July 19, 2018

Which countries are powerful?

By Barend ter Haar.

Are the Netherlands more powerful than Italy or Spain? Yes, according to 2017 ISA Country Power Rankings published by ISA (International Strategic Analysis), an international research and consulting firm headquartered in Luxembourg . ISA bases its ranking on an analysis of seven different categories of power: economy, demography, military, environmental and natural resources, politics, culture and technology.

It is interesting to compare this list with the best countries/power rankings published by U.S. News & World Report . That list is based on only five factors: leadership, economic influence, political influence, strong international alliances and strong military alliances.

The lists are remarkably different. The United Arab Emirates, for example, are number 10 on the US News list but do not appear on the ISA list, and Canada, Australia and India are 3, 5 and 6 on the ISA list but only 12, 16 and 17 on the list of US News.

Sweden does not figure on the ISA list, but in 2016 it easily won a non-permanent seat at the UN Security Council for two years, while Italy and the Netherlands had to do with one year each. Does this mean that Sweden is more powerful than Italy and the Netherlands? In the US News list Sweden is placed just behind Italy, but in front of the Netherlands and Spain.

How seriously should we take these rankings? Not too seriously, if only because they are not always built on thorough knowledge of the countries. US News states, for example, that the “Kingdom of the Netherlands emerged in 1815 after years of Spanish and later French occupation”, ignoring that it was preceded by the Dutch Republic, an independent and relatively powerful state from 1648 to 1795.

But on the other hand: perceived power is also a form of power and the rankings provide interesting food for thought. What is it that makes a country powerful? Why is Switzerland, with little more than eight million inhabitants (i.e. half of that of the Netherlands), so high on both lists? How does the power to destroy, e. g. the number of nuclear weapons of a country, relate to the power to get things done?

If you are interested in the power to get things done, than it is interesting to look at the ability of a country to obtain visa-free travelling for its citizens. According to the Global Passport Power Rank 2017 , the winners are Germany and Singapore. Their inhabitants can visit 158 countries without a visa.

They are closely followed by Sweden and South Korea, with 157 visa-free countries. (By the way: none of these four countries has nuclear weapons.)

2017 ISA Country Power Rankings:
1. USA
2. China
3. Canada
4. Russia
5. Australia
6. India
7. Japan
8. Germany
9. UK
10. France
11. Brazil
12. South Korea
13. Saudi Arabia
14. Netherlands
15. Spain
16. Italy
17. Mexico
18. Switzerland
19. Poland
20. Indonesia
21. Israel
22. Turkey
23. Argentina
2017 Power Rankings according to U.S. News
1. United States of America
2. Russia
3. China
4. United Kingdom
5. Germany
6. France
7. Japan
8. Israel
9. Saudi Arabia
10. United Arab Emirates
11. South Korea
12. Canada
13. Turkey
14. Iran
15. Switzerland
16. India
17. Australia
18. Italy
19. Sweden
20. Pakistan
21. Netherlands
22. Spain
23. Qatar

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