Unipolarity is said to be a stable international system if the global hegemon is not a rogue or pariah state. Rogue and pariah states are states which are considered unstable and violent, “whose actions in international relations are considered so unprincipled that they are described as rogue and pariah states” (Watters et al. 2008.ch.10). If a rogue or pariah state became the global superpower then the international system would become unstable. However, the unipolar world we see today is seen as stable, as the global hegemon (USA) is said to be a benign hegemon. A benign hegemon is a state which is the most powerful in the world, but does not use its power in a harmful or negative way. However, this argument could be disputed, as the United State’s involvement in various conflicts in the Middle East could be seen as unjust and immoral, as it has been under the spotlight when accused of killing civilians ‘accidently’ in unmanned air vehicle (UAV) attacks or infamously known as drone attacks. “Advocates of Unipolarity, known as hegemonic stability theorists, claim that Unipolarity leads to the most stable system. Paul Kennedy argues that it was the hegemony of Britain in the nineteenth century and that of the United States after World War II that led to the greatest stability. When the hegemon loses power and declines, then system stability is jeopardized.” (Mingst et al. 2010, ch.4).
The second main balance of power system known in the study of International Relations is called Bipolarity. “Bipolarity refers to an international system which revolves around two poles.”(Heywood, 2011, pp.216). Bipolarity is most commonly a term used when talking about the power struggle between the two superpowers of the world during the Cold War: the USA and USSR. Neorealist believe that the bipolarity of the Cold War promoted stability because neither state dominated over the other and it created a balance of power however this view is very simplistic given the history of conflict during the Cold War. This balance of power created stability during the Cuban missile crisis. With the creation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), both states were scared of the concept called Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). Mutually assured destruction occurred between the USA and USSR as they both had nuclear capability, and if either state chose to attack in theory both states would wipe each other out. Neorealists also say that it is a stable international system because the Cold War bipolarity ensured peace between 1945 and 1990; the most peaceful Europe has been since its catastrophic World War’s. Kenneth Waltz from the Neorealist theory “defends bipolarity, and criticizes US adventurism overseas, because he believes bipolarity to be conducive to effective great power management of the international system, and hence to the avoidance of nuclear war.”(Humphreys, A.R.C, 2013). However, those from the liberal perspective believe that bipolarity is an unstable balance of power system. “Liberals have associated bipolarity with tension and insecurity, resulting from their tendency to breed hegemonic ambition and prioritize military power.”(Heywood, 2011, pp.216). Liberalism believes that in a bipolar world, because there are two states trying to get ahead of one another it results in dilemmas such as the security dilemma and arms races, this according to liberals creates an unstable international system because there is constant rivalry and tension. Liberals believe states should work together in order to achieve absolute gains from working together rather than trying to enhance their relative power.
There may be a possibility of a bipolar world in the future; with china rising fast we could see a balance of power between the USA and China. China’s economy has being growing exponentially for almost 30 years however some evidence has been put forward that says china may not overtake the US after all. Prime Minister Li Keqiang was quoted in an article written by the telegraph saying that he “asked the State Council to clamp down on the excesses of the regions….A top regulator says local government finances are ‘out of control’.
Mr Li aims to cut China's economic growth to a safe speed limit of 7pc next year and rein in rampant investment – still a world record 49pc of GDP – before it traps the country in a boom-bust dynamic of frightening scale”(Evans-Pritchard 2013). This shows that the 30 year miracle we have seen in china is vulnerable and could eventually come to an end. This has also been seen as a déjà vu from 20 years ago when it was predicted that Japan would overtake the US this was because at one point there was a time that Japan's stock market was valued more than the US stock market. However it is now seen as highly unlikely to that Japan will overtake the US today. If a state does overtake the US this century it will be through economic means, however, to become a superpower like the USA it also means having a similar military capability and large cultural influence, as well as having a powerful economy. The European Union (EU) could challenge the US in its economic power, but this is seen as a myth because the EU is a collection of states acting in their own interests, rather than a whole state (The United States of Europe) acting as one.
The third core balance of power system in the study of Global Politics is called Multipolarity. “Multipolarity refers to an international system in which there are three or more power centres.”(Heywood 2011.pp.230). Multipolarity doesn’t only refer to states but also to alliances or blocs for example: the European Union. If the Hegemony of the US came to an end then a multipolar world would arise, with many of the emerging great powers that have a significant amount of influence in their continental region already, will soon become significant actors globally. The BRICS’ (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) will play a key part in what could be an emerging multipolar world order. Vladimir Putin was quoted on Russia Today as saying:”There are a number of long-term factors working on BRICS' success. For the last two decades the economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa have been in the lead of global economic growth. Thus, in 2012, the average GDP growth rate in the group amounted to 4 per cent, while for the G7 this index was estimated at 0.7 per cent. In addition, GDP of the BRICS countries derived from the national currency purchasing power parity is currently over 27 per cent of the global GDP and its share continues to increase.”(‘BRICS key element of emerging multipolar world – Putin’ 2013) Multipolarity is a stable balance of power system because it creates an international system in which there are many great powers all on the rise, as well as states there are also alliances and blocs. This makes the decision for war much harder for states because if one attacks another it is essentially attacking all of the states within that bloc. However, we saw alliances in the past two World Wars, so some would argue that it did not maintain a stable international system but, there are many other factors now that allow Multipolarity to be a system which can promote peace and stability. The main factor being that a lot of states are also a member of organisations such as the UN and NATO and many other international and regional organisations, where they have principles such as: ‘an attack on one is an attack on all’. This means that before a state decides to attack another it must think about who else it may be in effect attacking when it does so. Liberals believe that Multipolarity systems are stable, because the distribution of power tends towards more cooperation, which is very important as states are becoming much more interdependent on each other in a constantly globalising world. However, neorealists believe that Multipolarity promotes constant change in which we won’t know what to expect which can surely only lead to an unstable world:” Multipolarity creates a bias in favour of fluidity and uncertainty, which can lead only to instability and an increased likelihood of war” (Heywood, 2011, pp.230).
To conclude, each balance of power system has its features as to why it could be a stable or unstable balance of power system. If applying Unipolarity to today’s international system then it is relatively stable, as the US is a benign hegemon who can keep a check on states who could act out of their power in a harmful or negative way. However, Unipolarity could also be the most unstable if the global hegemon was a state whose principles were so different from that of western culture that they would abuse this power in a ruinous way, which is why the most stable balance of power system appears to be Multipolarity. Multipolarity creates an even division of power in which all states can keep checks on each other, and also with the growing amount of states joining international organisations (IGO’s) it becomes impossible for some states and alliances to go to war and even more so unthinkable to wage war in today’s international system. However, no balance of power system is without its flaws, with the predictions of war and chaos in the future, once vital resources start to dwindle who’s to say any balance of power system will be considered stable or if the concept of the balance of power will remain relevant in global politics.
Word Count: 2006
Andrew Heywood, Global Politics, (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011)
Andrew Watters, Roger Marston, and David Cleaver, Global Politics, (Stocksfield: Anforme Ltd, 2008), chap.5, 6, 10
"BRICS key element of emerging multipolar world – Putin."Russia Today, sec. News, March 22, 2013.
Evans-Pritchard, Ambrose. "China may not overtake America this century after all." The Telegraph, sec. Finance, May 08, 2013. .
Humphreys, Adam R C, 2013,International Politics, 50, 6, 863-879(17) [Peer Reviewed Journal] published online 20 September, 2013
Mingst, Karen. A, and Arreguin, Toft. -W.W.Norton&Company, Inc., "Essentials of International Relations." Last modified: 2010.