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Image:B-2 Spirit 3.jpg
An American B-2 bomber in flight. Advanced military technologies such as this allow power projection on an international scale—a typical hallmark of a superpower

A superpower is a state with the first rank in the international system and the ability to influence events and project power on a worldwide scale; it is considered a higher level of power than a Great power. It was a term first applied in 1943 to the Soviet Union, the United States, and the British Empire. Following World War II, the British Empire was gradually decentralized and dismantled and the Soviet Union and the United States were regarded as the only two superpowers, then engaged in the Cold War.

Currently, the most common belief among mainstream journalism and in the world of academia holds that only the United States of America fulfills the criteria to be considered a superpower. Sometimes, given the unipolar nature of the world, it is described as a hyperpower.<ref>Encyclopaedia Britannica The World's Sole Superpower </ref>

China and India appear to have the greatest potential amongst all the other nations of achieving superpower or near-superpower status within the 21st century and are often termed as emerging superpowers.

The European Union has economic power about the same as the United States but lacks a comparable unified military. As a result some consider that despite not being politically unified, it may be either an emerging or existing superpower, depending on one's viewpoint.

Others, however, doubt the existence of superpowers 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.<ref name="The Global list (No superpower)">Template:Cite web</ref><ref name="Washington Post (No superpower)">Template:Cite web</ref><ref name="Huffington Post (No superpower)">Template:Cite web</ref><ref name=" (No superpower)">Template:Cite web</ref><ref name=" (No superpower)">Template:Cite web</ref><ref name="A Times (No superpower)">Template:Cite web</ref><ref name="Capitol Hill Blue (No superpower)">Template:Cite web</ref>


[edit] Origins

The term "superpower" was used to describe nations with greater than Great Power status as early as the 1930s, but only gained its specific meaning with regard to the United States and the Soviet Union after World War II.<ref>Global CPR</ref>

The term in its current political meaning was coined in the book The Superpowers, written by William Thornton Rickert Fox, an American foreign policy professor at Columbia University in 1943. Fox used this word 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, there were (at that moment) three states that were superpowers: the United States, the Soviet Union, and the British Empire.

The Suez Crisis made it clear that the British Empire, economically ravaged by two world wars, could no longer compete on an equal footing with the Soviet Union and the United States without sacrificing its reconstruction efforts, even while acting in concert with France and Israel. Thus, the United Kingdom became the closest connected, most important and most powerful ally of the United States on the American side of the Cold War, rather than remaining a superpower in its own right.

As the majority of World War II was fought far from its national boundaries, the United States did not suffer the industrial destruction or massive civilian casualties that marked the wartime situation of the countries in Europe or Asia. During the war, the United States had built up a strong industrial and technological infrastructure that had greatly advanced its military strength into a primary position on the global stage.

Following the war, nearly all of Europe had aligned either with the United States or the Soviet Union. Despite attempts to create multinational coalitions or legislative bodies (such as the United Nations), it became increasingly clear that the United States and the Soviet Union were the dominant political and economic powers of the newly emerging Cold War, and had very different visions about what the post-war world ought to look like. This was reflected in the NATO and Warsaw Pact military alliances. These alliances implied that these two nations were part of an emerging bipolar world, in contrast with a previously multipolar world. A number of nations undertook various programs to attempt to secure their own independent "superpower" status, such as the development of nuclear weapons by the United Kingdom, France, and China, as a rite of passage for being a "world player."

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 so-called superpowers. Additionally, much of the conflict between the superpowers was fought in "proxy wars", which more often than not involved issues far more complex than the standard Cold War oppositions.

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. This term, coined by French foreign minister Hubert Védrine in the 1990s, is controversial and the validity of classifying the United States in this way is disputed. One notable opponent to this theory, Samuel P. Huntington, rejects this theory in favor of a multipolar balance of power.

There have been attempts to apply the term superpower retrospectively, to a variety of past entities such as the Persian Empire and Roman Empire; however the validity of this tendency is disputed, therefore it is not widespread practice.

[edit] Characteristics of a superpower

The criteria of a superpower are not clearly defined, and as a consequence they may differ between sources, but the following elements are generally held to be significant.

Ability to project power around the world. In the modern world, this requires not only a strong land army (which many nations have), but also the air- and sea-lift capabilities to deploy and supply that military in furtherance of national interests, as well as public support for doing so.
Strong cultural influence, soft power. Cultural influence implies a developed philosophy and ideology.
Wide land or sea area under its control. Territory allows a country to mine minerals and grow food, increasing its self-sufficiency. It is an important factor in warfare, as it allows possibilities such as retreat, regrouping and reorganization, as well as placing distant radars and missile silos - even a richer country with smaller territory is more vulnerable in a military sense.

[edit] The Cold War era

Main article: Cold War
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██ Union of Soviet Socialist Republics ██ United States of America

The term 'superpower' in this context was originally coined to describe the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the United States of America, which opposed each other politically and economically during the Cold War.

The Soviet Union represented the ideology of communism, and led the Warsaw Pact, known as the Eastern Bloc in the West.

The United States represented the ideology of capitalism and led NATO during the Cold War.

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

Image:Flag of the Soviet Union.svg The Soviet Union Image:Flag of the United States.svg The United States
Political Strong Communist system of government. Communist ideals spread its influence over the globe. Had permanent seat on the UN Security Council. Strong ties with Eastern Europe and the developing world. Strong and stable liberal democracy, influence over the globe. Strong companies allowed the US to exert further influence over capitalist nations. Permanent seat on the UN Security Council. Strong ties with Western Europe and several East Asian countries.
Geographic Covered 22 million km², 11 time zones; was the largest country in the world. Covered huge sea area, and encompassed vast deposits of minerals and large farming areas. Third largest country in the world, with an area of approximately 9.6 million km² [1]. Vast resources of minerals, large farming industry.
Cultural Vast influence over neighbors, varied and rich history and culture. Wielded influence through communist governments and organizations around the world. Communist ideals attractive to many over the world. Huge influence over most of continent, integrated culture with Western Europe. Companies sold American and American-inspired cultural products all over the world. Freedom of speech attractive to many.
Military Had the largest army in world history (13 million in 1946). Sizable air force, imposing navy. Had the largest territory in the world with an abundance of strategic resources, the capability to develop advanced military and space technologies, and the world's largest stock of nuclear weapons for the second half of the Cold War. Bases all over the world, particularly in an incomplete "ring" bordering the Soviet Union to the West, South and East. Largest nuclear arsenal in the world during the first half of the Cold War - stationed on its own soil and also in Europe. Strong and Technologically advanced army and the world's largest navy.
Economic Was the largest centrally planned economy in the world, and second largest economy overall. At one point, produced 20% of the world's industrial output. Largest market economy in the world, and also largest economy overall.
Demographic Had a population of 293 million, was the third largest on Earth. Has a population of over 300 million. Now the third largest on Earth.

[edit] Superpowers today

A pie chart showing the comparison in share of GDP (PPP) between the entities discussed in this article. The entities discussed in this article take up 51% of the world's total GDP.

The post-Cold War world is widely considered as a unipolar world, with the United States as the world's sole remaining superpower, with the largest economic and military strength. The assessment of current global politics may not be so easily simplified, because of the difficulty of classifying the European Union at its current stage of development. Additionally many argue that the EU is underestimated<ref name="Café Babel on the EU being underestimated">Template:Cite web</ref>, while others argue that the notion of a superpower is antiquated, considering the complex global economic interdependencies that define this new century, and proposing that the world is multipolar.<ref name="The Global list (No superpower)">Template:Cite web</ref><ref name="Washington Post (No superpower)">Template:Cite web</ref><ref name="Huffington Post (No superpower)">Template:Cite web</ref><ref name=" (No superpower)">Template:Cite web</ref><ref name=" (No superpower)">Template:Cite web</ref><ref name="A Times (No superpower)">Template:Cite web</ref><ref name="Capitol Hill Blue (No superpower)">Template:Cite web</ref><ref name="Newsmax (No superpower)">Template:Cite web</ref>

Russia, as the legal successor state to the Soviet Union, also retains certain aspects of a superpower, such as a vast nuclear arsenal, a large population, the largest territory in the world with an abundance of strategic resources, and the capability to develop advanced military and space technologies.

Some analysts think the hegemonic stability theory explains the current evolution in international relations. Hegemonic states tend to overstretch their power, and new rivals will become gradually more powerful, eventually replacing or counterbalancing the weakened hegemony.

[edit] The United States

Image:Flag of the United States.svg Most people consider the United States the only sovereign nation-state, or country, that meets all criteria for being a superpower.

Geographic factors

  • The United States is the third largest country in the world by land area, after Russia and Canada. (Counting the disputed Taiwanese area as part of China places the United States in fourth place.)

Demographic factors

  • With over 300 million people, about 5% of the world population, the U.S. is the world's third most populous nation and the most populous with a high Human Development Index.
  • It has a high Human Development Index, according to the United Nations, ranking number ten.PDF.

Political factors

Economic and financial factors

Image:US and USSR nuclear stockpiles.png
U.S. and USSR/Russian nuclear weapons stockpiles, 1945-2005.

Military factors

  • The U.S. spends more on its military than the next twelve countries combined.[citation needed] As of 2006, it has the world's second largest nuclear arsenal and combines some of the world's most technologically advanced weapons systems with the expeditionary capability to project military power to any point in the world.

Cultural factors

  • American culture is influential worldwide, especially in the English-speaking world (soft power, Anti-Americanism).

[edit] European Union controversy

The economy of the European Union member states, if combined, is the strongest power in the world and gives the EU considerable political power. One may also believe that the EU is also a superpower<ref name="European superpower">Reid, TR (2004). The United States Of Europe: The New Superpower and the End of American Supremacy. Touchstone.</ref> - as it would be if the qualities of its member states are combined - and conversely there are many who do not hold such beliefs.<ref name="Yale Global on America's power being overestimated">Template:Cite web</ref> .
Some may also argue that the European Union is a superpower, if seen as an entity<ref name="European superpower">Reid, TR (2004). The United States Of Europe: The New Superpower and the End of American Supremacy. Touchstone.</ref>.

The EU currently features the world's largest GDP and consumer market and has considerable control over the global allocation of resources, yet it is currently argued that the European Union is too politically and culturally fragmented to be considered as a single unit, especially since two of the principal levers of power, foreign policy and defense, are exercised principally by the individual member states.[citation needed] If considered unified, some might consider the EU a super-power.

Overall the twenty-five member states also have significant cultural influences on the entire globe, with European fashion, art and food being common place in nearly every corner of the planet. France and the United Kingdom are also permanent members of the UN Security Council and have veto power. In terms of education, eight of the top fifteen ranks on the PISA were filled by EU member states with all western member states being represented among the top thirty.<ref name="PISA study rankings">Template:Cite web</ref> Given planned force expansion, Europe will field 4 fleet aircaft carriers as well as more than half a dozen smaller escort carriers and numerous surface warships by 2015.[citation needed]

The EU is composed of many developed countries; by contrast, India and China who are politically unified but still lack some economic, political, military, and social development. The European Union contains several current great powers - the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Italy - along with 21 other countries.

Also, the EU even seems to have developed a sphere of influence of close geographical nations, which was typical of the United States and Soviet Union in the Cold War.<ref name="The EU as a Regional Normative Hegemon">Template:Cite web</ref> Examples include candidate nations, EFTA members outside of the Union, and former colonies, especially in Africa. The EU plays the role of a normative hegemon [5]. It reverses the traditional balance of power, in the sense that states are not trying to counter-balance it but join it.

It is argued by commentators that full political integration is not required for the European Union to wield international influence: that its apparent weaknesses constitute its real strengths (as of its low profile diplomacy and the opsetion of the rule of law<ref name="The Project for a New European Century">Template:Cite web</ref>) and that the EU represents a new and potentially more successful type of international actor than traditional ones[6]; however, it is uncertain if the effectiveness of such an influence would be equal to that of a politically integrated superpower. (e.g. United States)

Much of the debate seems to stem from the EU being a sui generis entity.

[edit] Structure of the EU

On December 16, 2004, The World Factbook, a publication of the United States' Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) added an entry for the European Union.<ref name="Inclusion of EU in the CIA factbook">Template:Cite web</ref> According to the CIA, the European Union was added because the EU "continues to accrue more nation-like characteristics for itself". Their reasoning was explained in this small statement in the introduction:


[edit] Emerging superpowers

Main article: Emerging superpowers
██ People's Republic of China██ Republic of India██ European Union

[edit] People's Republic of China

Image:Flag of the People's Republic of China.svg The People's Republic of China is often considered an emerging superpower <ref name="Encyclopædia Britannica on China as an emerging superpower">Template:Cite web</ref>. Excluding economic data from Hong Kong and Macau, Mainland China is currently the world's second largest economy in terms of real GDP (PPP) and the fourth largest economy in terms of nominal GDP (market exchange rates) and is considered an emerging superpower due to its large population and extremely rapid economic expansion with an annual growth rate of 9.9%. <ref>New York Times - Chinese Economy Grows to 4th Largest in the World</ref> With the world's largest armed forces, China is one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.

[edit] Republic of India

Image:Flag of India.svg The Republic of India is currently the world's third largest economy in terms of real GDP (PPP) and the tenth largest economy in terms of nominal GDP (market exchange rates), with an annual growth rate of 9.2% <ref>Quarterly estimates of GDP for the second quarter of 2006-07</ref>. It is considered as a possible future superpower because of its growing industries and skilled workforce (not only in the service sector and IT industry, but also other hi-tech sectors such as chemical, bio-tech, and pharmaceutical industries), an emerging space program, a young population, and the second fastest growing major economy<ref>New Scientist Special Report on India </ref><ref>The Australian Regional Overview - Asia </ref>. It maintains world's third largest military, with the world's fourth largest air force and the fifth largest naval force which has "blue water" capabilities.<ref>Global Security India - Navy </ref> With India's democratic institutions, it is seen as a stable long term growth story.<ref>The Trailing Edge India as a future superpower by Peter Drucker</ref>

[edit] See also

[edit] References and sources





Power in international relations
Power statuses Middle power | Regional power | Great power | Superpower | Hyperpower
Emerging superpowers China | India | European Union
Future geopolitics African Century | American Century | Asian Century | British Moment | Chinese Century | European Century | Indian Century | Pacific Century
Types of power Soft power | Hard power | Political power | Power (sociology) | Power politics | Power projection | Polarity in international relations
Other BRIC | BRIMC | BRICS | BRICET | Energy superpower | Second superpower | SCO

da:Supermagt de:Weltmacht es:Superpotencia fr:Superpuissance ko:초강대국 it:Superpotenza hu:Szuperhatalom nl:Supermacht no:Supermakt nn:Supermakt pl:Supermocarstwo pt:Superpotência ro:Superputere ru:Сверхдержава fi:Supervalta sv:Supermakt vi:Siêu cường zh:超级大国


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