ABSTRACT

History records those existential moments when governments suddenly discover that their long-standing expectations about future role, status, and security are no longer valid. With the familiar foreign policy anchors in question, massive uncertainty and an increasing sense of threat challenge policy-making. In tracing the historical trajectory of a state’s relative power in the system of leading states, the power cycle captures those critical moments when the structural tides of history suddenly pull the state on to a new, uncertain course. The power cycle maps, for each moment in time, the state’s clearly defined past and the likely trajectory of its yet-to-be-determined

future-revealing at each step how contemporaneous decision-makers perceive its likely future security and foreign policy standing. The projected trend embedded at each point in the cycle is the state’s expectation regarding its future power, role, and security. Imagine the sudden shock when the long prior trend of relative power change suddenly undergoes a complete shift, abruptly proving those long-reinforced projections wrong. Everything hinges on those projections, as the quoted paragraph from my book Systems in Crisis reveals regarding the dilemma faced by Germany in the years prior to World War I.2