“You can’t be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline,” the musician Frank Zappa is said to have said. “It helps if you have some kind of a football team, or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer.”
It probably never occurred to Zappa to test this thesis empirically: that task falls to us mortals. But first, in the spirit of academic rigor, let us distill his criteria for national power further:
- Beer. Beer is produced pretty much everywhere nowadays, and has recently taken off in traditionally wine-producing countries (Italy, Greece), and more tropical climes (India, Jamaica, Thailand, etc.). Since I’ve done considerable—ahem—”fieldwork” on this subject, I’m quite confident in my ability to identify countries with widely exported brands of beer.
- Airlines. These too are plentiful. To make matters worse, carriers have often been nationalized and/or underwritten by state governments even when woefully sub-par and unprofitable. Let us therefore only consider countries with major international airlines that are private or less than 50% government owned.
- Football Teams. Again, everyone has one on paper - even Bhutan and Montserrat - so I’ll consider only countries with teams that have qualified for at least one of the last four editions of the FIFA World Cup.
- Nuclear Weapons. Pretty self-explanatory.
So how do different countries stack up? As far as I can make out, only three states meet all four of the criteria detailed above (not coincidentally, the first is a superpower, the second is a likely future superpower, and the third retains vestiges of its former superpower status). Without further ado, I introduce to you the “Frank Zappa Scale” of comprehensive national power:
- The United States (4): Budweiser/Miller (both “yuck!”), American/United/other airlines, 2002 World Cup quarterfinalist , approximately 5000 nuclear warheads.
- China (4): Tsingtao (not so “yuck!”), Shenzhen Airlines, 2002 World Cup participant, approximately 250 nuclear warheads.
- The United Kingdom (4): Bass/Newcastle (both “yum!”), British Airways/EasyJet, 2006 World Cup quarterfinalist, under 200 nuclear weapons.
- France (3): No widely-exported beer of note, Air France, 2006 World Cup finalist, under 400 nuclear weapons.
- Russia (3): Baltika (surprisingly “yum!”), no major private airline, 2002 World Cup participant, more nuclear weapons than it deserves.
- Germany (3): Beck/Saint Pauli Girl/others, Lufthansa, 2006 World Cup semi-finalist, no nukes.
- Japan (3): Kirin/Sapporo/Asahi/others, JAL/ANA, 2006 World Cup participant, nuke-less.
- India (3): Kingfisher, Jet/Kingfisher, a rubbish football team, a handful of n-bombs (or so we’re told).
- Ireland (3): Guinness/Harp, Ryanair, 2002 World Cup participant, no nukes (thank god!).
- The Netherlands (3): Heineken/Amstel, KLM, 2006 World Cup participant, Famke Janssen no nukes.
- Mexico (3): Corona/Dos Equis, Mexicana/Aeromexico, 2006 World Cup participant, bombless.
- Italy (3): A world champion national football team, a decent lager in Peroni, Alitalia was until recently state-owned and privatized under less-than-ideal circumstances (bankruptcy), no nukes.
- Australia (3): Foster’s, Qantas, the 2006 World Cup-participating Socceroos, no nukes.
- Belgium (3): Stella Artois, Brussels Airlines, 2002 World Cup participants, no n-bombs.
- South Africa (2): Castle Lager, South African Airways is state owned, 2002 World Cup participant, no nukes.
- Canada (2): Labatt, Air Canada, no football team or nukes.
- Austria (2): Lots of very good beer but rather surprisingly no widely exported brands, Austrian Airlines, 1998 World Cup-participating football team, nukeless.
- Brazil (2): Lots of beer (but none widely exported), Gol/Varig, a perennial football powerhouse, plenty of bombshells but no nukes.
- Spain (2): Like Brazil (plenty of beer but no internationally-recognized brands), Iberian Airlines, 2006 World Cup quarterfinalist, no nukes.
- Turkey (2): Efes beer, Turkish Airlines is 98% state-owned, 2002 World Cup semi-finalist, sans nukes.
- Argentina (2): Quilmes, state-owned Aerolineas Argentinas, perennial World Cup participant, nukeless.
- South Korea (2): No beer of note, Korean Air, 2002 World Cup semi-finalist, no nukes.
- Jamaica (2): Red Stripe, Air Jamaica was recently re-nationalized, the Reggae Boyz took part in the 1998 edition of the World Cup, but no nukes mon!
- Israel (1): Maccabee’s a good beer but not often exported, El Al is state-owned, the football team is pretty good but hasn’t made the cut recently. The only criterion that Israel fully meets is – strangely – the one it still officially denies.
- Pakistan (1): No beer (I guess this measure puts most Muslim countries at a disadvantage, but is it not also somewhat telling?), no major private airline, no World Cup-standard football team (a South Asia-wide malaise), a hundred or two nukes.
This isn’t a perfect measure by any means. Traditionally beer-drinking, football-playing European states are at a distinct advantage (hence the high scores of the Netherlands, Belgium and Ireland), while Latin America has an unusual history of non-nationalized airlines. Yet it’s interesting how beer and football – at least – are becoming universal cultural emblems.
Among other weaknesses, a few countries barely make the cut on some criteria (such as China or India in terms of private airlines and exported beer), while others fall just short on several (such as Israel). The next step might involve fine-tuning the quantification of all four indicators based on the success and proliferation of beer brands and airlines, the performance of football teams and the number of nukes.
But even in its present form, the Zappa Scale corresponds broadly to several other quantitative measures of national capability, such as the Chinese notion of Comprehensive National Power. It is also impressive how this simple index manages to factor in military, economic and soft/cultural power.
Another way the Zappa Scale is useful: it captures the phenomenon of rising powers. 10-15 years ago, for example, China would have had an “FZ Score” of 1 or 2, India’s would have been 1 (Vijay Mallya is clearly making up for lost time), and both South Africa and Turkey would have been at zero or 1.
We international relations nerds ought to be thankful to the late Mr. Zappa for his inadvertent contribution to our field: he was – in more ways than one – a Mother of Invention.