Article: National Power - it’s multifaceted, perishable and Estonia should not rely on past successes
Author: Dr Adrian Venables, TalTech Centre for Digital Forensics and Cyber Security senior researcher
The modern system of nation states is often traced to the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648 that ended an extended period of conflict in Europe. Since then, countries have sought to influence and exert their will over each other to achieve strategic objectives that benefit their populations. Control of territory, food supplies and access to natural resources have all been the focus of governments with the aim of being stronger, wealthier and more resilient than potential adversaries. Projecting national power employs a range of methods including the peacetime activities of diplomacy and persuasion through to coercion and low-level conflict, leading ultimately to high intensity warfare. The constituent components of national power were first proposed by the US military during the cold war and comprise Diplomatic, Informational, Military and Economic (DIME) attributes. More recently academics have proposed that Legal and Law Enforcement, Science, Technology and the Environment should also be added to include contemporary issues in world affairs. Together these combine to establish and maintain internal stability whilst persuading, deterring or resisting perceived external threats.
National power projection
How national power is exerted has been examined by the US political scientist Joseph Nye, who considered the concepts of Hard, Soft and Smart power. Hard power is regarded as the traditional means of influencing others at the state level and uses coercion through a variety of means including military action or payment. To be effective it draws on the potential economic strength that a population can realise as part of wider diplomatic and political engagement and is not subtle. The coerced party is both aware that it is taking place and from whom. Soft power however, aims to get others to want the outcomes that you want through the power of attraction. This includes non-material means such as agenda setting and the promotion of the positive aspects of a nation’s culture, political values and foreign policies. Smart power combines Hard power coercion and economic sanctions with the Soft power attributes of persuasion and attraction into a single coordinated approach. The strategic communications company Portland produces an annual report listing 30 countries that exert the most global soft power. Their 2019 rankings place France, the UK, Germany, Sweden and the United States top, with Brazil, China, Hungary, Turkey and the Russian Federation at the bottom of the rankings. No Baltic states make the list; however, Sweden, Norway and Finland are placed 4th, 12th and 15th respectively. Emphasising that size does not necessarily matter in soft power, the list also includes Switzerland (6th), Netherlands (10th), Belgium (18th) and Singapore (21st) in their rankings.
|Hard Power ||Soft Power ||Smart Power|
|Coercion – military force||Agenda setting – my priorities are also your priorities||Combination of hard and soft power|
|Inducement – payment or sanctions||Attraction - Promoting positive qualities to imitate||Emphasis changes with situation|
Types of national power projection
Although Soft power has a role in establishing a state’s international reputation, it does not necessarily correlate with overall comparative national power. In March 2019, Business Insider ranked the world’s most powerful countries. As expected, the United States as the sole superpower ranked highest. Also, there was no surprise that Russia and China followed demonstrating the importance of size and military capability and in China’s case, economic strength. Although the majority of the other 25 nations listed are western democracies, Middle Eastern countries are also prominently placed with Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates the most powerful in 8th, 9th and 11th place. Iran and Iraq are also placed among industrialised first world countries due to their oil reserves. The realities of national power and influence demonstrate that what really matters is economic strength. National wealth is ultimately based on the ability to feed a population and maintain security in peacetime. In times of conflict it is measured through the ability to mobilise enough military capability to subdue and overcome an adversary. Soft power contributes to overall national power, but it is not everything.
Estonia’s national power
As a small country, Estonia’s Hard power will always be limited, but what about its Soft power? Following the March 2019 parliamentary elections, domestic politics became an issue of much discussion and has been the subject of numerous media articles. Some of these have raised concerns at how the wider global community now perceives Estonia. Essentially, has Estonia lost some of its all-important Soft power of being attractive country to others and is no longer worth emulating? To a certain extent, this does not matter as much as the commentators would have us believe as many countries have attributes that are not universally admired. China and Middle Eastern countries are not democracies in the western sense of the term and have cultural views on a range of issues that do not align to western norms. However, China attracts enormous levels of trade due to a highly sophisticated and efficient manufacturing base and visitors are drawn to its pre-communist cultural artefacts. Hotel resorts in Middle Eastern countries attract tourists for the climate and luxurious facilities despite restrictive social and religious customs. Even Spain, a European country favoured by holiday makers has a soft power problem due to its tradition of bull fighting, a spectacle that many find too distressing to witness.
Estonia’s overall national power is secure on many levels. Membership of NATO and the European Union provides military security and the conditions for free trade. Investors, visitors and tourists may not be overly concerned with domestic politics so long as the conditions for internal stability, low crime and financial security are met. It is these areas that we must concentrate. The current fourth constitution underpins the democratic order and a small, cohesive population with a shared cultural background and sense of national pride contributes to a low crime rate. Business relationships though are more transient and are built on reputation, levels of trust and economic stability. Estonia has much offer but can do more to actively promote itself as it continues to do well in international rankings. This year for example, we were ranked second only to Iceland in having the freest Internet in the world according to Freedom House’s Freedom on the Net index. The country’s robust economic governance was also confirmed with the Basel Institute’s conclusion that of 125 countries measured Estonia has the lowest risk of money laundering. Further promoting business and international investment, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development assessed in 2019 that Estonia has the most competitive tax system in the developed world. These positive attributes should be strong promoted to Europe and the world.
|Diplomatic||Democratic institutions, seat at the UN Security council, international reputation|
|Informational||Free internet, mature digital society, e-estonia, e-residency|
|Military||Membership of NATO and allied troops based in Estonia reinforcing national defence|
|Economic||Membership of EU, free trade and movement, small national debt, low risk of money laundering, competitive tax regime, high literacy|
|Legal and law enforcement||Internal stability, low crime, cohesive society based on strength of national identity|
|Science and technology||High standard of education, reputation of universities, strong ethos of academic research, high number of start-up companies, culture of innovation|
|Environment||Low population density, unspolit natural environment, cultural richness, world heritage sites, free public transport for Tallinn residents, electrically powered transport|
Some of the many attributes of Estonia’s national power
Building on our successes
Culturally and economically, Estonia has much to be proud of when promoting itself on the world stage, but we must continue to build on our successes. The country’s reputation as being an exemplar of a mature digital society must also be maintained by prioritising investment in academic and applied research in engineering, computer science and cybersecurity. The conditions for continued technological innovation must be supported and those that bring skills and benefits to our society should be welcomed and encouraged to study and work. Estonia must not be regarded as one of the first country to digitally transform but was later overtaken by others. We must look to maintain our culture of innovation and continue to be the nation that others wish to emulate. Part of this will involve monitoring what our competitors in Europe and increasingly in the Far East are achieving and how we can adapt and improve on their advances. For example, with climate change increasingly on the world’s agenda, nations are looking how to harness technology to achieve a carbon free society and transport is high on the agenda. Free public transport for residents in Tallinn, hybrid buses and electrically powered trams, trolley buses, and the highly popular scooters provides a strong base on which we can build.
Supported by an environmentally friendly transport infrastructure, visitors and tourists will continue to be attracted by Estonia’s culture, the beauty of its environment and its historical and modern architecture. The recent tax reductions of alcohol have stimulated an increase in tax receipts from visitors whilst encouraging domestic purchases, further supporting the economy. The conditions are right for Estonia’s economy to thrive and national power to increase within the wider international community. To do so, we must look outward and how we can promote ourselves on the world stage and not inward.
The article was published in Edasi.org.