morale
  1. Government
  • Leadership
  • Good governance
  1. National infrastructure
  • Technology
  • Transportation System
  • Information and communication system
  • Nuclear weapons
  • Military
  1. Natural resources
  • Oil gas and coal

The explanation of each element and how it contributes to the national power of any country is given below:


Many classical examples can be cited here to explain how the location plays a role of national power. The US remained unhurt during the World Wars because it was located away from the Europe. Besides, Iran always threats to destroy Israel in response to any misadventure by the US because its missiles cannot reach America directly. Comparing to India and the US, Chinese soldiers can cause more damage to Indian territory during war because of New Delhi’s proximity to Beijing and remote location of American from China. However, the location can be a disadvantage as well. For example, Poland sandwiched between Germany and Russia during Second World War owing to its unfortunate location. Pakistan faced deadly consequences after its involvement in Afghan’s war, which were undeniable due to its location. Thus, the location plays both positive and negative role for the national power of any country.


Topography includes mountains, rivers, lakes, plains and so on. These are very important for any country and determine its national power. For example, Afghanistan is called the “Graveyard of Empires” because nation after nation failed to occupy its territory. The only asset that acts as its power and prevents empires to occupy its territory is its mountainous topography. Besides, the river Beas acted as a barrier that helped protect Punjab from the army of Alexander the Great in 326 BC, when his soldiers refused to cross the river. This explains how topography acts as national power for a country.


Climate contributes greatly to the power of any country. The US has failed in Afghanistan because of its topography. However, it failure in Vietnam was linked to its climate. The tropical climate with heavy rainfall and dense vegetation prevented America from gaining fast victory in Vietnam as expected by it. Besides, Mongols wreaked havoc in Asia during 13th and 14th century. They even dethroned Khwarazmian dynasty. They did not come to India during the rule of Iltimush when the slave dynasty was unprepared because of the hot climate of the sub-continent. Moreover, Mughals decided to occupy the terrritories of Central Asia to re-gain the throne of their ancestors. However, the extreme cold temperature of the region prevented their armies from occupying such remote territories.


Size of a country also plays a role of power. The bigger is a country, the more is a room for its soldiers to retreat and rearrange themselves for more organized second attack. For example, when Germany double crossed the Soviets and attacked it during World War 2, Russian soldiers were able to retreat owing to its large expanse of territory and afterwards, they arranged themselves for the war. Had the Soviets possessed a small territory, it would have been defeated at the first attack and could not be able to fight back.


Population contributes to the national power in two major ways. Firstly, it supplies military personnel for the defense of a country. Secondly, it provides adequate manpower for the industrialization to uplift its economy. Can anyone imagine the smallest country in the world by population, for example the Vatican City, with the population of around 1000 people to become a powerful state of the globe? It does not possess adequate population for its military or industries. However, population can also play a negative role. It can be a burden on the already scarce resources of a country.

Age distribution:

There are three categories of population based on age distribution namely young, working age and old. The higher population of working age (15-60) segment is perceived as a window of opportunity for speeding up economic development of a country. Thus, a large population of working age citizens is advantageous. However, a country having more young or old population is always burden on its economy as it consumes more resources and generates nothing. It is said that the daunting challenge of European countries today is their large population of senior citizens.


Education is an important element of national power. It was an education that lifted Arabs from the age of ignorance and glorified their rule afterwards. It enabled Muslims to make progress in scientific inventions and form a larger empire. With the shifting of education towards the West, the power of Muslims was also affected and they soon came under the rein of the British. Even today, the countries having better literacy rates are more progressive and powerful. Hence, education influences the national power.


Health is another element that determines the power of a country. It is known fact that a healthy person remains active in all the fields including military. Healthy mind is also required for innovations and industrial advancement. The transformation of China to the economic power of the world is also because of the communist government’s stringent policies to eliminate the use of opium by its citizens to maintain their health. For example, by 1906, a quarter of adult male population regularly used opium.  Today, drug addicts accounts for only 0.16 per cent of its population. The health created a room for the new generation to engage in the economic uplift the their country through industrialization.

The recent wave of COVID-19 pandemic also revealed the importance of health. Owing to the fast deteriorating health of the citizens, many countries turned economically and politically weak. China’s export went downward. The US also limited its military activities in Afghanistan because it valued the health of its soldiers more than the war.


The role of leadership in the national power of a country can be understood by a very famous proverb, which is given below:

“An army of sheep led by a lion can defeat an army of lions led by a sheep.”

A brave leader uplifts the morale of the entire nation and adds to his government’s overall strength.

Good governance:

Good governance is fundamental pre-requisite for the economic and political development of a country. Nowhere we see a powerful country having poor governance. China did not become an economic power of the world until it carried out a proper anti-corruption campaign and punished corrupt politicians and bureaucrats. Besides, in present era of technology, the power of country is determined, not by its military, but economic strength. To improve economic position, it is imperative to have good governance.


Technology is the building block of national power. It is a technology that enables the US to operate drone predators in Afghanistan by siting in the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. As per Anthony Best, one of the reasons for the fall of USSR was its decision to block the western technology. It was an era of telecommunication technology and the USSR put ban on it because it would have spread American culture like capitalism and democracy. China, on the other hand, welcomed it. Thus, the US won the cold war because it was more advance in technology than the USSR.

Transportation system:

It plays a role in the national power of a country in a way that a good transportation system is required to move soldiers and crucial military equipment during the time of war. The better the transportation system, the fastest is the movement of weapons from one place to another. It is a reason that an enemy country targets basic transport infrastructure like airports, bridges and roads during the war because it weakens a country.

Information and Communications system:

Information and communication capability of a country play a major role in enhancing its power. The technology improves the performance of its military. It was the advance information and communication technology of the US that helped its military to dismantle Taliban’s government in Afghanistan with no time. The technology allowed soldiers to communicate with one another using satellite phones. The phones also connected them with the overhead bombardment jet. The ground forces just provided the precise location to the pilot to target the safe havens of the militants. It would have been not possible without the advance information and communication system of the US.

Nuclear weapons:

The advent of nuclear weapons has disturbed the power equation of the countries. At present, only those nine countries are considered powerful that possess these weapons. Some nuclear weapons today are more than 3,000 times as powerful as the bomb dropped on Hiroshima that killed between 90,000 and 166,000 people. Now imagine, to what extent, these nine countries could bring destruction in the world. Will a non-nuclear powered country be able to compete with any of these countries? Thus, a powerful country in present century is one that possesses nuclear weapons.


A well-trained and professional military is imperative to maintain the power of a country. When the cold war ended, the US decreased its expenditure on the military and placed its entire focus on the promotion of trade and democracy in the world. It was under the illusion that it had defeated its enemy and no country would challenge its writ then. However, it’s refocusing on the military after the emergence of China and Russia provides us a classical example of the role of military in determining the power of a country.

Oil, gas and coal resources:

The only asset that has allowed al-Saud to prolong their kingship in Saudi Arabia is its oil reservoirs. The kingdom supplies ample oil to the US. Because of this interest, the US has always protected the authoritarian rule there and avoided introducing democratic system. Had Saudi Arabia possessed no oil, it would have been attacked like Afghanistan or Libya.


Thus, all the above mentioned elements contribute to the national power of a country directly or indirectly.



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