The Balance of Power on the World Stage
Source: Department of Defense
The Balance of Power on the Global Stage
Out of all 194 countries on Earth, which one is the most powerful? In the future, which one will be the most powerful? Which countries are powerful in which regions? These are important questions that should dramatically influence any policy- be it economic, diplomatic, or military decisions. Power is important in the world of international politics, and power influences everything. Therefore, it is important to determine the balance of power on the global stage.
What is Power?
This may seem like a simple question with a few obvious answers. Yet, in reality, power manifests itself in many different ways. Power isn’t necessarily militaristic. Instead,
power can be defined as the “ability to influence other nations”, often to the benefit of the influencing nation.
Foreign policy experts often define two types of power. On one hand is hard power, defined as the ability to forcefully influence or control other nations. Hard power often is militaristic. For example, a quintessential example of hard power is the Cuban Missile Crisis, where an American blockade coupled with the deployment of nuclear weapons to Italy and Greece forced the Soviet Union to withdraw its nuclear weapons from Cuba. In this example, the US used its military might to force the Soviet Union to withdraw from Cuba. Hard power can also be economic. If a country is economically dependent on another country, the dependee is in a position of power, and can use economic force to influence the dependent. In addition, economic sanctions, shows of military force, and power projection are all manifestations of hard power.
On the other hand is soft power, defined as the ability to influence other nations via non forceful methods. While appearing in many different facets, soft power primarily is a function of the cultural influence of a nation. As an example, American hamburgers, big-macs, and hotdogs have helped to “Americanize” much of the globe, and spread American influence throughout the world. China is attempting to do the same, by spreading Chinese brands and culture throughout the globe. China has built Confucius institutes and schools of Chinese language across the world, expanding its cultural image one step at a time. Trade deals, financial aid, and the spread of language are all manifestations of soft power.
True power is a function of both hard and soft power. However, there is another factor that influences power. This is “potential power”- the ability or potential for a country to gain either hard or soft power. A country with huge mineral resources and large population, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, has potential to gain soft power. The DRC can create wealth and prosperity with its massive mineral deposits, which would therefore increase Congolese soft power, as the DRC would have greater ability to conduct trade and influence the global economy.
This “potential power” greatly influences the way that nations deal with each other. Countries would be more likely to invest in the DRC, as to not miss out on the potential boom in the DRC. Likewise, stagnating countries, such as Russia, have little potential power, and as a result, are unable to draw significant foreign investment. Countries who exploit their potential power, such as the USA with its geographical advantages and massive amounts of fertile soil, will gain immense amounts of both hard and soft power. Countries who fail to do this, such as the DRC, will stagnate, until the potential power is exploited.
We can define hard power as comprised of three main components: Military strength, ability to project power, and the ability to create sanctions. We can define soft power as three main components: Cultural influence, economic prosperity, and the “goodwill” of a country. We can define “potential power” as the ability of a country to obtain or create hard or soft power.
With this, we can define a number of countries as the most powerful country on Earth, in one aspect or another. We can also evaluate other countries, potential conflicts, and the balance of power on the world stage.
Is the United States the most Powerful country on Earth?
Source: Heritage Foundation
Most people believe that the United States is the most powerful country on Earth, and they certainly have a number of facts to back this up.
In terms of hard power, the United States of America is hard to beat. The United States spends around 600 billion dollars annually on the military, more than the next 11 countries combined. The US has more aircraft carriers than the rest of the world combined, and possesses 11 “supercarriers”-the largest warships that mankind has ever built. The US possesses more than 800 military bases around the world (more than every other country combined) which allows the US to project power worldwide, as well as spread American influence. This, along with the rest of the gargantuan American navy, allows the United States to effortlessly project power overseas. This has been demonstrated in the past month, with American carrier battle groups sailing to the Korean peninsula, in a show of force against North Korea. The US possesses around 6800 nuclear weapons, second only to Russia, and the US also has 1.5 million active military personnel, second to only China. The United States air force is second to none, possessing hundreds of advanced aircraft such as the F-35 Lightning II, F-18 Super Hornet and F-22 Raptor. The US is also a member of NATO, the most powerful military alliance on Earth. NATO allows the US to further exert its influence and enhance its military power. Also, NATO serves as a huge deterrent against Russian expansion in Eastern Europe or the Baltic States.
The US also has the power to impose crippling sanctions on nations it deems as threats, whilst being able to largely ignore any sanctions in return. The United States has a GDP of roughly 18 trillion dollars, the highest in the world. The US is a major trading partner of many large and wealthy nations, and thus, cutting trade ties with a rogue state does not hurt the US, but cripples the rogue state. In addition, the mere threat of US sanctions is enough for the US to influence and pressure other countries, as many countries are economically dependent on the US.
The US is also a global leader in soft power. Among many experts, the US is marked #1 in terms of soft power, only rivaled by the European Union. McDonald's, an American icon, is readily available in nearly every country. The American film industry is only rivaled by Bollywood, the Indian film industry. America is also a global leader in foreign aid, and has greatly influenced the development of many advanced economies, such as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Germany. US trade deals with other countries allow for both the US and its trading partner to mutually benefit and grow. Free trade with other countries helps to build ties and spread “Americanization”, and American influence grows.
American “power potential” is high. America’s population will continue to grow, and America sits on huge deposits of oil and natural gas. America is experienced as a nation, having survived and thrived over 250 years, and still standing after horrendous economic crashes, a civil war, two world wars, and a nuclear staring contest with the Soviet Union. America also has innovative and advanced companies, such as Apple and Google, headquartered in Silicon Valley.
Therefore, we can conclude that the United States is one of the most, if not the most, powerful countries on Earth. With high hard power, soft power, and power potential, the US will continue to play a major role in global affairs for years to come. However, there are other countries that can also be considered among the most powerful on Earth.
Is China the most powerful country on Earth?
China is another contender for the title of “the most powerful on Earth”. Like the United States, China is a global leader in hard power. China spends roughly 150 billion dollars annually on its military, second to only the United States. China sports over 2 million active military personnel, the most in the world, and the military in general is rapidly modernizing. China also possesses around 300 nuclear weapons. China is currently constructing a supercarrier to rival that of the United States, and this carrier will enable China to project power globally. China has virtually taken over the South China Sea (a vital trade route with tons of resources) through its island building campaign, much to the dismay of its neighbors. However, China is still weaker than the United States. China, while having numerical superiority in a few weapon fields, is still technologically inferior to the United States. China also has less attack aircraft, less armored fighting vehicles, and less “combat ships”-that is, less carriers, destroyers, corvettes, submarines, and frigates. More importantly, China has less oil reserves and produces only half as much oil as the United States. This means that China’s influence over Middle Eastern states is limited, as China depends on Middle Eastern nations for oil, the lifeblood of a modernizing economy. If China was ever to worsen ties with Middle Eastern nations, for example, it would likely face a crisis as oil prices skyrocket. Nevertheless, China is still one of the strongest military powers on Earth, with its vast manpower and huge amounts of various weapon systems. China is also a key global player in terms of trade. China is by far the largest exporter on Earth (excluding the European Union), exporting nearly 2.4 trillion dollars worth of goods annually, and importing almost 1.4 trillion dollars worth of foreign goods annually. Many countries are economically dependent on China, and Chinese trade restrictions on these countries could deal a crippling economic blow. Any anti-Chinese measures taken by these countries would be met by swift economic retaliation from Beijing, forcing the anti-Chinese measures to be reversed.
China’s real push during the past decade, however, has been in soft power. China has built hundreds of Confucius institutes around the world, which has been key to the Chinese soft power strategy. China is attempting to spread Chinese culture, language, writing, and influence throughout the world, in an attempt to become a cultural and military superpower. In addition, China has supplied massive amounts of foreign aid to Africa, in the form of debt relief, infrastructure projects, hospitals, and new schools. Not only does this create a beneficial relationship between Africa and China, but it also enhances China’s image in Africa. Africans now tend to view China in a positive light, and this has major ramifications toward Chinese soft power in Africa. Similarly, China’s commitment to the Paris climate deal has improved China’s standing in the eyes of environmentalists, even if China is still the largest emitter of CO2. However, China also faces major obstacles in the development of its soft power. Namely, China is attempting to promote itself in Western, liberal democracies, while being the exact opposite: an authoritarian, illiberal regime. Consequently, the view of China among many westerners is greatly diminished, and Chinese soft power, and western influence, is nulled.
What China lacks in soft power, it makes up in potential power. China has a massive population of 1.4 billion people, the highest in the world. China has a economy that is rapidly growing, with 7% GDP growth in the first quarter of 2017, albeit fueled by a boom in the housing market. More importantly, China’s middle class is growing immensely, and 76% of China’s urban population will likely end up in the middle class by 2022. This has led to suggestion that the Chinese economy could surpass the American economy by 2018. By 2050, the Chinese economy is set to be the dominant force in the global economy. 2050s China won’t be too different than 1950s America economically-vastly outpacing other nations, with a huge, thriving middle class.
Thus, we can state a reasonable argument that China is one of the most powerful nations on Earth. More importantly, we can say with confidence that China will be the most powerful nation on Earth by 2050.
Is Russia the most powerful country on Earth?
Source: Russia insider
Russia, while generally viewed as on the decline, is still one of the most powerful countries on Earth. Russia spends 65 billion dollars annually on defense, 4th in the world, behind Saudi Arabia, China, and the United States. With 760,000 active personnel, and 2.5 million reserve personnel, it is safe to say Russia has no shortage of military manpower, although their shrinking population is a major concern for the future of Russia itself. Russia also has massive oil reserves, and produces more oil than it consumes.
Russia possesses the largest amount of nuclear weapons on Earth, with around 7000- only rivaled by the United States. This massive nuclear stockpile maintains the threat of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) in the event of war with the United States or NATO, as Russia continues to develop new nuclear technology, despite the Cold War having ended 25 years ago. Furthermore, Russia has a vast number of tanks-more than 20,000, although most of these tanks are in storage, having been built around 1970-1980, and are ineffective against western tanks like the Leopard II or M1 Abrams. Similarly, Russia’s air force, while numerically impressive with about 3,500 thousand aircraft, is outdated and ill-equipped for the 21st century. The Russian navy, while in possession of powerful nuclear submarines and deadly anti-ship missiles, is largely neglected and ill-maintained. Despite these gaping flaws in the Russian military, Russia as a whole is still viewed as one of the most powerful nations. Why?
Russia is one of the most aggressive and militant nations in the world. In the past decade, Russia has invaded both Georgia and Ukraine, with no real response from NATO other than sanctions. Russia is also heavily involved in Syria, joining Iran in a proxy war against Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the Sunni Muslim states. Russia has also blocked UN resolutions in Syria, and has aggressively moved troops into the border with the Baltic states, who are backed by NATO. Similarly, Russian cyber-attacks on democratic institutions in the west have proved Russia to be a very aggressive state. By this calculated aggression, Putin has managed to assert Russia as a global leader in hard power.
This hard power, however, is mainly a crooked manifestation of soft power. In reality, Putin has created an image of Russia being on par with the United States, gaining admiration in the process as the man who “rebuilt Russia”. In addition, Putin’s “relation reset” with Turkey after a Russian fighter jet was shot down over Syria has weakened Turkey’s connection to NATO, as well as warm up the relationship between “The Dictator Duo of Eastern Europe”. Russia has also funded pro-Russian, anti-NATO think tanks across the world. Despite this, 7/10 people view Russia unfavourably, which is to be expected of an authoritarian, interventionist regime.
Russian potential power is, unfortunately, very low. Russia is facing a major demographic crisis which shows no signs of slowing down, and the Russian population is set to shrink by 30 million by 2050. While it is true that Russia possesses gigantic oil reserves, its decline in population, combined with the total collapse of the Russian Ruble, is a major threat to Russia that will prevent Russia from ever being the superpower it was in the 20th century. It is nearly impossible for Russia to recover from its economic and demographic collapse, and this does not bode well for Russia.
However, Russia’s nuclear capabilities and military might cannot be underestimated. Russia’s aggression and willingness to fight in Eastern Europe and the Middle East makes Russia one of the most powerful countries on Earth. Only China and the United States could be reasonably considered, in this day, to be more powerful than the Russian Federation.
Can India become the most powerful country on Earth?
Source: Indian Express
India, without a doubt, is one of the most powerful countries today. With 1.3 million active military personnel, 2.1 million reserve personnel, and a total population of over 1.3 billion people, it is safe to say that India has no shortage of manpower. The Indian military also has a respectable defense budget of 51 billion dollars, and they are a nuclear armed state, with around 110 nuclear weapons.
Indian hard power, while not on par with China or the USA, is enough to make India by far the most powerful nation in Asia (excluding Russia), with the exception of China. India sports 4500 tanks, 6th most in the world (5th if you exclude North Korea, who has thousands of 1950s era tanks), as well as around 2000 planes in its air force, including 300 generation 4 and 4.5 aircraft. India is also slated to take delivery of the generation 5 PAK-FA T-50 fighter, which it has co-developed with Russia, one of India’s strongest allies. The Indian navy is also powerful, with 3 aircraft carriers, and a potential deal with Russia to purchase nuclear-powered supercarriers. In short, India has the ability to project power across the Indian Ocean, and is more powerful than its main rival, Pakistan, as it has a 2-1 advantage in nearly every weapons system, and outspends Pakistan almost 7-1 on the military.
India’s soft power, meanwhile, is spreading rapidly throughout the world, primarily by one vessel: yoga, which has been aggressively promoted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Modi has promoted yoga on social media, and even created a Ministry of Yoga. As a result, yoga is now a 27 billion dollar industry in the United States alone. Additionally, Bollywood, India’s massive film industry, has enhanced India’s cultural presence in the world. The fact that India is a 5000 year old civilization, coupled with Modi’s diplomatic meetings with foreign leaders, have also helped to boost India’s image. India has also invested in Africa, much like China has, in an effort to gain influence in Africa. Indian soft power, while still low compared to the United States’, is growing rapidly.
India’s potential power, however, is quite possibly the highest in the world. As long as India can create enough manufacturing jobs, India’s massive youth populace will be able to drive India to success. Unfortunately, India hasn’t been able to do this. A combination of bureaucracy, poor infrastructure, and a bad education system has left most of India’s youth working low skill, service industry jobs. India also possesses massive natural gas reserves, which could help to create wealth in a country with a GDP per capita of just 1600 USD. India also faces a brain drain, as large numbers of engineers and other STEM professionals have moved from India to work elsewhere, primarily in the United States. However, the massive, young, Indian population provides hope for a China-like boom in manufacturing and wealth.
India is already one of the most powerful countries on Earth, and only a few nations are greater than or equal to India in terms of sheer firepower. Indian soft power, likewise, is rapidly spreading, and India’s population boom provides hope for the future-if that boom can be exploited. India’s high poverty rate, and general lack of development, will be the main opposition to India’s growth. If India can overcome these factors, India, along with China, will be a global superpower by 2050.
Can Saudi Arabia dominate the Middle East?
Saudi Arabia is a country associated with Islam and oil. Unsurprisingly, these two things are what give Saudi Arabia its power and influence, both in the Middle East, and around the world. The Islamic Kingdom is one of the most powerful countries on Earth, even with the internal issues it faces today. However, its influence may soon begin to falter, even if the Saudi government takes the right course of action.
Saudi Arabia sits on around 260 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, second to only Venezuela. These massive oil reserves help Saudi Arabia lead the world in oil production, which gives Saudi Arabia massive sway over global affairs, and this sway is enhanced by OPEC. This is primarily seen when Saudi Arabia uses its influence over OPEC to force oil production cuts, in turn raising the price of oil. Saudi Arabia has built “oil alliances” with many countries, including most members of OPEC (excluding Iran), and more recently, Russia. And, despite Saudi Arabia’s atrocious human-rights record, including its barbaric, islamic fundamentalist law code, the United States still finds itself with a vital ally in Saudi Arabia, in large part due to oil.
Can Saudi influence over oil fall, to the point where the Islamic Kingdom starts to dramatically lose influence? In fact, it is not a question of can, but a question of when. OPEC has recently been pleading with the United States to cut back on oil production, which has been fueled by the shale boom. Saudi oil exports are rapidly dropping, and other OPEC countries are replacing Saudi Arabia in the oil trade. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia’s efforts to wage an oil war have weakened the relationship between it and the United States. With oil prices dropping, Saudi Arabia must choose between bankruptcy, or losing the proxy war it has fought with Iran over the past 3 decades. Many have serious doubts as to whether Saudi Arabia, in its current state, can afford it's costly war with Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. Indeed, Yemen is rapidly turning into the Saudi version of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan-a failed war against a determined foe, despite vast technological and numerical superiority. Much like the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan helped bring down the Soviet Union, so to might Saudi Arabia’s failed effort in Yemen bring Saudi Arabia to financial destruction. However, if Saudi Arabia stops fighting in Yemen, it is guaranteed to cede regional dominance to Iran. In short, it is nearly impossible for Saudi Arabia to accomplish its ultimate goal-regional dominance and the defeat of the Ayatollah.’
Islam is also tied to Saudi power, mainly because both Mecca and Medina lie within the countries borders. The House of Saud, the Saudi ruling family, derives its legitimacy from being the “custodian of the two holiest sites of Islam”. The control of these two sites, gives Saudi Arabia enormous influence over both Islam, and the global perception of Islam. Despite questions of whether Saudi Arabia has the right to control Mecca, Saudi Arabia has no interest in doing so. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is deeply intertwined with Islam, and Saudi control of Mecca is a stabilizing force in the Islamic World. Losing control of Mecca would pave the way for reform, which would almost certainly bring down Saudi Arabia.
The future of Saudi Arabia is grim. While relinquishing control of Mecca and Medina will not happen any time soon, the Saudis and OPEC have lost control over oil prices, and with that, control of the Middle Eastern proxy war. While Saudi Arabia is attempting to diversify its economy beyond oil, previous efforts to do so have largely failed. If this attempt also fails, Saudi Arabia will lose control of the Middle East and suffer an economic crash. Saudi power will be no more.
Can Iran Dominate the Middle East?
Source: Russia Today
Opposite Saudi Arabia is Iran, a Shiite theocracy that rose from the ashes of the Shah’s rule in 1979. After the bloody Iran-Iraq war, where Iran succeeded in driving out the Iraqi invaders, but ultimately failed in creating a Shiite government in Iraq, Iran has shifted strategy into funding rebellious Shia groups and Shia states throughout the Middle East, often opposing Saudi Arabia in brutal proxy wars. Over the past 5 years, these proxy wars have largely been successful, leading to Iran’s power and influence growing tremendously.
Iran’s revolutionary ideology is unique. It carries the same Marxist rhetoric of spreading a “revolution”. The only difference, of course, being that Iran’s Islamic revolution is spreading Shiite governments across the Islamic world, whereas Marxists aim to spread communism and class revolution globally. Iran opposes Saudi Arabia, not only because of the sectarian divide, but also because it views Saudi Arabia as a western puppet. As a result, Iran seeks to drive Saudi Arabian, and therefore Western, influence out of the Middle East, replacing it with its own Islamic governments. Iran has been actively pursuing this for the past 30 years-and with the exception of the aforementioned Iran-Iraq war, quite successfully. Iran has made Hezbollah the most powerful group in Lebanon, propped up the Shia tyrant Bashar Al-Assad in the midst of a brutal civil war, and has aided Shiite militias in Iraq, who have played a role in fighting ISIS and helping to drive them out of Iraq.
All of this has led to Iran to the brink of dominance in the Middle East, with Iran firmly winning its proxy war with Saudi Arabia. Bashar Al-Assad is extremely close to victory in Syria, having used overwhelming force to crush his enemies into submission. In Yemen, the Saudi-backed government has collapsed in the face of Houthi aggression, and Saudi Arabia has gained nothing but international condemnation for its airstrike campaign in Yemen. Additionally, Iran has a powerful military, which is only behind that of Israel in terms of Middle Eastern power. With 550,000 active personnel, around 400 aircraft, and hundreds of military “speedboats” that could swarm enemy ships, and a hyper nationalistic population of around 80 million, no country would dare threaten Iran in a head-on invasion. The only country that could do so- The United States, is too far away, and has other problems in the Middle East.
Iranian soft power is also on the rise. Iran used to be one of the greatest empires in human history-the Persian Empire, which gives it a clear cultural advantage over its Arab neighbors and rivals, and allows Iran to spread its soft power. Iran has also constructed Koranic schools, started Islamic universities, and published Islamic books within the borders of its own country, allowing foreign students to come to Iran.
Iran, on the surface, looks poised to dominate Middle Eastern affairs by the next decade. With it’s vast army, multiple proxy groups in multiple different countries, and a large, growing population, Iran will be able to set up Shia client states across the Persian Gulf and the Levant. Even Saudi Arabia could fall victim to a Shia uprising in the East. Iran is on the brink of domination in the Middle East. Only one country could potentially stand in the path of Iran: Turkey-which has expansionist ambitions of its own.
Can Turkey recreate the Ottoman Empire?
Source: The National Interest
The Ottoman Empire was one of the most powerful empires in human history. With its capital in Istanbul (which it took from the Byzantine Empire in 1453), the Ottomans presided over nearly the entire Islamic world, from North Africa and the Maghreb, to the Arabian sea in Oman, and through the Levant and Iraq. The Ottomans also controlled large swaths of Eastern Europe, even controlling Budapest and attacking Vienna at one point. Only Persia stood in the way of conquering India and Central Asia.
The Ottoman Empire was dissolved in 1922, following a centuries-long decline that culminated in the first world war. However, Recep Tayyip Erdogan is making moves that eerily seem like an attempt to recreate the Ottoman Empire, with Erdogan as the Sultan.
Turkey’s invasion of Syria was largely an attempt to destroy Turkey’s long time enemy, the Kurds. While there is no doubt that Turkey has also fought both the Syrian government and the Islamic State, Turkey has also repeatedly attacked Kurdish-held cities, despite the fact that Syria’s Kurds have played a major role in fighting ISIS and are on the outskirts of Raqqa, the ISIS capital. Erdogan, meanwhile, has criticised the Lausanne treaty, loathing over the fact that Turkey was “too small” and that it gave up islands to Greece. Maps shown on Turkish television depict a substantially larger version of Turkey, with territory in Iraq, Syria, Bulgaria, Greece, Armenia, Georgia, and Iran. Turkish nationalism, and Neo-Ottomanism, has made a comeback, in a direct contradiction to the Kemalist ideology which dominated Turkey’s past and made Turkey more akin to Europe than the Middle East.
At the same time, Erdogan’s rapid consolidation of power has worried many. A broad expansion of his powers in a referendum election that many believed to be fraudulent has left the position of Prime Minister abolished and the powers granted to the President (Erdogan), give Erdogan vast power over the Turkish judicial system, and gives the President power to appoint powerful ministry positions. Erdogan, many believe, has taken the first step towards a full on dictatorship.
Turkey is one of the most powerful countries on Earth. With 600,000 active military personnel, 1000 aircraft, and 2500 tanks, Turkey has numerical superiority over almost every Middle Eastern country. Additionally, much of Turkey’s military is far more modern than anything else in the Middle East or Central Asia, as it routinely buys weapons from the United States. Turkey is also the second largest military in NATO, giving it influence over the world’s greatest military alliance, and this could help Turkey in making up for military purges following the failed Turkish coup. While Turkey’s soft power has fallen greatly in the wake of the Turkish intervention in Syria and Erdogan’s jailing of journalists, Turkey reset relations with Russia following a shoot-down in Syria, and is drawing closer to Russia and China.
Turkey is another power that is rising in the Middle East. Turkish expansionist desires will likely compete with those of Iran, just like what is currently happening in Syria. The future of the Middle East will be a Turkey-Iran proxy war, rather than a Saudi Arabia-Iran proxy war.
Is North Korea a true threat?
Source: Business Insider
North Korea has often been known as the “land of no good solutions”, for good reason. A Stalinist dictatorship that has brainwashed its citizens for the past 60 years North Korea’s populace are virtually impossible to liberate, due to the fact that they know nothing but the Kim Dynasty and of American “imperialism” and “pig American capitalists”. Of course, North Korea also has around 10 nuclear warheads, which could be fired at major population centers such as Beijing, Tokyo, Seoul, or Osaka.
North Korea also has one of the largest armies in today’s world. With 700,000 active personnel, 4.5 million reserve personnel, nearly 5000 tanks, and 950 aircraft, North Korea’s army looks impressive on paper-until technology is considered. North Korea’s tank force is weak and obsolete, and would be crushed by any western tank force. Similarly, North Korea’s air force is largely comprised of obsolete, ex-Soviet fighter jets, which are no match to South Korea’s advanced, largely American-built air force.
Still, the prospect of another war on the Korean peninsula is horrifying. Up to a million people could die in the event of a non-nuclear war, and that figure would be dramatically higher if North Korea managed to fire off nuclear weapons successfully. North Korea could very well, through its superior number of troops compared to South Korea, over-run the border and reach Seoul before the United States in able to intervene. And, in the event that North Korea is defeated, a cornered regime in Pyongyang with nothing to lose could conceivably launch nuclear weapons at megacities across the Asia-Pacific region. With Kim Jong Un in power, this scenario could be reality.
North Korea is possibly the greatest “national” threat that the world faces. There is no other nation that is so despotic, rogue, and “unconventional” as North Korea. While North Korea won’t be exerting soft power anytime soon, a nuclear missile in Tokyo or Seoul is a possibility anytime North Korea is concerned.
Can Japan Stop China?
Japan has been, and still is, one of the most influential nations in world history. Though most of its influence has been a positive influence on the world, Japan also committed unspeakable atrocities, particularly in the second World War. Although many countries across East Asia suffered from Japanese conquest, China in particular was the site of horrific violence, such as The Rape of Nanking. As Japan has never formally apologized for these atrocities, Japan and China have had long lasting enmity.
As China rises as a superpower, the relationship between China and Japan takes a new turn, one concerned with the balance of power in the East China Sea. China is already taking steps to dominate the South China Sea, where there are no true naval powers. However, in the East China Sea, Japan and China are at odds over the uninhabited Senkaku islands. While uninhabited, these islands could have oil and natural gas deposits, and the islands also sit on busy trade routes, and appear to have ample fishing grounds. China has dispatched large, armed coast guard vessels to the islands in a show of force, and has intimidated Japanese fishermen near the islands. Japanese F-15 fighter aircraft have intercepted Chinese aircraft over the East China sea multiple times, and the dispute also involves other countries in the region, such as Taiwan and South Korea.
Japan possesses one of the most powerful navies on Earth, a navy that is arguably better than the Chinese navy. The Japanese navy includes large “helicopter destroyers” of the Izumo class, as well as modern destroyers and submarine. Japan’s army and air force are also extremely capable, and Japan’s military strength is a significant deterrent to Chinese desire in the East China Sea. If this wasn’t enough, the United States also backs Japan in this dispute, and, as mentioned before, the United States has by far the most powerful navy in the world.
Japan is vital for Asia. Japan, along with South Korea and the United States, play a key role in ensuring that the entire region doesn’t get bullied by China. With India-China relationships in an unclear state, Japan and the United States are left to form an anti-China alliance in the Pacific, one that can stop China from dominating Asian affairs. Led by Shinzo Abe, this alliance appears to incorporate major powers from across the globe, such as Germany and the United States, in addition to nations directly threatened by China, such as the Philippines.
Japan will maintain its status as a regional power for a long time, although it may have serious demographic problems in the future. Nevertheless, in the short-term, the Japanese navy, combined with the might and deterrence of the USA, is the one thing stopping China from dominating East Asia with impunity. Whether this can be accomplished is anyone’s guess.
What does the future hold for the European Union?
To say the European Union is undergoing difficulties would be a dramatic understatement. Over the past 5 years, the EU has faced a multitude of problems from nearly every corner of Europe. Greece has been on the verge of financial collapse, and hates the idea of austerity measures to keep Greece fiscally responsible in the future. The United Kingdom has declared its intent to leave the European Union, largely in part due to an immense refugee crisis that stems from war-torn Iraq and Syria. This refugee crisis has driven a tide of right-wing nationalism across Europe-particularly in Poland and Hungary, where refugees are not allowed inside the country. Many view these refugees as economic migrants, as they are bypassing places of safety (Spain, Italy, Greece) and residing in nations with strong economies and generous social benefits, such as Sweden and Germany.
Meanwhile, demands for transparency from Brussels have grown. The inner workings of the European Union and what the EU actually does is misunderstood by many, and as a result, many European citizens mistrust the “Brussels Bureaucrats”- 53% of European citizens think their vote means nothing in Brussels. Italy has faced a large banking crisis, which could force potentially force another bailout that all of Europe has to pay for, along with potential austerity measures. If there is no bailout, a chain of defaults could ensue: the interconnectedness of the European financial system means that an Italian bank defaulting could quickly spread to French and German banks, and potentially creating a 2008-esque global banking catastrophe.
The current of state of the European Union is an unstable one, one where the European Union cannot stay for much longer. The complexity of EU policy on refugees and whether it is enforced, combined with the fact that the EU is a monetary union, but not a fiscal union, has combined to create all of the troubles that the EU faces today. The European Union, therefore, must adapt in some way to face the challenges of today.
The populist wave that swept through Europe appears to, largely, have been defeated by pro-European centrists. In France, Marine Le Pen, a eurosceptic nationalist, lost to Emmanuel Macron, a centrist businessman. In the neighboring Netherlands, Geert Wilders, a far-right nationalist, lost to Mark-Rutte, the leader of a centre-right party. If this future of Europe continues, where the populist, nationalist wave is defeated, Europe will go toward the path of a “United States of Europe”. Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron, for example, have discussed a potential fiscal union, where Brussels sets budgets for the European nations. Jean-Claude Juncker, the former president of Luxembourg, has called for a European Union army, wherein current European armies would be integrated, and Europe as a whole would have a united foreign policy. With the departure of the UK (The greatest critic of an EU army) from the European Union in the form of Brexit, this option seems more likely than ever, and is already being implemented in some ways by Germany. The EU army does face opposition, however, in the form of non-EU NATO countries. These countries, namely the United States, claim that an EU army would undermine NATO, and that competition between an EU army and NATO would cripple defenses in Eastern Europe, opening up the door to Russian aggression.
If an EU army does form, its primary purpose would be to deter Russia. An EU army would certainly be powerful, with (discounting the United Kingdom) 1.4 million active military personnel, 6000 tanks, including the advanced Leopard II and Leclerc, 5900 aircraft, including hundreds of the ultra advanced Eurofighter Typhoon, and hundreds of naval ships, including carriers and submarines. This army, if desired, would have power-projection capabilities second to only the United States, and would be only behind the US and possibly China in terms of sheer military power.
However, there is no doubt that anti-EU sentiment is harbored by many Europeans, and the populist wave has certainly not been defeated. If the EU breaks up, either through more countries leaving the EU due to populist will, or sheer necessity, it would be a potential security disaster in the making. Before the EU was created, European history was marked with centuries of war-from the battles of the Medieval era, to Napoleon’s conquests, to the millions dead after World War II. While an EU breakup wouldn’t necessarily mean a revert to war for Europe, it would destroy the sense of continental unity. This, in turn, would make it easier for Russia to dominate Eastern Europe.
The future of the European Union is uncertain, but it is key in the balance of power across Europe. The European Union could potentially breakup, opening up the door for the Kremlin to intervene in Eastern Europe. It could also unite, forming a powerful army that could deter Russia, whilst simultaneously weakening NATO and the capacity to intervene elsewhere.
The global stage is, unsurprisingly, very complicated, as it has always been. History has been marked with great Empires growing in power and conquering new regions, before a greater power usurps them and takes their place, or internal conflicts result in the Empire waning until it destroys itself. The Cold War was, in effect, a power struggle between two of the strongest nations in world history, who were so powerful that any clash between them would wipe humanity off the face of the Earth. History itself is authored, not by nations or individual men, but by the power within nations and men. The balance of power determines history.
Today, the balance of power is also complicated. It is hard to objectively determine hard power, soft power, or potential power, and boil it down to a simple series of numbers. That being said, the balance of power is incredibly important. Actions taken by nation-states can be boiled down to the interaction between power and politics.
Ultimately, there can be no certain explanation as to which country is most powerful-it depends on circumstance, which factors are measured and what they are weighted as, and the bias of the author. However, we can approximate, and we can measure. We can draw conclusions, and use them to make logical decisions. This is why the balance of power on the global stage is so important.