Sunday 4 November 2012

Union Jacked

War is a continuation of politics by other means, and politics is concentrated economics. That is why the history of British military attacks on other countries is long and bloody. In recent years, under Prime Minister Tony Blair (1997-2007) the UK bombed, attacked or invaded Yugoslavia, Iraq (twice), Sierra Leone and Afghanistan. Gordon Brown continued the policy, as did David Cameron, whose government added Libya. But a new book by Stuart Laycock, All the Countries We've Ever Invaded: And the Few We Never Got Round To,[1] does an interesting job of documenting the longer history. It points out that there are only 22 countries out of nearly 200 in the world that Britain has abstained from. That short list would be shorter still if it included covert operations, the support of ‘rebels’ and economic sanctions.

Tony Norfield, 4 November 2012

Thursday 1 November 2012

Imperialism by Numbers - Amendment

This is an update to the chart on the ‘Index of Imperialism’ published on this blog six months ago, on 1 May. The change made here is that I use another set of data to account for the international banks in major countries; otherwise the five factors in the ‘Imperialism index’ remain the same. To recap, these were made up from: nominal GDP, military spending, the stock of foreign direct investment, the size of international banks based in a particular country and the global use of that country’s currency in international foreign exchange reserves.

As noted previously, any set of data has its limitations. However, the earlier data I used for banks were based on a country’s ownership of the top 50 international banks and this only covered 14 countries. The new numbers are based on BIS data for the relative size of international assets and liabilities of banks operating in particular countries. They are not limited by the number of banks and cover 19 of the 20 countries in the chart. The BIS also gives figures for bank assets and liabilities by the nationality of the bank. However, these data are for only nine countries, so I did not use them (in any case, they show a similarly ranked pattern to the bank-location data that is used here).

With these new data for international banking, the rank and index value of some countries changes significantly, but in a way that I think better reflects power relations in the world economy. The US is no longer top in all categories; it falls into second place as a centre for international banking, behind the UK . But this still leaves the US as top power, with the UK a distant second. Germany moves up to position 3, China jumps to position 4, now ahead of Japan, and France falls to position 6 from position 3 that it had before. Italy, Switzerland and Canada fall back in their ranking; Netherlands moves up to position 7.

(The chart has now been changed from when first published, with corrected ISO codes for Canada, CA, and Belgium, BE)

Chart: The Imperial Pecking Order

Notes: The height of each bar is given by the country’s total index value, which is then broken down into the respective components. Countries are identified by their two-letter ISO code. Take care, because CH is Switzerland, not China (which is CN), and SA is Saudi Arabia, not South Africa (not shown, as it was ranked number 26).

I would reiterate that the position of an individual country can only properly be understood by looking at its relationship to the imperialist system as a whole, not simply by examining whether its index value is higher or lower than another’s. It would be foolish to say that a particular index number means a country is imperialist, while one that is a certain amount smaller shows that it is not. The index components summarise only particular dimensions of the system. Different measures would produce different results, and any index measure would have a problem grasping the dynamics of the system. However, the chart I use clearly indicates that a very small number of countries are head and shoulders, and elbows too, ahead of all the others in the world. Most other measures of international power would show similar results.

Tony Norfield, 1 November 2012