GDP – one measure of a country’s capacity to wage conventional war

One way to calculate a country’s capacity to wage a conventional war is to look at the size of its GDP relative to that of a potential rival country. Note, however, that resistance movements and nuclear wars are very different from conventional war (e.g. WWII).


Gross Domestic Product (2020)
Denominated in trillions of US Dollars

20.940 United States
14.720 China
05.065 Japan
03.806 Germany
02.708 United Kingdom
02.603 France
01.886 Italy
01.700 Texas
01.643 Canada
01.631 South Korea
01.483 Russia
01.331 Australia
00.594 Poland
00.271 Vietnam
00.192 Iran
00.167 Iraq
00.156 Ukraine
00.029 North Korea
00.020 Afghanistan


Discussion


WarrenK

On the face of it based on GDP Russia has no claim whatsoever to being a major power with an associated sphere of influence, it’s just that they have a huge well-armed military and lots of nukes. Russia’s GDP will be shrinking fast due to the recent drastic sanctions imposed on this uncivilized country by the civilized world.


FMB

WarrenK, thank you for your thoughtful comment on my GDP blog post.

I would say that Russia’s claim to superpower status is based on two factors:

1) The assertion that they were the dominant country in the USSR and that this somehow gives them status as a superpower today. BTW: I would reject this and point out (as you have) that they are economically weak relative to the US (not to mention the combined military/economic power of NATO). So, in my view, the Russians are not really able to take on NATO in a conventional war. This factor, however, would suggest that they are not prepared to take over NATO countries (such as the Baltic states) that were once part of the USSR. Therefore, the assertion that they are planning to do just this (take over NATO states via conventional military force) is hard to understand, in my view.)

2) The assertion that they are a superpower because they have a very large stockpile of nuclear weapons. This, in my view, is more understandable. I don’t think that NATO wants to have a nuclear war with Russia. Therefore, I can see how many might think that it’s a good idea to have buffer zones between NATO and Russia that consist of neutral countries. People who see it this way (e.g. Mearsheimer) think that it would be in Ukraine’s interest to be just such a country.

Notice that on its own, the Ukraine is small relative to Russia. Russia’s GDP is 9.5 times the size of the Ukraine’s (i.e. 9.5 = 1.483/0.156). As I see it, this means that Russia could really wreck the Ukraine’s infrastructure, even though it may not be able to occupy the Ukraine successfully. Even though Russia could reduce their cities to rubble with conventional weapons, the Ukrainians could mount a long-term resistance movement, especially with support from the West. This leads me to believe that Russia really doesn’t want to occupy and rule all of Ukraine. That could easily lead to a never-ending battle against a well supported resistance movement. Instead, I believe that Russia’s plan is to eventually fall back to a more easily defended part of eastern Ukraine, which has a population that is more favorably disposed to Russian rule.

Personally, I believe the Ukraine would be better off if it agreed to be a demilitarized neutral country as part of a formal treaty between NATO, Russia, and Ukraine. In exchange, this would mean that both NATO and Russia would have to stay out of Ukraine’s domestic politics. This treaty would have to spell out in more detail what I’ve alluded to above (e.g. what does it mean to be a demilitarized, neutral country).

Further, I believe that both NATO and Russia would need to come up with financial assistance for Ukraine to sweeten the deal. Again, the treaty would have to spell out the terms of this deal.

This is not to say that Ukraine doesn’t have the right to stand on principal and demand that Russia pull out of their country because their presence there is unjustified. However, I don’t believe that Russia would be swayed by this argument. In my view, Russia is ruled by political realists.


WarrenK

Russia ruled by authoritarian if not to say totalitarian fascists who may also be political realists.

In my opinion your suggestions are reasonable and may represent a possible path to ending the violence.

I will point out Russia actually already has contractually obligated itself to respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine in the so-called Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances. As we have seen Russia has trampled on this agreement.

Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances
https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/Ukraine-Nuclear-Weapons

I will add that it is a major problem that nobody but nobody in the West trusts the Russians to comply with anything they sign up for.

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