Giorgio Spagnol
Date de publication: 


Superpower is a state or supranational union that holds a dominant position characterized by the ability to exert influence or exert power on a global scale through economic, military, technological and political means.

Currently, just the United States fulfills the criteria to be considered a superpower. At present only China, India and Russia have been academically discussed as having the potential to attain superpower status.

By 2050, most of the world’s largest economies will be those that are emerging today, surpassing current behemoths such as the US, Japan and Germany. While China and India are scheduled to overtake US, Indonesia and Brazil will outdo Japan and Germany.

How about US economic, technological, diplomatic and military clout?

US is scheduled to remain powerful but not hegemonic. There is a belief in US’ staying power over the next few decades by maintaining its military   and technological dominance over everyone else.

All of which raises a question: if US loses its economic and diplomatic dominance, can its other advantages be maintained? After all, military power depends to a substantial degree on strong alliances and economic and technological prowess, while technological power relies in large part on a country’s capacity to commercialize technological advances.

Power sub-ranking is based on an equally weighted average of scores from six country attributes that relate to a country's power: a reliable leader, economic influence, strong exports, political influence, strong international alliances and strong military.

China: New World Superpower?

In the 21st century, no force has seemed capable of halting China's incredible economic growth, propelled by a population of 1.4 billion. Militarily, however, China lags behind the world's sole superpower, US. Will competition with the West drive China to global dominance? If so, China will gain a status it has not had since the Ming Dynasty of the 1600s, when it was the world's prominent power.

After the decline of the British Empire and other colonial states in the early 1900s, Germany and Japan briefly rose to superpower status, but were destroyed by wars. After World War II, the Soviet Union and the US rose to superpower status as the two main protagonists of the Cold War. The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, leaving a weakened Russia and the ever-more-powerful US. By 2020, this had not changed, as US's military budget was as large as the next ten countries combined, its economy was still the leader in the world, and it was the head of the rejuvenated NATO, on the edge of a “New Cold War”.

But the US's status has now a serious challenger: the emerging superpower of China. China's role as the next superpower seems to be right around the corner. China's rapid military expansion and unceasing economic growth, and its prioritizing of the retaking of Taiwan, suggest that the US and its allies may soon come to blows with China and its allies.

Key Takeaways of China

1. China is an emerging superpower, but whether it attains full superpower status depends on several strategic factors, particularly the outcome of a potential war to retake Taiwan.

2. China is allied with Russia in a “New Cold War” with the US and its Western allies, which include Japan and Australia in the region.

3. China's strengths as an emerging superpower include its massive population and economy and its growing military, as well as the power of the Chinese Communist Party to control dissent.

4. China's economy grew at unprecedented rates since 1979, but an aging population, resource dependency and environmental costs place future economic strength under scrutiny.

5. China's claim to the entirety of the South China Sea has put it at odds with numerous other countries over access to fishing rights, trade routes, and natural resources.

China and US

Nations rise and fall. For 400 years, white powers dominated the world. Suddenly today, China is challenging their dominance. Post 9-11, America went after Afghanistan, without pausing for a minute to think that Afghanistan was the graveyard of empires, first the British, then the Soviet. America got lost in Afghanistan. The neocons who ruled Washington then wanted a quick victory. Iraq presented such a prize. Paul Wolfowitz, then America’s deputy secretary of state, said that Iraq was swimming in a sea of oil and America must have it. Today America neither has Iraq nor its oil.

Some whispers started emanating in US that China was rising while the US was mired in war. But so blinded with rage were the powers in Washington that they didn’t care to listen.

The decline of the US

Are there any implications we can draw from the upcoming battle between Biden and Trump, two old men, that’s going to grab our attention and steal the headlines for the months to come? The country is going to set a limping age record for president, no matter who wins, leaving China’s Xi Jinping, now 70, and Russia’s Vladmir Putin, now 71, as relative youths in an all-American world of absolute ancientness.

As Biden and Trump are preparing a fight to the wire to lead US, could an American of 1991 ever have imagined that, in 2024, polls would show the urge for violence against fellow Americans reaching eerie highs in America? Such increasingly divided and divisive American society over which those two old men are now fighting could, in the end, rip apart.

The American empire

To call America an empire is admittedly to court confusion.  But there’s an illuminating precedent for the kind of imperial project: the Roman Empire.

By the fourth century, that empire had evolved from a conquest state into one where the Eternal City remained a spiritual center but actual power was shared across the provinces.

In time, the larger and politically more coherent confederations that emerged acquired the ability to parry - and eventually roll back - imperial domination.

In the same way, although developing countries grew more slowly in the postwar period than their Western counterparts, they still grew. By the end of the century, they had started to convert that expanding economic clout into political and diplomatic power.

Developing countries have gradually reduced their dependence on the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, formed lending institutions and begun experimenting with trading arrangements that lessen their dependence on the dollar.

In responding to the inevitability of China’s rise, the United States needs therefore to ask itself which threats are existential and which are merely uncomfortable.

Signs of American decline

Five signs of American decline have been gathering momentum through both Republican and Democratic administrations.

1. Uncontrollable US Debt

The US Debt Clock displays the inevitability of American decline: a “ticking time bomb” of data and financial evidence.

2. Low student achievement

If US is to dig itself out of that harrowing debt trap, it will need successive generations of superstar students, armed with skills and creativity. Someday, they will invent and harness technologies to manufacture state-of-the-art products and related services, fueling an economic boom that boosts the GDP. Unfortunately, the “Nation Report Card” does not hint at such an optimistic future.

3. Increasing income and wealth inequality

Subpar educational achievement will probably only increase the gap between the rich and poor. Moreover, it will shrink the once-vibrant middle class: the pride of post-war America.

4. Loss of American identity and patriotism

The once-great American “melting pot” is an outdated concept for many Americans. Traditionally, immigrants with different languages and cultures assimilated and became distinctly American. The current trend is toward a heterogeneous culture.

5. Belief that US political system is broken

Americans’ disdain for the political system has been captured in numerous polls, showing voters are dissatisfied with a  Biden-Trump rematch.

So the political system is at least broken enough to lock in two flawed, unpopular candidates well past their prime and - along with all of the above - set America on a declining glide-path.

US and geopolitics

US decided to position itself, through NATO, in Central and Eastern European nations newly freed from the Russian yoke.

Now, if US has an incontrovertible strategic objective, it is precisely to prevent Europe (or, to be realistic, Germany) from establishing a cooperation of any kind with Russia.

The “heartland” theory formulated by Mackinder holds that if Eastern Europe (Germany) takes control of the heartland (Russia) its dominion over Eurasia, and therefore over the world, will ensue.

Mackinder’s thesis was revived during World War II by Spykman, who transformed it into the theory of “rimland”, a ring of countries that could surround the heartland.

In Spykman’s formulation, control of this ring becomes crucial for world control, a thesis later translated into the policy of containment, that is, of cordon sanitaire around Russia. The concern over a possible Eurasian continental union capable of challenging, and ultimately overthrowing, its world hegemony was American nightmare.  As Henry Kissinger openly confirmed:

“In the first half of the 20th century, the United States fought two wars to prevent the domination of Europe by a potential adversary… In the second half of the 20th century the United States went on to fight three wars to vindicate the same principle in Asia against Japan, in Korea, and in Vietnam”.


Since its independence 248 years ago, it can be said that the US has constantly been in the process of debate, contention, trial and fighting in areas such as culture, values, policies, laws and so on. Fortunately, only once did these constant cultural wars evolve into an actual civil war: the American Civil War in the 1860s.

“I do not accept second place for the United States of America”. That simple statement, delivered to rousing effect by Barack Obama in his first State of the Union, in January 2010, managed to summarize the current American strategic horizon in a single sentence.

The US is in relative decline, facing the prospect of someday being overtaken by a rival power. Its main problem, however, is not the relative decline itself: it’s a natural phenomenon occurring as companies, sectors, regions and countries grow at uneven rates. Instead, its main problem is a failure to recognize this condition, whether out of pride, electoral calculation or simple lack of awareness.


France under Napoleon III, Britain under Winston Churchill and Soviet Russia under Mikhail Gorbachev didn’t know they had already lost the empire until it was too late. How about he fate of US?

Since the end of World War II, few major historical events have taken place without US being involved in one way or another. They may not have always turned out to Washington’s liking, but its influence was unmistakable.

That is why many people, especially Americans, continue to think China’s inexorable rise may still be subject to Washington’s will. Great powers rarely know the limit of their power: once-great ones realise, usually too late, that they are no longer great or powerful. Modern history is full of such lessons.