Infographic: military superpowers throughout history

military superpower in history

 

This chart was compiled after periods of rigorous research by Martin Vargic. Some concerns, however, remain: while both German Empire and NAZI Germany dispatched millions of able-bodied men into the warfare, it would be better to include British Empire and France as well in both World War I and II, as the numbers recruited by these countries, and their overseas colonies across the world back then, surpassed six digits, nearly similar to that of Germany.

Source: SPLOID

The Ambivalent Superpower

america superpower

 

People hate America as much as they need it – albeit reluctantly – to deter their enemies and rogue states from imposing threats towards their sovereignty. And enter the 21st century, the superpower’s influence is waning. And it really weakens to the point that its reemergence – especially faced with the aggressive rise of China as a possible successor – is becoming slowly unlikely. The world despises it, but it has much more to fear of a ‘global post-American order’. It may be more chaotic, more multipolar, and obviously, more dangerous to imagine within.

Read Robert Kagan’s full essay in Politico.

 

Excerpt:

 

Over the past year, the World Economic Forum—the same folks who run the annual gathering in the Swiss resort town of Davos—organized a unique set of discussions around the world with dozens of international leaders, from Saudi bankers to Singaporean academics, African entrepreneurs to Latin American economists, seeking unvarnished opinions about the United States and its role in the world. Their ambivalence was palpable. Whether it is arrogance or incompetence, incoherence or insincerity, the critiques of the United States heard in these conversations are extensive—and often justified. There are old complaints about American “unilateralism” and hypocrisy, and new complaints about drones and eavesdropping. There are regions, like the Middle East, where U.S. policy is regarded as having produced only disasters, and others, like Latin America, where the United States is faulted for its failure to pay enough attention (except when its strategic or economic interests are threatened). American motives are often suspect and regarded cynically. Some see the United States pursuing only selfish interests. Others see confusion, an inability to explain what America wants and doesn’t, and perhaps even to understand what it wants.

Anxiety about American isolationism is once again matching anxiety about American imperialism.

Yet what’s striking is not the litany of complaint, but the lament about disengagement one also frequently hears, not the expected good riddance but the surprisingly common plea for more U.S. involvement. Africa wants more U.S. investment. Latin America wants more U.S. trade. The Middle East and Asia just want more: more diplomacy, more security, more commerce. This may come as a surprise to those Americans who are convinced the world not only hates them but also welcomes their decline. But the world, or at least much of it, has moved beyond this post-Iraq narrative, even if we haven’t. These days, many foreign governments fret less about an overbearing America and more about a disappearing America. One way or another, it seems, every region in the world feels neglected by the United States. Setting aside whatever this might say about the effectiveness of Barack Obama’s foreign policy, it says a great deal about America’s role in the world. The problem others see these days is not too much of the United States, but too little.

 

Why America’s decline is dangerous for global security

america's allies

 

As I’ve said before in previous posts, no superpowers are absolute sages. Either their good deeds – providing aid packages and investment worth billions of dollars – or bad deeds – overthrowing other countries’ regimes by force, everything is done under the context of ‘global interest’, actually referring back to the superpowers’ own sake. Nonetheless, when the ‘big brother’ grows frail, what will happen to its key allies, or at the least, those leaning towards them? Will the rise of another global hegemony ensure that their countries will maintain their ‘business-as-usual’ approach? In politics, the answer is uncertain.

In regard to America’s influence, we can see both the positive and negative sides it has spread across the globe. We see democracies flourishing, global trading increasingly interdependent, and globalization itself more intense, but at the same time, we still see Western-backed plutocrats in power, Western-waged geopolitical wars, and international rivalry with a few competing emerging regional powers, say Russia and China. None of these countries, despite being US allies, is completely reluctant to surrender all its rights to the Globocop as well. However, the most fretful question – in early 21st century context – is: when American influence increasingly declines, especially as seen from Obama’s increasingly timid, hyper-cautious, and anti-military stance in his approach towards global problem-solving, what will happen to those which are depending on its global might?

A lot of fretful things, indeed, have happened. Russia, led by Putin, has led the pivot by firstly annexing Crimea, the geopolitical point of contention between Ukraine and the latter. Baltic states, Poland, and other NATO members, are being scared of a possibility of Putin leading another ‘conquest’ towards their countries. Japan is afraid of China, especially when it comes to the ownership of a chain of uninhabitable rocks known as Senkaku (in Japanese) or Diaoyutai (in Mandarin). South Korea is apprehensive about its aggressive North, and any probability of China leading another military intervention should North Korea collapse (which is an imminent risk many experts concern). Taiwanese people are particularly afraid of such prospect, as Taiwanese economy is becoming increasingly dependent on China’s, leading to their greater fears about ‘future reunification’. Southeast Asian states, particularly Vietnam and Philippines (and most recently, Indonesia), are in deep uncertainties in regard to the ownership of South China Seas, which, by its entirety, is claimed by Beijing. India doesn’t want to provoke a nuclear war with China, but it also doesn’t want to let go some of its territories in Himalaya. Gulf states, and Saudi Arabia in particular, do not want to see a nuclear-powered Iran leading any future invasion (but which threats are being calmed down after Hassan Rowhani’s charismatic leadership).

 

Still, despite some animosity, support of American global influence remains a Hobson’s choice.

 

Read a complete analysis on The Economist.

Empire of the sinking sun

abe

Japan was what once made the whole world awe-struck at its success: in no more than five decades after the devastating aftermath the entire nation had to endure following the Second World War (excluding the two atomic bombs dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki as the amplifying by-products), the country again made its own conquest on a global scope, this time from its economic clouts. It became the world’s leading steel producer by the end of 1960s, dominated the planet’s automobile industry in 1970s, made bulk of the world’s children and teenagers addicted to its electronic products and game consoles in 1980s, and pioneered high-tech industries in 1990s. United States was once even apprehensive of its overwhelming influence – Japan had the world’s second largest GDP by the end of 1980s – that it repeatedly attempted to halt its growth through various trade barriers it is now applying to today’s potential superpower, China.

But that used to be a pastime story.

Entering the 21st century, Japan gradually lost its vigor it used to aggressively nurture. One-fourth of its 130-million population is already aged up to 60. Birth rates stagnate, while death rates increase. Social security funds ended up protuberant, and tax revenues congealed, as its working-age population steadily dropped. The country is further exacerbated by its debt-to-GDP ratio, one of the world’s highest in terms of percentage. As of 2013, the percentage has dramatically increased to nearly 230%, equivalent to nearly 10 trillion US$. Most of the debts are, in fact, not foreign-based; they are debts owed to the country’s major corporations in overlapping patterns. Deflation, on the other hand, has notoriously pushed down overall prices in Japan for nearly 2 decades. Experts have even warned that unless aggressive steps are taken, Japan’s debt percentage may, in the worst-case scenario, soar beyond 300%, forcing the country, once proud of its impressive economic feats and near-total efficiency, to declare ‘default’.

Out of the blue, in December 2012, the country once again gained its rare momentum when Shinzo Abe was sworn in as Prime Minister for the second time (firstly in 2006, but resigned immediately in 2007 after political scandals engulfed some of his ministers). Abe, known for his aggressive nationalist stance, boldly launched his own economic experiment now known as ‘Abenomics’: a string of economic policies which pushes the government to jack up public spending on ‘unlimited’ level to push out inflation, mainly through infrastructure projects either inside or outside Japan. He even took it to a further level after the appointment of Haruhiko Kuroda, ex-president of Asian Development Bank (ADB), as governor of the country’s central bank. In no more than two days, Kuroda took a courageous, yet perilous, step: he allowed unlimited quantitative easing in order to achieve 2% inflation. Momentarily, Abenomics resulted in great success: the country scored a 4% economic growth and steadily increasing industrial output last quarter, the first time ever achieved in the last 20 years or so.

Nevertheless, the experiment carries its own double-edged sword: in case it fails to achieve economic growth, the country’s already deteriorating debt ratio may spiral out of control, and worse, it may be forced to declare bankruptcy, and in the worst case, the whole world’s economy may be severely affected by possible depressions that follow after.

That is not the only problem Abe now faces.

His political idealism, reminiscent of pre-World War II ultra-nationalist sentiment, has greatly angered its Asian neighbors, notably China and South Korea, and even United States. Ever since his appointment, one of Abe’s utmost priorities was to possibly revise its 1947 constitution, a dangerous blow to the already deteriorating relationship between Japan and its neighbors. Abe, meanwhile, also stresses out the urgency of strengthening the country’s already stagnating armaments (after the Second World War, Japan does not have any army; indeed, as an alternative, they form their own ‘Self-Defense Forces’), and possibly, to again take hold of its right to ‘declare war’.

For this moment, Abe may now enjoy the overwhelming support he garners from the majority of the nation for his populism, but in the future, everything is getting up more uncertain. While Japanese companies do not expect that his ideology may severely devastate the country’s festering relations with its Asian neighbors, his nationalist sentiment may instead trigger a larger sense among the country’s youth, most of whom have never been told about the truth regarding what the regime had ever conducted throughout the past war.

And this is a difficult choice.

Foreign Policy has a series of articles, from as early as December 2012, specially reporting about Japan in the time of Shinzo Abe’s leadership.

1. Japan’s Own Worst Enemy? – this article questions Abe’s right-wing politics and its implication to the entire nation.

2. The Wild Card – Abe’s ambitious, and also highly risky, attempt to revise the constitution and possibly replace it with a more radical version.

3. The Land of the Sinking Sun – the uneasy towing in Japan’s military, and its implication to both Asia and United States.

4. Saying UnSorry – Abe’s reluctance in apologizing for the country’s military crimes throughout Second World War.

5. Tokyo Hawks – this article was published shortly before Abe won the parliamentary election.

The century of the emergers

Maps of the emerging markets (colored in green), as of 2005.

 

Believe it or not, the world is currently turning upside-down right now. This has been obviously apperceived, to say the least, in terms of geopolitical and economic equilibrium. It is interpretable in many senses; some say that the world’s vehemence has again moved to the East, which many centuries prior, used to dominate global economy, before European colonialism became sporadically widespread and tense by the onset of 16th century. All of a sudden, these major powers were all of a sudden seduced in the arms of Morpheus, having themselves weakened by the rapid civilizational and technological progresses attained by Western societies. After hostile rivalries between European superpowers, it was British empire who in the end became the largest colonists in human history,  but their omnipotence only extended until the end of 19th century, when United States unexpectedly toppled down its position after decades of rapid industrialization as a by-product of the Civil War. Even in both World Wars, no matter how destructive they had been to humankind, it was the ‘big brother’ who in the long run managed to gain triumph, despite the fact they had to compensate it with hundred thousands of lives.

Cold War was also a spine-chilling period, where there was intense competition between United States and Soviet Union, not only in terms of nuclear weapons, ideologies they both exported to the whole world, and political intrigues, but it also triggered massive economic competition between these two superpowers, to gain sympathy among their allies. Near the omega point of the decades-long war, we had barely seen these countries did really emerge in the global stage, but the economists had far long projected that this might be a self-fulfilling prophecy: that, it is instead those countries, which had been severely affected by the aftermath of the Cold War, but will slowly-and-surely adopt democracy, that will dominate the global economy in the upcoming century.

Yes, it is. As of today, the reality is invisibly reverberating stronger than ever. United States might still play a pivotal role in global policing, perhaps until the next century, but the world has become increasingly polarized. The epicentrum is no longer in America; history, all in a sudden, again repeats itself. It is instead being divided, and is distancing itself in Asia, Africa, Middle East, Eastern Europe, Pacific, and Latin America. What’s more, globalization, which itself is a Western ideal, has unified all these regions economically.

No doubt, someday in the 21st century, we will perceive not only 1 superpower; there will be a plethora of superpowers emerging anywhere in the world, those which also used to be the similar major powers many centuries far before the Europeans came and set the thames on fire.

Welcome to the century of the emergers.

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BRICS, AND ITS OWN OBSTACLES

 

 

Let the ‘emerging market’ term be explained, firstly beforehand.

In the past, in terms of economic prosperity, the globe used to be divided mainly into three categories: First World (advanced, highly industrialized nations), Second World (newly industrialized countries or NICs, which haven’t fully achieved all the prerequisites of a standard, developed nation), and Third World (developing, less-, and least-developed countries). But this form of measurement began to experience minor changes after the introduction of newly-minted ‘emerging market’, which was originally named under the epithet of ‘less economically developed countries (LEDCs) in the beginning of 1980s. This term refers to developing countries which are undergoing transitionary phase into the next stage of NICs. Because of their striking differences with other developing countries, particularly in terms of macro-economic growth, some economists are currently suggesting that this term be given its own separate degree, independent of the three stages previously mentioned above.

The ‘emerging market’ trend itself actually kickstarted after the coinage of ‘BRIC’ term by Goldman Sachs economist, Jim O’Neill, in 2001, to identify 4 potential superpowers, largely Brazil, Russia, India, and China. There were multiple reasons why he chose to opt for these countries: all of these countries are experiencing rapid economic growth, and currently relish a demographic boom as a result of their tremendous population. Prove it: China’s population currently accounts for almost one-fifth of the world’s, with figures amounting to 1.35 billion, while India is placed in the second rank, with close to 1.15 billion residents. Brazil, as a result of population boom in which it was virtually commonplace to perceive a family consisted of 6 to 7 children, now accommodates 200 million people. And Russia has 150 million citizens, almost four-fifth of whom are situated in the European side. And add one more country which has recently conjoined the parvenu club: South Africa, which houses almost 50 million inhabitants. This might sound like a piece of good news, but it is not entirely a sort. Many obstacles are actually facing these countries away, which they have to tidy up in order to sustain the status, otherwise they may lose the chance to save their own faces.

 

Shanghai is currently China’s largest city, inhabited by more than 25 million people, and has the highest GDP per capita compared to that of all the other cities in the country, which surpasses 10,000 US$ this year.

 

China may enjoy its vibrant prosperity today, but it won’t be too long, and even might sound improbable, to catch up with the United States, unless they begin to make some en masse changes, ranging from reforming one-child policy (experts have forewarned that unless the government ends this repressive rule, at least as many as one-fifth of Chinese people might have aged beyond 60 by the time of 2050, which may increase social burden), decreasing a widening social gap (the urban elites are getting richer, while many of the rural peasants remain impoverished, as seen from increasing number of social protests and riots, which have increased to a staggeringly high 70,000 as of this year), liberalizing more of its economic sectors (many of the vital and strategic sectors are still controlled largely by state-owned corporations, which may hundred billion dollars in assets), improving its environmental quality (China should invest more in clean, green technologies than in building coal power plants), emphasizing more on domestic consumption and trading with other emerging markets (the country so far exports more products to United States and Europe than to their own co-equal counterparts), and most importantly, but also the most challenging one, introducing a more democratic, and more transparent, political system. This is just a matter of time how long Communist Party would last in China. People’s voices are actually getting louder, no matter how harsh they are suppressed.

 

Mumbai has been, since British colonialism, the economic epicentrum of India.

 

India’s case is different from the former’s. It boasts the largest democracy in the world, but its bureaucracy is even much more obnoxious than that in China. In terms of foreign direct investment, India had only so far succeeded to persuade foreign businesses to invest 40 billion US$ in the country in 2011, at the same time more than 100 billion US$ of FDI had flowed in the rest of BRIC members (except South Africa), respectively. The red tape is painstakingly sluggish, as it needs the approval of not only by local authorities, but also those in charge of the state, the nation, and most importantly, majority of the people. Corruption rate prevails exceedingly astronomical, which inspired a series of nation-wide hunger-strike protests by anti-corruption apparatchik, Anna Hazare. Furthermore, India is also posed to another serious challenge: caste-based societies. Indians, especially of those lower castes, are often subject to discrimination and depredation by those of upper castes. Sectarian violence, especially Hindu-Muslim conflicts, are overwhelmingly high. Many of the territories, particularly in rural areas, end up as battlefields which witness bloody insurgencies between Naxalite rebels (Marxism-inspired combatants who are fighting against inequalities and injustices) and security forces. The vulnerability to national disintegration is quite high here, as some provinces accommodate certain movements which aspire to establish independent states throughout the country.

 

Sao Paolo is Brazil’s largest city, with its metropolitan areas inhabited by more than 20 million people.

 

Brazil has been licking its own lips from fluorishing economic growth in the last decade. It is endowed with abundant natural resources, the bulk of which is based from Amazonian rainforests, and recent exploration efforts have uncovered more than 10 billion barrels of oil off the eastern coasts of the country. It also relishes a very stable population growth, with an average family nowadays, either rich, middle-class, or poor, having in average 1 to 3 children. Nevertheless, there is a very huge, behemoth cost they have to compensate in expense of its own rapid, cash-rich growth: environmental destruction that is currently taking place in the country. It is estimated that as many as 60 million hectares of tropical forests had been cut off to pave way for brobdingnagian corn, soybean, and sugarcane plantations which supply billions of litres of ethanol oil – another alternative in case of fuel shortage – every year. At the same time this article is being written, as many as 70 hydroelectric dams are being planned for construction throughout the entire rivers in Amazon, a numismatic figure beyond measure which can flood up large swaths of the remainding jungles. Excluding large infrastructure and mining projects proposed by the country’s largest conglomerates, the possible side effects of these works must be vividly examined by the government, and remains a major responsibility for Brazil’s current president, Dilma Rousseff. Moreover, there is a high social disparity between the less developed Northern territories, and the largely-urbanized Southern territories, in which more than half of Brazil’s GDP is based (particularly in the metropolitan areas of Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro, which are almost entirely covered up in concrete forests).

 

As a result of oil boom, Moscow once underwent through massive property boom (before it doomed because of GDP’s downfall in 2009), as well, with numbers of skyscrapers drastically on the rise.

 

Of all the BRICS countries surveyed, Russia remains the most serious focus, and also the one largely questionable by many economists whether this country is actually appropriately titled as ‘emerging market’ , or everything else is just coincidences. After the downfall of Soviet Union in 1991, Russia faced a period of economic malaise and stagnation which would last almost a decade long, until Vladimir Putin was sworn in as president of Russia. Despite his cold-blooded, steel-hearted methods in handling the nation many Western observers regarded as ‘undemocratic’ and ‘unjust’, Russia in the long run managed to sustain very high economic growth, witnessed a massive surge in numbers of middle-class, cash-rich societies, and gained more prestige in international affairs. But the country does also have its own time-ticking bombs which may lead itself to self-organized criticality, a point of no return: severe corruption, acute oligarchy in which most of the economic sectors are controlled by a mere handful of politically and economically powerful, pro-Kremlin families, dirty collaboration between police, bureaucrats, politicians, and organized-crime syndicates, and heart-breaking bureaucracy, all of which cause mass ‘brain drain’, or an outflow of intellectuals and educated scholars, to other more advanced countries. Russia’s economy has also not been fully diversified, as oil & gas sector remains the utmost priority in terms of revenues (as a matter of fact, Russia has outpaced Saudi Arabia in oil production, which hit a record-high 10 million barrels a day). This was the main reason behind the steep contraction of Russia’s economy when crude oil prices freefell from 147 to less than 50 US$ a hogshead. In order to sustain its ‘emerging country’ status, there is nothing more urgent than reforming its police and bureaucracy, minimizing corruption rates, reducing the leverage held by the oligarchists, diversifying its energy-based economy, and most importantly, introducing a more democratic, transparent environment. The government also promises that an additional 1 trillion US$ will be invested in infrastructure until 2020, but what makes the public concerned is its vulnerability to corruption and misappropriation. This might be a rigorous task, but if the similar cycle is sustained, in the long term, it is Russia itself which must bear a painful shame in global stage, because of its failures to handle its own heels of Achilles.

 

Gauteng metropolitan area, inhabited by 10 million South Africans, 4 million of which are situated in Johannesburg, currently produces as much as thirty percent of South Africa’s, and 10% of the continent’s total GDP.

 

South Africa also needs to be taken in full consideration. It is true that situation has been overall much better, especially in post-Apartheid era. Government has so far built 3 million homes to provide housing for black South Africans, while the number of middle-class black families is on the rise. But, still, there are myriad obstacles which remain unsolved in so far, ranging from high unemployment (the actual figure may be 25% for blacks), a prevalently high social inequality with little progress even after Apartheid has ended (it is estimated that white South Africans, although they only account for 10% of the population, do still have 80% control in the country’s overall GDP), and high ratio of people living with HIV/AIDS, which claims one in nine individuals in average. Although AIDS-related deaths have gradually decreased by slightly 10% after the massive antiretroviral (ARV) campaigns, this disease continues to be the dominant force behind the large economic losses suffered by the country after en masse brain drain (this is very ecumenical among white South Africans, in which between 1 and 1.6 million well-educated South Africans are known to have emigrated overseas since 1994), which is forecast to be close to 50 billion US$ every year, and the similar trend will go on for decades to come. It also faces a mass exodus of economic refugees from many neighboring countries, especially Zimbabwe, whose population is expected to surpass 5 million. This helped sparkling a series of anti-immigrant riots in major cities in 2008, which led to massive internal displacement of more than 60,000 immigrants. Security prevails vulnerable to murders, robberies, and rape. For the third case, more than 500,000 South African women are subject to rape every year. The country also suffers more than 100,000 homicides every year, among the highest per capita in the world.

In a nutshell, despite all the hindrances being faced by these countries, they still have tremendous potential to dominate global economy in the 21st century, alongside with other emerging-market countries. These problems might not be solved overnight, because of the long-term adaptability they have been to societies for many decades, but governments, in order to make all the economists’ streamline projections pass with flying colors, must co-operate together with societies to explore and exploit as many possible ideas as they can afford. More transparency, and open democracy, might be a better alternative.

On the next section, more sexy acronyms other than BRICS, and more about BRICS itself, will be fully discussed.

 

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