sphere of influence

sphere of influence

sphere of influence, term formerly applied to an area over which an outside power claims hegemony with the intention of subsequently gaining more definite control, as in colonization, or with the intention of securing an economic monopoly over the territory without assuming political control. A sphere of influence was usually claimed by an imperialistic nation over an underdeveloped or weak state that bordered an already existing colony. The expression came into common use with the colonial expansion of European powers in Africa during the late 19th cent. A sphere of influence was formalized by treaty, either between two colonizing nations who agreed not to interfere in one another's territory, or between the colonizing nation and a representative of the territory. Theoretically, the sovereignty of a nation was not impaired by the establishment of a sphere of influence within its borders; in actuality, the interested power was able to exercise great authority in the territory it dominated, and if disorders occurred it was in a position to seize control. Thus the creation of spheres of influence was frequently the prelude to colonization or to the establishment of a protectorate. The term in this sense is no longer recognized in international law, however. Currently, it is used by the more powerful nations of the world to denote the exclusive or predominant interest they may have in certain areas of the globe, especially for the purposes of national security.

A sphere of influence (SOI) is an area or region over which an organization or state exerts some kind of indirect cultural, economic, military or political domination. Also, in some areas of habitation, shopping or retail outlets or indeed destination outlets, have a sphere of influence over towns of certain areas, for example the Central business district (CBD). A country within the "sphere of influence" of another more powerful country may become a subsidiary of that state and serve in effect as a satellite state or de facto colony. The system of spheres of influence by which powerful nations intervene in the affairs of others continues to the present day. It is often analyzed in terms of superpowers, great powers, and/or middle powers.

Post-Imperial China

In rare instances, multiple spheres of influence by different imperial powers were established in a single country as a compromise between the imperial powers and also when establishing a single sphere of influence is not feasible due to the size of that single country. For example, between the 1870s and the 1910s, although the Chinese Empire still existed as a sovereign country, it was divided into 6 SOI zones officially in which Russia took the area north of the Great Wall, Germany the Shandong Province, Japan the Fujian Province, Britain the Yangtze River basin, France the southwestern Chinese provinces bordering French Indochina and Britain/France jointly the Guangdong Province. Similarly, the Ottoman Empire was divided by the imperial powers into several SOIs at around the same time.

Empire of Japan

For example, during the height of its existence, the Japanese Empire had quite a large sphere of influence, with the Japanese government influencing, or directly governing events in Korea, Manchuria, Vietnam, Taiwan, and parts of China. The "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere" could thus be quite easily drawn on a map of the Pacific Ocean as a large "bubble" surrounding the islands of Japan and the Asian nations it controlled

Cold War

During the Cold War, Eastern Europe, North Korea, Cuba, Vietnam, and, to a lesser extent (until the Sino-Soviet split) the People's Republic of China were said to lie under the sphere of influence of the Soviet Union. While, to a much lesser degree Western Europe, Japan, and South Korea were often said to lie under the sphere of influence of the United States. For instance France and Great Britain were able to act independently to invade (with Israel) the Suez Canal, and France was able to withdraw from the military arm of NATO; such behavior would not have been tolerated under a true sphere of influence.

Sometimes portions of a single country can fall into two distinct spheres of influence. In the colonial era the buffer states of Iran and Thailand, lying between the empires of Britain/Russia and Britain/France respectively, were divided between the spheres of influence of the imperial powers. Likewise, after World War II, Germany was divided into four occupation zones, which later consolidated into West Germany and East Germany, the former a member of NATO and the latter a member of the Warsaw Pact.


Australian economic interests in neighboring island nations are reflected by rapid response to cases of military actions (including the Indonesian invasion of East Timor and subsequent changes in its political status), natural disasters (the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake), political upheavals (with less success, the 2006 Fijian coup d'état), and conditional economic assistance. A predominantly Australian sphere of influence has been described for Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Fiji, and East Timor. New Zealand works closely with Australia in foreign policy and trade and has been described as a "junior partner" within this sphere of influence. While Australia has some influence in Malaysia and Indonesia, it is limited by the desire of these nations to avoid being drawn into the sphere of influence of any single great power, their involvement with China and the United States, and their own ambitions within ASEAN.


In California "sphere of influence" has a legal meaning as a plan for the probable physical boundaries and service area of a local agency. Spheres of influence at California local agencies are regulated by Local Agency Formation Commissions (LAFCO). Each county in California has a LAFCO.


When talking in corporate terms, the sphere of influence of a business, organization or group can show its power and influence in the decisions of other business/organization/groups. It can be found using many factors, such as the size, the frequency of visits, etc. In most cases, a company described as bigger has a larger sphere of influence. For example, the software company Microsoft has a large sphere of influence in the market of operating systems; any entity wishing for its software product to be successful must ensure that it is compatible with Microsoft's products. For another example, for companies wishing to make more profit, they must ensure they open their stores in the correct location. This is also true for shopping centers, who, to reap most profit, must be able to attract customers to its vicinity. There is no defined scale on how to measure the sphere of influence. However, the spheres of influence of two shopping centers, two business can. This can be done by measuring how far people are prepared to travel to the shopping center, how much time they spend in its vicinity, how often they visit, the order of goods available, etc.


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