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Putting the World in Perspective - By George Friedman For Geopolitical Futures – 06.01.23

Thoughts in and around geopolitics.

In working on GPF’s Annual Forecast recently, I was looking for ways to measure national power and differentiate countries with large mouths from countries that are actually influential. The best approach to something like this is to be stupid and embrace the obvious. The obvious is to identify at least one of the elements of national power and find a way to measure it.

I thus stumbled upon something at once well-known and astounding. One self-evident measure of power is the economy, and the simplest way to measure the economy is by measuring gross domestic product. Rough though it may be, GDP can tell you much about a country, from the kind of military it might have, to the kind of public satisfaction it boasts, and ultimately the strength of its economy and its economic influence.

The following numbers are ones I know about but frequently don’t take the time to really absorb: the GDP of the top five nations as a percentage of global GDP:

1. The United States (24.06)

2. China (15.2)

3. Japan (6.02)

4. Germany (4.56)

5. India (3.2)

These five countries account for more than 50 percent of global GDP. Naturally, this correlates with military power. GDP measures production possibilities, including missiles and soldiers, but must also support civilian life. So there is a variation in the amount of effort put into military matters, but the potential to field a military force stands up to scrutiny. We can say, then, these five countries produce half of the world’s product and have the ability to produce equivalent massive militaries.

The most advanced and capable, if not numerically the largest, is the United States, a nation that has simultaneously maintained a relatively dynamic economy, systemic interludes of weakness notwithstanding. China boasts the world’s second-largest economy and has sought to build a major military. The historical question is whether the substantial gap between the United States’ GDP and China’s GDP has left China militarily weaker than the United States.

Behind the two major powers, Japan is trying to build a military based within the ever-changing parameters of its constitutional prohibition, but it certainly has the ability to become a substantial power again. Germany doesn’t really want to rearm but has never fully shut the door on the prospect. It is, however, involved in sending arms to Ukraine and in the economic war against Russia. India is engaged occasionally with China but, despite its GDP, is vast and impoverished. It is the smallest economically of the five and the least militarily engaged. It is also part of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue with the U.S., Australia and Japan, even as it builds relations with Russia.

The reality is that the five largest economies are either involved in a war or preparing their militaries with some rapidity in order to be able to wage one. This means that the world’s top economic powers are all engaged in active warfare or are preparing for it. Any uncertainty in military systems inevitably creates economic uncertainty. This, of course, applies to countries outside the top five list such as Russia, which is ranked number 11.

The most important country to forecast is, therefore, the United States. It has the largest economic and military footprint and has a tendency to engage in military operations at some level and economic operations as a main force. The next most important is China, particularly with regard to how it behaves in relation to the U.S. The U.S.-Chinese relationship is not only fundamental to what will happen for the rest of this year but also emblematic of the complex nature of power. It gives both nations a chance to compete on multiple levels and find a basis for collaboration. Washington’s role in the world is easy to forget among the political noise, but it’s the basic reality driving the world.

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George Friedman

George Friedman is an internationally recognized geopolitical forecaster and strategist on international affairs and the founder and chairman of Geopolitical Futures.

Dr. Friedman is also a New York Times bestselling author. His most recent book, THE STORM BEFORE THE CALM: America’s Discord, the Coming Crisis of the 2020s, and the Triumph Beyond, published February 25, 2020 describes how “the United States periodically reaches a point of crisis in which it appears to be at war with itself, yet after an extended period it reinvents itself, in a form both faithful to its founding and radically different from what it had been.” The decade 2020-2030 is such a period which will bring dramatic upheaval and reshaping of American government, foreign policy, economics, and culture.

His most popular book, The Next 100 Years, is kept alive by the prescience of its predictions. Other best-selling books include Flashpoints: The Emerging Crisis in Europe, The Next Decade, America’s Secret War, The Future of War and The Intelligence Edge. His books have been translated into more than 20 languages.

Dr. Friedman has briefed numerous military and government organizations in the United States and overseas and appears regularly as an expert on international affairs, foreign policy and intelligence in major media. For almost 20 years before resigning in May 2015, Dr. Friedman was CEO and then chairman of Stratfor, a company he founded in 1996. Friedman received his bachelor’s degree from the City College of the City University of New York and holds a doctorate in government from Cornell University.

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