In the field of geopolitics a large amount of time is spent defining and identifying great powers and superpowers. The traditional superpowers of the late 20th century were the US and USSR. Beyond that the only other clear cut superpower was the British Empire at the height of its dominance. The defining feature of a superpower is its ability to assert influence over the entire globe through economic, technological, cultural, and military might.
Great powers are defined in a similar way but with a lower threshold. Thus, there can be a large number of great powers simultaneously. There have been a large number of nations that have been identified as great powers. Lists of today’s great powers usually include the US, China, UK, Russia, France, Germany, and Japan. Other nations are sometimes included; these include Brazil, India, and the European Union.
In addition to defining the great powers of the past and present, scholars make predictions of what great powers will exist in the future. These predictions take into account a wide array of factors. They look at economic growth, population, political stability, resources, location, diplomacy, foreign policy, current events, and alliances just to start. The predictions are extremely varied with some predicting the rise of nation while others predict the decline of these same nations.
It’s much simpler than all that.
Lists of great powers always correlate to the list of countries by GDP. Here is a list of the top ten countries by nominal GDP:
You’ll notice the list contains the same countries that are considered great powers. The only often cited great power that’s missing is Russia which is 12th. Below is the list of countries by PPP GDP:
It is quite easy to see that a nation’s “power” is really just another way of looking at its GDP.
So if we want to figure out what makes a country a great power we need to figure out what makes a country have a large GDP. This part is a little more complicated. Many historical factors have led to Western Europe, Canada, the US, Australia, and New Zealand to having a large GDP per capita. But there is still a clear indicator of which countries will dominate. This indicator is population. What’s the largest difference between Canada and the United States? The US has nine times the population that Canada has. Here is a list of the five most populous of these “western” nations:
United States, Germany, France, UK, and Italy
Unsurprisingly these countries have a large GDP and are considered great powers (with the possible exception of Italy).
Given the current pattern of less developed nations experiencing a higher GDP growth rate than developed nations it becomes trivial to predict future great powers. China and India go without saying. Their populations are staggering compared to other nations. Their populations individually exceed exceed the combined population of the Americas. There is no question that their status in the world will only continue to rise.
Asia, as a region, is seeing steady economic growth and so it’s more populous nations will overtake western nations in the coming years. Indonesia, with 260 million people (4th in world), will rise in the rankings of the world’s nations. Pakistan, Bangladesh, and the Philippines all have above 100 million people and will also see their international profiles grow.
Africa is not seeing the same economic growth that Asia is. It is however seeing very high population growth. Therefore when its economy does start to accelerate it will have its turn at having global influence. It may take fifty years or more but Africa’s most populous countries will become dominate forces. The most prospective nation currently is Nigeria which is fast approaching 200 million. Other key African nations will be Ethiopia, Egypt, DRC, Tanzania, and Kenya. South Africa, despite being Africa’s third largest economy and sixth largest country by population, will not see its stature grow because of its lower population growth and thus its lower future population.
These predictions will be affected by the merging and dissolution of nations. The European Union as an entity will give European nations a continued dominant voice into the future due to its combined population of 510 million. The more centralized Europe’s power becomes the more influential its voice will become. The only other political union currently in the works is the East African Federation. If successful, it would quickly pass Nigeria as the largest population in Africa and would be able to become an economic powerhouse of Africa.