International Relations and World

Topics: International relations, Superpower, United States Pages: 17 (5491 words) Published: January 22, 2013
Citation: 78 Foreign Aff. 35 1999 Content downloaded/printed from HeinOnline ( Thu Nov 24 11:11:42 2011 -- Your use of this HeinOnline PDF indicates your acceptance of HeinOnline's Terms and Conditions of the license agreement available at -- The search text of this PDF is generated from uncorrected OCR text. -- To obtain permission to use this article beyond the scope of your HeinOnline license, please use: &operation=go&searchType=0 &lastSearch=simple&all=on&titleOrStdNo=0015-7120

The Lonely Superpower
Samuel P. Huntington


T H E past decade global politics has changed fundamentally in two ways. First, it has been substantially reconfigured along cultural and civilizational lines, as I have highlighted in the pages of this journal and documented at length in The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. Second, as argued in that book, global politics is also always about power and the struggle for power, and today international relations is changing along that crucial dimension. The global structure of power in the Cold War was basically bipolar; the emerging structure is very different. There is now only one superpower. But that does not mean that the world is unipolar.A unipolar system would have one superpower, no significant major powers, and many minor powers. As a result, the superpower could effectively resolve important international issues alone, and no combination of other states would have the power to prevent it from doing so. For several centuries the classical world under Rome, and at times East Asia under China, approximated this model. A bipolar system like the Cold War has two superpowers, and the relations between them are central to international politics. Each superpower dominates a coalition of allied states and competes with the other superpower for influence among nonaligned countries. A multipolar system has several major powers of comparable strength that cooperate and compete with each other in shifting patterns. A coalition DURING

P. HUNTINGTON is the AlbertJ. Weatherhead III University Professor at Harvard University, where he is also Director of the John M. Olin Institute for Strategic Studies and Chairman of the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies. SAMUEL


Samuel P Huntington

of major states is necessary to resolve important international issues. European politics approximated this model for several centuries. Contemporary international politics does not fit any of these three models. It is instead a strange hybrid, a uni-multifo arsystem with one superpower and several major powers. The settlement of key international issues requires action by the single superpower but always with some combination of other major states; the single superpower can, however, veto action on key issues by combinations of other states. The United States, of course, is the sole state with preeminence in every domain of power-economic, military, diplomatic, ideological, technological, and cultural-with the reach and capabilities to promote its interests in virtually every part of the world. At a second level are major regional powers that are preeminent in areas of the world without being able to extend their interests and capabilities as globally as the United States. They include the German-French condominium in Europe, Russia in Eurasia, China and potentially Japan in East Asia, India in South Asia, Iran in Southwest Asia, Brazil in Latin America, and South Africa and Nigeria in Africa. At a third level are secondary regional powers whose interests often conflict with the more powerful regional states. These include Britain in relation to the GermanFrench combination, Ukraine in relation to Russia, Japan in relation to China, South Korea in relation to Japan, Pakistan in relation to India, Saudi Arabia in relation to Iran, and...
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