The Geopolitical World Cup: Quarterfinals

We’ve made it all the way to the Quarterfinal round of our 2018 Geopolitical World Cup! If you’ve missed any of the action to this point, be sure to check out our Group Stage (Part I, Part II) and Knockout Stage (Part I, Part II) rundowns to catch up with the Quarterfinal nations.

To give a brief recap of the Knockout Stage, we had great match-ups on both sides of the bracket, including: Russia v. Iran, France v. Nigeria, Switzerland v. South Korea, UK v. Poland, Spain v. Saudi Arabia, Argentina v. Australia, Germany v. Brazil, and Japan v. Belgium. The nations that advanced to our current Quarterfinal stage are: Russia, France, South Korea, the UK, Saudi Arabia, Australia, Germany, and Japan. In this post, we’ll be delving into all of the Quarterfinal match-ups and setting up the Semifinals. We’ll be going down the left side of the bracket first, followed by the right side. The matches being covered, in order, are: Russia v. France, South Korea v. the UK, Saudi Arabia v. Australia, and the heavyweight bout between Germany & Japan. As in previous rounds, we’ll be focusing on Geopolitics Scores, alliances, geography, and especially in this round, history.

Without further delay, here’s the rundown.


Russia v. France

This could very well be my personal favorite match-up of the Geopolitical World Cup thus far, as the long and fascinating history between these two nations comes to pass on the figurative pitch. Before diving into that history though, we need to assess the nations on the basis of Geopolitics Scores. Here the French have a decisive advantage, scoring an excellent 13.5 to Russia’s worse 21.675. Russia’s score is not the lowest of all countries in the Quarterfinal round (Saudi Arabia comes in last there), but it significantly lags France on nearly all metrics encompassed in the Score. Russia beats out France on measures like population (Russia – 9, France – 22), military (far closer here, with Russia at 2 and France at 5), and one overall economic measure, but it falls far short of the French on other economic measures, including per capita figures, and on Human Development Index. If this battle was decided solely on scores, France would be advancing. Still, we have to consider other factors in our analysis, including geography, alliances, and most importantly, history.

As discussed in the Knockout Stage, Russia’s geography is likely the best in the entire tournament, as the nation straddles Europe and Asia, spans from the Black Sea to the Bering Straits, and is blessed with rich deposits of natural resources and strategic defenses like the Ural Mountains. France isn’t too shabby in this category either, as it is located in a prime spot in Western Europe, has sea access in both the Atlantic and Mediterranean, and has rich farmland. Regardless, the Russians win out handily here due to their immense size and natural defenses. What of alliances? In this criteria, it seems clear that the French are well-positioned. They have strong European alliances like the EU, cross-Atlantic ties through NATO, and have over time developed many good relations with nations (particularly Francophone ones) in the developing world, especially in Africa. Russia, on the other hand, has been somewhat of an international pariah since its invasion and annexation of the Crimea in 2014. The Russians have good relationships with nations like Iran, China, and Syria, but have a relatively frosty association with most of the West. France takes the cake here.

The most interesting factor still in play is the long history of these two great nations. France has existed in some form or another since the unification of Francia in 486 CE, while Russia has been around since the foundation of Kievan Rus’ in 882 CE. Both nations have experienced waxing and waning phases of power, particularly in Europe, and each reached dizzying heights of strength, from the domination of the totalitarian Soviet Union to the continent-spanning French Empire under Napoleon I. It is from this last period of time that we will pull a representative example of Russia-France conflict, and one that will predict our ultimate winner: the Battle of Austerlitz (1805). Austerlitz is known as being perhaps the finest victory Napoleon ever won in his long and storied career, as his French Grande Armee defeated the larger combined forces of the emperors of Russia and the Holy Roman Empire, Alexander I and Francis II, respectively. Napoleon’s spectacular tactics led to victory in battle, as he lured the combined enemy forces into a massive attack on his deliberately-weakened right flank, then punched through their poorly-defended center, allowing the French to roll up both enemy flanks. Austerlitz was such a massive victory that it is still taught in military schools today and led to the construction of a famed Parisian monument: the Arc de Triomphe.

Via this historical anecdote, we can tell who wins this first Quarterfinal match-up: the heirs of Napoleon, the Republic of France.

A painting of the Battle of Austerlitz (1805), where Napoleon defeated the combined forces of Russia and the Holy Roman Empire.          Image Credit: Wikipedia

United Kingdom v. South Korea

This bout between Asian and European powers is a good one, but still less interesting than the prior match between the historical rivals France and Russia. Still, these two nations have very good Geopolitics Scores: UK comes in at 12.45 while South Korea falls just below that at 15.925. The Brits beat out the South Koreans in every single criteria that comprises our Geopolitics Scores, but it is incredibly close on each metric. The two nations are no farther apart than 7 spots on any of the ratings, and some are even closer (UK military is 6th, South Korea’s is 7th). The two nations seem to be heading in different directions though, with Brexit seriously harming the British economy and South Korea continuing its long march into world power status. Scores alone would grant the UK the win here, but these matches are not decided on that basis.

The non-score factors at play here are very interesting, especially the geographic and alliance relationship criteria. Geographically, both nations are well-positioned, with the UK’s island ‘fortress’ off the European coast and South Korea’s ideal location at the base of the Korean Peninsula. Both nations have significant access to important trading lanes, particularly those of the maritime variety, which bolsters their economic strength. In this circumstance though, the advantage has to go to the United Kingdom, as South Korea happens to share the geographically advantageous Korean Peninsula with a mortal enemy, North Korea, that seeks the South’s ultimate destruction. Given that important factor, the UK wins in the geographic department. Alliance-wise, both South Korea and the UK have strong relations with many Western nations, particularly the United States. South Korea is also building more lasting relationships with many of its Asian neighbors, including Japan, China, the Philippines, and Australia. The UK, however, is in the process of denigrating its close relations with the rest of Europe, leaving the European Union after a referendum in 2016. In this instance, South Korea takes the win.

What about history? Well, in this criteria the United Kingdom has a significant advantage. South Korea was once a powerful independent kingdom, but has over the past few centuries fallen under the sometimes stifling auspices of the Chinese and Japanese. The country has only been independent in the modern era, after the devastation of World War II. The United Kingdom, on the other hand, has had a long and storied history of globe-spanning Empire, controlling territory ‘on which the sun never sets’, according to a famous historical maxim. Quite obviously, the winner here is the UK.

The United Kingdom will be advancing to the Semifinal round after edging out the South Koreans.

Saudi Arabia v. Australia

This is likely the least competitive of all of the Quarterfinal match-ups we have on offer, as Saudi Arabia is a heavy underdog. Australia dominates the Saudis in Geopolitics Scores, with a good 18.225 compared to Saudi Arabia’s 27.475, the lowest still remaining in the tournament. Even with this large overall difference, Saudi Arabia beats out the Aussies in a few metrics, including population and GDP on a purchasing power parity (PPP) basis, both total and per capita. Australia, however, crushes the Saudis in per capita GDP (nominal) and particularly on human development (Saudi is 38th, Australia is 2nd). Historically, both nations are relatively young: Australia gained independence in 1901, while Saudi Arabia’s kingdom was founded in 1932. Therefore, we won’t be delving into the history of these somewhat new countries.

Instead, we’re going to focus on our other measures: geography and alliances. Geographically, both nations have a lot to offer. Saudi Arabia is strategically located in the heart of the Middle East, with access to both the Persian Gulf in the east and the Red Sea in the west. The desert nation also has immense natural resource wealth, especially when it comes to crude oil; Saudi oil has led to that nation having a high GDP despite relatively low levels of overall economic development. Australia is an island continent unto itself, located in a prime location amidst the trading lanes of the Southern Pacific. It also has a serious amount of natural resources, including metals and other mined commodities. Under this metric, we have something akin to a tie. With respect to alliance structures, however, the country ‘Down Under’ has serious advantages. Australia has strong and lasting bonds to nations like the United States, United Kingdom, and New Zealand, as well as very good relations with most of Europe. Saudi Arabia has some of these same relationships, but none as strong as those of the Australians.

In a bit of a laugher, Australia takes out the Saudis and advances to the Semifinal round.

Germany Japan
Japanese and German flags.           Image Credit: Steemit

Germany v. Japan

This, my friends, is the most intense match-up we’ve had to date, throughout the entire Geopolitical World Cup. In another competition structure, these two nations would be the overall favorites and would likely meet up in the finals. Instead, they’re battling it out in the Quarterfinals; thus is life. The Germans and Japanese have the two best Geopolitics Scores in the whole of the tournament: 9.075 and 11.6, respectively. Japan beats out Germany in some of the overall categories, including population, military strength, and overall GDP. The Germans win over the Japanese on per capita economic measures as well as Human Development Index. Both Germany and Japan are economic powerhouses, particularly when it comes to advanced technology and manufacturing; Japanese cars and electronics are legendary, as are German autos and industrial equipment. Each nation is in the vanguard of the global economy, and it is incredibly difficult to determine which is more economically important to the rest of the world.

To decide this epic match-up, we’ll need to dive into our alternative measures, including geography, alliances, and history. First up is geography. Germany is a somewhat large nation size-wise, with a prime location in the middle of Europe and important sea access in the country’s north. Japan is an island archipelago that is physically larger than Germany is, and has a far better strategic location. It is clear from Japan’s long history of repelling invasions that its geographic location has a lot to do with that success. Germany, conversely, has been invaded multiple times and many wars have been fought on its current territory. Japan beats out the Germans on this metric. Now onto alliance relationships. Both Germany and Japan have strong relations with the Western world in particular, but also with each other. Japan is a powerful Asian country that tends to dominate (alongside China) much of the geopolitics of the region, but Germany has an even stronger position on its continent of Europe. Germany is a member of the European Union, but not just any member: Germany is largely the nation that runs European policy in today’s day and age. The Germans have massive economic power over their European neighbors through the EU’s power to control currency and debt loads for its member nations. Japan has no such advantage, and loses out to Germany on this measure.

History makes this contest even more fascinating, and doesn’t separate the two sides all that much. Japan as a nation has existed since (supposedly) 660 BCE, over 2500 years ago. Germany as a contiguous polity has only existed since its foundation by the Iron Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, in 1871, although it existed a wide variety of forms before that auspicious date in Paris. Germany has been a major constituent of the Holy Roman Empire, Prussia, and the German Confederation, among many others. The history we often think of when thinking of Japan and Germany together is that of World War II, when the two nations formed two-thirds of the Axis powers. Both Germany and Japan were thoroughly defeated (thankfully) in that globe-spanning conflict and forced into unconditional surrenders. Their joint history since WWII is interesting given that both countries were reimagined as democracies (at least in West Germany) and have continued as such since the late 1940s. Japan’s long history does beat out Germany’s shorter one, but the Germans have accomplished quite a lot in their short time as a nation. We’ll call the historical analysis a tie.

So, who wins in this clash of the titans and advances to the Semifinals? In this case, the advantages Japan has in history and geography are matched and surpassed by Germany’s wins in alliances and Geopolitics Score. Therefore, Germany just barely ekes out a victory over the Japanese and moves on. (Sorry Japan, but you’d have won almost any other match-up besides this one.)

Boy were those Quarterfinal match-ups good; we’re only going to get better as we move into the Semifinals and Finals next week! To recap, we have France defeating Russia, the United Kingdom beating out South Korea, Australia prevailing over Saudi Arabia, and Germany squeaking out a win over Japan. The Semifinal matches will be: France v. United Kingdom (that’ll be a fun one historically) and Australia v. Germany. Be sure to check back next week for our breakdown of the Semifinals and the eventual Finals!

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