Polaris A Takshashila Institution Blog on International Politics and Security

The Frank Zappa Scale of Comprehensive National Power

04.27.2009 · Posted in Beer, China, Global Economy, Great Powers, India, Sports

“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.

Power vs. Influence

I never thought I’d say this so readily, but Steve Walt is on to something. He asks the question of why relatively weak states sometimes exert significant influence, while states with much more latent power can be relatively ineffectual.  Providing some examples, he lists Sweden, North Korea, Canada, Israel and Singapore as “overachievers” and Japan, India, Germany, Russia and Brazil as “underachievers.”

I’d agree with some of these, but would quibble with Russia – which should be in the other category (Walt admits he considered that himself), given its declining human resources, resource dependence, and political insecurity. I might also put Canada on the list of underachievers. Additions I might make could be Indonesia, Bangladesh, Spain, Italy, Egypt and Mexico as underachievers; and Australia, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, South Africa and the UAE as overachievers. Iran could quite easily be said to be both, simultaneously. Readers should feel free to chime in with other suggestions.

I would also like to push Walt one step further. What metrics could one use to determine both power and influence? Should Bangladesh and Egypt be considered “underperformers” because their performances as states have been less impressive than what they should be given their resources? Or should the translation of power to influence be the real test, regardless of resources available? Should an emphasis be placed on military might? Or diplomatic influence? Or economic performance? Or should it be some combination of those?

I’m going to suggest one that’s not a hard measure by any means, but one that may be used as a rule of thumb, at least for larger states:

Take a list of G20 countries  (which actually consists of only 19 countries, plus the EU) and compare it to a list of the 20 largest economies. Countries on the first list could be considered influential (their voice counts), while those in the second could be said to have significant power (only economic, I know, but you could make a compelling case that that’s what really matters). The results?

Countries on both lists

The G-7 [The United States (1), Japan (2), Germany (3), United Kingdom (5), France (6), Italy (7) and Canada (9)], the BRIC [China (4), Brazil (10), Russia (11), India (12)], South Korea (13), Mexico (14), Australia (15), Turkey (17), Indonesia (20). 

Countries with a top 20 economy not on the G-20

Spain (8), the Netherlands (16), Belgium (18), Sweden (19).

Countries on the G-20 but outside the top 20 economies

Saudi Arabia (24), South Africa (28), Argentina (30).

Countries’ ranking of economy in parentheses. I use World Bank figures from 2007.

Of course, a lot of this can be attributed to political correctness. The G-20, which already includes the European Union, cannot include too many European countries (“Sorry, Spain.”), while the group would lack its current significance without even a single Middle Eastern or African country (“Welcome, Saudi Arabia and South Africa!”). Plus Latin America appears underrepresented (“Okay, fine, you’re in, Argentina…”).

What is significant is that Spain hasn’t been able to break into the upper echelon of European powers, despite its impressive economic performance in recent decades. Another measure of this? It’s not one of the so-called “EU-3“ representing the continent’s diplomatic leaders; neither, for that matter, is Italy.

It’s also significant that Saudi Arabia has managed to position itself as representative of the broader Middle East at the expense of possible competitors such as Egypt (52) and Iran (29). The same applies to a greater degree to South Africa, which has successfully positioned itself as the leading sub-Saharan African state, and thus somehow representative of the continent as a whole. Its only competition comes from Nigeria (41). Another measure of this is that the hosting of the 2010 FIFA World Cup was granted to South Africa when it was the continent’s turn to host.

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Follow-on: N-Deal for Pakistan?

Reader Armchairanalyst makes an interesting point with regards to my previous entry:

I agree that the likelihood of Pakistan obtaining a waiver from the NSG or Congress is small indeed. But for me, the real question regarding a nuclear deal for Pakistan does not concern the U.S. but China. What will China’s response to the U.S.-India nuclear deal be? We already know that Pakistan has asked for an analogous deal from both the U.S. and China. The U.S. turned them down quite clearly, China less so.

It think he’s spot on, in that China’s role is of greater importance in this regard than the role of the United States. Yet China finds itself in an awkward position, with three alternatives, none of which are really satisfactory from its point of view:

1. China attempts to follow the American example and lead an effort to bring Pakistan into the nuclear fold by seeking the appropriate international carve-outs. This will be impossible without the Americans, Europeans, Japanese, etc. signing on. I just don’t see that happening, whatever leverage the Chinese may try to exert with the international community. Beijing’s coercive power with the broader international community still does not match Washington’s.

2. China decides to provide sensitive civilian nuclear technology to Pakistan anyway, legitimate channels (IAEA, NSG) be damned. This would only further damage China’s already tarnished non-proliferation credentials, and would create additional friction with the Americans, Europeans, Japanese, etc. who are already terribly concerned about Pakistan’s future.

3. China opts out of helping Pakistan’s nuclear infrastructure in any really meaningful way, thus failing to “balance” India in this regard. This appears most likely for now.

Armchair continues:

When will the non-proliferation experts and ‘Asia hands’ (as in East Asia) in the Obama administration (or any U.S. Administration for that matter) acknowledge the fact that China’s prior cooperation with Pakistan–especially the sharing of nuclear and missile technology–is not compatible with the emergence of China as a “responsible stakeholder?”

The last three U.S. administrations have all shared the opinion about the ambiguity of China’s strategic intentions, which has resulted in a consistent policy of American hedging. The East Asia hands, in particular, are more or less in consensus on this point.

More to the point, there are also lingering concerns about the nature and scope of past China-Pakistan nuclear cooperation, specifically China’s proliferation of nuclear weapon and missile technology to Pakistan. The big question is why the Chinese even opted to proliferate in the first place. More recently, I have gathered from the East Asian policy-wallahs in Washington that the Chinese to some degree regret their actions. After all, they now have to deal with their effects, both on Pakistan and on their own reputation.

N-Deal for Pakistan?

An editorial in today’s Indian Express warns of the possibility of the United States acknowledging Pakistan’s nuclear weapons status. This at least is what has been advised by a recently-released Asia Society Task Force report (the Task Force had included Richard Holbrooke before his appointment as U.S. special represenative; the list of its members can be found here).  Such an agreement would effectively mean a nuclear deal along the lines brokered with India, although possibly minus the civilian technology transfers.

The ostensible cause for worry – according to the Express editors – is Pakistan’s proliferation record. A cynical view would be that this is part of India acting a “responsible nuclear power,” with the usual dose of hypocrisy. But there is, in fact, little for India, or anyone else, to worry about. It will be virtually impossible for a) the NSG to unanimously approve an exception for Pakistan or b) the U.S. Congress to approve any semblance of a nuclear deal for Pakistan. Moreover, it is important to take a close look at the Task Force’s recommendations (emphasis mine):

The United States should seek out ways to incorporate Pakistan into the global nuclear nonproliferation regime. The Task Force took note of a 2005 statement by International Atomic Energy Agency director Mohamed ElBaradei that “India, Pakistan and Israel, in my view, are not going to come to the NPT [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty] through the normal route.” ElBaradei suggested accepting that India and Pakistan are declared nuclear weapons states as a fact and endorsed the U.S.–India civilian nuclear agreement as a way to bring a declared nuclear state closer to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Under existing circumstances (especially given concerns over terrorism and proliferation), it is not possible to duplicate that agreement with Pakistan, but it is worth starting a dialogue with Pakistan to explore what might be possible, and under what conditions, to acknowledge Pakistan’s nuclear weapons status, provide assistance to ensure the safety and security of its nuclear assets, and bring Pakistan into greater conformity and closer cooperation with the global nonproliferation regime. 

The Great Pain

From Jane Perlez’s article in tomorrow’s New York Times on Pakistan as a reluctant American ally:

Then there is India. Its growing presence in Afghanistan — the building of roads; the opening since 2001 of two consulates in two cities close to Pakistan — makes Pakistan believe it is being encircled, said Ishaq Khan Khakwani, a former senator from the Pakistan Muslim League-Q party.

Pakistanis complain that even though Mr. Obama, during his European trip, called for dialogue between India and Pakistan, his plans fail to address this major strategic concern.

“The United States has to get India to back off in Afghanistan,” said Mr. Khakwani, who is sympathetic to the American position. “Then Pakistan will see Indian interference is diminished and that will give confidence to Pakistan.”

Polaris Memo, April 3, 2009

It’s too bad The New York Times‘ editorial pages don’t come with hyperlinks. For one thing, that may prompt Maureen Dowd to actually cite the second-hand sources she uses. Hyperlinks would also have made a useful addition to David Brooks’ piece today, in which he provides concise overviews of the two major theories of what caused the recent financial collapse (Theory 1: greed; Theory 2: stupidity). For a good explanation of the quantitative risk assessment model that led to some of the miscalculations (called “Value at Risk” or “VaR”), see this great article by Brooks’ colleague Joe Nocera from a few months ago.

Is complete nuclear disarmament realpolitik, as this Times (London) op-ed by six Global Zero members suggest? Perhaps, given the threats posed by nuclear terrorism. But let’s not be fooled too easily by the Dmitry and Barack Show. Disarmament enthusiasts frequently fail to realise that nuclear weapons still do serve a purpose. After all, nothing serves as a better deterrent than complete annihilation. Until something else comes around to replace nukes as tools of deterrence, I suspect complete disarmament will remain a pipe-dream. A possible idea for the next Manhattan Project: create a bigger, badder AIG. By the way, see the interesting, and eclectic, list of signatories to the Global Zero project at the bottom of the page, which includes several leading Indian strategists.

Inder Malhotra lays into the Indian bureaucracy for its obsession with secrecy, which extends to official histories and historically-important papers. On a related topic, I thank the reader who brought this online archive of Indian Cold War-era documents to my attention. The collection – compiled by the Parallel History Project on Cooperative Security (PHP) in Switzerland – includes some interesting documents, mainly from the 1950s and 1960s, on Indo-Soviet relations.

Two quickies. Retired Army officer Anil Bhat writes in The Asian Age about the ISI’s attempts at infiltrating or turning members of the Indian armed forces. And in The Hindu, P.S. Suryanarayana elaborates upon India’s growing naval cooperation with other Asian powers.

Scaling the G-20 Summit

04.03.2009 · Posted in Global Economy, Great Powers, Uncategorized

Everyone had such low expectations regarding whether the G-20 summit would actually accomplish anything (other than the usual Nicolas Sarkozy tantrum), that the resulting announcement of $1.1 trillion worth of funding pledges is being hailed as the biggest multilateral breakthrough since George H.W. Bush started complaining about the lack of quality Chinese food at the UN building.

But seriously, a $1.1 trillion program? (The full G-20 statement is available here.) To paraphrase the late U.S. Senator Everett Dirksen, a trillion here, a trillion there, pretty soon it adds up to real money! 

On an aside, if this G-20 set-up becomes a regular fixture, what will it mean for the future relevance of the G-8? Or the UNSC? As others have argued before me, the G-20 could well be representative of the 21st century’s equivalent of the Concert of Europe (which, despite its name, was not the brainchild of Bob Geldof).

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When One Letter Makes a World of Difference

04.01.2009 · Posted in Pakistan, The Media, Uncategorized

I frequently get questions and comments – some positive, some negative – concerning the headlines of articles I’ve written. Unfortunately, I rarely, if ever, get a say in what title accompanies my text: it’s usually up to the publication’s editors, although I occasionally offer suggestions.

I bring this up because the sub-title to my piece yesterday on the Obama administration’s Afghanistan-Pakistan strategic review came off as, well, misleading. “For the US,” it reads, “Afghanistan is now the frontline state for a war on Pakistan” (emphasis mine). This was quite probably derived from the following line in my article (again, emphasis mine):


This marks a fundamental change in official American rhetoric: Afghanistan has now become the frontline state for a war in Pakistan. It is no longer the other way around.

“In, on, who cares?” you might say. But there is a world of difference between the two. The sub-heading, which fortunately didn’t make it to the online version of the article, suggests the United States would soon be waging a war on the Pakistani state. While some – particularly in Pakistan – believe that this or this already constitutes as much, the reality is that the United States still expects the Pakistanis to fight on their own soil against the Taliban and other such militant outfits. This is Pakistan’s war as much as its own, the U.S. government argues. 

Yet, reading the sub-heading out of context or before the article makes it appear as if the United States will soon be declaring war on Pakistan. That is simply incorrect (and not just because the United States hasn’t formally declared war since World War II). Furthermore, such misstatements serve only to reinforce false notions of Pakistani insecurity concerning U.S. intentions

My statement, on the other hand, was intended only to place emphasis on the fact that the focus of the war will be within Pakistan’s boundaries, not in Afghanistan, as it has been so far.


Police Academy

03.30.2009 · Posted in Pakistan, Uncategorized

Some confusion about the siege just concluded at the police academy in Lahore. The Pakistani security forces are claiming at least 20 attackers (Geo TV reports over 25) with up to 40 individuals killed, but as the Mumbai attacks showed, this could be an overestimation.

A few reports are already mentioning the proximity to the Indian border. Will this be another smear job of the usual suspect? Some rumors reports are already circulating that one of the captured assailants (rather conveniently) carried an Afghan passport. Rehman Malik has mentioned Lashkar-e-Taiba, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Jaish-e-Mohammed as possible suspects for the latest attack, but has also raised the possibility of “foreign elements” being involved.

Update: As suspected,

India, too, is blamed by many Pakistani government and security officials, who suspect retaliation for the Mumbai attacks. This was also a view voiced after the attack on Sri Lanka’s cricketers. [BBC]

And this is interesting news, regarding the arrested suspect:

The arrested man has been identified as Hijratullah, a resident of Miranshah, the center of North Waziristan. Earlier local TV channels identified the man as Gul Khan, a Pashto speaking man from the tribal region.

Police sources said that Hijratullah had arrived in Lahore one month ago. Ana arms license was recovered from his possession, which carries the name of Nadeem Asghar, a resident of Sheikhupura in Punjab.