Polarity in the context of international relations describes the way power is distributed within the international system (Walt 34). This can be either unipolarity, bipolarity, tripolarity and multipolarity, depending on the number of states between which the power is distributed (Raymond 102).
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Uni-polar or hegemonic power refers to system where one state has the most cultural, economic and military influence (Brooks 103). The United States has dominated the world since 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed.
This paper seeks to establish whether the international system is moving away from the US hegemonic power (uni-polar system) to a new system of international order.
The paper will carry out an analysis on hegemonic states and state why this takes place or not, and if so, try to predict the new system that might emerge.
In the last two decades witnessed assertion of hegemonic (uni-polar) power by the United States. This was mainly expressed through invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan (Cohen 60).
The unilateralism has continued to play through the endemic Global War on Terror (GWOT). The world has also witnessed globalization and the adoption of liberalism that is commonly referred to as “the American way” (Hurrell 133).
This paper will not ignore or underestimate the uni-polar role that the United States continues to play, mainly in global politics. However, times are changing fast and some analysts are concluding that a multi-polar world order is taking shape as more and more developing countries emerging as formidable economic powers (Koenig 10).
Many others are emerging as important poles of growth to sustain the new world order. However, other analysts observe that the United States will still play a very important role in the coming years.
Two scenarios are developed in this paper, one is regarding the debate on the weakening of the US hegemonic powers and the notion that the US is still a global hegemonic power (Pape 27).
This paper will mainly focus on the assertion that the US is still a global uni-polar power. The first thing that should be done is an in-depth analysis of all definitions of the term “hegemony”.
For the purpose of this paper it’s important to give the various definitions of hegemony and give a concrete justification of its current importance in the academic arena.
The most accepted meaning of the term hegemony is “leadership, authority and influence, especially of one state in a group of states” (Walt 20).
From the international perspective, this role is often played by a country or state that has the military, economic and cultural capability to play this role, according to Cohen “the other states in the hegemonic system usually define their relationship with the hegemon” (28).
A realist theory can be used to describe a situation where one state dictates the conditions which other states are to follow in anarchical world order (Hurrell 45).
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Another well known definition of hegemony was put forward by Gramsci. According to him, “hegemony is made up of a political power that flows from the intellectual and moral leadership, an authority as differentiated from that which comes from the armed forces” (Pape 36).
Analysis of the American hegemony through realist and neorealist theories
This section will basically describe hegemony and its implications within the realist context. The section will further indicate how the United States still holds the global hegemonic power (Brooks 34). The argument will seek to show why the US still fits into this position.
One of the postulates of political realism asserts that the world is mostly ruled by anarchy (Walt 51). States cannot harmonize their interests since they naturally tend to conflict with each other.
In such cases however corporation is feasible, but only if it serves the interests of the different states in the power system. Indeed, politics is known to be a struggle for obtaining power and interest is described as a function of power (Pape 7).
In the realist perspective, the rationality of the competing power balance is usually enhancing the ability to take control over other states. The easiest approach is by attempting to amass resources.
Thus, the relations between this states is determined by their relative level of power which is determined by each individual state’s capabilities, both militarily and economic (Hurrell 89).
A classical realistic view puts emphasis on the use of sheer power to foster a vertical agenda. In this case, the military resources are the most important to ensure self security (Cohen 50).
Neo-realism, on the other hand, gives room to more horizontal agenda, as such, the economic issues are paid a greater attention and their resolution is of a prime importance (Brooks 15).
The typical features of realism can be used to determine the performance of unipolar states until the end of socialism in the eastern part of Europe (Brooks 18). Neoliberalism emerged as a better theoretical framework to explain the various dynamics of the United States hegemony.
From a theoretical point of view, the hegemon requires dominance over resources. These resources include raw materials, market dominance, as well as capital, in general, different benefits that are provided by the production of valued goods (Koenig 45).
As far as this definition is concerned, the United States is without doubt a uni-polar or a hegemon. The US do not however exert total control and thus the lexical meaning of the term ‘hegemon’ is not important in the classification of United States as a hegemon (Raymond 5).
Many people around the world perceive the United States to be a global power and are likely to continue doing so for a long time to come.
The US foreign policy stipulates the principles which are put in place to foster and maintain internal unity while carrying out the legitimized global hegemonic roles. In reference to the theory of hegemonic stability, the hegemonic state takes leadership for granted, with regard to particular issues (Brooks 8).
In this regard, if no hegemony exists then this may cause an escalation of the issue at hand that may in turn result into chaos. Therefore, according to Brooks, “the leadership that is provided by hegemonic states is very important in facilitating the achievement of collaboration among different states” (7).
With this features in mind, it’s important to recoup how the US has played a role in tackling the drug menace with Latin America, nuclear disarmament with Russia, oil revenues with Middle Eastern states, and high –tech with Asia (Koenig 20).
As mentioned earlier, there is a serious debate that seeks to point out that the US is weakening. Emerging economies such as China, India, South Korea, Russia and Brazil are said to play a very big role in the redistribution of global power.
These states are already playing some hegenomic role in their regions. It’s estimated that by the year 2025, this economies will collectively account for one half of global growth (Koenig 5).
As things are now, the US dollar is the most sought after international currency. The World Bank projects a multi-currency scenario in 2025 (Pape 29). This will be an extension, expected to reflect a multi-polar system of global power distribution.
China poses the greatest risk to the US hegemonic status. The US’s traditional allies in the euro zone have shrunk in the recent past and are expected to go further down in the coming years (Walt 7).
As things are now, these countries are in most cases advancing only on the economic front. This still have a long way to go to match with the United States’ ideals, democracy, liberty, self determination and national interest (Cohen 9)
It’s true that a new world order is in the offing, however, this will take place in the future but as things are now, the US is still a world hegemonic power.
This paper sought to establish whether the international system is moving away from the US hegemonic power (uni-polar system) to a new system of international order. The paper also carried out an analysis and stated why this is taking place or not and if so, tried to predict the new system that will emerge.
The paper has established that as things are now, and in the near future, the US will still remain a hegemonic state. However, it’s true that the international system is shifting away from this and will lead to a multi polar system.
Brooks, Stephen and William Wohlforth. “Hard times for soft balancing”, International Security 1 (2005):103. Print.
Cohen, Stephen. India, emerging power, Washington DC: Brookings Institution, 2001. Print.
Hurrell, Andrew. The United States and Latin America: neorealism re-examined, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006. Print
Koenig, Archibugi. American Power in the 21st Century, London: Polity Press, 2004. Print.
Pape, Robert. “Soft balancing against the United States”, International Security 30.1 (2005): 23-44. Print.
Raymond, Aron. Peace and war: a theory of international relations, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. Print.
Walt, Stephen. The origins of alliances, New York: Cornell University Press, 1987. Print.