Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Making of Great Powers

Walter Russell Mead makes a case for his list of 7 great powers in the world. The European Union is not one of them. Can it be one without military power? Not bloody likely.

The list of 7 great powers by Mead is interesting:

We’ve ranked them by their ability to shape both their regional environments and the international system as a whole; among all the world’s countries these are the ones with the most ability to affect global politics by their choices.

America is judged the most powerful state based on economic power, natural resources, geography, and political stability. Unmentioned is our military power, even though the list is not a measure of military power, it should be noted as a component of that power.

Germany is ranked second. Their position is credited to geographic position between north and south Europe and east and west Europe, which gives it unique leverage in intra-European politics.

Specifically mentioned as aspects of power that Germany doesn't have but which does not negate their status are nuclear weapons and military spending, generally.

Unmentioned is Germany's economic power, which surely must be part of Germany's power rather than a focus on geographic location--an advantage Austria possesses, too.

China is ranked third. Rather than discuss the factors that China possesses to be considered a great power, this entry focuses on problems that lead China to punch below their weight.

One, they are surrounded by countries with military power that soaks up some of China's energies, which leaves them unable to project power as America does.

Two, as an export-based economy that relies on imported raw materials, China is limited in challenging the system to avoid killing the export advantage and to avoid suffering the import disadvantage.

Why this factor doesn't hamper Germany, too, is beyond me. Is the assumption that China can only be a truly great power by challenging the system that benefits them but Germany is fine continuing to work within it?

Third, China is suffering environmental and social costs from their rapid economic expansion that potentially threaten stability.

But China undoubtedly has a large population, a powerful military, nuclear weapons, economic power, cyber-warfare capabilities, and growing high tech capacity that put them on this list.

Japan is ranked fourth, and is often under-rated as a power and thought of as a declining power, at best.

Under our protection which casts a shadow on them, with China looming over them which casts a shadow on them, and with a pacifist constitution that casts a shadow over them, Japan has not attempted to forge its own path.

Japan has a high tech military (although small), and has the third largest economy in the world. Japan's economy is also technologically advanced, as well.

Japan is also reaching out to potential allies to constrain Chinese assertiveness and has been pushing to expand the boundaries of their constitutionally restricted foreign policy.

Russia is ranked fifth, even though it is judged to be still on the decline--making Russia dangerous.

Russia makes the list from nuclear weapons, natural resources, cyber- and information-war capabilities, and a leader who makes Russia punch above their objective weight.

The reasons for decline are a declining population, failure to develop the economy, tensions between ethnic Russians and Moslem minorities, and the fragility of Putin's rule over the oligarchs who dominate Russia.

Yet Russia has room to maneuver because they are surrounded by weak powers on their European borders--some of which are vulnerable to appeals from Russia--and must go to the Far East to see a strong state--China--near them.

But China is a big exception. And number 3 on the list borders Russia, too, really.

India is ranked sixth. Starting with their advantages of population with more English speakers than anyone but America, some elite educational institutions, a "booming" high tech industry, and an established democracy (presumably providing political stability).

Yet India has underperformed expectations built on these advantages.

While India still has the potential to rise on their own, it is judged a great power by its geography that leads America, China, and Russia to court them for their friendship without requiring India to commit to any fixed alliance--more leverage.

Perhaps. But China looms too much over India, I think, for India to spurn America and Russia too much. And Russia is too afraid of China to be counted on for a lot of balancing against China for India. America--powerful enough to help India yet far enough away not to be a real threat--retains the edge in diplomatic status, I think. In the long run, anyway.

Not mentioned are India's nukes and their large if mostly older military.

The surprise is number 7--Saudi Arabia.

Their status is based on their money which allows them to influence regional actors and their position in oil productions which is said to give them the power to manipulate oil prices to help friends and hurt enemies.

This is essentially leverage in two areas--their region and globally.

The Saudis lack military power and must rely on outside powers. I don't think the Sunni coalition that Saudi Arabia has gathered can contribute much to their defense nor do I think Pakistan's nuclear arsenal will deter Iranian conventional power. And even if Israeli air power will defend Saudi Arabia, the Saudis ultimately rely on the military power of the United States to be an oil-based great power.

Left off of the list are Britain and France, two nuclear powers with the ability to project (a small amount of) high tech military power globally and which have permanent seats on the UN Security Council.

But with too little power to move their equally advanced neighbors and way too little military power on a global scale to move others--see Libya, 2011--this is perhaps justified on this measurement scale.

And the European Union is left off the list. Perhaps much like Brazil, they are the great power of the future--and always will be.

I'd prefer a listing like this to have a common set of factors that mark a great power, with each of the 7 showing what they have. As is, this list is interesting but not wholly persuasive.

Nukes can be mentioned as a factor but not always. Lack of military power is mentioned as a factor that doesn't stop Germany or Saudi Arabia from being a great power but not mentioned as a factor for others who have military power.

Which leads us to the question of whether the EU can be a superpower (or even just a great power on the Mead G-7) without military power:

The prospect of the European Union becoming a military power has been on the agenda in some circles almost since its inception and, as one of the designated potential superpowers, the lack of a military is often cited as the key factor holding it back from reaching ultimate global power.

Though there are undoubtedly several potential benefits for a militarily powered Europe, the notion it will increase the EU’s potential of achieving superpower status is contentious and, in fact, there is a distinct possibility that a move towards military attainments serves to completely alter the dynamics of the EU and not in a positive way. Beyond the more practical considerations such as the huge costs and difficulty in achieving consent on any military action from the member states, it would lose its unique status as a normative and “ethical” actor and this could pose a huge risk to its standing. ...

The European Union may break the mould; becoming the first international organisation to achieve superpower status. With enormous trade power, a vast population and significant political influence, it possesses many of the characteristics that make it a prime candidate. However, the EU’s main burden in reaching this level is that it lacks an independent military; a unique scenario to any other superpowers historically and today.

Basically, the article says the EU doesn't need military power to become a superpower and that military power might undermine that objective. I find the latter laughable even if under Mead's criteria military power isn't a must-have factor to be a great power.

The notion that a broke continent can utilize economic power to withhold aid or trade to compel others to bend to the EU's will as an alternative to military power is the most laughable part of this thinking.

Will the EU halt aid to Third World thugs when they will be accused of killing poor, brown people?

Will sanctions on others that harm European companies (and hence European income and employment) really be an option for Europe? France is still eager to sell that Mistral warship to Russia despite the whole Ukraine Crisis. And France isn't alone, with many states eager to sell to Iran (and who sold to Saddam despite sanctions) and who are already eager not to offend China by selling arms to Taiwan.

Still, let's try to apply Mead's criteria to the European Union. In theory, the EU could replace Germany on the G-7 list (although it would have to be re-ordered).

We have a list of economic power, natural resources, geography, political stability, leverage, military spending, nuclear weapons, cyber-warfare capabilities, information war capabilities, a capable leader, large population, English speakers, high tech industry, high tech military, and good education institutions.

And keep in mind that Saudi Arabia is on the list solely for their leverage factors, so there is no rule about having all or most.

The EU surely has economic power.

The EU had enough natural resources to grow to power, so I'll give them this despite their energy dependency on imports.

The EU does not have a geography advantage as America has and which China lacks (and which I think India can lay claim to, too, with the Himalayas functioning as Athenian Long Walls to make them an effective island).

The EU does not have political stability. Individual states in Europe have it (and others do not), but the notional EU state is a multi-national empire, really.Think Austria-Hungary. Or the Soviet Union.

The EU does not have leverage. While Germany has leverage within Europe, Europe does not have leverage between North America, Russia, Africa, and the Middle East.

The EU does not have military spending. Sure, they spend money on their military, but it is mostly wasted as a uniformed civil service with little real military capacity created for anything more challenging than riot control.

The EU will have nuclear weapons if you assume Britain and France cede control to Brussels. Perhaps a Brussels elite can do to European states what Washington, D.C. did to our states for supreme power in national and international issues. Let's assume that is the case (otherwise what is the point of this exercise?).

The EU does not have cyber-warfare capabilities, although it could.

The EU does not have information warfare capabilities notwithstanding their pretensions of having "ethical" power.

The EU does not have a leader that allows them to punch above their weight. Faceless bureaucrats can grind you down into submission with rules but will not inspire.

The EU has a large population.

The EU has English speakers in significant numbers.

The EU has high tech industry.

The EU has high tech military (but mostly for export sales).

The EU has high quality educational institutions.

By these criteria, you have to say that the EU will be a great power, at least.

But while Mead's list is interesting, I wouldn't put Germany or Saudi Arabia on the G-7 list, and would put Britain and France on there instead.

I would make those changes because the former lack military power and the latter have it.

Remember, the only reason Germany and Saudi Arabia can use their instruments of power is that America ultimately provides the military power that shields them.

Kuwait had financial power in 1990, remember. The financially broke and neighboring Iraq with lots of tanks trumped that financial power, requiring America to rescue them in 1991.

An EU without military power will not be able to influence events in North Africa or the Middle East and will be helpless to resist Russia. It's actually kind of sad that EU fans think the EU’s self-image "based on its role as a humanitarian, moral actor spreading democracy, human rights protection and peace" actually means anything at all in the real world.

Nobody in those areas bordering Europe believe Europe is ethically superior to them and will not heed any pretensions to tell them otherwise (any more than Serbia cared one bit in the 1990s).

I dare say that Stalin Putin might ask in a crisis with the EU, "How many divisions brigades does the Pope Brussels have?"

Not that military power can exist for long without economic power, military spending, high technology, high quality educational institutions, and a large population to back it; with political stability to use it. Japan had military power in 1940 that rivaled America, but could not replace losses in a fight with America.

But military power is absolutely a necessary component of being considered a super power or even a great power, as long as rival powers have military power.

I think that the EU has made the mistake in believing that those intra-European power struggles that don't rely on military power to resolve (which gives Germany their status in Mead's list) can be applied to the rest of the world outside of Europe. If only Kuwait had been located between Switzerland and Austria, eh?

Ukraine, Georgia, Poland, the Baltic states, Sweden, and Finland within Europe (not the same as the EU for now) but far away from the (for now) insulated Western European core of the EU (and near Russia, more to the point) surely know better.

Sure, Europe may be chagrined that even with military power they needed American military power in 1917 and 1941 to reverse military threats to the peace and stability of Europe, but that doesn't mean that their military power is irrelevant. It just means that without military power they are more reliant than ever on American power to keep intact their cocoon of "ethical" power that works on each other.

In the real world, without outside military power to help them, the EU will be vulnerable to military power applied against their periphery (from Russia and perhaps Turkey) and vulnerable to an immigrant influx from the south that they cannot stem and which could transform Europe just as past waves of newcomers (rudely called "barbarians" then) changed Europe.

So no, the EU cannot be superpower without military power. It can't even be a great power without military power. All Europe can be without military power is an asset to be fought for.

Rather than imagining they can do without it, Europeans might want to consider that the fact that "a military is always a hugely expensive endeavour" means that those who are great powers recognize there is no alternative to having military power and so the burden is worth it.

UPDATE: The question of whether the EU can be a great power is undermined by growing nationalism inside the nations that are to be the building blocks of this political entity:

After decades of post-war supranationalism, the Europeans are once again discussing their national identities. The French tried to start a discussion in 2009, when then-President Nicolas Sarkozy launched a public debate on "what it means to be French" — an exercise that degenerated quickly into a discussion of the role of Muslims in the country. The Pegida protests led to similar debates in Germany, a country that for historical reasons feels extremely uncomfortable with the topic but also considers generational change to be breaking old taboos. Pegida-inspired demonstrations will take place in Austria in February, potentially leading to controversy there as well. These debates will not go away in Europe and will force the Europeans to deal with difficult questions that have remained dormant for decades.

At the core of these problems is growing resistance to globalization, understood as the free movement of goods, services and, most important, people. From the Italian shoemaker who cannot compete with cheap Chinese imports to the British factory worker who believes that Polish immigrants are threatening his job, many Europeans believe globalization is a menace to their way of life. The fact that the European Union was built on many of the principles of globalization explains why the bloc is becoming increasingly fragmented and why the promise of a "United States of Europe" probably will never be achieved.

I'm not sad that the EU as a multi-ethnic empire will not be born.

But I'm not happy that nationalism has been reborn.

I suspect that the form of nationalism arising wouldn't be so threatening if European national governments had provided an alternative to people opposed to the EU political union project.

Instead, national governments ignored public sentiment, sometimes holding votes until their people "got it right" and de-legitimized public worries over closer integration.