- Polarity in international relations
Polarity in international relations is any of the various ways in which power is distributed within the international system. It describes the nature of the international system at any given period of time. One generally distinguishes four types of systems: Unipolarity, Bipolarity, Tripolarity, and Multipolarity, for four or more centers of power. The type of system is completely dependent on the distribution of power and influence of states in a region or internationally.
Unipolarity in international politics is a distribution of power in which there is one state with most of the cultural, economic, and military influence. This is different from hegemony since a hegemon may not have total control of the sea ports or "commons".
Examples of unipolarity
The most recent example of a unipolar world has been one dominated by the United States since 1991, in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Other states and empires in the past have dominated their known worlds in a unipolar fashion. Some examples are below. Note that most of the cases as well as the dates given are open to some debate.
- The Egyptian Empire from c. 3150 BCE to c. 1285 BCE with some long breaks – from the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt to the conflict with the Hittites.
- The Akkadian Empire from c. 2279 BCE to c. 2193 BCE.
- The Assyrian Empire from 675 BCE to 626 BCE – from the invasion of Egypt to the revolt of Babylon.
- The Persian Empire from 539 BCE to 449 BCE – from the conquest of Babylon to the Peace of Callias at latest.
- Alexander's Empire from 331 BCE to 323 BCE – from the Battle of Gaugamela to his death.
- China from 221 BCE to 1840 CE, with several long breaks – from unification under the Qin Dynasty to the First Opium War.
- The Roman Republic/Roman Empire/Byzantine Empire from 188 BCE to 395 CE and then 533 to 565 – from the breakup of the Seleucid Empire to the division of the Roman Empire, with a later brief revival under Justinian (although it could be argued that by this stage a bipolar world had been formed with Sassanid Persia).
- The Mongol Empire from 1227 to 1279 – from about the death of Genghis Khan to its peak.
- The Aztec Empire from c. 1481 to 1521 – from regional dominance to the invasion by Cortez.
- The Inca Empire from c. 1470 to 1532 – from the conquest of the Chimu to the invasion by Pizarro.
- India from 322 BCE to 17th century , with several long breaks from unification under Maurya Dynasty to the fall of Mughal Empire and India becoming colonized.
Bipolarity is a distribution of power in which two states have the majority of economic, military, and cultural influence internationally or regionally. Often, spheres of influence would develop. For example, in the Cold War, most Western and democratic states would fall under the influence of the USA, while most Communist states would fall under the influence of the USSR. After this, the two powers will normally maneuver for the support of the unclaimed areas.
- The United States and the Soviet Union during the peak of the Cold War. However, the Sino-Soviet split of circa 1960 led to the rise of China as a possible third superpower.
- Britain and Spain during the 17th century.
- Sparta and Athens during much of pre-Alexandrian Greek history.
- Carthage and the Roman Republic until the Second Punic War.
- Roman Empire and the Arsacid Empire/Sassanid Empire during the Roman-Persian Wars, until the Arab invasion of Persia.
- Russia and Japan, causing bipolarity in spheres of influence in several parts of China, Korea, and Mongolia.
- Russia, the Safavid Empire and the Ottoman Empire in struggles to attain regions surrounding the Black Sea, from the early 18th century until World War I.
- Israel and Egypt could be considered regional powers in the Middle East during the Arab-Israeli conflict from 1948 to 1978.
Multi-state examples of bipolarity
The bipolar system can be said to extend to much larger systems, such as alliances or organizations, which would not be considered nation-states, but would still have power concentrated in two primary groups.
In both World Wars, much of the world, and especially Europe, the United States and Japan had been divided into two respective spheres – one case being the Axis and Allies of World War II (1939–1945) – and the division of power between the Central Powers and Allied Powers during World War I (1914–1918). Neutral nations, however, may have caused what may be assessed as an example of tripolarity as well within both of the conflicts.
Multipolarity is a distribution of power in which more than two nation-states have nearly equal amounts of military, cultural, and economic influence.
Opinions on the stability of multipolarity differ. Classical realist theorists, such as Hans Morgenthau and E. H. Carr, hold that multipolar systems are more stable than bipolar systems, as great powers can gain power through alliances and petty wars that do not directly challenge other powers; in bipolar systems, classical realists argue, this is not possible. On the other hand, the neorealist focus on security and invert the formula: states in a multipolar system can focus their fears on any number of other powers and, misjudging the intentions of other states, unnecessarily compromise their security, while states in a bipolar system always focus their fears on one other power, meaning that at worst the powers will miscalculate the force required to counter threats and spend slightly too much on the operation. However, due to the complexity of mutually assured destruction scenarios, with nuclear weapons, multipolar systems may be more stable than bipolar systems even in the neorealist analysis. This system tends to have many shifting alliances until one of two things happens. Either a balance of power is struck, and neither side wants to attack the other, or one side will attack the other because it either fears the potential of the new alliance, or it feels that it can defeat the other side.
One of the major implications of an international system with any number of poles, including a multipolar system, is that international decisions will often be made for strategic reasons to maintain a balance of power rather than out of ideological or historical reasons.
The Eastern Mediterranean Hellenistic kingdoms of the 3rd century BC, which grew out of Alexander the Great's empire, formed a good example of a multipolar political world. Macedonia (Antigonids), Syria (Seleucids), Egypt (Ptolemies) vied with one another and states such as Pergamon, Parthia and the La Tene Celts in shifting alliances for domination of the region. Combinations against the strongest state kept any one from establishing hegemony, but eventually left all weakened enough to be dominated by Rome from the mid-2nd century BC.
The 'Concert of Europe,' a period from after the Napoleonic Wars to the Crimean War, was an example of peaceful multipolarity (the great powers of Europe assembled regularly to discuss international and domestic issues). World War I, World War II, the Thirty Years War, the Warring States Period, the Three Kingdoms period and the tripartite division between Song Dynasty/Liao Dynasty/Jin Dynasty/Yuan Dynasty are all examples of a wartime multipolarity.
Those claiming that the world is multipolar fall into two main camps. A "superpower is something of the past" view holds that the USA and USSR in the Cold War were in fact superpowers, but argues that due to the complex economic interdependencies on the international scale and the creation of a global village, the concept of one or more states gaining enough power to claim superpower status is antiquated. The rival view is that even throughout the Cold War, neither the USA nor the USSR were superpowers, but were actually dependent on the smaller states in their "spheres of influence."
While the US has a great deal of economic clout and has influenced the culture of many nations, their dependency on foreign investors and reliance on foreign trade have created a mutual economic dependency between developed and developing nations. According to those who believe the world is multipolar, this interdependency means the US can't be called a superpower as it isn't self-sufficient and relies on the global community to sustain its people's quality of life. These interdependencies also apply to diplomacy. Considering the complex state of world affairs and the military might of some developing nations, it has become increasingly difficult to engage in foreign policy if it is not supported by other nations. The diplomatic and economic factors that bind the globe together can sometimes make it difficult to act unilaterally, however alliances exist and the US is largely considered to be the sole superpower due to its unchallenged strength and influence, which would suggest a more unipolar world (despite globalization).
Jacques Chirac, President of France from 1995 to 2007, was a great proponent of the view of a multipolar world. It is possible that this view stems from historical and cultural conflicts between France and the United Kingdom, which have led to distrust of "Anglo Saxon" nations, such as the USA.
Nonpolarity is an international system with numerous centers of power but no center dominates any other centre. Centers of power can be nation-states, corporations, non-governmental organizations, terrorist groups, and such. Power is found in many hands and many places.
Measuring the power concentration
- Nt = the number of states in the great power system at time t
- Sit = the proportion of power possessed by state i at time t (must be a decimal figure)
- S = the proportion of power possessed
- i = the state of which the proportion of control over the system's power is being measured
- t = the time at which the concentration of resources (i.e. power) is being calculated
- = the sum of the proportion of power possessed by all states in the great power system
The closer the resulting concentration is to zero, the more evenly divided power is. The closer to 1, the more concentrated power is. There is a general but not strict correlation between concentration and polarity. It is rare to find a result over 0.5, but a result between 0.4 and 0.5 usually indicates a unipolar system, while a result between 0.2 and 0.4 usually indicated a bipolar or multipolar system. Concentration can be plotted over time, so that the fluctuations and trends in concentration can be observed.
- Balance of power in international relations
- Power in international relations
- Lateral pressure theory
- International monetary systems
- Thompson, William R. On Global War: Historical–Structural Approaches to World Politics. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1988, pp. 209–210.
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- ^ Hellenistic period
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