Learn about the Methodology
for the creation of
the World Power Index
The World Power Index (WPI) is resulting from the addition of 18 indicators,
themselves organized through three composite indexes:
Material Capacities Index (MCI), Semi-Material Capacities Index (SMCI)
Immaterial Capacities Index (IMCI).
The theoretical question of national-international power is still in controversy and debate in the academy of International Relations. The theoretical problem lies in its definition, the identification of its constitutive dimensions, the capacities taken into account in each of them and the consequent types of power. The technical problem is related to its measurement and the identification of the variables integrating each type of power, from which a mathematical formula could be constructed to achieve objective results.
The word “power” comes from the Latin posse, which is formed by two contractions: the first comes from the Indo-European, potis or potes, which expresses possibility or capacity; the second comes from Latin, esse (of the verb sum) which means “to be”. Thus, the expression pote est is formed, which would be translated as “being with the possibility of” or “being able to”. Hence, pot est would have merged into a single word, potest, and this would have commonly derived from posse with its original meaning retained. At present, “power” still means having the ability to do something. But what does state power consist of? Moreover, what are the characteristics and specificities of this?
Why create a World Power Index?
In the literature of International Relations, some ambiguity remains in the empirical identification of the powers due, mainly, to three reasons:
- in theoretical terms;
- the understanding of the international structure is conditioned methodologically; and,
- in terms of technique.
Thus, it is important to start from a broad and integral understanding of power, but at the same time it allows detaching a methodology for its research and leading to the implementation of analysis techniques.
From the perspective proposed here, national power is defined as “the relative and relational potentiality (no capacity is measured in absolute terms and in relation to others) that defines position (structural position), capacity for action (what can be done or not to do), projection (its possible geoeconomic and geopolitical scope) and attraction (diffusion and geocultural projection) of a State in the international system” (Rocha & Morales, El poder nacional-internacional de los Estados, 2018, p. 159).
In this way, the methodology that emerges from here, raises the need to consider the relative and relational distribution of power not only in determined sociohistorical contexts, but also in the multiplicity of spatial scales.
In this sense, the WPI and its sub-indexes are tools that contribute to the weighting of the national power of each State because they allow an accurate reading of the way in which its different dimensions are configured, thanks to its intrinsically quantitative nature.
The structuring principle among States is power and power is sustained in capacities. Then, the identification, comparison and weighting of national capacities are the steps that must be taken
In the field of international relations, capacities can be understood as the competences or aptitudes that a State has to act in the international system. For this reason, it is essential to observe and weigh national capacities, since all bases for the exercise of national power are grounded in these. In that sense, what are the capacities that should be considered in international relations?
Historically the most important elements for the exercise of coercion were economic preponderance (disposition of natural resources, control of capital, degree of industrialization, possession of capital, technological development, etc.) based on military capacity (possession of large and efficient armies, that is, provision of arsenal and troops, as well as maritime and air forces). Thus, “wealth is usually needed to underpin military power, and military power is usually needed to acquire and protect wealth” (Paul Kennedy, The rise and fall of the Great Powers).
In the light of these theoretical interpretations it is noteworthy that the material capacities represent the economic-military power of a State. This kind of capacities is related to the size of the national economy, the financial system, the commercial dynamism, the territory, the quantity and quality of the armed forces, and the resources allocated to scientific and technological research. The MCI is a composite index that aims to reflect more broadly the economic-military power of states by considering six essential variables:
- national production: gross national income, Atlas method (current US$)
- total area: territorial area (square kilometers)
- defense: military expenditure (% of gross domestic product)
- international commerce: trade (% of gross domestic product)
- finances: total reserves (including gold, current US$)
- research & development: research and development expenditure (% of gross domestic product)
The basic and primary reason for the existence of a State was to guarantee the territorial security of a national society. However, in the last decades, security has been seen in an increasingly broad and complex way, to the degree of being intertwined with the idea of human development.
Problems of well-being or progress in a society immediately refer to development policies. Thus, the obligation for the State is not confined to guaranteeing security, but also to take all the means to ensure that the society can enjoy a long-lasting healthy and prosperous life. In this sense, there is an additional element in the power exerted by the States that does not lie in their material capacities, but in the level of well-being that their national societies have achieved: these are defined here as semi-material capacities.
Therefore, the semi-material capacities can be reflected in individual productivity and income, the supply of energy, the quality of the education system and the scope of the health system, among others. And to achieve these capacities, they need public and private institutions to support them, respectively. Thus, SMCI is a composite index that seeks to refer to the socio-institutional power of a State by considering six fundamental variables:
- production per capita: Gross national income per capita, Atlas method (current US$)
- population: Population, total
- consumption: Household final consumption expenditure per capita (US$)
- energy: Electric power consumption (kilowatt hour per capita)
- education: Spending on education, total (% of gross domestic product)
- health: Health expenditure, total (% of gross domestic product)
The immaterial capacities refer to those without physical or corporeal consistency, that is, elements that are rather metaphysical or that are related to the essence of something. In the power projected by the States, there is an immaterial dimension that is related to values and cultural attractiveness. However, the immaterial capacities are not confined to culture. They also consider the projection of media and the political direction exercised by national governments, all of which contribute decisively to shaping international relations and the respective international order.
The immaterial capacities of a State would be expressed -though not absolutely and totally- in areas such as the resources available to a national government to carry out its internal and external tasks (public expenditure), the official assistance provided by one State to others, the tourist attraction, cosmopolitism, the penetration of media and the academic production of its universities, think tanks and research centers, among others. IMCI is another composite index composed of six variables that are intended to reflect more broadly the cultural-communicative power of a State from:
- government expenditure: General government final consumption expenditure (current US$)
- tourism appeal: International tourism, revenues (current US$)
- international aid: Net official development assistance (ODA) received per capita (current US$)
- media: Telephone lines
- academic influence: Scientific and technical journal articles,
- cosmopolitism: International migrant stock, total.
All the information for the MCI, SMCI and IMCI, has been obtained from DataBank-World Development Indicators.
In this way, the World Power Index (WPI) is understood as a numerical expression that calculates the material, semi-material and immaterial capacities that a State possesses for the exercise of its power in the international system. In this sense, the WPI and its sub-indexes are tools that contribute to the measuring and comparison of the national capacities of each State because it allows an accurate reading of the way in which the different dimensions of national power are configured, thanks to their intrinsically quantitative nature.
How to use the WPI
for your academic work
National power is a complex and abstract phenomena difficult to seize. WPI is exactly the tool that allows you to describe, compare and confront your hypothesis about the power of nations.
Here, you can consult the WPI database where you can find the processing of more than 420,000 figures that can measure the power of 175 countries over a period of more than 4 decades. Thus, with the WPI, you can learn about the evolution that each country has experienced and can also make comparisons between governments in specific years.
For your academic work, you can cite this database in APA, Chicago, Harvard, MLA and IEEE. You can find it on each page of the indexes.