Is the ‘Index of Will’ right to rank #VladimirPutin as number one?

| February 20, 2019

As false information and ill-informed opinions abound, politicians increasingly resort to techniques that are sometimes referred to as populist ones, and have now come to be called the “art of listening to one’s electors”. Someone across the pond has used it to make an unexpected political career and someone on this side has had to deal with mass protests when the gap between the promises made and the real policy became too dramatic. It is easy to make promises, as we all know, yet, the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them, as John F. Kennedy once said, writes James Wilson.

President Donald Trump of the United States recently addressed the U.S. senators and congressmen, and on Wednesday 20 February Russian President Vladimir Putin also spoke to the Russian parliament. To gauge their performance analysts have come up with a consolidated index of how well international leaders of  deliver on their pledges. The UK chose not to be taken into consideration, and the political will criteria can hardly be applied in this connection.

We thought about calling this research ‘The Kennedy Index’ but to avoid any negative connotations we decided to call it the ‘Index of Exercising Political Will’.

With this objective, we have developed the research formula and its variables as described below.

I.W. (Index of Will), our index of politicians’ delivering on their political pledges and implementing their intentions is calculated according to the following formula:

IW = (SE + NS +FP):3,

where –

SE (Social and Economic Policy) stands for the politicians’ performance in implementing social and economic development programmes;

NS (National Security) stands for the politicians’ performance in implementing national security and defence programmes;

FP (Foreign Policy) represents the politicians’ performance in foreign policy and enhancing their countries’ authority on the international arena.

Each of the variables is given a score from 1 to 10 for each political leader based on how the analysts assess his or her performance in delivering on their pledges. Any politicians that score less than 5 points are considered to have failed to fully implement their political programmes in the given area.

The sums of the points for the three variables (SE, NS, FP) for five selected political leaders, were used as integral indices that were subsequently compared to produce an overall rating as follows: –

1) “I.W.” (Putin) = (4+10+8):3 = 7.33

2) “I.W.” (Trump) = (8+7+6):3 = 7

3) “I.W.” (Xi Jinping) = (6+7+7):3 = 6.66

4) “I.W.” (Merkel) = (6+6+6):3 = 6.00

5) “I.W.” (Macron) = (3+5+5):3 = 4.33

Let us examine the results in greater detail in order to follow the logic of the analysts’ assessments. Vladimir Putin’s annual address to the Parliament of Russia took place most recently. Such statements by the Russian leader tend to always stand out in terms of the quality of the data presented and variety of topics discussed. The Russian president is reported to prepare the data meticulously and over a long period of time, drawing on expertise in a wide range of subjects from the current economic situation to the planning of the future. Putin tends to opt for socially-oriented and conservative rhetoric. For many years he has consistently paid close attention to supporting traditional values, preserving the culture of all Russian people, strengthening family, and showing care for elderly people. In his annual addresses he has also always discussed the issues of social improvements for youth and future tasks.

The Russian President has also paid attention to economic development. Despite the sanctions imposed against Russia, most of the tasks and economic targets set by the President in such addresses are achieved, or at least the work on them is under way. To cite one example, the 2016 target of reaching a deficit-free budget was on the whole met by 2019. At the same time, this achievement and the performance indicators for the social sphere have been seriously affected by general economic performance. Pledges to retain a single level of tax burden up to the 2020s were not respected. The launch of the most unpopular reform to raise the retirement age affected both the indices of social and economic well-being of citizens and the general rating of the Russian leadership, including Vladimir Putin himself. All of these factors brought the social and economic component of the index to as low as four.

On the other hand, it should be acknowledged that Russia’s leader has succeeded in implementing the military reforms he promised and strengthening the country’s international position. The effectiveness of Russian troops in Syria in the fight against international terrorism has demonstrated that Putin’s security and foreign policy pledges have been fulfilled. Yet, Russia’s rising power and its attempts to influence Western countries’ political affairs were rewarded with new sanctions, mistrust, and sometimes even fuelled fears of its possible revanchist plans. Putin therefore scored ten out of ten possible points for his National Security and only eight points for his Foreign Policy.

Surprisingly, Donald Trump’s situation is not as bad as it might seem. His pledge to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria and Afghanistan made in his recent address to Congress, is only a part of a huge set of his promises. Trump did begin the process of withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement, pulled out of trade negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, quit the Iran nuclear deal, and imposed tariffs on a range of imported Chinese goods. The U.S. economy grows at a steady pace, the unemployment rate is low, and the number of jobs created inspires grudging respect. Yet, many of his solemn pledges concerning a strategically important foreign agenda, key global issues and the domestic agenda remain unfulfilled.

Trump constantly criticizes the impressive trade surplus of the US’s key trade partners, particularly Germany. He also complains that the euro is cheap. He consistently calls on NATO member states to lift military spending to 2% of GDP threatening to withdraw from the North Atlantic Treaty. He attempts to halt the infrastructural Nord Stream 2 project, virtually blackmailing European countries by the possibility of an increase in export tariffs. However, all these promises and threats have remained mere words.

The wall along the border with Mexico will be built, as the U.S. President declared in his Address to the Nation. However, it has turned out to be virtually impossible to fulfil this pledge with the House of Representatives blocking the President’s major legislative initiatives. His hard line does not show a clear way forward to deliver soon this promise.

As for National Security, the US is developing a new missile defence system and is prepared to consider re-negotiating the INF Treaty. Trump gives assurances that Iran will never have nuclear weapons, and the Venezuelan people will be supported in their noble quest for freedom. Certain points do not look realistic enough. As a result, Trump gets eight for his remarkable progress in the economy, while the failure to build the wall and the ongoing domestic political battles prevent him from scoring more than seven points for National Security. The U.S. President receives six points for his controversial foreign policy that, for all its pursuit of national interests, undermines the well-established logic of strategic stability and global security.

A landmark report given by President Xi Jinping at the 19th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in 2017 also provided a broad strategic vision and ambitious goals.

Since then, the Chinese leadership has consistently worked to achieve foreign policy and security objectives set by Mr Xi. The key priority determined by the Chinese leader is to develop innovation in the defence industry. So, there has been growth in high-tech defence manufacturing in China, including on the basis of their own technology. The report focused particularly on enhancing the well-being of Chinese people. In this context, it is especially important to address social inequality, which appears to be a major challenge for Xi. Moreover, the shadow economy is still thriving in China. And the ongoing trade war with the United States has already affected China’s economic development – Chinese manufacturers find it increasingly difficult to access the US market and are experiencing serious shortfalls in income. Overall, this situation has an adverse impact on investor sentiment towards the Chinese market.

Given all these factors, China’s leader gets six points, which is above average, for Social and Economic Policy and seven for both National Security and Foreign Policy.

In Europe, nothing ever changes when it comes to keeping promises. Over the last two decades, Germany has been the engine of the EU’s economy. In 2018, when major EU’s economies (France and Italy) were stagnating, Germany’s economy saw 2.5 percent growth. At the same time, Germany is facing a massive influx of immigrants, which creates divisions within society. Far-right political forces (such as “Alternative for Germany”) that campaign for tightening immigration policy make have made gains across the country, especially in the eastern federal lands, which formerly were part of the German Democratic Republic. As a result, Merkel gets six points for Social and Economic Policy.

Still, as illustrated by the 2017-2018 events, German security services are much more efficient than their French colleagues, Germany having seen no major terrorist attacks over time. It should be noted, however, that its defence expenditures remain below 1.5 per cent of GDP. In its foreign policy during 2017-2018, Berlin succeeded in presenting itself as an acknowledged leader of the European Union. In its bilateral relations with Russia, Berlin also managed to show a certain degree of independence. Merkel gets an average of six points ascribed by experts for her overall efforts in foreign policy.

Because of his fixed course towards radical liberal economic reforms, Emmanuel Macron is currently the least popular President of the Fifth Republic. On December 10, 2018, following a series of mass ‘yellow vest’ protests that swept across France at the end of 2018, Macron was forced to announce a social and economic emergency. These developments had been provoked, to a considerable extent, by the lack of coherence in the French leader’s statements and actions alike.

France remains highly vulnerable as far as national security challenges are concerned: the country’s security forces have learnt little from the 2017-2018 terrorist attacks. Things are just as volatile in French foreign policy: tasks in the above areas set out in the president’s addresses have remained incomplete over the last two years. For extremely high social and economic tensions within the country, Macron is only ascribed three points. Terrorist attacks and pending refugee problems take five points off the French president. Notwithstanding Macron’s regular initiatives in foreign policy, none of these have been fully and successfully implemented; hence, no changes in France’s international standing. Five points for that.

It should be noted in conclusion that while different political analysts offered us all sorts of assessments, the common logic persisted. One important message should be conveyed: even as populism is gaining ground in the political arena, President Lincoln’s words are still relevant, “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you can’t fool all the people all of the time…”

A wise politician today would be well advised to be mindful of the words of both Kennedy and Lincoln.

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