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Superpower collapse is the societal collapse of a superpower nation state. The term is most often used to describe the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the loss of the United Kingdom's superpower status through the decline of the British Empire.

Nevertheless, Russia, the successor of the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom are still regarded as great powers today with permanent seats on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). These include the United Kingdom continuing to hold global soft and hard power and Russia holding the largest nuclear weapons arsenal in the world.

Since the 2010s, some academics and proponents also consider the United States, today generally considered the sole superpower after the fall of the Soviet Union, to be currently undergoing "Superpower fatigue", and that it may be on a trajectory of superpower collapse.


Soviet Union / Russia

Dramatic changes occurred in the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc during the 1980s and early 1990s, with perestroika and glasnost, the dramatic fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, and finally the dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991. As early as 1970, Andrei Amalrik had made predictions of Soviet collapse, and Emmanuel Todd made a similar prediction in 1976.[1]

British Empire / United Kingdom

The British Empire was the world's foremost power throughout the late 18th and 19th centuries, and achieved its largest extent in the 20th century. During this time, the United Kingdom acquired nation-state ownership and direct rule over large areas of the world. Britain's global power originated from the Industrial Revolution and because of its geography as a large maritime power off the coast of Western Europe. British political, economic, social and cultural influences dramatically shaped and created significant changes globally.

However, as other nations industrialized and social and political changes took place in the Empire, the idea of colonization and imperialism fell out of favour. In addition, the consequences of fighting two world wars in the 20th century within a relatively short amount of time hastened the decline of the Empire. The movement for self-determination of Britain's colonies started in the late 19th century and was well underway by the 1920s, seen for example through the emergence of the Indian National Congress in 1885 and the Balfour Declaration of 1926. Self-determination and movements for independence represented significant changes in political and social ideology. This culminated in a rapid wave of decolonization in the decades after World War II. It has also been argued that World War II saw the emergence of new powers, such as the United States and the Soviet Union, who were hostile to traditional imperialism and hastened its decline.

The Suez Crisis of 1956 is considered by some commentators to be the beginning of the end of Britain's period as a superpower,[2][3][4] but other commentators have pointed much earlier such as in World War I, the Depression of 1920-21, the Partition of Ireland, the return of the pound sterling to the gold standard at its prewar parity in 1925, the Fall of Singapore, the loss of wealth from World War II, the end of Lend-Lease Aid from the United States in 1945, the postwar Age of Austerity, the Winter of 1946–47, the beginning of decolonization and the independence of British India as other key points in Britain's decline and loss of superpower status.[5]

The Suez Crisis in particular is regarded by historians to be a political and diplomatic disaster for the British Empire, as it led to large-scale international condemnation, including extensive pressure from the United States and Soviet Union. This forced the British and the French to withdraw in embarrassment and cemented the increasingly-bipolar Cold War politics between the Soviet Union and United States. In the 1960s, the movement for decolonization reached its peak, with remaining imperial holdings achieving independence, accelerating the transition from the British Empire to the Commonwealth of Nations. As the Empire continued to crumble, the home islands of the United Kingdom later experienced deindustrialization throughout the 1970s, coupled with high inflation and industrial unrest that unravelled the postwar consensus. This led to some economists to refer to Britain as the Sick Man of Europe. In 1976, the United Kingdom had to seek assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which it had previously ironically helped create, receiving funding of $3.9 billion, the largest-ever loan to be requested up until that point.[6][7] In 1979, the country suffered major widespread strikes known as the Winter of Discontent. All these factors were seen by academics, economists and politicians as symbolising Britain's postwar decline. Lastly, the Handover of Hong Kong to China was seen by experts as the definitive end of the British Empire.

Nevertheless, the United Kingdom today has retained global soft power in the 21st century, including a formidable military. The United Kingdom continues to have a permanent seat on the UN Security Council alongside only four other powers, and is one of the nine nuclear powers. Its capital city, London, continues to be regarded as one of the pre-eminent cities in the world, being ranked as a global city by the Mori Foundation.[8] In 2022, the United Kingdom was ranked the foremost European country in terms of soft power by Brand Finance.[9] However, it has been assumed by economists that more recent economic difficulties since the 2010s exacerbated by Brexit, a cost-of-living crisis, political instabilities and industrial disputes and strikes may have caused further permanent damage and erosion to Britain's lingering power.[10]

United States

See also: American decline

During the Cold War, the United States fought many proxy wars against Soviet-supported Marxist-Leninist and socialist states, but after the Soviet Union's dissolution, the US found itself as the world's sole superpower and was even deemed by some political theorists to be the world's sole hyperpower.[11][12][13] Political theoreticians of the neorealist philosophy (known by many as neoconservatives) self-styled as the Blue Team, increasingly view China as a military threat,[14][15] but there are relatively-strong economic ties between the two powers. Blue Team members favor containment and confrontation with China and strong American support of Taiwan.[16]

In After the Empire: The Breakdown of the American Order[17] (2001), French sociologist Emmanuel Todd predicts the eventual decline and fall of the United States as a superpower. "After years of being perceived as a problem-solver, the US itself has now become a problem for the rest of the world." Since the 2010s, as a result of asymmetric polarization within the United States, as well as globally perceived U.S. foreign policy failures, and China's growing influence around the world, some academics and geopolitical experts have argued that the United States may already be experiencing a decay in its soft power around the world.[18][19]

See also


  1. ^ The final fall, Todd, 1976
  2. ^ Brown, Derek (14 March 2001). "1956: Suez and the end of empire". The Guardian. London.
  3. ^ Reynolds, Paul (24 July 2006). "Suez: End of empire". BBC News.
  4. ^ History's worst decisions and the people who made them, pp. 167–172
  5. ^ "United Kingdom | History, Geography, Facts, & Points of Interest". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2019-04-17.
  6. ^ "National Archives". Retrieved 17 December 2015.
  7. ^ "Sterling devalued and the IMF loan". The National Archives. Retrieved 17 December 2015.
  8. ^ "Global Power City Index 2020". The Mori Memorial Foundation. Retrieved 2021-06-02.
  9. ^ "Global Soft Power Index 2022: USA bounces back better to top of nation brand ranking". 15 March 2022. Retrieved April 1, 2022.
  10. ^ "The incredible shrinking Global Britain". POLITICO. 2022-05-19. Retrieved 2022-05-23.
  11. ^ Nossal, Kim Richard (June 29, 1999). "Lonely Superpower or Unapologetic Hyperpower?". Saldanha, Western Cape: South African Political Studies Association. Retrieved November 4, 2010.
  12. ^ Reiter, Erich; Hazdra, Peter (March 9, 2013). The Impact of Asian Powers on Global Developments. Springer Science+Business Media. p. 5. ISBN 9-783-6621-3172-5. Now though, some people, in whose opinion the term 'superpower' does not denote the actual dominance of the USA incisively enough, use the term 'hyperpower'.
  13. ^ Cohen, Eliot A. (July 1, 2004). "History and the Hyperpower". Foreign Affairs. Council on Foreign Relations. 83 (4): 49–63. doi:10.2307/20034046. JSTOR 20034046. Retrieved February 11, 2018.
  14. ^ "China's Growing Military Muscle: A Looming Threat?". NPR. 20 June 2011.
  15. ^ Stone Fish, Isaac (10 June 2013). "'We Face a Very Serious Chinese Military Threat'". Foreign Policy.
  16. ^ Branegan, Jay (April 9, 2001). "The Hard-Liners". Time. Archived from the original on February 5, 2010. Retrieved February 18, 2010.
  17. ^ Todd, Constable, 2001
  18. ^ French, Howard W. "America Is Losing Its Value Proposition". Foreign Policy. Retrieved November 1, 2022.
  19. ^ Kokas, Aynne (15 January 2021). "The Soft War That America Is Losing". Stanford University. Retrieved November 1, 2022.