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Research Report


Stephan De Spiegeleire
Copyright Date: Jan. 1, 2016
Pages: 86
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 15-16)

    Great power rivalry is back. Pundits talks about a “new era in which great power coercive diplomacy supplants the supposedly rules-based liberal world order that the United States and its allies have painstakingly attempted to build over the last 70 years²”. The basic storyline that most analysts of international security and international relations have been propounding for these past few years is that the world’s tectonic plates have started shifting again. The narratives behind these trends vary significantly.

    Western analysts generally attribute these geotectonic shifts to the fact that the US’ hegemonic position has been challenged on different fronts by...

  2. (pp. 17-26)

    Power lies at the heart of assertiveness. A country’s assertiveness conveys how it decides to ‘assert⁵’ its power. In our work on assertiveness we differentiate between four aspects of power: the intrinsic power that a state possesses; the power it actually projects; the power it claims to have; and the power others think it has.

    The first aspect of power (on the left) — the amount of power a country intrinsically possesses — is an abstract construct of a more conceptual nature. Power is one of the — if not the — central concept(s) in international relations, even though it...

  3. (pp. 27-64)

    The headlines in our news media constantly bombard us with stories suggesting that the great powers — especially China and Russia — are becoming more assertive, especially in the ‘negatively assertive’ sense. What does the broader and finer-tuned evidence base that we are now able to consult tell us about this? Let us first take a look at overall global assertiveness before zooming in on the great powers themselves

    Figure 3 shows the cumulative sum of all factually assertive events30 that were reported in the past three years (from January 1, 2013 through December 31, 2015) for all countries based...

  4. (pp. 65-74)

    Before concluding this report, we formulate a number of general thoughts on how to deal with increased great power assertiveness. We first explore some lessons that have been learned in another area closer to most of our daily lives (bullying in school) where destructive assertiveness occurs surprisingly frequently and where researchers have been able to take a closer real-life look at the types of ‘interventions’ that may or may not work. We then wrap this section up with a number of general suggestions for areas where defense and security organizations — also of smaller countries — might be able to...

  5. (pp. 75-78)

    The different datasets about great power assertiveness that we have collected, meshed, visualized and analyzed paint a differentiated, but overall deeply worrisome picture about these still quite unique actors in the international system.

    Our datasets do not reveal increased great power assertiveness across the board. Our event data do show that the presumably most dangerous form of assertiveness — the factual negative military one — did increase quite noticeably over the past few years. When we look at the other (non-event-based) indicators of assertiveness, however, we see a more balanced picture. Overall arms sales by great powers have declined somewhat...