Steel production: Ouch!

Back in 2008 I posted a list of the global top steel producers. Steel is, after all, very important in case of a major arms race or a major war. Modern production levels may exceed the amount of steel that could possibly be consumed by warfare, but that could just as well be a very optimistic assumption.

It's about time for an update:

Ouch. Ouch. Ouch.

Most of the Chinese steel production is mild steel / construction steel / structural steel, though. Also much steel for railroad construction and repair. This does not mean that they couldn't produce enough more militarily relevant steel grades, of course.

The Japanese production is also noteworthy. Nowadays THEY would win the Pacific War shipbuilding race (assuming no decisive interference with their economy)!

I love being a Central European. China only turns into a national security problem to us if we tolerate stupid foreign policy.



  1. Since Japan is an island and cruise missile tech is at the point of having a long range might they have a fair chance of having a decisive attack from another nation like China*? I don't know how good the Japanese air defence is, but I firgure most of their steel plants are well know as are the ship yards.

    Also last I heard they have a huge debt, do you think they could afford a war, who would buy their debt, their own people could only buy so much. If they suffered a decisive attack on their economy outsiders might start to question if they would be able to pay them back what they owe now, much less after they borrowed to fund a war.

    * I don't think China is about to go to war with Japan, but if it happened. Since I'm not sure about N. Korea's missle tech.

    1. Japan had a trade balance surplus during the period when it accumulated its public debt, and thus Japanese public debt is AFAIK almost exclusively domestic debt. Domestic debt in turn is not relevant in a mobilisation context.
      Japan's greatest wartime trouble aside from air attack on its industry or powerplants would likely be the maritime trade for raw materials. Luckily, the Inland Sea and Bay of Tokyo also open to the South-East, which makes maritime shipping routes more defensible.

  2. Great post/subject.
    As you mentioned those disproportionate high Chinese numbers are the sign of a great building spree.
    Eastern Europe also had enormous steel production in the same development stage. Western Europe and US - same case.
    So it is obvious they are becoming a urban industrial society with an enormous potential for many activities, warmaking included.

    A similar attempt to grade societies I encountered at Asimov. ( By the way the fact that I mention you in connection with Isaac Asimov is a sign of the high respect I hold for you. It does not just look like a compliment, it really is.)
    He was trying to make sense of what power/development/consumption levels - quality of life are can and what indicator we can use.
    He considered energy consumption is the one factor which generally defines the above description.
    And the data if you look at real cases is pretty revealing.
    Of course there are many differences which blur a little bit the raw data.
    Like the US uses a lot of energy to operate a very spread infrastructure, Russia or Canada use much to to heat buildings due to climate and their extractive industries also consume a disproportionate amount, DE/Japan need to import many raw materials, to process them and sell at a profit and to live off the surplus - so the amount needed to maintain just the industrial system which brings the bacon might be deducted from the consumption of their own populations etc etc.
    But in the end even if we take all particularities into consideration we can still use the raw data.
    And if you compare the energy consumption per capita and per country you generally get the level of consumption/quality of life in each society and the global pecking order.
    Changes of the pecking order can be found there like the transformation of USSR into a much smaller player and the growth of China.
    Formal GDP numbers are too distorted to be of much use, energy use is much more precise.

    Raw data can be found offered us by BP here:
    I think "Primary energy: Consumption *" chapter is the one most useful.
    I you want to study evolution in the last 5 decades here you can find the graphs:

  3. @teo

    Your approach lacks rigor:

    1) You do not provide any data that high consumption of energy equals to power and economic success in times of high crude prices, sorry. Consumption may have been a useful proxy in the past with low energy costs, but this has changed dramatically, even when many people are still in a state of denial.

    2) The most successful economies in the last years are the ones with high energy efficiency and traditionally high energy prices, go figure.
    (Could it be that high energy taxes lead not only to reduced consumption of strategic valuebale goods but also to a useful infrastructe and style of doin business?)

    3) Quality of life = consumption of energy (or high of income) is a typical US approach, not useful in many European countries. :-)

    4) Whether a country with inefficient use of energy and, therefore, a negative trade balance can defend its position in the pecking order is an interesting question, but again, the rules have changed since Asimov.


    1. I can not respond in a limited post.
      The subject is very complex.
      I can only offer links. I have sent others some time ago but our discussion is in exactly the same point.
      I got regaled with the same myth about a sort of disconnection between energy consumption and GDP/life quality.



      This last article details - not very technical, easy to follow - talks about the impact of the increases of energy efficiency.
      Of course it is easier to say that Gail lacks rigor and that popular media is the right information source but I do not agree with this line of thought.

      I think the general lines are well detailed, there is no need for a more technical approach in this post.
      It is a different subject anyway.

  4. How did Germany use domestic debt to run its military during WWII? If I heard it was hard for them to buy goods from abroad unless they used gold or some other goods as the war went on. I don't really have alot of info on it.

    1. Germany exploited occupied economies (reparations were about 25% GDP p.a. for France) and used forced labour (some part of it was supposedly paid early on IIRC).
      The financing was also through loans from banks, but that was mere accounting. The nazis had power over the real economy, so the financial economy was merely a shadow.
      The horrible pre-war debt played no role any more.

    2. The exact way the war effort was financed is very well detailed by Adam Tooze in "Wages of destruction". Great book.

      It takes some time to read. Very complex subject. But if you are interested it is worth the time spent on it.

  5. "Ouch. ouch. ouch." ? The steel situation is no cause for worry, I believe.

    Germany is not just moving up the techno-progress ladder. At the forefront, it extends the ladder, defining new rungs.

    In this matter specifically, it is with a new
    titanium-based era.

    an example reference:

    Titanium is not rare like most people
    believe. It is only rare in the market
    place because of high processing cost.

    Fraunhofer, Tital Gmbh, and others
    like them will shift the strategic/industrial metal production landscape and will do so faster than China can react to it.


  6. Sven, you are right on highlighting that steel is a summary for many different things. Other than steel ceramics, plastics and carbon fibres will play an ever more important role and I have no idea how to measure that in weight comparison to steel.
    The US is running a hostile course against China that seems to lead into warfare sometime in the future. As long as Europe can guard their own sea lines of communication, they can greatly profit from not being a frontline during an industrial non-nuclear war that is a massive investment into productive capability and know-how. Europe has little chances of not being involved in such a major US confrontation.
    Defence is a stimpack and the sensible use of military investments. Where do you draw the line between getting in position for a better defence and violating someone else's rights? The bearers of the scutum conquered an empire in self-defence.

  7. Maybe containment will work. And a direct military confrontation between US and China will not take place.
    It is in line with the Soviet containment now. No matter how large Chinese resources are they are no match for the World System. Just like the Eurasian power - Soviet Union - was not.
    China has a more limited pool of physical resources it can draw upon, is much easier to contain due to geography and does not have any ideology which might draw outside help.