Unit 3 - Superpowers

Notes Topic 4: Superpower Geographies

Origins of Superpowers

Between 1800 and 1918, the British Empire was the ruling Hegemony; it controlled 25% of the Earth's land area.

The empire eventually fell, for three main reasons

  • Colonies began to demand independence and various demonstrations were hard to refuse
  • WW1 had bankrupted the UK and they could no longer afford to run a global empire
  • After WW1, the UK also began to focus on rebuilding within the UK as opposed to over seas rebuilding

Between 1945 and 1990, the USSR and USA were the global powers - bi-polar world- during the Cold War. 
Following the eventual collapse of the USSR, USA became the one true superpower - uni-polar world.

However the USA is now threatened by the rise of the BRICs - NICs and RICs which have rapidly begun to develop and are considered to be emerging superpowers.  

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Types of theory

  • Liberal Economic Development
    these emphaises the creation of wealth and power. They view Capitalism as an essential tool for creating wealth
  • Marxist
    these emphasise how some countries maintain their wealth + power at the expense of others. They view Capitalism as something which promotes inequality 
  • Hegemony 
    - a country that dominates world system 
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Modernisation Theory

Take-Off Model
1960, Rostow, Liberal

  • Economic development is a linear five stage process
  • Countries can only 'take-off' and develop once the pre-conditions have been met:
    rise in rate of productive investment to over 10% of national income, development of 1 or more substantial manufacturing centres and the emergence of adminstrative systems which encourage development
  • The model itself looks upon the rate of development over a period of time
  • Criticisms
    many countries borrowed money and invested into various projects in order to meet the pre-conditions made by Rostow however they failed to develop and ended up in debt.
    it is only a simplification of reality. 
    doesn't take individual nation circumstances into account. 

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Modernisation Theory Cont.


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Dependency Theory

Frank, 1967 - Marxist

  • The world is divided into the developed, the core, and underdeveloped, the periphery 
  • The developed world keeps rest of the world in a state of underdevelopment in order to be able to exploit it for cheap resources and labour, taking its most skilled workers and selling it manufactured goods
  • Through this, the developing world helps the developed world to remain rich, (the development of underdevelopment)
  • The developing world is then dependant upon the developed (rich dependant upon poor)
  • Aid, debt and trade patterns continually reinforce this dependency
  • Based upon Marx's ideas of the 'rich versus the poor', which is more static
  • Criticisms
    Rise of NICs - Asian Tigers are examples of countries which have now developed since the 60s+70s, which show that development is possible from the periphery
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World Systems Theory

Wallerstein, 1974 - Marxist

  • The world is divided into core, semi-periphery and periphery.
  • The semi-periphery nations resemble those of NICs and are competing to varying degrees for core status; therefore this theory suggests and allows for some countries being able to move out of underdevelopment 
    - suggestion of a middle ground
  • It is the system that causes the divide and not the individual nations 
  • Wallerstein recognised that some countries could  develop and gain power, demonstrating that wealth + power were more fluid and not static
  • Criticisms
    The theory is considered to be more of a description of the world than an explanation
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Factors which Influence the Creation of Superpower

Physical Size


Population Size

Economic Power + Influence

Military Force

Dominant Belief System

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