First, it has been substantially reconfigured along cultural and civilizational lines, as I have highlighted in the pages of this journal and documented at length in The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. Second, as argued in that book, global politics is also always about power and the struggle for power, and today international relations is changing along that crucial dimension. The global structure of power in the Cold War was basically bipolar; the emerging structure is very different. There is now only one superpower. But that does not mean that the world is unipolar. A unipolar system would have one superpower, no significant major powers, and many minor powers.
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First, it has been substantially reconfigured along cultural and civilizational lines, as I have highlighted in the pages of this journal and documented at length in The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. Second, as argued in that book, global politics is also always about power and the struggle for power, and today international relations is changing along that crucial dimension.
The global structure of power in the Cold War was basically bipolar; the emerging structure is very different. There is now only one superpower. But that does not mean that the world is unipolar. A unipolar system would have one superpower, no significant major powers, and many minor powers. As a result, the superpower could effectively resolve important international issues alone, and no combination of other states would have the power to prevent it from doing so. For several centuries the classical world under Rome, and at times East Asia under China, approximated this model.
A bipolar system like the Cold War has two superpowers, and the relations between them are central to international politics. Each superpower dominates a coalition of allied states and competes with the other superpower for influence among nonaligned countries.
A multipolar system has several major powers of comparable strength that cooperate and compete with each other in shifting patterns. A coalition of major states is necessary to resolve important international issues. European politics approximated this model for several centuries. Contemporary international politics does not fit any of these three models. It is instead a strange hybrid, a uni-multipolar system with one superpower and several major powers. The settlement of key international issues requires action by the single superpower but always with some combination of other major states; the single superpower can, however, veto action on key issues by combinations of other states.
The United States, of course, is the sole state with preeminence in every domain of power -- economic, military, diplomatic, ideological, technological, and cultural -- with the reach and capabilities to promote its interests in virtually every part of the world.
At a second level are major regional powers that are preeminent in areas of the world without being able to extend their interests and capabilities as globally as the United States. At a third level are secondary regional powers whose interests often conflict with the more powerful regional states. The superpower or hegemon in a unipolar system, lacking any major powers challenging it, is normally able to maintain its dominance over minor states for a long time until it is weakened by internal decay or by forces from outside the system, both of which happened to fifth-century Rome and nineteenth-century China.
In a multipolar system, each state might prefer a unipolar system with itself as the single dominant power but the other major states will act to prevent that from happening, as was often the case in European politics. In the Cold War, each superpower quite explicitly preferred a unipolar system under its hegemony.
However, the dynamics of the competition and their early awareness that an effort to create a unipolar system by armed force would be disastrous for both enabled bipolarity to endure for four decades until one state no longer could sustain the rivalry.
In each of these systems, the most powerful actors had an interest in maintaining the system. In a uni-multipolar system, this is less true. The United States would clearly prefer a unipolar system in which it would be the hegemon and often acts as if such a system existed. The major powers, on the other hand, would prefer a multipolar system in which they could pursue their interests, unilaterally and collectively, without being subject to constraints, coercion, and pressure by the stronger super power.
They feel threatened by what they see as the American pursuit of global hegemony. American officials feel frustrated by their failure to achieve that hegemony. None of the principal power-wielders in world affairs is happy with the status quo.
Virtually all major regional powers are increasingly asserting themselves to promote their own distinct interests, which often conflict with those of the United States. Global politics has thus moved from the bipolar system of the Cold War through a unipolar moment -- highlighted by the Gulf War -- and is now passing through one or two uni-multipolar decades before it enters a truly multipolar 21st century.
The United States, as Zbigniew Brzezinski has said, will be the first, last, and only global superpower. They boast of American power and American virtue, hailing the United States as a benevolent hegemon. They lecture other countries on the universal validity of American principles, practices, and institutions. At the G-7 summit in Denver, President Clinton boasted about the success of the American economy as a model for others.
Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright has called the United States "the indispensable nation" and said that "we stand tall and hence see further than other nations. It is false in also implying that other nations are dispensable -- the United States needs the cooperation of some major countries in handling any issue -- and that American indispensability is the source of wisdom. Addressing the problem of foreign perceptions of American "hegemonism," Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott set forth this rationale: "In a fashion and to an extent that is unique in the history of Great Powers, the United States defines its strength -- indeed, its very greatness --not in terms of its ability to achieve or maintain dominance over others, but in terms of its ability to work with others in the interests of the international community as a whole.
American foreign policy is consciously intended to advance universal values [his italics]. Summers when he called the United States the "first nonimperialist superpower" -- a claim that manages in three words to exalt American uniqueness, American virtue, and American power. American foreign policy is in considerable measure driven by such beliefs.
In the unipolar moment at the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States was often able to impose its will on other countries. That moment has passed. The two principal tools of coercion that the United States now a ttempts to use are economic sanctions and military intervention. Sanctions work, however, only when other countries also support them, and that is decreasingly the case.
Hence, the United States either applies them unilaterally to the detriment of its economic interests and its relations with its allies, or it does not enforce them, in which case they become symbols of American weakness.
At relatively low cost the United States can launch bombing or cruise missile attacks against its enemies. By themselves, however, such actions achieve little. More serious military interventions have to meet three conditions: They have to be legit imated through some international organization, such as the United Nations where they are subject to Russian, Chinese, or French veto; they also require the participation of allied forces, which may or may not be forthcoming; and they have to involve no American casualties and virtually no "collateral" casualties.
Even if the United States meets all three conditions, it risks stirring up not only criticism at home but widespread political and popular backlash abroad. American officials seem peculiarly blind to the fact that often the more the United States attacks a foreign leader, the more his popularity soars among his countrymen who applaud him for standing tall against the greatest power on earth. The demonizing of leaders has so far failed to shorten their tenure in power, from Fidel Castro who has survived eight American presidents to Slobodan Milousevic and Saddam Hussein.
Indeed, the best way for a dictator of a small country to prolong his tenure in power may be to provoke the United States into denouncing him as the leader of a "rogue regime" and a threat to global peace. Neither the Clinton administration nor Congress nor the public is willing to pay the costs and accept the risks of unilateral global leadership.
Some advocates of American leadership argue for increasing defense expenditures by 50 percent, but that is a nonstarter. The American public clearly sees no need to expend effort and resources to achieve American hegemony. In one poll, only 13 percent said they preferred a preeminent role for the United States in world affairs, while 74 percent said they wanted the United States to share power with other countries.
Other polls have produced similar results. Public disinterest in international affairs is pervasive, abetted by the drastically shrinking media coverage of foreign events.
Majorities of 55 to 66 percent of the public say that what happens in western Europe, Asia, Mexico, and Canada has little or no impact on their lives. However much foreign policy elites may ignore or deplore it, the United States lacks the domestic political base to create a unipolar world. American leaders repeatedly make threats, promise action, and fail to deliver. The result is a foreign policy of "rhetoric and retreat" and a growing reputation as a "hollow hegemon.
American leaders constantly claim to be speaking on behalf of "the international community. The Arab world? The Association of Southeast Asian Nations? Latin America? Do any of these countries or regions see the United States as the spokesman for a community of which they are a part? The community for which the United States speaks includes, at best, its Anglo-Saxon cousins Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand on most issues, Germany and some smaller European democracies on many issues, Israel on some Middle Eastern questions, and Japan on the implementation of U.
These are important states, but they fall far short of being the global international community. These issues include U. On these and other issues, much of the international community is on one side and the United States is on the other.
The circle of governments who see their interests coinciding with American interests is shrinking. This is manifest, among other ways, in the central lineup among the permanent members of the U. Security Council. While the United States regularly denounces various countries as "rogue states," in the eyes of many countries it is becoming the rogue superpower. Now it is pursuing a policy of "global unilateralism," promoting its own particular interests with little reference to those of others.
The United States is unlikely to become an isolationist country, withdrawing from the world. But it could become an isolated country, out of step with much of the world. If a unipolar world were unavoidable, many countries might prefer the United States as the hegemon. But this is mostly because it is distant from them and hence unlikely to attempt to acquire any of their territory. American power is also valued by the secondary regional states as a constraint on the dominance of other major regional states.
Benign hegemony, however, is in the eye of the hegemon. They do not regard America as a military threat but as a menace to their integrity, autonomy, prosperity, and freedom of action. They view the United States as intrusive, interventionist, exploitative, unilateralist, hegemonic, hypocritical, and applying double standards, engaging in what they label "financial imperialism" and "intellectual colonialism," with a foreign policy driven overwhelmingly by domestic politics. For Indian elites, an Indian scholar reported, "the United States represents the major diplomatic and political threat.
That is, the United States can deny India its objectives and can rally others to join it in punishing India. Arab elites see the United States as an evil force in world affairs, while the Japanese public rated in the United States as a threat to Japan second only to North Korea.
Such reactions are to be expected. One by one, the major regional powers are making it clear that they do not want the United States messing around in regions where their interests are predominant. Iran, for instance, strongly opposes the U. The current bad relations between the United States and Iran are the product of the Iranian revolution. If, however, the Shah or his son now ruled Iran, those relations would probably be deteriorating because Iran would see the American presence in the Gulf as a threat to its own hegemony there.
At a relatively low level are widespread feelings of fear, resentment, and envy. These ensure that when at some point the United States suffers a humiliating rebuff from a Saddam or a Milosevic, many countries will think, "They finally got what they had coming to them!
In a few cases, dissent has turned into outright opposition as countries attempt to defeat U. The highest level of response would be the formation of an antihegemonic coalition involving several major powers.
The Lonely Superpower
The Soviet Union promoted the ideology of Marxism—Leninism , planned economy and a one-party state whilst the United States promoted the ideologies of liberal democracy and the free market in a capitalist market economy. These alliances implied that these two nations were part of an emerging bipolar world, in contrast with a previously multipolar world. One notable opponent to this theory is Samuel P. Huntington , who rejects this theory in favor of a multipolar balance of power. Other international relations theorists such as Henry Kissinger theorize that because the threat of the Soviet Union no longer exists to formerly American-dominated regions such as Western Europe and Japan, American influence is only declining since the end of the Cold War because such regions no longer need protection or have necessarily similar foreign policies as the United States.