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What is a Second Superpower?

A Second Superpower isn't a nation, but the collective influence of global public opinion and activism. It's the power of people united for a cause, shaping policies and decisions through sheer numbers and moral force. Imagine the impact when voices worldwide converge—how might this change the world we live in? Explore the potential of this emerging force with us.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The term “second superpower” has had a number of meanings, but the most recent was coined in 2003, when New York Times journalist Patrick Tyler described the force of popular opinion around the world as a second superpower. Many activist organizations seized on the idea, and this usage of the term quickly spread, appearing in a range of publications from prestigious newspapers to activist newsletters.

The “first superpower” in this case is the United States, a nation with tremendous influence over the rest of the world, thanks to its powerful economy, strong military, and muscular political force. During many parts of the 20th century, Russia was the “second superpower,” as many people believed that Russia had the ability to take on the United States in a war, although the loss of life would probably have been quite great. With the decline of Russia's power, however, a void was left in the global power structure, allowing the United States to achieve a position of supremacy.

Man holding a globe
Man holding a globe

In 2003, however, people turned out in the millions all over the world on 15 February to protest the impending American involvement in Iraq. These protests attracted a great deal of attention, as they occurred in cities all over the world, demonstrating a global distaste with the war. Tyler wrote about this display of public opinion as a second superpower, and many people interpreted this to mean that activism and global opinion could change the course of government events.

Some people have also suggested that the European Union could become a second superpower in its own right, as its individual member nations have displayed a remarkable propensity for organization, and the European Union began to become a force in global politics shortly after it was founded, thanks to the collective economic and political strength of its members.

Numerous prominent people and organizations began to talk about the role of the second superpower in global politics, ranging from United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan to Greenpeace. Despite the fact that the massive anti-war protests which inspired the term were ineffective, many people still believe that individuals have the power to influence their governments, and that united “hearts and minds,” as a journalist put it, can have an impact on the world.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is meant by the term "second superpower"?

The term "second superpower" refers to a country or entity that has significant influence and power on the global stage, second only to the leading superpower, which, in the current geopolitical climate, is often considered to be the United States. This term can denote a nation with substantial military capabilities, economic strength, diplomatic influence, or a combination of these factors that enable it to shape international relations and policies.

Which country is currently considered the second superpower?

As of the last few years, China is frequently cited as the second superpower, given its rapid economic growth, expanding military capabilities, and increasing diplomatic influence. According to the World Bank, China's GDP stood at $14.72 trillion in 2020, making it the world's second-largest economy by nominal GDP. Its Belt and Road Initiative and other global investments further underscore its superpower status (World Bank, 2021).

How does a country become a second superpower?

A country becomes a second superpower through a combination of factors including a large and growing economy, advanced military capabilities, technological innovation, and strong diplomatic relationships. Economic power allows for investment in military and technological advancements, while diplomacy can extend a country's influence. Sustained growth and strategic international engagement are key to rising to superpower status.

What impact does a second superpower have on global politics?

A second superpower can significantly impact global politics by providing an alternative to the dominant superpower's influence, creating a multipolar world. It can lead to shifts in alliances, trade relations, and international agreements. The presence of a second superpower can also lead to competition in areas such as space exploration, cybersecurity, and military advancements, potentially both fueling innovation and raising tensions.

Can there be more than one second superpower?

Yes, the international system can evolve into a multipolar one with multiple superpowers. Historically, the balance of power has shifted, and there have been times with several great powers. In the current global landscape, besides China, the European Union and Russia are also considered by some as potential superpowers due to their regional influence and international roles, although they may not fully meet the criteria of a superpower like the United States or China.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a CulturalWorld researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a CulturalWorld researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...

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