Extant superpower Potential superpowers—supported in varying degrees by academics
  China
  India
  Russia

A potential superpower is a state or other polity that is speculated to be or have the potential to become a superpower, a state or supranational union that holds a dominant position characterized by the ability to exert influence or project power on a global scale through economic, military, technological, political, and/or cultural means.[1][2][3]

Currently, only the United States fulfills the criteria to be considered a superpower,[4] though this has been questioned in recent years.[5][6][7][8] At present only China,[9][10] the European Union,[11] India,[12][13] and Russia[14] have consistently been academically discussed as having the potential to attain superpower status.

Current candidates

China

Main article: Chinese Century

Further information: China's peaceful rise

People's Republic of China

The People's Republic of China has arguably received the most consistent coverage in the popular press of its potential superpower status,[15][16][17][18][19][20] and has been identified as a rising or emerging economic and military superpower by academics and other experts [21][22][23][24] with one summarising that "China certainly presents the most promising all-round profile" of a potential superpower, having high economic growth and large population.[25]

Great focus has been placed on China's growing economic activity on the global stage, in particular where it has been in competition with the United States. Examples of this have included the establishing and large-scale expansion in countries joining the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank in contrast to traditional western institutions, along with the Belt and Road Initiative and China's role in the worldwide groundings of the Boeing 737 MAX.[26][27] It has also been argued that the future is likely to be of growing competition between two highly dominant countries in the form of the United States and China while others begin to lag behind economically.[28] Predictions have also been made of it overtaking the United States as the worlds largest economy in the 2020s.[29]

In contrast to this however there have been some who question how long this pace of economic growth could continue, with emphasis placed on China's very large but ageing and shrinking population of 1.4 billion, and long-term effects of pollution within the country that have accumulated during its fast pace of industrialisation, and also that while it continues to grow it has yet to prove attractive to skilled immigration from outside the country in the same way other countries like the United States have.[30][31][32][33]

There has been significant discussion around the ability for China to project power militarily. There has been argument that its ties with Russia and Central Asia could see the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation become the "NATO of the East".[34] It has also been argued that American absence from the Indo-Pacific region during the war on terror has allowed Chinese to actively challenge the United States as the pre-eminent power in the region.[35] Others have argued however that China still remains surrounded by potentially hostile nations and still lacks few friends or allies necessary for it to truly compete with the United States.[36]

European Union

See also: Eurosphere and Paneuropean Union

European Union

The European Union (EU) has been called an emerging superpower or having already achieved that status, primarily to do with its economic power and political influence on the world stage. Factors highlighted have included its large population, the size and global reach of its combined economy, and the comparative unpopularity of US foreign policy.[37][38]

Despite lacking a cohesive military of its own, with military capabilities still the matter of individual member states, it has been argued that this is irrelevant in the 21st century and accordingly so when considering the status of the EU as a potential superpower.[39][40] Others however have questioned this interpretation, instead arguing that its lack of a unified military structure compared to the United States undermines the case that the EU is a potential superpower.[41][42]

The EU's lack of political integration has also come under conflicting views regarding its effect on superpower status. Some have argued that its more "low profile" diplomacy and emphasis on the rule of law represent a new kind of geopolitical influence that fulfills the political requirements for consideration of being a superpower rather than simply failing to meet them.[38][43] Others however argue that its lack of a centralised foreign or defence policy leaves its effectiveness uncertain when compared to that of a more politically integrated union of states such as the United States,[44][25] and it has even been argued that the EU remains as little more than an extension of a Europe reliant or dominated by the United States.[45]

India

Main article: India as a potential superpower

Further information: Indian Century

Republic of India

The Republic of India has seen considerable coverage of its potential of becoming a superpower economically. Multiple opinions have pointed towards India's rapid economic development as a reason for it to be considered a potential superpower, in particular during the 2010s when it was predicted to outpace China's growth into the future.[46][47][48][49] Economists and researchers at Harvard University have projected India's 7% projected annual growth rate through 2024 would continue to put it ahead of China, making India the fastest growing economy in the world.[50][51] Over and above, India also has the advantage of having a very large and growing young population with a median age of 28, compared to China's median age 39.[52]

While India's economic growth has continued, others have noted that inequality remains high in the country and that its potential for trading appears more limited compared to regional rivals such as China, and that despite India briefly becoming the world's fastest-growing economy in 2015 its growth declined below China's since 2018.[53][54][55][56][57]

It has also been argued that India's government and bureaucracy is also geared against emerging as a superpower, with it being argued that it "does very little collective thinking about its long-term foreign policy goals, since most of the strategic planning that takes place within the government happens on an individual level".[58]

Russia

Further information: History of the Russian Federation

Russian Federation

The Russian Federation, since imperial times, has been considered both a great power and a regional power. Throughout most of the Soviet-era, the Soviet Union was one of the world's two superpowers. However, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation as its successor state lost its superpower status. In the early 21st century, Russia has been suggested as a potential candidate for resuming superpower status, while others have made the assertion that it is already a superpower.[59] In his 2005 publication entitled Russia in the 21st Century: The Prodigal Superpower, Steven Rosefielde, a professor of economics at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, predicted that Russia would emerge as a superpower before 2010 and augur another arms race. However, Rosefielde noted that such an end would come with tremendous sacrifice to global security and the Russian people's freedom.[60][page needed] Stephen Kinzer of The Boston Globe compared Russia's actions with its own neighbouring territories, to those of "any other superpower", taking Ukraine and Crimea as examples.[61]

Others however have put forward more pessimistic views towards Russia's ability to regain its superpower status. A mixed opinion has been offered by Matthew Fleischer of the Los Angeles Times, contending that severe climate change would be necessary for much of Russia's inherent natural resources to become viable.[62]

Several analysts commented on the fact that Russia showed signs of an aging and shrinking population. Fred Weir said that this severely constricts and limits Russia's potential to re-emerge as a central world power.[63] In 2011, British historian and professor Niall Ferguson also highlighted the negative effects of Russia's declining population, and suggested that Russia is on its way to "global irrelevance".[64] Russia has, however, shown a slight population growth since the late 2000s, partly due to immigration, quickly rising birth rates, slowly declining death rates.[65]

Russia's ability to project hard power was also questioned following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022, with the Russian military's poor performance prompting economist Paul Krugman to suggest Russia was little more than a "Potemkin Superpower".[66]

Former candidates

Germany

Germany

In the 1870's, After the newly unified Germany defeated France with relative ease in the Franco-Prussian war, Germany itself evolved in to a militaristic and industrial powerhouse. In 1870, Britain controlled roughly one-third of the globe's industrial capacity, way ahead of any other major power. But by 1910, Germany and the United States had surpassed Britain to become the world's two most massive industrial powers, with America occupying roughly one-third of global industry, Germany occupying 15%, and Britain occupying 14%. But Germany's growth wouldn't last following their capitulation in World War I, which became ruinous for Germany's demographics and economy.[67] In other words, Germany never truly reached it's potential to become a superpower, cemented after it's defeat in World War II.

Modern situation

Today, Germany still has a relatively large economy, population, and has a low unemployment rate. But it's inhibited by a reliance on exports, old population, and has a lack of productivity gains to warrant it a modern "potential superpower".[68] Additionally, out of major powers Germany has one of the weakest armed forces. Which is why the German government is planning not only to increase the defense budget beyond the NATO target that Germany had failed to hit for years, but to invest 100 billion euros — two full years of military spending — to turn around years of underfunding of the German military by 2025.[69]

Japan

Japan

In the 1980s, many political and economic analysts predicted that Japan would eventually accede to superpower status, due to its large population, huge gross domestic product and high economic growth at that time. Japan was expected to eventually surpass the economy of the United States, which never happened due to economic stagnation and eventually decline. However, Japan is still considered a cultural superpower in terms of the large-scale influence Japanese food, music, video games, manga, anime and movies have on the world. Japan is also considered to be a technological power, being the leader in the automotive, electronics and robotics industries.

Japan was ranked as the world's fourth most-powerful military in 2015. The military capabilities of the Japan Self-Defense Forces are held back by the pacifist 1947 constitution. However, there is a gradual push for a constitutional amendment. On 18 September 2015, the National Diet enacted the 2015 Japanese military legislation, a series of laws that allow Japan's Self-Defense Forces to collective self-defense of allies in combat for the first time under its constitution.

Contrary views

Though still the world's tenth-largest population and third-largest economy as of 2016 in terms of nominal GDP, Japan has faced an ongoing period of stagnation during the Lost Decades since the 1990s. Japan has been suffering from an aging population since the early 2000s with real decline in total population starting in 2009, eroding its potential as a superpower.

Comparative statistics

Country/Union Population[70][71] Area
(km2)
GDP (nominal)[72] GDP (PPP)[72] Military
expenditures
(Int$ billion)[73]
HDI[74] UN Security Council veto power
(USD million) Per capita ($) (Int$ million) Per capita (Int$)
 United States 332,632,918 9,525,067 25,035,164 68,309 22,675,271 75,180 877 0.926 (very high) yes
 China 1,411,778,724 9,596,961 18,321,197 11,819 26,656,766 21,291 292 0.761 (high) yes
 European Union 447,706,209 4,233,262 17,127,535 38,256 20,918,062 53,960 186[75] 0.911 (very high) (France)
 India 1,400,625,899 3,287,263 3,468,566 3,057 10,207,290 10,475 81.4 0.645 (medium) no
 Russia 146,171,015 17,125,191 2,133,092 11,654 4,328,122 31,967 86.4 0.824 (very high) yes

See also

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