Second superpower

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"Second superpower" is a term used to conceptualize a global civil society as a world force comparable to or counterbalancing the United States of America. The term originates from a 2003 New York Times article which described world public opinion as one of two superpowers.[1]

It has also been applied to the USSR in the past, and to China, a rising power in the 21st century.

Peace movement in opposition to invasion of Iraq[edit]

Invention in response to February 2003 demonstrations[edit]

Anti-war protests which were the impetus for the invention of the term

On February 15, 2003 global demonstrations took place against the impending invasion of Iraq. These involved between six and thirty million people and were listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as including the largest anti-war rally in history. In reaction, New York Times writer Patrick Tyler wrote in a February 17 article that:

...the huge anti-war demonstrations around the world this weekend are reminders that there may still be two superpowers on the planet: the United States and world public opinion.

Popularization as a description of popular opinion[edit]

The New York Times article was widely circulated in the peace movement during February 2003, adding to the hope among many participants that galvanizing world public opinion could prevent the Iraq War.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan began to use the phrase "two superpowers" in speeches. In March, "The Nation" magazine cover story was titled "The Other Superpower". In it, Jonathan Schell wrote:

The new superpower possesses immense power, but it is a different kind of power: not the will of one man wielding the 21,000-pound MOAB but the hearts and wills of the majority of the world's people.[2]

Though worldwide popular opposition failed to prevent the invasion of Iraq, leading some to reject the notion, the phrase is still popular among people in the anti-war and anti-globalization movements.

Internet-based activism[edit]

On March 31, 2003, Dr. James F. Moore of Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for Internet and Society posted an essay entitled The Second Superpower Rears Its Beautiful Head. In it, he advocated four ideas: embrace the concept explicitly within the peace movement as an inspirational goal and a counter to the "first superpower" idea promoted by the Bush administration, continue to develop blogging and other means of linking the community globally, find ways to influence first superpower institutions including international institutions and international law, and continue to develop reflective personal consciousness so as to be able to lead from love rather than fear.

Overall, what can be said for the prospects of the second superpower? With its mind enhanced by Internet connective tissue, and international law as a venue to work with others for progressive action, the second superpower is starting to demonstrate its potential. But there is much to do. How do we assure that it continues to gain in strength? And at least as important, how do we continue to develop the mind of the second superpower, so that it maximizes wisdom and goodwill? The future, as they say,is in our hands. We need to join together to help the second superpower, itself, grow stronger.

This paper received 50,000 downloads in five days. The substance of the piece was debated by a number of authors, including Jonathan Rauch writing in National Journal. Many bloggers linked the paper with Joi Ito's Emergent Democracy concept and paper.

Some attacked Moore's use of the term to describe primarily the effect of the Internet. Brian Fitzgerald argued in the Greenpeace Weblog:

Moore's essay hijacks a powerful, apt description of the anti-war movement, this particular anti-war movement, and boils every bit of life out of it, turning the phrase into a highly saccharin, American, depoliticized vision of a zippy web community. There's no edge, no conflict, and the essay seems to occupy that dreamy space which considers itself radical-left but has no real argument with anybody, and no real agenda other than to pat itself on the back. It sits effortlessly in the status quo, claiming the mantle of opposition not by action or hard personal choice, but by right of enlightenment and membership in a club.[3]


Moore's paper was the subject of an attack on the dissemination process and the relationship of the author and his reviewers to Google, by Andrew Orlowski of The Register. Orlowski accused a small number of webloggers of "Googlewashing", a word Orlowski invented to describe media manipulation of Google to neuter the political significance of the word. He argued:

Although it took millions of people around the world to compel the Gray Lady to describe the anti-war movement as a "Second Superpower", it took only a handful of webloggers to spin the alternative meaning to manufacture sufficient PageRank to flood Google with Moore's alternative, neutered definition... Indeed, if you were wearing your Google-goggles, and the search engine was your primary view of the world, you would have a hard time believing that the phrase "Second Superpower" ever meant anything else. To all intents and purposes, the original meaning has been erased.[4]

Other states[edit]

Soviet Union[edit]

During the cold war era the term was heavily applied to Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, as the USSR was a power of comparable influence, but lagged behind the US in economy and wealth.


In the 21st century, the term has also been applied by scholars and geopolitical observer to the possibility that the People's Republic of China could emerge as a "second superpower," with global power and influence on par with the United States.[5][6][7]

The term is also used by Tonya Blair.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "A New Power In the Streets". The New York Times. 17 February 2003.
  2. ^[dead link]
  3. ^ "Making Waves". Greenpeace International.
  4. ^ "Anti-war slogan coined, repurposed and Googlewashed … in 42 days". The Register.
  5. ^ Wood, James (2000). History of International Broadcasting. ISBN 9780852969205.
  6. ^ Dillon, Michael (2009). Contemporary China. ISBN 9780415343206.
  7. ^ Bardes, Barbara; Shelley, Mack; Schmidt, Steffen (2008-12-16). American Government and Politics Today: The Essentials 2009 - 2010 Edition. ISBN 978-0495571704.
  8. ^ "Tony Blair urges western powers to stand up to China". 16 July 2022.

External links[edit]