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The Three Great Powers (三大勢力 San Dai Seiryoku?), composed of the Marine Headquarters, the Shichibukai, and the Yonko, are the three greatest military forces on the oceans, and their relations are very vital to the World Government. The three powers exist in a delicate balance of power, not all the details of which are known. It is however known that only the other two organizations are equivalent to the Yonko.
Considering that these organizations are stated to be a balance and the fact that the loss of Crocodile threatened the balance, it is likely they are approximately equivalent in strength. The Yonko and Marines seem to be on the opposite ends of the spectrum, with the Marines being more orderly compared to the Yonko which are very chaotic, with the Shichibukai acting as somewhere in between.
The Gorosei fear that if this balance gets disrupted, the world itself could descend into anarchy, and the balance itself appears to be very fragile as the loss of even one key member (such as a Shichibukai) can disrupt the balance. This is why the defeat of Crocodile was so distressing to them; the loss of such a powerful ally in such a public manner tips the balance away from the Shichibukai and in turn the Marines. This leaves them with diminished force to counter the menace of the Yonko and allows the general populace to question their power and authority. Another concern is that the Marines are the sole organization completely under the supremacy of the World Government. The Shichibukai often follow orders on a whim, if at all, and the Yonko are entirely outside of the World Government's control.
As the delicate balance of the Three Great Powers is what stabilizes the world, the existence and actions of the Revolutionary Army is a threat to that balance.
The arrest of Portgas D. Ace, the second division commander of the Whitebeard Pirates resulted in the Marines entering into hostilities with the Whitebeard Pirates. This eventually led to a major battle between the Marines and Shichibukai against the Whitebeard Pirates and their allies. This was the first known instance where any of the powers went into full-out conflict with one another. Prior to the battle, Kaido tried to attack Whitebeard and was intercepted by Shanks, causing a dispute between the Yonko. After Whitebeard's death, the balance collapsed, and the world entered into chaos, contrary to the belief that the great pirate's death would ensure peace.
At the conclusion of the battle of Marineford, the Yonko have lost one from their ranks (Whitebeard), and the Shichibukai have lost four; Jinbe and Blackbeard resigned their positions (for different reasons: Jinbe because he opposed the war against Whitebeard and changed alliances to protect Fishman Island, and Blackbeard only joined for easier access to Impel Down - his ultimate goal being the liberation of several prisoners on Level 6 to augment the strength of his crew), Crocodile was dismissed from his position after his defeat (although he was succeeded by Blackbeard), and Gekko Moriah was deemed "too weak" to retain his status. Furthermore, both Monkey D. Garp and Sengoku resigned after the Battle of Marineford, causing a duel between two Admirals for the right to become Sengoku's successor. The duel itself resulted in the resignation of Aokiji, yet another major player in the Marines.
After the timeskip, their status are not fully known aside from a new Fleet Admiral (Sakazuki), the resignation of Kuzan from his rank as Admiral, and Boa Hancock, Bartholomew Kuma, Donquixote Doflamingo, and Dracule Mihawk still retaining their titles. It has also been stated that Blackbeard has conquered most of the territory Whitebeard left behind and has since accroached the position of Yonko. After the timeskip, Trafalgar Law, Buggy and Edward Weevil have been appointed to the vacant positions of Shichibukai. However, Law's status has been revoked due to forming an alliance with the Straw Hat Pirates, and Doflamingo also lost his status after the Dressrosa incident and the discovery of his power abuse. Among the Yonko, Blackbeard was revealed to have conquered the majority of Whitebeard's former territories, taking over as the newest Yonko.
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 One Piece Manga and Anime — Vol. 45 Chapter 432 (p. 7) and Episode 314, Garp explains the Three Great Powers.