Lynne Rienner Publishers Logo

The Power Curse: Influence and Illusion in World Politics

Giulio M. Gallarotti
The Power Curse: Influence and Illusion in World Politics
ISBN: 978-1-58826-693-4
ISBN: 978-1-58826-669-9
2010/207 pages/LC: 2009026972

"A compelling book that brings together diverse strands of international relations theory to illustrate and analyze potential pitfalls confronting great powers."—David W. Kearn, Jr., Journal of Power

"This volume judiciously blends theory and practice and is consistently probing and factually accurate.... The author's impassioned treatise deals with an important, timely subject pertinent to the current foreign policy debate in Washington, and it clearly merits the attention of practitioners." —Choice

"The Power Curse extends traditional discussions of hegemony and imperial overstretch in two ways: by examining a "power illusion" that leads to miscalculations by decisionmakers, and by applying the concept not only to the great powers, but to the whole range of states. This makes for an interesting contribution to a literature in which few of us thought there was anything new to say."—John Gerard Ruggie, Harvard University

"Gallarotti uses diverse threads to weave a powerful and important tapestry of the ways in which the unwise but common use of power can backfire."—Robert Jervis, Columbia University

"The idea that more power is always desirable for a country has a long and pernicious history in thinking about international politics. Giulio Gallarotti directly challenges this widely held view; his book is worthwhile reading for any serious student of international affairs."—David A. Baldwin, Princeton University


Can increasing power in international politics be a bad thing for nations? In this provocative book, Giulio Gallarotti argues that the answer is clearly yes—as demonstrated by a series of examples that span geography, history, and issues.

Gallarotti systematically develops the idea of the power curse and its concomitant, the power illusion. Establishing that the process by which nations augment power can produce adverse consequences, he goes further to show how, to the extent that they fail to correct for the negative effects of power, governments choose foreign policy strategies that are ultimately self-defeating. He cogently supports his theory in discussions of ancient Greece, nineteenth-century Britain, and the United States during both the Vietnam War and the George W. Bush administration.


Giulio M. Gallarotti is professor of government at Wesleyan University. He is author of The Anatomy of an International Monetary Regime: The Classical Gold Standard, 1880-1914, and Cosmopolitan Power in International Relations: A Synthesis of Realism, Neoliberalism, and Constructivism.


  • Introduction.
  • A Theory of the Power Curse.
  • The Power Curse Across History.
  • The Bush Doctrine and Power Illusion.
  • In Lieu of Conclusions.