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Tag Archives | military power

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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The Power of Conventional Military Capability

The capacity of a nation’s military resources needs to be consistent with its geopolitical ambitions

This post deals with the role that a nation’s military plays in determining its geopolitical status. Like my previous post on ‘Foreign Aid’, the military capability of a nation falls under the third element of national power theorized by Kautilya –‘Prabhavashakti’ which is described as the combined power of the army and the treasury.

What does conventional military capability mean?

This post specifically mentions ‘conventional’ military to differentiate it from other unconventional means of warfare like nuclear, chemical and biological weaponry. This differentiation stems from the fact that the application of these two means of warfare are not the same. The mere possession and threat of using  unconventional means of warfare like nuclear bombs are often seen as the ultimate bargaining tool in diplomacy[1]. Moreover, only a few nations in the world have these weapons and they try to prevent other nations from possessing it. On the other hand, conventional military in terms of an armed force is a salient feature of all nation states. Secondly, the nuclear weapon is the foremost factor contributing to the ‘balance of power’ between geopolitical entities. Because of its immense power to hurt, it is the foundation of deterrence theory, and it is most successful when it is held in reserve[2]. On the other hand, conventional military power is often deployed in various conflict situations across the world to reassert a nation’s hegemony.

The “capability” of military power refers to the ability to transform resources like soldiers, artillery into wartime effectiveness. Thus apart from the money allotted to the military or the number of foot soldiers; it also depends on a doctrine, the quality of leadership, effective organisation and the quality of training.

Why is military power important for a nation-state?

A powerful military is an important player in settling geopolitical issues and is employed in various scenarios today. It is used to fight internal insurgency or terrorism which weaken the bargaining power of a state globally. Against non-nuclear states, it is often used both as a deterrent and a real force. For example, USA’s threat of military action in Syria triggered a series of diplomatic actions that eventually led to the Syrian government agreeing to an assessment of its chemical weapons. In another case, Russia brutally crushed the Georgian forces in South Ossetia and Abkhazia on account of superior military power in the 2008 war. The role of conventional military is different when two nuclear powers are colliding as a full throttle use can lead to escalation and eventual use of the dreaded ‘bomb’. Thus the various geopolitical agents try to prevent an all-out war between nuclear states. Nevertheless, conventional weapons have been deployed in localized skirmishes between nuclear powers like the Indo-Pak Kargil conflict in 1999 and the Sino-russian border conflict in 1969.

Thus, a powerful armed force is desired by all aspiring geopolitical entities.

Contours of military power

The need for a strong army, navy and airforce is all too evident to be discussed in greater detail. However, a few elements of military power that can be game changers are worth mentioning here. Due to their ability to deliver air power in distant parts of the world, aircraft carriers have been the holy grail for nation-states. The usage of unmanned warfare like combat drones is beginning to have profound political effects. Since it makes war easier and safer for the belligerent nation, it increases the threat of warmongering. the Prompt Global Strike (PGS) military effort of USA which would make delivery of conventional weapons anywhere in the world possible within an hour while it takes a few days currently can be another game changing weapon.

Thus, due to its sheer influence in altering geopolitical equations, military capability in one form or the other, is used in all indices measuring the power of a state. Though nations realize the importance of ‘soft power’ and ‘economic might’ to become influential, it is far too perilous to do so without heeding to a proportional rise in military power.


[1] http://www.politics.co.uk/reference/nuclear-deterrence : policy issue brief

[2] Arms and Influence by Thomas Schelling (1966)

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