The American Interest

Unstable Multipolarity

It is professionally vexing and personally alarming for a world-affairs analyst in today’s America that neither rationality nor consistency can be taken for granted among the foreign-policy community in Washington, D.C.  That much has become obvious from the crisis in relations between the United States and Russia over Georgia.

This crisis heralds a particularly dangerous period in world affairs: the return of asymmetrical multipolarity.  For the first time since the end of the Cold War, Washington is facing active resistance from one or more major powers.  More important than the anatomy of the South Ossetian crisis today, or the Taiwanese crisis tomorrow, is the reactive power’s refusal to accept the validity of Washington’s ideological assumptions or the legitimacy of its resulting geopolitical claims.  At the same time, far from critically reconsidering its hegemonic assumptions and claims, the White House seems ready to uphold them at any cost, a major war included.

A new global balance of power is being created as we speak.  It is asymmetrical because one player in the system is significantly more powerful than the others, and unstable because the would-be hegemon does not accept the legitimacy of the other players’ interests that could act as a limiting restraint on its own actions and aspirations.  A war between two or more major powers is more likely in the...

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