Speaking at the opening of Glasgow Caledonian University's New York Campus, the First Minister said great nations did not need to be great powers.
Mr Salmond is visiting the US for Scotland Week, promoting trade and cultural links between the two countries, and is making speeches on the benefits of independence. Mr Salmond said: "I want to look at the contribution an independent Scotland will make to the world.
"You can aspire to be a great nation without desiring to be a great power. The USA is both. But most nations can't be. And they reduce their chance to be a great nation if they pretend to be a great power."
He pointed to United Nations studies on quality of life to show that nations did not need to be large to provide benefits for their population.
He said the UN Human Development Index, which measures a range of factors including life expectancy, education and economic output, put Norway at number one and the US at number three.
He said that, while large nations could prosper, smaller nations succeeded due to advantages such as "flexiblity and speed of decision making".
Mr Salmond also spoke at a meeting on energy in the city, where he said Glasgow was the pre-eminent research centre for offshore wind technology.
He said: "That research base is strengthened by the quality of our higher education. In global terms, Scotland has more universities in the world's top 200, per head of population, than any other country. We've also got a long history of excellence in engineering.
"A century ago, Scotland built almost a quarter of the world's shipping tonnage. Now, our oil and gas supply chain is a global leader."