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Potential superpowers

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Title: Potential superpowers  
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Subject: China, Billiken, Indian Century, Emerging power, China as an emerging superpower
Collection: 21St Century, Futurology, Military Terminology, States by Power Status, Superpowers
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Potential superpowers

A map showing the United States as the current superpower, along with other political entities that have broad academic support as potential superpowers.

A potential superpower is a state or a political and economic entity that is speculated to be, or is in the process of becoming, a superpower at some point during the 21st century. Presently, only the United States fulfills the criteria to be considered a superpower.[1]

Predictions about potential superpower have been made in the past, but they have not been perfect.[2][3] States most commonly mentioned as being potential superpowers are China,[4] India,[5] the European Union,[6] Russia[7] and Brazil.[8] Collectively, these potential superpowers (and the United States) comprise 68.0% of global nominal GDP, 62.4% of global GDP (PPP), more than one third of the total land area and more than 50% of the world's population.[9][10][11]


  • Past predictions 1
  • China 2
    • Contrary views 2.1
  • India 3
    • Contrary views 3.1
  • European Union 4
    • Contrary views 4.1
  • Russia 5
    • Contrary views 5.1
  • Brazil 6
    • Contrary views 6.1
  • Comparison of potential superpowers 7
  • See also 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10

Past predictions

Predictions made in the past have not been perfect. For example, 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.[2][12] Though still the world's tenth-largest population and third-largest economy as of 2013 in terms of nominal GDP, Japan has faced an ongoing period of weak growth since the Lost Decade of the 1990s, and has been suffering from an aging population since the early 2000s, eroding its potential as a superpower.[3]


People's Republic of China

The People's Republic of China receives continual coverage in the popular press of its emerging superpower status,[13][14] and has been identified as a rising or emerging economic growth and military superpower by academics and other experts. In fact, the "rise of China" has been named the top news story of the 21st century by the Global Language Monitor, as measured by number of appearances in the global print and electronic media, on the Internet and blogosphere, and in social media.[15][16][17][18][19] The term "Second Superpower" has been applied by scholars to the possibility that the People's Republic of China could emerge with global power and influence on par with the United States.[20] The potential for the two countries to form stronger relations to address global issues is sometimes referred to as the Group of Two.

Barry Buzan asserted in 2004 that "China certainly presents the most promising all-round profile" of a potential superpower.[21] Buzan claimed that "China is currently the most fashionable potential superpower and the one whose degree of alienation from the dominant international society makes it the most obvious political challenger." However, he noted this challenge is constrained by the major challenges of development and by the fact that its rise could trigger a counter coalition of states in Asia.

NATO of the East".[22]

Economist and author of Eclipse: Living in the Shadow of China's Economic Dominance Arvind Subramanian argued in 2012 that China will direct the world's financial system by 2020 and that the Chinese renminbi will replace the dollar as the world's reserve currency in 10 to 15 years. The United States' soft power will remain longer. He stated that "China was a top dog economically for thousands of years prior to the Ming dynasty. In some ways, the past few hundred years have been an aberration."[23]

Lawrence Saez at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, argued in 2011 that the United States will be surpassed by China as military superpower within twenty years. Regarding economic power, the Director of the China Center for Economic Reform at Peking University Yao Yang stated that "Assuming that the Chinese and U.S. economies grow, respectively, by 8% and 3% in real terms, that China's inflation rate is 3.6% and America's is 2% (the averages of the last decade), and that the renminbi appreciates against the dollar by 3% per year (the average of the last six years), China will become the world's largest economy by 2021. By that time, both countries' GDP will be about $24 trillion."[24]

Historian Timothy Garton Ash argued in 2011, pointing to factors such as the International Monetary Fund predicting that China's GDP (purchasing power parity adjusted) will overtake that of the United States in 2016, that a power shift to a world with several superpowers was happening "Now". However, China was still lacking in soft power and power projection abilities and had a low GDP/person. The article also stated that the Pew Research Center in a 2009 survey found that people in 15 out of 22 countries believed that China had or would overtake the US as the world's leading superpower.[25]

In an interview given in 2011, Singapore's first premier, Lee Kuan Yew, stated that while China supplanting the United States is not a foregone conclusion, Chinese leaders are nonetheless serious about displacing the United States as the most powerful country in Asia. "They have transformed a poor society by an economic miracle to become now the second-largest economy in the world. How could they not aspire to be number 1 in Asia, and in time the world?"[26] The Chinese strategy, Lee maintains, will revolve around their "huge and increasingly highly skilled and educated workers to out-sell and out-build all others."[27] Nevertheless, relations with the United States, at least in the medium term, will not take a turn for the worse because China will "avoid any action that will sour up relations with the U.S. To challenge a stronger and technologically superior power like the U.S. will abort their 'peaceful rise.'"[27] Though Lee believes China is genuinely interested in growing within the global framework the United States has created, it is biding its time until it becomes strong enough to successfully redefine the prevailing political and economic order.[28]

Chinese foreign policy adviser Wang Jisi in 2012 stated that many Chinese officials see China as a first-class power which should be treated as such. China is argued to soon become the world's largest economy and to be making rapid progress in many areas. The United States is seen as a declining superpower as indicated by factors such as poor economic recovery, financial disorder, high deficits gaining close to GDP levels and unemployment, increasing political polarization, and overregulation forcing jobs overseas in China.[29][30][31]

Contrary views

Timothy Beardson, founder of Crosby International Holdings, stated in 2013 that he doesn't see "China becoming a superpower". He writes that China has basically worked as a manufacturing location for foreign companies, as 83% of all high-tech products made in China were produced for foreign companies.[32] He added that China has problems regarding wages, an aging and declining population, and gender imbalance (with China's 6:5 gender ratio, 1 in 6 males will be unable to find a female partner), and he suggested that such problems would lead to crime. He also pointed out that China continually polluted its environment during its 30 years of economic growth (of the 20 most polluted cities in the world, 16 cities are in China).[32][33]

James Fallows writes that too many people in China live without indoor plumbing, and that no mainland Chinese scientist has yet won a Nobel Prize, so it is unlikely able to become an "economic Superpower".[34] He also recalled his mid-1980s visit to China, where he found virtually everyone "poor", and that "rich" people were farmers that had their own family. He further suggests that people usually talk about how life in China is improving, yet if they go to China, they would see that Chinese officials spend too much time thinking about how to deal with the upcoming problems that their country faces.[35]

Geoffrey Murray's China: The Next Superpower (1998) argued that while the potential for China is high, this is fairly perceived only by looking at the risks and obstacles China faces in managing its population and resources. The political situation in China may become too fragile to survive into superpower status, according to Susan Shirk in China: Fragile Superpower (2008). Other factors that could constrain China's ability to become a superpower in the future include limited supplies of energy and raw materials, questions over its innovation capability, inequality and corruption, and risks to social stability and the environment.[36]

Minxin Pei argued in 2010 that China is not a superpower and it will not be one anytime soon and argued that China faces daunting political and economic challenges.[37] In 2012 he argued that China, despite using its economic power to influence some nations, has few real friends or allies and is surrounded by potentially hostile nations. This situation could improve if regional territorial disputes were resolved and China participated in an effective regional defense system that would reduce the fears of its neighbors. Alternatively, a democratization of China would dramatically improve foreign relations with many nations.[38]

Amy Chua stated in 2007 that whether a country is attractive to immigrants is an important quality for a superpower. She also wrote that China lacks the pull to bring scientists, thinkers, and innovators from other countries as immigrants. However, she believed that China made up for this with its own diaspora, and said that size and resources for them are unparalleled.[39]


Republic of India

The Republic of India has seen considerable coverage of its potential of becoming a superpower, both in the media and among academics.[40][41] In 2006, Newsweek and the International Herald Tribune joined several academics in discussing India's potential of becoming a superpower.[40][42]

Anil Gupta is almost certain that India will become a superpower in the 21st century. As an example, he states that due to India's functional institutions of democracy and its relatively corruption-free society, it will emerge as a desirable, entrepreneurial and resource and energy-efficient superpower in the near future. He predicts that by 2015 India will overtake China to be the fastest growing economy in the world and emerge as a full-fledged economic superpower by 2025. In addition to that, he states, India has the potential to serve as a leading example of how to combine rapid economic growth with fairness towards and inclusion of those at the bottom rungs of the ladder and of efficient resource utilization, especially in energy.[43]

Robyn Meredith claims that both India and China will be superpowers.[5] While she points out that the average incomes of European and Americans are higher than Chinese and Indians, and hundreds of millions of Chinese as well as Indians live in poverty, she also suggested that economic growth of these nations has been most the important factor in reducing global poverty of the last two decades, as per the World Bank report.[44] Amy Chua adds to this, stating that while India's potential for superpower is great, it still faces many problems such as "pervasive rural poverty, entrenched corruption, and high inequality just to name a few". However, she notes that India has made tremendous strides to fix this, stating that some of India's achievements, such as working to dismantle the centuries-old caste system and maintaining the world's largest diverse democracy, is historically unprecedented.[39]

Fareed Zakaria also believes that India has a fine chance at becoming a superpower, pointing out that India's young population coupled with the second-largest English-speaking population in the world could give India an advantage over China. He also believes that while other industrial countries will face a youth gap, India will have lots of young people, or in other words, workers, and by 2050, its per capita income will rise by twenty times its current level. According to Zakaria, another strength that India has is that its democratic government has lasted for 60 years, stating that a democracy can provide for long-term stability, that has given India a name.[45]

Clyde V. Prestowitz Jr., founder and president of the Economic Strategy Institute and former counselor to the Secretary of Commerce in the Reagan administration, has predicted that "It is going to be India's century. India is going to be the biggest economy in the world. It is going to be the biggest superpower of the 21st century."[46]

Contrary views

Parag Khanna wrote in 2008 that he believes that India is not, nor will it become a superpower for the foreseeable future, lagging decades behind China in both development and strategic appetite.[47] Instead, he believes India will be a key swing state along with Russia.[48] He says that India is "big but not important", has a highly successful professional class, while millions of its citizens still live in poverty. He also writes that it matters that China borders a dozen more countries than India and is not hemmed in by a vast ocean and the world's tallest mountains.[49] However, in a recent article written by Khanna, he says that India, along with China, will grow ever stronger, while other powers, like Europe, muddle along.[50]

Lant Pritchett, reviewing the book In Spite of the Gods: The Strange Rise of Modern India, writes that, while India has had impressive growth and has some world-class institutions, several other indicators are puzzlingly poor. The malnutrition and the coverage of immunization programs are at levels similar or worse than in much sub-Saharan African nations. In the Demographic and Health Surveys, India's child malnutrition was the worst of the 42 nations with comparable and recent data.[51] Adult literacy is 61%. In one study, 26% of teachers were absent from work and 1/3 of those showing up did not teach. 40% of health care workers were absent from work. Caste politics in India remains an important force. Pritchett argues that a very large population, a very long statistical "tail" of high quality students, and some very good higher education institutions gives a misleading impression of Indian education. Indian students placed forty-first and thirty-seventh in a study comparing students in the two Indian states Odisha and Rajasthan to the forty-six nations in the 2003 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study.[51]

Manjari Chatterjee Miller, assistant professor of international relations at [54] Third, many of India's political elites believe that the country's inevitable rise is a Western construct that has placed unrealistic expectations on India's economic growth forecasts and its international commitments.[52] By contrast, Miller notes that Chinese political leaders pay very close attention to the international hype surrounding their country's growing stature.[52] Miller concludes that "India's inability to develop top-down, long-term strategies means that it cannot systematically consider the implications of its growing power. So long as this remains the case, the country will not play the role in global affairs that many expect."[55]

European Union

European Union

The European Union (EU) has been called an emerging superpower by academics.[6][56] Many scholars and academics like T. R. Reid,[57] Andrew Reding,[58] Andrew Moravcsik,[59] Mark Leonard,[60] Jeremy Rifkin,[61] John McCormick,[62] and some politicians like Romano Prodi[63] and Tony Blair,[64] believe that the EU either is, or will become, a superpower in the 21st century.

Mark Leonard cites several factors: the EU's large population, large economy (the EU has the largest economy in the world), low inflation rates, the unpopularity and perceived failure of US foreign policy in recent years, and certain EU member states' high quality of life (especially when measured in terms such as hours worked per week, health care, social services).[65]

John McCormick believes that the EU has already achieved superpower status, based on the size and global reach of its economy and on its global political influence. He argues that the nature of power has changed since the Cold War-driven definition of superpower was developed, and that military power is no longer essential to great power; he argues that control of the means of production is more important than control of the means of destruction, and contrasts the threatening hard power of the United States with the opportunities offered by the soft power wielded by the European Union.[66]

Parag Khanna believes that "Europe is overtaking its rivals to become the world's most successful empire."[67][68] Khanna writes that South America, East Asia, and other regions prefer to emulate "The European Dream" rather than the American variant.[67] This could possibly be seen in the African Union and UNASUR. Notably, the EU as a whole has some of the world's largest and most influential languages being official within its borders.[69]

Andrew Reding also takes the future EU enlargement into account. An eventual future accession of the rest of Europe, the whole of Russia, and Turkey, would not only boost its economy, but it would also increase the EU's population to about 800 million, which he considers almost equal to that of India or China. The EU is qualitatively different from India and China since it is enormously more prosperous and technologically advanced.[58] Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in 2005: "In 10 or 15 years, the EU will be a place where civilizations meet. It will be a superpower with the inclusion of Turkey."[70]

Robert J. Guttman wrote in 2001 that the very definition of the term superpower has changed, and in the 21st century it does not only refer to states with military power, but also to groups such as the European Union, with strong market economics, young, highly educated workers savvy in high technology, and a global vision.[71] Friis Arne Petersen, the Danish ambassador to the US, has expressed similar views but has conceded that the EU is a "special kind of superpower", one that has yet to establish a unified military force that exerts itself even close to the same level as many of its individual members.[72]

Additionally, it is argued by commentators that full political integration is not required for the European Union to wield international influence: that its apparent weaknesses constitute its real strengths (as of its low-profile diplomacy and the emphasis on the rule of law)[66] and that the EU represents a new and potentially more successful type of international actor than traditional ones;[73] however, it is uncertain if the effectiveness of such an influence would be equal to that of a more politically integrated union of states such as the United States.[74]

Barry Buzan notes that the EU's potential superpower status depends on its "stateness". It is unclear though how much state-like quality is needed for the EU to be described as a superpower. Buzan states that the EU is unlikely to remain a potential superpower for a long time because although it has material wealth, its "political weakness and its erratic and difficult course of internal political development, particularly as regards a common foreign and defence policy" constrains it from being a superpower.[21]

Alexander Stubb, the Finnish foreign minister, has said that he thinks the EU is both a superpower and not a superpower. While the EU is a superpower in the sense that it is the largest political union, single market and aid donor in the world, it is not a superpower in the defense or foreign policy spheres. Like Barry Buzan, Alexander Stubb thinks that the major factor constraining the EU's rise to superpower status is its lack of statehood in the international system; other factors are its lack of internal drive to project power worldwide, and continued preference for the sovereign nation-state among some Europeans. To counterbalance these, he urged the EU leaders to approve and ratify the Lisbon Treaty (which they did in 2009), create an EU foreign ministry (EEAS, established in 2010), develop a common EU defense, hold one collective seat at the United Nations Security Council and G8, and address what he described as the "sour mood" toward the EU prevalent in some European countries today.[75]

Contrary views

Some do not believe that the EU will achieve superpower status. "The EU is not and never will be a superpower," according to the former UK Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs David Miliband.[76] Lacking a unified foreign policy and with an inability to project military power worldwide, the EU lacks "the substance of superpowers", who by definition have "first of all military reach [and] possess the capacity to arrive quickly anywhere with troops that can impose their government's will."[77] EU parliamentarian Ilka Schroeder argues that conflicts such as the Israeli–Palestinian conflict see close EU involvement largely to compensate for European inability to project military power internationally.[78]

The Economist's Robert Lane Greene notes that the lack of a strong European military only exacerbates the lack of unified EU foreign policy and discounts any EU arguments towards superpower status, noting especially that the EU's creation of a global response force rivaling the superpower's (United States of America) is "unthinkable."[79] "The biggest barrier to European superpowerdom is that European elites refuse to bring their postmodern fantasies about the illegitimacy of military 'hard power' into line with the way the rest of the world interprets reality," according to Soeren Kern of the Strategic Studies Group.[80]

Britain's Michael Howard has warned against the "worry" that many Europeans are pushing for greater EU integration to counterbalance the United States,[81] while Europe's total reliance on soft (non-military) power is in part because of its lack of a "shared identity."[82] While to some the European Union should be a "model power" unafraid of using military force and backing free trade, its military shortcomings argue against superpower status.[83]

American Thinker's Soeren Kern questions if "Europe really destined to become a global superpower?" Kern continues that "A growing body of research says no. Indeed, overwhelming evidence supports the view that contemporary Europe is beset by a mix of problems that is so complex, that apart from dramatic changes in public policy, Europe is headed toward certain decline, not ascendancy."[84]

Chancellor of the Exchequer, has also pointed out the economic crisis of the European Union. Osborne said, "The biggest economic risk facing Europe doesn't come from those who want reform and re-negotiation. It comes from a failure to reform and renegotiate. It is the status quo which condemns the people of Europe to an ongoing economic crisis and continuing decline." Osborne also said that the EU is facing growing competition with global economic powers like China, India and the US, and the European Union should "reform or decline."[85][86][87]


Russian Federation

The [88][89] Russia has seen some discussion regarding its potential of re-emerging as a superpower, while others have made the assertion that it is already a superpower. In 2009, Hugo Chavez, late President of Venezuela whose government was noted to have enjoyed warm relations with the Kremlin, stated that "Russia is a superpower", citing waning American influence in global affairs, and suggested the ruble be elevated to a global currency.[90] Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Russia an important superpower, praising its effectiveness as an ally of Israel and foe of Iran.[91] 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.[92]

In 2014, Stephen Kinzer of The Boston Globe compared Russia's actions with its own neighboring territories, to those of "any other superpower", taking Ukraine and Crimea as examples.[93] A mixed opinion has been offered by Matthew Fleischer of the Los Angeles Times: he contends that Russia will not become a superpower unless climate change eats away at the permafrost that covers, as of March 2014, two-thirds of the country's landmass. The absence of this permafrost would reveal immense stores of oil, natural gas, and precious minerals, as well as potential farmland, which would allow Russia to "become the world's bread basket—and control the planet's food supply."[94]

Contrary views

During the annual state of the nation address at the Moscow Kremlin in December 2013, Russian president Vladimir Putin denied any Russian's aspiration to be a superpower. He was quoted saying: "We do not aspire to be called some kind of superpower, understanding that as a claim to world or regional hegemony. We do not infringe on anyone's interests, we do not force our patronage on anyone, or try to teach anyone how to live."[95][96]

Forbes writer Jonathan Adelman has summarized the arguments against Russia's superpower potential thus: "While Russia may have grabbed the headlines for hosting the forthcoming Olympics and Edward Snowden, it's no super power. Russia has a trade profile of a Third World country, a GNP the size of Canada, which is less than 15 percent of the United States GDP, no soft power, Silicon Valley, Hollywood, Wall Street or highly rated universities."[97]

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.[98] Former political journalist Peter Brown wrote that Russia "would like to reclaim the superpower status it held for nearly 40 years after World War II," but in the 21st century "may lack the combination of economic and military power" to do so. He said that "Russia won't be a superpower anytime soon," citing Russia's shrinking population, high levels of poverty and poor public health.[99] 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".[100] Russia has, however, shown a slight population growth since 2012, partly due to immigration.[101]

Nathan Smith of the National Business Review has said that despite Russia having potential, it did not win the new "Cold War" in the 1980s, and other factors such as American influence over Crimea make superpower status inaccurate.[102]


Federative Republic of Brazil

The Federative Republic of Brazil has seen limited discussion among authorities regarding its potential as a superpower. Writing for the The Diplomatic Courier, former British Ambassador to Brazil, Peter Collecott, identifies that Brazil's recognition as a potential superpower largely stems from its own national identity and ambition. Collecott points out that for the past two hundred years Brazil has sought to emerge as a serious global economic and political power, a position "that [Brazil] instinctively feels is her due."[103] However, Collecott also argues that while Brazil has certainly fulfilled some of its aspirations and finally started to gain the international recognition it deserves, it perhaps won't quite emerge as a superpower; instead, its current position as an emerging power will allow Brazil to shape the future with more realistic aspirations.[103]

Contrary views

In his 2014 publication, The BRICs Superpower Challenge: Foreign and Security Policy Analysis, professor Kwang Ho Chun carefully assesses the likelihood of the BRICs countries attaining the status of superpowers.[8] Regarding Brazil, Kwang Ho Chun highlights that the country possesses enormous and almost untouched "strategic" natural resources, including valuable

  • Centre for Rising Powers, University of Cambridge
  • China on the World Stage from the Dean Peter Krogh Foreign Affairs Digital Archives
  • Blast off: India hopes Mars rocket will enhance its superpower status by The Times
  • China and India: The Power of Two by Harvard Business Review
  • The End of Pax Americana: How Western Decline Became Inevitable by The Atlantic
  • Why The U.S. Remains The World's Unchallenged Superpower

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  44. ^ Meredith, R. (2008) The Elephant and the Dragon: The Rise of India and China and What it Means for All of Us, p.6. W.W. Norton and Company, ISBN 978-0-393-33193-6
  45. ^ Zakaria, F. (2008) The Post-American World. W. W. Norton and Company, ISBN 978-0-393-06235-9
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See also

Comparison of potential superpowers
Entity GDP (PPP)
per capita
GDP (PPP) Population Area (km2) Armed forces
External debt
% of GDP
United States 54,597 17,418.9 321,605,012 9,857,306 1,433,150 580.0 106
China 12,880 17,617.3 1,376,049,000 9,596,961 2,993,000 129.0 37.5
India 5,855 7,375.9 1,276,267,000 3,287,590 2,749,700 45.2 22.7
European Union 39,174 18,526.5 508,191,116 4,324,782 1,551,038 216.1 86.8[105]
Russia 24,805 3,564.5 146,400,000[106] 17,098,242 1,260,000 70.0 23
Brazil 16,096 3,263.8 204,451,000 8,515,767 713,480 31.9 15

Comparison of potential superpowers

[8] with an important position in some spheres of influence but limited in others such as international security.great power Instead, Ho Chun feels that Brazil will emerge as a [8]" (i.e. military power and global security influence) as a major obstacle. Kwang Ho Chun writes that Brazil has "little incentive to invest in its military" as "the country developed in an environment with hardly any inter-state security threats", therefore Brazil "may never be in a position to accumulate enough influence on global security matters to meet the criteria of being a superpower."hard power Supporting his belief, he emphasizes Brazil's apparent lack of "traditional [8] Despite its economic potential and Brazil's "self-image as a country with a great destiny," Kwang Ho Chun believes that the country "falls far short of the levels required for a superpower."[8]

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