A Survey of Indices Measuring Geopolitical Power

Brief descriptions of the prevalent indices of measuring geopolitical power.

One of the major propositions of the realist school of geopolitics is that the primary concern of all states is survival. A direct corollary is that nation-states aim at increasing their power and thereby enabling the continuance of their survival. Because of this centrality of power in geopolitics, its evaluation becomes extremely important for all the players.

Various measures for evaluating geopolitical power have been proposed throughout the history of the modern nation-states. This paper by the RAND Corporation is an exceptional resource to understand the traditional approaches to measuring national power. In this post however, the focus is on describing a few indices that are prevalent and popular. It must be noted that even the latest indices are incremental improvements over the traditional single and multivariable approaches to national power.

1. CINC (Comprehensive Index of National Capability): This index is a measure of hard power rather than a comprehensive indicator of overall national capability. The measure is obtained by taking a simple average of six ratios. These ratios measure population, urban population, iron and steel production, primary energy consumption, military expenditure and military personnel respectively. The Correlates of War webpage shows the variation of this index for the period 1816-2007. Even though it is primarily a ‘hard power’ index, it omits the significance of nuclear capabilities. Moreover, the role of modern technology aided weapons like drones has not been considered. Given that the world is more urban now than it is rural, giving equal weightages to both population and urban population leads to “double-counting” effect of the population variable.

2. GFP (Global Firepower Index): This index, like CINC measures a nation’s conventional military capability across land, sea and air. Some of the factors involved in the construction are number of armored vehicles, number of frigates & destroyers and the number of aircrafts. Thus, this index is ideally suited to a scenario where two nations are at a state of conventional war against each other. Again, this is not a comprehensive measure of overall national capability and it ignores the role of nuclear weapons in a state of war.

3. CNP (Comprehensive National Power): The roots of this quantitative measure of power lie in Deng Xiaoping’s statesmanship. This index tries to incorporate a wide variety of factors under the following heads: manpower, natural resources, military, economic activities, government control and regulation capability, science and technology capability and social development.

4. NPI (National Power Index): This index combines the weighted factors of GDP, defense spending, population and technology. This index uses the International Futures Model to arrive at the relative standing of nations. It allows forecasting the power variations up to the year 2060. A significant improvement over the other indices is that the weights for the factors can be varied according to four forecasted scenarios. The scenarios are based on the United Nations Environment Programme’s global environmental outlook study. They are classified as Markets First, Policy First, Security First and Sustainability First depending on the trade-off between the extent of economic growth and the impact on environment. A sample is here.

5. NSI (National Security Index): This is an index developed by Indian think-tanks based on defence capability, economic strength, effective population, technological capability and energy security. This index is not scenario-based and the methodology has not been made public.

I came across these indices as part of my project which aims to create a Global Power Index. This index will take into account scenarios like “Belligerence and War-like situations” and “World economic situation” to arrive at power calculations. The understanding behind this is that the determinants of power that matter more during a war-like situation are different than the ones that matter for economic growth. Thus, creating a single rating which excludes the importance of global scenarios oversimplifies the problem at hand.

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