Friday, July 06, 2018

Russia is Weaker Than the West

Russia is a declining power and models that show otherwise are misleading by thinking a dead cat bounce is a sign of strength.

I don't buy this conclusion comparing Russia to other powers at all:

For a comparative perspective, we contrasted Russia with the world as a whole — and with several groups of key competitors and peers: five leading Western powers (the United States, Germany, Britain, France and Italy); the other four BRICS members (Brazil, India, China and South Africa); and all former Soviet republics, except the Baltic states, and selected oil and gas producers. ...

The claims of Russia’s imminent demise seem unfounded — all but one model showed that Russia’s power vis-a-vis the world as a whole has grown in the 21st century. And all our models showed that Russia’s power has risen vis-a-vis Western nations.

In absolute terms, all four methods showed Russia’s power to be less than that of the United States — and one showed it trailing Germany. All four models show that Russia has lagged behind China and India in absolute values of national power.

The "claim" that Russia's demise is "imminent" is a straw man argument. Who claims that?

And while you may be able to say Russian power is relatively stronger than the West's now compared to 1999, that is misleading. Measuring changes since 1999 reflect Russia bottoming out after the collapse of the Soviet Union as the starting point and reflect the post-Cold War "peace dividend" in the West that is only now being reversed with some difficulty in Europe. It also picks up the big surge in China's military power at the same time.

Including territory as purely a measure of Russian power neglects the fact that having a huge land border is also a defense nightmare for Russia. It remains true that a lot of territory means you have a lot of resources and a lot of room to retreat if invaded without being destroyed. But you need a lot more military power to defend your territorial integrity, too.

And counting population as a pure indication of power unjustifiably inflates Chinese and Indian power. At a certain point, population size ceases to be an advantage. I don't know what minimum population is necessary to be a great power. And I don't know what minimum is necessary to be a burden, but I think that factor is real.

Further, I have problems using purchasing power parity, which is narrowly useful to account to compare specific features--like cheaper military personnel costs in poorer countries like China--as a broad substitute for GDP, which demonstrates your global strength.

And rather than explaining Russia's aggression in the West as a reflection of the relative gain in power versus the West contra Russia's decline compared to China; I think Russian aggression in Europe conceals Russian appeasement of China.

Oh, and any model that shows Germany powerful relies on measures of potential power. Which is real, of course. In the long run if converted to actual power.  But Germany lacks actual hard power that can be applied.

But back to Russia.  Russia has recovered from its post-Soviet nadir in both power and willingness to use it. And Russia retains an advantage in the west by having weak neighbors--even those in NATO. And a large number of nukes--although who knows how many are maintained well enough to work.

But America and NATO plus non-NATO Europeans are far stronger than Russia if the scattered power can be mobilized and deployed to the east.

And Russia has long-term problems that weaken Russia demographically and economically, with potential powerful enemies all around their land borders. But it is still a dangerous power that cannot be disregarded.

As for the model's claim about a rise of a multi-polar world? That seems right. Our post-World War II dominance was an anomaly, really, that was being corrected by the 1970s; only to be renewed by the collapse of the USSR. And now China--and to a much lesser extent, India--are expanding their power which reduces America's relative advantage.

Brazil is a fascinating case. As some wag once put it, "Brazil is the power of the future--and always will be." Somehow metrics that should indicate the potential for a major power never seem to make that major power a reality.

But because of America's geography, America will always have more deployable power than any other contender for global dominance--even if China passes us by.

I remain fascinated by quantitative models. And once thought of going in that direction. But numbers divorced from geography and history miss a lot. That's the basic reality that the quantitative models seem to miss completely. I don't think they figured out a way to measure national power accurately, as they claim.

But I do plan to look more closely at the project the article relies on.