Most powerful countries in the world

Defining the most powerful countries in the world may vary, depending on whether you include just economic might, military strength, membership of alliances such as NATO or the European Union, energy security, food security, and the ability to gather support from allies.

A country, such as Russia or the United States, may be powerful simply because it has great military power, while another may have a mighty economy but a small defense budget, as is the case with Japan and Germany.

Ever since World War II, the United Kingdom has been able to punch above its belt – have more clout than one would expect – because of its powerful allies, geographical position, and language.

China has a huge army, with millions of soldiers. Although China’s defense spending is much closer to that of France or the UK than the United States, as far as military power is concerned, it is seen as nearer the mighty US and Russia.

Most powerful countries - National Power Index 2011The United States is the leader in virtually all power rankings. The UK is always within the top four or five, while China and Russia are usually in second or third place, depending on whether the ranking includes just military power, or a combination of military plus some other factors. (Image: adapted from Nation Ranking)

Most powerful countries – factors

Several factors need to be taken into account when trying to determine what the most powerful countries in the world are, including:

– energy security

– population (size and capability)

– food security

– military power

– economic might

– foreign affairs status

This article looks at which countries are the most powerful in the world based on NPI (National Power Index), as well as Comprehensive National Power.

What is the National Power Index (NPI)?

The NPI is an attempt to quantify a country’s capacity to influence events and outcomes across the world. It comprises a number sub-indexes, which combined together contribute to that country’s power. The sub-indexes are:

– population

– technology

– diplomacy

– military

– economy

– foreign affairs

Military - most powerful countriesThe nations in the image above appear in the majority of rankings of the ‘most powerful countries’, according to their military strengths.

Below is a list of countries with a global ranking for each of their five indexes:

The United States

United States - most powerful countries– Foreign Affairs Capability: 1
– Energy Security: 3
– Technology Capability: 1
– Population Capability: 3
– Military Capability: 1
– Economic Capability: 1
– Composition Index: 1

– Active Military Personnel: 1,429,995
– GDP: $19,417 trillion
– Area:: 9,826,675 km2
– Population: 323,995,528

Given that the US ranks top globally in all-but-two of the sub-indexes, it is likely to remain at number 1 for at least the next decade.


China– Foreign Affairs Capability: 9
– Energy Security: 14
– Technology Capability: 10
– Population Capability: 1
– Military Capability: 3
– Economic Capability: 2
– Composition Index: 2

– Active Military Personnel: 2,285,000
– GDP: $11.795 trillion
– Area: 9,706,961 km2
– Population: 1,373,541,278

China comes first as the world’s most populous country, and second regarding its economic might. Economists predict that it will overtake the United States by 2030, according the International Futures Model.


Russia– Foreign Affairs Capability: 4
– Energy Security: 4
– Technology Capability: 11
– Population Capability: 11
– Military Capability: 2
– Economic Capability: 15
– Composition Index: 3

– Active Military Personnel: 766,000
– GDP: $1.56 trillion
– Area: 17,098,242 km2
– Population: 142,355,415

Russia is geographically the world’s largest country, and the second mightiest military power.


France - most powerful countries– Foreign Affairs Capability: 2
– Energy Security: 18
– Technology Capability: 6
– Population Capability: 7
– Military Capability: 4
– Economic Capability: 6
– Composite Index: 4

– Active Military Personnel: 228,656
– GDP: $2.42 trillion
– Area:640,679 km2
– Population: 66,836,154

France is a permanent member of the UN Security Council. It ranks well in foreign affairs and military capability.


Japan– Foreign Affairs Capability: 6
– Energy Security: 25
– Technology Capability: 2
– Population Capability: 4
– Military Capability: 9
– Economic Capability: 3
– Composite Index: 5

– Active Military Personnel: 47,746
– GDP: $4,841 trillion
– Area: 377,944 km2
– Population: 126,702,133

Despite its small size geographically, Japan has the world’s third largest economy. It scores well in technology and population capability.

The United Kingdom

UK - Union Flag– Foreign Affairs Capability: 3
– Energy Security: 16
– Technology Capability: 8
– Population Capability: 13
– Military Capability: 5
– Economic Capability: 5
– Composition Index: 6

– Active Military Personnel: 205,330
– GDP: $2.496 trillion
– Area: 243,610 km2
– Population: 64,430,428

The United Kingdom was once a global empire, controlling more than one-quarter of the globe. It ranks third in foreign affairs capability, has a strong economy, and a powerful military.


Germany Flag– Foreign Affairs Capability: 5
– Energy Security: 21
– Technology Capability: 7
– Population Capability: 7
– Military Capability: 8
– Economic Capability: 4
– Composition Index: 7

– Active Military Personnel: 182,927
– GDP: $3.423 trillion
– Area: 357,021 km2
– Population: 80,722,792

Germany is the European Union’s most powerful and economy and its most populous nation. It has great influence in the EU, which has a powerful influence on what happens globally.


Flag of India– Foreign Affairs Capability: 11
– Energy Security: 20
– Technology Capability: 17
– Population Capability: 2
– Military Capability: 7
– Economic Capability: 8
– Composition Index: 8

– Active Military Personnel: 1,325,000
– GDP: $2.454 trillion
– Area: 3,287,590 km2
– Population: 1,266,883,598

India has the world’s second-largest population. It is ranked highly in its military and economic capability – it is the 8th largest military spender.


Canada Flag– Foreign Affairs Capability: 10
– Energy Security: 3
– Technology Capability: 9
– Population Capability: 9
– Military Capability: 15
– Economic Capability: 10
– Composition Index: 9

– Active Military Personnel: 65,000
– GDP: $1.6 trillion
– Area: 9,984,670 km2
– Population: 35,362,905

Canada is geographically the world’s second largest country. It has abundant natural resources, a strong economy, and very close ties with other powerful nations, such as the US, UK, EU, and Australia.


Israel Flag– Foreign Affairs Capability: 19
– Energy Security: 26
– Technology Capability: 4
– Population Capability: 17
– Military Capability: 6
– Economic Capability: 25
– Composition Index: 10

– Active Military Personnel: 176,500
– GDP: $0.339 trillion
– Area: 22,072 km2
– Population: 8.38 million

For a country with a small population and a tiny geographical area, Israel is an extremely powerful country. It has an enormous influence in the Middle East region. It is by far the strongest military power in the Middle East, and one of the most scientifically and technologically advanced countries in the world.

Most Powerful Countries economicallyIn the ranking of the ten most powerful countries in the world in the year 2050 – two countries will be ahead of the USA; China and India. The United Kingdom will just about make it to the top ten, according to a study published by PriceWaterhouseCoopers. (Image: data source

Comprehensive National Power ranking

This Comprehensive National Power ranking comes from ‘Reports on International Politics and Security’, in the Yellow Book of International Politics, by the Social Sciences Center.

1. USA

2. UK

3. Russia

4. France

5. Germany

6. China

7. Japan

8. Canada

0. S. Korea

10. India

USNEWS Most Powerful Countries Ranking

According to USNEWS, the most powerful countries in the world are not necessarily the most well-liked. They are nations that dominate media headlines consistently, preoccupy policymakers across the world, and shape economic forecasts.

USNEWS writes:

“Rightly or wrongly, their foreign and economic policy decisions can have ripple effects all over the world. Their military budgets are tracked religiously. When they make a pledge, at least some in the international community trust they will keep it.”

Below is the USNEWS ranking of countries according to a) Power, and b) Best Countries:

1. USA: 1 in Power – 2 in Best Countries.

2. Russia: 2 in Power – 27 in Best Countries

3. China: 3 in Power – 20 in Best Countries

4. UK: 4 in Power – 3 in Best Countries

5. Germany: 5 in Power – 4 in Best Countries

6. France: 6 in Power – 9 in Best Countries

7. Japan: 7 in Power – 5 in Best Countries

8. Israel: 8 in Power – 30 in Best Countries

Video – Most powerful countries: Military focus

This Infographics Show video looks at the ten most powerful countries in the world regarding their military might. It begins with number 10, and works its way down to number 1.