A superpower is a state with the ability to influence events or project power on a wide scale. In modern terms, this may imply an entity with a strong economy, a large population, and strong armed forces, including air power and satellite capabilities, and a huge arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. Superpowers often have colonies, or satellite states.
The term superpower appeared as a neologism in 1922. Prior to World War II, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Soviet Union, the United States, and the British Empire were sometimes labeled as superpowers, although the more common term was great powers.
After 1945 the victorious powers — the Republic of China, France, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union and the United States of America — gained permanent seats and veto of the United Nations Security Council. But due to economic stresses, the loss of overseas colonial empires and civil war, not all of these states could maintain their relative hegemony.
As the Cold War developed, it became clear that only two indisputable great powers remained: the United States and the Soviet Union. Superpowers became the name given to the Great Powers under the Cold War context; differentiating the bipolar situation from the previous multipolar world. This situation lasted until the political collapse of the Soviet Union circa 1991.
The United States headed NATO, commonly known as the Western Bloc or the First World before the Cold War. In the post-Cold War era, the United States could be considered the world's sole remaining superpower. The enormous gap in military and economic power between the United States and other individual countries prompts some analysts to label the United States as a hyperpower. Because of the huge concentration of power in one state, some analysts have occasionally drawn analogy to a Pax Americana, with the United States as the guarantor of world peace and a mediator in disputes between other states. This is a direct reference to the Pax Britannica and the Pax Romana of the past, when Great Britain and the Roman Empire, respectively, were dominant powers deeply involved in the security of surrounding nations. This view is not universally held, nor easily defined. Others have a more negative view of the United States and see it not as a guarantor of peace but as an imperialist power imposing its will on other states.
The Soviet Union was the United States' superpower rival during the Cold War. The Soviet Union was not just a superpower rival, but an ideological rival too, representing the ideology of Communism in opposition to the capitalism of the west. The Soviet Union headed the Warsaw Pact and was commonly known as the Eastern Bloc or the Second World.
Superpowers in history
Although the term superpower is a recent one, the word has been retrospectively applied to previous military powers, especially the Roman Empire and Imperial China.
Countries which some analysts predict could achieve superpower status in the coming decades:
- Brazil, which has a large population, and the capacity to go nuclear.
- China, which has nuclear capabilities, the world's largest military, the world's largest population, and the fastest growing major economy in the world(2nd largest in PPP).
- The European Union, if counted as a single unit would have the largest economy in the world. Also the European Union obtains nuclear capabilities via France and the United Kingdom, but is still too politically and militarily fragmented to be considered a single power.
- India, which has a population of over a billion, nuclear weapons, the world's 3rd largest military and 4th largest airforce, as well as a thriving economy (4th largest in PPP)
- Japan, which has one of the world's most powerful economies and has increased military funding in recent years.
- Russia, the most powerful of the countries of the former Soviet Union, maintains the largest nuclear stockpile in the world and possesses a huge conventional arsenal, a large economy, and a plentiful supply of natural resources.
- Worldwide public opinion has been described by the media as a Second Superpower
Superpowers are also the fictional superhuman abilities that distinguish most superheroes such as Superman and supervillains such as Magneto from ordinary people. Typical superpowers include superhuman strength, speed, or stamina; the ability to fly; or abilities such as X-ray vision.