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In the field of international relations, a sphere of influence (SOI) is a spatial region or concept division over which a state or organization has a level of cultural, economic, military, or political exclusivity.[citation needed]

While there may be a formal alliance or other treaty obligations between the influenced and influencer, such formal arrangements are not necessary and the influence can often be more of an example of soft power. Similarly, a formal alliance does not necessarily mean that one country lies within another's sphere of influence. High levels of exclusivity have historically been associated with higher levels of conflict.

In more extreme cases, a country within the "sphere of influence" of another 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. It is often analyzed in terms of superpowers, great powers, and/or middle powers.

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.

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

Historical remnants

Many powerful states in past centuries had subordinate tributary states, whose native dynasty acknowledged the suzerainty of the great power.

Map of Africa in 1897 shows European "sphere[s] of influence".

Many areas of the world are joined by a cultural influence inherited from a previous sphere of influence, even if they are no longer under political control. Examples include Anglosphere, Arab World, Eurosphere, Francophonie, Françafrique, Germanosphere, Indosphere, Hispanidad, soft power. Similarly, a formal alliance does not necessarily mean that one country lies within another's sphere of influence. High levels of exclusivity have historically been associated with higher levels of conflict.

In more extreme cases, a country within the "sphere of influence" of another 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. It is often analyzed in terms of superpowers, great powers, and/or middle powers.

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.

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

Many powerful states in past centuries had subordinate tributary states, whose native dynasty acknowledged the suzerainty of the great power.

Map of Africa in 1897 shows European "sphere[s] of influence".

Many areas of the world are joined by a cultural influence inherited from a previous sphere of influence, even if they are no longer under political control. Examples include Anglosphere, Arab World, Eurosphere, Francophonie, Françafrique, Germanosphere, Indosphere, Hispanidad, Latin Europe/Latin America, Lusophonie, Turkosphere, Chinese cultural sphere, Slavisphere, Malay world, and many others.

New Imperialism era