American Empire: Do We Still Live in a Uni-Polar World?

Photo: Medioimages/Photodisc

This week’s Lexington column in The Economist discusses the eagerness of some people to brand the U.S.’s bilateral, backseat role in Libya as evidence of an Obama Doctrine. Libya hasn’t defined an Obama Doctrine, The Economist argues, so much as “repudiated an old one.” The old one being the Powell Doctrine, the centerpiece of the two-decade (and counting?) era of U.S.-led unipolarity, following its half-century Cold War period of bi-polarity with the Soviet Union.

Now, with the Group of 20 set to replace the Group of 7, there’s debate among political economists about what sort of global power structure will emerge next, or if we’re already in one. An obvious possibility is a bi-polar system between the U.S. and China. Richard Haas of the Council on Foreign Relations believes we’ve already entered into what he calls an age of non-polarity, in which nation-states compete with non-state actors for power: multi-national corporations, NGO’s, terrorists. That’s certainly close to what’s playing out in Libya. The first country to act was France, with its sizable oil contracts in Libya.

The closest thing to Haas’s vision of non-polarity in the last century was Europe during the lead-up to World War I. France, Britain, Germany, and Russia struggled for power — just as the British Empire was fading from the height of its Pax Britannica — which actually marks the last time a uni-polar global hegemony existed.


It's only a repudiation of the Powell Doctrine if it's also a repudiation of world religions.

Eric M. Jones

Ah, yes. There was that Golden Moment In early 1945 when the US had just defeated all cummers in the Great War Version 2. We had the A-bomb and everyone else was being supported by our largess. We had the only working army, navy and air force. Curtiss LeMay stood up and told Truman..."Why don't we just declare that we are in charge?...PERIOD". But it was those damned Ruskies...we'd have to pretty much wipe them out.


Those damned Russkies - who I seem to recall inflicted 88% of all German casualties (sorry, don't have a cite) - a good fraction of them before the US suffered casualty #1. So much for the US defeating "all cummers (sic)". And being in charge worked out so well for the Comanche, Seminole, Sioux, Apache,... why shouldn't you have shared the benefits they received with the rest of the world (whether we wanted it or not)?

Joshua Northey

I am not entirely sold on the value of this type of analysis. I think the game is a little more complicated then that. There is perhaps some trivial value in keeping track of how many state's opinions "truly count", but that varies so much by issue.

I would think for the foreseeable future the world has as many poles as their are people with stockpiles of nuclear weapons capable of ending life as we know it. Their opinions will count and be deciding on any matter they truly care about.

Its all about the guns, or in this age intercontinental ballistic missiles.


Good point about the nuclear weapons, Joshua. It occurred to me once that a modern powerful state will probably not collapse in the way Ancient Rome did - there will be no Vandal or Visigoth sack of Washington DC or Beijing - because nuclear weapons keep invaders at bay.

I may be wrong about this, though, as technology shifts forward and possibly renders nukes obsolete.

Mike B

Poles will still exist, but they will be a bit broader based. Think instead of Team USA, we have team Anglosphere or Team NATO or Team Europe or Team NAFTA. The more the world becomes globalized the more the interests of the United States align with the interests of its fellow teammates. Getting your way all the time has downsides as well as upsides. If requiring team buy in prevents another Iraq war than all the better.


the matter of fact is vast majority of Americans are in debt in their entire adult life, as such we are spiritually doomed for long time.