A superpower is a state with a leading position in the international system and the ability to influence events and project power on a worldwide scale; it is traditionally considered to be one step higher than a great power. Alice Lyman Miller (Professor of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School), 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 hegemon." [] ] It was a term first applied in 1944 to the United States, the Soviet Union, and the British Empire. Following World War II, as the British Empire transformed itself into the Commonwealth and its territories became independent, the Soviet Union and the United States generally came to be regarded as the only two superpowers, and confronted each other in the Cold War.

After the Cold War, the most common belief held is that only the United States fulfills the criteria to be considered a superpower,cite web|url=|title=Analyzing American Power in the Post-Cold War Era|accessdate=2007-02-28] although it is a matter of debate whether it is a hegemon or if it is losing its superpower statusUnger J (2008), [ U.S. no longer superpower, now a besieged global power, scholars say] "University of Illinois"] . China, the European Union, India and Russia are also thought to have the potential of achieving superpower status within the 21st century. [ [ Waving Goodbye to Hegemony] ] Others 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.cite web|url=|title=The Multipolar World Vs. The Superpower|accessdate=2006-06-10] cite web|url=|title=The Multipolar Unilateralist|accessdate=2006-06-10] cite web|url=|title=No Longer the "Lone" Superpower|accessdate=2006-06-11] cite web|url=|title=The war that may end the age of superpower|accessdate=2006-06-11]

Application of the term

The term "superpower" was 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.

There have been attempts to apply the term superpower retrospectively, and sometimes very loosely, to a variety of past entities such as Ancient Egypt, [ [ BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Glassmakers key to Egypt's status ] ] Ancient China, Ancient Greece, the Persian Empire, the Roman Empire, [ [] ] [ [] ] the Mongol Empire, Portuguese Empire, the Spanish Empire, the Dutch Republic and the British Empire. [KAMEN, H., "Spain's Road To Empire: The Making Of A World Power, 1492-1763", 2003, Penguin, 640p.] cite book | last=Edwards | first=John | year=2005 | title=Isabella: Catholic Queen and Madam of Spain | publisher=Tempus Publishing | id=0752433318] Recognition by historians of these older states as superpowers may focus on various superlative traits exhibited by them. For example, at its peak the British Empire was the largest the world had ever seen.


The term in its current political meaning was coined in the book "The Superpowers: The United States, Britain and the Soviet Union – Their Responsibility for Peace" (1944), written by William T.R. Fox, an American foreign policy professor. The book spoke of the global reach of a super-empowered nation. [ [] ] 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, there were (at that moment) three states that were superpowers: Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union. The British Empire was the most extensive empire in world history, which was considered the foremost great power and by 1921, held sway over 25% of the world's population [Angus Maddison. "The World Economy: A Millennial Perspective" (p. 98, 242). OECD, Paris, 2001.] and controlled about 25% of the Earth's total land area, [ [ "To Rule the Earth..."] ,, [ Bibliography] , Accessed March 11, 2007] while the United States and the Soviet Union grew in power in World War II.


The criteria of a superpower are not clearly definedcite web|url=|title=Lonely Superpower or Unapologetic Hyperpower? Analyzing American Power in the Post-Cold War Era|accessdate=2007-02-28] and as a consequence they may differ between sources.

According to Lyman Miller, "The 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”).

In the opinion of Kim Richard Nossal of McMaster University, "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)."

Former Indian National Security Advisor Jyotindra Nath Dixit has also described the characteristics of superpowers. In his view, "first, the state or the nation concerned should have sizable territorial presence in terms of the size of the population. Secondly, such a state should have high levels of domestic cohesion, clear sense of national identity and stable administration based on strong legal and institutional arrangements. Thirdly, the state concerned should be economically well to do and should be endowed with food security and natural resources, particularly energy resources and infrastructural resources in terms of minerals and metals. Such a state should have a strong industrial base backed by productive capacities and technological knowledge. Then the state concerned should have military capacities, particularly nuclear and missile weapons capabilities at least comparable to, if not of higher levels than other countries which may have similar capacities." [ [] ]

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". [ [] ]

According to Professor June Teufel Dreyer, "A superpower must be able to project its power, soft and hard, globally." [ [] ]

Cold War

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. [Adam Klug and Gregor W. Smith, 'Suez and Sterling', "Explorations in Economic History", Vol. 36, No. 3 (July 1999), pp. 181-203.] As the majority of World War II had been fought far from its national boundaries, the United States had not suffered the industrial destruction or 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 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.Fact|date=August 2008

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. [Robert Frazier, 'Did Britain Start the Cold War? Bevin and the Truman Doctrine', "Historical Journal", Vol. 27, No. 3 (Sep., 1984), pp. 715-727.] The two countries opposed each other ideologically, politically, militarily, and economically. The Soviet Union promoted the ideology of communism, whilst the United States promoted the ideologies of liberal democracy and the free market. This was reflected in the Warsaw Pact and NATO military alliances, respectively, as most of Europe became aligned either with 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. Fact|date=August 2008

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

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.Fact|date=March 2008 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.Fact|date=March 2008

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. [ [ The World's Sole Superpower] , Encyclopaedia Britannica, Accessed March 11, 2007] 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.

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 Japan and Western Europe, 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. [Henry Kissinger, "Diplomacy", p. 24,26]

Post Cold War (1991-Present)

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 that ended the Cold War, the post-Cold War world was sometimes considered as a unipolar worldCharles Krauthammer, [ The Unipolar Moment] , "Foreign Policy Magazine" (1991).] [ [] ] , with the United States as the world's sole remaining superpower. [ [ Country profile: United States of America] , BBC News, Accessed March 11, 2007] In the words of Samuel P. Huntington, "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." [] ]

Most expertsFact|date=August 2008 argue that this older assessment of global politics was 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.cite web|url=|title=The Global list (No superpower)|accessdate=2006-06-10] cite web|url=|title=Washington Post (No superpower)|accessdate=2006-06-10] cite web|url=| (No superpower)|accessdate=2006-06-11] cite web|url=|title=A Times (No superpower)|accessdate=2006-06-11] According to Samuel P. Huntington, "There is now only one superpower. But that does not mean that the world is unipolar. A unipolar system would have one superpower, no significant major powers, and many minor powers." Huntington thinks, "Contemporary international politics" ... "is instead a strange hybrid, a uni-multipolar system with one superpower and several major powers."

Additionally, there has been some recent speculation that the United States is declining in relative power as the rest of the world rises to match its levels of economic and technological development. Citing economic hardships, Cold War allies becoming less dependent on the United States, a declining dollar, the rise of other great powers around the world, and decreasing education, some experts have suggested the possibility of America losing its superpower status in the distant future or even at the present. [ [ Seizing American supremacy] ] [ [ The Coming End of the American Superpower] ] [ [ U.S.: A Losing Superpower?] ]

Potential superpowers

Academics and other qualified commentators sometimes identify potential superpowers thought to have a strong likelihood of being recognized as superpowers in the 21st century. The record of such predictions has 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. [ [,9171,967823,00.html?promoid=googlep] 1988 article "Japan From Superrich To Superpower"]

Due to their large populations, growing military strength, and economic potential and influence in international affairs, People's Republic of China, [ [ US-China Institute :: news & features :: china as a global power ] ] [ [ Visions of China] , CNN Specials, Accessed March 11, 2007] the European Union, [ [] ] [ [ Europe: the new superpower by Mark Leonard] , Irish Times, Accessed March 11, 2007] India, [ [ India welcomed as new sort of superpower] , IHT, Accessed March 11, 2007] [ [ India Rising] , Newsweek, Accessed March 11, 2007] and Russia. [ Russia: A superpower rises again - ] ] [ Russia on the march - again - Telegraph ] ] [ Russia in the 21st Century - Cambridge University Press ] ] are among the powers which are most often cited as having the ability to influence future world politics and reach the status of superpower in the 21st century. While some believe one (or more) of these countries will replace the United States as a superpower, others believe they will rise to rival, but not replace, the United States. Others have argued that the historical notion of a "superpower" is increasingly anachronistic in the 21st century as increased global integration and interdependence makes the projection of a superpower impossible.Fact|date=September 2008




Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • SuperPower 2 — is a strategic wargame game developed by Canadian based GolemLabs and published by DreamCatcher Games in 2004. Players may play with any of the 193 nations that were recognized by the UN at the time of its development. Players can choose their… …   Wikipedia

  • Superpower 2 — Entwickler: GolemLabs Verleger: Dreamcatcher …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • SuperPower — is a political simulation computer game designed by GolemLabs and published by DreamCatcher Interactive. SuperPower debuted on March 28, 2002 for the PC. Setting The game starts off the first week of January, 1997, with you as the newly appointed …   Wikipedia

  • SuperPower 2 — Entwickler …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • SuperPower 2 — Обложка коробки с игрой Разработчик Golem Labs Издатель Dream Catcher …   Википедия

  • Superpower 2 — Éditeur DreamCatcher games Développeur GolemLabs Date de sortie Octobre 2004 Genre simulation géopolitique Média CD Contrôle …   Wikipédia en Français

  • superpower — UK US /ˈsuːpəˌpaʊər/ noun [C] POLITICS ► one of the countries of the world that has the most power and influence: » India, Russia, and China are all aspiring global superpowers. »an economic/energy superpower emerge as/become a superpower »If… …   Financial and business terms

  • SuperPower 2 — Éditeur DreamCatcher games Développeur GolemLabs Date de sortie Octobre 2004 Genre simulation géopolitique Média CD Contrôle …   Wikipédia en Français

  • superpower — 1944, in geopolitical sense of nation with great interest and ability to exert force in worldwide theaters of conflict, from SUPER (Cf. super ) + POWER (Cf. power). The word itself is attested in physical senses from 1922 …   Etymology dictionary

  • superpower — ► NOUN ▪ any of the few most powerful and influential nations of the world …   English terms dictionary

  • superpower — [so͞o′pər pou΄ər] n. 1. power that is superior or very great 2. any of the few top world powers competing with one another for international influence …   English World dictionary

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.