Saturday, March 20, 2004

Future International Power-Political Trends Part I: Introduction


This is the first in a series of posts in which I examine the trends in national power over the near and long term. In this post I will explain why this is important and set-up the structure in which I will present the material.

Conventional news sources, like newspapers, present an enormous amount of information but provide little context. This series intends to present a framework through which international news can be interpretated. A thorough understanding of where the world is currently at and where it is generally headed from a power-political perspective is important in understanding all other international news. Focusing only on short-term news also obscures the long-term trends and can lead people to incorrect positions.

Elements of Power:

National power is difficult to measure, and it only has meaning in a relative sense (i.e. country A compared to country B). But the following elements merit inclusion and will be considered in this series:

1. Economic Power
2. Military Power
3. Population
4. Geography and Threats
5. Political and Cultural

The above elements will each be briefly described.

Economic Power:
The economic power of a country is perhaps the most important element, in that it is useful in its own right and can easily translate into military power. Important economic indicators are national product (GDP), GDP per capita, national debt, trade, and technological level. GDP is important because it is a measure of the overall wealth of a nation, and hence its ability to pay for its military and influence other nations economically. GDP per capita is measure of the productivity and technological level (which must be measured indirectly through other indices) of a nation. The national debt allows a comparison of the fiscal position of a given nations goverment. The trade of a nation indicates how vulnerable that nation is to economic coercement and trade disruptions. And the technological level of a country is important because of its relation to the ability of that country to develop economically and militarily.

Military Power:
The military power of a nation is one of the biggest indicators of how influential a country is. Even though North Korea has a tiny country, its gigantic military translates into influence disproportionate to its position economically. Military power is a result of the size and quality of its forces. A large, but low quality military is much less useful than a smaller, higher-quality one. Quality of a countries military is a function of its equipment and personnel. Newer more advanced equipment is obviously a plus, but its importance is perhaps less than that of its personnel. A highly-trained force will perform much better than a poorly trained one and take much fewer casualties. Numbers and equipment are much more easy to gauge than the personnel quality of a nation's military.

Update: Obviously nuclear weapons are important here too.

The population of a given country is important because it is the base upon which its economic and military power is built. The growth rate of its population has a large effect upon its future position because of its direct effect on the wealth of that nation and its indirect effect on the age structure. A nation composed almost exclusively of old people will clearly be in a less powerful position than one with a balanced age structure.

Geography and Threats:
The geographic position of a country affects its ability to influence other nations and also its vulnerability to attack. If a nation is facing threats just across the border (like India vis-a-vis Pakistan) that will also have an effect on its relative position. Clearly in the age of international terrorism and globalization this effect is reduced but it is not eliminated.

Political and Cultural:
The political stability and political environment has an affect on a nations freedom of action and its ability to sustain a military effort. The cultural appeal of a nation will also affect its ability to influence other nations.

Plan of Action
The plan of action at this point is to go through nation-by-nation a list of potential and current powers. Because of the relative nature of the measurement of power it might prove difficult to keep them separate and there may be some overlap. I will then give a concluding section in which I summarize what I believe will be the most important trends. A discussion relating this to the current war against Islamo-fascists is also in the works as many of you may be asking how that affects this calculus of power. The nations I plan on discussing are as follows:

1. United States
2. European Union (not a true nation but close enough)
3. China
4. Japan
5. India
6. Others if I feel motivated enough after the first five

Clearly I did not come up with the idea to do this completely on my own. Influences on my thinking are here, here, and here. Other references used will be linked in upcoming posts.

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