Regional powers are often conceived of as ‘regional leading powers’, states which adopt a cooperative and benevolent attitude in their international relations with their neighbours. The article argues that regional powers can follow a much wider range of foreign policy strategies in their region. Three ideal-typical regional strategies are identified: empire, hegemony, and leadership. The article is devoted to a theory-led distinction and clarification of these three terms, which are often used interchangeably in the field of International Relations. According to the goals pursued, to the means employed, and to other discriminating features such as the degree of legitimation and the type of self-representation by the dominant state, the article outlines the essential traits of imperial, hegemonic, and leading strategies and identifies sub-types for better classifying hegemony and leadership.
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