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Nationhood (Deep End)

All my life, I’ve been told that Britain isn’t that important anymore – that we are, in the words of Dean Acheson, a country that “has lost an empire and has not yet found a role.” For a while, the received wisdom was that we could find one by losing ourselves in Europe, like some offshore Luxembourg.

Europe’s not so hot these days, so self-denigrating Britons must look further afield for defeatist inspiration. Thus, apparently, we’re being crushed by the ‘BRICs’ – Brazil, Russia, India and China. Moreover, compared to the ‘MINTs’ – Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey, our long-term prospects really suck.

Of course, it’s perfectly true that these up-and-coming countries have more people, more land and more resources than we do; but in a fascinating study published by European Geostrategy, James Rogers, Daniel Fiott and Luis Simon remind us that size isn’t everything:

“As geopolitical analysts, we are keenly aware of the power dynamic behind international relations. Certain countries have long been understood to sit above and beyond all others in terms of national attributes and capabilities, forming a kind of hierarchy of nations…

“Many existing power indicators fall into the trap of economic or demographic determinism: we have not selected Gross National Income or population size as the most important attributes of national power – after all, throughout much of history, economic output and population size have not been the determining factors of international influence. Elizabethan England and the United Provinces took on and defeated powers with larger economic outputs and populations. Likewise, France failed to defeat the United Kingdom throughout much of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, despite having a population nearly double the size and an economy considerably larger.” 

It’s what you can actually do with what you’ve got that counts:

“What matters – we believe – is not so much economic heft or population size, but a country’s ability to mobilise resources through political, economic and financial infrastructure.”

This distinction is most readily understood in a military context:

“…countries like Russia, China and North Korea possess formidable arsenals of conventional forces on paper, yet they lack the means to project and sustain them in distant theatres, while much of their inventories are obsolete or suffer from poor training and a lack of combat experience. What really matters in modern warfare is a combination of military might, technological sophistication and geostrategic reach. Countries like the United Kingdom and France possess far smaller armed forces than many other countries, but they more than make up for this with better technological means and global mobility, sustained by an extended-regional or even worldwide array of military installations.” 

The concept of global projection applies to other areas too. And, with this in mind, James Rogers and his colleagues have selected a number of metrics on which to rank the leading nations of the world.

Thus in the “cultural pull” category they’ve looked at the location of the world’s top hundred universities; in the “diplomatic influence” category they’ve assessed the capabilities of the intelligence systems in each country; and in the “economic strength” category they’ve gone with the “the number of ‘alpha’-grade Global Cities each country possesses.”

These three categories, combined with one for “military reach”, produces an overall score for the fifteen nations included in the study.

Unsurprising, America is way out in the lead, the only country that makes the grade as a “super power.” Britain, however, is a clear runner-up – the only “global power” on the list. Then come a group of eight “regional powers”: France, China, Russia, Japan, Germany, Australia, Canada and India (in that order). Finally, there’s a group of five “local powers”: Italy, Spain, South Korea, Brazil and Turkey.

So there you have it: the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, second most important country in the world.

Soon to be led by Ed Miliband.

19 comments for: Heresy of the week: Britain is the second most important country in the world

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