The Geopolitical World Cup: Knockout Stage Part II

Welcome back to the action-packed Geopolitical World Cup here at Rational Policy! In Part II of our Knockout Stage breakdown, we’ll be discussing the match-ups between Saudi Arabia & Spain, Argentina & Australia, Germany & Brazil, and Japan & Belgium.

If you missed Part I of the Knockout Stage rundown, be sure to check that out before continuing with this post, as the bracket is explained in greater detail and we go through the ‘left’ half of the competition’s first knockout matches. As recorded in Part I, the knockout rounds are being decided on a deeper and more rigorous (yet still totally fictional) basis, as we’re not only including the Geopolitics Score of the nation, but also its alliance relationships, geostrategic space, and historical power in our analysis. To repeat the matches we’ll be going over in this post, we have: Spain v. Saudi Arabia (B1 v. A2), Argentina v. Australia (D1 v. C2), Germany v. Brazil (F1 v. E2), and Japan v. Belgium (H1 v. G2). Now, onto the analysis!

The bracket for the Knockout Round of the Geopolitical World Cup.

Spain v. Saudi Arabia

This first match-up on the ‘right’ side of the Geopolitical World Cup bracket is a very interesting one and is quite contentious. If one were to solely decide this competition between the Spaniards and the Saudis on the basis of what country ‘seems’ better to us here in the US, Spain would very likely come out on top. But taking the match in a more analytical direction allows us to explore the different advantages and disadvantages of each country in turn and truly determine which would win in a fictional battle.

Looking at our Geopolitics Scores, the match is a close one; Spain scores a solid 22.175, while Saudi Arabia comes in just behind them with a score of 27.475. The Spanish excel over the Saudis in most categories of our analysis, including population, military, overall economy (although those metrics are very close) and human development. The Saudis beat out the Spanish when it comes to per capita economics, but they are also fairly tight behind Spain on the measures that favor the Iberians. Given their very close scores, we have to delve into other realms of interest to decide who comes out on top in this match.

First, let’s look at geography. Spain is situated on the Iberian Peninsula in southwest Europe, sharing the area with Portugal. This location was for a very long time an incredibly strategic one in Europe, but its advantages in terms of access to both the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean and decent climate are mitigated by the fact of air travel and shipment of crops from overseas; if this competition were held in 1650, the Spanish would have by far the better location. However, this competition is theoretically being held in the modern day, which showcases the strategic location of Saudi Arabia on the Arabian Peninsula, straddling the Middle East as a whole. The Saudis have access to both the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, as well as vast deserts and other impassable terrain to protect itself. This sea access gives the Saudis an easy way to export their main commodity, oil, as well as increase trade overall. The Middle East is also far more strategically important today than the Iberian Peninsula is, so the Saudis win out on this measure. In terms of alliance relationships, Spain is part of the European Union, as well as NATO and other Western alliances. Saudi Arabia has close relations with the US, as well as with other Gulf States through the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), but these pale in comparison with the advantages of the Spaniards. Finally, and perhaps in a deciding manner, the Saudis have the advantage when it comes to the future. Saudi Arabia’s median age in 2015 was just 29.8 years old, while Spain’s at the same time was 43.2 years old. This demographic data shows the relative decline of Spain when compared to Saudi Arabia, and showcases the immense future opportunity the Saudis have with their young population. Economically, the countries are also moving in different directions, with Saudi Arabia rapidly developing and Spain being somewhat stagnant.

Because of these extra factors, especially geographic and demographic analysis, the Saudis upset the Spaniards and advance to our Quarterfinal round.

Relative geographic positions of Australia (orange) & Argentina (green).  Image Credit: Wikipedia

Argentina v. Australia

This second match-up of the ‘right’ side of the Knockout Stage bracket is not as tough a decision as the first one, but still has some interesting factors at play. In this match between Argentina and Australia, the Aussies come out on top when it comes to Geopolitics Score. Australia’s score is a very good 18.225, while Argentina scores a much worse 37.975. The difference between those two scores is large, and Argentina only surpasses Australia when it comes to total population; Australia beats out the South Americans on every other category, from military strength to economic power to human development. The wide gulf in Human Development Index (HDI) rankings between the two countries is a snapshot of the overall difference: Australia ranks second overall in the world while Argentina comes in at 45th overall. That vast difference underscores the total difference between these two nations, and the overall superiority of the Australians when it comes to this match-up.

Delving into alternative metrics doesn’t help the Argentines all that much unfortunately. The closest Argentina comes to catching up to Australia is on the geographic measures; Argentina is the 8th largest country on Earth, but Australia is a continent unto itself and also the 6th largest country on the planet. Australia also has a far more strategically sound location, being an island located near important shipping lanes, while Argentina’s proximity to the Atlantic Ocean and the southern tip of South America was once far more useful (pre-Panama Canal) than they are today. The alliance relationships of each country also lead to a win for the Australians. Australia has incredibly close relationships with the UK, United States, Europe, and Asian nations like South Korea and Japan (China as well). Argentina has relations with neighboring South American states, and some relationships with the US and other Western Hemisphere powers, but nothing approaching the solid bulwark of alliances that undergird the strength of Australia.

All things considered, Australia is simply the more powerful and prosperous country and thus takes this match and advances to the Quarterfinals.

Germany v. Brazil

If this match-up was a soccer one, boy would it be fascinating. Could Brazil avenge its awful 7-1 defeat to Germany in the 2014 World Cup (which it hosted)? Or would the defending champs repeat their beatdown of the Brazilians? Unfortunately for us, this isn’t a soccer competition, and in a competition of nations on the world stage, one of these two seriously outclasses the other.

Germany is the Geopolitical World Cup tournament favorite, given its competition-best Geopolitics Score of 9.075. Brazil isn’t too shoddy, with a Geopolitics Score of 33.575, but compared to the Germans this is vastly inadequate. On every single measure but total population, the Germans beat out the Brazilians, even given Brazil’s larger population; Germany has a better military, a larger economy, and far better per capita figures than Brazil does. In fact, the gulf between Germany and Brazil on HDI is even larger than the gap in the prior match-up; Germany ranks 4th overall on that metric while Brazil comes in a lowly 79th. Brazil does not fare much better on our alternative measures either. It does crush Germany in terms of geographical size, as Brazil is nearly 24 times (!) larger than the European country. But that’s about all Brazil has on the Germans, as Germany’s strong alliances (EU, NATO) and geopolitical history as a European and then global power clearly beat out the Brazilians. Germany, although technically a younger nation than Brazil (Germany was officially founded in 1871, while Brazil gained independence in 1822), was on the world scene far earlier than the Brazilians, as Germany’s constituent parts were often embroiled in European conflict (recall Prussia and Bavaria, for example).

Altogether, it is eminently clear that Germany is the victor of this contest, and the Germans will be a very tough out for the remainder of the tournament.

Belgian PM Charles Michel (L) & Japanese PM Shinzo Abe (R) shake hands at a summit meeting.   Image Credit: Japan Times

Japan v. Belgium

This final match-up of the Knockout Stage is a very interesting one, pairing the most developed and advanced country in Asia, Japan, with an underrated and small European nation, Belgium.

If we just looked at Geopolitics Scores, Japan would be the obvious winner here, as Japan’s score of 11.6 is much better than that of Belgium, 43.625. Japan beats out the Belgians on nearly every criteria in our calculation, from population, to military strength, to economic prowess. The Belgians, however, win out on the per capita categories given their far smaller population and still vibrant economy. The Japanese have some of the best individual scores in the tournament, with the 11th highest population, the 8th best military, and the 3rd or 4th best total economy, depending on the metric used. The Japanese also seem to come out on top when it comes to our alternative metrics. Japan is a much larger country physically than Belgium is, and has a far better location, being an island chain off the mainland coast of Asia. Japan’s relative geographic isolation helped the Japanese throughout history and allowed several centuries without serious external contact, including helping to foil several sea-borne invasion attempts. Belgium, on the other hand, has been used as a transit point for European armies throughout the past two centuries, from the Germans in WWI and WWII, to the French armies of the Napoleonic era. It has seen its fair share of bloodshed on its soil and its location in Western Europe significantly contributed to that. Where the Belgians excel though, is in international relationships and alliances. Japan isn’t too shabby here either, with strong relations with the United States, but Belgium is essentially the capital of Europe, housing several EU-wide institutions on its territory.

Although Belgium seems to have some advantages from our alternative measures, it just isn’t enough to overcome the overwhelming superiority of Japan in nearly all other criteria. Japan is the final team to advance to the Quarterfinals.

So that does it for our review of the Knockout Stage of the Geopolitical World Cup. Advancing to the Quarterfinals are: Russia, France, South Korea, the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, Australia, Germany, and Japan. The match-ups for the next round are: Russia v. France, South Korea v. UK, Saudi Arabia v. Australia, and Germany v. Japan. We’ll be breaking down these fascinating contests soon, so be sure to look out for that!

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