Unipolar and Multipolar history has witnessed cycles of rising and fall of civilizations, empires, and regional as well as global powers. In past, military power was the only decisive factor in the “balance of power” among nations. Its strength ensured its expansion and influence while its weakness precipitated its fall and disintegration. Though it is still an important element, many other factors like economy, ideology, political stability, and statesmanship. Diplomacy has played a substantial role in determining the status of a country among the comity of nations in this globalization world.
The World Order has been more dynamic due to the unprecedented developments in international affairs in the last century-ranging from multipolar, to unipolar. The US has enjoyed unilateral and unparalleled status in international affairs. But as history repeats itself, the might of American power is visibly diminishing due to neoconservative and imperialistic policies. New centers of power are emerging to shape the “multipolar world order”.
Naturally, whenever any major power or state has shown its ambition to conquer the world and set up a hegemonic empire, it has created resistance from other forces or alliances of forces. This clash of power has been the characteristic of all the periods, though; the 20th century is significantly an example of an unprecedented struggle between the countries to acquire world supremacy. In the multipolar world, the conflict between European countries led to World War-I. Till then the United States of America followed isolationist policies in the international realm. The success in the war established an international foothold for the US.
A brief history of World Orders
This deadliest war of history came to an end with the deadliest weapons (nuclear bombs), which ushered in a new era of nuclear competition. The resulting conflict of interest and ideology between the US and the USSR shaped the “Bipolar World Order”. In the aftermath of World War II, United Nations Organisation (UNO) was created to maintain peace. However, this forum was also unable to diffuse the tension between the US and the former USSR which marked the second half of the 20th century. The period is known as the Cold War.
Eventually, Cold War ended with the disintegration of the USSR and the emergence of the US as the sole superpower of the world– economically, militarily, and politically. The then president of the US Bush coined the term “New World Order”, which was significantly “Unipolar”. The US has enjoyed a prominent status and role since then; its economy grew at a tremendous pace, its military strength has been unmatched, its political influence in international affairs has been uncontested, and its ideology of democratic principle earned its world leadership.
Simply, the US holds supremacy in every element of global eminence. Richard Nixon, the ex-president of the US, in his book “In the Arena”, has described the ingredients of global political clout as an economic power, military forces, ideological appeal, domestic political cohesion, skill in statecraft, and commonality of interest with other major powers. In the light of these ingredients, the US still enjoys the upper hand over other countries of the world. Some of these are enumerated here.
The United States Uni-polar Status
The US also possesses the strongest military in the world with a 1.4 million active personnel force. Its combat force consists of the largest number of carrier ships, the fastest fighter planes with precision-guided missiles and bombs. It has successfully tested anti-ballistic missile shield capacity.
More importantly, the US has led the world ideologically- for the purpose of democratic principles. It was this ideological perception on the basis of which the League of Nations after World War-I and the United Nations after World War II were created.
Determinants of World Order
Moreover, it has maintained a commonality of interest with other major powers. However, it has not been able to acquire absolute power due to increasing competition from other major powers, particularly the emergence of China, the resurgence of Russia, and the union of European countries globally and Iran, and Venezuela regionally. “The scope of America’s global hegemony is admittedly great but its depth is shallow, limited by both domestic and external restraints.” Says Brezinski, the former US National Security Advisor.
The US has posed and acted as a most powerful state in the last two decades, but the shallowness of its power. Other powers have challenged the hegemony of the US in international affairs. Though no power has individually surpassed the US in any of the elements of the balance of power, they are poised to do in the near future, given the changing paradigm.
Economically, the US is still the largest economy in the world but is closely followed by Japan and China. The per capita income of Japan is higher than that of the US. China has a very growing economy with a sustained growth rate of over nine percent for the last one and a half decades. The US faces a trade deficit of $800 billion while China has a trade surplus of $150 billion a year. EU’s collective GDP is now greater than that of the US. Since the launch of the Euro currency in 1999, the dollar had been losing its value against it constantly.
The economy of Russia has been bloating since 2000 and its GDP has been tripled. The rising oil and gas prices have added enormous impetus to the Russian economy. Commenting on the challenges to the unipolarity of the US, Richard N unipolar to the multipolar world.. Hass, a scholar at US Council for Foreign Affairs, wrote in “Foreign Affairs Magazine”: “Although US’ GDP accounts for over 25 percent of the world total, this percentage is sure to decline over time given actual and projected differential between US growth rate and those of Asian giants”.
Militarily, US military force is said to be the strongest in the world but its superiority is not assuredly marked in contrast to the military forces’ capabilities of other major powers like Russia, China, France, Germany or if the capability of communist countries is combined on the one hand and that of the EU is combined on other hand. Almost all the major powers are nuclear states.
Russia claims to have antiballistic missile capability successfully developed and tested during the Cold War; China has tested a direct ‘anti-satellite missile’ and ‘carrier cruse killer’ unipolar to the multipolar world. Moreover, in the current scenario militarism and terrorism have undermined the strength of quite larger armies. The 9/11 attacks showed how a small investment by terrorists could cause an extraordinary level of damage.
International political clout
Politically, the influence of the US and its unilateral posture has been seriously checked. This is manifested in the nuclear imbroglio with North Korea and Iran. China proved to be the best able to influence Pyongyang. Iran has faced four sets of sanctions by the UNSC on the insistence of the US but does not seem to be ready to compromise its stance. “Washington’s ability to pressure Tehran has been strengthened by the participation of several Western European countries and weakened by the reluctance of China and Russia to sanction Iran”, says Richard N. Hass.
Meanwhile, the writ of the US has been significantly challenged by Venezuela in Latin America, which is supported by Argentina and Brazil. While challenging the US authority, Venezuela is developing close relations with Russia and China. Russian President Dimitry Medvedev visited Caracas in mid-2008 and signed a nuclear deal with his counterpart Hugo Chavez. Their military cooperation is also strengthening after this resulting in a unipolar multipolar world. In South Asia, India is emerging as a global power due to its robust economic growth and large population of over 1 billion.
Ideologically, the US had prominence due to its ideological appeal but the practical approach to the democratic cause has been contrary to the ideology. The US has been supportive of dictatorships and kingdoms, while it has been calling others for democracy. It calls Israel’s ‘state terrorism’ a ‘right of self-defense, while it terms the legitimate resistance of Palestinians as ‘terrorism’ unipolar to the multipolar world.
The Paradigm shift
Though the emergence of new powers was natural, the status of the US could remain unchallenged, had Washington transformed. Its attitude and policies are from a unilateralist to a multilateralist approach. But the unilateral and unjustified policies of the US on several accounts from the Iraq. War to climate change crises have only unveiled fissures in its power structure. The most controversial issues have placed the US at the opposite pole from the rest of the world. The energy crises, the Iraq war, climate change, financial crises, and globalization. These factors have rather proved catalysts in the shift from unipolar to the multipolar world.
Energy resources are a vital element in foreign policy formulation, particularly in the contemporary scenarios of energy crises. The US energy policy is a driving force behind the end of unipolarity. Since there is an increase in demand for oil, it has two-fold effects on the geopolitical front. First; the increase in demand raised the world oil prices from just over $20 a barrel to over $150 a barrel in less than a decade until the financial crisis plunged the oil prices. This increase in oil cost resulted in an enormous transfer of wealth and leverage to energy-rich countries. Secondly, in order to secure energy supply, all the major powers have a common interest in the energy-rich countries. This competition has resulted in confrontational politics on the international stage. This is the energy demand which led the US to war in Iraq.
The Iraq war has significantly contributed to the dilution of the US power in the world. It has proved to be expensive in terms of almost all elements of power and in human terms. Historian Paul Kennedy had outlined in his book ‘Imperial Overstretch’ that the US would eventually decline by overreaching just as other powers had in the past. The war has cost America the deaths of more than 4,500 troops and over $700 billion as a loss. Resultantly, the US fiscal position has declined from a surplus of $100 billion in 2000 to a deficit of $700 billion in 2007. This also manifests that Washington cannot fight any more war unilaterally.
The financial crisis of 2008 hit the backbone of the US economy whereas Russian, Chinese, and other Asian economies have displayed quite stability. The crisis damaged not only its economy but its image as well. “The financial crisis is causing major damage to US image as the stable anchor of the world economy, and American leadership, as the dominant financial superpower with free and innovative markets, is in question”, says Yeongseop Rhee, of Brookings institution. In a short, the financial crisis has defined the economic multipolarity of the world.
Besides, globalization has transformed the world into an interdependent multipolar world. Globalization has strengthened ties and connections in the economy, politics, science and technology, culture, and society around the world. It is the impact of globalization and leverage of environmental NGOs that 186 countries reluctantly signed the Kyoto Protocol, Copenhagen Accord, and now the ‘Cancun Agreements’ on climate change.
Above issues have reflected upon a point that no country can independently address such global issues as climate change, terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, economic crisis, and above all world peace and security.
Hence it is becoming evident that the age of ‘unipolarity’ is ‘dissipating’ and the world is ‘moving towards’ natural ‘multipolarity’. In other words, there emerged multi-powers or centers of power. However, multipolarity is not an immediate reality rather it is a developing trend.
Future scenario- Multipolar World
In the future multipolar world order, power would not rest with a few major countries but with several countries. Each having its specific prominence will have assertive say in world affairs. Besides the US, Japan, China, the EU, and India would have economic strength. Iran, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, members of the African Union, and Brazil would have leverage due to their vast energy resources. Russia would have both advantages. Some countries would have importance due to their geostrategic location like Pakistan, Central Asian States, Ukraine, and Turkey. Besides, international organizations like UNO, World Bank, IMF; regional organizations like SAARC, EU, SCO, ASEAN, AU, and NGOs including environmental, social, and humanitarian would be on the list of power centers.
Would multipolarity be beneficial to the world?
Here a question arises; whether the multipolar world with so many power centers could ensure peace and security? There are serious concerns because the previous multipolarity had led to two World Wars. The answer is assuredly affirmative in the unipolar to the multipolar world. The future multipolarity is not going to be like the previous one based on the independent power base of countries. On the contrary, the emerging multipolarity is the age of growing inter-dependence and mutual cooperation. The countries would not be asserting their influence individually but through regional and international organizations on the basis of democratic principles.
The strength of the economy, technological advancement, availability of energy, and human development depends upon the cooperation of all countries and civilizations. And a multipolar world can best serve this purpose by creating balance in the exercise of power and boosting the competitive atmosphere in technological and economic fields unipolar to the multipolar world. In this regard, a scholar of the Chinese People Association for Peace and Disarmament, Yu Zhongrong says, “A multipolar world is characterized by the coexistence of multiple forces and multiple entities.”
To achieve this purpose, all the existing and emerging powers need to develop a consensus on some prerequisites. And to achieve the goals, the UN is the best forum. Find just and rational solutions to international conflicts like Palestine, Kashmir, and Iraq. Nuclear proliferation and humanitarian crises are unipolar in the multipolar world. It shall facilitate dialogue and exchange of views between different civilizations and cultures of all religions, regions, and countries.
As the chronicles of international politics have proved that hegemony and imperialism are the biggest threat to world peace and are the root causes of conflicts and wars, the unipolar to the multipolar world. world of ‘inter-dependence’ and ‘coexistence’ is a bid to create a harmonious world of economic stability, social justice, collective security, and common development. In this way, humans will see the world embark on the path of the peace-the ultimate goal.