According to a survey in the Eurasia Group asking who the the most powerful people in the world are, nobody came out on top. Literally. The results, published in the Foreign Policy magazine, gives first spot to Nobody and thus highlighting that there is currently no clear leader in the world. The Russian president Vladimir Putin comes second in the list. The German chancellor Angela Merkel – weighing in at number 4 – and thus scores higher than both US president Obama and Chinese communist party head honcho Xi Jinping.
The full top 10 list is:
2. Vladimir Putin
3. Ben Bernanke
4. Angela Merkel
5. Barack Obama
6. Mario Draghi
7. Xi Jinping
8 (tie). Ayatollah Khamenei
8 (tie). Christine Lagarde
10. King Abdullah Bin Abd al-Aziz
The British-based international magazine Monocle has release its annual list of nations’ soft power prowess. Britain came out on tips this year following the successful hosting of the Olympic Games. Northern Europe scored highly and the draw-card of the Germanic and Scandinavian nations were in general the arts, friendly business environments, entrepreneurial population, and good education systems. Continued economic troubles saw previous winner France and other southern European countries such as Spain and Italy sink on the list.
These were the top entrants:
- Great Britain
- United States
In the aftermath of the US presidential elections and the re-election of President Obama many international players are now starting to plan for a weakened America and a US military in retreat. The election of Obama might have been popular among the Hollywood jet-set and media elite, but most serious analysts are now starting to question the US’s willingness – and ability – to deal with its fiscal situation. To be sure, it is questionable whether a Romney presidency would have been able to deal with the American staggering debt of $16.3 trillion, but it’s Obama’s total indifference and unwillingness to even address the problem which has got the chattering classes preparing for a world with diminishing American power.
Dealing with the US’s budget deficits can be done in three different ways:
- Raise taxes
- Increase borrowing
- Cut spending
Let’s deal with these options in turn. Obama has hinted at raising taxes for the wealthy and it’s likely that this would have broad public support. But the US’s debt is growing by nearly $4 billion per day. There are thus not enough wealthy Americans in the universe that could be taxed in order to plug such a huge gap. Obama could, and probably will, try to raise taxes across the board, but this would put an economic recovery in jeopardy and would be difficult to get through a Republican-dominated Congress. Moreover, a mid-term Congressional election with a middle class who just received a hefty tax bill will surely make life even more difficult for the Democrat party.
The other option for Obama is to increase borrowing. The Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid has hinted at raising the debt ceiling by another $2.4 trillion in the coming months. This will surely start to make US creditors wondering whether the US will be able to pay back any of this debt. This could easily result in a loss of confidence in the US’s ability to pay back debt and could cause the dollar to drop in value, which would cause a financial disaster in the US. Big creditors, such as China, could also use the situation to make demands on the US by threatening to dump US treasury notes on the market. This is how the US itself pushed Britain to back off from the Suez crisis in the 50s. China could now use the same tactic against the US, maybe in demanding US retreat from the Western pacific.
The last option would thus be to cut costs. It would be difficult for Obama to carry out big cost savings in the big spending tickets of the US federal government. Medicare and Medicaid are difficult to cut given the growing elderly population of the US. Obama is also unlikely to cut federal jobs, as the public sector workers constitute a core constituency for the Democrat party. The only really big area where cuts can realistically come from is Defense and it will also be there that the president will cut. It is likely that first in line will be big ticket items like foreign bases and power projection tools such as aircraft carriers. A lot of US foreign units will start to come back home, demoralised and broke.
Now, for a geostrategy buff this will probably make life rather interesting. As the US retreats, others are likely to move their positions forward. Europe is likely to be forced to step up and increase its own defense spending to fill the void, same goes for Japan and South Korea. Russia and China will see it as an opportunity to project their power in the world and opening of foreign bases will be one way of achieving that. Indeed, Hu Jintao stated at the Communist party congress that China should become a maritime power. The Middle East will see increased activity by Islamists and Iran in jockeying for position.
Obama has not proved to be weak on foreign policy as some had feared. He has largely maintained the policies of the previous president Bush, even stepped up the fight against al-Qaida and other terrorists by making more use of drone strikes against civilian targets. A US military retreat is thus not voluntarily, it is forced by an increasingly unsustainable fiscal position. Decline always starts with the money, but it’s unlikely to end there. Unless the US can deal with its shaky fiscal position it is ever more apparent that we’ve reached the end of the unipolar world.
China commissions its first aircraft carrier after years of sea tests. The carrier, which was bought by the Soviet Union as an unfinished carrier, will be named Liaoning.
Aircraft carriers have become less of an effective weapon of war in modern warfare, and instead are more seen as tools for projecting power. However, for China the ability to move airstrike capability beyond its own shores is seen as very important given that the country is surrounded by hostile forces. China doesn’t yet have airplanes that would be capable of taking off and landing on the ship though.
Chinese aircraft carrier at dock in the northern city of Dalian
The London 2012 Olympics are long gone, but still to note for a foreign policy wonk, an article in the Foreign Policy magazine makes an interesting comparison between the final medals table and other measures of national power. There is more than just a hint of similarities between sporting prowess and GDP.
Olympic medals table and national power
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle is making visit to India and Bangladesh this week. One of the stops on his tour will be the dynamic southern Indian city of Bangalore where over a 150 German business are active.
Germany and India have been working closely together for quite some time to reform the UN Security Council. Berlin and New Delhi both are seeking a permanent seat on the body.
Mr Westerwelle seems at awe of the economic and strategic power of the rising Asian giants judging by his comment at a recent conference in Berlin entitled “Asia’s New Powers – Values, Economy, World Order”. During a panel discussion, Mr Westerwelle was carrying forward the tradition of German modesty and underestimating itself. Westerwelle said that while Germany certainly was important in Europe, its influence on the world stage was small and that “modesty” was in order. He also stated that “We are no longer setting the pace”.
For realist with a good grasp of the view from Asia, Westerwelle’s views – which are fairly typical of a northern European politician – seem somewhat too modest. Germany is the world’s second largest exporter and the leading voice in Europe. A stronger voice in world affairs is held back only by Germany’s own lack of ambition, not by growing Asian powers.Moreover, Westerwelle was of the opinion that only a united Europe would have a greater influence on the world. That notion seems at odds with how events are developing in the continent.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle – the face of timidity?
Interesting opinion piece by Volker Perthes, executive chairman and director of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, in the newspaper The Australian. Mr Perthes suggests that the switch from G7 (and G8) to the G20 and with US and large parts of Europe facing financial crisis the global power is shifting to multiple players.
THE multipolar nature of today’s international system is on display at the G20 summit in Los Cabos, Mexico. Global problems are no longer solved, crises managed or global rules defined, let alone implemented, the traditional way, by a few, mostly Western, powers.
Incipient great and middle powers, such as India, Brazil, Indonesia, South Korea, Turkey and South Africa, also want their say.
Some of these powers are still emerging economies. Politically, however, most have crossed the threshold that has long limited their access to the kitchen of international decision-making.
The five permanent members of the UN Security Council still defend their right to veto resolutions, and their military power is unmatched, but they can no longer dispose of sufficient resources, competence and legitimacy to cope with global challenges or crises on their own.
Bipolarity is a thing of the past, and it is unlikely to re-emerge in a new Sino-American G2.
The international order is becoming more pluralistic. The task for established Western democracies is to accept and cope with such democratic differences on the international level and to seek multilateral coalitions to manage or solve problems.
In principle, the EU is better positioned than the US (and certainly than China) for this task. Europeans are well practised in dealing with differences and shaping consensus among principally like-minded states. That said, Europe needs to be clearer and more transparent about the interests underlying its own policies.
The last two paragraphs suggest that Perthes wants the still solvent nations of northern Europe, notably Germany, to have an increasing say in world affairs. Germany has hitherto not stated its strategic interests clearly.