The key factors for state power


The power of a state relies on its ability to impose its choices on other actors. The levers of such a power can be characterized using several dimensions and capacities. The territorial dimension can provide different kinds of resources (agricultural, mining, oil and gas etc.), but there are states that have a large territory and do not derive much power from it. The reverse is also true: one can for example compare Sudan and Qatar. The demographic dimension offers a potential for growth. It can be an asset or a burden: an asset when the political and socio-economic dynamics involved are favorable for the creation of tangible or intangible goods, to innovation… It can also become a burden in the opposite situation. The economic dimension undeniably confers power by translating into investment capacities, penetration or even domination of other markets, control of capital markets, currencies, raw materials, etc. The socio-cultural dimension takes part in influence or soft power. Indeed, the role of language, the dissemination of cultural goods or even sports results (Olympic Games, World Cup soccer) grants a state a capacity that supports the previous criteria to a high degree. This dimension provides intangible proof of power. Finally, diplomatic and military capabilities complete the power of a country to make it a superpower. These last two capabilities are closely linked and make the difference even if all the dimensions described above are recognized.

Comparison small rich country and big poor country: Sudan and Qatar
Sudan and Qatar : Huge country with few power and tiny state with a lot of power.

The states that meet these criteria are the USA, Russia and China. The European Union is a special case, that still meets all the criteria.

The United States of America has a territory of 10 million square kilometers and a maritime area of 11 million square kilometers. The USA is surrounded by two oceans. Its climate allows the exploitation of soils for agriculture and breeding. Rich in hydrocarbons, the USA has energy resources to develop. With a population of 330,500,000 inhabitants, the country has the potential to develop its growth. Its GDP, after a slight drop in 2020 due to COVID, has resumed its growth since 2021. Even though the American culture doesn’t amount to that of a country with a thousand years of history, English is the most spoken language in the world. The military capability of the United States is proportional with the economic weight of the country. Its defense industry produces its own armaments and markets them to its allied states. All of these forces give weight to American diplomacy, which allows it to impose itself within organizations such as the UN and NATO.

Russia has a territory of 17 million square kilometers and a sea area of 7.5 million square kilometers, half of which is under the ice. The variety of the climate and the available space allows for exploitation of the land for agriculture. The cultivation of wheat, beet and potatoes represents a large part of it. Russia is the third largest producer of grain in the world after India and the United States. The country also has important gas and oil reserves that it exports. With a population of 146 million, Russia has a human potential that contributes to its development. On the economic level, Russia has very important resources. As a result of the war it is waging in Ukraine, Russia is under strong pressure due to economic sanctions which objective is to isolate it from the rest of the world in order to force it to give up on its territorial ambitions. Because of its history, there is a Russian diaspora estimated at 15 million people which allows to spread the Russian culture. The Russian military power has shown its capacities but also its limits in Ukraine. Like any nuclear power, Russia has an arsenal capable of devastating everything. However, in the Ukrainian case, the margin of maneuver is quite short to really take the ascendancy with conventional means. Moreover, Russia does not have the necessary support on the international scene to legitimize its actions. This situation poses problems at the diplomatic level, such as its exclusion from the United Nations Human Rights Council on 7 April 2022.

Considering its territorial weight but especially its demographic weight, China fulfills the basic requirements of a great power with a territory of 9.5 M square kilometers and especially a population of 1.4 billion inhabitants. China has primary resources (mining and hydrocarbons) but not enough to meet all its needs. It is in a way dependent on raw materials or to recycle present outside of its territory. On the other hand, the population represents a potential for the production of what the world needs at a competitive price. Economically, China is a pivot around which the world has become dependent. The dependence on China is so strong on the economic level that the rest does not really count. However, China is a nuclear power and has an imposing army. While it hasn’t waged war since 1979, and therefore has never proven the effectiveness of its capabilities, no one will dare to challenge it. As a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, it has a veto right like the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom and France. On the issue of the war in Ukraine, China has adopted an ambiguous position by abstaining on the UN resolution condemning Russia. China seems very embarrassed by this situation.

Among great powers, the European Union is a hybrid power that, if we disregard the independent nations that make it up, is able to rival the three powers presented above. The EU is composed of 27 member countries. It covers a territory of 4 million square kilometers with a population of 447 million people. The diversity of the countries that make it up, whether geographical, industrial or cultural, offers a great wealth to the EU. Economically, the Union ranks 3rd in the world according to the IMF in terms of GDP. To acquire even more weight, the European Union has adopted the Euro as a single currency and has a central bank. In the field of defense, the European Union has a Foreign Security Policy that should lead to a common defense with common objectives (Common Security and Defense Policy). In fact, the European Union is not a military power, even if some of its member countries are, such as France. On the other hand, in terms of armaments, the European Union is reinforcing its Defense Technological and Industrial Base for the realization of common armaments programs, notably those of the Defense and Space branch of the Airbus group. On the diplomatic front, the EU plays a role that highlights its position as a great power. The war in Ukraine has reinforced this position. This conflict is acting as a catalyst to develop its diplomatic capabilities and its defense objectives.

Turkey sidelined by its neighbors at the Forum for Friendship
The “Forum for Friendship in February 2021, much criticized by Turkey. The alleged goal is to isolate Turkey.
On the picture, from left to right: the foreign ministry of Bahrain, Abdullatif bin Raschid al-Sajani, the Emirates’ state minister for international cooperation, Reem Ebrahim Al-Hashimi, and the foreign minister of Cyprus, Nikos Christodoulides

To summarize, a great power is a nation that has find a balance on several dimensions in order to weigh on the international scene: territorial, demographic, economic, sociocultural, military and diplomatic. However, one essential value is missing to make the difference: unions or alliances. These instruments make it possible to avoid isolation. Without it being a nation, the case of the European Union shows that a union places a group of nations at the same rank as a great power. A powerful state, even a very important one, if it is isolated, will have a lot of difficulties to keep its course. This is the case of Russia, which has no major ally unless China leaves its “neutrality”. This is also the case of Turkey, which does not clearly position itself as a NATO ally on the choice of its armaments (Russian S400 or American F35) despite the invasion of the Russian army in Ukraine. Its counter-current choices as well as its methods position Turkey as a complicated partner that voluntarily puts itself on the sidelines. Its isolation puts it in difficulty and hinders its development. A reliable alliance between nations is an issue and a key to generating power.

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