There are different ways in which people may organize themselves and the territory they live in, and states and nations are some of the most important. ‘State’ refers to an organization that has sovereignty over a specific territory, meaning that it can institute laws and ensure those present in this territory follow them by using its monopoly on legitimate violence. ‘Nation,’ on the other hand, is a group of people sharing a common identity they define in cultural and historical terms. To put it simply, a nation is a community of citizens who root their common identity in history and culture as well as the association with their state and active participation in its affairs. There lies the crucial difference between the state and the nation: while the former is an organization defined in territorial terms, the latter is a group defined by a shared identity, in which the allegiance to a given state is only one factor.
There are several characteristics that make some states are more powerful than others. First of all, states with greater territorial extent, larger populations, and stronger economies have more resources at their disposal. Since sovereign states have largely monopolized organized legitimate violence and are the only actors that can have armies, the strength of the armed forces is another factor that makes some states more powerful than others. A state’s cultural appeal and popularity of the values it upholds domestically and globally makes it more powerful in terms of soft power – that is, the ability to influence others through persuasion rather than coercion. Finally, participation in certain international organizations – for example, permanent membership in the UN Security Council with vetoing power – also makes some states stronger than others.