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President Ronald Reagan and General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, the leaders of the Cold War's rival superpowers, meeting in Geneva, Switzerland in November 1985 Reagan and Gorbachev hold discussions.jpg
President Ronald Reagan and General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, the leaders of the Cold War's rival superpowers, meeting in Geneva, Switzerland in November 1985

A superpower is a state with a dominant position characterized by its extensive ability to exert influence or project power on a global scale. This is done through the combined-means of economic, military, technological and cultural strength as well as diplomatic and soft power influence. Traditionally, superpowers are preeminent among the great powers.

Sovereign state Political organization with a centralized independent government

In international law, a sovereign state, sovereign country, or simply state, is a nonphysical juridical entity that is represented by one centralized government that has sovereignty over a geographic area. International law defines sovereign states as having a permanent population, defined territory, one government, and the capacity to enter into relations with other sovereign states. It is also normally understood that a sovereign state is neither dependent on nor subjected to any other power or state.

Sphere of influence area where a state has a level of political, military, economic or cultural influence

In the field of international relations, a sphere of influence (SOI) is a spatial region or concept division over which a state or organization has a level of cultural, economic, military, or political exclusivity, accommodating to the interests of powers outside the borders of the state that controls it.

Power projection Military term

Power projection is a term used in military and political science to refer to the capacity of a state "to apply all or some of its elements of national power — political, economic, informational, or military — to rapidly and effectively deploy and sustain forces in and from multiple dispersed locations to respond to crises, to contribute to deterrence, and to enhance regional stability."


The term was first applied post World War II to the United States and the Soviet Union. For the duration of the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union came to be generally regarded as the two remaining superpowers, dominating world affairs. At the end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, only the United States appeared to be the world's superpower. [1] [2] [3] Alice Lyman Miller defines a superpower as "a country that has the capacity to project dominating power and influence anywhere in the world, and sometimes, in more than one region of the globe at a time, and so may plausibly attain the status of global hegemony". [4]

United States Federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country comprising 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe's 3.9 million square miles. With a population of more than 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the most populous city is New York City. Forty-eight states and the capital's federal district are contiguous in North America between Canada and Mexico. The State of Alaska is in the northwest corner of North America, bordered by Canada to the east and across the Bering Strait from Russia to the west. The State of Hawaii is an archipelago in the mid-Pacific Ocean. The U.S. territories are scattered about the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, stretching across nine official time zones. The extremely diverse geography, climate, and wildlife of the United States make it one of the world's 17 megadiverse countries.

Soviet Union 1922–1991 country in Europe and Asia

The Soviet Union, officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), was a socialist state in Eurasia that existed from 1922 to 1991. Nominally a union of multiple national Soviet republics, its government and economy were highly centralized. The country was a one-party state, governed by the Communist Party with Moscow as its capital in its largest republic, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. Other major urban centres were Leningrad, Kiev, Minsk, Tashkent, Alma-Ata, and Novosibirsk. It spanned over 10,000 kilometres (6,200 mi) east to west across 11 time zones, and over 7,200 kilometres (4,500 mi) north to south. It had five climate zones: tundra, taiga, steppes, desert and mountains.

Cold War Geopolitical tension after World War II between the Eastern and Western Bloc

The Cold War was a period of geopolitical tension between the Soviet Union with its satellite states, and the United States with its allies after World War II. The historiography of the conflict began between 1946 and 1947. The ensuing Cold War period began to de-escalate after the Revolutions of 1989. The collapse of the USSR in 1991 was the most obvious and convincing end of the Cold War. The term "cold" is used because there was no large-scale fighting directly between the two sides, but they each supported major regional conflicts known as proxy wars. The conflict split the temporary wartime alliance against Nazi Germany and its allies, leaving the USSR and the US as two superpowers with profound economic and political differences.

Terminology and origin

A world map in 1945. According to William T.R. Fox, the United States (blue), the Soviet Union (red) and the British Empire (teal) were superpowers Superpower map 1945.png
A world map in 1945. According to William T.R. Fox, the United States (blue), the Soviet Union (red) and the British Empire (teal) were superpowers
Countries with United States military bases and facilities as the United States still remains the leading example of superpower military projection American bases worldwide.svg
Countries with United States military bases and facilities as the United States still remains the leading example of superpower military projection

No agreed definition of what is a superpower exists and may differ between sources. [2] However, a fundamental characteristic that is consistent with all definitions of a superpower is a nation or state that has mastered the seven dimensions of state power, namely geography, population, economy, resources, military, diplomacy and national identity. [5]

Geography The science that studies the terrestrial surface, the societies that inhabit it and the territories, landscapes, places or regions that form it

Geography is a field of science devoted to the study of the lands, features, inhabitants, and phenomena of the Earth and planets. The first person to use the word γεωγραφία was Eratosthenes. Geography is an all-encompassing discipline that seeks an understanding of Earth and its human and natural complexities—not merely where objects are, but also how they have changed and come to be.

Population All the organisms of a given species that live in the specified region

In biology, a population is all the organisms of the same group or species, which live in a particular geographical area, and have the capability of interbreeding. The area of a sexual population is the area where inter-breeding is potentially possible between any pair within the area, and where the probability of interbreeding is greater than the probability of cross-breeding with individuals from other areas.

An economy is an area of the production, distribution, or trade, and consumption of goods and services by different agents. Understood in its broadest sense, 'The economy is defined as a social domain that emphasize the practices, discourses, and material expressions associated with the production, use, and management of resources'. Economic agents can be individuals, businesses, organizations, or governments. Economic transactions occur when two parties agree to the value or price of the transacted good or service, commonly expressed in a certain currency. However, monetary transactions only account for a small part of the economic domain.

The term was first used to describe nations with greater than great power status as early as 1944, but only gained its specific meaning with regard to the United States and the Soviet Union after World War II. This was because the United States and the Soviet Union had proved themselves to be capable of casting great influence in global politics and military dominance. The term in its current political meaning was coined by Dutch-American geostrategist Nicholas Spykman in a series of lectures in 1943 about the potential shape of a new post-war world order. This formed the foundation for the book The Geography of the Peace, which referred primarily to the unmatched maritime global supremacy of the British Empire and United States as essential for peace and prosperity in the world.

Great power nation that has great political, social, and economic influence

A great power is a sovereign state that is recognized as having the ability and expertise to exert its influence on a global scale. Great powers characteristically possess military and economic strength, as well as diplomatic and soft power influence, which may cause middle or small powers to consider the great powers' opinions before taking actions of their own. International relations theorists have posited that great power status can be characterized into power capabilities, spatial aspects, and status dimensions.

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

A year later in 1944, William T. R. Fox, an American foreign policy professor, elaborated on the concept in the book The Superpowers: The United States, Britain and the Soviet Union — Their Responsibility for Peace which spoke of the global reach of a super-empowered nation. [6] Fox used the word superpower to identify a new category of power able to occupy the highest status in a world in which—as the war then raging demonstrated—states could challenge and fight each other on a global scale. According to him, at that moment there were three states that were superpowers, namely the United States, the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom. The British Empire was the most extensive empire in world history and considered the foremost great power, holding sway over 25% of the world's population [7] and controlling about 25% of the Earth's total land area, while the United States and the Soviet Union grew in power before and during World War II.

William T. R. Fox American political scientist and international relations theoretician

William Thornton Rickert Fox, generally known as William T. R. Fox, was an American foreign policy professor and international relations theoretician at the Columbia University. He is perhaps mostly known as the coiner of the term "superpower" in 1944. He wrote several books about the foreign policy of the United States of America and the United Kingdom. He was a pioneer in establishing international relations, and the systematic study of statecraft and war, as a major academic discipline. National security policy and an examination of civil-military relations were also focuses of his interests and career. He was the founding director of Columbia's Institute of War and Peace Studies and held the position from 1951–1976.

United Kingdom Country in Europe

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK) or Britain, is a sovereign country located off the north-western coast of the European mainland. The United Kingdom includes the island of Great Britain, the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland, and many smaller islands. Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom that shares a land border with another sovereign state, the Republic of Ireland. Apart from this land border, the United Kingdom is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, with the North Sea to the east, the English Channel to the south and the Celtic Sea to the south-west, giving it the 12th-longest coastline in the world. The Irish Sea lies between Great Britain and Ireland. The United Kingdom's 242,500 square kilometres (93,600 sq mi) were home to an estimated 66.0 million inhabitants in 2017.

British Empire States and dominions ruled by the United Kingdom

The British Empire comprised the dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates and other territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom and its predecessor states. It originated with the overseas possessions and trading posts established by England between the late 16th and early 18th centuries. At its height, it was the largest empire in history and, for over a century, was the foremost global power. By 1913, the British Empire held sway over 412 million people, 23% of the world population at the time, and by 1920, it covered 35,500,000 km2 (13,700,000 sq mi), 24% of the Earth's total land area. As a result, its political, legal, linguistic and cultural legacy is widespread. At the peak of its power, the phrase "the empire on which the sun never sets" was often used to describe the British Empire, because its expanse around the globe meant that the sun was always shining on at least one of its territories.

The Belt and Road Initiative is a colossal economic trade route that is seen as a symbol of the economic dominance and ambitions of China and a example of economic superpower projection One Belt One Road.png
The Belt and Road Initiative is a colossal economic trade route that is seen as a symbol of the economic dominance and ambitions of China and a example of economic superpower projection

According to Lyman Miller, "[t]he basic components of superpower stature may be measured along four axes of power: military, economic, political, and cultural (or what political scientist Joseph Nye has termed "soft power")". [4]

Joseph Nye American political scientist

Joseph Samuel Nye Jr. is an American political scientist. He is the co-founder, along with Robert Keohane, of the international relations theory of neoliberalism, developed in their 1977 book Power and Interdependence. Together with Keohane, he developed the concepts of asymmetrical and complex interdependence. They also explored transnational relations and world politics in an edited volume in the 1970s. More recently, he explained the distinction between hard power and soft power, and pioneered the theory of soft power. His notion of "smart power" became popular with the use of this phrase by members of the Clinton Administration, and more recently the Obama Administration. He is the former Dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, where he currently holds the position of University Distinguished Service Professor, Emeritus. In October 2014, Secretary of State John Kerry appointed Nye to the Foreign Affairs Policy Board. He is also a member of the Defense Policy Board.

Soft power is the ability to attract and co-opt, rather than coerce. Soft power is the ability to shape the preferences of others through appeal and attraction. A defining feature of soft power is that it is non-coercive; the currency of soft power is culture, political values, and foreign policies. Recently, the term has also been used in changing and influencing social and public opinion through relatively less transparent channels and lobbying through powerful political and non-political organizations, and through economic influence. In 2012, Joseph Nye of Harvard University explained that with soft power, "the best propaganda is not propaganda", further explaining that during the Information Age, "credibility is the scarcest resource."

In the opinion of Kim Richard Nossal of Queen's University in Canada, "generally this term was used to signify a political community that occupied a continental-sized landmass, had a sizable population (relative at least to other major powers); a superordinate economic capacity, including ample indigenous supplies of food and natural resources; enjoyed a high degree of non-dependence on international intercourse; and, most importantly, had a well-developed nuclear capacity (eventually normally defined as second strike capability)". [2]

In the opinion of Professor Paul Dukes, "a superpower must be able to conduct a global strategy including the possibility of destroying the world; to command vast economic potential and influence; and to present a universal ideology". Although "many modifications may be made to this basic definition". [9] According to Professor June Teufel Dreyer, "[a] superpower must be able to project its power, soft and hard, globally". [10] In his book Superpower: Three Choices for America's Role in the World , Dr. Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group, argues that a superpower is "a country that can exert enough military, political, and economic power to persuade nations in every region of the world to take important actions they would not otherwise take". [11]


Superpowers of the past

The global contribution to world's GDP by major economies from 1 AD to 2003 AD according to Angus Maddison's estimates. Before 18th century, China and India were the two largest economies by GDP output. Share of Global GDP.gif
The global contribution to world's GDP by major economies from 1 AD to 2003 AD according to Angus Maddison's estimates. Before 18th century, China and India were the two largest economies by GDP output.
Islamic Gunpowder Empires: Mughal Army artillerymen during the reign of Akbar The Great. The Adventures of Akbar artillery.jpg
Islamic Gunpowder Empires: Mughal Army artillerymen during the reign of Akbar The Great.

There have been many attempts by historians to apply the term superpower retrospectively and sometimes very loosely, to a variety of entities in the past. Recognition by historians of these older states as superpowers may focus on various superlative traits exhibited by them. Examples of these ancient or historical superpowers include the British Empire, [6] Ancient Egypt, [13] the Hittite Empire, [14] the Median Empire, the Achaemenid Empire, [15] the Parthian Empire, [16] [17] the Sassanian Empire, [18] [19] [20] the Safavid Empire, the Afsharid Empire, [21] [22] the Hellenistic Empire of Alexander the Great, [23] the Roman Empire, [24] the Maurya Empire, [25] [26] the Byzantine Empire, the Bulgarian Empire, the Russian Empire, the Han Empire, the Tang Empire, [27] the Rashidun Caliphate, the Umayyad Caliphate, [28] the Abbasid Caliphate, the Mongol Empire, the Ottoman Empire, [29] the Spanish Empire, [30] the Timurid Empire of Timur the Great, [31] the First French Empire of Napoleon, [32] Song dynasty, Ming dynasty, Qing dynasty, Gupta Empire, Chola dynasty, the Delhi Sultanate, Bengal Sultanate, [33] Rashtrakuta dynasty, the Mughal Empire, [34] Kingdom of Mysore, Carthaginian Empire, Aksumite Empire, Almoravid Empire, Mali Empire, Inca Empire, Carolingian Empire, Holy Roman Empire and the Portuguese Empire. According to historical statistics and research from the OECD, Western Europe, China, and India accounted for roughly 23 of the world's GDP until the early modern period. [35]

Cold War

This map shows two global spheres during the Cold War in 1980:
NATO member states
Other Nato and United States allies
x Anti-communist guerrillas
Warsaw Pact member states
Socialist states allied with the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact
Other allies of the Soviet Union
x Communist guerrillas
Socialist states not allied with the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact
Neutral nations
x Other conflicts Cold War Map 1980.svg
This map shows two global spheres during the Cold War in 1980:
   NATO member states
  Other Nato and United States allies
× Anti-communist guerrillas
   Warsaw Pact member states
  Socialist states allied with the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact
  Other allies of the Soviet Union
× Communist guerrillas
  Socialist states not allied with the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact
  Neutral nations
× Other conflicts

The 1956 Suez Crisis suggested that Britain, financially weakened by two world wars, could not then pursue its foreign policy objectives on an equal footing with the new superpowers without sacrificing convertibility of its reserve currency as a central goal of policy. [36] As the majority of World War II had been fought far from its national boundaries, the United States had not suffered the industrial destruction nor massive civilian casualties that marked the wartime situation of the countries in Europe or Asia. The war had reinforced the position of the United States as the world's largest long-term creditor nation [37] and its principal supplier of goods; moreover it had built up a strong industrial and technological infrastructure that had greatly advanced its military strength into a primary position on the global stage. [38] Despite attempts to create multinational coalitions or legislative bodies (such as the United Nations), it became increasingly clear that the superpowers had very different visions about what the post-war world ought to look like and after the withdrawal of British aid to Greece in 1947 the United States took the lead in containing Soviet expansion in the Cold War. [39]

The two countries opposed each other ideologically, politically, militarily, and economically. The Soviet Union promoted the ideology of Marxism–Leninism, planned economy and a one-party state whilst the United States promoted the ideologies of liberal democracy and the free market in a capitalist market economy. This was reflected in the Warsaw Pact and NATO military alliances, respectively, as most of Europe became aligned with either the United States or the Soviet Union. These alliances implied that these two nations were part of an emerging bipolar world, in contrast with a previously multipolar world. [ citation needed ]

The idea that the Cold War period revolved around only two blocs, or even only two nations, has been challenged by some scholars in the post–Cold War era, who have noted that the bipolar world only exists if one ignores all of the various movements and conflicts that occurred without influence from either of the two superpowers. [40] Additionally, much of the conflict between the superpowers was fought in proxy wars which more often than not involved issues more complex than the standard Cold War oppositions. [41]

After the Soviet Union disintegrated in the early 1990s, the term hyperpower began to be applied to the United States as the sole remaining superpower of the Cold War era. [2] This term, popularized by French foreign minister Hubert Védrine in the late 1990s, is controversial and the validity of classifying the United States in this way is disputed. One notable opponent to this theory is Samuel P. Huntington, who rejects this theory in favor of a multipolar balance of power. Other international relations theorists such as Henry Kissinger theorize that because the threat of the Soviet Union no longer exists to formerly American-dominated regions such as Western Europe and Japan, American influence is only declining since the end of the Cold War because such regions no longer need protection or have necessarily similar foreign policies as the United States. [42]

The Soviet Union and the United States fulfilled the superpower criteria in the following ways:

Flag of the Soviet Union.svg Soviet Union Flag of the United States.svg United States
DemographyHad a population of 286.7 million in 1989, the third largest on Earth behind China and India. [43] Had a population of 248.7 million in 1990, at that time the fourth largest on Earth behind China, India and the Soviet Union. [44]
GeographyLargest state in the world (actually a federal superstate), with a surface area of 22,270,000 km2 (8,600,000 sq mi). [43] Fourth largest country in the world, with an area of 9,147,593 km2 (3,531,905 sq mi). [45]
EconomyGNP of $2.7 trillion in 1990 (equivalent to $5.2 trillion in 2018). Second largest economy in the world. [46] Enormous mineral energy resources and fuel supply. Generally self-sufficient using a minimal amount of imports, although it suffered resource inadequacies such as in agriculture. Marxian economic theory based primarily on production, i.e. large-scale industrial production directed by centralised state organs leading to a high degree of inefficiency. Five-year plans frequently used to accomplish economic goals. Economic benefits such as guaranteed employment, free healthcare and free education provided to all levels of society, although they were frequently below Western standards such as in health care. Economy tied to Central and Eastern-European satellite states.GNP of $5.2 trillion in 1990 (equivalent to $10 trillion in 2018). Largest economy in the world. [46] Capitalist market economic theory based on supply and demand in which production was determined by customers' demands, although it also included rising income inequality since 1979. [47] Enormous industrial base and a large and modernized farming industry. Large volume of imports and exports. Large resources of minerals, energy resources, metals and timber. High standard of living with accessibility to many manufactured goods. Home to a multitude of the largest global corporations. United States dollar served as the dominant world reserve currency under Bretton Woods Conference. Allied with G7 major economies. Supported allied countries' economies via such programmes as the Marshall Plan.
PoliticsStrong Marxist–Leninist state with extensive secret police apparatus, organized under a quasi-parliamentary system with strong fusion of powers, with checks and balances for both the executive and the judiciary primarily based on commanding the legislature's confidence. The Supreme Soviet enjoyed de facto parliamentary sovereignty despite a written constitution and nominal federalism as no court was vested with judicial review. As no formal office of President has existed, the standing legislature also served as a collective head of state. The only national-level popular elections were the quinquennial elections to the Supreme Soviet which were yes-or-no votes on candidates handpicked beforehand. However, radical government reforms in 1989 introduced competitive elections, a directly-elected executive President and a Constitutional Court, both having rudimentary separation of powers from the existing components of the system. One-party system with the Communist Party having an institutionalized monopoly of power. Permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.Strong liberal constitutional republic, organized under a presidential system with strong separation of powers, with a complicated system of checks and balances exercised between the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. The legislative powers of the United States Congress were limited both by the written constitution and by the federal nature of the national government. Despite the lack of a dedicated Constitutional Court, judicial review of laws has been vested in the Supreme Court by judicial precedent. The President was both head of state and head of government and his cabinet was not required to command congressional confidence. The only national popular elections were the biennial congressional elections. However. the quadrennial presidential election has de facto changed from an indirect election by an Electoral College into a direct, although weighted, popular election. Two-party system between Democrats and Republicans. Permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council along with two allies (France and the United Kingdom).
Foreign relationsStrong ties with Central and Eastern Europe, countries in Latin America, Southeast Asia and Africa. Also had an alliance with China up until 1961. Supported Marxist–Leninist countries around the world.Strong ties with Western Europe, some countries in Latin America, the Commonwealth of Nations and several East Asian countries. Supported liberal democracies and anti-communist dictatorships around the world.
MilitaryPossessed largest armed forces and air force in the world and the second of the world's largest navies. Possessed bases around the world. Held the world's largest stockpile of nuclear weapons for the second half of the Cold War. Founder of Warsaw Pact with satellite states in Central and Eastern Europe. Global intelligence network with the GRU and the First Chief Directorate of the KGB. Ties with paramilitary and guerrilla groups in the developing world. Large arms industry production with global distribution.Highest military expenditure in the world, [48] with the world's largest navy surpassing the next 13 largest navies combined [49] [50] and an army and air force rivaled only by that of the Soviet Union. Possessed bases around the world, particularly in an incomplete ring bordering the Warsaw Pact to the West, South and East. Largest nuclear arsenal in the world during the first half of the Cold War. Powerful military allies in Western Europe with their own nuclear capabilities. Global intelligence networks with the Intelligence Community. Ties with paramilitary and guerrilla groups in the developing world. Large armament production through defense contractors along with its developed allies for the global market.
MediaConstitutional guarantees for freedom of speech and freedom of the press were made conditional both for fulfilling one's citizen's duties and for conformity with the interests of the government, thereby turning them into effective dead letters. Press explicitly controlled and censored. Promoted through the use of propaganda its socialist ideal that workers of all countries should unite to overthrow capitalist society and what they called the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie and replace it with a socialist society where all means of production are publicly owned.Maintained constitutional guarantees for freedom of speech and freedom of the press, although the ongoing Cold War did lead to a degree of censorship, particularly during the Vietnam War and the Second Red Scare when censorship was the heaviest.
CultureRich tradition in literature, film, classical music and ballet.Rich tradition and worldwide cultural influence in music, literature, film, television, cuisine, art and fashion.

Post–Cold War era

The New York Stock Exchange trading floor (economic power such as a large nominal GDP and a world reserve currency are important factors in projection of hard power) NYSE127.jpg
The New York Stock Exchange trading floor (economic power such as a large nominal GDP and a world reserve currency are important factors in projection of hard power)

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 which ended the Cold War, the post–Cold War world has in the past been considered by some to be a unipolar world, [51] [52] with the United States as the world's sole remaining superpower. [53] In 1999, Samuel P. Huntington wrote: "The United States, of course, is the sole state with preeminence in every domain of power – economic, military, diplomatic, ideological, technological, and cultural – with the reach and capabilities to promote its interests in virtually every part of the world". However, Huntington rejected the claim that the world was unipolar, arguing: "There is now only one superpower. But that does not mean that the world is unipolar," describing it instead as "a strange hybrid, a uni-multipolar system with one superpower and several major powers". He further wrote that "Washington is blind to the fact that it no longer enjoys the dominance it had at the end of the Cold War. It must relearn the game of international politics as a major power, not a superpower, and make compromises". [54]

Experts argue that this older assessment of global politics is too simplified, in part because of the difficulty in classifying the European Union at its current stage of development. Others argue that the notion of a superpower is outdated, considering complex global economic interdependencies and propose that the world is multipolar. [55] [56] [57] [58]

A 2012 report by the National Intelligence Council said that the United States superpower status will have eroded to merely being first among equals by 2030, but that it would remain highest among the world's most powerful countries because of its influence in many different fields and global connections that the great regional powers of the time would not match. [59] Additionally, some experts have suggested the possibility of the United States losing its superpower status completely in the future. Citing speculation of the United States relative decline in power to the rest of the world, economic hardships, a declining dollar, Cold War allies becoming less dependent on the United States and the emergence of future powers around the world. [60] [61] [62] [63]

Some people doubt the existence of superpowers in the post–Cold War era altogether, stating that today's complex global marketplace and the rising interdependency between the world's nations has made the concept of a superpower an idea of the past and that the world is now multipolar. However, while the military dominance of the United States remains unquestioned for now and its international influence has made it an eminent world power, countries such as China, India, Brazil and Russia are inventing new ways to counter American military supremacy such as space and are making great strides in science, literature, soft power and diplomacy. [55] [56] [57] [58]

The relations between China and the United States as two powerful geopolitical entities, along with Russia's increasing involvement in the new age of great power competition, is putting the West increasingly at odds on how to deal with the increasingly complex domain in International Relations. According to American diplomat James Dobbins, Professor Howard J. Shatz and Policy Analyst Ali Wyne, Russia in the breakdown of a disintegrating unipolar world order, whilst not a peer competitor to the United States, would still remain a player and a potential rogue state that would undermine global affairs. The West's efforts to contain Russia like the Soviet Union would be tested by covert methods of the Russian Federation to sow discord and disrupt social stability within the United States and members of the European Union. On the other hand, China in contrast to Russia is a peer competitor to the United States and will be a far more challenging entity for the West to confront. It is stated that China's military dominance in the Asia-Pacific is already eroding American influence at a rapid pace and in the near future and that any attempts for the United States to try to reinstate its dominance would only grow steeper and riskier of losing it. Moreover, as competing great powers, China's economic influence had already broken out of its regional confines long ago and is on track on directly contesting the United States role as the center for economic trade and commerce. [64] [65] [66] [67]

However, the notion of the United States being seen as the sole superpower or China as a newly emerged equal is disputed and split between scholars and political scientists. With the only middle ground being agreed upon is that US global influence have significantly eroded in the 21st century. [68]

Potential superpowers

A map showing the United States as the current superpower, along with other political entities that have varying degrees of academic support as potential superpowers:
European Union
United States Potential Superpowers.svg
A map showing the United States as the current superpower, along with other political entities that have varying degrees of academic support as potential superpowers:

The term potential superpowers has been applied by scholars and other qualified commentators to the possibility of several political entities achieving superpower status in the 21st century. Due to their large markets, growing military strength, economic potential, and influence in international affairs, China, [69] [70] [71] the European Union, [72] [73] India [74] and Russia [75] are among the political entities most cited as having the potential of achieving superpower status in the 21st century. However, many historians, writers and critics have expressed doubts whether any of these countries would ever emerge as a new superpower. [76] [77] Some political scientists and other commentators have even suggested that such countries might simply be emerging powers, as opposed to potential superpowers. [78]

Besides those mentioned above, a limited number of observers have also discussed, although ultimately dismissed, Brazil having the potential to emerge as a superpower. [79]

The record of such predictions has admittedly not been perfect. For example, in the 1980s, some commentators thought Japan would become a superpower due to its large GDP and high economic growth at the time. [80] However, Japan's economy crashed in 1991, creating a long period of economic slump in the country which has become known as The Lost Years . As of August 2012, Japan had yet to fully recover from the 1991 crash. [81]

See also

Related Research Articles

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Hegemony is the political, economic, or military predominance or control of one state over others. In ancient Greece, hegemony denoted the politico-military dominance of a city-state over other city-states. The dominant state is known as the hegemon.

Superpower collapse is the political collapse of a superpower nation state; the term is most often used to describe the dissolution of the Soviet Union but also can be applied to the loss of the British Empire's superpower status.

A hyperpower is a state that dominates all other states in every domain and is considered to be a step higher than a superpower. The term often refers to the United States of America due to its status as the world's only current superpower; however, its possible status above that remains a topic of dispute.

Soviet Empire Informal term referring to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics

The informal term "Soviet Empire" has two meanings. In the narrow sense, it expresses a view in Western Sovietology that the Soviet Union as a state was a colonial empire. The onset of this interpretation is traditionally attributed to Richard Pipes's book The Formation of the Soviet Union (1954). In the wider sense, it refers to the country's perceived imperialist foreign policy during the Cold War. The nations said to be part of the Soviet Empire in the wider sense were officially independent countries with separate governments that set their own policies, but those policies had to remain within certain limits decided by the Soviet Union and enforced by threat of intervention by the Warsaw Pact. Countries in this situation are often called satellite states.

Power in international relations is defined in several different ways. Modern discourse generally speaks in terms of state power, indicating both economic and military power. Those states that have significant amounts of power within the international system are referred to as small powers, middle powers, regional powers, great powers, superpowers, or hegemons, although there is no commonly accepted standard for what defines a powerful state. NATO Quint, the G7, the BRICS nations and the G20 are seen by academics as forms of governments that exercise varying degrees of influence within the international system.

The term "new world order" has been used to refer to any new period of history evidencing a dramatic change in world political thought and the balance of power. Despite various interpretations of this term, it is primarily associated with the ideological notion of global governance only in the sense of new collective efforts to identify, understand, or address worldwide problems that go beyond the capacity of individual nation-states to solve.

Foreign relations of the Soviet Union

When Lenin and the Bolsheviks took over Russia in 1918, they faced enormous odds against the German Empire, and then again against multiple enemies in a bitter civil war.. At first, it was treated as an unrecognized Pariah state because of its repudiating the tsarist debts and threats to destroy capitalism at home and around the world. By 1922, Moscow had repudiated the goal of world revolution, and sought diplomatic recognition and friendly trade relations with the world, starting with Britain and Germany. Trade and technical help from Germany and the United States arrived in the late 1920s. Under dictator Joseph Stalin, the country was transformed in the 1930s into an industrial and military power. A totally unexpected treaty with Germany in 1939 allowed the Nazis to launch World War II with attacks first on Poland and in 1940 Western Europe without worrying about a two-front war. Germany in 1941 turned east in a massive invasion that reached the outskirts of Leningrad and Moscow. However, the Soviet Union proved strong enough to defeat Nazi Germany, with help from its key allies. In 1945 the USSR became one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council—along with the United States, Britain, France, and China, giving it the right to veto any of the Security Council's resolutions. By 1947, American and British anger at Soviet control over Eastern Europe led to a Cold War, with Western Europe organized economically with large sums of Marshall Plan money from Washington. Opposition to the danger of Soviet expansion form the basis to the NATO military alliance in 1949. There was no hot war, but the Cold War was fought diplomatically and politically across the world by the Soviet and NATO blocks.

Polarity in international relations is any of the various ways in which power is distributed within the international system. It describes the nature of the international system at any given period of time. One generally distinguishes three types of systems: unipolarity, bipolarity, and multipolarity for four or more centers of power. The type of system is completely dependent on the distribution of power and influence of states in a region or globally.

Balance of power (international relations) idea that national security is enhanced when military capabilities are distributed so no state is strong enough to dominate

The balance of power theory in international relations suggests that national security is enhanced when military capability is distributed so that no one state is strong enough to dominate all others. If one state becomes much stronger than others, the theory predicts that it will take advantage of its strength and attack weaker neighbors, thereby providing an incentive for those threatened to unite in a defensive coalition. Some realists maintain that this would be more stable as aggression would appear unattractive and would be averted if there was equilibrium of power between the rival coalitions.

Chinese Century Concept that China will dominate the 21st century geopolitically

The Chinese Century is a neologism suggesting that the 21st century will be geopolitically dominated by the People's Republic of China, similar to how "the American Century" refers to the 20th century and "Pax Britannica" refers to the 19th. The phrase is used particularly in the assertion that the economy of China could overtake the economy of the United States as the largest national economy in the world, a position it held from 1500 to 1830 A.D.

European Union as an emerging superpower

The European Union (EU) has been called an emerging superpower by scholars and academics like T. R. Reid, Andrew Reding, Andrew Moravcsik, Mark Leonard, Jeremy Rifkin, John McCormick and some politicians such as Romano Prodi and Tony Blair. They believe that the EU is a superpower, or will become one, in the 21st century – while noting that the concept of "superpower" has changed to one of soft power rather than the hard (military) superpowers of the 20th century. Others have challenged their views.

Potential superpowers

A potential superpower is a state or a political and economic entity that is speculated to be – or to have the potential to soon become – a superpower.

A Maritime power is a nation with a very strong navy, which often is also a great power, or at least a regional power. A Maritime power is able to easily control their coast, and exert influence upon both nearby and far countries. A nation that dominates the world navally is known as a maritime superpower.

<i>The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century</i> book by George Friedman

The Next 100 Years is a 2009 book by George Friedman. In the book, Friedman attempts to predict the major geopolitical events and trends of the 21st century. Friedman also speculates in the book on changes in technology and culture that may take place during this period.

Emerging power Nation or block with steadily rising influence in world affairs

An emerging power or rising power is a term used as recognition of the rising, primarily influence of a nation—or union of nations—which has steadily increased their presence in global affairs. Such a power aspires to have a more powerful position or role in international relations, either regionally or globally, and possess sufficient resources and levels of development that such goals are potentially achievable. A term also used to describe such a state is "rising power". Rising powers such as China and India may also be viewed as coincidental to the perceived decline of American hegemony in world politics.

Due to the Cold War’s nature of not being an active war but a period of geopolitical tensions, there is disagreement on the official ending of the Cold War and subsequent existence of the post-Cold War era. Some scholars claim the Cold War ended with the signing of the world’s first treaty on nuclear disarmament in 1987, or the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Despite this, the end of the Cold War symbolized a victory of democracy and capitalism, giving a boost to the rising world powers of the United States and China. Democracy became a manner of collective self-validation for countries hoping to gain international respect: when democracy was seen as an important value, political structures began adopting the value.


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