Britain In The World – Just another medium sized country?

Here is an exercise for you the reader of this blog; with all this talk of Britain’s future strategic direction are we not getting ahead of ourselves in failing to realise that the arrival of the 21st century has brought new aspirants to Great Power status, the consequence of which is that in relative measure our own status has been greatly reduced? What justifies a country’s place at the top table of international affairs, and are we guilty of arrogance to believe this small and much diminished island still commands the respect necessary for such a role?

What follows is an attempt to clarify those criteria which permit a nation a chair at the top table…………. should that nation desire to occupy such a position.

This blogger is no statistician, in fact he is only barely competent at basic maths, but it occurred that there must be a way to reach an objective measurement of global influence.

The ultimate purpose of the UN Security Council is to credibly issue threat of military action in order to elicit compliance, in much the same way that a nation-states primary purpose is to credibly demonstrate an ability to defend, therefore the fifteen highest Defence spenders have been preselected for this beauty contest.

This blog does not believe membership of the Permanent/Veto-wielding Security Council should even be considered for nations that do not have the economic and military clout to rise above their peers, and that they should have a force structure that allows them to project power. It is no good having a million strong peasant army if one cannot credibly threaten military intervention across a non-contiguous nation, likewise having a million nuclear weapons is not a credible threat to coerce a response over a ‘trifling’ matter.

In addition to military power one must also consider Economic Power and Soft Power, and these too will be factored into the equation. A variety of metrics have been selected to broadly represent these categories, you may disagree with their inclusion, you may also disagree with the weight they are given, but you are asked to justify that objection and identify a more appropriate alternative.

It is desired by many that a new-look Security Council better reflect the Geographic Distribution of countries, power, and cultures, rather than the euro-centric dominance that represented a 20th century reality, to that end this blog shall present the following argument framed as a projection of these metrics over the rough time-span of a generation.



Each category (Hard/Econ/Soft) is scored individually, but the top five scores after the highest (because we are interested in new entrants and not the incumbent) are averaged, and then that average is used to normalise all fifteen to a baseline of one thousand. This way each of the categories carries the same weight.

The final table; Future Trends, then takes these category values and modifies them based on factors that will affect their growth over time in an effort to represent the change that will occur between now and a generation hence. The modified category values are then totalled together and the top five scores after the highest are again averaged, and then that average is used to normalise all fifteen to a baseline of one hundred.

The scoring will exaggerate the relative difference, so it is the absolute ranking that is most important, but the closer a score is to one hundred the more relevant it is to the title of ‘Great Power’.


Hard Power:

Mil Budget – This is a list of countries by military expenditures, based on the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimates for the top 15 countries using market exchange rates.

Active (m) –  This is a list of countries sorted by the number of troops within the command of that country.

Budget/Active – This represents the advancement of a nations armed-forces by dividing the budget by the number in active service, to create an allocation per man.

PPP Modifier – This represents purchasing power parity, in order to reflect what capability each unit of a countries currency can buy.

Amphib (T) – Tonnage of amphibious naval vessels to represent an expeditionary capacity.

Airlift – Value of military airlift to represent an expeditionary capacity.

Mil Total – A simple aggregation of the General Subtotal and the Exped Subtotal.


Economic Power:

GDP Nominal – List of countries of the world sorted by their gross domestic product (GDP), the market value of all final goods and services from a nation in a given year.

GDP PPP – The GDP dollar estimates given on this page are derived from purchasing power parity (PPP) calculations.

GDP per-cap – The value of all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given year divided by the average (or mid-year) population for the same year.

Non/PPP – To achieve a figure which can be applied to other metrics for value conversion based on country buying power.

FDI (m) – list of countries of the world sorted by received Foreign direct investment (FDI) stock, the level of accumulated FDI in a country.

Competitiveness – The report ranks the world’s nations according to the Global Competitiveness Index.

Exports $ (m) – List of countries by value of exports from WTO data.


Soft Power:

Pop (m) – List of countries by population.

Lang (m) –  This list, based on the 16th edition (2009), aims to count first language speakers only. Used as a measure of how accessible your culture is in other parts of the world.

Nation Brand – The concept of measuring the global perception of a country in several spheres has been developed by Simon Anholt. Used as a modifier to adjust other indicators.

Patents – Various patent statistics as a measure of how much a nations technological prowess affects the rest of the world.

Create $ (b) – Value of the creative economy as a measure of how much a nations cultural prowess affects the rest of the world.


Future Trends:

R&D GDP – Amount invested by a country in Research and Development as a proportion of GDP.

GDP Growth – A measure of GDP growth based on Quarter 1 2010 figures as an indicator of post recession growth prospects.

Fertility Rate – A measure of population aging indicating future economic performance.

Hard (Norm) – Hard power score modified based on a country’s R&D expenditure and GDP growth rate.

Econ (Norm) – Economic power score modified based on a countries GDP growth rate and fertility rate.

Soft (Norm) – Soft power score modified based on a countries R&D expenditure and fertility rate.



The idea that Britain remains nothing more than another medium sized country rings hollow, and by the same token it is clear why even the major nations in EUrope are keen to band together; to preserve their rapidly declining influence in world affairs. Britain clearly could be just another medium sized country, but it should be apparent that this is a choice and not an inevitability, at least over the course of the next quarter century.



Lies, damn lies, and statistics you say, and indeed you correct. This blog makes no claim to presenting the proper metric of world influence, and indeed would be glad to receive criticism and insight into more appropriate metrics, so feel free to play around with the stats yourself. If there are any egregious errors this blog would be happy to make the corrections, and take another look at what the results show.

Update – 12.04.2010

Der Spiegel today provides a very relevant example of what happens to a country of no strategic capability:

Since the United Nations had issued a mandate for Afghanistan, Germany took part in the mission, which was intended to secure the country’s reconstruction, with a clear conscience.

Now war has broken out again and the Germans are playing a peripheral role in the conflict. They are not consulted by the US when the strategy changes. They are presented with a fait accompli because they don’t carry political weight, neither in the confrontation with Afghan President Hamid Karzai nor in negotiations with the Taliban. That is rather meager for a country that would like to see itself as an important mid-sized power.

The distant war has come home to Germany, and, after the period of fleeing from reality, it is now high time that Germans talk openly about war and death.

21 responses to “Britain In The World – Just another medium sized country?

  1. very interesting but can I ask a few questions

    In your mil categories have you considered

    * The active figure strength, does this include gendarmerie type forces that sometime get counted as military strength

    * Do the figures include conscripts

    * What is the definition of an amphib vessel

    * How is the value of airlift capability measured

    The expeditionary indicator seems a bit simplistic, just having lots of amphib ships and airlifters does not make an expeditionary capability

    It doesnt measure the quality of those forces either, I know the system is just an indicator but I what is the relative worth of say a UK infantry soldier against an Indian one.

  2. Hello,

    Thank you for taking an interest, an outside view is always is the quickest way to expose flaws in ones own thinking, but i believe i can answer most of them:

    The active figure is taken from here:
    so does include reserve units and paramilitary (with the exception of the UK which is a mistake).

    No idea on the conscripts question, but i would assume so.

    The amphib and airlift stats can be found in the spreadsheet here:
    and include units that are due to come into service as well as those that already are, as this is a projection for the next generation.

    The expeditionary indicator is useful, as it indicates a maximum force that can be actioned and maintained out of area, and it is a reasonable presumption that the presence of amphibious and airlift units will indicate the presence of an expeditionary structure within the forces to make use of it.

    The quality of the force is indeed accommodated for, if you look at the “Budget/Active” column where total budget is divided by man-power to create a ‘man-budget’. This is a useful proxy for the quality of an Armed Force, and very useful as an indicator of that forces ability to maintain the pace of transformation along side the RMA (misused phrase i know) happening in the US.

  3. Wow, I’ve never seen anyone try to actually quantify power rankings with statistics. A couple of questions: How are the figures for Creative $ derived? It seems that you are saying that China’s cultural prowess is greater than any other 3 countries combined.

    Also it appears that you classify fertility rate as a positive influence (if I understand this correctly which I probably don’t) but wouldn’t it only be a positive if the country could actually feed its population?

  4. Thanks, I used the Creative Economy Report 2008 which is linked above.

    I am presuming that Malthus and his modern analogues are still wrong, and that innovation in nio-technology and food science will continue to outstrip population growth, but the demographic factor is really important because it effects the ratio of workers (wealth creators) to retired people (wealth consumers), and countries with crashing demographics at a time of medical wizardry will have a real problem supporting an ever-growing grey ‘millstone’.

  5. Being old is not all it’s cracked up to be with body parts failing all the time, except for: golfing all the time, fishing whenever you want, eating anything without regard to whether or not it’s good for you, having the greatest grandchildren in the world (and being able to give them back when they cry or are wet), not having to work (37 years in education), reading a lot, and being pretty much immune to insults from younger people. Hmmm, on second thought it sounds pretty good. lol

  6. As a member of the EUCOM J3 staff, very good analysis. You should also throw in Transparency International rating for crime/corruption, since that influence a country’s international standing, economic output and military efficiency

  7. Hi Jedi,

    The “corruption” index by country is readily available and widely quoted (every year, when it comes out).

    I looked at the “expeditionary orientation” by accepting your aggregation for and relating the figure to the mil total rather than general total (if the same aggregation error is in the division, there should be a “fade away” effect for it. This looks like a percentage share (strictly speaking isn’t); the result conforms to general perception (I’ve included rank to help that comparison) with some factors skewing it (so I have added a comment as well).

    US 26% (Rank 4;permanent deployments around the globe not reflected)
    UK 30% Rank 2
    Fr 20% Rank 7 (small-scale interventions focussed. This lowers relative rank)
    Ger 24% Rank 5 (it is not just the capability but the willingness to use it)
    Ru 31% Rank 1 (large country, and quick redepl. ability needed within borders)
    Sp 28% Rank 3 ( no need for an army for other than exp. uses)
    Oz & Can 23% Rank 6 (combined, as they seem to turn up in same places)
    It 15% and Korea (ROK) 14% come up fairly high because they have large Marines formations for in-theater rather than true expeditionary use

    V interesting as a starting point

    Cheers, ACC

  8. Hey, do you know where I can find the amphib and airlift stats today? Those are great statistics. The link to that spreadsheet on doesn’t work anymore.


  9. I think amphibious capability of India is wrongly Interpreted.It is only less than US,Russia,China in the world.

  10. Pingback: The world’s fifteen most powerful countries in 2014

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