International Relations: The Shaking of the American Unipolar Myth

21 May 2018 1242 Views

The international system is no longer hostage to the traditional forces of power. A constellation of other players - multinational companies, international bodies and non-governmental organizations - has contributed to the complexity of modern international relations.  Though it is considered the worldwide dominant power, the American model is becoming militarily ineffective in some regions where it committed strategic mistakes. The rise of China has changed the equation,as it is evident that China is getting closer to becoming theworld’s largest superpower. Russia, on the other hand, has a growing desire to be seen as a rival able to impose bipolarism. The truth is that the” middle power” states do not have the strength to rank on the same level as the United States. America still has enough power to impose its will on the world especially when it comes to issues associated with its traditional areas of influence.

Bismarck said,"Resolving international issues is a simple matter,it's enough to resolve a meeting of three forces against two." This reflects the reality of the international system in the nineteenth century, which was, at the time, composed of five main actors - Germany, Britain, France, Russia and Austria. The world of Bismarck has disappeared, irreversibly. In addition to the influx of dozens of countries into the sphere of international relations, this field is no longer exclusive to States, now including multinational corporations, international bodies, non-governmental organizations, media and public opinion, reflecting the complexity of contemporary international relations. It is enough to look at the list of participants in the annual Davos Forum to understand the depth of this change.

However, the global system remains largely hostage to the policies of states, especially those with exceptional strategic weight. The United States, China and Russia are the three components of a chaotically-ordered international map. However,an understanding of the reality of the world's balance of power requires a close analysis that isremoved from the influence ofdifferent ideologies or conspiracy theories.

American hegemony: increasing means versus weak results

Despite their deep differences, Donald Trump and his predecessor, Barack Obama, share some views, from which we can understand the outlines of a new US foreign policy.  They both recognize, implicitly, the end of American unipolarism. While it is politically impossible for a US leader to openly acknowledge this fact, both Trump and Obama have expressed it, each in his own style. The former’s slogan, “Make America Great Again”,demonstrateshis belief in the ability of the United States to impose its will but also reflects a recognition of its loss of glory, albeit temporarily. It is an implicit “call to get back to those tenets of policy and culture that made America great”.

As for Obama, he was elected in 2008 to get the United States out of the strategic dilemma that resulted from the military adventures of his predecessor in Afghanistan and Iraq. The United States' reluctance to intervene in Syria after Assad's use of chemical weapons is evidence of his administration's acceptance of the end of a unipolar system, especially as he had declared that the use of these weapons was a red line.

On the other hand, Russia and China have been able to maintain a clear foreign policy, as long as their authoritarian systems are stable. Putin and Xi Jinping are able to make decisions in isolation from public opinion and institutional pressures. Putin did not, for example, invoke the approval of any party before his intervention in Syria.

The comparative strategic weight of both Russia and China versus the United States is very deceptive for it will dupe these two forces into believing that each has become a rival for Washington. This is also due to non-strategic reasons related to the nature of political systems in these countries. The electoral system in the United States has become a burden on the country’s strategic capacities. The country is in an almost permanent electoral campaign. Its legislative power, represented by Congress, is undergoing partial renewal every two years. As a consequence, its political expression is no longer consistent with the strategic vision of Washington, especially in light of the increasing presence of foreign policy in the electoral debate during recent campaigns. That is, foreign policy has become affected by short-term electoral battles.


The end of unipolarism is not an easy matter for the United States to acknowledge. It means that American foreign policy is entering an unprecedented phase of turmoil. While Trump's character contributes to highlighting this turmoil, the reasons behind it are deeper than simply thechanging mood of the White House’s occupant.Those who construct America’s strategic vision are working in the context of fundamental contradictions that prevent them from harmonizing it with their strategic programs. They know the superiority of American power over all its competitors, as evidenced by the fact that US military expenses account for nearly half of the world's military expenditures, demonstrating the huge distance between Washington and all its rivals. If we add to this the magnitude of America’s economic, technological and cultural superiority, we may understand American public opinion and the refusal to even mention the possibility of the end of a unipolar world.

However, America’s leaders see that what occurred in recentyears do not agree with unipolar conditions. Military force is no longer enough to guarantee the security of Americans and the events of September 11 proved that. America’s economic weight has been shaken by the 2008 crisis. Although these crises did not lead to the collapse of the capitalist system, they undermined the neo-liberal vanity that dominated the Western world since the 1980s. Furthermore, technological superiority is no longer guaranteed for Washington and Western countries for the first time in at least three centuries. As a result, at the level of soft power, the attractiveness of the West has diminished and its ability to influence has decreased.


New comment