Those who grew up during the Cold War may have trouble keeping up with shifts among major world powers. Some still think that Russia will reemerge as a superpower, even though it is not even one the world's top 15 economic powers. One may dismiss Japan as a major military power, not realizing that it is the world's second largest economic power whose military spending exceeds that of China. The respected Economist magazine recently published: "World in Figures, 2004." Data has been extracted from this book to provide a brief comparison of world powers in 2004:
Population is one measure. While Western military analysts focus on material, manpower is critical. Providing AK-47s and RPGs to several million men creates a powerful force, albeit not one capable of major operations. Recall that a million Chinese foot soldiers fought the modern US Army to a stalemate in Korea, and thousands of illiterate Somalis mauled US Army Rangers in 1993. Today, the most populous nations are: #1 China; #2 India (which will surpass China by 2030); a distant #3 United States; #4 Indonesia; #5 Brazil. Pakistan is #6, just ahead of Russia. Bangladesh is #8, Japan at #9 and Nigeria at #10.
Gross Domestic Product is a measure of economic activity, not of wealth, and total population is a major factor. The busiest economies are: #1 United States; #2 Japan (about half of the US); #3 Germany; #4 United Kingdom; #5 France. Yes, the UK and France remain ahead of China which is #6. Surprisingly, Mexico is #9 and Brazil #11, while Russia is way down at #16, even behind South Korea at #13 and the Netherlands at #14. Keep in mind that GDP is misleading. For example, at least 10% of the GDP for the USA comes from borrowing overseas, something that will end, some day. In addition, some 3% of American GDP is created by civil lawsuits because that is "activity."
Current Account is a measure of which nations are accumulating wealth though savings and have an annual surplus: #1 Japan; #2 Russia (rebuilding); #3 Norway (lots of oil profits); #4 Switzerland (secret banking); #5 France. Nations which are bleeding wealth through borrowing have an annual deficit, and are led by: #1 United States, which has an annual deficit 17 times greater than #2 United Kingdom; #3 Brazil (improving though); #4 Mexico; #5 Spain. One final measure is Industrial Output: #1 United States; #2 Japan; #3 China (growing rapidly); #4 Germany; #5 United Kingdom. Of interest is South Korea at #9 while Russia is way down at #14, behind #13 India.
While the United States is the clear superpower today, the European Union surpasses the USA in population, GDP, and industrial output. So if the EU continues to merge politically and militarily, it will become a superpower. China's high growth rate will allow it to match the United States economically by 2020, perhaps sooner if the USA suffers a major economic setback by failing to address its massive current account deficit (budget and trade imbalances.) Although Japan will lose population in the years ahead, it is likely to remain the world's most technologically advanced nation. It will prosper once it finds more cash paying customers and stops granting $200 billion in credit each year to the soon to be bankrupt USA, which will be forced to cut it's military budget in half. India is growing fast and Brazil is booming due to the increased worldwide demand for raw materials. Pakistan and Indonesia have potential, but political instability is likely to hamper development. These are just basic statistics, but they probably surprise many readers who have not updated their perceptions of world powers.
Carlton Meyer editorG2mil@Gmail.com