From the tiniest microbes to the largest predators, life is an endless power struggle. So why should our species be any different? Human history is the story of factions competing for power and prestige by asserting their financial, cultural and military influence.
This article will explore the most powerful countries in the world and the standards for ranking them. We’ll also examine new challengers to traditional powers and highlight key takeaways.
Globalization was once the status quo, but not anymore. Recent events, coupled with intensified discussions of a “decoupling” between the West and China, have prompted growing numbers of wealthy individuals to look for a Plan B, to better help them weather future geopolitical shocks.
As borders and alliances shift, old foes become allies and vice versa. New technologies bring new challenges but also opportunities. As always, preparedness, reliable information, and diversification are key.
What Makes a Country Powerful?
Various factors determine a country’s strength, but the most important factor of all is its economy. The more resources and trade partners a nation has, the more prosperous it becomes.
This is as true today as it was in ancient times as it allows nations to build even more wealth and reinvest it. In doing so nations can grow and expand further while building infrastructure, public services and cultural centers.
Increased wealth can also be reinvested to create more efficient production methods, on developing cutting-edge technologies and funding larger, more modern militaries.
Therefore economic power is the key to all other power. With economic power, you can expand one’s soft power, by broadening your nation’s cultural influence and adding more diplomatic clout.
And when the instruments of soft power reach their limits, the carrot can be swapped for the stick. Having a strong military not only serves as a deterrent against would-be aggressors, it also works as a powerful bargaining tool in its own right.
Countries can – and often do – use their military strength to bully neighbors. Other times they can use it to foster closer cooperation through institutions such as NATO.
Below are the four main pillars of power which we will be using to determine the world’s most powerful countries.
- Economic Strength: This includes GDP, GDP per capita, resources, trade, and innovation.
- Cultural Influence: A country’s cultural influence can contribute to its power, including language, media, art, and popular culture.
- Diplomatic Influence: A country’s ability to shape global affairs through diplomacy and alliances is another critical factor in its power.
- Military Power: A country’s military strength is often seen as a key indicator of its power, including the size of its armed forces and the quality of its weapons and technology.
Top 10 Most Powerful Countries in the World
According to the above four pillars of power, the top 10 most powerful countries are:
- United States
- United Kingdom
- Saudi Arabia
1. United States: The Most Powerful Country in the World (For Now)
We could have done this in reverse order but what would be the point? You know the answer already.
Despite a growing list of contenders for the crown, the US remains the world’s dominant superpower based on all of the above criteria.
It’s the world’s largest economy, with a population of over 331 million, vast natural resources and plays a dominant role in many sectors, most crucially, digital technology.
Despite efforts to unseat it, the US dollar is still the world’s main currency, giving the US serious leverage in global trade, particularly in energy markets.
Aside from its economic power, the US has vast cultural influence in everything from entertainment to technology and has a formidable diplomatic network to cajole and coerce other nations.
And finally, the US has the largest, strongest and most modern military on the planet, with the ability to rapidly deploy its forces anywhere on Earth.
America’s martial and industrial might, coupled with scientific innovation, high standards of education and a free market economy made the US the dominant global power in the post-war era.
But times change.
The nation’s infrastructure and institutions are failing, its industrial heartland is struggling, and its economic supremacy can no longer be taken for granted.
This year India overtook China as the world’s most populous country. Demographics are shifting and economies with them. How long will it be before you wake up to the news that China, not America, is now the world’s preeminent economy?
America’s military strength also makes it a target for other nations who feel their right to grow and expand is being curtailed by Uncle Sam.
This is how Imperial Japan felt in 1941 and echoes of those sentiments can be heard from politicians in Moscow and Beijing.
We certainly live in interesting times, that’s why whatever the future holds, it’s important to have a Plan B.
2. The Rise of China: A Challenge to US Supremacy
In fact, it seems to be the only issue both Republicans and Democrats can agree on these days.
Not all that long ago China was a close trading partner of the US. Having shifted to a more open economy it began to experience significant growth. In essence, China became the world’s main manufacturing base, and its output has become ever more sophisticated each year.
As its economy grew, so did demand for Western goods and products, but recent geopolitical events mean Western businesses are becoming increasingly concerned about their exposure to China.
Despite setbacks, most notably the pandemic, China’s economy is projected to eclipse the US at some point in the next decade. The LSE and others put that date at 2035, though it’s possible that date could arrive sooner.
The consensus appears to be that some form of showdown is coming. Whether that’s a trade war, a new Cold War, or worse still, a hot war perhaps triggered by Taiwan, it’s time to get prepared.
If you’re worried that hot-headed politicians will make foolish decisions that will impact your business or your freedom to travel and invest then it’s time to take control of the situation.
At Nomad Capitalist we can help you obtain a second citizenship, opening up a world of new opportunities for you and your family.
Why get caught in the political crossfire when you can just go where you’re treated best?
3. Russia’s Resurgence: Hungry For Former Glory
Post-Soviet Russia embraced free market capitalism in ways few could have predicted.
The West had hoped that the end of communism would herald a new age of democracy in Russia, but that didn’t happen.
The official view from the Kremlin, meanwhile, is that the collapse of the USSR was a national humiliation which weakened it politically, economically and territorially.
While Russia’s conventional forces may have proven not quite so formidable on the battlefield as expected, Russia currently maintains the largest nuclear arsenal on the planet. The nation’s cyberwarfare capabilities, meanwhile, have also proven particularly damaging to Western targets.
Russia is the world’s largest country by landmass and has the benefit of enormous oil, gas and mineral wealth. This has allowed it to weather current Western sanctions better than expected.
The main beneficiary of this situation has been China, gaining access to Russian energy imports while increasingly siding with Moscow in opposition to the West.
4. The United Kingdom: A Global Power in Decline
Once the largest empire in history, Britain’s post-war decline signaled America’s ascendancy.
It also began a period whereby Britain transitioned from an industrial power to a financial one, a process accelerated during the Thatcher years.
Similarly, Britain’s military power waned during those years while former colonies were granted independence, though the nation still retains significant conventional forces and a nuclear arsenal.
A cornerstone of postwar British policy has been the “special relationship”, its close partnership with the US on key areas, particularly defense.
Although Britain’s decision to leave the European Union in 2020 has not provided the benefits that were promised, the country still has plenty of economic muscle, particularly in the financial sector.
As a result the City of London, not Frankfurt, remains the main financial center in Europe and British culture, in particular arts, music and other forms of entertainment, gives Britain outsized cultural clout to boot.
5. Germany’s Economic Dominance: A New Kind of Power
Known as the engine of Europe, Germany is the largest economy in the EU and forth largest globally.
Following its reunification in 1990, Germany has emerged as one of Europe’s most liveable countries, scoring high on all key metrics.
Germany’s strength has always come from its industrial sector, which enjoys a global reputation for reliability and precision.
It is home to many of the world’s largest and most prominent companies, including Siemens, Bayer, Volkswagen, BMW and Mercedes Benz.
It should be noted, however, that Germany also has high taxes which it collects to subsidize its generous social programs.
Ever conscious of its place in history, modern Germany promotes inclusivity and eschews military interventions, often putting it at odds with its fellow NATO members.
Instead, Germany seeks to position itself as a new kind of soft power, one that champions rational dialogue, practical solutions, green technologies and centrist politics.
6. Japan: A Technological and Economic Superpower
Japan’s postwar trajectory mirrors that of Germany in many ways.
Following WW2 the Japanese adopted a pacifist agenda and instead focussed their efforts on rebuilding and rebranding. The result was one of the greatest economic comebacks in history.
At one point many expected that Japan, not China, would be the first to overtake the US economy, but that never happened.
Instead, Japan’s economy plateaued in the 90s and has been sluggish ever since – but it’s still the third largest economy in the world.
A highly skilled labor force, culturally-ingrained work ethic, advanced technology and a sharp focus on innovation have all contributed to Japan’s economic success.
With strong ties to the United States and other Asian countries, it has excelled in international trade.
Although a staunch US ally, Article 9 of the country’s constitution prevents Japan from using its military for anything other than defense.
With a rising China and the added threat of a nuclear-armed North Korea, it remains to be seen whether Japan’s pacifist policies can endure.
In the meantime, Japan prefers to project soft power, while its arts and history are an endless source of fascination for many. Japan’s entertainment exports also include animation and toys, plus a video game industry worth around $29 billion.
7. France: Balancing Military and Soft Power
France is the second-largest economy in the EU and the seventh-largest globally.
It is home to around 67.7 million people while an estimated 97.6 million people worldwide are
French speakers. Many more are Francophiles, people who celebrate France’s culture, art, architecture, fashion, wine and cuisine.
France matches its soft power with a formidable military. Unlike neighboring Germany, France takes a far more direct role in world affairs and also maintains a nuclear arsenal.
France is a member of NATO and a permanent member of the UN Security Council. France’s military strength is bolstered by advanced technology and well-trained troops.
Its historical ties to Africa and other former colonies help give it a distinct global affairs perspective.
Despite recent economic challenges, France remains a key country in shaping international politics and a driving force in promoting European integration.
8. India: A Rising Power in Asia
In 2023, India overtook China to become the most populous country on earth.
It’s the fifth-largest economy and second-largest English-speaking country in the world and also has the honor of being the world’s largest democracy.
Economically, the country is growing in strength with a strong industrial base and a maturing tech sector.
The Indian diaspora extends the nation’s cultural reach to every continent. Indian cuisine is a favorite of many and more recently, Indian cinema has become ever more popular with Western audiences.
As for its military, India has one of the largest on earth in terms of sheer manpower. And in addition to its conventional forces, India is also a nuclear power.
9. South Korea: A Technological and Economic Powerhouse in Asia
South Korea is, first and foremost, an economic power with a strong industrial base and a well-earned reputation for technological innovation.
South Korea’ is one of the world’s most innovative countries, ranking 1st on the 2021 Bloomberg Innovation Index.
It’s also home to some of the world’s most successful companies such as Samsung, LG, Hyundai and Kia.
Although Korea may not have the same global reach as, say, Japan, Korean movies and pop music enjoy cult status in the West.
South Korea’s economy and strategic position lends it considerable diplomatic clout. And, due to the ongoing threat posed by its belligerent northern neighbor, South Korea’s military is also one of the largest and most modern on earth.
10. Saudi Arabia: The Oil-Rich Kingdom with Global Influence
Oil made Saudi Arabia wealthy, diversification made it strong.
As the largest country on the Arabian Peninsula, its massive oil reserves (currently the world’s second-largest behind Venezuela) ensures the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a major power both regionally and globally.
The two holiest cities in Islam, Mecca and Medina, are also both located on Saudi soil, lending the nation significant influence throughout the Muslim world.
Although traditionally Saudi foreign policy has been largely a product of its relationship with the US, in more recent times the Kingdom has been far more assertive and autonomous in its relations. This extends to its military, too, as the Saudis seek to contain their main regional rival, Iran. From an American perspective, this new, more self-assured and independent Saudi Arabia has been the cause of friction, though on the other hand, the Kingdom has recently sought to normalize ties with Israel, a move which would be warmly welcomed by Washington.
Military Power: A Key Indicator of Power?
A strong military can deter enemies, protect citizens and allies, and allow a country to project influence beyond its borders.
As we have seen, however, cultural and diplomatic power is equally as important as military power and none of these are possible without a strong economy to base it all on.
The Role of Technology and Innovation
Countries that invest in R&D and have a highly educated workforce are more likely to develop ever more sophisticated technologies giving them the edge over other nations.
For example, look at how US investment in satellite and internet technology made it the dominant country in the tech sector.
Military power is also influenced by technology, with countries with advanced military technology and infrastructure having a strategic advantage over their adversaries.
This is why there is so much talk of a “tech embargo” lately as Washington is afraid that its own technologies might be used against it by China.
- Economic power is the main determining factor, followed by cultural, diplomatic and military power.
- As a result, the US remains the world’s most powerful country but risks falling behind on innovation and education while its economic struggles mount.
- China is America’s main rival and is set to become the world’s largest economy by the 2030s. Its alliance with Russia worries Western diplomats while ensuring China has access to Russia’s vast oil and gas resources.
- The United Kingdom and France are two former superpowers that still retain significant influence on the world stage due to their economic output, cultural influence and military power though social issues at home continue to erode trust in their governments domestically.
- Germany and Japan are economic superpowers with advanced technological capabilities but are conflict-avoidant. Both countries have been criticized for being slow to adapt and stuck in their ways, while high taxes make it difficult for businesses to thrive.
- India is now the world’s most populous country with a maturing economy, growing cultural influence and formidable military capabilities.
- Saudi Arabia is a major oil and gas producer with significant economic influence and power, however the country still has a long way to go in becoming a more open society, particularly compared to its neighbor, the UAE.
Power is a complex issue determined by various factors, including military might, economic strength, cultural influence, and diplomatic clout.
Powerful country rankings vary based on methodology and source opinion.
Right now the US remains the world’s most powerful country though, as we’ve seen, the coming years will see whether or not its status of top dog continues, or whether the country gets bumped down the pecking order.
Will China do to America in the 21st century what America did to Europe in the 20th? Will the US become the new UK or France, a former superpower struggling to remain relevant?
All the warning signs are there; financial instability, political instability, rising debt, failing banks, a failing education system and an alarming lack of business competitiveness
If these trends continue, America’s decline could accelerate while its rivals take advantage.
Nobody can predict the future but you can prepare for it. Recent years have seen shockwave after shockwave strike. All we can say for sure is that more are coming.
Having a second passport gives you a backup option for when the worst happens, while also giving you more opportunities to travel and invest.
At Nomad Capitalist we create all-encompassing offshore strategies allowing you to take full advantage of offshore banking, legal tax reduction and asset protection so that, whatever happens, and wherever you go, your family is protected and your wealth is carefully guarded.
Preparation is salvation, so instead of worrying about the worst-case scenario, be ready and enjoy the peace of mind that comes from a Nomad Capitalist Action Plan.
The US has the world’s most powerful military by a considerable margin, however, Russia currently has the world’s largest atomic arsenal.
Based on the criteria of military and economic power, the five superpowers in the world are the United States, China, Russia, France, and the United Kingdom.