World Superpowers

Have you ever wondered how the international political system is configured? Or why do certain countries, such as the United States, have more power than others? 

World Superpowers World Superpowers

Create learning materials about World Superpowers with our free learning app!

  • Instand access to millions of learning materials
  • Flashcards, notes, mock-exams and more
  • Everything you need to ace your exams
Create a free account
Table of contents

    That is what "superpowers" are all about, and in this article, we help you understand why there are countries with more power and the characteristics of being part of those superpowers.

    Superpowers of the World

    No, we are not referring to powers like superhuman strength or the ability to fly.... However, superpowers of the world do have an impressive influence across political, economic and military affairs on a global scale.

    Superpower countries

    Superpowers are countries considered "superior" because they have an advantage over other countries. This often relates to a country's political, economic, or cultural strength.

    What are the Superpowers of the World?

    Ever wondered what makes a superpower of the world? Well... a Superpower Country is a nation that generates influence in other nations because of its military, technological, economic, and cultural strength. Contrary to the term, superpowers do not need to be giant countries.

    World superpowers have a considerable influence over our global political system. Superpowers have greater political, economic, and military capabilities than other states and are therefore regarded as superior geopolitically. It is believed that most large-scale military conflicts will require either political support or military assistance. Because of this, superpower countries are usually observed with a magnifying glass by the entire international community.

    In addition to "superpowers", there are also "hyperpower" countries. A "hyperpower" is a term used to describe a single superpower that rules the world. Between 1850 and 1910, Great Britain, a relatively small island far smaller than other European nations, was considered a hyperpower.

    Superpower Countries in History

    To understand the context of the term superpower, let's go back to the term's origin.

    World War II

    The term was first used to describe countries with superior powers to other countries. It was first used in 1944, during the Second World War. The parameters for qualifying a country as a superpower are seven dimensions of state power.

    That was the basis of the book "The Geography of Peace," which referred to the British Empire and its undeniable global maritime superiority, including the United States as an indispensable nation for the maintenance of world peace, as the protector of world peace and prosperity. In the book, the author, Nicholas John Spykman, mentions the dimensions of a superpower country:

    • Geography

    • Population

    • Economy

    • Resources

    • Military strength and diplomacy

    • National identity

    However, the term "superpower" took on real significance with the United States and the Soviet Union after the Second World War. They showed their capacity for global persuasion, geopolitical influence, and a highly developed military force.

    In the same year that first used the reference, 1944, an American professor of international politics wrote a book about the superpowers: the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union, and their responsibility to the world for maintaining peace.

    Here William T.R. Fox made his theory known: the "superpowers" could have a higher status in the world than other countries because, as shown precisely in that year, nations could attack each other, and it was up to the superpowers to prevent it.

    The British Empire was the first modern superpower, with 25% of its population under its jurisdiction. The United States and Soviet Union (USSR), on the other hand, were on the rise.

    In addition to describing post-war states, the term "superpower" has been used to express some ancient empires of great medieval powers, such as Rome or Persia.

    Cold War

    The United States and USRR Superpowers Countries StudySmarterFig. 1 – The United States and USRR.

    Later, Britain would experience severe financial difficulties due to the war and the dissolution of the Empire in the 20th century, which caused it to diminish its capabilities as a superpower significantly.

    During the Cold War, the superpowers were the Soviet Union and the United State

    s. Both superpowers possessed global political influence and substantial military capabilities.

    This resulted in an ideological rivalry between the two superpowers, wishing to achieve dominance over the global political order and establish a unipolar system.

    After the Cold War


    Post-Cold War World Superpowers Countries StudySmarterFig. 2 – Post-Cold War World.

    Although in 1990, after the Cold War, the United States was the leading superpower. Despite its economic problems and diplomatic influence in the 21st century, the United States continued to position itself as a country with clear supremacy over all others. In 1991, China joined the list of superpower countries, owing to its economic capacity. But today, the United States remains the most significant power.

    In 1991 the Soviet Union was disassembled, ending the Cold War. The United States has been considered the dominant player ever since. For some authors, since that time, the world has been "unipolar"6. While other authors, such as Huntington7, mention that, although the United States is the only superpower, the world is not unipolar but a multi-polar system, with a single superpower but several significant powers.

    Unipolar

    When one state appears to dominate the international system, in the absence of any significant competition from other states.

    Multipolar

    The distribution of power among multiple states in the international system.

    However, this theory was widely criticized, not least because the European Union was still developing at the time and was not considered to be a superpower.

    According to different realist and neorealist authors, the number of existing powers is fundamental to international politics. Must differentiate this idea from the concept of hegemony.

    Hegemony

    A dominant leadership or power is usually present in a State or a group. That power can be from social, cultural, political, or economic influence.

    A 2012 report published by the National Intelligence Council predicted that the United States would come first among all nations by 2030. This position would continue because the United States would be the wealthiest country globally, with undeniable influence.

    Characteristics of Superpower Countries

    Several characteristics can distinguish superpowers, emerging powers, and regional powers10. These characteristics include:

    • economic characteristics

    • political characteristics

    • military characteristics

    • cultural characteristics

    • demographic characteristics

    • access to natural resources

    It is important to note that it is not necessary to have "all" of the characteristics on the list but to achieve some of the requirements sufficient to be recognized globally as an influential nation with superior capabilities.

    Emerging Powers: A country or union of countries with meaningful growing influence in global politics is an emerging power or rising power.

    Regional Powers: A regional power is an economic force (within a specific region) with influence and the capacity to take regional and international action. It has a relatively large population and a fairly large territory.

    Economic characteristics

    Countries with a high Gross Domestic Product (GDP) have a high percentage of foreign trade or a currency used as a reserve currency or internationally known.

    Why is GDP important?

    Gross Domestic Product

    Gross Domestic Product is the total market value of all finished goods and services produced inside a country during a specific period.

    Because a high GDP generates market influence and encourages foreign investment, this characteristic is one of the most important.

    Currently, the United States has the highest GDP globally, with 20,953,030.00 million dollars12.

    The United States has the 20 largest transnational companies, with 27% of all transnational companies worldwide.

    Political characteristics

    Political characteristics consist of a country's ability to persuade decisions of other countries through negotiations, either directly or through international organisations. These political negotiations are often completed by senior national politicians such as diplomats, ambassadors, and heads of state.

    The political characteristics may be influenced by several non-government actors, such as the strength of private business or the military. These non-government actors may be able to lobby government officials and influence the nature and outcome of political negotiations.

    Military characteristics

    If a nation has a large military force with global reach, it can use it to fulfil its geopolitical objectives. Military power includes land, maritime power and technological power (such as drones, submarines, or satellites).

    Some indicators of military force are:

    • the size of the army,

    • national defence spending,

    • possession of weapons (especially nuclear weapons),

    • scope of the navy,

    • number of arms exports,

    • whether the country has a presence or leads in international military organizations.

    Such power indicators depend on demographic and economic power due to the number of military personnel and the army investment budget.

    Russia is among the countries with the most active nuclear warhead weapons, precisely 6,255 weapons. The United States is second, with 5,550 nuclear warhead weapons.

    Cultural characteristics

    Cultural characteristics describe the ability of countries to influence the values, beliefs, customs, ideology, lifestyle, and even dress of other countries.

    Now, how is it achieved?

    It is achieved through the media that disseminate the country's culture, such as films, music, radio and television, and education. Additionally, this can be achieved by including culture in society with transnational companies and immigrants who bring their customs in eating, dressing, music, religious beliefs, etc.

    It can also strengthen that country's culture through imposition by international agreements. That is to say, through an agreement between both parties, there is a diffusion of music, food, fashion, language, etc.

    Demographic characteristics

    If the country's population is large, this can strengthen the position of a state. For instance, a large population means there will be a large diaspora and more workers in large companies. That contributes to economic power from the market and economies of scale—the more money, the more capacity to increase the overall influence of a state within the global political system.

    China is the most populated country globally, with 1,414,350,000 million people.

    Access to natural resources

    This characteristic is significant because the level of resources accessible to a country depends on its geographical location. For example, natural resources could include valuable materials such as natural minerals, oil, or gas types of energy.

    Having valuable resources indicates that you can export these resources for a high value. Countries can access these resources internally or import them from their allied countries.

    • All these characteristics complement each other. However, economic power is the main characteristic that links:

    • To military power to invest in the military and its forces. In politics, a country with a larger economy has more ability to influence internationally.

    • A country with a large economy can take companies abroad and thus export its culture.

    • Having a large population means more people working, thus generating more wealth.

    • To resources, because they can economize its resources or import those it does not have.

    Who are the superpowers of the world?

    These ten countries can be considered superpowers of the world following recent publications by WorldPopulation, 2021, and the U.S. News & World Report magazine, 2021.

    List of Superpower Countries, Superpower countries, StudySmarterVanessa Semprun - StudySmarter Originals

    Due to their power, economy, population, or military strength, the United States, China, and Russia hold the first three places.

    The United States is in the first place, continuing its position as the world's leading power since the 1990s.

    Superpower Countries - Key takeaways

    • A Superpower Country is a nation that generates influence in other nations because of its military, technological, economic, and cultural strength.
    • The term was first used to describe countries with superior powers to other countries. It was first used in 1944, during the Second World War.
    • The British Empire was the first modern superpower, with 25% of its population under its jurisdiction.
    • The United States and Russia, on the other hand, were on the rise. It is not necessary to have "all" of the characteristics on the list but to achieve some of the requirements sufficient to be recognized globally as an influential nation with superior capabilities.
    • The first three superpowers are the United States, China, and Russia.

    References

    1. Kennedy, The rise and fall of the great powers, 1987.

    2. Maddison, The world economy: A millennial perspective, 2001.

    3. Munro, Superpowers, 2020.

    4. Krauthammer, Foreign Policy Magazine, 1991.

    5. Munro et Rosamond, Superpowers, 2020.

    6. A-Level Geography revision: EDEXCEL, N/A.

    7. Fernando, 2022.

    8. World Bank National Accounts Data, 2020.

    9. U.S. News and World Report Magazine, 2021.

    10. Alvar Ezquerra, National Geographic Magazine, 2020.


    References

    1. Fig. 1 – Cold-war-jfk (https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/2c/Cold-war-jfk.jpg) by Ruby Jennings (https://prezi.com/p/8i70kxk__t56/jfk-the-cold-war/) licensed by CC-BY-SA-4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en).
    2. Fig. 2 – Post-Cold War World (https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/84/Post-Cold_War_World.png) by Universalis (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Universalis) licensed by CC-BY-SA-4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en).
    Frequently Asked Questions about World Superpowers

    What country is a superpower?

    The United States of America

    What are the features of superpower countries?

    The superpower features are economy, politics, military, culture, demographics, and resources.

    What is the best superpower country?

    The United States of America

    Who was the 1st world power?

    Ancient Iran is considered the first superpower.

    What is a superpower country?

    A Superpower Country is a nation that generates a significant influence in other nations because of its economic, political, and military powers.

     

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Selects the correct answers: Which is the most populous country?

    Select the correct answer: Which of these countries has the most active nuclear weapons?

    Select the correct answer: Which of these countries has the largest transnational corporations?

    Next

    Discover learning materials with the free StudySmarter app

    Sign up for free
    1
    About StudySmarter

    StudySmarter is a globally recognized educational technology company, offering a holistic learning platform designed for students of all ages and educational levels. Our platform provides learning support for a wide range of subjects, including STEM, Social Sciences, and Languages and also helps students to successfully master various tests and exams worldwide, such as GCSE, A Level, SAT, ACT, Abitur, and more. We offer an extensive library of learning materials, including interactive flashcards, comprehensive textbook solutions, and detailed explanations. The cutting-edge technology and tools we provide help students create their own learning materials. StudySmarter’s content is not only expert-verified but also regularly updated to ensure accuracy and relevance.

    Learn more
    StudySmarter Editorial Team

    Team World Superpowers Teachers

    • 11 minutes reading time
    • Checked by StudySmarter Editorial Team
    Save Explanation

    Study anywhere. Anytime.Across all devices.

    Sign-up for free

    Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.

    Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App

    The first learning app that truly has everything you need to ace your exams in one place

    • Flashcards & Quizzes
    • AI Study Assistant
    • Study Planner
    • Mock-Exams
    • Smart Note-Taking
    Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App