Europe in the World


What makes a country powerful?

17 Oct 2017 - 11:33
Source: Global Jet /

Are the Netherlands more powerful than Italy or Spain and are Sweden and Switzerland more powerful than the Netherlands? 1 Yes, according to the power rankings of respectively International Strategic Analysis (ISA) and U.S. News & World Report. The 2017 ISA Country Power Rankings published by ISA, an international research and consulting firm headquartered in Luxembourg2, are based on an analysis of seven categories of power: economy, demography, military, environmental and natural resources, politics, culture and technology. U.S. News & World Report3 uses another set of criteria for its best countries/power rankings: leadership, economic influence, political influence, strong international alliances and strong military alliances.

How seriously should we take these rankings? Not too seriously, if only because they are not always built on thorough knowledge of the countries. US News states, for example, that the “Kingdom of the Netherlands emerged in 1815 after years of Spanish and later French occupation”, ignoring that the Dutch Kingdom was preceded by the Dutch Republic, an independent and relatively powerful state from 1648 to 1795. Besides that, without an agreed definition of power, any ranking of countries according to their power will remain arbitrary. Should we, like ISA, consider a country powerful because of its large natural resources or should we rather look at its actual influence abroad, as U.S. News & World Report does?

Read the entire article here.

  • 1. An earlier and shorter version of this column under the title Which countries are powerful appeared in Diplomat Magazine (August 2017). I gratefully made use of some suggestions of Rem Korteweg. However, I bare all responsibility for the end result.
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