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In the field of international relations, a sphere of influence (SOI) is an area or region over which a state or organization has significant cultural, economic, military or political influence.

In more extreme cases, 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.

The term is also used to describe non-political situations, e.g. a shopping mall is said to have a sphere of influence which designates the geographical area where it dominates the retail trade.

For example, during the height of its existence, the Japanese Empiremarker had quite a large sphere of influence. The Japanese government directly governed events in Koreamarker, Manchuria, Vietnammarker, Taiwanmarker, and parts of Chinamarker. The "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere" could thus be quite easily drawn on a map of the Pacific Oceanmarker as a large "bubble" surrounding the islands of Japan and the Asian and Pacific nations it controlled.

Historical remnants

Many areas of the world are considered to have inherited culture from a previous sphere of influence, that while perhaps today halted, continues to share the same culture. Examples include the Sinosphere, Anglosphere, Slavisphere, Germanosphere, Latin Europe/Latin America, the Arab World, and many others.

Agreement among colonial powers

At the Berlin Conference of 1884, the European colonial powers formalized the "Scramble for Africa": each of the participating powers was granted its share, which it was – as far as the other powers were concerned – free to conquer.

Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact

According to a secret protocol attached to the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact (revealed only after Germany's defeat in 1945), the states of Northern and Eastern Europe were divided into German and Soviet "spheres of influence". In the North, Finlandmarker, Estoniamarker and Latviamarker were assigned to the Soviet sphere. Poland was to be partitioned in the event of its "political rearrangement"—the areas east of the Narev, Vistula and San Riversmarker going to the Soviet Union while Germany would occupy the west. Lithuaniamarker, adjacent to East Prussia, would be in the German sphere of influence, although a second secret protocol agreed in September 1939 assigned Lithuania to the USSR. Another clause of the treaty was that Bessarabiamarker, then part of Romania, was to be joined to the Moldovan ASSR, and become the Moldovan SSR under control of Moscow.

Cold War

This map shows the two essential global spheres during the Cold War in 1980–the US in blue and the USSR in red.
Consult the legend on the map for more details.
During the Cold War, Eastern Europe, North Koreamarker, Cubamarker, Vietnammarker, and (until the Sino-Soviet split) the People's Republic of Chinamarker were said to lie under the sphere of influence of the Soviet Unionmarker. Western Europe, Oceania, Japanmarker, and South Koreamarker were often said to lie under the sphere of influence of the United Statesmarker. However, the level of control exerted in these spheres was not absolute. For instance, France and Great Britain were able to act independently to invade (with Israelmarker) the Suez Canalmarker (they were later forced to withdraw by joint US and Soviet pressure). Later, France was also able to withdraw from the military arm of NATOmarker. Much in the same way, Cubans often took positions that put them at odds with their Soviet allies (for instance, momentary alliances with the Chinese, support to freedom fights in Africa and America without previous approval from the Soviet Union or economical reorganization within the country oriented to self-sufficiency).

Sometimes portions of a single country can fall into two distinct spheres of influence. In the colonial era the buffer states of Iranmarker and Thailandmarker, lying between the empires of Britainmarker/Russiamarker and Britain/Francemarker respectively, were divided between the spheres of influence of the imperial powers. Likewise, after World War II, Germanymarker was divided into four occupation zones, which later consolidated into West Germanymarker and East Germanymarker, the former a member of NATOmarker and the latter a member of the Warsaw Pact.


With the end of the Cold War, the Eastern Bloc fell apart, effectively ending the Soviet sphere of influence.


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 earthquakemarker), 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 Guineamarker, the Solomon Islandsmarker, Fijimarker, and East Timormarker. New Zealandmarker 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 Chinamarker and the United Statesmarker, and their own ambitions within ASEAN.


In Californiamarker "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.


In a geographical meaning, a sphere of influence is the average distance people are willing to travel to get to a particular service, shop, or place. It can be displayed as a diagram of a circle centered around the service, with the radius being the average distance people would travel to get to that service. The distances travelled are often found out by the use of a survey.

See also


  1. Text of the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, executed August 23, 1939
  2. Christie, Kenneth, Historical Injustice and Democratic Transition in Eastern Asia and Northern Europe: Ghosts at the Table of Democracy, RoutledgeCurzon, 2002, ISBN 0700715991

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