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 considered a higher level of power 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, the British Empire ceased to exist as its territories became independent, and the Soviet Union and the United States were regarded as the only two superpowers, then engaged in the Cold War.


After the Cold War, the most common belief held that only the United States fulfilled the criteria to be considered a superpower. The People's Republic of China, India, the European Union, and a couple of other candidates, however, appear to have the potential of achieving superpower status within the 21st century. 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.


The term "superpowers" 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.


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: the United States, the Soviet Union, and the British Empire. 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 and controlled about 25% of the Earth's total land area, while the United States and the Soviet Union both proved their newly gained power in World War II. The British Empire emerged from World War II significantly weakened and recognized to have lost its superpower status, while the Soviet Union and the United States were recognized as the sole remaining superpowers.


The Suez Crisis (1956) however made it clear that the British Empire, economically ravaged by two world wars, could no longer compete on an equal footing with the United States and Soviet Union without sacrificing its reconstruction efforts, even while acting in concert with France and Israel. As the majority of World War II was fought far from its national boundaries, the United States did not suffer the industrial destruction or massive civilian casualties that marked the wartime situation of the countries in Europe or Asia. During the war, the United States had built up a strong industrial and technological infrastructure that had greatly advanced its military strength into a primary position on the global stage.


Following the war, nearly all of Europe had aligned either with the United States or the Soviet Union. Despite attempts to create multinational coalitions or legislative bodies (such as the United Nations), it became increasingly clear that the United States and the Soviet Union were the dominant powers of the newly emerging Cold War, and had very different visions about what the post-war world ought to look like. The two countries opposed each other ideologically, politically, militarily, and economically. The Soviet Union represented the ideology of communism, whilst the United States represented the ideology of capitalism and democracy. This was reflected in the NATO and Warsaw Pact military alliances. These alliances implied that these two nations were part of an emerging bipolar world, in contrast with a previously multipolar world.


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. 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.


In the 1980s some commentators thought Japan would become a superpower, due to its large GDP and high economic growth at the time.


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. 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.


There have been attempts to apply the term superpower retrospectively, to a variety of past entities such as the Persian Empire,  Roman Empire, and the Spanish Empire. Recognition by historians of these older states as superpowers may focus on various superlative traits exhibited by them. For example, at its peak the Spanish empire was among the largest the world had ever seen.


The criteria of a superpower are not clearly defined 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 super ordinate economic capacity (again, relative to others), 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."


After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 that ended the Cold War, the post-Cold War world is widely considered as a unipolar world, with the United States as the world's sole remaining superpower. 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."


Some experts argue that this mainstream assessment of current global politics is 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. 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." Huntingdon thinks, "Contemporary international politics" ... "is instead a strange hybrid, a uni-multipolar system with one superpower and several major powers."


This article is licensed under the e GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Superpower".




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