Harry Truman, who as president presided over the creation of modern American foreign relations, once wryly observed that a statesman was merely a dead politician. He in turn defined a successful politician as someone who got other people to do what they should have done all along. From this perspective, politics is simply the process of getting people to do the right thing. But even under this seemingly benign formulation, politics involves power—the power to move people in a particular direction, toward a particular end. It begs the questions of who decides what direction, to what end, and what the right thing to do might be. In domestic politics the answers to such questions are often contested. The range of political discourse and debate is still broader in international relations. What to one party is obviously the proper or right course can be to another not only wrong but a threat to well-being or perhaps even survival. At the international level, politics and power, so obviously interrelated, are not so easily reconciled.
Statesmen and politicians have long wrestled with the problems of power—its acquisition, use, and sometimes abuse. Increasingly in world affairs, power emanates not only from states but also from nongovernmental organizations such as multinational corporations, economic communities, or cartels. By the end of the twentieth century, the process of globalization had become the focus of scholarship and public debate. Power, a constant in politics at all levels at all times, had taken on new forms and new meaning as the world and the United States, the preeminent superpower, entered the third millennium.