The Geopolitical World Cup: Semifinals

Welcome back to our recurring series on the Geopolitical World Cup! We’re in the semifinal round now, after some eventful and hard-fought quarterfinal matches.

If you’ve missed any of the prior rounds, catch up with our fictional tournament by reading the Group Stage (Part I, Part II), Knockout Stage (Part I, Part II), and Quarterfinal breakdowns. To briefly recap, our semifinalist nations are France, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Germany. The French advanced with a win over Russia and will be facing off against the UK, which beat out South Korea in an epic match to move on. The other semifinalists, Australia and Germany, beat out Saudi Arabia and Japan, respectively, to move on. As before, we’ll be delving into military, geographic, economic, development, and historical factors to analyze these match-ups and determine which two nations will face off in the finals of the Geopolitical World Cup later this week.

Here we go!


France v. United Kingdom

This match-up between historical rivals and close geographic neighbors is one of the best of the tournament thus far, and things are very tight between the two European nations. To start, let’s look into their respective Geopolitics Scores; France comes in at 13.5, while the UK beats them out slightly with a 12.45 score (reminder that, as in golf, lower scores are better). Since the countries are separated by so little on the overall score, we need to delve into the detailed categories that comprise the total to see who has the advantage. The United Kingdom beats out France on 5 of our 7 metrics, but the differences are quite insignificant in most of those measures. For instance, the UK has the 21st largest population, while France comes in at 22nd. The United Kingdom has the 9th best total GDP (PPP basis), while France has the 10th; the ratings are similar for nominal GDP with France at 6 and the UK at 5. GDP per capita is the same, as France and the UK are only separated by one spot in the global rankings (France beats out the UK on nominal, but not PPP). Military strength also goes to the French, again by a single spot (5th compared to 6th for the Brits). The only metric where there is some actual separation between these two very evenly-matched countries is Human Development Index, where the British rank 16th compared to France’s 21st. Still, that distinction is relatively minimal.

What of our alternative factors, like geography, alliances, and more? Well, not much separates the two countries there either. First, let’s talk about alliances. Both the French and British share the long-standing friendship of the United States, although the French have been our more steadfast friends going back to the days of the Marquis de Lafayette and George Washington. Each nation also enjoys the stable (let’s hope for awhile longer at least) alliance structure of NATO, and is a permanent member of the UN’s most august body, the Security Council. The deciding factor within this metric is the recent decision by the British voting public to leave the European Union, also known popularly as ‘Brexit’. That decision to leave the EU, regardless of whether one may think it a good thing (and I 100% do not think that), deprives the UK of a role within the greater European community of which France is not just a member, but a leader. France takes the alliance factor, again in a close decision. How about geography? In this case, the United Kingdom takes it. The two countries are very close to each other, separated only by the somewhat narrow English Channel, but that geographic separation is the deciding factor. The UK’s status as an island group off the coast of continental Europe means it is at least partially protected from direct invasion and attack from its potential enemies on the mainland. This separation has historically boded well for the British, as they have maintained naval superiority over the area and have headed off invasion fleets in the past. With a competition this close, we have one more factor that will inevitably decide who gains the first berth in our Finals.

Battle of Hastings
A tapestry of the Battle of Hastings (1066), the deciding battle in the Norman conquest of England.      Image Credit:

To decide this match-up, we’ll need to drink deeply from the well of history. Thankfully, the history of the relations between the United Kingdom and France is an almost unlimited reservoir of fascination to work with. In the modern era (20th Century on), the French and British have been relatively stalwart allies, joining together in the fight against German expansionism in World War I and again teaming up to combat the Nazi menace in World War II. Afterwards, the two nations remained allied against the scourge of Soviet Communism during the Cold War. Both were founding members of NATO as well. To get more into the antagonistic history between the rivals, we need to go back further, into the 19th Century and prior. The history of European conflict going back nearly a millennia is the history of France versus the United Kingdom (or England, as it was previously). We can talk about the epic battles of the Napoleonic Wars, culminating with the final British (and coalition) victory over Napoleon at Waterloo, or go back further to the 7 Years’ War, a precursor to the American Revolution (which basically became a proxy war between the French and British by its conclusion). The Hundred Years’ War, for many, was the genesis of the long-standing historical rivalry, with the (then) English invading France and taking vast swathes of territory, only to be driven out decades later. The Hundred Years’ War also includes many of the almost-mythical battles and legendary figures of this relationship, from the Battle of Agincourt to Joan of Arc. One can clearly see by looking at the history that these two august nations are very evenly matched. However, one critical piece of history is the deciding factor in this match-up: the Norman conquest of England in 1066. In that incredibly important event, the Norman (a proto-Frenchman) duke William the Conqueror invaded England, defeating its leader Harold Godwinson in the decisive Battle of Hastings. The result of that famed battle was the full conquest of England by the Normans, who declared themselves Kings of England thereafter. This conquest and rule over the domains that would become the United Kingdom by a man and dynasty that today would be considered French, wins the day for France. After all, if the British claim a Norman as one of their ‘founding fathers’, so to speak, haven’t the French already won?


Australia v. Germany

Sorry to burst your bubble after that intense France – UK match, but this bout between the powerhouse Germans and the underdog Australians is far easier to decide. To start, let’s go into the Geopolitics Scores. Here, Germany has a clear advantage over Australia. Germany’s tournament-best score of 9.075 is basically twice as good as Australia’s solid 18.225. Still, at this point in our competition, a solid score just isn’t enough to win. Australia trails Germany in nearly all of the categories comprising our Geopolitics Score, and it isn’t as close as the France – UK scores were. Germany beats out the Aussies on population, military strength, total GDP, and one of the two per capita GDP figures. On those metrics, it’s not particularly close, as the Germans outrank the Australians by an average of 14.6 spots in those 5 categories. The Australians beat out the Germans on HDI and nominal GDP per capita, but those are far closer than those metrics that happen to be the other way around. Based on Geopolitics Scores, Germany is clearly winning.

Still, we have to work with our alternative factors before handing the second berth in our Finals to the Germans. Does Australia win out on any of those measures? Well, the best shot they have is on the geographical stage, and it seems clear to me that they have the obvious advantage there. Australia is an island continent that is surrounded by vast expanses of water on nearly all sides. The interior of the country isn’t any more hospitable for potential conquerors either, as the Australian Outback is one of the world’s most isolated and dangerous desert landscapes. Germany, on the other hand, is located in the central region of Europe, surrounded on most sides by other nations which historically have found the German nation a good place to stage massive battles. Not an ideal location, especially compared with Australia’s fortress-like environs. What about the other alternate factors? In terms of alliances, both nations are strong allies of the United States, as well as other Western countries, but Germany has a slight advantage given its dominance over European politics and the EU. Australia has no such power in its international relations, and Germany has come to run much of intra-European policy. This is a win for the Germans. Finally, we need to discuss history. Germany, in a wide variety of forms, has existed for quite some time although it was only unified by Otto von Bismarck in 1871. Australia, on the contrary, was only ‘discovered’ by Dutch explorers in 1606, and remained a British possession (and sometimes prison colony) until independence in 1901. On this measure, Germany is the victor.

Altogether, the Aussies put up a good fight and advanced quite far for their Geopolitics Score, yet they lose in the end to a powerhouse German side that is likely the favorite going into the Final.

Australia - Germany
A World War I Australian propaganda poster showing the potential for German takeover.     Image Credit: Reddit

We’ve come a hell of a long way from our start with the Group Stage, but the Geopolitical World Cup is coming to a close. Our Final match-up is set, and boy is it a good one: Germany versus France. This is a historical rivalry par excellence, and we’ll be probing the depths of this contentious competition later this week in our review of the Finals. At this point, it’s anyone’s tournament to win.

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