In recent years, particularly since the 2007-2009 financial crisis in North America and Western Europe, there has been much speculation over the changing balance of power in the world. China’s rapid ascent during the 2000s as a potential superpower is well-known, as to some extent is Russia’s resurgence as a regional power and India’s emergence economically, politically and militarily. Less well known are the rise of Germany to economic dominance on the European mainland; the expansion of South Korea and Brazil in East Asia and South America, respectively; and the ongoing ‘normalisation’ of Japan, as it weaves itself into a web of alliances and partnerships across the Asian rimland.
We also think it is important not to underestimate the established powers’ positions: the United States, the United Kingdom and France still pack a formidable punch, and will probably continue to do so for many decades to come. They still hold many critical cards, from their global military reach and their scientific capacity to their educational resources and cultural attraction.
We have therefore sought to produce a table ranking the world’s fifteen most powerful countries for 2012 (see below). We know alternative rankings exist, such as the Correlates of War project, the index of Comprehensive National Power and the International Futures programme. Nonetheless, we have tried to produce our own, in an attempt to signify more subjective attributions like countries’ historical reputation and geographic position, amongst others – and for which we offer no apologies (we simply think some attributes of national power cannot be objectively verified using quantitative methods).
To offer a note of explanation, this table is based on two dimensions: aggregated national power and planetary reach. Aggregated national power takes into consideration geographic position; financial power; industrial output; military might (i.e. ‘power projection’ and/or ability of defence); alliance membership; educational attainment; cultural attraction; population size; historical reputation, militarily, politically and economically; government capacity and efficiency; national cohesion; and potential over the next ten years. Meanwhile, planetary reach is based on five categories:
- Superpower – a country with systemic power, in almost every continent, including a top-tier industrial economy, a comprehensive global military footprint (or ability to defend itself against any other power) and enormous cultural attraction;
- Potential superpower – a country (or union) with the potential to reach the status of a superpower within the next decade, conditional on various political and economic reforms;
- Great power (global) – a country lacking the heft or comprehensive attributes of a superpower, but still with a wide footprint in all or most geographic regions, including: Africa, North America, Latin America, Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Australasia;
- Great power (regional) – a country lacking the comprehensive attributes of a superpower, or even the reach of a global power, but with a strong and highly concentrated regional footprint, perhaps extending to the nearest zones of adjacent continents;
- Middle power – a country with significant influence in its local vicinage, perhaps courted by superior powers due to its regional importance or reputation.