Measuring influence in the international system

Traditional approaches to estimating power in the international system often focus on measuring the resources and capabilities of states. While material capabilities are important, most expressions of national power and influence are the result of interactions between states across economic, political, and security dimensions. Rather than monadic measures of material capabilities, understanding bilateral and network interactions based on patterns of complex interdependence is the key to analyzing state power.

To that end, the Frederick S. Pardee Center for International Futures has created the Formal Bilateral Influence Capacity (FBIC) Index to track relational power in the international system from 1960-2020 for all pairs of states. This index is operationalized using data that cut across economic, political, and security dimensions of bilateral influence.

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The FBIC Index can help us to understand the transformations in the global power landscape at the country, regional, and global levels. In collaboration with the Atlantic Council’s Foresight, Strategy, and Risks Initiative, we have introduced a report showcasing these changes and highlighting how policymakers can draw upon the analytic findings to develop new strategies. We also introduce how the FBIC Index was built, explain what it tells us about the global distribution of influence, and draw insights from the index by evaluating China-US competition in Southeast Asia.

But what else can the FBIC Index tell us? Explore a subset of the data in the interactive data visualization to find out! Also explore the full data series and an abridged series examining influence capacity in and out of ASEAN member countries.

Navigating the FBIC Index

The FBIC Index is a bilateral measure, where one country “sends” its influence to another. Thus, an FBIC Index score for China in Indonesia, for example, is the influence capacity that China had in a given year. FBIC is comprised of elements described as bandwidth and dependence. The FBIC Index is the product of two sub-indices, one measuring the “bandwidth” across a relationship and another measuring the “dependence” of one state on another.  The measure includes data representing economic-, political-, and security-related variables.  

Bandwidth measures the volume of interactions between countries, such as the amount of economic activity that flows across borders in a given year. Two countries that interact more frequently and across more dimensions of activity are more likely to have opportunities to exert influence on one another. All bandwidth values are the same for the “sender” and “receiver” in a dyad. 

Dependence measures how reliant one country is on another for their economic activity or security services by measuring levels of trade as a share of total trade or as a share of GDP. Countries with high levels of dependence can be more easily manipulated. Dependence values differ within a dyad, where values depend one which is the “sending” country and which is the “receiving” country. 

Guide to Interactive Visualizations

Our interactive visualizations with the full FBIC data and ASEAN-focused subset allow users to explore the data in a variety of ways. The choropleth map allows users to see the amount of influence any country has had around the world in a given year, where a “play” feature provides the ability to select a given year, click “play,” and watch a country’s patterns of influence change over time. The variable displayed, whether FBIC or one of its subcomponents, is selected using the “Metric Selection” drop-down menu.

The histogram offers the ability to complete country-to-country comparisons of their global distribution on influence relative to one another. The bins (vertical bars) illustrate the number of countries in which a country was more influential than the other country it is being compared to in a given year. The horizontal axis illustrates how much more influential that country was than the country it is being compared to, with ranges of the difference in their FBIC Index (or subcomponent) scores aggregated into bins. Here again the “play” feature allows users to watch the changes in these differences unfold from year to year. The takeaway from this visualization is not only whether one country was more influential than another country on a global basis but also by how much. 

The line charts allow users to compare the influence of or in several countries at once. Where influence capacity is measured in a region, note that the FBIC Index or subcomponent scores are summed rather than averaged. Thus, if a country is particularly influential in Oceania, for example, it could be that this influence capacity is primarily concentrated in a single country, where the sending country possesses very little influence across the rest of the region. To unpack these regional relationships, compare with the other line graphs as well as the histogram. 

The pie charts provide an illustration of the relative distribution of influence capacity sent and received by a country in a given year. This visualization highlights the most prominent relationships for a country in terms of influence capacity and indicates whether these relationships are relatively evenly distributed or lopsided.  

Finally, the bubble chart provides a stylized depiction of countries’ influence capacity across its 100 most influenced countries. In other words, where do countries send the majority of their influence capacity and how is it relatively distributed? The size of a bubble is scaled to the sending country’s influence capacity in a receiving country, and the size of the full mass of bubbles indicates a countries total influence capacity in 100 receiving countries. Bubbles for the most influenced receiving countries are labeled with the receiving country’s name. Users can hover their cursor over the remaining bubbles to see a receiving country’s name and the amount of influence capacity it received from the sending country in a given year. Like the choropleth map and histogram, users can watch these relationships unfold over time by using the “play” feature under the Year dropdown menu. 

For more interesting research on the current and possible future shape of the international system, visit pardee.du.edu and explore forecasts and scenarios for 186 countries for 500+ variables through the year 2100 with the International Futures tool.

Credits: Data source – Frederick S. Pardee Center for International Futures. Interactive map – Devyn McNicoll. Tableau dashboards (see links) – Beth Anne Card.