Eurasia Review: The Secret Of Greatness Lies In ‘Net Resources’ – OpEd

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By Jonathan Power*

Let’s make America great again! Or as the prime minister of France said: Let’s make France great again. Or, as President Donald Trump conceded, let every nation in the world announce that they are going to be great again. But what makes for greatness? Over that there is a big dispute.

Strategists
say that power has to be measured carefully because “the balance of
power is the motor of world politics, playing a role as central as the
role of energy in physics and money in economics”, as writes Professor
Michael Beckley of Tufts University.

“Power
is like love, it is easier to define than measure. Just as one cannot
say, ‘I love you 3.6 times more than her,’ scholars cannot calculate the
balance of power precisely, because power is largely unobservable and
context dependent.”

So
what can scholars do?  A suggested path is to measure power by tallying
the wealth and military assets of a country. Other scholars think this
is insufficient. It’s outcomes that should be measured. Often Davids
have beaten Goliaths.

The
Vietnam War, when a relatively small guerrilla army defeated and then
drove out the Americans, is an event no one in the last generation or
two can ever forget. Smart strategy by the North Vietnamese leadership
was responsible for this. The average Vietnamese family survived on one
dollar a day but they triumphed.

In
other cases it can be that the weaker party is prepared to run more
risks or bear greater costs, as with the Taliban in Afghanistan, which
after America’s longest war has worn down America and its allies’
resolve.

It’s
obvious, then, that the size of GDP (national income) is not always a
sure indicator of who will win. But, perhaps, more often it is if the
measurement statistic is refined. If one combines GDP with GDP per
capita this yields a primitive indicator that accounts for size and
efficiency, the two main ingredients of “net resources”.

Beckley
argues that despite the uncertainty as to whether this “net resources”
is the best measurement, in most cases it predicts outcomes. Beckley has
trawled through the data on war and “net resources” and found this to
be usually true.

Look
at the Chinese-Japanese War of 1937-1939. Clearly, China with its large
population, a sizeable aggregate GDP and a big military gave it far
greater power resources. On the other hand Japan was much more efficient
with lower production, welfare and security costs and so had a
preponderance of “net resources”.

Japan’s
industry was more than three times more productive than China’s.
Japan’s agriculture provided a much higher standard of living than
China’s and therefore yielded higher taxes to pay for the government’s
investment in the modern sectors of the economy, and developing
sophisticated military hardware.

Military
spending absorbed half of the Chinese government’s revenues. In Japan
it was only 7 percent. It isn’t surprising that Japan easily defeated
China.

In
World War 1 Germany annihilated Russia’s military and forced Russia to
give up territory comprising parts of modern-day Estonia, Latvia,
Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine. Russia was devastated by the war.

The
reason for this was that Russia had higher production, welfare and
security costs than Germany and thus had far fewer “net resources”
available for geopolitical competition. Russia lost the war despite
having an army twice the size of Germany’s and a bigger budget, but
Germany was ahead in technology and skill at fighting. Russian soldiers
were sent to the battlefield without training and even sent into battle
without rifles. Russia also lacked railways in the western regions, in
contrast to Germany which could move men and materials round fast.

Beckley
concludes that over the last two centuries the side with greater “net
resources” won 70 percent of disputes and nearly 80 percent of wars.

He
adds to this the picture painted by what is called “power transition
theory”. For decades scholars have debated whether power parity
increases or decreases the likelihood of war between states. Today as
China grows economically, approaching per head, western levels of GDP,
many scholars have argued that it is becoming extremely powerful and
that this will lead to war.

But
they overlook that China leads the world in debt, resource consumption,
pollution, useless infrastructure, wasted industrial capacity,
scientific fraud, internal security spending, border disputes and the
creation of over-large numbers of pensioners, invalids and geriatrics.

China
also uses seven times the input to generate a given level of economic
output as the U.S. It is surrounded by nineteen countries, most of which
are hostile towards China. All this reduces greatly the significance of
China’s rise. Measured by the “net resources” indicator it is a long
way from becoming truly powerful.

Politicians,
the media and academics need to get hold of the “net resources”
argument if the electorate is to be properly educated on China’s true
status. The old way of measuring power distorts reality.

Note:
Jonathan Power was for 17 years a foreign affairs columnist and
commentator for the International Herald Tribune. Copyright: Jonathan
Power. Website
www.jonathanpowerjournalist.com.

Eurasia Review


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