April 23, 2012

Measuring National Power

>Has the Eurozone crisis led to a loss of European Union power?

Washington D.C. was even more full of diplomatic cars and dark suited men than usual this weekend, as the the World Bank and International Monetary Fund held their annual spring meetings. Historically dedicated to shoring up ‘developing’ regions, this year’s focus was on the Eurozone crisis, that ongoing ripple of effects from the near financial collapse of several EU countries.

Some policy makers think that the EU’s loss of economic power will reduce its power on other issues, as the New York Times has reported:

The failure of European leaders to convince the rest of the world that they have a grip on the crisis is more than just embarrassing, some policy makers said. It may also given them less weight in debates on other issues and hasten the shift of power away from developed countries and toward cash-rich and fast-growing emerging nations, like China, India and Brazil.

The surface logic of the claim is persuasive, especially by analogy with individuals. If you aren’t able to take care of your money, I may be less inclined to think you are able to take care of your affairs otherwise.  But how true is it?  A precise answer to this question will be key to the European Union, which needs to know where it is most likely to lose power and how to counteract that loss. It is equally important to its allies and competitors, who will want to know how to take advantage of a potential power vacuum.

(Measuring national power is a current research focus of mine, so I also have a stake in a more precise answer. I  have discussed developing ways to measure national power here  and here.)

Steps to measuring an EU loss of power

There will never be an easy algorithm for measuring the effects of a loss of credibility for the simple reason that complex problems have many causes and arise from specific circumstances.  But here is where I’d suggest we start:

1. Establish a baseline assessment of the components of national power.  Some elements of national power are fairly quantifiable. It is possible to gauge how much control a member wields over an intergovernmental organization such as the UN Security Council or the World Trade Organization by assessing influence over voting, membership participation and compliance of other states with particular decisions, for example.  Other elements of national power, such as its appeal as a place of employment or tourist destination, can be more ephemeral, but can be tracked (how many people applied for work visas? How many chose to take a week’s vacation there?).

If I were going to use the EU and its competitors as a case study, I would find those components of national power that both the EU and relevant competitors tend to use, and develop a baseline score for each.  The actual methods are various. They  include seeking influence through ‘talk’ diplomacy, providing resources of various sorts, leading coalitions, authoring innovative solutions, threatening others with consequences, and seeking leverage on separate issues, among others.

 2. Track current issues over which there is a competition for influence and evaluate (a) how each actor does against the others and (b) how each actor performs against its own former score.

There is, for example, a brewing debate between the EU, India and several other countries over the best way to defend against sea piracy in the Indian ocean.   If the EU is successful in persuading India to bring more resources to bear on this problem, it will claim a higher score than India on this issue. But it may claim either a higher or lower score against itself at an earlier point in time.  In other words, the EU may be losing power generally, but not on all issues. However, a similar analysis of EU-India efforts to establish a free trade agreement might suggest that the EU has lost credibility, and thus influence, in areas of economic importance.

In any outcome, the relationship between four scores will provide a useful opening for further analysis; a starting hypothesis.

These scores do not tell us whether the eurozone crisis has affected the EU’s ability to wield influence, however–the original purpose of our inquiry. For this answer, the best we can do is to correlate the rise and fall of EU credibility over time with its ability to wield influence in other areas.

To that end, we should trace the narrative –the global public discourse about the Eurozone crisis and European credibility.

 3. Trace the narrative.  How does the EU and how do its allies and competitors talk about and interpret the ‘Eurozone crisis’ over time.

National credibility is a function of both narrative and action.  Institutions and countries need a strong story that “convinces the world,” and they need to show actions and positions that demonstrate their story’s strength.

Finally, develop a trend line that tracks the rise and fall of the EU economic narrative–how persuasive or legitimate it seems to different audiences– and the rise and fall of its influence over specific policy issues over time, together.

The resulting graphic, which will have areas where dips occur together, and those in which they differ (the EU is viewed as having low credibility, but it has success in its activities) will, upon analysis, provide routes to remedies or responses. The EU may need to provide a more convincing story to the world, and shore up its strategic communication. Alternatively, it may need to seek new partners who are more credible than it is to achieve desired outcomes, or  seek out areas in which their economic troubles have not bled into their ability to act in order to maintain their international power as a whole.

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