Superpowers of the World

A global superpower is a nation that has an influence on other nations.

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    Superpowers of the world are likely to be the countries that you hear about in the news. This is because these countries present as geopolitical threats to each other. Imagine countries of the world like packs of animals in the safari: larger predators are more powerful and have more prey options; smaller predators may follow a larger predator and take the leftovers. Measures of dominance explain the reasons why some predators are more successful than others.

    Lion surrounded by hyenas, Geopolitical superpowers, StudySmarter.Fig. 1 - Animals as a metaphor for the superpowers of the world

    There are many levels of hierarchy between superpowers of the world:

    • Hegemon : a supreme power that is dominant over many geographically distant countries, using many measures of dominance. The United States is the only country to claim hegemony.
    • Regional power : a country with a dominant influence over countries in the same geographical region, such as within the continent. Germany is a regional power in Europe. China and India are regional powers in Asia.
    • Emerging power : a country with increasing power over recent years, with the potential to become a superpower. BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) is a well-known acronym to describe the countries that fit under the category of emerging power.
    • Economic superpower : a country with influence over the global economy. Its collapse will have a domino effect on other nations' economies. What will happen to the stock market if the economic superpowers of the USA, China or Germany collapse?

    China is a frequently used example to compare against the United States as the modern 2 global superpowers in the exams. Make sure you read up on China's rise to power and its future struggles for a good grounding.

    What measures do superpowers of the world use to dominate countries?

    Measures of dominance refer to strategies used by a country to project its influence: most commonly through economics, military, and culture. The pattern of dominance changes over time. This results in variable geopolitical risks. The events following World War II and the Cold War have dramatically changed today's pattern of power.

    If you walk down the street of a western town, it's likely that someone has heard of the British royal family or the titles of several Hollywood movies. This is an example of the cultural presence of superpowers in our lives. We become acclimated to their visions. However, international culture is not the only measure of dominance exerted by a superpowers of the world.

    Broadly speaking, superpowers of the world can be measured by their:

    1. Economic power and size

    2. Political and military power

    3. Culture, demographics and resources

    Geo-strategic location and local patterns of power are other factors that can contribute to the rise of a country to become an emerging superpower of the world. The development of a superpower of the world varies on different factors but can be generally represented by legs that form the stool of sustainability. One leg could be a bit shorter, resulting in the instability of power held by the superpowers of the world.

    Stool of sustainability, Superpowers of the world, StudySmarter.Fig. 2 - Stool of sustainability for superpowers of the world

    1. Economic power and size

    Economic power is related to the country's purchasing power. The purchasing power is determined by the strength of the country's currency. The American dollar is currently considered the most powerful currency, and other countries hold it for emergency backup in their central banks. There was a global economic depression when the value of the American dollar crashed during the Great Depression in the 1920s.

    2. Political and military power

    Stable geopolitics, in the form of harmonious relationships between countries, allow steady development of the economy. Political alliances and strong military presences are possible strategies to ensure stable international relations. Economic and political alliances include the European Union and the United Nations Security Council. Superpowers influence the direction of these groups.

    3. Culture, demographics and resources

    You are aware of the presence of superpowers in your everyday lives, from your 'Made in China' clothes to your Apple iPad. Branding is a typical soft power example. By the laws of supply and demand, superpowers contain TNCs (transnational companies) that could monopolize a market to exert power, such as the Amazon empire. The monopolisation of a market is considered modern-day hard power.

    Resources are also controlled by groups: oil prices and the work of OPEC is a good example.

    Which countries have been global superpowers?

    Countries that have been global superpowers ties quite nicely to the dominant forces in the history of globalisation. This is because limitations in technology and migration resulted only in countries' ability to maintain regional power. Historically, the United Kingdom led by the British Empire is considered one of the first global superpowers. This is debated by the attempted rejuvenation of the Chinese Silk Road in the One Belt One Road initiative. It argues that China connected Asia through trade during the 10th century. World power was divided again during the World Wars with Germany, then Soviet Union (Russia) and the United States gaining spheres of influence. This is explored further in the article Theory of Development.

    What are the features of 10 world powers?

    Economic size and powerPolitical and Military Power Culture, Demographics and Resources
    GDP per capita (US $)Total Value of Exports (US $) Active military sizeMilitary Spending (US $ B) Population SizeMain LanguagesNatural resources
    United States65k1.51T 1.4M778 331M English Coal Copper Iron Natural Gas
    Brazil8.7k230B334k25.9212MPortugueseTin Iron Phosphate
    Russia11k407B1M61.7145MRussianCobalt Chrome Copper Gold
    India2k330B1.4M72.91.3BHindi EnglishCoal Iron Mangese Bauxite
    China10k2.57T2M2521.4BMandarinCoal Oil Natural Gas Aluminum
    United Kingdom42k446B150k59.267MEnglishCoal Petroleum Natural Gas
    Germany46k1.44T178k52.883MGermanTimber Natural Gas Coal Lignite Selenium
    Singapore65k301B72k11.565.8MEnglish Malay Tamil MandarinArable Land Fish
    Japan40k705B247k49.1125.8MJapaneseCoalIron OreZincLead
    France38k556B204k52.767.3MFrenchCoalIron oreZincUranium

    Superpowers of the world exam style question

    A typical data interpretation exam question for superpowers may include a table comparing statistics of different countries. You will need to compare and contrast the data provided. From the table above, some points that you could highlight include:

    • The USA may attribute its hegemonic status to its large military as seen from the largest active military of 1.4M and highest military spending cost of 778US $ B.
    • The USA also features a large number of natural energy sources that ensures its energy independence. This contrasts to the lack of natural energy sources in Singapore which may contribute to Singapore's need to aggressively expand its economy in order to pay for the energy demand of the growing nation.
    • The USA, United Kingdom, India and Singapore share the common language of English which could be mutually beneficial to their development.

    The key to achieving higher marks is to add a short example or explanation of the point that you are illustrating.

    Using the same example:

    "The USA, United Kingdom, India and Singapore share the common language of English which could be mutually beneficial to their development."

    • An example would be the utilization of India as the 'call centre of the world' which have contributed to the growing number of the Indian middle class and development of internet infrastructure to more cities. (example)

    • These countries share a common language as a result of the prehistoric British colonization. (explanation)

    Summary of Superpowers of the World

    The United States plays many roles as the "world leader". These roles cement American ideals to other nations by a mixture of soft power and hard power. This has been more difficult over the years as the U.S. government is increasingly scrutinised for its domestic policies and international relations. This includes the actions driven by its alliances with IGOs and TNCs.

    Global influence is changing as the world listens less to its “leader”. Power is siphoned by new groups: emerging powers and IGOs like OPEC are examples. Different schools of geopolitical development theories debate the rise and possible falls of current power sources. Such an idea is the stool of sustainability for the development of superpower status. This contains “legs” that gave rise to power, which are: economic power and size; political and military power; and, culture, demographics and resources. This may affect its future stability such as a culture, demographics and resources problem in China is the growing demand for corn to feed its increasing meat consumption as the middle class grows.

    As superpowers struggle to grasp dominant power, geopolitical conflicts may occur in future. Currently, many recent tensions between powers are limited by international agreements and alliances. There are always risks that recent tensions between powers can escalate. Examples include: China’s growing list of allies and enemies, the many Middle Eastern tensions; and, the Pakistan Nuclear Arms.

    “Regional rivals and rivalries most critical for international stability” relies on “a dynamic, ongoing balancing of power” (1)

    Superpowers of the World - Key takeaways

    • A superpower of the world is a nation with the ability to influence other nations. There are a number of superpowers, including emerging and regional powers.
    • The United States is the only country with a claim to hegemon as a result of its widespread measures of dominance.
    • Emerging powers are known as BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China), which are countries with increasing power over the recent years
    • Countries gain power through multiple measures of dominance: economic power size; political and military power; and culture, demographics and resources.
    • Measures of dominance vary between countries. This may produce advantages and disadvantages that affect their ability to exert influence over other nations.


    (1) Aharon Klieman in the preface of Great Powers and Geopolitics: International Affairs in a Rebalancing World, 2015.

    Lion photo:

    Numbers on table:

    GDP per capita: The World Bank; Total Value of Export: OEC World; Active Military Size: World Population Review; Military Spending: Statisa; Population Size: Worldometer

    Frequently Asked Questions about Superpowers of the World

    What are the two global superpowers?

    The United States and China

    Why is it important to consider superpowers in geography?

    Superpowers of the world are likely to be the countries that you hear about in the news. They pose as geopolitical threats to each other which has trickle-down effects to our everyday lives.

    Which countries have been global superpowers?

    There has been a few in modern history, which includes: United Kingdom, Germany, the Soviet Union led by Russia and the United States.

    What are the 10 world powers?

    Not in any order as the list depends on what criteria you use. This list usually includes the countries of: the United States, Brazil, Russia, India, China, the United kingdom, Germany, Singapore, Japan and France.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    How many countries does China border?

    How do geographical factors influence recent conflicts?

    What are the key factors fuelling recent conflicts around the world?


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