Key conclusions

We created a state power index to show two phenomena: how Poland’s position has changed on the international arena since 1989 and what the potential power of the European Union can be. As we face growing uncertainty in the world and a risk of a reshuffle of the global order, it is worth seeking to have the EU play a greater international role than today. This is especially the case because of Europe’s numerous external and internal threats and the alternative to integration are uncontrolled and unpredictable developments in the world.

Individual EU countries by themselves are not able to equal the largest actors on the global political scene. Together, however, they can achieve more than in the most ambitious dreams of the Union’s founding fathers. Our report shows that the EU may become the main pillar of the international order. What becomes apparent is that those who stand in place are moving backwards—because of different types of international conditions, the strategic window for the development of the EU has just opened. The most important conclusions of the analysis of international relations and the index itself are as follows:

Poland: among the powerful, it’s not enough to be strong. In general, Poland is a powerful country, having found itself among the 20 per cent of the strongest countries in the world (27th place among 168 countries). However, this is not a reason for optimism as in the real world the effect of a country’s strength on its security depends on the strength of its neighbours. And the neighbours with whom historically Poland had the most intense relations are Germany and Russia, which both are among the leaders of the ranking. In comparison, we look weak. Especially significant is the disproportion of power between Poland and Russia (3/168), which consistently expands its military capabilities and in the 21st century is conducting hybrid military confrontations just below the level of war with some neighbours in order to secure its interests. Meanwhile, Germany (5/168) is currently focusing on its economic strength and soft power.

Because of the collective potential of member states, the European Union could be the biggest superpower in the world. If the EU were to become a more cohesive entity, such as federation with one government, then the strength of such a system would hypothetically be greater than that of the USA. The combined power of the EU would equal 18.16 points—compared to 16.22 points of the US and China’s 12.49 points. Today, the EU indeed is a superpower, but a lifestyle one where tourists from America and Asia like to spend time, and migrants from different parts of the world look to for a better tomorrow in material terms (but not necessarily in terms of identity). Europe could become the most important link in international politics. But for now, the vision of an EU as an internally cohesive power exists only on paper, while the EU itself is weakening, especially after the departure of the Great Britain. That is why in the face of growing military danger in Europe, it is best to launch reforms with a more cohesive security, defence and foreign policy, as well as a reflection on whether the EU should have strong common values. Because of the growing Euroscepticism in most EU countries, partially connected with migratory problems, decisions on the future integration could play a decisive role on the success or failure of this uniquely historic undertaking.

Weaker countries, to remain in relative safety, must group themselves into larger defensive units. The future of the world economy, according to economist Peter Drucker, is a rivalry not between states, but blocs of states1. The bloc strategy is also connected with the development of defence potential—facing an increasing international instability it is important to integrate defence policy and cooperation to increase common power of deterrence. A good example of tangible benefits of military integration is the European Union: even though individual EU states are individually weak, the Union as a whole would be treated as a serious power. However, at this stage of integration it is too divided; deeper integration is necessary, especially in the defence and security arenas. Importantly, three quarters of EU citizens support further integration in these areas2. Such integration would strengthen EU’s position in the world and would enhance NATO’s potential. There is a risk, however, that, especially on the western edge, the “bystander effect” would appear. Some states will want to take advantage of the security and stability offered by the EU for free, without the parallel membership responsibilities (such as London).

Forthcoming changes in the balance of power will spawn destabilisation and the threat of war. Long-term downward and rising power trends are taking place among the world powers, or the top ten countries in the ranking. They indicate that the coming end of the unipolar world, or the one where the US was the hegemon, or the sole superpower that could not be equalled by any other country in the world. The accelerating growth in strength by China (as well as India) suggests that we are moving towards a bi- or multi-polar world, in which the balance of power in the world will be remodelled. Similar trends are seen in other research, and it can be seen at a broader level of civilsational development. For example, anthropologist Ian Morris, within the SDI (Social Development Index) indicator, stated that in terms of civilisational development, the broadly understood East, which included China, will overtake the West3, which includes the US. The remodelling of the international system in this spirit is already causing growing disturbances, seen by the strongest countries in the world as strategic windows to redefine their roles and modify the network of alliances. This process may be implemented not only with economic or soft power4 means, but also military once, as shown by the hybrid war conducted by Russia in Ukraine. In times of international uncertainty and tension in eastern Europe, it is not surprising that the defence industries in France, Germany or Russia are seeing growing sales5.

State Power Index for the European Union, US, Russia and China in 1991-2016

Source: Own calculations

Western countries cannot find themselves in the conditions of hybrid confrontation. Russia is not only able to conduct a military confrontation outside the radar of Western countries6, it can also effectively influence the political sentiment in these countries. The combined economic and political influence, along with corruption7, is complemented with ideological diversion, which may change the course of internal affairs of Western countries in the most important moments. This does not just include the alleged support for Eurosceptic circles in Great Britain, which could have influenced the decision for the country to leave the EU, or Brexit8. Russia also had a documented influence on the result of the most important elections in nominally stronger countries. US counterintelligence services said in a statement in November 2016 that Russian entities were behind hacker attacks that led to the defeat of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in the US presidential election9. Chancellor Angela Merkel publicly raises concerns about a similar diversion in German elections10. So far, Western countries have not openly used similar tools for different reasons, including ethical ones. In this respect, Russia holds an advantage over Western countries because it has more instruments of international influence.

Deterrence power is not always sufficient—influential entities play a major role. The soft power of persuasion is immensely important and may not be neglected in international relations. In the era of post-modern network state11, the country’s strength also depends on the relative power of outstanding, influential entities associated with it. Persons who have political or bureaucratic influence on the great scale international decision processes are able at times to act more effectively than the diplomacy of traditionally understood states. Within networks of not completely open, overlapping decisional relations they are the connectors between influential individuals and they transmit bundles of interest. The role of the individuals, and even the rise of importance of a given country because of a temporary role within an international organisation is reflected in the design of the indicator. This is why Poland lost in the international arena seeking to block the selection of Donald Tusk as the president of the European Council, significantly limiting its own influence within the EU.

Poland’s power is growing, although Germany (5/168), Great Britain (6/168) and France (7/168) remain the EU’s most powerful nations. Considering Great Britain’s declarations to leave the EU, France and Germany, or the precursors of European integration, remain the key players. Poland’s potential (0.65 points), is around a fourth or a fifth of both these countries. Nevertheless, this is still better compared to 1991, when the potential of these countries was eight times higher. Interestingly, Poland is performing better than both France and Germany in terms of the rise in power over the last two decades (in 1991-2016 Germany saw a drop of 1.64 points, France of 0.84 points, while Poland’s grew by 0.11 points). This process is associated in part with the fact that Poland rebounded from the economic backwardness from the communist times and Warsaw’s relatively high military spending.

Poland’s power in numbers:

27th most powerful country in the world
17th most effective diplomacy (until the end of 2016)
24th largest available capital
29th the most influential culture
33rd country in terms of population size and its ageing
34th country in terms of militarisation (production of weapons, size of the army and spending on the army)
51st place in the world in terms of energy independence
67th country in terms of land mass

  1. P. Drucker, Trading Places, National Interest, Spring 2005.
  2. European Commission, Standard Eurobarometer 83 (Spring 2015) and 82 (Autumn 2014).
  3. I. Morris, Why the West Rules—for Now. The Patterns of History and What They Reveal about the Future, London 2010; tenże, Social Development Index, Stanford 2010B, available online; tenże, The Measure of civilization: How Social Development Decides the Fate of Nations, Princeton and Oxford 2013.
  4. We understand soft power as a set of actions related to persuasion through diplomacy and culture. Cf. J. Nye, Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics, New York 2005.
  5. A. Fleurant et al., The SIPRI Top 100 Arms-Producing and Military Services Companies, 2015, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, December 2016. Meanwhile, US companies, which are the leaders in this sector, reported small drops in sales. Polska Grupa Zbrojeniowa (Polish Armaments Group) holds the 60th place in sector rankings.
  6. We understand the “West” as the European Union, along with North America and Australia.
  7. H.A. Conley, R. Stefanov, The Kremlin Playbook: Understanding Russian Influence in Central and Eastern Europe, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington 2016; P. Pomerantsev, M. Weiss, The Menace of Unreality: How the Kremlin Weaponizes Information, Culture and Money, New York 2014.
  8. In the Kremlin’s pocket. Russia’s European supporters, “The Economist” 2015, February 14.
  9. E. Chenoweth, Americans keep looking away from the election’s most alarming story, “The Washington Post” 2016, November 15.
  10. AFP in Berlin, Russian cyber-attacks could influence German election, says Merkel, “The Guardian” 2016, November 8.
  11. More about postmodern state: R. Cooper, The Post-Modern State and the World Order, London 2000; more about network state: G. Lewicki, Welcome to the New Middle Ages! Network Neo-medievalism, Pulaski Policy Papers, November 2010.