The future of global power and hegemony
Aktualisiert: 3. Nov.
Polarity is a concept that has shaped international relations for the past several centuries. The distribution of global economic, political and military power – and the way this distribution shifts and changes over history – has a profound effect on understanding global history and current affairs. Perhaps the most well-known instance of polarity is the Cold War era, but global power sharing and dominance span back to 18th century Europe, and perhaps even earlier than that. The end of the Cold War led to the establishment of American hegemony. Whilst America undoubtedly still has one of the largest economies, militaries, cultural industries and influential system of governance, its unshakeable global position no longer seems as secure. As Christopher Layne wrote for The Atlantic: “Now that Old Order of nearly seven decades' duration is fading from the scene...what will replace the Old Order? And how much international disruption will attend the transition from the old to the new?”
Proponents of multipolarity, such as Hans Morgenthau and Karl Deutsch, argue that having multiple global power centres assures global stability. Simply put, the different powers would have too much to lose in terms of their economies, population and international standing to confront each other in all-out war. A multi-polar world also has economic benefits. The higher the number of regional and international players, the higher the potential for trade partners, economic cooperation and innovation. In short, more countries have more options for alliances, trade partnerships and security.
In theory, a multipolar world ensures political stability, economic growth and international cooperation. However, this theory doesn't always translate into the complexity of geopolitics. After all, national interests and ambitions have their own influence, and these can clash with the greater good of the international order. Whilst Donald Trump popularised the “Put (insert country here) first” slogan, the sentiment is hardly new. Countries will work to ensure their defence, economic and ideological interests. Whilst this doesn’t automatically translate into direct warfare between two or more competing states à la Thucydides’ Trap, it does create conditions for tensions, hostility, and the potential for proxy wars. One of the biggest benefits of a multi-polar world – more opportunities for alliances and partnerships – also makes it harder to come together to address cross-cutting issues such as climate change, space exploration and internet governance. A potential global fracturing into more regional blocs (such as the EU and proposed East African Federation) and cross-continental alliances (such as AUKUS) could occur, which could further muddy the waters when it comes to international treaties and consensus. This in itself presents another potential scenario: traditional systems of polarity based on state-centred power could be supplanted by regional federations and continental bodies.
Peace, security and the rule of law are increasingly important, and increasingly under threat. Read more here.
What does the future hold for global power? At this point, it’s not fully clear. While it’s premature to declare the end of the age of American (and Western) hegemony, it’s no longer realistic to maintain that there is no current challenge to the uni-polar world. From war and conflict and the global cost of living crisis to the reality of climate change and growing ideological contests, the sharing and concentration of global power could very well change once again. The ramifications of this change – and who will come out on top – will shape global politics, economy, governance and connectivity for the rest of the 21st century.
Deutsch, K. W., & Singer, J. D. (1964). Multipolar Power Systems and International Stability. World Politics, 16(3), 390–406. https://doi.org/10.2307/2009578
Layne, C. (2015, March 31). The end of Pax Americana: How western decline became inevitable. Retrieved October 24, 2022, from https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/04/the-end-of-pax-americana-how-western-decline-became-inevitable/256388/
Nobel, J. W. (1995). Morgenthau’s Struggle with Power: The Theory of Power Politics and the Cold War. Review of International Studies, 21(1), 61–85. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20097396
Rosecrance, R. N. (1966). Bipolarity, Multipolarity, and the Future. The Journal of Conflict Resolution, 10(3), 314–327. http://www.jstor.org/stable/173003
Vatikiotis, M. (2022, September 14). Humanitarian crises in a multipolar world - world. Retrieved October 24, 2022, from https://reliefweb.int/report/world/humanitarian-crises-multipolar-world